Introducing a new era for serpentwithfeet personally and sonically, Grip is a striking body of work that is brimming with poise and tenacity in a fully realised form proving to be his best work to date. The singer and songwriter is one of the most critically acclaimed voices in contemporary pop music, and has achieved a brilliant career thanks to previous works blister, soil, Apparation EP and Deacon. He has worked with musicians such as Björk, Daniel Caesar, Sampha, Ellie Goulding, Nao, Alex Isley, Moby, Mick Jenkins, Kelela, and Virgil Abloh, among others, and his voice has made our moments listening to his music even more special.
Grip explores the profound depths of intimacy between a romantic partner. It also celebrates and fosters the spirit and magic of Black queer nightlife, while also honouring the communities that are nurtured within the walls of these intimate spaces and the monumental impact that they have on the lives of many people on the margins. In the track Safe Word, we find our body being a shelter for someone else, but also unconsciously making it home for ourselves, being happy in it. The sensual connection between two men is present in most of the songs of the album narrating fun and sexy moments, with humorous innuendos and moments of carelessness and contemplation. 
Through these songs, there is a reconstruction of how sometimes the physical encounter between two men happens; it humanises the experience back again, it’s a story about love affairs and everyday life within the Black queer community. But there’s also space for friendship, innocence, uncertainty and a bunch of feelings that shape Grip as one of the most detailed works of serpentwithfeet; as he put it, his previous works have dealt with the mind, the heart and the experience, and this time he wanted to approach physicality. This is a soulful album, not only because romance is implicit but because serpent's voice has the ability to touch our feelings. It’s frisson. 
Opening the album, Damn Gloves introduces the fun, exciting (and explicit) part of dancing and a flirting in a queer club with such fierceness that it’s thought-provoking (“Whatever’s on his leg, good God, it's gettin’ thicker / It’s gettin’ thicker”); he explores longing for a lover and the inner battle of expressing those feelings in Ellipsis (“If I'm a bird, I need a tree / Flying alone is so hard on my wings”); we rejoice listening to him sing about that fascinating moment of trying to control the speed as a new relationship evolves in Deep End (“I don't wanna make a mess, I don't wanna move too fast / But let's not avoid the deep еnd”); there are also sassy moments under the sheets in Safe Word (“Oh, I heard it’s gonna rain cats and dogs / Oh, by the way, my nigga’s carryin’ a log”) and beautiful images in Spades made of memories and resolutions (“Remember the first time you got the braids with the zig-zag parts? / You cried, you were tender-headed / Now I'm crying 'cause you got a tender heart”).
The release follows serpent’s explosive debut theatrical run with his critically acclaimed production, Heart of Brick. The dance theatre production chronicles a moving love story within a Black gay club that features a one-of-kind performance by a cast of extraordinary dancers and music from serpent’s GripHeart of Brick was created by serpent, co-written by award winning poet Donte Collins, directed by multimedia artist Wu Tsang, choreographed by dance-theatre artist Raja Feather Kelly and produced by The Joyce Theater Foundation. 
“But if each day, each hour, you feel that you are destined for me with implacable sweetness, if each day a flower climbs up to your lips to seek me, ah my love, ah my own, in me all that fire is repeated, in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten, my love feeds on your love, beloved, and as long as you live it will be in your arms without leaving mine”.  This verse of one of the most beautiful Pablo Neruda poems, If You Forget Me, from The Captain's Verses, published in 1952 by the Chilean winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and it was shared by serpent recently in his Instagram account on the edge of the release of the album. It reads as the perfect introduction (and inspiration) for this piece of work; one that examines the architectonics of our bodies in the love experience.
Hi! Thank you very much for taking your time to do this. I feel like I have to say, first of all, congratulations on the new record. It's absolutely fantastic and so beautiful.
Thank you so much.
How do you feel now that it’s finally out?
It feels like letting go of a secret I’ve been holding for a while. Yeah, it’s exciting!
Damm Gloves was the fantastic first single and, in the video, we could contextualise the song happening in a queer club at night. It’s a story that we see developing along the tracks of this fantastic album, but this song it’s kind of a statement for the whole narrative and it is the song that sounds more different to the rest of the album. What inspired you to write these songs?
The first thing is, I've been inspired by things I've witnessed, things that I've watched on TV and film, things that were imagined, and also things I've experienced is a composite of a few different things. With this album you have an example of sort of a mosaic, it’s not autobiographical, but obviously, it's inspired by not just my life but, others lives and things that I haven't seen happened. I was just trying to make a large quilt and paint several images at once.
When you sing, there's a lot of intimacy and connection between men in this record and it's really cozy and joyful to listen to. For example, it seems to talk about both spontaneity at the club but also about the loss of innocence; in Black Air Force there seems to be a message to reinforce someone else’s self-esteem; in Ellipsis about the uncertainty of the other’s love; in Lucky we listen to someone expressing joy and pleasure in the purest way. I wonder if at some point the process of writing and singing these songs was intense or, on the contrary, these songs helped you expressing yourself in such different ways towards a story?
Yeah, thank you for the observation. I think walking into this project, I knew that I wanted to have a lot of different moments and events to happen. So, I worked with an incredible team of producers and musicians. And we sat down, and we talked through what our goals and ideas were for the album, and they would suggest things, so we ended up “okay, we should have a song that combines two songs, so we got Rum / Throwback, for example”, or “we need to turn the bpm here so that we had some more dynamic songs”. I had a lot of ideas, and I didn't want the album to be one note. I wanted things to feel danceable but also to feel reflective, some moments to feel pensive and some moments to feel sensual. It was just a long process, but very rewarding process, and I didn't do it alone. I think the beauty about collaborating is that you get so many different ideas from your hands into the pot and so there’s a lot of flavours. It was actually a really, really, really fun album to work on.
Listening to “Got a new zip-code, but, boy, you still feel like home” in Spades made me think about, again, how the feeling of love has a lot to do with feeling at home, safe. Especially when it’s about a feeling that you develop when you’re young and don’t know the complexity of relationships, it’s just so spontaneous. Production-wise, how did you approach the album to represent your message in the best way possible?
One of the main producers was a guy named Sensei Bueno, and we also had a producer called I Like That and then we had Mike Irish do some additional production. So, I think it was again just having different minds in the room compared to getting that help them to get the drums right or the percussion or the guy whistling, the texture - everything was a conversation, it wasn’t like someone going off into a studio on their own, we wanted to make it better and better, after hours of working on a synth sound or a percussion sound. We knew that we wanted the album to feel RnB but we also want it to be playful and a push as much as we could. So yeah, it took a lot of a lot of people to get it right.
Safe Word is a very beautiful song because I feel like it talks about sensual connection between two men, but also when you refer to yourself as the shelter, is also a safe place to be with yourself, like somehow reassuring yourself. Gay sex has been often used as a way to denigrate us when it is the most natural and instinctive way of connection between two human beings. How did the idea for this song come about?
I think when the producers came up with the instrumental, we were all in the room together. I can't remember what was first, if a guitar or the drums, but we had the instrumental idea. And I knew immediately that I wanted to push my own boundaries lyrically, and melodically you know, I wanted to make something that was bolder than I have ever written, and I wanted to take more risks and sing in a way that I haven’t [before]. So, I went back into the studio, and I said, “nobody's coming in with me”. I wanted to go by myself into the recording booth. And I wanted to explore it privately and push my own boundaries and not be sort of cognisant of how it sounds at first.
I played around, and I found an idea that shocked me. I wanted to surprise myself, and the thing I thought about while writing it is being with someone who I know very well, and they know me very well. And we can both let our hair down and take a deep breath because we know each other, and we know that our safety, our security, and our pleasure is paramount. And what does that do? When you know somebody from years and years, you know everything about their body and you know their temperament, you know what kind of security you feel with that person. I think it is such a beautiful thing. I just wanted to make it something [that] felt sensual but also just to just feel you know, like in Spades. It's like when we are both each other’s home.
Do you think that we are in a safe place now as a society to talk about what you think in the song in the way that are we treating queer people better? Or are they treating us better?
I guess my initial answer would be I think queer people we all have more language. We have more access to language and literature and films that maybe we did twenty or forty years ago, but obviously there were queer films and literature at those times. I think we have – because of the Internet – more access. And I think because of that, we have more empathy, more patience with each other. And so, I think we are often more loving with each other. We historically change the climate; we change the world around us. We don’t wait for the world to decide that we are worthy of care and affection. We demand it, and we do it as a group. It's not a solo endeavour.
I think the more that we love each other than we care for each other, the more that we can educate, inform and be kind to each other, the more that the world around us will change and that the opposite, you know, like I'm not waiting for somebody else outside of my world to treat me kindly. People are going to keep being kind and we're going to get [what] we deserve because that's the standard.
It made me think about the last song on the record. I like 1 to 10 because it seems to be about queer male friendship, as a group of people and it is really cool that you had a group of people you wanted to be with when creating the album.
This song is about being with friends and having that one friend that is very flirty, always he has a different boo every week. He doesn't really like anybody, which is fine. But then all of us in different groups see that person that suddenly wants to settle down and they start dressing up more and more. They're changing their home décor, they have started cooking and it takes their complete identity. And it's like this is cute but we want to know fine [who] is this person that you’re changing your life for, they must be really gorgeous! Because like you'd never do this, (laughs). It's like that's dope because that tells how fine this person is because you're changing your entire life.
You kind of have like a high frequency of releasing music and good songs. Before the album we could listen to the singles Gonna Go and I’m Pressed, that could have easily been in the album as they fit with these songs. Is there a reason they were left out?
I think that before this album came out, I was just in a process of exploring different types of production for me. So, things that felt more rhythmic, to have more pulse. So Gonna Go and I’m Pressed were sort of my production exploration.
Do you get feedback from fans about the importance of the things you sing, especially in this last album?
Yeah, I love to hear what my audience and what the listeners think, because it's a very important part of this work. I live on music, but I'm making it with the intention of others hearing it so it's really great to hear what others think and people have been so encouraging and kind and have said really wonderful things about this project so far, so I'm really super, super thankful.
And I wanted to ask you about the play. As far as I know, it's a musical theatrical production called Heart of Brick, in which you play the main character as he meets Brick, an enigmatic club owner, and the two instantly fall in love. It tells the story of two gay black men falling in love and the solace they find within the black queer community. I think you were in the process of both making the album and the musical. I'm not sure which came first, or which influenced the other, or maybe it was something that had to happen simultaneously. But how has one complemented the other?
I was creating both at the same time. I was being a part of them. While I was working [on] the album, I was [working on] the new stage show, and when I was creating the stage show I was dealing with the album. And I knew that I wanted the album to be able to stand alone because it doesn't have a clear narrative standing by itself, but I knew it could be the soundtrack for the stage show. And so, the stage show is full of dialogue and a lot of dancing. But I want it to feel like a full theatre production that sort of pushes for some of the boundaries of what's possible for stage. They definitely complement each other.
It’s important for me to ask you about how we seem to be becoming more progressive or conquering more rights for queer people, but I feel like we don't talk about, or we don't know enough about the black queer nightlife scene. So, I wonder how important was it for you to work in a musical that is set in that scene for your identity?
I guess I wasn't creating it as a political move, but I was creating it because with my music I've always tried to be as expressive and transparent as possible. And I've written so many projects about the heart and the mind and how my spirits feeling you know, with blister, soil and with Apparition. And think with this project, I thought it was time to talk about the body and to think about what happens below the waist, below the belt buckle and that's an important part too, you know, how do people walk into the room with Black Air Force, thinking about how we communicate with our bodies in Safe Word, or how we change the way we take up space when we meet somebody that we like 1 to 10. So, I think it was really important to just explore the body and so on the dance floor but explore in romance as well.
It just so happens that the club is the site of many physical experiences, but it isn't the only one on the album, because I’m also talking about other spaces too. So, it wasn't much political as it was me needing to make sure that my musical canon is well rounded. I think if you’re my friend you know I have always got very lofty, and very silly, and sometimes I just wanted to dance. I want my work over the years to feel like me, not just one part of me.
Do you remember the first time you discovered that your voice was different in the sense that it was an instrument in itself? Were you aware of the power it had?
Well, I spent a lot of time in choir growing up. And I took voice lessons for years from middle school, and then high school and into college. And those years are very challenging because you go from being a child who was just singing without instruction and how it feels right, to then learn something that does feel counterintuitive because you're adding technique, and at the beginning it does not feel intuitive. You know, learning a lot of different concepts and how to breathe differently and how to sing differently and how to sit when you're singing and so much stuff.
I think honestly I have to say my teachers my professors really instilled in me that my voice is an instrument that you live with, a tuba player can put down and pick up a tuba or a pianist will go and sit at the piano, but for us we take this with us. I can't put the voice down and pick it up when I'm ready to go, it's with me. So, I think it's something I'm always cognisant of.
I know it has been like five years since it happened but how was collaborating with Björk? How did you feel and how was it to perform with her?
It was such an honor to be asked to do the remix [of Blissing Me], I was so excited. She asked me one day if I was interested and of course I was! And I started working on it immediately. And then a couple years later, we performed it live in New York, and then again on the West Coast tour in LA and I think we did it too in San Francisco. It was just such an honour; she is somebody that I have been in awe of and have admired since I was a kid. Working with one of my one of my legends and somebody that definitely inspired me so much, it felt surreal. It was so much fun working on the song, recording it but also performing it. I had to pinch myself every night, from hearing some of my favourite songs of her to go on stage - I was just like “I can't believe I'm walking up the stairs to go and sing this”. It’s one of my favourite career moments, I will never ever forget it. My mind was blown. So, I'm really thankful.
I really enjoyed the playlist you did for Interview Magazine, Top Songs to Fall in Love With for San valentine’s day. I noticed you included Hentai, by Rosalía and I could totally picture the two of you singing together. Would you like to collaborate her? Any dream collaboration with other artists?
Yeah, I am huge Rosalía fan, I think her songs are incredible, her singing is out of this world. I would love to collaborate with her someday. Also say I'm a huge fan of Brent Faiyaz as well. I think he's an incredible musician and songwriter. I love Victoria Monet. SZA is genius, you know, there're so many artists that I just admire their writing, their sonic ideas, their concepts.
Have there been delving into any books, songs, films, plays exhibitions that have kept you company while writing the album?
I would say there's a book called Haruko / Love Poems by June Jordan. I've been reading that a lot, and that's been really amazing.
Finally, what are your plans for the nearer future?
Just keep making music, to keep being imaginative, to keep exploring. And to keep pushing myself. I love making music, and I love learning new things about me, and things about my environment, so I want to remain curious and never take anything for granted. Never take the small things or the large things for granted. So that's all my agenda.
Thank you so much for your time, and seriously congratulations on the amazing new album!
Thank you so much.