Eco Trippin with Nate & Hila
Hila & Nate
are pretty great ;)…did we actually just write that? yep. #truth
We discovered Nate & Hila like we discover a lot of things: on Instagram. Somehow or other we found ourselves on @sirkn8 where we became completely entranced by this video/rap about the politics around climate change. Climate change, as I'm sure you all know, can feel overwhelming in and of itself and even more so when we try to figure out how we got to this place. The song, A History of Environmental Policy in the U.S. from the 60s to the Present, breaks it down in a way that's easily understood while managing to be clever and entertaining.
After a second cup of coffee and a little more poking around on the interwebs we discovered that Sir Kn8 (née Nathan Dufour Oglesby) is deep into subjects like the intersections between Platonic metaphysics and perspectives on quantum physics…and also likes to perform onstage with a green nude eel.
And he’s not the only one: Turns out that the other (non-eel) person onstage with Sir Kn8 is the one and only Hila the Killa (aka Hila Perry) - a native New Yorker, comedian and rapper in her own right who has mad skillz like rapping while in a handstand.
Like peanut butter and chocolate they came together to form Killin H8 and we sat down with them to learn a little more.
How would you describe Nate and Hila?
Nate: It’s a duo.
A dynamic duo!
Nate: A duo that uses music and monologue and philosophy and comedy and hip hop to communicate.
Hila: Yeah, they're all just vehicles for conversation. We like to think deeply about certain topics that are discussed with a great sort of critical and introspective lens and translate that in our songs. We translate ways to express ideas that are conversation starters.
How did you get started? You all are artists individually and then started working together?
H: Yeah when we met I was Hila the Killa. I’m still Hila the Killa, but [at the time] I was just doing my own thing. I went into performing through stand-up comedy. I would do open mics and I had my five songs that I would perform that were all linked to stand up bits - they were in themselves like joke songs. And that’s how we met. I was performing at an event and he was performing his stuff.
Can you give us an example?
H: Yes I have a song called “Safe Sex Turns Me On” - that’s a song that’s about how safe sex is sexy, and the opposite of “Oh we have to [gestures sadly putting a condom on] -- but it’s like no, this is the point. The whole experience – that’s an example. Or there’s “Body Hair”, a song about loving your body hair.
N: When we met I was also doing solo stuff and I’d been doing it for awhile. At the same time that I met her I was also still working on a PhD so I was writing about philosophy in this academic context and making hip-hop inflected songs that were just as crammed with dense philosophical material and rhymes as you could possibly construe. And it was good but it was really intense too, and there was only a certain context in which it would work well and I think one of the fortuitous things about meeting is that this has grounded me a little bit, in a modality that can communicate with people much more directly.
I mean that’s a reductive way to put it but when it came together it became this more complete organism which I continue to enjoy.
As a duo, are you primarily focused on issues around climate change?
N: Lately, we’re mostly eco. We started this show Eco Trippin which is an ongoing live show we’ve done at House of Yes and also perform at Caveat on the lower East side on a bimonthly basis (next one’s in June!). So yes, we’ve been primarily ecologically themed although I think the more we think about it, the more to us ecology does mean everything -- it’s more than just an emergency topic to address, a never ending crisis. It is the study of everything that is. It is the study of relations between systems -be they physical systems or physical spiritual systems – really many things come under its umbrella. We’ve been feeling at home in that vocabulary.
H: Yeah I think about two years ago I sort of had a transformation where I suddenly felt I had to make radical changes in my life that reflected better the way I was feeling. I was appalled by the way in which the system worked and the capitalist thing about constant consumption - that just sort of snowballed into a lot of different songs about the environment.
Also, learning about permaculture and different systems and trying to understand better how things grow and what trees do informed my work.
I grew up in NYC and I didn’t really have access to that sort of information growing up at all and so for me it was entirely new. We practice zero waste and plastic free living and we’ve been doing that for two years so I think that influences a lot how we think about how to relate to our environment, to be in the world, it’s not just the climate conversation- it’s also about that. Being in the city especially brings up that need to communicate more with plants and soil and water and understanding systems better.
What is Perma Culture?
H: Well it has a few different ways of defining it but the one that I find most useful is that it’s a design system that’s meant to mimic natural systems that occur without human interference but designed to mimic them for human interactions. Food forests are a great example of the Perma Culture Design. Where you make a forest but you plant fruit trees or nut trees or things that you can actually harvest and use and understanding how forests’ ecosystems operate so that you can plan it out that way but then instead of needing to garden constantly you just, once it’s established, you don’t really need to do anything, it does its own thing so that’s an element of Perma Culture. Another element is learning about water systems, how to purify water, how to capture water, how to capture energy, from the sun, from different places, building basically systems and infrastructures that utilizes things already happening in nature so that you don’t have to work so hard.
That's very cool! So when you guys are performing or you’re working on your stuff, how do you get to the breakout point where you’re communicating with a larger audience?
N: yeah, this is a good question and there’s multiple layers to it.
One layer is, how do we get the message out farther -- because as message bearers, just like other message bearers, you are normalizing the awareness of a certain set of issues, be they ultimate principles about how we relate to the natural world and are part of the natural world, or our awareness of certain crises and what people need to do individually or politically in order to create change. And we’re normalizing that awareness - making that more wide spread -- and so how do we get the message out farther?
The other element is how do we become something that is not just preaching to the choir of other people who like goofy weird art. How do we talk to people that actually need some convincing? I think we’ve had little iterations of those kinds of experiences -- people who wouldn’t actually think about [this] stuff or who’ve stopped getting [disposable] coffee cups every day, but how do we do that on a larger and larger scale? We want to make a show like a tv show. That’s the current end game
H: That’s what we’re working on right now.
Like a variety show?
N: kind of like sesame street for adults
Zero Waste Daniel in the back : I will so watch it! You know I do a lot of voices and some stand up so…
N: Be in it! We’re planning it right now we’re mobilizing
D: I would really like to!
H: oh my god yes we’ll talk that is amazing…
N: So we’re making a show with Zero Waste Daniel
N: But yeah that’s the great question…
H: One of the episodes of Eco Trippin’ focuses on the Green New Deal -- and so we’re mobilizing that for a tour, going to colleges and bringing the information and research that we’ve done on it -
N: I think with that show, we were attempting to talk about the Green New Deal humanly -- not in an apolitical way, there’s nothing particularly apolitical about discourse about something like this -- but in a way that doesn’t foreground partisanship per se.
Can we at least agree on these basic principles or these basic phenomena, things that are going on right now, or just general values that are very universal values?
How do we allocate resources and energy to make values manifest? Because I think in the environmental conversation there’s a lot of necessary blame discourse -and it's necessary because there are a lot of people that deserve blame more than other people do in terms of how we got to where we’re at and that needs to be acknowledged -but not everybody needs to be involved in that conversation in the same way. And I think we’ve been viewing it as our job to spend less time blaming this or that Republican or the Koch Brothers or whoever, not that they don’t deserve it -- but there’s also a lot to say about just appealing to people as people – that’s another part of the conversation.
I find the blame part can just shut people down sometimes and there’s a feeling of helplessness…
N: Or they feel blame if they feel any sorts of allegiance to those people or whatever and then they don’t feel inspired to act so…
So you’re focused on making shows that take that (blaming) out of the equation for now. How do you put together your shows? I saw you had back up dancers which is so awesome -how did that happen?
H: Well we’ve been working with House of Yes a lot and that’s been such an incredible creative community so a lot of the people involved in the show are from relationships that we fostered at House of Yes. The dancers are a trio called Pain au Chocolat and they are amazing, and the costumes were created by Love Living Art. Both of them, and others, were with us at the first Eco Trippin show at Caveat and House of Yes and we foresee doing more with them. We try to collaborate and incorporate as many artists as we can. We're like "come, be part of the show".
N: And we really want to be good about passing the mic both literally and figuratively to different types of people, like the last Eco Trippin we had people from the Brooklyn Center for Sacred Activism and Seeding Sovereignty, who had their origin in Standing Rock and they’re a collective that advocates for indigenous activism, whether its social justice or environmental justice or the two intertwined as they often are. It made us realize quite distinctly how much we want to say “here’s our song” and also “here’s our friend and they have this other story that we could talk about, but they can actually embody what needs to be in the conversation.
They have a more lived experience of it.
N: Exactly yeah and environmentalism has often had a rather homogeneously structured conversation, the voices…
H: Who’s got the mic, who do you hear…
N: So we want to do what we can to allocate space for diverse perspectives on it. The bone is almost finished..(indicating our dog Phin has almost eaten the bone and as are the No Kill rules, the interview ends with the bone) the hourglass is almost over…
Anything else you’d want to share?
The next installment of Eco Trippin will be at Caveat NYC at the end of June 2019 (exact date TBA)! In the meantime we will performing at the Parade for Love on May 11, and will both be speaking at YES Talks at House of Yes on May 14. You can find our collection of videos at tinyurl.com/killinh8, and follow us on the various socials via @nateandhila.