There’s a New Queer in Town
It’s the first week of Pride month, and I’m giddy walking into my next assignment: an interview with retro-futurist R&B singer Chanticleer Trü at an unassuming bar on Southeast Belmont. Ever since his solo project Chanti Darling stole my heart at a Holocene show a couple of years ago, I’ve looked forward to the day when the stars would align, our careers would collide, and I could pick Trü’s brain over drinks.
After being voted “Best New Band” in a 2016 Willamette Week poll and getting signed to Tender Loving Empire, Chanti Darling’s live shows have been in high demand. This weekend, they’re headlining Sunday’s festivities at the Waterfront Pride Fest, right before the drag showcase finale. Depending on the venue, Trü sometimes plays with a full band, or a simpler “traveling” setup of keys, live tracks, and two captivating back-up dancers. One of those former dancers at the time of his WW accolade was Marquise Dickerson, who’s now a hip-hop performer under the moniker of Maarquii. When asked if he misses having Dickerson as one of his back-up dancers, Trü says there’s no need for gloominess.
“They’re one of my best friends,” he says. “I love them, I love what they’re doing, and I love that they’re doing their own thing. So I’m more happy seeing them thrive. We’re fans of one another—like brothers/sisters.” Trü adds that he’d love to do a proper collaboration with Maarquii soon.
This supportive attitude is steeped in personal experience from his first local music project as lead singer for “post phunk” outfit Magic Mouth.
“Before, I only got to show a very small portion of who I was as an artist,” he explains. “Chanti Darling is the first fully realized version of me that shows what I’m capable of. When I was in Magic Mouth, people thought that was my thing, the type of music I made, or the type of singer I was.”
“People didn’t really know Magic Mouth was me stepping out on a risk—I’d never sang rock music before,” he says. “Before that I grew up on jazz, R&B, and singing in church... more soulful, sophisticated musical genres. I studied opera, too.”
Trü hopes his diverse background will help show people where he can go with Chanti Darling.
“When I started doing this project,” he says, “Damon [Boucher] and I were just beginning [to work together]—we’d been roommates and worked on other people’s projects.
“I was always very much into dance music, R&B, disco—my main place of living, musically. And so I started to introduce Damon to [artists] like Patrice Rushen, Cheryl Lynn, and Morris Day—that sort of production. And we just started working on music together. That’s when I decided I wanted to do a full project of this type of music.”
After three years of work, this August Trü will finally release Chanti Darling’s studio album RNB: Vol. 1. He assures me the RNB project is “a two-volume deal,” and that he’s already begun working on the second.
“Right when I was starting the project was when Tender Loving Empire offered their support,” Trü says. “I would’ve just thrown singles online probably, but then it became like: ‘You have to make this a packaged product.’ And so that took a while.”
Ahead of his album release, Trü’s dropping a handful of singles, the first of which is “Casual,” featuring a verse from the Last Artful, Dodgr.
“Dodgy had texted me and I was like, ‘Hey, what’re you doing? [Damon and I] are going to work on this song, do you wanna do it?’” Trü recalls. “It was like very casual. ‘Casual!’” he laughs. “We swooped her up, went back to my house. Dodgr and I just sat on my porch, drinking champagne and smoking—she rolled up a few blunts—and we wrote it then and there.”
The song is about those ecstasy- and butterfly-ridden first stages of a relationship, when both parties are trying to play it cool and maintain control, but are also on the brink of establishing something more serious. Contemplative and slow-moving verses contrast with an intense, satisfying chorus. Trü says that duality is a common theme on the album.
“It’s a lot about relationships and love,” he explains, “but mostly it’s about complexity and duality.
“A lot of times we really try to simplify our emotions when we’re feeling so much all at the same time. So you’ll see the arrangements do a complete 180 on some tracks. Mostly though, I just wanted to write feel-good songs... as well as songs that might not be the most fun to talk about. But there’s a touch of lightheartedness to it. It’s shruggy a lot of the time.”
“It’s been really wonderful to see the tide change, and now some of the most successful musicians in Portland are queer people of color.”—Chanti Darling
Trü says we’ll get a little bit of everything on the 10-track project, noting inspiration from Prince, Michael Jackson, new jack swing, disco, house music, and more.
“I really wanted to connect the dots of everything that R&B is,” he says. “There’s so many sub-genres connected to R&B... I wanted to draw attention to how massive it is as a genre.”
It’s common to see local musician Natasha Kmeto up onstage with Chanti Darling; they even co-host an inclusive, monthly dance party called Jump Jack Sound Machine at Mississippi Studios, where they both play DJ sets with a similar musical goal.
“We focus on house music, deep house music, things with vocals.... things that are lighter,” Trü says. “A lot of our contemporaries like to play dark techno and stuff like that, but we want to go in the opposite direction. You’ll probably start seeing our art reflecting where we are socially—you know, as it always does. And shit is fucked up, you know, it’s dark. So I think you’re going to see that in what people are wanting to put out. But I really wanted to juxtapose that energy with something a little more lighthearted.”
Chanti Darling’s euphoric live shows have become damn-near unmissable; Trü’s an impressive soul singer with a soaring range, which, combined with his signature groove- and hook-based dance moves, feels like throwback escapism or an Afrofuturist music video from the ’90s. I suggest he put out an instructional how-to video to teach fans the choreography, which Trü says is “a really good idea, actually.”
When asked what it’s been like working as a queer Black artist in Portland, he says, “It’s been good to me. I feel like a lot of these things can be a matter of timing—the right person, the right energy, the right moment. I definitely recognize the lack of diversity. When I first got here and started doing music, there were people doing hip-hop and R&B, but no light was really shined on it. It’s been really wonderful to see the tide change, and now some of the most successful musicians in Portland are queer people of color.”
For his album release party, Trü says he’ll be releasing a visual for “Stars” that’s half documentary, half music video filmed by Adam Garcia of the Instrument creative agency. The short film will serve as his love letter to Portland and the music scene, and show who he is on a personal level.
“You really have to make yourself undeniable and carve out your own path,” Trü continues. “So I’m happy to keep doing that. There are people who look up to you, and there are more queer artists of color creating things. I’m fortunate to hear things like, ‘I saw you in Magic Mouth and that encouraged me to get out there and do my deal.’ That’s a beautiful thing.”