Burque native Saywut?! preps for an international tour with CocoRosie and a move to Brooklyn
When we meet, Ashley Moyer has a metronome in her purse. Her passport came in yesterday. She is, in a sense, working out. “I'm getting my train on. That's the least I can do right now—get physically fit, my stamina, my breath control, the tightness in my beats.”
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
It's not like lifting weights or anything, she says. Instead, Albuquerque’s beatbox queen is dropping beats all day long. She's got to have the cardio health to support a 90-minute-plus show. As she tours Europe, she's going to have to be right on time, all the time.
After a now-storied improv session at an after-party late last year, Moyer got a hug from the sister art-pop warriors of CocoRosie—and a taste of her first big break.
That's why we're here, talking as my recorder spins its wheels atop the art-tables at Anodyne. She's drinking only ice water. While I'm digging around my messenger bag for a pen, she's beatboxing with PJ Harvey piped through the bar’s sound system. Even without a mic and a P.A., a stage and lights, she’s a drum kit, the human reinterpretation of the beats found in hip-hop.
There's something about seeing 25-year-old Saywut?! beatbox wearing cat ears and a cheetah-print dress. That's my first memory of her, anyway. She started light, the beats coming out rapid-fire and nimble. When she dropped the low end, it was like the air changed colors. And I could see, even many feet from the stage, her diaphragm undulating. She asked, directly, for a connection with the people in the room. And they responded. Sometimes it takes Herculean effort to wake up the audience in Albuquerque, no matter how breathtaking the performance. But she can do it; she connects. “So for me, it's this beautiful exchange,” she says. “The feeling that I'm having—that's really through me—is of love. It's just a big, vibrating hug.”
I've played shows with Moyer for years. I've got a brain collage of her performances. But I’ll never forget the first time my mom saw Saywut?! live.
Later, Saywut?! was gracious enough to lean in and beatbox into her ear.
I'm not used to seeing my mom astonished.
Moyer has been invited into all kinds of musical communities, even the classical congregation over at the Church of Beethoven. “I was so intimidated by them the first time I performed there," she says. “I'm like, What am I doing?” But, as usual, she knocked them out. “I can connect with anybody. All ages.”
Moyer doesn't know much about CocoRosie. In fact, after being hired on as the band’s beatboxer, she was asked not to bone up on its history and catalog. Sisters Bianca “Coco” and Sierra “Rosie” Casady like her freshness. She doesn't know, for example, the tale of the siblings growing estranged for a few years before reuniting in Paris. There, the fable goes, they locked themselves in Sierra's apartment for a couple of months and recorded their debut album, La Maison de Mon Rêve (The House of My Dream). It was released in 2004. CocoRosie dreamed up three more albums, the latest of which, Grey Oceans, was released on Sub Pop about a year ago.
These are the things CocoRosie's international fans and media know. But that hasn't been Moyer's experience. In fact, the concert at the Sunshine Theater in October was the first time she'd ever seen them. She went on a whim.
“I wanted to cry. I wanted to rejoice. I wanted to jam. I wanted to dance my ass off.”
The gorgeous set CocoRosie turned in took hold of her. “I wanted to cry. I wanted to rejoice. I wanted to jam. I wanted to dance my ass off. It exhilarated me. And to see so many people from Albuquerque there—it was a very unique crowd, too. That was so much part of the energy.”
She decided to hit the after-party at The Kosmos. “I walked in and saw all these people doing beautiful aerial acts. I've never been to any traveling after-party that was so dope and put together, not just like, Yeah gurrrrl, I'm gonna be at the hotel.”
She introduced herself to Tez, the beatboxer CocoRosie toured with. Moyer complimented him on a couple of his beats that resonated the audience’s core. She told him she was a beatboxer, too, just to show she could back up her compliments with a little knowledge. After a while, he agreed to beatbox with her. And the rest, she says, is history.
“There's this whole give-and-take, the breathing patterns. It seemed like we had rehearsed it for a long time. Every time we felt a change about to come, we were just very absorbed in that space.” Once they got going, they were locked in for 30 minutes. “It was a milestone performance for me. Most definitely.”
The audience was going crazy, she says, because they knew it was a moment.
“The people in the crowd had been seeing me for such a long time. To see this opportunity, and to see me taking that opportunity, and them there to really encourage and just blow it up and make it what it was, I'll never forget it.”
Afterward, Moyer was shaken, she says—even her knees were shaking. The Casady sisters found Saywut?! after the show, gave her a hug and told her they would be in touch.
“I feel like there's always been very direct road signs,” she says, “just metaphorical life things that happen that are so right, that you can't but see the road sign and say, OK, I accept this.”
A few months later, the phone rang. The girls, as Moyer calls them, were in from France. They promised to fly her to Brooklyn to rehearse and see how things went.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
She boarded the plane with a round-trip ticket. She didn't know what to expect. The first time they improvised together, Moyer really felt the profundity of her good fortune. She was able to hold her ground but adapt to the new material, she says, and was asked to join their European tour in July. Looking out the big windows in Sierra Casady's Brooklyn apartment, Saywut?!, a Burque girl through and through, decided to move. She called Doc & Eddy's where she was a part-time cocktail waitress and told them she wasn't coming back. It wasn't like in the movies where the heroine happily trashes her waitress apron in exchange for fame and fortune. She liked her job there and the people—and the free billiards.
Moyer did some shows while she visited the East Coast. People in New York seem just as excited about Saywut?! as they are in Albuquerque. “I was just as rare out there as I was here. I thought, There's got to be 10 female beatboxers on every corner in Brooklyn,” she says. But there weren't.
There's no telling why there are so few female beatboxers out there. As a young girl, Moyer had the ability to mimic sounds and voices, do impersonations, she says. “I like to tell jokes, and I know that if you can really imitate something, just hit the nail on the head, people are so much more into what you're saying.”
She believes her femininity gives her a strong intuition. She thinks of the particular way her grandmother had about her. "I learned a lot of just very graceful things that I haven't really remembered until now that I'm growing into myself." Maybe that's why people have told Moyer her whole life that she seems older than she is.
She's been beatboxing for almost 10 years. Though she's received tips as she's progressed, Moyer has never had a direct mentor. “It was very much, I had to work up my skill level and continue to hold my ground as a peer, at the very least.”
Moyer might be New Mexico’s rep.
She comes from a tight family that's been here for generations. Of course, her parents wanted her to go to college. But she's chosen a different path, and they've supported her, she says. “Everything about my coming into this was more of me being who I was, having a specific direction in my life.” Her parents have given her a base and taught her to be an empathetic, loving person and yet be strong, she says. “I think about my ancestors, too. I think about my grandparents and who they were. It's so New Mexican.”
There are a few points during the interview where tears shine in Moyer's eyes. Once or twice, they fall. I ask her what she's thinking about.
“If anything,” she says, “it's the direct presence of my talent and my art and my heart. It's just such an honor and a privilege. It teaches me a lot about life, and I get to share that.”
Thursday, May 12, 8 p.m.It’s her last show in Albuquerque for a while, with Eprhyme, Glad as Knives, Watermelon 7, DJs Werewulf Micah and Shark Siren.
1501 First Street NW
Tickets: $5 to $10 (sliding scale), 18+
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