Interview: Fancy Hagood Wants to Change Hearts and Minds With Debut Album, ‘Southern Curiosity’
Fancy Hagood knew he was really on to something with his new song "Either" when his father connected with it.
"We're obviously blood related, so we're very similar -- but, you know, we're very different in our political and religious beliefs," Hagood tells The Boot. "I use my dad as a sounding board when I'm writing music ... I use my conservative, loving, caring father as a sounding board for the songs, because I'm like, 'Okay, if he can get this, if it resonates with him, I know that it can resonate with more people than just people from my community.'"
The third song on Hagood's debut full-length album, Southern Curiosity (out Friday (April 9)), "Either" tells a heart-wrenching story of first love. Over a dreamy, nostalgic melody, Hagood -- who is gay -- recounts through the vivid lyrics a high school romance, carried out in secret.
"When you kissed me first under the bleachers / When you pulled me close, said, 'Don't tell the teacher' / Like a mixtape love, we blew out the speakers," Hagood sings in the chorus, as lush background vocals swell behind him, before delivering a devastating final line: "But you said you weren't, so I wasn't either."
Recently 30, Hagood says writing "Either" was therapeutic, rather than painful. He also had his mind on a greater purpose as he co-wrote with Duncan Townsend and Sheuxbear: "Honestly," Hagood says, "I wrote "Either" because it's just important for there to be queer narratives in the mainstream, and for people in the LGBTQIA+ community to be hearing their narrative in music."
"In the past, I've been told, 'Well, don't use these pronouns, or don't say this, because it's so polarizing,'" he continues, his voice growing more passionate, "but the thing is, being gay is not polarizing. We exist in every corner of the planet. And I just feel like, for there to be so many of us and for there to be so little of our stories being told, it was important for me to go back and tell my story from the jump."
As a young gay man absolutely set on making music for a living, Hagood often felt like an outsider in his small, sports- and religion-focused hometown of Bentonville, Ark. "Like, high school is this experience where people start identifying with their feelings or their sexuality ... That was something that was taken away from me: because of shame, because of religion, because of societal pressure," he admits.
"I just wanted to write a song that kind of shined a spotlight on how lonely that feels and how painful that is," Hagood explains. "And for me, "Either" just kind of became the catalyst for me that this album needed to be about the queer experience in the South."
As a child, Hagood was most at home, he recalls, singing with his sisters and in church. "My mom jokes that I was singing before I was talking, because I honestly didn't really start talking until I was probably around, like, nine or 10, just because I had older sisters, and they spoke for me," he says.
"But music -- I mean, I just always felt so passionate about it. It's always how I related to things, or how I've always represented how I felt ...," Hagood muses. "It's just kind of the first place where I felt I could express myself. Even though I wasn't necessarily articulating in the songs anything about myself, I felt like I was able to be myself onstage, I was able to perform and be larger than what I felt in my life."
So, Hagood went for it: He earned his GED at the age of 16 and headed for Nashville, ostensibly to attend Trevecca Nazarene University, though he now admits, "in the back of my mind, I was coming here for music. I think everyone kind of knew that." Hagood would drop out of college and begin working at a Forever 21 clothing store -- the place where his co-workers bestowed upon him the nickname of Fancy (his given name is Jake), after a early-career single from the rapper Drake.
"I've always kind of had, like, a blind confidence, especially when it comes to music. I just have always known it's what I wanted ... It's what I'm passionate about; it's what I feel like I'm on this earth to do," Hagood says. "I don't know where that comes from, either, because this industry is so tough, and you have every reason to want to give up or walk away, but it's just what I feel like I'm supposed to be doing. I feel like it's my calling. And I've always felt that way."
Southern Curiosity is Hagood's first record, but it's not go-round in the business. In the mid-2010s, he worked with celebrity talent manager Scooter Braun and relocated to Los Angeles, Calif., earning a Top 30 pop hit with his debut single, "Goodbye," and collaborating with pop singers Meghan Trainor and Ariana Grande on the song "Boys Like You." Hagood is "incredibly thankful," he says in his bio, for those experiences, but knows now that he was "young and naive" at that time.
"[Being independent now] allows me to create the way I want to create: as an artist, as a writer and as an openly gay artist-writer at that," says Hagood, who is working with Mick Management, a smaller operation with, among others, Grammy-nominated indie-pop artist Maggie Rogers also as a client. "I came to Nashville with a goal to create an album that I'm proud of, that I love, that reflects me. And I wanted to do that without any voices in my ear."
Listeners won't find Hagood changing pronouns in his love songs or otherwise softening himself to fit a heteronormative mold. "I am who I am who I am who I am," he says, "and I'm not sorry for that." Still, he hopes it's not only fellow LGBTQ+ people listening.
"I feel like ["Either"] also is a little bit of insight for people that maybe don't understand where me or someone like me is coming from, and to explain some of that heartbreak and to explain some of that shame, and, hopefully, you know, build a bridge between people like me and people not like me," Hagood says, "because we're all the same. We all we all go through the same things; we all have the same heartbreak, the same emotions. And that's, that's what I'm trying to do ... is just kind of show people that ... we all have the same fundamental feelings."
Later, Hagood notes, "I don't want my music to be exclusive. I want my music to be available to anyone and everyone who wants to feel something, who wants to experience something."
As he challenges stereotypes simply by being himself, Hagood looks to "educate [rather] than argue ... And I just think the best way for me to do that would be through my art: to tell people my story ... through the years of growing up gay in the South."
"And, you know, maybe it won't connect with some people. But hopefully there's people out there that it will connect with, and some minds that will change. And as you start changing some minds, it's a ripple effect," says Hagood. "And if I can have a small effect on a few people, you don't know how far that's gonna reach ...
"I just feel like we're at a place of, if everyone's screaming, no one's listening," he adds. "And I just kind of want to whisper my truth into this world."
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