Alexei! Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy day to chat with COMPAS. Can you tell us a little about what your background and what your art form is?
I was born and raised in South Minneapolis. I started going to local rap shows and submerging myself in the culture of underground hip-hop at age 15. By age 18 I was doing shows and releasing albums with my group, and by the time I was 20, I was touring North America extensively. Today I continue to draw from the same sources of inspiration that motivated me so many years ago: the merging of writing (lyricism) with music and performance. Today, I focus my creative energy on creative writing (mostly lyrics, but sometimes poetry and short stories), and performing. I have one band that I perform and record with regularly, and a couple other bands/projects that are less active.
When did you first become interested in spoken word? How did it happen? Who were some of your influences?
I became interested in creative writing at a very young age, maybe 10 years old, through the various forms of writing that captivated my imagination (comic strips and horror stories, mostly). Spoken word poetry is a close relative of rap music. Many consider Gil Scott Heron and The Last Poets the grandfathers of rap music, and so I've been familiar with the art form for a long time, and certainly gained an appreciation for it as a teenager. I didn't become interested in performing "spoken word" until very recently, and mostly as a means to instruct and work with young people. I consider 90's era hip hop a major influence in my work today. Artists like Gil Scott Heron and Bob Dylan also have impacted my artistic approach and philosophy. More recently, artists like Kendrick Lamar have breathed a fresh breath into the world of arts.
Do you have a preference between writing or performing your work? What do you enjoy the most about each?
Writing and performing are two ends of the creative spectrum that are inseparable to me. I couldn't have one without the other. I get the most out of performing, because there is no other experience I've had that allows me to share something with an audience in real time and also share in the experience that we are all creating by being in the same space. It can reach transcendent levels. Writing is the personal practice, a narrative with myself, and performing is an outward expression that allows me to share and connect with the world around me.
What do you get out of teaching versus creating your own work? What do you hope participants of your programs learn?
When I teach creative writing, I have to really examine my logic, my own experience, and bring to light everything that I take for granted or simply assume is "the right way" to do something. I have watched well intentioned ideas and formulas for doing something die in front of a classroom full of students. And I've become a better person and artist for it. Teaching forces me to challenge my own assumptions, ideas and practices, and allows me to pass along meaningful lessons and techniques to up and coming artists. I hope that participants in my workshops learn that there is always more than one way to do something, but as long as you believe in the power of your own voice, it will be heard.
What do you see as the benefits of working in Minnesota’s music scene?
Since the time that I've come of age, the Twin Cities have grown my spaces and opportunities for artists to be seen and heard. I think we're a pretty arts and artist-friendly community. A lot of artists here are open to networking and collaboration, which is a sign of a healthy community.
Have you been working on any new projects lately?
I'm currently working on finishing a teaching program (to get my licensure in secondary ELA), so that's taking up a lot of my time and energy. I'm also working on a record with my group, Kill The Vultures, and am also working on another record with another band I'm in called Roma di Luna. Both will be available to the public by summer of 2018.
You were added to the COMPAS roster last year. What’s it like so far to be a part of COMPAS?
COMPAS has been a great organization to work with because they offer me a lot of opportunities to get in the classroom and in space with young learners and do my work. Each opportunity is different and grows me. I feel like I'm a part of a larger arts educator community, even if I'm not in touch with everyone on the artist roster. I feel like I'm part of a larger legacy of expanding arts in our state, and I'm proud of that.
How do you practice creativity in your everyday life?
I am a father of a soon-to-be nine-year-old girl, and we're in a band together called Double Dragon, so when I'm not working with my other musical outlets, I get to be creative with her on a regular basis. It's very refreshing to see the world through her eyes.