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Made You Look: North Texas Musicians on How to Build a Visual Brand

Helium Queens' Sharla FranklinEXPAND
Helium Queens' Sharla Franklin
Clayton Browning

In this day of constant change and endless expression, it can seem impossible to find the proper way to convey yourself through appearance in an original way. This can be especially true for musicians as they navigate the world of entertainment, and Dallas musicians in particular like to kick it up a notch with how much detail they place in their stage presence and outward appearance.

If you’ve ever witnessed the stage antics of space pop act Helium Queens, with their glowing makeup and brilliant use of lights (which are everywhere, even on their instruments), you get a real look into the minds behind what makes our music scene so unique.

“We want to take the audience on a journey, to transcend into another realm, so we make sure everything onstage is glowing and drawing the audience in," says Poppy Xander, one of the Queens.  "From the costumes, crowns and makeup to the beloved Helium Hookah, it must be out of this world."

Nothing catches an audience's eye like over-the-top stage antics, how performers' movements blend with the music, and other visual elements like stage production. These things can be daunting tasks, especially for solo musicians, as sole proprietors of their image and act. Lorelei K, the transcendent pop artist who has stolen Dallas’ hearts, says there's a vast difference in her performance when she's on her own.

“During my solo sets, I am usually fairly stationary, so I heavily decorate my gear rig and play on the theatricality of stillness with subtle hand movement and the swaying you’d see in a siren," the singer says. "When I’m backed by my band, I have more freedom to explore the stage, which definitely creates a different, more intense energy.”

Without the restraints of money or time, Lorelei dreams of being “... backed by a choir and orchestra," she says. "I would perform in symphony halls with complex light play and projector art. The ultimate Lorelei wears a violet sculptural gown and hair that touches the floor.”

The ethereal Lorelei K
The ethereal Lorelei K
Scott Wagner

Experimental hip-hop act Mattie Mystic uses the stage to tell a raw human story and to bring the audience to a greater understanding.

“I’m a performance artist by nature; I like to use visual representation as a tool to help my audience understand the lyrics and paint a clear picture of the story I tell about the human condition," she says. "This allows me to go deeper into the subconscious of the viewer. I also use improv to keep me in the present moment and to communicate a message that needs to be seen and said right then and there.”

Experimental hip-hop act Mattie Mystic uses the stage to tell a raw human story.EXPAND
Experimental hip-hop act Mattie Mystic uses the stage to tell a raw human story.
All Hallows Productions

There’s also a darker side to Dallas’ performance scene, one that post-industrial band ManifestiV has grabbed by the horns.

“(Vibraphone player) EvE meditates on the structural solidity of her self-made vibraphone, only breaking from its trance to gaze with white eyes through the audience," says ManifestiV's lead singer and guitarist Paragraph. "Meanwhile, I hover, rotate, even flail — barely keeping physical control of my guitar. My animist nature, and more so the music, brings the instruments to life. Our polarizing all black and white head-to-toe outfits also reflect the far extremes our sound spans within a set.”

These artists all approach the way they show themselves to the world with a unique and powerful presence. Most of them take inspiration from entities other than music. For example, Dallas powerhouse Claire Morales finds inspiration for her glittery and angelic aesthetic from artists and filmmakers like Erté, David Lynch and Lisa Frank.

Lorelei K mostly builds her tone by channeling writers like Patti Smith, Brad Watson, Ron Rash and Sylvia Plath. Helium Queens and ManifestiV turn to movies like The Fifth Element, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, 2001: A Space Odyssey and THX-1138 to influence their image.

Mattie Mystic tends to look to her surroundings for inspiration.

“I more often than not take inspiration from the human condition, the world times, and also the war that persists within our own bodies," she says. "I take inspiration from truth.”

While performing is a major part of musicians' focus, there’s also what they share with the world outside of their recorded music — specifically through music videos. Convincing audiences that have never seen you live to look up and watch the video for a song that you wrote is hard work, to say the least. These artists have all found great representation for the meaning behind their music through video.

Helium Queens have been working on a series of videos over this last year and are now ready to release their next Installment, “Future People.”

“Our newest music video 'Future People' shows an interdimensional link between our human and alien selves," says Chelsey Danielle, who conceptualized the project. "Since January of 2019, we have released a music video on the full moon of every month. This is the last video in the full moon series but also the first video where you see us outside of our Helium Queens persona."

ManifestiV has also been working on a visually impactful piece, set to be released later in 2020. 

“The in-progress video for 'Just Wait' narrates an all-too-prophetic tale of how nature physically reacts to how out of control we’ve sent our environment," says Paragraph. "We want it to put everyone on the same page so humanity can together minimize the effects of our already far from reversible negligent inaction. Jeanett Porter, a craft artist, helps digitize EvE’s hand-painted storyboard and character sketches. They then send them to Rage Art Cartoon, an animation studio in Kazakhstan who rigs the character’s movements and creates backgrounds under EvE’s direction.”

The sheer dedication that musicians put into a sole project like a music video shows the lengths they're willing to go in order to properly portray their message. Folk-pop singer Claire Morales from Denton just released a video for her song, “Wildest Dreams,” and it’s a beautiful and cohesive dark wonderland.

Claire Morales is beyond colorful.EXPAND
Claire Morales is beyond colorful.
Ellie Alonzo

“'Wildest Dreams' was a lot more me putting the filmmaking process into Judd Myers’ hands," Morales says of the director. "I totally trust him as a director and an artist, I really wanted him to express his vision for the song. It was an exploration of the darker side of my music while still remaining really dreamy and colorful. It’s never just one or the other; showing the duality is really important to me.”

Last year, Lorelei K shared with the world her angelic and haunting video for the song “I Watched U” to a very receptive audience.

“My music video for 'I Watched U' still remains the most definitive of what Lorelei K represents to me," the singer says. "Harley Deville directed the video, where we styled several of my close friends and contemporaries as angels in a void. The feeling is experimental, and it really helped shape the concept of (album) Lightbender in its entirety: the reclamation of purity.”

This video helped keep national eyes on her after her tour with The Sounds of Animals Fighting, further emphasizing the importance of visual representation.

While the persona that these artists put on helps a great deal with how they are perceived by the world, they often mean to convey more than just what meets the eye. They may be characters built to battle demons, change the world, or just bring out a different side of themselves. Morales finds great empowerment in her onstage version.

“I think it’s about accessing a true part of yourself that you can’t normally show," she says of performing. "In real life, I can be quiet and agreeable. Onstage, I want to be loud, powerful, emotional and raw. I let myself say and feel the things I’m normally afraid to express. It’s still me, just a different part of me.”

Mattie Mystic will develop a new side of herself nearly every show.

“Honestly the personas, if there are any, are from the energies that I’m working with for each show," she says. "They are all a representation of human characteristics that each audience member finds themselves relating to. I feel that this is myself in different forms, so therefore it’s only as genuine as I am.

"I have to allow myself to break boundaries within myself and to push through fears. I become the story, while also remaining an observer of the story.”

Helium Queens also take on the challenge of placing themselves in outer space, not only visually but also in their mindset and music.

"We are our earthling selves but we have to become the queens ... we have to channel that part of the universe every time,” they say.

“Lorelei is a heightened, dramatized version of myself,"  says Lorelei K of her onstage version. "It is an expression of extreme femininity, where in my normal life I’m much more androgynous in my style and personality. I have more freedom to share my vulnerability and sensuality as Lorelei.”

The visual world we create, the way it projects our art and personalities for strangers and friends to see, doesn’t begin and end with musicians. While they're more invested in keeping our attention, everyone shows a side of themselves to people that's been carefully curated — especially on social media. This can be a powerful thing, and something to be admired from the creative minds that we gain entertainment from.

Next time you’re at a show, or watching a music video for your favorite band, pay more attention to the details. Chances are, their look is trying to tell you something.

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