Developing ‘Trust Issues’ with adv

Afro-Kiwi certified sadboi adv (Alex de Vries) is back on the scene with his latest release ‘Bubblebath’, navigating the emotional waters of toxicity within relationships. The debut single from his upcoming album Trust Issues, ‘Bubblebath’ captures the rawness of romantic grief and defeat, all with a catchy R&B sound and an accompanying atmospheric music video that emulates the sensation of drowning, before ultimately emerging for a breath of air. bad apple writer Devon Webb chats to adv about the process, past and future of these projects. 

DW: You’ve been working on this track for a while. How does it feel to have it out in the world, and what can we expect next in the lead-up to the Trust Issues album?

adv: You’re right—this was such a long journey from conception to release. I recorded this track back in July 2022, and the longer I sat on it, the more anxious about releasing it I became. Now that ‘Bubblebath’ is out in the world I feel so relieved, and so overwhelmed with the positive reception from friends, family and strangers alike. Releasing ‘Bubblebath’ has made me more and more excited about releasing Trust Issues. The next single, ‘Just Tryna Be’, is set for release in a couple of months, and you’ll find the music videos are going to be aesthetically different to match the tonal variations within the album. Trust Issues is an audio-visual experience, and I get to work with sixteen incredible screen and music practitioners from underrepresented communities to bring this story to life. It’s pretty fucking epic.

DW: Tell us a little more about the album. Can you give us an idea of what themes, genres and aesthetics might be covered? What will you be doing to celebrate the release?

adv: Trust Issues is all about a relationship that’s come to an end and navigating the process of grieving a dying love. It’s a push and pull, a toss and turn. It’s sad, it’s horny, but it also has a hopeful lilt towards the end. I think people need that right now, especially people who are trapped in toxic relationships. We’ve almost finished recording the album and I’ve felt this journey play out in an embodied way throughout the process. I can’t wait to bring people to the screening and launch party in November! I want to line up some cool queer acts to perform alongside me and turn this into a night of highlighting the work of underrepresented creators.

DW: You recently went through a bit of a rebrand—what led to those changes? Any particular inspirations or personal experiences that have affected your artistry?

adv: When I released ‘Take Me For A Ride’, I was in a very different place in my life. I had returned from Europe after running away to become a Catholic priest (which is a whole other story). While I was over there, I fell into this deep, dark depression because I was actively hiding from my truth. It was horrific, and I’m so glad that my solution to this was to walk El Camino de Santiago. On this walk, I met an incredible human on the very last day as we crossed the threshold into Santiago. His story was so unique and inspiring and it still sticks with me today. He was a homeless teen turned professional skater who somehow made everything work out in the end—now he owns a chain of hotels all around the world and travels all the time. He reminded me that my idol, Bjork, comes from a country where every second person is a musician, and in being her own little weird pixie self, her music was heard around the world. Through our conversation, I understood that just like the Camino, life gives you blisters, and you have to choose whether to let it stop you in your tracks or to walk through them and make your feet stronger as they form calluses. In my life, through all the ups and downs, I have chosen the latter, and now my feet are strong enough to withstand even the hottest lava rocks. I’ve lost contact with him, but he’s probably somewhere in Bilbao living his best life. He really inspired me to come home, and to make music. When I returned to Aotearoa I still had a lot to figure out. I had to relearn who I was, grieve leaving my religion and with it my friends, and come to terms with my Africanness. ‘Take Me For A Ride’ and my Lana del Rey-esque era was confusing and mournful—I was learning to see myself as a sexual and emotional being. Recently, however, I feel like I’ve stepped more and more into myself. I’ve done every job you can think of, I’ve flitted in and out of fleeting romances, and had my heart broken a thousand times. I’ve become more introspective, more self-aware, more realised. My friends say I’m a sedated version of myself, but I think I’m just a more confident me, having experienced so much in my short life. I’ve come out the other end with a defined set of values, and that’s what I bring to my work.

DW: You’ve performed internationally in both South Africa and the USA! What was that experience like? Any upcoming plans for live performances revolving around ‘Bubblebath’ and Trust Issues?

adv: Let me tell you about the impact of performing in South Africa. It was a family friend who set up the two gigs I did there—she hired the venue, did the promo, basically made everything happen. We sold out both nights. It was kind of insane because it was so unexpected. It was just me and my guitar and piano, singing songs I wrote when I was sixteen. I donated all the ticket sales to my kindergarten in Cape Town, and when I went to drop off the money, the principal balled her eyes out and held me in her arms. The kindergarten was about to be shut down because they couldn’t afford to replace their mattress covers, and the money I donated was just enough to cover those expenses. When I tell you I’m from the ghetto, I mean I’m from the ghetto. I performed a few songs for the children and it was a wonderful event with such a huge impact, I still think about it all the time. I don’t make music for money—I make music because if I didn’t, I would go mad. I make music because I have stories bubbling away inside me and a voice that compels me to sing. I make music so I can have these kinds of experiences, and make an impact on the world. 

Right now, I’m working hard to line up some gigs to start teasing the album. It’s not easy as a self-managed artist, navigating an industry that can be so hostile to new talent. But if there’s one thing about me, it’s that I hustle and I make shit happen. You’ll be the first to know once I have something concrete lined up!

DW: You’re a very multidisciplinary artist, exploring both film and performing arts, and being involved in the Auckland community hub Basement Theatre. Has this enabled you to better explore your musical artistry, or pick up useful skills? 

adv: For sure! I think all the arts feed into each other—at the very heart of it all is the impulse to be creative, to express yourself, to share your stories with the world. Music feeds into my filmmaking, which tends to be rhythmic and all about manipulating the experience of space through sound. In a way, this is attuned to Africanised sensibilities that are innate in my Africanness, namely that we have a different relationship to rhythm—an embodied relationship, we feel it in our bones. When we say “White people can’t dance” we generally mean that they dance to the words and not the beat. As an African I can’t escape the beat—the beat is within me, it encompasses my being, and it’s reflected in everything I do, including my screen/playwriting. Films and plays shine their brightest in their exploration of relationships—between lovers, families, friends, even relationships with oneself. I feel like this bleeds into my music, which always tends to focus on the minutiae of relationships, honing in on these small cinematic details like a coffee cup left on the window sill just that little bit too long, or the poetry of a smashed-up phone screen to symbolise abusive or aggressive tendencies. I’m so lucky to be enfolded in the Basement community where I get to encounter and work alongside incredible artists every day who inspire my creativity and empower me to put my fullest self into my work.

I don’t make music for money—I make music because if I didn’t, I would go mad.

DW: You wrote a Master’s thesis on writing blackness for the New Zealand screen and decolonising the screenwriting practice. Is there anything you learnt that you think is insightful for the music community, or that you wanted to share on the theme of decolonising artistry in general?  

adv: I’m a big advocate for decolonisation, and my Master’s research taught me a lot about what that can look like and feel like in a creative sense. We always think that decolonisation comes through the creative output, whether it be a song, or a film, or a 30-foot sculpture, as a means of critiquing dominant discourse and hegemony. I would argue that a far greater impact comes through the process of making the work itself. If we break down colonial hierarchies that exist on a film set, for example, and really focus on levelling the power dynamics—what impact does that have on the creators involved in the making? What if we strip filmmaking away from its capitalist productive capacity—what impact does that have? I can tell you that seeing my friends who are helping me on this journey becoming empowered in their own creativity and taking ownership of their departments and working with a high degree of autonomy is completely worth it. I may have trust issues, but I’m putting so much trust in these incredibly talented creatives, and the end result shows the beauty of this collaboration. My music may not go anywhere. We may get a hundred views on the music video after all this work. My gigs could be entirely empty. But at the end of the day, we’ve engaged in decolonising that work simply by doing and being, and there’s something so powerful in that.

DW: Your previous release, ‘Take Me For A Ride’, revolves around exploring your identity as a ‘queer Afro-Kiwi navigating liminal space’. Can you tell us a little bit about that theme?

adv: I’m a Coloured South African, and this denotes an identity rooted in liminality. In a South African context, I would be caught between the very narrowly defined Black and White (note the capitals), and this was a very difficult space for me to occupy given that these same rigid categories don’t exist in Aotearoa. Here in New Zealand, I’m black. ‘Take Me For A Ride’ was a way for me to discuss my image, the fetishisation of blackness and the sexualisation of my being. In a certain context, I can be the perfect man, the model husband, the new toy waiting to be unwrapped, the fresh squeeze to be shown to your parents—but the idea of perfection that I measure myself on is a colonial construct, and ‘TMFAR’ is really about me being deeply insecure about the fact that actually, I’m none of those things.

DW: You were nominated for an LGBTI award! How did that come about?

adv: Honestly, this event was kind of weird. You should read David Farrier’s Spinoff article about it, as it was weird from the get-go and I simply didn’t know enough about it and thought it would be a cool thing to experience. I randomly got a DM one day saying I was nominated for an award alongside people like Anika Moa, who are endlessly more talented than myself. They invited me to perform with Parson James, and I looked super hot in my tailored suit. After I performed, everyone in the room wanted to know who I was, and my wine glass was never empty for the remainder of the night. Anika Moa rightfully won the category—she’s fucking Anika Moa! I can’t compete with that! At the end of the night I ended up in Eagle getting relationship advice from Parson James, and I somehow made it to work the next day smelling like a brewery.

DW: You describe your music as ‘sadboi’, and associate the theme of vulnerability with your upcoming album. As an artist, what do you wish to communicate about masculinity in general, and do you think the queer community has a particularly strong role in helping men be in touch with their emotions, and, to use your own words, find ‘beauty in the messiness’?

adv: I don’t want to get too deep into this, but we exist in a time where (straight) men are so afraid of being vulnerable that they follow icky people like Jordan Peterson into a lifetime of toxic hatred, which manifests as violence against women and queer people. Masculinity is such a weird thing because it’s so fragile—but it wouldn’t be if we only broadened the definition of what it actually is. I know that my newer music has a ‘straight lilt’ and ‘Bubblebath’ in particular is a ‘toxic’ song about blame. I want people to scream at this character—“Why don’t you fucking take some responsibility instead of blaming someone else for your problems!?” I think that’s the part of myself I hate the most—that I sometimes default to blaming the world for my problems. I think that’s precisely why I had to release it first—because this is where the story starts. Eventually, I accept that it’s ok to be vulnerable, to be seen as vulnerable, and to find beauty in this vulnerability. As queer people, we build walls in order to protect ourselves. We have to protect ourselves from this straight world that we live in, but we also have to protect ourselves from each other. We literally ghost each other and manipulate each other’s emotions on a daily basis. But look at what happens when we let down these walls and let others in. Perhaps decolonisation is found in dismantling rigid binaries like masculine and feminine, strong and weak, and coming to accept that we are human, we are flawed, we are broken—but we’re a little less broken when we can hold each other together.

‘Bubblebath’ is streaming now on all platforms, with a music video on YouTube. Follow @advkillinit on Instagram for updates on his Trust Issues album & all forthcoming releases.

Featured photos by Lloyd Lising courtesy of adv.


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