Artists Among Us: Black joy and friendship goals with Tacoma's Mirrorgloss | KNKX

Artists Among Us: Black joy and friendship goals with Tacoma's Mirrorgloss

Dec 18, 2020

Mirrorgloss is the love-magic-alchemy that occurs when Najamoniq Todd and Del Brown combine creative forces. They’ve been a Tacoma dance-pop musical duo since 2012. But very recently, they grew into a trio when Leigh Anthony Jones, aka DJ LBSTR DelaHoya, stepped in.  

The group just finished a collaboration of their “Ball of Confusion” song with the Naked Giants — filmed as a music video at the Tacoma Dome to support Seattle Musicians Access to Sustainable Health. And they’re working on dropping four new songs next year.

 

I interview Todd and Brown pre-election purgatory, and I’m still floating on a cloud of their juicy #Blackjoy bedazzled goodness. They catch me up on how once upon a time a Jeff Buckley tribute show brought them together. The journey has been dynamic ever since.

What is the origin story for Mirrorgloss?

Najamoniq Todd: Jeff Buckley is a big totem in our friendship. We both are just obsessed with him as an artist. 

Del Brown: We love love love him. He influences our music and our lives, everything.

Todd: I remember the day he passed. I bawled my eyes out, and my aunt let me stay home from school.

Brown: I found out walking across the quad (while in the San Jose Job Corps) with my headphones on listening to Jeff Buckley, and my friend was like, “You know he just died in the Mississippi River?” And I was, like, “WHAT? WHAT!”

 

Todd: Music is a little different now. Back then, it was really poetic — like you would slit and die for your music, and I feel like when we’re younger, that’s how it is. 

 

Jeff Buckley was a white guy, right? What was he saying that spoke to the collective unconsciousness?

 

Todd: He spoke about his heart, his emotions, what he felt. He was really open. As an artist, I want everything. I listen to death metal; I listen to everything.

 

Is there a song you play when you are trying to get the ancestors to come help you clean your house?

 

Todd: For us it was Rick James, Sade … that got put on really loud. Windows open. And Luther Vandross as well.

 

Brown: Yarbrough and Peoples.

 

Todd: All the curtains would get opened up ’cuz you’re not sleeping anymore. 

 

Brown: I have my mother to blame for being obsessed with Hall & Oates.

 

Todd: I remember the first time I heard Nine Inch Nails’ “Piggy” … having the radio right by my ear … don’t let nobody hear you listening to that secular music. You in trouble. And then they gotta ask you why you wanna listen to that white music.

 

Brown: 100 percent that’s the shit I didn’t want to deal with!

 

Todd: You got the religion, and you’ve got the color blocking. I feel like we are very misinformed about the origins of a lot of stuff, because if people really understood the origins of rock ’n’ roll and the origins of country music and the origins of all these different kinds of music …

 

Brown: All Black people! 

 

Todd: It doesn't matter what you’re listening to, it’s all Black music anyway. I mean, what did James Brown say? “There is not a genre or an artist, out here playing who hasn’t been touched by my shit.” 

 

 

We have to remember what society was like for our parents. I mean, we’re kinda lucky. We saw when it wasn’t OK to have tattoos. I mean, I’m a heavily tattooed woman who grew up in the metal industry. We’re seeing a change. I am so happy to see this Black Renaissance with our people breaking down these barriers. I love seeing little rock ’n’ roll Black boys — it just brings so much joy to my heart — because you can, and nobody is gonna stop you or make fun of you. It’s OK that I took the brunt of the getting made fun of at school and with my family so that you can skateboard down the street or wear your Nirvana shirt or dye your hair green or do whatever you want. We just weren’t allowed. We are seeing people breaking free of so many of these thoughts. 

 

Brown: In California, I was one of the only Black girls at those shows.

 

Todd: Maybe our parents didn’t have the words for it, but I think maybe they wanted us to have pride in ourselves and they felt that if you were going over and listening to music that isn’t of your people, you were actually idolizing that race and not having pride in your own. But we’re elevated now, and we now know that everyday when we walk out the door, we’re Black, so you could be listening to country music and two-steppin’ but someone could still call you the n-word, so it really doesn’t matter.

 

When I talk about musical lineage, what comes to mind?

 

Todd: Girl … I don’t know what to tell you. [Laughter.]

 

Brown: Pop music, indie rock music … like everything.

 

Todd: If Del and I weren’t brave enough separately to forge that path within our own communities — being the singular Black person at the metal concert or the goth show or the punk show and not just being there posted up, like we’re in the front row singing the songs … if we didn’t have the courage to do that and come together, we wouldn’t have been brave enough to do Mirrorgloss, which honestly nobody can place anywhere because we don’t sound like anyone else.

 

You know what really comes through? It’s the joy. I think there’s a mastery of joy that you two have really attained. I think we can spend our lives aiming for, but it’s really an interesting combination of permission and boldness and courage that allows people to really be joyful, especially publicly joyful. It’s kind of dangerous actually … 

 

Todd: Thank you. I love that you said all those things. Because it’s not just the music, it’s everything we did in life. Del sent me a post yesterday about Lizzo saying she doesn’t want to be an activist just because she’s fat and Black. But unfortunately, we go through so much. Us personally just fighting through and saying, “I deserve this space. I deserve to be happy.” And that has been a theme in both Del’s and my life. I think we just did it. I feel like I’m at the cusp of who I’m gonna be for the rest of my life.

 

Tacoma's Mirrorgloss is a dance-pop duo whose musical influences span from Jeff Buckley and Hall & Oates to Sade and Rick James.
Credit Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Brown: My birthday is in like two days, and I’m much older than people think I am. (She is 47; Todd is 41.) I feel like I’m very much set in my ways now.

 

Todd: At this point, there’s nothing left but to enjoy what we did. We found some great relationships, we built a great community, we worked our asses off, like we did it all and now all we have to do is walk around and wear clothes and sing songs and encourage people and hang out with each other. We just find joy in one another and in our friendship and our companionship and that no matter what, we have each other.

 

Brown: What you are experiencing of our friendship is completely authentic. We spend a lot of time together, not because we have to but because we want to. I love her. She loves me. We’ve worked really hard on our relationship. It has not been easy, but we have so much in common, I can’t picture being in this world without her.

 

How do you heal yourself?

 

Brown: I like to just retreat and just get introverted and introspective and just be by myself and just be in my thoughts and just really deal with my stuff. I like to spend time away from others. And music, of course. Do I get lonely? As I get older, I’m less lonely. I actually really cherish and relish being by myself. It’s nice having a partner now. I’ve never really felt alone because I’ve had Najamoniq. It’s been like 15-20 years now. We don’t deal with loneliness on that level. There’s nothing bad to deal with other than your own shit. 

 

I mean, I smoke weed. Microdosing.

 

Todd: There were years and years when we had rough times, a really dark time. I’m glad I did it and I would not want to do it again. Those were some sad-ass motherfuckin’ years. I know where the root is, I’m not acting out on any trauma or pain. It’s OK to feel like this. We’ve learned through the hard years of taking care of stuff. So now when a problem arises, we are just more versed in dealing with it. But healing … I don’t even know … I’ll talk to somebody — talk to Del, smoke some weed and just think about it for a minute. I also don’t focus on things too hard because a lot of pain for me comes from overexamining stuff. So I work on not thinking about stuff. In my mind I’m like, bish, let it go.

 

Brown: Maaaan, sometimes it’s so many emotions we just tap out. We are both sensitive in a lot of the same ways. I don’t like to confront stuff all the time, but if I upset Naja, she will let me know right away. 

 

Todd: Every time my friends come in the room, I wanna be happy to see their faces. It’s mostly our insecurities that make us think that somebody is gonna have the worst reaction. But if you built your circle right and you have the right kind of people, you know how they are gonna react. Usually all the people in your circle are humble enough to be like, oh, I didn’t mean to hurt you.

 

If you were to imagine a world where you are loved, safe and valued, what would that look like?

 

Todd: That would look a lot like now, but I would also have a million dollars. I’m just being real. I should not be this poor. I mean, I’m not poor, but I should have a lot more money than I do.

 

Brown: That’s for real. Not that I’m money hungry, but I have some business ideas and some generational wealth to build. Oh yeah, also who doesn’t want to be comfortable?

 

Todd: I wanna have something for my people to pass down. But yeah, to really own something and be able to give something away.

 

Brown: Yeah, I would just like more records, more music, more vinyls.

 

Todd: For your collection? You ain’t about shit. [Laughter.]

 

Todd: We built a really beautiful existence, but if we could just get some more money, we’d be cool.

 

Follow Mirrorgloss on Instagram: @mirrorgloss

 

This story is part of the Artists Among Us series of profiles highlighting creatives around the region who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Natasha Marin is a conceptual artist and the curator of Black Imagination (McSweeney’s, 2020). Several prompts from this interview were sourced from this collection, which centers Black voices, wellness and joy.