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How Aaliyah Taught Husbandry Singer Carina Zachary to Love Heavy Music

And gave her the strength to embrace her inner weirdo.

by Carina Zachary
Mar 1 2018, 6:53pm

All photos by Kay Thebez

Carina Zachary is the frontwoman of progressive post-hardcore band Husbandry and co-vocalist of electro/trip-hop collective Monsters on the Horizon.

Growing up, I always felt different. I wasn't aware of any other seven year olds in my school in the south Bronx who loved Eric Draven of The Crow as much as I did. I wanted to be him. Through it and other films— Interview with the Vampire, Natural Born Killers and later, Fight Club—I realized art could be dangerous, intelligent, wild, and strange. They were pivotal in shaping my young little mind.

Then there was music.

I grew up in a Dominican/American household. I learned Spanish through 1960s salsa, Christian Castro ballads, and Anthony Santos bachata that my mother played in constant rotation. Through my dad, I was indoctrinated with Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Seattle grunge and various iterations of rock. One of my earliest memories of childhood is watching guys like Mike Patton and Chris Cornell sing their lungs out in videos on our bulky, wood-framed TV. That would influence both my affinity for long haired boys, boots, and an attraction to what appeared to me to be exciting, enlightening music.

Then I discovered Aaliyah and boy, did she light a fire under me.

There's cool and then there's Cool. Aaliyah was Cool. As. Fuck. There was the silky smooth voice, the tomboy aesthetic, the hair, the face. But there was also this subtle darkness. She, like me, was different. She thrived on being the total antithesis of her peers. Someone who was well aware of who they were and not afraid to veer left, when others went right. That was everything to me. What she created with Missy Elliot and Timbaland made me feel—as a young black girl—at liberty to embrace my inner weirdo. In many ways I already had, and was paying a price—accused of "acting white" by other kids of color for taking a liking to groups like Blink 182 and Marilyn Manson. Nevermind the fact that people have color have long played crucial roles in heavy rock music.

Once I got to high school, I found my people. I joined an after school band. We mainly covered R&B songs, but Justin, the bassist, shared my passion for Rage Against the Machine and Incubus. I started doing musicals and met a girl named Ana who is my best friend to this day. We worked on a school production of Smokey Joe's Cafe and Dream Girls. Ana and I would spend the afternoon belting show tunes, only to get on the back of the BX 1 bus home and sing metal songs, loudly with our castmates.

I met Sonia in an AP Spanish class. I was going through a high key antisocial phase and we got partnered up for an assignment. And through her, I met Zulie. We were all chatters, day in day out about bands and dudes and scene hair and Xanga entries. We made friends with kids in bands. We'd buy tickets to battle of the bands shows and watch our friends lose. We'd go to CBGBs to have a show cut short because of fights breaking out in the pit. We'd go to Wild Spirits and Continental and sweat at Warped Tour. We'd get cheap Georgi vodka, in plastic cranberry juice bottles and get lost in the city to Fear Before the March of Flames.

A secret admirer burned Poison the Well's "The Opposite Of December" on a blank CD and slipped it in my bag before history class. The first dude I ever kind of dated built me a skateboard and we'd spend weekends listening to AlexisOnFire and Thursday on West 4th and at Union Square, while I pretended to know what I was doing. And Brazil’s “A Hostage and the Meaning of Life” is still as much a banger now as when I was in my junior year of high school.

The point is: Everything for me goes back to music. Every interaction, every great friendship. Music was this chain that linked it all. I found myself through these people and through the music. And I realized the power in that.

I wanted to offer that for other people. A vehicle for self discovery and connection with others. And I wanted to create music in order to feel like I was a part of something that mattered. What better way than to sing in a band? I had friends in bands who'd play at DIY places in the Bronx like the Point and FLC. I saw how amazing it was to see all these kids who were weird and artsy and passionate about music, coming together to have fun and express themselves. I was determined to take that on.

Something that definitely pushed me more was the lack of girls in bands. There were a few that I was aware of, but they were certainly scarce. The concept of being in a band became even more appealing to me, because I wanted to be what I had the desire to see. I wanted to be for some little girl what I saw in Aaliyah. Through her, I came to believe early on that, by being true to yourself, and surrounding yourself with others who have learned to be exactly who they need to be, especially as artists, it will only make whatever you create that much more powerful.

By following your own path, the right people will find their way to you. I went from being 15 crying into my journal about wanting to make music with other people to writing poems. To writing songs. To being in bands. To having bands dissolve and starting over again. To never letting this thing go. It's led me to Husbandry and everything I'm lucky to create with my bandmates. Through that, I was led to my other tribe, Monsters on the Horizon. Through both, I try to create a spark in whoever may be watching.

This story is a part of VICE's ongoing effort to highlight the contributions of black women around the globe who are making a difference. To read more stories about strong black women making history today, go here.

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All photographs by Kay Thebez, you can follow her work here.

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Tagged:
Music
aaliyah
Alternative
hard rock
weirdness