When Geexella stepped into the vocal booth in April, they did so with the intent of laying down their first new tracks since 2017’s well-received Gee Things. Produced by Duval Hip-hop kingmaker, the unimpeachable and legendary Willie Evans Jr., that five-song EP, which featured Geexella’s blend of effervescent mic skills and sultry vocal stylings, served as a kind of coronation for the then-25 year old as a rising star in Jax’s music scene, earning praise from Duval hip hop’s vanguard, as well as a burgeoning local following. But though they haven’t dropped any new material since, if you haven’t heard from Geexella in the intermediate, you haven’t been paying attention.
Aside from launching Duval Folx, an all-ages, inclusive dance party that quickly became the most talked-about throwdown in the city, the blossoming multihyphenate–whose real name is Graciela Cain–was increasingly busy as both an in-demand DJ and LGBTQ activist: spinning records, organizing events, and spitting knowledge all across Jacksonville.
That increased public profile, as well as their reputation as an activist, have made Geexella’s follow-up hotly anticipated. Whatever folks are expecting, though, Cain’s first new track in three years, called “We Don’t,” is bound to surprise. Produced in collaboration with guitarist and drummer Myles Joyner, as well as producer Brok Mende, “We Don’t” is a candy-coated, lo-fi endeavor into the analog-esque sonics and lovestruck lyrics of Indie-pop, in contrast to the more electronics-and-samples-heavy tracks on the hip-hop-forward Gee Things.
To fans of Geexella’s previous work, though, the rest of the new EP, tentatively titled It’s Fine will likely ring familiar. Evans Jr. is back in the production chair. Standout local singer-songwriters Jay Myztroh (Stono Echo) and Niki Dawson shared some cowriting duties with Cain on a collection of songs that, while delving into a varied range of topics, are all centered on the experiences of women.
In June, I met up with Geexella at Hyperion Brewing Company near their home in Springfield. Over a round of summer shandies, we centered our discussion on music.
These tunes will be the first you’ve released since your debut in 2017. Have you been writing consistently in the intermediate?
No, not really. [The writing process] was kind of on and off. Pretty much right after Gee Things my DJ’ing started taking off. I had residencies. Then birthed Duval Folx. Then, last year I did some writing with Jay Myztroh. And that really solidified the feeling that I needed to get back to making my own music. Just being around musicians again, I hadn’t been around that in a bit. And I’d also slowed down on performing my own music. It’s cool now because [with the release of these new songs] people who know me from DJ’ing will learn that I can sing and rap. And people who knew I could sing and rap will be excited that I’m putting out a new project.
How has your work as a DJ, exploring and curating music, influenced your own music making? Are there certain records or genres you can point to that influenced the new material?
There weren’t any specific songs that inspired the stuff I started writing for this record, but I will say, I did a DJ set with my friend [artist] Julissa [Marie] of classic R&B records. I remember that really put me in a place where I was like, ‘Damn, I need to get back to making my own stuff.’ Just being able to play my R&B records and house stuff pushed me to start writing again. [DJ’ing] is fun, but the energy is different. I wanted to be back on the other side.
“We Don’t” leans into indie-pop with a kind of 90s R&B flavor. That was a nice little surprise.
Yeah, it’s really different than anything I’ve put out before. I used to perform with this all-girl band called The Stocktons–RIP to the Stocktons [laughs]. [That band] was a blend of Indie-rock and hip hop. And we used to f*** s*** up. And it was cool because the bills we would play on were mostly filled with rock and punk acts. I missed that kind of blending of styles. I wanted to recreate that feeling. I miss performing with bands and that feel of real instruments. People don’t know, but my inspirations come from people like Avril Lavigne, Fefe Dobson, Paramore. I just hadn’t had an opportunity to work in that style. Myles [Joiner] was like, ‘Oh, we can do that.’ He’s so versatile. It was fun to play in a style that I’ve always wanted to work in.
Lyrically in “We Don’t” you seem to be talking about moving past physical infatuation and into a more multifaceted connection. In a way, it’s standard pop fare. Were you writing from experience?
Yeah, my partner–I tell everyone this story–she made me wait seven dates before I could even kiss her [laughs]. I was so for it. But [the song] was definitely coming from a place of experience. When I was first around her, the physical was just not something that was available. On our fourth date, we held hands. It was really cool and new. She just taught me how to love in such a different way. The love that I have for her, that was the place I went to when singing this song.
Many people think of pop music as a kind of escapism. Like something you listen to and turn your brain off. But for you, is writing and creating music–even if it’s pop-y–therapeutic?
Definitely. Usually when I write with people, I lay it all out there. It is like therapy for me. Since the last record, I came out as gay. And then as non-binary. I started dating women. I’ve been going through therapy and unpacking lots of stuff. And also, I work with youth and there’s a lot that they are going through that is on my mind. So writing is really healing for me. And doing it in a way where I can best express everything–music–it’s great to just get it out.
Are you itching to perform these new tunes?
I am. But I’m also excited to get them all mixed and mastered the right way. I don’t mind taking my time with them before putting them out. COVID kind of just put me in a place where I was like ‘I need to do this!’ Now I’m just excited more to put it out there.
This feature originally appeared under the headline “‘We Don’t’ Call it a Comeback: With new sounds and plenty to say, Geexella returns to the mic” in Void Magazine’s July 2020 issue.