Meet the Underground Correspondents—Todd Harris Jr., Italia Marie and Niko’a Salas—an eclectic trinity, bonded by a mutual love of performative self-expression. Each member comes from wildly different backgrounds—the South, the Northwest, the Northeast—but all brought something from interdisciplinary interests into their spoken word album Social Static. A truly collaborative experience, Social Static was born both of the need to share a message and a desire to bring the members’ work to life in a less-utilized medium.
Social Static began as an experiment between Harris and Salas, between the written word and music. After initial listening sessions, poems began to match naturally with the compositions. Inspired by the tunes not yet attached to any poems, Harris also wrote pieces that played off of the music. All three utilized their individual training as actors when deciding the cadence of each poem, intuitively choosing places to pause between lines in each piece.
Harris, a Creative Writing major, enrolled in SFUAD after serving 21 years in the Navy, five of those years spent as a radio DJ for the Armed Forces Network in Rota, Spain. He credits his performance on the album to his time on the air. Being a DJ, he says, is deceptively difficult, but as a job, it kept his acting skills sharp. As a DJ, you have to “become a personality… create this energy and do it for seven hours.” The narrator’s character on the song “Ethel Strange,” a drunken southern man whose energy is relentless, was particularly difficult to perform. In this, Harris “had to have momentum all the way through the song,” which is almost nine minutes long.
Salas, though responsible not only for vocals but also for playing various instruments from the bassoon to synthesizer to recorder, is currently a theater major. Even so, he once seriously considered becoming a composer, taking time off between high school and college to reflect on whether to pursue acting or music in college. Salas gravitated toward SFUAD because of the collaborative aspect, a place where he could “study acting and make music… and write and do visual art.” His song “The Millionaire” is inspired by his upbringing in Vermont, and how his path led him to a place where he can collaborate with other majors on projects like Social Static.
Marie, too, was raised as an actor before entering the Creative Writing and Literature program. When writing, the sonic qualities are a consideration for them. “Even if I never intend to be performing it in any way, I always want to know how it’s going to sound aloud,” they explain. Spoken word acts as Marie’s way of continuing to use their performing side while continuing to write. Even their singing found its way into the background of one of the songs as they narrate a spoken word piece. Harris first approached Marie about joining the project after hearing their gender identity poem “Not A Girl” in a revisions class, and once the trio was complete, collaboration began in earnest.
As for the themes within the album, Harris, Salas and Marie all agree that despite the diversity of their individual songs, at the core of the album is something universally human. Though the issues brought up include topics as varied as “mental illness and gender and sexism and racism and capitalism,” Marie is adamant that beyond that, the album focuses on strength and acceptance. They want to “spark a strength in people they may not realize they had.” For Harris, he wanted the “human aspect to be elevated to an art form.” Salas agrees with this, adding that for as varied and personal as some of the songs are, they are all “connected through [their] humanity.” In some of the songs, the album touches on the process of moving through a transitional period in a person’s life.
As of now, Harris, Salas, and Marie have finished recording, and the album is currently being mastered by sound engineer Joseph Gordon, another student at SFUAD. The album cover’s clean look, designed by SFUAD student Noah Lee, complements the trinity of voices and topics within. The group anticipates the album’s release through bandcamp and a physical CD at the end of November, and with members of the Underground Correspondents potentially moving on, Social Static is a moment that lives forever, their own personal time capsule, the proof that these three people once created something all their own.