Written by Deuce Ellis @DeuceEllis
The fans is how I did it.
How else could I start this? #TheCult — that actually came as a joke between some fans and I. There were just some, people who were really into what we were doing — they’d be at multiple shows in different towns, they were the ones who would volunteer from the crowd to wear the rabbit head from the Stocky video, and the ones riding really hard with anything that we were doing online. I started posting”Deuce Ellis is a Cult”’as a troll, and Mike suggested we call fans “The Cult”. For someone reason I just liked the way it looked with a hashtag, like art, with a weird sort of balance like most of the things that I loved.
We shared it with the fans — I’d post wild pics that I’d scour the Internet for & just weird one liners and statements with #TheCult at the end. It was cheeky, and weird, and vague at first — but everyone got it, or wanted to get it. Sometimes I wondered if there was anything there to get? As this inside joke grew and gained momentum, to me, #TheCult began to become a place of freedom: a place where we could all be free and be us, unapologetically. In the place where the nobodies meet.
The Sanctuary of Holy Colours was this giant gathering place, spiritual but not so religious — all we cared was that you believed in something. I kept having this vision of lots of people gathered intimately — and free. The spirit was so free. And it was around this time we started throwing art parties in Bushwick and the LES + Mario & Nique were holding down the #OTL happy hour at Home Sweet Home every first and third Thursday. I always love those Thursday’s — the vibes were always hella cool, the drinks were cheap, all of our friends would show up, and we’d always find somewhere to dip off and smoke weed. I’d always wanted to wear leather jackets and smoke weed in the street in the LES. Don’t judge me, I’d always thought it’d be cool and it was. Sometimes I’d just pull girls off the street and have them join us. No one turns down a joint.
Thru the Internet I connected with a cool local art supply shop in Brooklyn who would donate materials — paint pens, markers, slightly damaged project boards, the pack of pastels that fell and cracked and so they couldn’t sell it — it was perfect. Now I’m throwing these secret location art parties in non-conventional places, like the LYFE shop, or my apartment, or wherever else we might pop-up, and people could smoke and drink and get down house party style & make art and hear great music.
While this cool thing was going on in NYC, fans and friends that I’d encountered on the road were clamoring for some of that magic. #TheCult was a thing. I’d been touring the country the few previous years heavily a la DIY punk rock style — surfing couches, trashing hotels, that sort of thing. Meeting lots of hella cool people from all walks of life. Seeing the country. This lifestyle afforded me some cool opportunities like touring with Das EFX, and touring with Aloe Blacc. I mean, I’m a kid from Buffalo, N.Y., and this was the coolest. What all this added up to was a bunch of friends, fans, followers, dope artists, and cool promoters/bookers, and just amazing people of all types.
And it’s around this time I was wrapping up Nothing is Sacred — it was me musically tapping into this new energy that was building. It stemmed from conversations Mario and I would have about being music snobs, and wanting to make hip hop be more perceived as art, to create some avant-garde type shyt. And from the hours and hours Jarrel and I spent on the road together, playing music, music of all types, he’s got such a dope, diverse ear. I’ve known Lowe my whole life,and she’s always been so hip to whatever’s cool, way before people even know it’s cool, and as she grew her business she always gave me a platform: and I of course always wanted to make music that’s knew she’d fuck wit. Damon is a mentor who’s become one of my best friends; he’s had success as an A&R, a promoter, and an all around personality. He’s always just had an innate knowledge of the “sweet science” of the game. Our conversations are stuff of legend. It stemmed from my admiration of the purity of Midwest Hip Hop as a kid who grew up on the East Coast, in the Mecca — they just had this deep love and appreciation for beats & lyrics/rhymes, plus a DIY spirit that was like nothing I’d seen before. And it was raw. I was really depressed at the time, and it was a particularly bitter winter. Fucking Polar Vortex.
Where I’d spent most of my time writing the previous album SPREAD traveling, and touring, and partying, and constantly surrounded by women (I also had two women roommates at the time) — this project saw me by myself a lot, annoyed at the world, trying my best not to be angry and frustrated — I was making great strides creatively and internally and that kept me going, but sometimes life knocks you on your ass to see if you got the grit to get back up and keep on going. Money from the last tours and CD sales & digital downloads were slowing up, so I was doing focus groups, and Internet hustles, and odd jobs off craigslist, and maybe selling weed to keep food and shyt coming in. That’s around when TK and I linked up again, he saw some internet shyt I was doing and wanted in. It was cool bread for a bit, but we kept kicking it beyond that, eventually even using my apartment as a studio and recording the young kids to keep dough coming in. And it was just good to have someone around as a genuine friend.
I was spending a lot of time at Goodbye Blue Monday then, it helped keep me out the house and fighting off the depression — it was always such a happy place for me. I threw a lot of my early NYC shows there, and they loved that I always would bring a cool ass crowd. Sometimes on weekdays when an act would drop out, they’d hit me up to perform — they couldn’t pay, but artists got free PBR and a bomb ass grilled cheese sandwiches with French fries. I’d always kill it and pass around the collection plate and sell some CDs and shyt. There were times where I’d walk out on a Tuesday with like a hundred dollars, a full belly and a buzz + some new fans, and a great time. I ran a monthly concert series there — bringing in all the talent I’d been meeting, and just giving a platform for the homies and artists I respected to have really dope ass hip hop shows and it would be the groundwork for the Artwork$ Festival — which is one of my fondest memories ever. I’d go on to do a ton of shows all over the city, just spreading the music, and growing #TheCult. And I truly do love performing in the Mecca, but the road was calling me.
I’d recently wrote an article for a site — CyberPR.com that I’ve been fond of for years, the fiery and charismatic red head who ran it — featured on Oprah and had interviewed Seth Godin, and she’s someone who’d been looking up to for years. It was about monetizing your music, building a community around your music, how the changes in the landscape of music business now made the connection between artist and fan, creator and consumer closer than ever. Writing the article inspired me to put my money where my mouth is & I had a crazy idea: I was totally into all this direct to fan marketing stuff, but what if I let the fans book a tour? Wild right? So I typed up a Facebook status and tagged in it all the artists, and fans, and friends I’d met & told them my plan: I was putting the booking in their hands. What would happen next would amaze me. Fans tagged artists & promoters, artist homies started hitting me up, people were hitting my inbox, blogger friends & other thought leaders I looked up to shared the post with their circles as something new and innovative. Within an hour 5 shows were booked. Within a week and a half we had most of the tour was booked & not just that, but people had volunteered in creating and posting flyers in their towns, and opened up their homes for us to stay in. A huge part of this whole process for me was putting my faith in the Universe to carry us through, and throughout the entire tour I found myself delightfully surprised time and time again. People we’d only met online came and gave us rides. Or drugs. Or just showed us around and made us feel welcomed. I met and bonded with family members I’d never met before. I saw and laughed with old friends that I thought I’d never see again. People came to multiple shows throughout different cities. The told their friends about it. They filled the collection plate when we passed it around. Mostly because they thought it was cool that we’d venture so far out of our comfort zone and into their worlds — to share our love and our gifts. This shit was primal. This shit was magical. And everywhere we went we made sure to thrash. You want to be a headliner? Then you better deliver a headliner set, every time! And I’ve always loved connecting with my fans in whatever way I can. Let’s party after the set; if I’m in your town tell me your favorite diner, cause I love diners, and let’s eat! I still collect email addresses and send out regular newsletters to encourage, and stay in touch, and send exclusive stuffs to. And everywhere we went, people looked out for us, rode along on our journey and shared in our story.
And perhaps here is where art meets business, where spirituality and science connect, where nature and technology coexist serendipitously: these last few years I’ve been learning more and more about channeling and funneling and growing that beautiful love and momentum, and about creating systems that sustain that sort of thing. The majors aren’t getting it, and it’s a huge mistake I’ve made in the past, but growing and cultivating your tribe is the key to sustainability — not just to the artist, but to the Art itself. It allows the artist to freely express at the greatest and purest level — and the fan to receive at the highest level, the most unfiltered and powerful experiences. There’s an art to business, a spirituality to science, and there’s none more technologically advanced than Mother Nature herself — those who understand and implement have the greatest space for innovation. This is taking mastery of your craft to a different level — learning the ins of it that allow you your creative and financial freedom — they go hand to hand. Being fluid as nature and adapting to the technology in order to create & share you gifts with the world in the most innovative ways possible. And now your abilities to create and to help others are expanding, and what you ran from, you now embrace. This is the new future of the independent artist/creative/thinker.
I have to end where I began, with undying gratitude for the fans, peers, the gatekeepers, tastemakers, the friends, the People. We all are connected and our connections make our experiences rich. Thank you for everyone who helped make the #HolyColoursTour a reality, we let our light shine all across the lands. I ate so much good food and smoked so much dank with you guys. My Wisco peeps are well aware of my affinity for Spotted Cow beer. And thank you to everyone who came and saved our asses when we were stuck, and to everyone who gave us couches for us to crash. Thank you to all the creatives and entrepreneurs and thinkers and dreamers, taking their destinies in their hands and helping us to create new and better realities. And of course there are no endings, only new beginnings. Here’s where you can stay in touch and never miss out on the story enter.deuceellisisacult.com.