All Stripes of Life: UNDR WRPS
All Stripes of Life is an ongoing O'Douds initiative focused on showcasing the stories and promoting the talents of the LGBTQI+ community.
Can You Tell Folks On The Internet Who You Are And What You Do?
Hey, I’m ceej! I’m a non-binary musician and singer songwriter based out of Houston, TX. I'm a regular working person with a partner and two dogs. I love to spend time with my friends and to create art whenever life allows.
You’ve Been Making Music In Houston For Well Over A Decade. Both In Your Band Rome Hero Foxes And In Your Latest Project, Undr Wrps. You’ve Put Out Several Albums And Have Toured Those Albums Nationwide. What Keeps You Coming Back To Houston? What Makes It Home For You?
To be honest, my residency in Houston has been an environment I had to adapt to. I’ve struggled to feel a part of it, but I've learned to appreciate the impact it’s had on my upbringing. I moved to Texas from Southern California when I was about 12 years old. My dad was battling cancer and we moved to Houston so he could be closer to his family. After he passed, my family just sort of stayed here. My older brother was the only one to leave. With the band and touring being a significant part of my teen years into my early 20’s, I worked whatever job I could get and stayed focused on the band until the pandemic. It was only after that point until now that I’ve even had the time or mental space to ask myself: do you ever feel at home?
Now that I’m 25, I’ve come to the conclusion that while Houston has been an integral part of my life and my passion, my home might be elsewhere. Maybe even outside of Texas as a whole. Houston will always have a big place in my heart for what it's been, but you caught me at a time where my heart is ready to find somewhere else to be. Sorry if that’s a mundane and long-winded answer, but I feel like being honest is important. I’m privileged just to have grown up here, I'm thankful for every person I've met, and the scene which helped shape me into who I am today.
You Once Said In An Interview That, “Forcing Yourself Is Never The Answer, Even If You Think What You’re Doing At The Time Is Good, Just Let Your Ideas Age With You.” It Seems The Music Of Undr Wrps Carries That Sentiment. Can You Speak To What This Project Means To You? What Has It Allowed You To Explore As A Musician?
That’s funny you bring that up because that is definitely a sentiment that resonates only with my former band. I actually started UNDR WRPS because I grew tired of this process of aging, as it was holding me back from creating at all.
I didn’t think my ideas were worth the strain of time and work at the moment of their creation. Letting my shelved ideas marinate for the band definitely worked in our favor, to some extent, and it still does with the newer stuff returning to the surface.
UNDR WRPS was made so that I could challenge myself to put music out, with no plan, just like when I was younger. My sole focus for this project is simply reliving the joy of putting out music whenever I want to, regardless of having a budget, release plan, studio grade equipment, or any outside resources. I am truly humbled that people are connecting with the material I’ve put out for this project. It feels rejuvenating to not sit on a bunch of dropbox links for once in my life! There was a comedown from what I experienced in my career leading into the pandemic and I realized my happiness was rooted mostly in the gain of success, which made me feel like an unhappy and ungenuine person.
I lost purpose in why I was creating and performing as an artist and this project has refreshed my values in that sense. I’m blessed with an ability to create and I'm even more blessed to have people enjoy those creations. UNDR WRPS is the reset I desperately needed and I’m happy with the new attitude and outlook it has provided me.
What And Who Inspires Your Music? And How Do You Look For Inspiration?
Interesting question! I always feel like my answer changes every time I’ve been asked. What inspires me is the ugliness of perspective and the consequences of becoming. Life has brought me so much experience and a lot of it was very brutal and felt unfair. These experiences are what I rush to unpack in my music, to add closure or purpose for so many people and stages of life that I’ve outgrown or been abandoned by. It’s the only comfort I can offer myself when I’m hurt or confused on why life moves in ways you don’t expect it to. With all this in consideration, I am blessed and cursed that inspiration will always find its way to me and as long as I’m still here and striving to grow and become, I’ll never have to look any further.
Outside Of Music, What Are Some Other Ways You Express Yourself?
I like to think that I express myself by invoking joy and love into others. This last year, I found a group of friends and I love them all so dearly. I’ve had so many come-and-go friendships and conditional relationships with people. It’s nice to feel accepted without all the excess. I also express myself every day in my identity and my personality, both which can be a lot for some, but it is (I hope!) endearing to everyone in my circles.
I love my sense of style these days, not conforming to any gender makes it really fun in a fashion sense. I don’t have to fit any mold, I can just be how I want to be seen. It took me a long time to feel comfortable enough to get there without worrying how I may be perceived by others.
Before You Came Out To The Folks In Your Life As Non-Binary, How Did You Begin The Process Of Coming Out To Yourself?
I will be honest, it was not pretty. It was a very painful and lonesome experience. Growing up, I never felt on the same page as men. The less I fit in, the more I attempted to compensate, and thus, the uglier of a person I found myself becoming.
I spent so much time in emotional turmoil from the trauma I faced in my youth that I forced myself to ignore who I truly wanted to be out of convenience and comfort. But it provided neither of those things, it just created isolation from even attempting to reflect on who I was. Eventually, I came into different circles of people who had already worked hard to discover their identity and provided me a great deal of confidence in enduring the awkward phases of figuring it out.
After I learned of what it meant to be a non-binary person, it was something i immediately related to. Once I accepted that, I had to take the time to learn what it meant to me and how to feel comfortable expressing it without acknowledging how I might be perceived. And I only just barely figured that out! This last year or two is the only time in the past 5 of becoming non-binary that I felt comfortable in my appearance and what my identity meant to me. I’m also thankful for the friends at the time who started only addressing me by they/them pronouns because that made me feel seen for who I really was. Sadly those who helped are no longer in my life but I will always be thankful for their part in my process of discovering and accepting my identity as a non-binary person.
What Does Beneficial Allyship Look Like To You? How Can Folks Outside Of The LGBTQI+ Community Step Up?
I think right now is a more important time than ever for people outside of the community to step up. With recent legislation, it’s terrifying to see so much violence and hatred thrown towards trans youth and non-binary people, specifically. Our politicians won’t say it verbatim, but I’ll call it what it is, they want a cleanse; to erase us from existence. And from the outside, it’s especially easy to look the other way or stay silent. To me, good allyship is being able to be vocal and educate the uninformed, with sincerity. If there are people around you who encourage violence and hate towards LGBTQ+ people then it’s up to you as an outsider to denounce that, no matter who it’s coming from. There can be no tolerance for any of the ignorance and hate thrown our way. You can also stay vigilant to ensure that queer folks in or outside of your circles feel respected, safe, and be protected when needed.
Do You Have Any Advice For Those Who Want To Come Out, But Are Having A Hard Time Doing So?
I guess to begin, just ask yourself how easy it is for you to look inward and listen to what’s trying to speak. If you have any intuition pulling you into acceptance of who you truly want to be, you have to be strong enough to listen and act on it. Surround yourself with supportive friends, queer people of the community, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Regardless of the strides we’ve made, we can’t always assume someone is in a safe environment to come out. If no one were around to tell you otherwise or judge you, who is it you feel you are made to be? And if the circle around you doesn’t accept that, you can always find people who will, you’re never alone. Don’t ever water yourself down to fit anybody’s version of you and be ready to remove those people from your life if they don’t support you. It can be very hard to do that, especially close friends and family, but in our growing world there are always gonna be people out there who accept you for who you are. They will find you once you’ve found yourself.
Lastly, If You Could Only Smell One Thing The Rest Of Your Life, What Would It Be?
I would say the smell of being by a grassy coast somewhere far far away. Somewhere I haven't been before but can always visit when I smell it.