Who is Bully Fae?
a conversation with Bryan Edward Collins
by Tyler Matthew Oyer
Tyler: Where does Bully Fae come from?
Bryan: I started writing music by accident. It happened because I wanted to document and record my ideas on a voice recorder in real time. I bought one at a Rite Aid thinking I was going to take notes really quickly as I walked around during my days. I’m a really inconvenient thinker. In the studio I don’t do much but on the street, or washing my dishes things start happening.
Tyler: In the shower?
Bryan: The shower is good. In the car mostly and on walks. I like the wondering feeling. I would end up walking between parties in Baltimore by myself and started to accidentally write songs. It was fun for me to realize this is a way to play with words like material you can repeat to yourself and stay concentrated by constantly re-saying or rerecording something in different ways. It’s making something, it’s forming phrases. It was time-based so it kept my attention better because it’s difficult for me to stay focused on other tasks.
I ended up writing all these songs while simultaneously producing art and didn’t think I would make anything of the collected lyrics. I tried making beats in 2011 and created three or four songs that I performed a couple of times in Baltimore. I didn’t create any songs for a few years after that but never stopped writing lyrics. Eventually I showed some friends the material I had been writing and they encouraged me to pursue music. I kept getting so much shit because they liked the stuff I was writing.
Tyler: Were you presenting the writing as poems or as songs?
Bryan: Definitely songs. The syntax has a rhythmic and percussive nature. It feels like a song even when it’s a capella. It’s kinda catchy and pop-y but weird. So I stopped fighting myself and made more beats which felt good. Eventually I needed to pick a name for the project.
Tyler: Where does that name come from?
Bryan: It took me three years to figure it out. I didn’t want to use my given name because the music is different than my other visual practices and I wanted it to have a moniker of its own. I can’t say I know what Bully Fae is just yet. It’s a very young idea. It’s more of an idea than it is a character or persona or alter ego. It’s not a Sasha Fierce situation.
Tyler: Does Bully Fae have a gender?
Bryan: I would say Bully Fae is non-gendered. I wouldn’t say I’m Bully Fae myself, rather Bully Fae is something I can possess at certain times.
Tyler: Can other people possess Bully Fae?
Bryan Collins: Absolutely.
Tyler: What characterizes the possession?
Bryan: I’m figuring that out. The name appeals to me because of it’s implicit joke – a fairy creature that is bossy or…
Tyler: Is it a paradoxical character?
Bryan: In mystical stories the fairies are bully-like or mischievous little creatures. I like that it is a first and last name. As a performer I don’t feel as though I can just do anything, I have certain traits or strengths. I feel the strengths I do have go well with the name Bully Fae.
Tyler: Let’s talk about the mischievous fairy. Fairies are often depicted together working for a greater cause. They aren’t typically singular, egotistical, or serving an individualistic cause. They work communally to shift or alter an evil or dark power structure.
Bryan: Yes they’re usually in service of something…
Tyler: Is Bully Fae in service to something?
Bryan: I’m very serious about the possession aspect. Some people really believe in these creatures but they don’t describe them as a singular, sentient group. It’s more a force that exists and has a power over the way things occur. There’s a sensibility to the character but it’s not easy to pin down or profile. That fugitive nature is interesting to me and comes out in the title “Defy a Thing to Be” because I am fairly resistant to saying flat out what things are supposed to be or mean. I’m interested in nonsense.
Tyler: An anti authoritative positionality?
Bryan: More into sensorial than making sense.
Tyler: Does Bully Fae identify as queer? Do they participate in some anti patriarchal agenda or project?
Bryan: I think anything that exists and is not, is automatically in opposition to the patriarchy. Absolutely. I don’t think it’s a primary theme of the content, but I do feel a sense of purpose in fighting those things. I’m not addressing the patriarch in my work. I’m just communicating from my experience and the things I’m interested in. Perhaps it would be too submissive to speak their language. I don’t want to. I’m trying to invent something else.
Tyler: An abstraction?
Bryan: Yes some sort of weird other thing…
Tyler: I understand what you’re saying but when I read or listen to your lyrics and hear things like “I need an exit from this pontificate”, to me that’s…
Bryan: Really direct?
Tyler: It’s a very explicit metaphor. To pontificate is such a patriarchal behavior.
Bryan: I was thinking about this in the bath last night. I’m working to describe the worldview of Bully Fae. That’s what I’m interested in. The way Bully Fae uses language isn’t to critique something rather to articulate the paradoxes of life without distress. I’m not trying to make diagnoses. It’s hard to not diagnose yourself and to not be in crises because of the oppressive structures that exist.
Tyler: To me Bully Fae has a strong politic. Can you talk about your use of metaphor? Things like Clorox bleach and elevator pitch, where do they come from and why?
Bryan: Elevator pitch was the most conceptually sound idea out of the songs. I had a deliberate reason and end goal. People were telling me I should make music and I felt fraught about how it could relate to my other work, what that means, how to make music in the world and not fall into an attention addicted trap... It made me think a lot about pop stars and also I was into business language at the time, the way people speak in corporate presentations. An elevator pitch to me is the same as a pop song. In a pop song someone has to effectively sell something to you in about two or three minutes. It’s this concise package of desire and bait and seduction. It’s one object that indicates the cloud or fog of all these possible values and potentialities. The possibility of enormous growth! Liquidating assets! In the same way that a pop star is an object unto themselves there is an entire workforce around them. They are something you can invest in economically and psychologically. Pop songs have that power.
I decided to build a character around it and he’s the guy in the video. The lyrics are bizarre and nonsensical. They indicate some kind of exchange. I kept thinking about a hand that was preserved in a can and someone being called a can man because they have a pre-made body part. They can do things well because they have this reproductive power [laughter]…. But that’s just one line in the song.
Tyler: It’s also not nonsense because you’re talking about the industrialized body, mass production, consumption, efficiency….
Bryan: It’s deep in the lyrics. I don’t expect people to get it right away.
Tyler: The character you choose to represent in the video is this stereotypical, middle class, finance office worker. He seems a little deranged. Perhaps deranged by his job and the corporate architecture. It feels like he’s trapped in the office. He’s no longer wearing pants and he drinks from the urinal.
Bryan: Naming this song helped me find the name Bully Fae because the full title is “Elevator Pitch (lasséz-fairy forecast)”. Lasséz-faire made me think of the invisible hand as a mystical property that is similar to an invisible fairy or spirit and is a force that people believe in and put stock into. This character is the shadow of or an incarnation of all of the injustices of enormous big business and behaves devilishly, selfishly, and takes pleasure in the perversity of money and capital. I imagined this office space when after the employees leave this spirit manifests as an ugly, balding caricature… an amalgamation of all the cliché characteristics of the business man. I gave him a devil tail that is also an arrow from trend forecasting and stock activity. This laissez-fairy is an actual caster of the forecast. It’s in their hands.
Tyler: It’s arbitrary.
Bryan: Yes, they are the mystical force that guides the market according to their own wicked delight.
Tyler: It becomes satirical theatre. Do you have experience with theatre?
Bryan: Not performing myself, but I wrote a play with Amanda Horowitz when we were living in Baltimore called Shy World. It was dealing with cyber activism and the State. We focused on the concept of anonymity.
Tyler: Can you talk about the aggressive tone in Bully’s voice? Is it anger or anxiety? Is it rage?
Bryan: It’s hard to say because it’s personal. I don’t want to say that Bully Fae is a project to forward a queer agenda, rather it’s a personal feeling of real rage in a lot of the songs because that’s how I feel quite often. I feel an intense opposition to many things just by being myself. I’m trying to figure that out with Bully Fae. There are a lot of insecurities to work through. I’m trying to distinguish what I am doing that is in service of a problematic worldview? This brings out an element of rage because sometimes I feel helpless to the allure of harmful behaviors.
There are a lot of things about my body on the album. The problems of taking care of your body. How to deal with the world doing things to your body all the time. And telling you what you need to do with it. All the flaws and fictions that people create for your body. It’s difficult to navigate.
Tyler: It seems like the rage is coming from a process of unlearning.
Bryan: Yes I think so. In “Self Evidence Intervention (crisis theatre stage mom)”, I was thinking of that person as an Oedipal development of a value system having this parental ego that is guiding you as you try to fight back against it. The song is a conversation and asks the question “Do you want to see me in performance?”. I characterize myself as a crisis actor in a fake emergency, like a house on fire and I’m pretending to be saved. It’s going through the motions of a drama and repeating the actions like a theatre often. You know what you’re capable of and know what you should and shouldn’t do, and yet you continue to do certain things. And then I ask myself a question. [laughter]
BULLY FAE is a musical act comprised of stand-up comedy, poetry, dance, and music, that tells a story about abjection, seduction, addiction, and queerness. The project began as an accident. Inspired by an urgency to document ideas in real time, they bought a voice recorder with the intention of describing their thoughts on art and their plans to make it. As they began an auto-dictation process of talking while walking, their interest in this device evolved; it's musicality i.e. the meter of words and the beat of their steps composed what sounded more like song or poetry than marginal commentary. This method of making became their dominant method.
TYLER MATTHEW OYER founded tir journal in 2015. He is an artist, writer, organizer and educator based in Los Angeles. His work has been presented throughout the United States and Europe. He received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 2012. His debut album, RELEASE, is available on Practical Records.