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We Asked Musicians in Their 20s What They Think of the '27 Club'

What do Brodinski, Zola Jesus, Bobby Brackins and more think of their impending 27th birthdays?

by Lauren Schwartzberg
08 May 2015, 5:00am

Image via Flickr user mirjoran.

The 27 Club, as you are probably aware, is a group made up of highly talented musicians who died at the age of 27. The Club's original class consisted of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, all of whom died within about five years of each other. In 1994 Kurt Cobain joined the club, which by then also counted Jean-Michel Basquiat and D. Boon of the Minutemen among its members. The theory was brought to mainstream attention most recently with the 2011 death of Amy Winehouse.

Last year, an Australian professor of psychology and music, Dianna Theodora Kenny, completed an expansive study looking into the deaths of 12,665 pop stars from a variety of genres. She found that the lifespans of popular musicians are up to 25 years shorter than the normal US population, accidental death rates are ten times greater, suicide rates between two and seven times greater, and the homicide rates are up to eight times greater. She also found that the average age of death for musicians is 56. Do the math: 56 divided by two is 28. Twenty-eight minus one (the number of Kurt Cobains there were) is 27. Wheels within wheels, y'know?

Clearly, the issue of the 27 Club must weigh heavily upon musicians across genre lines. We asked a few of our favorites who are either 27 or about to turn 27 to weigh in with their thoughts.

BRODINSKI, Producer/label owner

Photo by Thomas Babeau

Age: 27
Birthday: June 13, 1987
Hometown: Saint-Brice-Courcelles, France
Releases: Following eight years of singles and remixes, Brodinski released his debut album, Brava, this year.

VICE: What do you think about the 27 Club?
Brodinski: Right now, especially because I'm 27, I don't want to think about it too much. I thought about it last year when I was still 26, and now it's just somewhere around, but I don't really want to think about it.

What did you think about it last year?
That I was turning 27, and I don't want to be part of this club.

Do you believe in it?
I don't really want to believe in curses. I'm more into karma. I feel like if I do good things maybe good things are gonna come back to me. We'll see.

Hopefully you're not cursed.
Yeah. You know, I'm actually touching wood right now.

Are you superstitious?
Sometimes, yeah, but I wouldn't think too much about it. I was born Friday the 13th so, you know, I have to believe a little bit in superstitions and curses.

Has anything every happened to you?
No. Actually, in terms of Friday the 13th from the superstition, nothing has ever happened to me. That's why I kind of stopped being superstitious. But I still—I don't know the name in English, but you know when you don't pass under [a ladder]? I never go in there. I only choose a number like 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10. I'm a bit superstitious, I guess. Everybody is.

It's hard to ignore it.
[Laughs] I would say it's easier to explain it as superstitions sometimes.

Easier than what?
Easier than the proper explanation. For the 27 Club though I think there's definitely no explanation. There's a big question mark around that.

Related: Brett Morgen on his Kurt Cobain documentary, Montage of Heck

How would you think electronic musicians are more likely to die?
I think electronic music will mix every kind of death: lung cancer, drug and alcohol problems, travel problems, and everything else. It's the nightlife and the club life, and it has always been attached to the future of party and party culture, so people are always going to be wild when it's about the party. The 27 law is even more dangerous for the electronic producer.

If you were to die this year, before June, what do you think you would die from?
I really, really, really hope it's not gonna be a shitty death like fucking getting hit by a car or something. If I had to choose one death, I would love to swim into the water and get hit by lightening. That's the way I want to die.

You've thought about this.
I read that somebody died like that last year and I was like, That's a cool way to die.

It's better than sitting on the toilet.
Or being eaten by a bear or a lion.

IKEY, rapper

Photo by Casey Cho

Age: 26
Birthday: June 24, 1988
Hometown: Lagos, Nigeria
Releases: Ikey's most recent EP, Green Card, came out in March.

VICE: What do you think of the 27 Club?
Ikey: It's an interesting idea, but I still feel like it's a myth. In rap, most of my heroes, or most of the dope rappers I looked up to, either died before 27 or way after or are still living.

Do you think it could happen to you?
I'm one year away from 27, so I think about that every now and then. But what I do is I look at those people that died at 27 and they went hard and they created such a legacy by 27, so what I try to take out of it is I'm just gonna go hard and live like I'm about to die at 27, so when 27 comes, I'll be remembered.

Even if you die.
Exactly. If I die, and I go hard by 27 then I have a whole bunch of stuff and people will talk about how Ikey is the greatest person ever. If I go hard and then I live, I'll get to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

If you were to die next year what would you die from?
[Laughs] This is a real question. Goddamn. What would I die from? I don't know, man. I'm a big guy, so I would probably die from something big-related. Heart attack? Whatever Rick Ross suffered from. Stroke? Something along those lines.

Who's most likely to kill you?
Probably a hater. That's really it. A hater or a cop. He could be both.

BOBBY BRACKINS, songwriter/singer/ producer

Photo by Anouk Morgan.

Age: 26
Birthday: September 14, 1988
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Releases: Bobby wrote two of last year's biggest hits, Tinashe's "2 On" and Chris Brown's "Loyal." He's also releasing music as a solo artist. His song "My Jam" features Jeremih and Zendaya.

VICE: What do you think of the 27 Club?
Bobby Brackens: It's weird talking about it here, but every artist wants to be legendary and it sounds like a lot of the more legendary artists do go out with this image. It might just be a thing that God wants. Maybe their talent can only be shared so long. I want to live as long as possible but my feelings on the 27 Club is a lot of artists are coming into their primes at that age and with that comes a lot more responsibility and a lot more pressure. When you're 27 it's kind of your prime as far as still being young and still having the knowledge to talk about a variety of different things. For myself, I'm more mature than ever and I have a better grasp of what I want to do with my career so I feel like maybe it has something to do with being in that time. I would say every musician is pretty crazy in one way or another. To make good music you kind of have to be crazy.

Why?
If you're a popular musician, people listen and judge every single thing you do. Most people who get to that caliber either decide you want to be a role model or you decide you want to be a rebel and you don't care what anybody has to say about you. A lot of the people who passed away at 27 seem like they took the rebel route. They weren't necessarily trying to be five-year-olds' influences, they just wanted to live their life and embrace themselves in more of a rebellious way.

If you died next year what do you think you would die from?
God forbid. I don't think it's gonna happen, but I've enjoyed the life I've lived so far. I don't really talk about killing people and I don't do hardcore drugs. I don't think I would go out from substance abuse, but you never can say this won't ever happen to me. You can't say I won't ever get shot or I won't get into an accident. Everybody is mortal. There's nobody who can say I'm gonna be immortal just because I make a whole bunch of number one records or I have all this money. It doesn't matter. Enjoy your favorite artists while they are here and don't wait to celebrate them when they pass away. If you enjoy somebody really dive into it, listen to their whole catalogue and go see as many shows as possible. Their time on this earth can end unexpectedly.

ZOLA JESUS, singer

Photo by Jeff Elstone

Age: 26
Birthday: April 11, 1989
Hometown: Merrill, Wisconsin
Releases: In October Zola released her fifth album, Taiga, under Mute Records.

VICE: Have you heard of the 27 Club?
Zola Jesus: Yes, just historically. The coincidence of a lot of musicians or artists dying at 27, you just kind of hear about it and make the link.

What do you think?
It's interesting that it's such a popular age to die [laughs]. But it's strange because it seems like it's beyond science. It's a specific time in one's life when... I don't know. It's definitely bizarre.

Do you think there's something about being 27 that makes people more vulnerable, especially as a musician?
I don't know if I believe in it, but I definitely think that just being a young musician and getting closer to 30, which seems like a really adult age, maybe a lot of musicians come to terms with that. The reasons that so many people die at 27 are completely random and often don't have anything to do with their own self control. It's just kind of this thing where, I guess, when you're 27 you just need to take everything really slow [laughs]. Keep your eyes open.

It turns out that the real average age musicians die at is 56, which is still younger than the average population. Why might that be the case?
From my personal experience it seems that being a musician is hard on your body and your mind because of the touring and the personal struggles that go on. It definitely is not an easy way to devote your life. It comes with its physical drawbacks and that can probably wear someone down at an early age. When they're 56 they feel like they're 80 because of everything that they've been through in their career: touring, writing. It's a lot on a person.

If you were to die next year how do you think it would happen?
I think about death every waking minute actually, so I feel like at any moment I could go in the most unique way possible. I've already conceived of them, so I'm prepared for them. The way that I die is probably going be worse, though, because when you're prepared there's always that one thing that you didn't think about and that's going to be what's going to take me out.

KB, rapper

Photo courtesy of management

Age: 26
Birthday: July 21, 1988
Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
Releases: A Christian hip-hop artist, KB just released his album Tomorrow We Live on Reach records

VICE: I feel like every artist has to know what the 27 Club is.
KB: [Laughs] I guess you do. I'ma take next year off when I turn 27. I do not want to die at 27. I'd love to live long. But the thing has always been that I don't think an artist is actually measured by time on Earth. They're measured by how much impact they have when they're here. It's not about long life as much as it is about full life. A lot of the most impactful people in history died young. Martin Luther King, Jesus [laughs]. The legacy is immortal.

Why do you think artists are more likely to die younger than the average person?
The stress of life on the road, the onslaught of attacks. People see artists and are like, this dude sucks. You wouldn't say that to your friend, but you dehumanize these people who are in the spotlight. You don't see them as people with feelings that hurt. You may be putting your comments on Facebook and these artists may see something like that and really be bothered by it. Every artist knows that struggle of 100 people saying they love it and there's that one fan that hates it and they wrestle with that one dislike for the week. Artists are sensitive. It goes along with the creative process.

If you were to die next year how to you think that would happen?
What a question! [laughs] Can I answer how I would like it to happen?

Sure.
If I die I hope it would happen with me helping someone else live. I feel young, wild, and free to serve and help other people. I hope that I would go out in a way that my son would be proud. But I will tell you that I would like to live next year.

REMY BANKS, rapper

Photo by Zach Wolfe

Age: 26
Birthday: July 31, 1988
Hometown: Queens, New York.
Releases: Remy's spent the last five years working with rap group World's Fair and his second solo mixtape, Higher, comes out this May.

VICE: Do you think there's something about being a musician that might lead to an earlier death?
Remy Banks: Of course, because when it comes to touring we sometimes become malnourished because of not being able to eat. That's instrumental to health. Some people are drawn to vices that take over and some people get caught up in the wrong places with the wrong people. Music does cause that a little bit.

Does that ever scare you?
No.

Do you talk about it?
Not at all. I just live.

If you died next year, what do you think you would die from?
Probably an asthma attack.

Do you ever have close calls?
I haven't in a few, knock on wood, but I've had some pretty bad ones where I stopped breathing.

When you're performing?
No. I make sure all my raps are under breath control. That's how I write. That's a skill. I make sure I don't rhyme too crazy where I'm too, too out of breath.

That's smart.
You got to learn how to rap in the pocket.

KNXWLEDGE, producer

Photo by Theo Jemison

Age: 27
Birthday: March 8, 1988
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Releases: KNXWLEDGE produced "Momma" from Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly and his debut full-length, Hud Dreems, comes out on Stones Throw in June.

VICE: This is going to be mostly about death. Is that OK with you?
KNXWLEDGE: Yeah, that's fine.

Have you heard of the 27 club?
I have not. Never in my life.

Really?
No.

You are the first musician I've spoken to who hasn't heard of it.
Whoa.

Do you want to hear what it is?
I'm down. I'm going to roll this weed so it probably won't affect me too much.

The 27 Club is a group of famous artists like Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Jimi Hendrix, who all died when they were 27. So it has created this myth that artists are more likely to die when they're 27.
I see. That's cool.

What do you think?
Off the top of my head it feels like a bad luck thing. Like one of my mom's bad luck things is don't leave my hat on the bed. It kinda feels like that [ laughs].

Are you superstitious?
I barely knock on wood. I guess, kind of. I don't know! I'm weird.

Do you think dying younger than the average person comes with being an artist?
Definitely. One hundred percent.

Why?
Throughout time I've heard about or read or seen with my own eyes artists that have been whittled away from something that brings out their creativity the most.

If you were to die this year how do you think it would happen?
Oh shit. This is the darkest thing I've ever done in my whole life. I'm totally afraid of water. Drowning is probably the thing that I'm the most afraid of so I stay away from water. I mean I can swim to save my life, but just drop me out of a plane in the middle of the ocean and it's a wrap. I'd have to say something from the sky falling on my head. Like a piano [ laughs].

Is there a way that you would prefer to die?
I'm not into pain, so maybe just, like, I'm eating a lollipop while something—I don't know, dude. It's so weird! I don't have a certain way. Just no pain would be tight. I don't want ever to be in unnecessary pain.