By Rachel Walsh (originally published in H&Maid Magazine)
It’s always crowded in Spice Market, but nine square feet to yourself and a cup of stall-bought tea can plunge you into your own vibrant world. I bring my cup of instant Fall to my nose, and although it’s summer outside my little bubble, inside it’s heady with cardamom and cinnamon and all the homey-prickly sensations that give Spice Market its name. Beyond, the amateur crooners at Waterside Warble converse half-audibly with the babbling brook that makes the Warble truly Waterside. But listen closely and you might start to pick out a tenor floating above the hubbub on a wistful guitar: a river of a different sort, local legend River Indigo.
A nomad at heart, River Indigo might spend any given day strumming for tips, or snapping a few candid shots of their natural habitat, or perhaps in their apartment, working on a laundry list of creative projects. One by one, these projects are trickling into the outside world: you may have passed by a club and heard ‘Song of Their Own’ or ‘Lover and Fighter,’ to name two. With everything River is doing, it’s a wonder they get anything done.
This past Monday I had the chance of a lifetime to grab a coffee with River Indigo and discuss their life philosophy, upcoming projects, and what helps River Indigo flow.
H&Maid (Rachel Walsh): Look, River, I’m going to level with you here. I’ve been looking forward to this assignment all week. Ever since I heard ‘Song of my Own,’ really.
River Indigo: Aw, aren’t you sweet. I don’t get to sit down and talk like this often.
H&Maid: I’m going to start with a tough question because clearly those are the kind you like. Who is River Indigo?
Indigo: You know, you’d think I’d say something mysterious when people ask me that, like ‘an experience.’ But that’s missing the point. I only shine bright so that the people trapped in darkness can see themselves better. Sometimes the world doesn’t see you how you see yourself, and soon enough you even start to feel like a stranger in your own body: how can you believe in yourself when you don’t even know who you are? I’ve been on the wrong side of that too many times. What I want people to know is, if the universe is doing a pretty good job of beating you down, you don’t have to help it. You and everyone else have a little piece of the truth and you all have to work together to figure it out.
H&Maid: Like your lyric, “I see the pain in you/But I see the light as well.”
Indigo: Exactly. People tend to hide that pain so they can seem bigger than they are, but I don’t want to be that way. I’m not larger than life. That’s why I did modeling—it’s not natural for me, and at the beginning, I hated it—but I knew I had to get used to having a piece of myself out in the world, and my body is something I didn’t make so it’s going to hurt the least when people critique it. [laughs] Pushing yourself and having no limits means feeling so vulnerable, but you do it anyway.
H&Maid: You’ve dipped your toe into a lot of activities.
H&Maid: Sorry, had to. Can you say a bit about your journey?
Indigo: If you’re okay with me skipping ahead a bit, I’d like to start with when I moved to San Myshuno. That was where I first started exploring who I was. Most of these ideas were swirling around in my mind and hadn’t solidified yet—I don’t even think they are now, but they definitely weren’t back then.
Indigo: What I was interested in when I first moved to San Myshuno was coming out of my body—because that’s the first thing anyone who wants to find themselves wants to do, leave themselves and try to look from the outside—and getting lost in my surroundings. It was the city from the eyes of a wanderer. And a wander is always an outsider. With so much going on, everyone’s going to see something different, and I wanted to record the way my perception of the city shifted as the sights got more familiar. But you can only take in so much information—you get into a rhythm and all of the things that were new just fade into your background. You start forgetting to pay attention. We talk about the value a local has to a wanderer, but that’s the value a wanderer has for a local—they get to see their beloved city for the first time again, kind of like through a child’s eyes.
Indigo: But soon after, and you know this, it was time to move on. My problem with being an observer or the observed—maybe great photographers can do this, but not me—anyway, my problem was I couldn’t use it to express the ideas I wanted to. Instead I turned to making music. Now making music is a bit more personal, because it’s me on display, not the city. I can still feel the rush and hum of my body from when I put my lips up to the microphone in public for the first time. I’ve experimented with a few genres; I’ve learned to appreciate the strengths of each one.
H&Maid: You’ve come a long way since then. Why San Myshuno? Do you have family there?
Indigo: I don’t really have a traditional family. No, don’t be embarrassed! It’s important to talk about. My family didn’t accept who I was—I couldn’t change them and I couldn’t change the things they hated, so I had to leave. So for example, my mother told me to not go into art because “people only succeed in art if they’re very talented.”
Indigo: Yeah, right? There’s more, but you kind of get the sense of how much they respected me. I’m not going to go into detail. So I had to leave.
H&Maid: Have you connected with anyone in San Myshuno?
Indigo: Hate to say this, but I don’t have a found family yet. I was totally alone when I first moved there. My only friend for the first couple of weeks was the girl who lived across the hall. She’s—I don’t know how else to put it—a loose cannon, but she’s like a mischievous older sister, the closest thing I have to family here. Or anywhere. She left to live in Arts Quarter a couple days ago; I think she’s happy, but the situation with her roommates seems complicated.
Indigo: And speaking of complicated, there’s also Saya. She’s a regular at Waterside Warble, and maybe the less said, the better. Bae hates labels.
Indigo: So I’m not dangerously lonely, just accepting this as part of my journey. I can only keep on forward. Like ‘Masks,’ the poem, you know?
Indigo: I turned to basketball as a temporary solution. I think a lot of people do that.
Indigo: The first couple of weeks were the roughest—that’s why I’m so grateful to that friend for sticking through—but like I said, [snaps fingers] you get a rhythm going and it’s hard to stop. I kept on posting my photos even if only a few people saw them, kept playing in public even if only a few people heard me. It’s nice that way, actually. It means not that many people are familiar with my crappy early work. [laughs] Skipping forward again, people at the Warble started using my name, and soon enough I could hear people outside the Warble whispering it in the streets.
H&Maid: So one of the recurring themes of your work stood out to me, which is gender identity. Could you say more about what makes gender important to you?
Indigo: You know, it’s not even that gender is important to me. It’s that gender is too important to everyone else. We like to feel certain about the way we see other people; that’s why we assume the easier something is to see, the more it impacts someone’s identity. But your identity isn’t what you look like. No one’s is. That being said, you can’t ignore it or separate it out either. I like using gender-neutral pronouns because it reflects the way I see myself, and also to get people to stop seeing gender as this divisive load-bearing wall. It’s a foundation for some people and a window dressing for others. Most days I get misgendered,
Indigo: but I don’t mind as much as I used to. The people who really need it are the ones still figuring it out. They’re who I’m doing it for.
H&Maid: So that’s the past and present—let’s move on to the future. Your new project is your most ambitious yet, is that right?
Indigo: Ok, so it’s clear my next project needs to be a collaboration. What I’ve learned from the city, what I’ve learned from myself and the music, is that what I really find beautiful is diversity. You think I was born being this strong? Nah, I’m only like this because of a few rough weeks where I let myself learn from everyone else. Obviously one person can’t be diverse on their own, and there’s only so much you can pick up without help. That’s why I want to branch out to other artists and form a band.
Indigo: And when I say diversity, I’m not just talking about identity. I want to absorb that richness of experiences and ideas that comes from being around people from all walks of life. So when you asked ‘why San Myshuno’ earlier, that’s really why.
H&Maid: While this is really warming my old, bitter heart, I couldn’t forgive myself if I forgot to ask for the juicy details. What are you going to call your band?
Indigo: I’m toying with the name Venus in Retrograde. You can interpret that a couple ways: ‘Venus’ is a pretty gendered name to give an an agender planet, and ‘retrograde’ just means it’s moving backward. So you can think of it as either trying to reverse the process of dividing the genders—it’s not perfect, but Venus and Mars in Retrograde is just clunky—or as a reflection on what gender and femininity have meant throughout history. It also has this transcendent quality that I love, and it’s an ironic name to give a group that wants people to move forward.
H&Maid: Venus in Retrograde, huh. You said before you were experimenting with different genres. Do you have one in mind yet?
Indigo: I guess I’d classify it as alternative hip-hop. What that means for me is, I don’t want to put any restrictions on the music itself, but hip-hop has the kind of strong, unbreakable spirit I want to honor. It makes me feel bulletproof.
H&M: And you’re holding auditions in a week, is that correct?
Indigo: Yes. We rented out a studio in Spice Market; you can find the address on my website, riverindigo.sim.
H&M: River, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. I’m cheering you on now, but I’m also excited to see who you become.
Indigo: And thank you, Rachel. Keep it real.
(Note: This should really go after the next chapter, but it’s short. So whatever. I’ll reorder them on the table of contents.)
BONUS: I have a tumblr now! It’s mostly old story quotes queued four months in advance with occasional custom content or short extras like this—perfect for introducing a friend to the story without forcing them to read what is essentially a full novel chapter.
OTHER BONUS: A retconned exchange between two high schoolers, one of whom we all miss. It has nothing to do with the main story: