In 2003, Theo Hilton was a solo artist playing songs about being queer in front of mostly straight audiences at punk venues around Athens, GA, and the southeast. What started as an artistic outlet for his own personal experiences became a band called Nana Grizol in 2007, a four-piece punk project birthed from Hilton’s isolated existence as a small town queer boy.
On South Somewhere Else (Arrowhawk/Don Giovanni, 2020) Hilton uses the band’s fourth album to shine a light on the southern queer experience beyond feelings of isolation and onto his own privileged experience as a white man who grew up in a left-leaning, affluent college town. 17 years in, it is not enough for Hilton to simply sing sad love songs about boys, but to examine his personal concept of home, and to look unflinching at his own distant feelings about “the south” and his own complicated history of place.
Perhaps his 2016 move to New Orleans was the change of scenery that prompted such introspection. Athens is a city that prides itself on being the opposite of a southern stereotype, but songs like “We Carry The Feeling” take time to ruminate on the shame Hilton felt at being queer in the Athens punk community, a shame that supposedly isn’t supposed to exist in a town with such a liberal self-identity. The idea of Athens is very different from the reality of being there, and the difficulty of that reckoning is a vein that runs through the length of the album.
Activism and allyship continue to be front-and-center themes for Hilton, who is marginalized as a queer person but privileged as a white cisgender man. Acknowledging such personal dualism is also a bit of a reckoning, and he uses that privilege for good in “Plantation Country,” which calls out plantation tourism in New Orleans and the racial violence that is perpetuated when such spaces are aestheticized. “Jangle Manifesto” examines allyship in particular to activism that seeks to absolve the privileged of guilt instead of undermine systems of oppression. The song takes its major inspiration from James Baldwin’s writings on abolitionist John Brown, and “Autumn” is heavily influenced by Toni Morrison’s final novel, God Help The Child.
Hilton is the creative force behind Nana Grizol, but this album is the band’s most collaborative effort yet. Matte Cathcart (drums) and Jared Gandy (guitar, bass) composed the music for “Future Vision” while Robbie Cucchiaro (trumpet, euphonium) continues to construct and perform brass arrangements that make the band stand out in the punk milieu. Hilton continues to bring a laundry list of collaborators who evoke both the golden age of early 2000s DIY and new voices of the queer south. He reunited with Sherri Miller and BZ Gibbs of Defiance, Ohio for cello and violin on several songs, while Miller also sings on “About the Purpose That We Serve.” Kym Register (Loamlands) played guitar on the title track and “Plantation Country,” and they also provided vocals on “Jangle Manifesto” and “Not the Night Wind.” The album was recorded over a week at Legitimate Business Studio in Greensboro, NC, and engineered by Kris Hilbert, whose expertise helped to distill so many unique artistic influences into a heartfelt synergy of DIY, rock, and punk.
Nana Grizol will tour the east and west coast in the summer of 2020 with occasional support from Nihilist Cheerleader, Wizard Apprentice, ManDate, and TAYLOR ALXNDR.