Olivia Williams, a.k.a Liv.e, and Michael Jordan Bonema, a.k.a MIKE, are full of paradoxes. Williams, who says she doesn’t have any formal musical training, writes kaleidoscopic melodies laced with allegorical lyrics and broken up with conversational quips. Bonema, who says he started writing music as a teenager in the hopes that he’d become famous enough to dodge having to go to college, now writes deeply intimate verses that are wise beyond his years. Sitting in a tour van en route to Chicago, the artists take a few minutes between naps to share a glimpse into their lives as burgeoning artists.
“I don’t have a background in poetry. I don’t have a background in music at all, I just have my DNA I guess,” Williams explains. “I would just say [I’m] probably just inspired by listening to sermons or listening to jazz [laughs]. I sound so lame right now.” But, as anyone who’s listened to her music before would know, she’s far from lame. Williams’s debut record, Couldn’t Wait to Tell You, is an epic autobiography, intricately mapping the different parts of her personality and the sounds they make. At 23 years old, Williams has already garnered the 360-degree perspective that some people never reach, narrating different events in her life as if watching from above.
This phenomenon is especially prescient in “Stories from Aunt Liv,” a love story narrated by Williams’ future self recounting the growing pains of deep love. Her soothing voice floats over gliding bass and roomy percussion as she warns her audience of the dangers of letting one’s guard down: “And she was happily ever after a mess/ a whole entire mess/ because her heart said yes.” And while the record contains an air of humor and self-awareness, Williams confesses that this record has taken a large emotional toll. “Honestly it’s still taking a lot out of me,” she says. “I feel like I prophesized about a lot of things that were about to happen to me ... or just some things that had already happened, or things that I needed to learn or had already learned before.”
If time is one of the best teachers, then it makes sense that Couldn’t Wait to Tell You’s twenty tracks took on different shapes and meanings from when Williams wrote them to after the record’s completion. Somehow, wisdom you told yourself years ago can feel like a twist of the knife when it applies to your current situation. Either way, William’s learned wisdom, accompanied by her powerful and singular vocals, are as good a chance as any to reflect on one’s lessons well learned.
Speaking of learning, MIKE picks up where Liv.e left off when he tells us about his initial foray into music-making. “I just always had this idea like, ‘alright, by 16 I’ll be famous and then I won’t have to go to college,” Bonema says, laughing. “But then that shit didn’t work out.” Although he didn’t achieve teenage stardom, Bonema did attain something arguably more valuable — a community of collaborators that he would continue to work with into adulthood. He says that he met one of his best friends, Darryl Johnson, via his Bushwick high school’s music program, and from there, the two started what would become a collective of artists and producers called [sLUms].
“I think everyone was just kinda hungry in some way and just trying to push it forward,” Bonema says of the group. “I still ended up going to college for like three semesters, at the worst college in New York ... it’s called York College. Bad schoolin’.”
Since then, Bonema has released seven albums and found fans and collaborators in hip-hop acts like Earl Sweatshirt and Navy Blue. His latest record, Disco, is seventeen tracks of self-discovery, contemplation, and grieving. In a 2019 interview with his friend Sideshow, Bonema describes his preceding album, weight of the world, as “bringing him back to live,” where Disco feels more like an opportunity to stay grounded. “I low key don’t remember saying that,” Bonema laughs, “But it makes so much sense because Disco is probably the most vulnerable I’ve been in the sense of being as human as possible. I feel like, even after weight of the world, I was still healing and learning a lot of new shit. Disco is the first time I stopped trying to be too smart and just took it for what it is...it helped me surrender to a lot of things.”
Like Williams, Bonema possesses an innate wisdom, and the invaluable tool of being able to communicate it. As someone who moved around a lot as a child and lost his mother before the age of 20, his music encapsulates a breadth of understanding of some of life’s most dismal truths. But he does so without pretension and always an air of hope. And while Bonema has long surpassed his teenage goal of replacing college courses with a musical career, he says that his new objective lies with something deeper — something you can feel. “The feeling of being present and feeling like you’re actually here. Music is one of the only things that has brought that to me,” says Bonema. “I want people to be able to access that gift.”
Liv.e and MIKE will perform on Saturday, Oct. 23 at The Sanctuary; 2932 Caniff St., Hamtramck; sanctuarydetroit.com. Doors ar 7 p.m. Tickets are $12.
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