Review Fix chats with VUCA, who discusses the origin of the project and so much more.
On “Shine,” L.A.-based singer Usen Isong, playing the role of Jackie (they/them), wakes to find that they are dead. With their last breath, they sing of life’s most closely held secret from the other side. A dreamy electro-pop and string-infused (arranged by Daphne Chen) atmosphere build a stunning sonic landscape that sets the backdrop for the tale itself. Shine’s magic grows stronger when the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles enters, heightening the intensity of each chord with strong voices that call out from the heavens, welcoming the newcomer to the afterlife.
VUCA is an experimental art collective — whose first project, The Geometry of Lies, is an immersive alternate reality concept album, featuring a novel, album, and AR experiences. “Shine” represents a chapter in the novel, performed by the character Jackie — a non-binary technology wunderkind. The Geometry of Lies is a modern meditation on the untold story of Prometheus and his relationship to Hope. With mystical energy only Greek mythology could inspire, each song is a reflection on the ever-shifting tension between Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA).
Review Fix: How did this project start?
VUCA: VUCA was born just prior to COVID. In 2019, I was asked to give a talk on the topic of being lost. I responded that my talk would be about wayfinding through little acts of courage. Before I knew what possessed me, I said “Instead of talking about courage, why don’t I demonstrate it.” I ended up writing two songs and performing them with three friends in front of hundreds of attendees – something I was terrified of doing. The audience gave us a standing ovation and asked where they could get the songs. I promised to make them available and, with that, VUCA came into this world.
Review Fix: What inspired Shine?
VUCA: Shine is a modern take on the world’s oldest song. A couple years prior to writing it, I had lost both my sister and mother. I had been writing music as a way to process my grief, but nothing was really clicking yet. One day I was listening to NPR and heard about the Seiklios Epitaph, a song written in the 1st or 2nd century CE that was discovered in an ancient Greek tomb. What was unique about it was that the epitaph contained both musical notation and lyrics. I found the lyrics particularly moving – “While you live shine for time demands its due.” Here was a song singing to me from the grave. It felt like a moment of truth. I worked with Barbara Stephan, Dave Olson, and Greg Papania to bring our version of Shine to life. Everyone who has worked on this song has remarked how important it is for people to hear this message right now. And although it feels relevant and timely, I like to think of Shine as a truly timeless song.
Review Fix: What was it like to work with Usen Isong & Trans Chorus of LA?
VUCA: Greg Papania, our producer, connected me to both Usen Isong and Trans Chorus of LA. I knew right away that we had found our perfect collaborators. Usen is gratitude embodied. Their voice has such range and exquisite colors. Spending time with them in the studio was a blast of pure light. Everyone felt inspired by Usen’s energy.
We recorded the Trans Chorus of LA at East West Studio. It was the first time I had been around that many people since the outbreak of Covid. It felt wonderful. As we were getting started Abby Hall, the Creative Director, was setting the tone and said, “we are singing this for every trans kid in the world so that they remember that they are the light”. I was so deeply moved by the whole recording experience. Lots of tears were shed and new friendships born.
Review Fix: How did working on this track change you as an Artist?
VUCA: Without any hyperbole, I can say that Shine changed my life. Shine was the first song I ever finished. Prior to writing it, I was terrified to come out artistically. I am an extremely late bloomer. I didn’t put my first work of art out into the world until almost 50. Since Shine, I’ve released four additional tracks and written a companion novel.
Review Fix: How is it different from your previous work?
VUCA: In my previous life, I was a technology entrepreneur. I founded and led six technology startups over the course of 25 years. So, writing Shine was a massive departure from my previous work.
Review Fix: If anyone else in the world could sing this track for you, who would it be and why?
VUCA: I believe we found our perfect partners. We looked all around,and I was prepared to ask anyone. Thanks to working with Greg Papania, access wasn’t a problem. The question was heart and we found that with Usen Isong and the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles..
Review Fix: What was it like to be connected to a planned Parenthood on this project?
Isong: Pure delight! I had the opportunity to work previously with Planned Parenthood in 2016 on a virtual reality project, Across the Line. Our VR production company, Custom Reality Services, produced that work and my husband, Jeff, was the Co-Director. We went to Sundance and toured that project globally. I believe in the mission of Planned Parenthood and couldn’t be more delighted by their extraordinary support, in particular Linda Neff, who is the Chief Philanthropic Officer of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. She was our champion for both Shine and Across the Line.
Review Fix: What are your goals for this track?
VUCA: My sincere hope is that someone who is struggling will hear this song and remember how important they are .
Review Fix: What’s next?
VUCA: I’m currently finishing the final edits on album’s companion the novel, The Geometry of Lies. This is a special project in which every song is based on a chapter in the novel. Shine started it and from there 19 more songs were born. We have released four so far. On October 21, we will be launching our first music video in conjunction with the project, Glamour — and just in time for Halloween! It’s pretty darn creepy.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
VUCA: As an artist, I have fallen repeatedly into the trap of self-deprecation and lack of self believe. The hardest part about all of this has been learning to trust my ear and instincts as an artist. For those of you out there who have music in you, trust yourself and find people who believe in your vision. The beautiful thing about music is that it can be a pure collaborative process – a real opportunity for co-creation.
Review Fix: Where can people go to find out more?
VUCA: We are telling the story of The Geometry of Lies on Instagram. You can follow us @TheVUCA on IG. In October, we will start posting our video content on our VUCA YouTube channel. To date, we have released four other songs that are available on all the streaming platforms.