Ezra Miller’s not just a breath of fresh air in Hollywood. Along with Josh Aubin and Lilah Larson, he’s also making raging and boundary-pushing music away from the big screen
A few things you might know about the American actor Ezra Miller: he began his career with a dose of well-deserved critical acclaim, starring alongside Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin. Since then, you might also recognise him from The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Justice League, and, most, recently the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The star – who prefers not to identify with any gender, and is happy with all pronouns: “I don’t identify. Like, fuck that,” he told The Hollywood Reporter – is undoubtedly a breath of fresh air for Hollywood. In recent months, Miller has been seen rocking high heels on the cover of Playboy magazine, chatting about polyamory and gender-fluidity in various interviews, and wearing a gigantic puffa jacket-stroke-robe on the red carpet.
Another thing you might not know about Ezra Miller: he’s got a habit of composing strange, improvised songs without any prior notice. Today, he paces around a white corridor, lit by a fluorescent strip light, singing a ditty to himself. “Hospital prison, hospital prison, I went to school here, hospital prison.” His bandmates hum along approvingly; as it happens, Miller is also in a band. Sons Of An Illustrious Father have been going for over a decade, ever since he met his bandmate Lilah Larson back at school. After putting out a call for a touring bassist some years later, third member Josh Aubin answered, and, in his words: “I was never asked to leave.”
Describing their music as “genre-queer”, the band released their latest album ‘Deus Sex Machina: Or, Moving Slowly Beyond Nikola Tesla’ earlier this year. Opening track ‘U.S. Gay’ was written following the 2016 Orlando shootings, which took place at the city’s gay nightclub Pulse. “If you wanna fuck shit up/ I’ll fuck with you/ And if you want to fix it up/ We can do that too” Larson and Miller sing in unison, the former’s powerful soaring vocal mingling with Miller’s gnarled drawl. As a whole, it’s a furiously defiant record, at once pained and hopeful.
And as a trio, they’re a tightly-knit bunch; trading rapid-fire puns and racing off on odd conversational tangents at every opportunity. There’s very little that Sons of an Illustrious Father take seriously; apart from a couple of things. Firstly, Lord of the Rings. And secondly, they’re serious about making room to tell alternative stories…
Sons Of An Illustrious Father by Jenn Five, L-R Lilah Larson, Ezra Miller, Josh Aubin
Lilah and Ezra – you’ve known each other since school. What brought you together?
Lilah: “We’ve formally been in a band for 12 years? Or ten?”
Ezra: “This all sounds like how time works, to me”
Lilah: :We were both very alienated from other people, and saw in each other the glimmer of kinship, and the possibility of forging our own community. Independent of the ones that we weren’t quite fitting into.”
Ezra: “We were baby freaks, but we were already baby-freakin’ on the baby frequency. Drawn right into frequency affirmation, of the baby freak. Mostly with frequencies, like sappy.”
Lilah: “Such a great one.”
Ezra: “I was like, you need this.”
Lilah: “[Ezra’s] mom was also really cool. I remember the first time I saw her.”
Ezra: “My mum is still really cool. She is a living saint who can melt faces with a smile or a frown. We’re all very lucky she’s stuck around to bless us.”
Lilah: “She was wearing overalls that are shorts – much like your floral ones [Ezra] – and Doc Martens, and she was just dancing her ass off like… alone?”
Ezra: “She’s the best dancer in the world. It’s how she starts to initiate her kin. And then she eats them, and projects their hologram from her third eye, shocker point. That’s who we are now. We actually live as holographic representations of the people we used to be, before she ate us. It’s fucking crazy, man. I shouldn’t be telling you. But I want to, I knew you’d get it?”
Got it. And Josh, when did you come into the picture?
Josh: “May 2010. Yes, end of May. I was asked to come on as a touring bassist, and I was never asked to leave.”
Lilah: “He can’t really leave anymore.”
Sons Of An Illustrious Father by Jenn Five
Ezra, you live on a farm in Vermont. It’s a bit of a HQ for the band. What’s it like?
Ezra: “It is an axis mundi of sorts. A meeting ground between ass and mid-guard. It goes ass to mid, to guard. Mid to ass, and guarding it is important.”
Lilah: “It’s probably the most beautiful place in the world. We spend as much time there as we can.”
Ezra: “Which is very little.”
Lilah: “We’re there in our minds, though! It holds such a significant psychic space, the weight of home. We think we’re there more than we are.”
Is it a good place to make art?
Lilah: “Perhaps the only place I’ve found. We’re building the recording studio, amassing the art supplies, all of the other workshops.”
Ezra: “Planting landmines, raising goats.”
Lilah: “Chickens, ducks.”
Ezra: “Plants, mushrooms, children. Fruits. Fruits. Fish. Fish.”
All of the things?
Ezra: [Perturbed] “Well, no.”
Lilah: “But we’re trying to have a marker of all of the things. A sick marker collection. We’ve got really cool markers.”
Ezra: “We are trying to make the mountain more buoyant.”
Lilah: “We’re not going to make the same mistake that Noah made.”
Ezra: “Getting drunk and naked and passing out in front of our kids?”
Lilah: “That’s only one of Noah’s great mistakes. Urgh god, the Bible.”
Ezra: “God, the Bible. Make the Bible God Again.”
Lilah: “This is important. Noah fuckin’ left the unicorn, and we’re not going to do that.”
On your latest album you sing that “the human body bruises” on ‘Unarmed’. Why is it important to acknowledge pain?
Josh: “You can’t dis-acknowledge it. It’s a large part of existence, and if you tried to discredit the effect that pain has on our lives, you’re not really living the truth of what’s going on.”
Ezra: “It’s there, and there’s no escape. The struggle against it means more.”
Lilah: “I think a lot of the reason why people turn to art is for empathic resonance. To feel like their pain is seen and heard. To the ends of the responsibility of at artist, it’s to be honest about their own experience, in an effort to create an infinitely regressing mirror.”
The world feels like a dangerous place to be queer at the moment…
Ezra: “Particularly… people with very different degrees and levels of privilege are experiencing that as a shift, maybe? In ways that other more inherently vulnerable bodies have known consistently?”
There’s a distinct wave of voices out there making powerful art about the queer experience. You’re part of that wave. Does the whole thing give you hope?
Ezra: “It began with the forging of the great rings. That’s where my mind went. We’re obsessed with Tolkien, we’re learning Elvish – just really for sexual purposes. Essentially, whatever access and resources you can gain in this world, – given the nature of the world, the unrelenting grip of hegemony – if you have that access and resources, you just gotta set ‘em on fire. It is Lord of the Rings. You have to use them to counteract the same system that limits resources that should be basic human rights. That feels like the responsibility. We see it so directly in the need for space to be held, in parts of social thought, and parts of culture. In various streams, rivers and estuaries of media.”
“There needs to be space for alternative existence, of various kinds. People are really drowning now, in the resistricton and oppression that persists, and now accompanies the dissolution of our ecosystem. Our means of sustaining life on earth. It feels vital, and we take it very seriously. Even though we’re ridiculous people. We take that privilege seriously. We want to take it all the way to Mordor. [Begins speaking in Elvish]. Legolas, for once in your miserable life. That means sit down.”
Ezra, how do you find balancing your film work with Sons of an Illustrious Father?Lilah: “Our great contribution as supporters is to be like ‘you’re not actually that good’.”
Ezra: “They’ve also been making me taller through a series of very painful exercises, so that’s good, because height goes a long way in the industry.”
Josh: “The more unfortunate aspect is that we’ve had to take most of that height away from ourselves; some from Lilah, some from me.”
Ezra: “They’ve had to make big sacrifices, but it gets us all where we need to go. And I tell them that they’re really bad, too.”
Lilah: “We’re all really supportive of each other’s mutual terribleness.”
Ezra: “We’re humble, but only as a result of getting beaten down to the ground daily by people who love us. Otherwise we’d be raging egomaniacs. Megalomaniacal windbags, pompous and horrific.”
You put out ‘Deus Sex Machina: Or, Moving Slowly Beyond Nikola Tesla’ this year. Are you working on a follow-up?
Lilah: “We’ve actually written our next album.”
Ezra: “Done-zo! It’s in the can!”
Lilah: “Well, it’s not, technically. It’s in the can of our minds.”
Ezra: “Can-cept! You don’t like that? Well, I think you did a bad job hearing it.”
Lilah: “We’re scheming on other things, we’re in creative overload time. We’re very excited about the next album, singles, EPs, collaboration.”
Can you summarise all of your personalities in a sentence?
Lilah: “[Josh] is like a cross between Paul Simon and Imogen Heap.”
Ezra: “I’d say Imogen Heap’s sense of lyricism, and Paul Simon’s beauty. And Lilah and I are a perfect combination of one another.”