Sons of an Illustrious Father
“We were very much unsupervised with a bunch of equipment…” Ezra Miller is telling me about the upcoming record from Sons of an Illustrious Father, the band for which he is a vocalist, multi- instrumentalist, and songwriter. It’s fantastically titled—Deus Sex Machina: Or, Moving Slowly Beyond Nikola Tesla—and set for release on the first day of June. We’re chatting via a cross-country phone call on a sleepy and slow morning, which all four of us are experiencing a little differently. On the other end of the line, Lilah Larson, Josh Aubin, and Miller are laying on a faux-fur beanbag taking turns answering my questions. It feels a bit like we’re partners in a merry but shambolic game of tennis in outer space. “It was a DIY, isolated, bizarre experience,” Larson distantly recalls of the album’s creation.
The Brooklyn-based trio has never played it safe. Since their inception in 2009, they’ve swapped styles, genres, and instruments almost as often as their (always fabulous) outfits. Central to their operation is an egalitarian ethos that emphasizes the communal aspect of music-making over “leads”—all members contribute vocals, and though Larson plays guitar, Miller the drums, and Aubin helms bass, they’re all “multi-instrumentalists” and will take up whatever the song calls for without regard for predefined roles.
This unbridled, open stance towards the traditional band format seems only natural for the trio. They’re fluid in every sense of the word. Though they share a strong queer identity, which is at the core of their music, they’ve each taken a different, unconventional path to where they are today, with a good dose of chance thrown in. Miller is an accomplished actor, known for his roles in 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and 2012’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, as well as for being one of very few openly queer people to play a superhero on-screen when he was cast as The Flash in Zack Snyder’s Justice League last year. Music was intertwined with performance from the outset—he grew up performing opera and acting in musicals. The oral history of the band begins with a merge between Miller and Larson, friends since middle school. “My first conscious memory of Ezra surrounds this production of Into the Woods, in which he played Jack—quite brilliantly—and I was the sound girl,” Larson recalls fondly. The two took the loud rock music they were making for fun and decided to pursue it further, forming a band. Later, Josh Aubin, roommate of a former band member, was recruited to play bass, and they settled into a cozy, comfortable trio.
I’m wondering how this new record will differ from an already diverse discography, which bears influences of everything from contemporary hip-hop to glam-rock and traditional folk. Listening to it, there’s a sense of reinvigoration, determination, and raw honesty that seems stronger than ever, along with an even louder-and-prouder creative direction in the songs. One reason for this: as a new era of intolerance dawned with Trump’s election, so did a new era of resistance. The band knew they had to fight fire with fire. Larson cites the election as a critical point for the group and an inspiration moving forward: “It’s going to become quite a grind, to drag our country back, but as a band it’s something that we’re committed to—organizing people,” she tells me. A strong activist stance has been at the heart of their musical project from the beginning. Miller explains,“Our music definitely draws from the place where what is musical and what is political is one in the same. In political theory and mystical thought, the same thing that comes up again and again is that everything is interconnected. That’s quantum theory.” Aubin chimes, “That would suggest a disconnect from reality... we’re more, like, entrenched in it.”
A key moment for the band came after the Pulse nightclub shooting. As queer people in the music scene, the tragedy struck home on a deeply personal level. Their response was “U.S.Gay,” a defiant anthem mixing rage, grief, and resolve, seeking love and solidarity in the face of horror: If I don’t die tonight / I’m gonna dance until I do . . . I want “FAG” tattooed in red on my forehead / A revolution in my bed . . . As Larson said of the song after its release, “U.S.Gay is kind of an attempt at both at once—holding the anger and defiance along with the grief. Ideally people will dance, cry, and scream all at once to this song.”
Another important aspect of their sound, especially on Deus Sex Machina, is a sort of sonic mysticism that leaves space for happy accidents and imperfections to come through in the final mix. “We’ve always been fascinated with things that happen incidentally or, so-called, ‘accidentally,’” Miller says. “Glitches, tracks that pop in the wrong places, sound bites that get lost and reappear where you don’t expect them—we allowed those things to remain, whereas in our other albums we would have cleansed them out.”The band has evolved past the oppressive hunt for perfection and uniformity, pushing culture to do the same. On previous records they allowed their music to be mastered, taken through a sieve of sound that left the magic of mistakes out of the conversation, but now they’ve given that magic the chance to come through. “We spend a lot of time giving ourselves over to the experience of synchronicity and cosmic coincidence,” Larson explains. Aubin clarifies: “This idea of talking to the machine and letting the machine talk back seems to present itself very naturally. Something supersonic.” As he finishes his sentence, no joke—the line goes momentarily haywire. “The machine talking again!” he laughs. Deus Sex Machina, indeed.
1. Fantasy Rider submitted by Sons of an Illustrious Father for pseudo-psychoanalytic evaluation:
- Bananagrams made out of human bone
- Three (3) zoetropes
- A spit roasting goat
- A river of Scotch
- A cacao tree 
- The Shroud of Turin
- The Dark Crystal (not the movie)
- A 25 cabinet 80s arcade (must include Galaga, Joust, and Robotron 2084)
- The collected works of Dan and Sandra Brown
- A conspiracy of lemurs
- A business of ferrets
- A wisdom of wombats
- A fluther of jellyfish
- A ball pit of kittens
- The abolition of the imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy
2. In Jungian frameworks, according to Dr. Leibensgrift’s intensive research on the subject, the Cocoa tree, with its Yonic fruit and shallow roots (which draw from the earth to enrich a final product whose flesh is stripped and the bean roasted and processed for the obtaining of chocolate) signifies in the unconscious an incipience of talent to be brought to fruition through sustained labor. The already suggestively named (looked at with even the slightest Freudian gloss) “Sons of an Illustrious Father” (we see here both an acknowledgement and an ironic rebellion against the influence of the so-called patriarch, or possibly god, as established in the capitalistic/imperialistic American society) have shown in their “fantasy rider” an understanding of their own talent and advantages, while recognizing the amount of labor that will be necessary to extend their vision to encompass their ultimate goals, i.e. the demolition of the aforementioned imperialist-white supremacist-capitalist- heteropatriarchy via dancing and sick tunes.
Written by Anna Ondrakova-Peluola
Photographed by Max Montgomery
Styled by Daniela Jung
Flaunt Film by Katie Levine