LGBTQMusicMusic Features

Harmonic Tales from Sayurblaires Tune Into Identity

Blaire Fullagar crafts musical expressions of trans joy

Sayurblaires
Sayurblaires. Photo courtesy of Amber Kelly

On “Double Helix,” the energetic tune that kicks off Sayurblaires’ debut album, You No Longer Live Inside My Head, I’m Just Waiting for You to Take Shape, Blaire Fullagar’s treated vocals thread through a cloud of swarming harmonics, coiling electronics and galloping beats.

The background is in the foreground/ I’m fading into the thickness/ Laugh through war, cry in love just wearing all our weakness…

Fullagar’s music is consistently upbeat, but the message here is mixed, blending anxiety and doubt with a tentative trust that we can emerge from trials much stronger. It’s a fitting message from Fullagar, who is a trans woman.

I’ve been isolating in my room while the world forgot the seasons/ You won’t be there to hold my hand, but I don’t think that I need it…

“The song was written in one day,” Fullagar tells Queen City Nerve. “At the time, I was in a codependent relationship and I was … hoping that I’d be fine independently.”

Inspired by bands like The Brave Little Abacus, Crying, and South Korean outfit Parannoul, which use MIDI tracks and samples to create emo albums, Fullagar set herself the straightforward task of writing and recording an LP with no bass, guitars or drums — just synths, samples and vocals, all played and performed by Fullagar.

It took two years to accumulate and record the tunes that comprise You No Longer Live Inside My Head, I’m Just Waiting for You to Take Shape, a period that coincided with Fullagar’s transition. As the album came together, a narrative of Fullagar’s concurrent emotional journey emerged.

After the album dropped in December 2022, Fullagar’s songs resonated with other musicians, so she adapted the tunes to be played by a full band. Sayurblaires quickly went from being a one-woman show to an ongoing ensemble including bass, guitars and drums. The band, which includes three trans women musicians including Fullagar, plays an upcoming gig at Snug Harbor on Aug. 26.

Fullagar will also play a solo set during The Milestone’s all-acoustic show scheduled for Sept. 2, alongside Bo White, Bob Fleming Duo and Family Friend.

With Sayurblaires, Fullagar exceeded her songwriting goals, but that hasn’t made her any less modest.

“I don’t think I set out to achieve anything other than expressing myself and making good music,” she says. “I’m still after that.”

Transcending adversity through empowering lyrics

Fullagar took piano lessons as a child growing up in Concord, but says she never got very good. In her teens she started producing beats and writing songs. In 8th grade, at the age of 14, Fullagar dropped her first album.

In 2019, she launched the band Feelings Club with her best friend Chris Clary. The band released an EP, Know All Your Enemies (2018),  and an album, A Day in the Sun (2020), swelling to a seven-piece over time.

“Feelings Club made cute and naively produced indie pop,” Fullagar says. “It’s music that people who know very little about music make because they think it sounds fun, cute and emotive.”

Notwithstanding, Fullagar calls her time in Feelings Club a formative experience. Though the band split up in early 2023, members have kept in touch and plan to collaborate in the future.

Fullagar also played keyboards and did production work on the one-off online pandemic project Happiness Jones’ Dream Songs in 2020. She also played keys and provided production for Hey There Rabbit, a band launched by current Sayurblaires’ guitarist and lap-steel player Colin Read.

In the meantime, Fullagar had moved to Charlotte and written many of the songs that ended up on You No Longer Live Inside My Head, I’m Just Waiting for You to Take Shape. She released “Double Helix” on her birthday: Feb. 4, 2022.

 

“It was always planned to be the single of an album,” Fullagar says, although the shape and narrative of the album wasn’t yet fully formed. Nothing on the record was written on guitar or piano, Fullagar says. Instead, she drew in notes using the pencil function on her Digital Audio Workstation [DAW].

“I didn’t really perform anything on that album other than vocals,” she says. “Everything is deliberately manual to see if I could pull off an emotive aspect from something so procedure-like and formal.”

Fullagar, who was also transitioning throughout the album-making process, says she received support during her transition but still felt alone. That’s changed since.

“A year or two ago I definitely had friends and family who loved me, but it is incomparable to the support system that I have now in my life,” Fullagar says.

On Bandcamp, Fullagar describes the completed album with this sentence: “Waking up and suddenly splitting into two. Leading two separate lives in the same body … how can I make this look like a murder and not a suicide?”

“I’m describing transitioning,” Fullagar says “The idea of the album was that pre-transition me and post-transition me split into two different people and they were living on the same timeline.” In this metaphors scenario, post-transition Fullagar was trying to figure out how to murder pre-transition Fullagar.

Sayurblaires pose on a tennis court looking at a basketball in mid-flight
Sayurblaires. Photo courtesy of Amber Kelly

“Then I came to realize that there isn’t really a pre-transition being,” Fullagar explains. “[Instead] the album asks, ‘Were you even there at all? Was there ever someone who felt shame in the way that I present?’ To put it simply, ‘Was there ever a boy there?’”

Questions about identity and self-acceptance surface throughout the album on songs like “Portside’s a Funny Place, But You’ll Grow to Like it Here,” in which distant disconcerting screaming doubles the cloud layer of catchy childlike vocals amid head-bopping verses and catchy K-pop style choruses.

You’re trapped in this body/ But how much noise can you make/ When the door isn’t open/ Can anyone hear me?

 

The tune, initially entitled “Pressure,” was inspired by a friend, Fullagar says.

“[They were] denying themselves any ounce of pride in being themselves,” she says. “[The song] is my reaction to them building up all this shame in their brain.”

The linchpin of the album is a medley that merges two songs, “Woman in the Wind/All Hail the Queen.” The medley is also supported by Sayurblaires’ debut video, shot by Carl Dudra.

In the video, night falls over a darkening patch of woods. The camera, mimicking infrared night vision, either stalks or suddenly comes across Fullagar, who holds still like a woodland creature and often meets the camera’s gaze. Flashbulbs go off amid stuttering action, and the camera captures Fullagar’s pupils, which glow like the eyes of animal caught in the headlights. This approach imparts a chilly Blair Witch vibe to Sayurblaires’ music.

“The video was definitely inspired by horror [movies],” Fullagar says

With daybreak the mood and melody changes, marking the passage from the turbulent “Woman in the Wind” to the brighter “All Hail the Queen.” A flash cut reveals Fullagar in a summery dress, playing a portable keyboard in a sunlit mountain meadow. A pop lilt seeps into the previously stark and fractured music. To sweet yet robotic vocals and a sweeping Beach Boys-style melody, Fullagar flashes a thumbs up.

“’Woman in the Wind’ and ‘All Hail the Queen’ represent a shift in the album’s theme,” Fullagar says “Whereas the first half of the album is doomed and nihilistic, I’m trying to approach those two tracks with more pride in myself and comfort.”

Fullagar remembers that she and Dudra came up with the camera shots on the fly in the mountains of Tennessee.

“It was a really cold but fun shoot,” Fullagar says. “I wanted to be out in the cold in a small dress to signify strength, [the idea] of pushing through something.”   

From solo project to full band

When Fullagar wrote and recorded You No Longer Live Inside My Head, I’m Just Waiting for You to Take Shape, and even after the album dropped, she harbored no notion of the songs being performed by a full band. Gradually, however, the idea began to take hold. In early 2023, Fullagar attended a rehearsal by the band Mary’s Letter, a group containing some former Feelings Club members.

“I knew I needed a full band after that,” Fullagar says.

She posted a note on her Instagram story, saying she was seeking musicians for a band. Becht remembers seeing the post.

“I was like, ‘Fuck yeah, I want to play in your band’” says Becht, who first met Fullagar at a show. Becht says she’s played in several groups but has only enjoyed playing in two bands, her main project Rugg and Sayurblaires.

Ziskind saw Fullagar play at a shows and, like Becht, jumped at the chance to play with Fullagar.

“I thought [Fullagar played] some of the most unique music in the Charlotte music scene,” Ziskind says. “I thought [joining Sayurblaires] was the greatest opportunity ever.”

Sayurblaires is the first band Ziskind has played bass in.

George and Fullagar had met at the first full band bill at Abdul’s, a DIY spot on the Charlotte house show circuit. When “Double Helix” dropped, he fell in love with the tune and subsequently responded to Fullagar’s band post. George currently splits time between Sayurblaires and his own project, Bluestone Motel.

When Sayurblaires played its first show in April at The Milestone, Read was in the audience. He had met Fullagar at a show in 2019 and worked with her in Hey There Rabbit.

“I’d been a fan [of Fullagar] for a while,” Read says.

Soon after the band’s debut at The Milestone, Read joined Sayurblaires when Fullagar decided to add a second guitarist to the lineup.

Fullagar, who plays guitar in the band along with George and Read, has been busy adapting and rearranging Sayurblaires songs for the full band configuration.

“I wrote [the songs] like a guitar would be able to play them, [with] power chords like guitar chords,” she says.

With each song, Fullagar converted the MIDI part to a guitar tab file. Then she edited each tab for all four harmony parts in the band.

Blaire Fullagar. Photo courtesy of Abdul Smith

“While the songs aren’t exactly like the record, I think they have their own charm,” Fullagar says. “They are a lot more emotional. I have a lot more connection to them now, having played them live now so many times.”

All the changes have been for the best, Fullagar maintains.

I feel [the songs] have more intention behind them than ever before.”

“Three of us in the band are trans,” says Becht, referring to herself, Ziskind and Fullagar. “It’s really cool to see trans women onstage making great music.”

She and Fullagar remember a trans woman coming up to them after one of their shows, thanking the band for being an inspiration. Ziskind hopes all members in Sayurblaires’ audience come away with a similar message.

“Trans people can exist in this world and be safe, happy and surrounded by people who love them,” she says.

Fullagar hopes trans people realize they can be happy, and that a good life is possible. That said, she doesn’t see Sayurblaires as a particularly political band. The  group boasts three trans women musicians, Fullagar says, because she thinks community is important, and therefore has a lot of trans friends.

“I definitely lean towards featuring [trans women] in my band over other people who were interested due to the fact that they were trans women, and the narrative of the album largely leans into trans life,” she says, insisting that she does not, however, see Sayurblaires as an activist group.

“A lot of queer art does focus on misery and doom,” she says, “but I consider us a band with a message of trans joy.”


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