Sara Ramirez
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Ezra Miller and His "Genre-Queer" Band Are Charting Their Own Glorious Course

Sound and Vision: Sons of an Illustrious Father

Photography by Daniel Seung Lee. Styling by Michael Cook. Hair: Andrita Renee. Makeup: Justine Sweetman. miller: Suit and shirt by Prada. aubin: jacket, Shirt, and Pants by Berluti. Glasses by Etnia. larson: Shirt, pants, and belt by Bottega Veneta.

“If you wanna fuck shit up / I’ll fuck with you,” intone the members of Sons of an Illustrious Father, with teeth-grinding purpose, on their fiery 2017 single “U.S. Gay.” “And if you want to fix it up / We can do that too.” The trio — Josh Aubin, Lilah Larson, and Ezra Miller — penned the track in the traumatic aftermath of the 2016 Pulse shooting.

“I had two different responses,” says Larson. “One was deep fear and total devastation. But it also amplified the love I have for my community. The song is an attempt to create space to celebrate and mourn, to dance and cry.” In its homespun video, a diverse crew of queer youth tenderly embrace and writhe with abandon.

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When we speak, Miller has just returned home to New York from a Comic–Con in Dubai, where he was promoting his recurring blockbuster role as DC’s wise-cracking superhero The Flash. More quietly, Sons of an Illustrious Father have released two albums of intricate, Americana-inspired rock: Their third, Deus Sex Machina; or, Moving Slowly Beyond Nikola Tesla, is the band’s most ambitious yet — a wild blend of post-punk guitars, stabbing synths, and sly pop hooks.

There’s a convoluted concept behind it involving visions of humans as machines, the racism of the Founding Fathers, and the scientist Nikola Tesla as a sort of secular prophet, but it’s rooted in Miller and Larson’s point of view as queer people in Trump’s America — or, as Miller ominously puts it, it’s like “a funeral march for a dead world.”

Miller and Larson met in middle school in New York’s picturesque Hudson Valley and quickly bonded over their mutual obsession with Patti Smith, Daniel Johnston, and Bikini Kill. Larson formed Sons of an Illustrious Father in 2009, Miller joined the same year, and Aubin was recruited in 2010. After shuffling band members in and out a few times, they settled on their current lineup five years ago. The group exhibit an intuitive synergy during their dynamic live performances, often swapping instruments onstage.

Sound and Vision: Sons of an Illustrious Father

Miller’s rough-hewn vocals can sound as if he’s trying to exorcise a demon, while the trio’s lyrics sometimes skew toward the macabre and the oblique. On the epic, riff-fueled recent single “Extraordinary Rendition,” for example, Miller roars, “Nowadays you can get your sex / In bloody plastic oil spill concentrate convenience."

 

Not that they’re always somber. In conversation, Sons are as likely to eulogize the Muppets or the campy 1980s Meryl Streep–Roseanne Barr comedy She-Devil as they are Valerie Solanas’s radical feminist SCUM Manifesto. At times, their eccentricities can be a tad earnest — Miller muses on his hope that their audiences “transcend into the next existence” — but their esoteric bent can also lead to some thought-provoking perspectives.

“I’m very interested in the untalked-about history of queerness in music,” says Larson. “Early blues singers like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith were openly singing about theirs. Little Richard later disavowed his own queerness, but the original lyrics for ‘Tutti Frutti’ were about anal sex. They’re some of the greatest musicians of all time, and they also happen to be radically queer.”

Sons describe their own music as “genre-queer.” Says Larson, “We do it for the same reasons people define themselves with the label of queerness. It’s a refusal of definition. We don’t identify as a rock band or a pop band or an anything-in-particular band. We like the freedom to do and play whatever, just like we feel the freedom to love whoever we love.”

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