By Nicholas Jason Lopez
On Aug. 21, 2020, Brooklyn-based musician Joshua Ackley released his debut LP ‘Dark Arts.’
Ackley may perhaps be better known as the bassist/frontman of New York City art-punk outfit The Dead Betties and co-leader of rock band Teen Vice, alongside the legendary Tammy Hart.
Also, despite being the center of attacks from conservative journalists like Bill O’Reilly and The Daily Mail over alleged contributions to the “gay agenda” by way of homosexual indoctrination of children, he served as the Vice President of Communications for Girl Scouts of the USA for 10 years and successfully fought for transgender inclusion within the organization.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with Ackley about ‘Dark Arts’ and more.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Brooklyn to someone who has never been there before?
Joshua Ackley – Brooklyn is the best city in America. If and when the apocalypse happens, Brooklyn is definitely where you want to be. I fully trust that at the end of days, Brooklyn will just become one righteous block party and when the bombs drop, I’ll be having end-of-the-world drinks and nachos at The Commodore.
Music Bugle – What was it like making your debut LP ‘Dark Arts’?
Joshua Ackley – When I recorded ‘Dark Arts,’ I was recovering from surgery to repair an obliterated ACL and broken shin, so I couldn’t really walk. I was fairly isolated from the world for the most part. I had also reached a point in my life where I didn’t really like myself and knew I needed to reevaluate my entire being. I suddenly had a ton of time alone, so ‘Dark Arts’ is the sound of someone charting a course back to themselves, back to a person they want to be. It was a very depressing process, but ultimately, the most rewarding recording experience I’ve ever had. It also taught me that I never again need to rely on other people to make a record. I did everything…
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about indie rock?
Joshua Ackley – Honestly, not much and I struggle with that label, because it has so much patriarchal baggage attached to it. On that note, what excites me about music in general right now is the possibility of straight white men losing their stronghold over the music industry, in general. There’s a ton of work still needed to dismantle their systems of control, but women-owned companies like Low Profile and Terrorbird are successfully doing that work and outmaneuvering the cumbersome male titans who are desperately clinging on for relevance. Time is up, truly.
Music Bugle – How do you separate your mindset from your solo material to that of your work with The Dead Betties and Teen Vice?
Joshua Ackley – It’s all very different. Recording ‘Dark Arts’ was the first time I’ve really ever leaned into the mindset of operating wholly as a musician. With The Dead Betties, my sexuality eclipsed everything we did. It took on a life of its own. Studio bros treated me like I was just some dumb, flashy idiot who got no say when it came to the mix, or even the production style, because anyone feminine couldn’t possibly know what they were doing behind the boards. They would typically just go to the other band members for the more technical stuff, which was infuriating, as I was the frontman and wrote all the basslines and vocals and then in media, I was always gay first, musician a distant second, but we wound up on a big label, so we played along. Teen Vice was a dream come true. It was collaborative and fun and I got to share front-person duties with one of my best friends, Tammy Hart, but in terms of mindset, before ‘Dark Arts,’ I’d never fully allowed myself to just be a musician. There was always a pretense. There was always a calculation running in tandem with the musicianship.
Music Bugle – What has been your biggest struggle lately?
Joshua Ackley – Seriously, why can’t Breonna Taylor’s killers be brought to justice? Not saying this for online cred or to portray myself as the most enlightened activist in the country, but what the hell is going on? In what world is it acceptable for people to completely turn the other way when faced with the endless roll call of Black people who have been murdered by the police, or by white supremacists, or by both? Plus, to see our country becoming a safe space for those same willfully ignorant racists to then turn around and defend Kyle Rittenhouse and his family? It’s a struggle. It’s a struggle when I see white people in the gay community siding with the “All Lives Matter” idiots. We have to be a better country and hold those in our specific communities accountable for their words and actions.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Joshua Ackley – My parents are older and time really is getting more and more precious. They live thousands of miles from me, so I haven’t been able to see them this year, which is extremely difficult. My dad is living with dementia, so hearing it progress over the phone has been pretty upsetting, because I’d like to be more than just a voice over the phone. I want nothing more than to have a meal and a drink with them and help around the house. They both make appearances on ‘Dark Arts,’ which was very important to me.
Music Bugle – Away from music, what’s something that people might be surprised to know about you?
Joshua Ackley – I was part of the three-person team responsible for the development and implementation of Girl Scouts of the USA’s transgender inclusion guidelines and practices – the first of its kind for a youth-serving organization that size in America. I’ve never been more thankful for an opportunity, or proud of an outcome. It earned us some attacks in far-right wing media, which meant we were doing something right.
Music Bugle – What has been the most productive thing you’ve done while in quarantine?
Joshua Ackley – I’m launching a new disco band named Action Hero with Lillian Ruiz and Eric Shepherd. Demoing an album and recording our forthcoming debut singles while under quarantine has been challenging, but we are so proud of the work and excited to get it out into the world. Now’s the time to dance like our lives depend on it.
Music Bugle – What’s something that you wish happened more in the music industry?
Joshua Ackley – I hope marketing becomes much less important than it currently is. There’s so much exciting marketing out there, paired with boring, lazy music. It happens more and more where I’ll get excited about someone’s marketing and then I’ll listen to them and it’s like, “What the hell is this bile!? I was promised the second coming of Skinny Puppy, but all I got was a Hanson knockoff with some interesting synths.” People have Vanity Fair-level photography and design, but they sound like they can barely string a few notes together on a Casio from 1982, while breathily singing some stupid lyrics about being sad in a pretty landscape. Like, nice photos in Ibiza, bro. Shame about your lack of talent.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Joshua Ackley – Fireboy DML, DIS, Tori Amos, Donna Summer, Perfume Genius, Deee-Lite, Chloe x Halle and Kylie Minogue.