Sons of an Illustrious Father
New York City band Sons of an Illustrious Father features musicians Lilah Larson, Ezra Miller and bassist Josh Aubin. On the heels of their first EP, Sons (2015), the band released debut album Revol in 2016 and are now releasing their second album Deus Sex Machina: or, Moving Slowly Beyond Nikola Tesla (2018).
New York City band Sons of an Illustrious Father made a splash earlier this year with their tantalizing music video for “Extraordinary Rendition”. Styled by Academy Award-nominated stylist Colleen Atwood and featuring acclaimed dancer Marta Miller, the song drops lyrical weights such as “bloody plastic oil spills” and “perils of free agency,” frequent subjects for members Lilah Larson, Ezra Miller and Josh Aubin. Their new LP, thoughtfully titled Deus Sex Machina: or, Moving Slowly Beyond Nikola Tesla, has a lot to say about the environment and politics, as well as the process of art, from inspiration to human to machine. We caught up with Larson, Miller and Aubin as they gear up for the album’s US tour. With their rapid-fire banter, the trio introduces the reasoning behind their album title, referencing the feminist and environmental causes that collectively concern them.
Where are you from?
Josh Aubin: Space wombs.
Ezra Miller: Massachusetts, Los Angeles, and New Jersey. Those are the places where we emerged from the wombs.
When did you start making music?
Lilah Larson: I started pretending to play guitar when I was three.
EM: I started singing when I was six. A lot of hitting things and attempting rhythm before then, but six was when I started training in Sydney. Josh, when did you first play music?
JA: 15 minutes ago.
LL: You’re doing great.
Who did you listen to growing up?
Ani DiFranco is an American singer, musician, poet, songwriter and activist. DiFranco’s music crosses folk and alternative genres with a variety of other influences. She has released over 20 albums, all via Righteous Babe, her own record label. Activist causes include abortion and gay rights.
EM: Beach Boys, Bob Dylan. Stuff my sisters were playing, like Sleater Kinney. Nineties music. Pop punk. Ani DiFranco, definitely.
LL: Beach Boys, Beatles, Elvis, Little Richard. I think the first tape I ever owned was Green by REM, my first favorite band.
JA: Green Day. Nirvana. The Lion King soundtrack.
EM: I listened to opera a lot when I was a kid. My parents appreciated opera, but weren’t actually into. My mom loved The Ramones, and I would dance a lot to them as a kid.
Combat Rock (1982) is the fifth studio album by popular English rock band The Clash. By far the most well-known of The Clash’s records, Combat Rock earned double platinum in the US and was the last record to feature the band’s original line-up: John “Joe Strummer” Mellor, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky “Topper” Headon.
LL: One of my favorite memories from childhood is being at home all day with my dad, and he was like, “Alright this is what we’re doing today.” He handed me a broom and put on Combat Rock, and we performed the entire album.
How did you get started and when do you feel you got your break?
LL: I think this might be our big break.
EM: Yes. Do you think we’ll be viewed? We just want people to view us.
“I just want to be heard. We’re musicians, I don’t care about being seen.”
— Josh Aubin
JA: I just want to be heard. We’re musicians, I don’t care about being seen.
How did you decide that this is what you wanted to do?
EM: The wand chooses the wizard.
What life events have impacted you and your music the most?
JA: Meeting my bandmates.
LL: Yeah, that was a big one.
EM: Relationships. That’s the the genre of things that have affected our music the most.
LL: The ups and downs of relationships. Growth and change. Managing growth and change.
Tell me a little about how you all connected and got started as a band.
LL: Ezra and I met in middle school. He was 10, and I was 12. We recognized kindred spirits in each other. We burned CDs and cassette tapes, and then in high school we began playing music in earnest, and we recruited Josh as a touring bassist. Then we became one.
EM: We fused.
What’s the story of the name Sons of an Illustrious Father?
LL: It’s from a very poor translation of Plato’s Republic. It was Josh’s translation. He really screwed up.
Your new album Deus Sex Machina: or, Moving Slowly Beyond Nikola Tesla is coming soon. What does that title mean and how do you feel your sound has evolved?
“The album is sort of a funeral rite for the world that is gone and a fanfare for the world we intend to eventually live in.”
— Ezra Miller
EM: I guess you could call it a channeling process. The album is sort of a funeral rite for the world that is gone and a fanfare for the world we intend to eventually live in.
LL: I think a big way that our sound shifted on this album was the inclusion of more technology, but analog stuff, like a drum machine. The title refers to Deus, being God; sex, being man; and Machinae, being the machine. We allowed chance and kismet to speak through the machine voice that we were supporting. We left in a lot of weird glitches and sonic mistakes that we had no explanation for.
EM: The first part of the name came about as a result of that. We were about to play one of our songs, and some little bit of metal in one of the amps started picking up a radio signal. It was this Christian radio program: “We continue now our morning prayer hour, God-honoring music, here on our day of worship.” It came through so clear, and we all could hear it through the headphones. Then we just started playing. That’s what you’ll hear at the end of the album. We were like, “It’s Deus Ex Machina, this Christian radio broadcast coming through the machine.” Then we were like, “Deus Sex Machina…”
“The title refers to Deus, being God; sex, being man; and Machinae, being the machine. We allowed chance and kismet to speak through the machine voice that we were supporting.”
— Lilah Larson
Then we talked how much we enjoyed the implications of the name. Things are coming from some source of inspiration through to your human body. Then you have to work with the machine to bring it forward.
Then sort of the funeral rite and the fanfare—the idea of moving slowly beyond Nikola Tesla. Before we almost completely destroyed our chances of survival, by burning fuel to make electricity, there was this brilliant man whose ideas of free, safe, clean energy for the world were largely thwarted. It’s like a grieving process we’ve never been through because we never really embarked on it. We’re maybe still at the first stage of denial.
What are some things that are important to you that you like to address through your music?
LL: Intersectional feminism. The abolition of the imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy.
EM: Intergalactic telepathy.
JA: Our treatment of the environment.
LL: The internet. Heartbreak.
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
EM: Patti Smith, because she reminds us what art truly is and always holds the potential to be.
What are your interests and passions outside of music?
LL: The abolition of the imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. And science fiction books.
JA: Science fiction comic books.
“We love games. Everything’s a game. And dancing. Everything’s a dance.”
— Ezra Miller
EM: I like science fiction board games. We love games. Everything’s a game. And dancing. Everything’s a dance.
What are your favorites books film and music right now?
EM: Black Panther.
LL: Reading Black Panther comic books. I’ve been listening to a lot of Alice Coltrane which makes me feel better about myself in the world.
EM: I’m listening to the Black Panther soundtrack and to harmonized peyote music by Kevin Yazzie.
JA: I’m reading The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin.
LL: It’s the best. Also, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin.