One of the most exciting new voices in music: The Björk collaborator discusses his Baltimore upbringing, Beyoncé’s powerhouse vocals and making his anticipated debut album.
serpentwithfeet, AKA Josiah Wise, is a Baltimore-reared, NYC-based experimental R&B singer-songwriter whose arresting fashion (he sports a large septum ring and facial tattoos with the words “suicide” and “heaven”) and rapturous songs have generated significant buzz. Haunting, moody and tense, serpentwithfeet’s sound has been called “avant soul,” “future soul” and “post-club electronic”; he himself once gave it the label “pagan gospel.” But it’s a skillful synthesis of a variety of styles, including folk, jazz, classical, electronic, gospel, pop, funk and avant-garde. In 2006, serpentwithfeet attended Philadelphia University of the Arts, studying classical voice. After a stint in Europe, he signed to Tri Angle Records where he released the Haxan Cloak-produced blisters EP, which showcased his lithe, nimble tenor on gloomy songs about love and loss. Since then, serpentwithfeet has appeared as featured singer on the remix of Björk’s “Blissing Me” from her 2017 album Utopia. In this Fireside Chat, the artist discusses the R&B music on which he was reared and still inspires him — iconic female vocalists like Beyoncé, Brandy and Faith Evans — talks about sidestepping the limitations of genre and marketing classifications, and explores his early roots in the Baltimore church scene and its promotion of “black spiritual excellence.” He also discusses the “pettiness”’ behind his impressionistic lyrics, which often delve into relationship drama, and the production behind some of the key songs on soil, his debut album on Secretly Canadian.