A Fiendish Conversation with Hollis Wong-Wear
Hollis Wong-Wear is the James Franco of the Seattle music scene. She's just likes having jobs. All the jobs. When she's not fronting her electropop band the Flavr Blue, she's singing the chorus for the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis single "White Walls." When she's not working as the operations manager for Blue Scholars, she's serving on the boards of local arts organizations. When she's not performing spoken word poetry, she's giving graduation speeches. Theoretically, she also sleeps sometimes (though this is unconfirmed). This weekend will be another busy one for Hollis as the Flavr Blue help christen Fremont Fair's new Solstice Concerts series on Saturday, June 21, when the group plays a show headlined by Blue Scholars.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Hollis about the plethora of positions she holds, having a hip-hop mentality, and performing at KeyArena with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
You always seem to have a million different of arts projects you’re working on at any given time. So what’s currently on your proverbial plate?
Flavr Blue is definitely my main focus right now. We’re kind of on this jaunt of summer tours and making new music in the studio. We’re really just trying to grow our momentum. But beyond that, I’ve been in L.A. for a week, primarily focused on doing different co-writes with different producers that are down here. So I’ve been down here just kind of like networking and learning more about the music industry, just 'cause this is such a hub for music. So that’s kind of a large part of what I’ve been up to.
I’ve been doing a fair amount of spoken word performances and keynote speeches this year. So, I was a keynote speaker at the multicultural grad ceremony at the University of Washington. And I’ve been performing at different nonprofit fundraisers, like the YWCA and One America, which has been great, because it’s kind of been propelling my original spoken word, which is kind of the basis of my artistry. So there’s that.
I serve on in official capacity on two boards and commissions right now. One is the Seattle Center Advisory Commission. And the other one is the 4Culture Board of Directors, and I’m hopefully going to be on the Seattle Music Commission as well in this upcoming year. So that takes up a lot of my time. And that’s just kind of me plugging my experience and my passion into a broader civic framework. So that takes a pretty significant portion of my time. That’s kind of it right now.
That’s kind of it? That’s kind of a lot. (Laughs)
Speaking of the Flavr Blue, what are you looking forward to as part of the Fremont Fair’s inaugural Solstice Concerts lineup?
Obviously it’s a huge honor and exciting for me to get to have my band open up for Blue Scholars, just given the fact that I’ve been working with them for a number of years and they’re a huge personal inspiration to me as a musician, as an artist, and as somebody in the community. The Physics obviously are super dope. I’d say it’s definitely awesome to be on a Seattle hip-hop bill even though we’re not technically, you know, a hip-hop group. But we’re definitely of the hip-hop world, so it feels kind of like a family reunion. And it’s really exciting that it’s going to be the inaugural set. Blue Scholars has become embedded in the Seattle musical identity, and they don’t play very many shows at all in Seattle, so for them to come together for this, I think is a really great way to start off the hopefully long and illustrious history of the Fremont Fair Solstice Concerts.
Going off that idea of not being an exact fit to the Seattle hip-hop scene but still blending with it, there isn’t a rich, extensive history of Seattle turning out the kind of electropop the Flavr Blue makes. So what have you drawn on to find your own sound and your own niche?
Well I think fundamental to being a rapper and being of hip-hop is kind of having a pioneering sensibility; the idea that as an MC you always kind of want to be different from the mold. Like, your power comes from being an individual; not like different for different’s sake, but really like actualizing your own individuality. I think with Flavr Blue, we kind of took that two steps forward and really thought about like how we can go beyond what we even expect of ourselves to create music that is entirely new. So I think we kind of almost have like a hip-hop approach to it, in that we kind of want to like subvert what’s given, but we are kind of using it to explore completely new textures and challenge ourselves. So, instead of rapping we’re singing. And instead of making like hip-hop bangers, we’re figuring out how to incorporate live musicality and beautiful melodic elements. Just with everything, we want it to be fresh and new for us too.
Do you have a favorite concert you’ve seen in the past year?
I mean, that Outkast show at Sasquatch! was just insane. Like, I really didn’t think in my lifetime I was ever going to see Outkast perform again. I thought that was just going to be something that I could only dream of, and it really kind of was a dream come true to be able to see them in all of their ferocity take the stage. I mean, to me, they’re a transcendent music group that really inspires me greatly.
Who are the up-and-coming acts in Seattle that excite you?
I would say one of the acts that like impresses me more than anybody in Seattle right now is Hightek Lowlives which is fronted by Otieno Terry, who is the guy who won the EMP Soundoff Competition. His music is just like so well done; it has such richness and body to it. I’m really excited about people discovering him and finding more about him. And it’s cool too ‘cause I come from a spoken word background working with Youth Speaks and he was a Youth Speaks like participant a couple years behind me. So was Mary Lambert. So it’s like… I’m always kind of riding for my artists that have their roots in poetry and that community. I also really love Tangerine. They’re on Fin Records and they’re delightful and great live.
If you weren’t a performer, is another line of work that you think you might want to pursue?
Oh my god, yeah. Like every line of work. (Laughs) I don’t know, sometimes it baffles me that I was even able to hone like being a creative performer/producer. Like, I mean that in and of itself it’s super broad, but it’s a huge step for me to even narrow it down. I don’t know, I mean like I’m really passionate about kind of the intersecting realms of art, and social justice, and education, and youth empowerment. So there’s many different lanes that that can take. I mean sometimes I’m like, “Wow, I’d really love to go into educational policy.” And other times I’m like, “Wow, I’d really love to facilitate youth community empowerment models.” Those are things that just like really make me feel connected and fulfilled. So what I’m really trying to do is utilize my positions on boards and commissions to learn more and see how as a performer and as a creative I can contribute in a meaningful way through all those realms.
What moments stick out from being caught up in the whole Macklemore and Ryan Lewis whirlwind of popularity?
I mean, there’s a lot. I never really anticipated that I would hear a song that I wrote and performed on the radio, so to hear that by myself in my car driving home for the first time was definitely a meaningful moment for me. I was in Santa Monica recently at this like bottomless mimosa brunch club situation and the song came on and I was like, “Oh, this will never not be a little bit weird.” But yeah, I mean more than anything I think performing live is really their essence, and performing with them at KeyArena and standing there in front of like 45,000 local fans (over three nights) was definitely a profound moment in my life.
June 20–22, Fremont, Free (Solstice Concerts $20–$25; two-day pass $35)