Fantastic Negrito has endured hardship unthinkable to many of us, but thanks to his indomitable spirit and dogged determination, bounced back with physical and artistic vitality. The Oakland-based blues-rock artist looks at America today and recognises parallels between its suffering and his own. As such, he may be the ideal artist to explore ‘what comes next’ – which he vows to on Please Don’t Be Dead – and to outline measures for a brighter future. His new track The Duffler was premiered by Rolling Stone last week and his forthcoming LP arrives shortly after his U.K. tour, which places him on the Night & Day Café stage on 24th May. We feel privileged to have discussed the new record and heard Negrito’s heartfelt views on gun violence and artistic responsibility.
The cover of your forthcoming LP features the harrowing photo of you, coming around from a coma. Is it difficult for you to see that photo and was it equally a difficult decision to make it the LP cover, or did perhaps feel cathartic?
FN: ‘It wasn’t difficult to see the album cover, it was more cathartic. There’s going to be tragedy, we are going to make mistakes, we are going to fail. How can we heal from that? How do we move forward? It reminds me of the Bullshit Anthem (from the new album), which is like my mantra. Take that bullshit and turn it into good shit.’
‘When I looked at that picture, it really struck me. I was like ‘oh my God, this is the state of America.’ We seem like a country that just had a really bad accident. But hey, you know, we’re not dead. And we can come out of it. So I really looked at that picture as the state of our country right now. Very defining. Extremely polarized and injured. But I also see a lot of optimism in that photo. It’s a great reminder that things can be terrible and turn around, and maybe be better than before. But we will be forever changed by going through this.’
‘Automatic weapon in a twitchin’ hand’ is such an evocative line – we hear it in the video to your single Plastic Hamburgers. Can you tell us about the origins of that line and how you feel when you think about what it represents?
FN: ‘I realized that we’re living in a society and a culture that has such a severe gun problem. I look at the people that I’ve lost to gun violence, which include a 14 year old brother, a 16 year old cousin. The kid that I grew up with who was my best friend in junior high. We just have such a problem with gun violence and mental health, and I feel like as an artist I have a platform and it’s good to be lyrically provocative. To get people to think and get people to engage on a topic that is very important. And I’m a gun owner. I have nothing against guns per se. But we have a problem and I think it’s pretty obvious, and it’s amazing we can’t have a real conversation about it.’
You thanked listeners and viewers for the response to the single online this week. Having received support from NPR and other outlets, are you feeling the love approaching the release of the new record?
FN: ‘Yes I really do feel the support of NPR and fans all over the world. I always say the people are my record label.
I feel like I really made a bold record. I think people may have expected the Last Days of Oakland again – especially with its critical success – but yeah, that’s how I feel. Boom. I wanted to come heavier on this record and I wanted to really come out swinging. I feel like I needed to. There’s so much going on out there and artists, I think we need to be on the front line. I think we’re the last line of defense. And I’m feeling the love and support and I’m very happy because connecting with people is what music is all about. It’s the reason that I get up everyday and write and play music.’
You’ve been dipping into music of Brazilian origin as a listener – what have been your favourite recent discoveries from South America?
FN: ‘It’s not just South America, it’s all of Latin America. I’m actually working on some material with Gaby Moreno, who’s from Guatemala. She’s such an amazing artist, singer, vocalist. She blows me away. I also like the Tribalistas. There’s no end to the amazing music coming out of Latin America.’
Many of your fans in Britain may have never visited Oakland or the Bay area. For the benefit of those people, what is it like to live there and how does your music respond to the area?
FN: ‘The Bay Area is one of the most interesting places to live on the planet. I feel like it’s a microcosm of what America says it is. Diverse. Accessible. Open minded. Really steeped in culture and the arts. And a place that is welcome to all people from so many different parts of world. There’s such a high standard of artistry in the Bay Area. So many artists came before me and I feel those vibrations. You know Sly Stone, E-40, Green Day, Metallica to name a few. The Tonies. It’s just such an amazing place. I feel the vibrations in the Bay Area for sure. I wouldn’t live any other place in the world.’
What does the rest of 2018 hold for you – any exciting projects on the horizon, anything you’ve never attempted before?
FN: ‘Well, the rest of 2018 will really be about touring for me. I’m coming to see you! I think I’m touring from May to November. But I’ve been flirting with the idea of a blues-based mixed tape that I’ve started working on a little bit, and hope that I can get into some of that before 2018 ends.’