By Julian Nebreda
"The Wendigo is the spirit of a swamp witch, channeled by Travis Braxton," reads the description on the Brooklyn-based artist's Bandcamp page. Chanting over hip hop beats, wearing an intricate outfit made of taxidermied deer, fox, and friendship bracelets, Travis Baxter channels the spirit of the Wendigo spirit with overtones of H.P. Lovecraft and the occult. I had the chance to send a few questions to this enigmatic performer about his favorite foods, inspirations and what's next.
According to Wikipedia Wendigo is "a demonic half-beast creature appearing in the legends of the Algonquian peoples along the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes Region of both the United States and Canada." On your bandcamp, Wendigo is "a demon that possesed the heart of a witch. He sings through Travis Braxton." How would you describe the Wendigo? When were you first possessed and how did it occur?
Originally the project had a different working title, Imma Witch, which ended up being the title of my first EP. As I was building the costume I was also reading a lot of the authors that HP Lovecraft mentions in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature. When I read Algernon Blackwood’s The Wendigo something about the story of the lurking insatiable horror in the woods really grabbed hold of me. The more research I did into the legends I realized the costume I was building shared a lot of similarities with popular Wendigo descriptions so I decided to change the focus. At the same time I was getting more and more into the occult and started to have dreams about my Holy Guardian Angel a la Aleister Crowley. In the first dream the being which resembled the Wendigo was standing behind me asking me questions and demanding me to let go of my fear. The next dream I was strapped to a table in a dark dimly lit red room and the being was standing over me and cut a unicursal hexagram into my chest over top of a tattoo I have of the eye of providence. It was really intense - I shot up from sleep short of breath and felt like then the spirit and I had connected. I identified the spirit as the Wendigo and associated its insatiable hunger with a relentless drive for success in the project or the hunger to always do better and grow. Now before each show while I get into costume I do a short ceremony asking the spirit to speak through me as I sing kinda like speaking in tongues.
Does your outfit use real fox skin? How/when did you make it?
I made the costume myself. It does use real taxidermy. The face is from a coyote and the antlers are from a deer that were given to me by a friend. The bones of the deer skull are also braided into the hair. The funny thing is when I was working on it I was having a really tough time. I kept cutting my fingers and burning myself and was getting really upset with the whole thing. Then I realized that I was working with remains of living things that deserved respect and reverence. I set up a ceremony to bless the objects and thank the animals for their sacrifices. After that the rest of the build went really smooth. It is always evolving - I added a new clasp to the front not that long ago made of a necklace from the ceremonial rituals of the early pre Islamic Afghans. Its really pretty and makes a great jingling sound. Not all the components are as esoteric though, there are definitely torn up thrift store clothes and friendship bracelet yarn all up in my hair.
What's your music writing process? Your lyrics are a bit elusive, and the chanting aspect seems very organic. What do you start with?
My roots are in EDM and Hip Hop production so I approach the creation of the beats in a very similar way. I work mostly in Abelton and Sony Sound Forge. I use a lot of samples but I make an effort to deconstruct and degrade them to a point that you would be pretty hard pressed to find the source. I want to make the sample my own not just drop a loop from someone else’s song. There is an obvious nod to Sun Ra on the entire Alter Destiny record though even the title is straight Sun Ra shit. Once the beats and melodies are set up and in a place where I feel good with them I’ll usually meditate for a while and just let the song play over and over again. TMI moment I do my best lyric creating dancing naked in my bedroom. Once I feel like the tune is something I can really connect with I’ll just start scatting over the beat. Its very similar to talking in tongues, just let go and let the words flow. Some of the songs end up having English words that make manifest others are just series of sounds that come to me. I like to believe it is the sprit of the Wendigo speaking through me but once I get the “words” out they tend to stick.
I'm not familiar with bayou culture or chants, were that culture and music present around you growing up?
I grew up in Central Florida which is essentially a giant swamp with cement on it. I spent a lot of time in the woods and really felt a connection to the swamp. The rot and the life that springs from it really inspired me and I could spend hours wandering down dried up river beds and exploring the Econlockhatchee River. When I got more into magic, the swamp always felt like a place of power to me. My vocal style is also heavily influenced by bayou swamp boys like Dr John and Gobodobro. Both of their voices have that muddy dirty feel that I get after I spent a day out in my hiking woods. Dr John especially back in the 60s when he put out Gris Gris he had a really heavy voodoo influence going on with his lyrics and live set and I may have bit off him some. Lets call it hero worship. hahah
Your genre's on Bandcamp range from "experimental electronic", to "witch", to "industrial"- if you had to invent a genre name for yourself, what would you call it?
When we were in the studio working on the Alter Destiny EP the engineer and I spent a while thinking about that. What genre is this? What kinda record do we tell people we are working on? Our final answer which I really like is Industrial Swamp Music. Like Skinny Puppy and Dr John fucked and made a baby. hahah.
I have to ask who's in charge of making your music videos? The video for Passing em by is amazingly strange. It seems to have almost satanic imagery. How do you bring these together - do you worship satan?
The first video off Alter Destiny was for the song The World and was directed by a good friend Kate Shultz who teaches film at the Univerity of Central Florida. The concept for that was really all hers and it came out amazing. She has a great psychedelic style that I just loved when I saw her first film When the Alligator Called to Elijah, (http://vimeo.com/63745200). It is so grimy and just captures that spirit of the swamp that I love. When I decided to start working on Passing Em By I was already living up in Brooklyn so I didn’t have the option to work with her anymore and decided to do it myself. The imagery is all found footage from a variety of sources. Some of the footage is tessellated images of swamp life. There are also some great Butoh performances in there. They just looked so ritualistic. There is definitely a heavy occult feeling to it. The song has always felt like a goetic chant and had a very ritualistic feel so I decided to embrace that with footage from real OTO and Golden Dawn rituals as well as some Laveyan Satanism thrown in there. I wouldn’t say its satanic as much as it is occult and carnal, very much like something you would see in a Lovecraft story calling to the old ones that existed before time. It starts with a group summoning the Wendigo and ends with a banishing ritual, essentially putting the demon back in the box. Gotta make sure you close all the gates you open.
If you had to choose one album, one book, and one movie to take to a deserted island, what would you choose?
Album: Lauryn Hill – The Misseducation of Lauryn Hill
Book: H.P. Lovecraft – The Complete Fiction
Movie: Richard Elfman – Forbidden Zone
Also can i request that carrots grow there cause thats my favorite food. haha.
What's in the future for The Wendigo? Any new music or shows to look forward to?
I’m kinda hibernating for the winter. Right now I’m working on a new EP not sure what its going to be called yet I have about 6 new songs I need to record the vocals for and weed through. I’m hoping to have that done by spring. I’m also toying with the idea of adding a back up percussionist or two for the live shows but I’m insanely controlling and protective when it comes to Wendy so I am struggling with that. I think live it would really bring the stage show together and take some pressure off me but its like letting someone hold your new born the whole time you are thinking if this bitch drops my kid I swear to god haha. I will definitely be back playing again come March - me and Kelly Knapp at Noise Love are working on putting together a spectacle of bands and chaos and fun for summer that should be amazing once it all comes together so definitely keep an eye out.