Early in 2023, Aloe Vera found themselves writing a series of poems centered on apocalyptic imagery – turning out verses dominated by massive, planet-clearing floods and giant wildfires that threatened to reduce the surrounding landscape to ash.
“I would post these very layered poems about what I was going through in my life at the time through the lens of the Great Flood,” Aloe Vera said via Zoom in early December. “And then I’m a big, big, big, big James Baldwin fan, and he has a book called The Fire Next Time, and I’d write poetry about what it means to be the fire next time, and what it means to let go of all the mechanisms that make myself up and become this heat at the core of me. At the center of the world, there’s this molten core, right? Before there’s water, there’s just molten-ness. And what is that heat for me? What’s my driving flame?”
Three months ago, these visions took on more prophetic form when a sewage pipe burst in the house Aloe Vera was renting, with the force from the explosion temporarily rendering them unconscious. When the poet, artist and musician came to, they said the space was flooded and a series of small electrical fires had been ignited.
“I was stomping around on all of my loved belongings that were on fire, throwing blankets over things, and [the water] kept pouring out,” said Aloe Vera, who managed to escape the house with their two kittens, making their way to the hospital where they received treatment. (A GoFundMe recently launched to help the musician in their recovery.) “And when I came back to my house after the hospitalization, I had literally nothing to my name. It was strange walking back into an apartment where there was nothing of me there. And because I had lost everything, there’s been a lot of rebuilding or building anew the last three months. It was almost a fresh start, and a way to let go of a lot of energies and a lot of patterns and a lot of stories and just start over spiritually, which was the only thing I could do, I guess, but also felt very needed.”
Aside from their kittens, the only thing to survive the flood was Aloe Vera’s MPC, or beat making machine, which still held the file for an instrumental track the musician first created for a 2022 back-to-school event curated and run by Columbus writer Hanif Abdurraqib. Composed in three parts and modeled on the hero’s journey, the track began to take on new meaning when Aloe Vera revisited it in the wake of recent events, its construction and pacing coming to reflect how the musician has navigated the turbulence.
“The first part matches the intensity of going through that flood,” said Aloe Vera, who will release the instrumental, now dubbed “The Flood,” via Another Other on Tuesday, Dec. 12. “And the second part is about having to find ease and calm after what has essentially been a material reset of my life, because when I say I lost everything I own, I mean everything. I was born at Grant Hospital, and I had a shirt from that day with Columbus written on it ... that was patched onto the back of my jeans jacket. And I lost everything from that to my computers and every piece of musical equipment I owned.”
The final third of the track, Aloe Vera said, led them to pivot toward those things that can never be taken away – the collaborations, the relationships, the memories and the love both given and received. “Shout-out to Mitski, my love is mine, all mine,” they said, referencing a song off of the musician’s album The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, from 2023. “I’m about to turn 30, and you start asking yourself if you’re okay with how your 20s have been, and yeah. Having done what I set out to do so consistently has been a blessing, and those things can’t be taken away and can’t be undone. ... And they just fuel me so much, and they keep me warm on sad days and on bad days, when I just remember how surrounded in love I am, and how connected to love I am, and how I can receive help as well as reciprocate it.”
This spirit of community helped to inform the creation of the Another Other website, which Aloe Vera conceived as a way of distributing their music but has since expanded into a more collective space, hosting web comics, essays and art submissions from a range of aligned collaborators, including Obi-wan Shinobi, with whom Aloe Vera helped cofound Glotaku, a Black- and queer-centered anime dance and rave party.
I first caught wind of Another One in early November when Aloe Vera posted the song “No More Wishes,” which explores similar ideas as “The Flood,” lingering on what remains when circumstances strip us down to nothing. But where “The Flood” turns inward and introspective, “No More Wishes” takes a more joyous, outward tact, serving as a celebration of Aloe Vera's experiences and time in Columbus, which will come to an end when the musician moves to Chicago early in 2024.
“It’s where I started making art, in Columbus. And now a decade later, it’s so weird to look back and see all these strings, all these connections, all of these things … that are still major, driving cultural forces, and which were born of love and collaboration, and that I got to be a part of in my time here,” said Aloe Vera, who pointed to everything from the two years they helped run the DIY music venue The House With No Name to their onscreen appearance in the Cameron Granger short film “Before I Let Go.” “There's so much despair, and there's so much that people cling to as a reason to give up. It's so necessary at this time to find ways to have joy, or even some momentary happiness. ... Working with artists who want to be in connection, who want to be in community, it's building something beautiful, something that's hard to wash away.”