Bartees’ life experience has undoubtedly contributed to the kind of art he creates.
Born in the UK and relocated to Oklahoma just before middle school, his young life was filled with professional vocal lessons from his mom, sandwiched in between basketball, football and track practices, games and meets. Music quickly became Bartees’ way of differentiating himself from the stereotypical “black athlete” identity that surrounded him, and he became fixated on the blooming hardcore and emo scenes of the midwest and deep south, including bands like At The Drive-In, American Football and As Cities Burn.
Nearly 5,000 miles apart, Bartees and his friends in the UK stayed in touch through AIM (AOL Instant Messenger, RIP), and it’s then that he first learned about a whole new world of sonic influence. Indie bands like Bloc Party and electronic artists like Burial and Skream exposed Bartees to an entirely different way of approaching art and life, so he picked up a guitar and never looked back.
Being the only black and queer person for miles, Bartees struggled as a teenager in Mustang, Oklahoma, a sundown town that only now registers around 18,000 residents in total. “I’m surprised they even count it that high,” he laughs.
In order to fit in with the rest of the town’s majority white, conservative residents, Bartees learned to “tamp himself down.” It wasn’t until he became more familiar with bands like TV On The Radio, At the Drive-In and Bloc Party that he truly saw his own potential and path out of Mustang.
Eventually, after a football injury during his one-year stint playing college ball, Bartees moved from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C., where he began the next chapter of his life: activism. A natural response to his teenage surroundings, he’s since dedicated himself to progressive action, bouncing between different non-profit organizations, a stint in the labor movement, and even the federal government. Currently Bartees works as director of strategic partnerships for a major climate change organization.
“My whole life, people have tried to put me in a box. The scene’s I play music in, my day jobs, and even in the expectations from my friends,” Bartees explains, when asked about his goals with music and beyond.
“There are so many black and brown people like me all over the country who are hiding in plain sight every day. Who feel discouraged, who feel like they have to hide a part of themselves to be accepted, or who aspire to be something great but don’t know if it’s possible. I just want those people to hear my music and be able to free themselves.”