Interview: Downtown Boys

The Brief


Downtown Boys are a band from Providence, Rhode Island known for their energetic performances and politically charged lyrics. Their third album, Cost of Living, was released on Sub Pop in 2017, and was subsequently named one of the top ten albums of the year by Paste Magazine. It received further acclaim from The Guardian, The New York Times, and Pitchfork. Two of the group’s members, vocalist Victoria Ruiz and guitarist Joey La Neve DeFrancesco, also cofounded the publication Spark Mag in collaboration with grassroots group Demand Progress. The responses below were given by the band’s saxophone player, Joe DeGeorge.

Which floral artwork would you recommend?
Grace D. Chin makes ornate paper floral wreaths with the words ‘Smash the Patriarchy’ strung across them. This work is a living prayer.

Which immersive visual artwork would you recommend?
All Utopias Fell
, a work of installation art by Michael Oatman’s. The trailer falling from the sky is a fantastic interactive monument and time capsule of twentieth-century techno dreams.

Which television episode would you recommend?
‘The Neutral Zone’, Season 1, Episode 26 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which a rich twentieth-century man is unfrozen and discovers that accumulation of wealth has no value in this future.


The following questions relate to our Perspectives column, in which two writers respond to an artwork that they are experiencing for the first time.

Is unloved art doomed to disappear?
Yes. This is why I spend time looking in the dollar bins for records that might otherwise be lost.

Must an art form’s future be shaped by its past structures?
To deny the past is irresponsible. We ride a wave of history and must know our past to effectively tool and shape our future.

Should artists be the guardians of their works?
Once a work is made it becomes the property of its audience. Art is a gift. The creator cannot control how their work is interpreted.

Rule of Three

The following questions relate to our Rule of Three column, for which each article includes a trio of artworks that share an association with a single word.

Which artwork associated with the word ‘Keyboard’ would you recommend?
The performance of John Cage’s composition As Slow as Possible in Halberstadt features an unconventional organ that will be constructed as needed during the next 622 years of the piece’s duration.

States of the Arts

The following questions relate to our States of the Arts column, for which each article includes four artworks that share an association with a single nation or territory.

Which Chilean artwork would you recommend?
‘Poder Elegir’, a song by Los Prisoneros that we often cover. It was written in Chile under the Pinochet military dictatorship. A hope to elect freedom for everyone.

Which Pakistani artwork would you recommend?
Sound of the Silhouettes was the first stereo LP made in Pakistan put out by Arokey Chemical Industries. It mixed traditional and Western influences, indicative of a time when certain freedoms of expression were accepted before more conservative ideas came to power.

The art of discovery

The following questions relate to Silent Frame’s aim to celebrate the art of discovery.

Give a work that you have recently rediscovered. How has your understanding of it changed?
I recently reread Native Son, a novel by Richard Wright. When I had first read it as a white suburban teen, I lacked the race analysis to appreciate it as I do now as the critique of institutionalised racism that it was meant to be.

What question would you like to ask other Silent Frame interviewees?
Where is the labour in art?

More to discover

Downtown Boys: Visit the band’s Bandcamp page here and listen to Cost of Living in full here, and read Spark Mag. Matt Mullen has interviewed Downtown Boys for Interview Magazine, as have Emma May for Noisey and Quinn Moreland for Pitchfork.

Today’s recommendations: Grace D. Chin (website), All Utopias Fell (information), ‘The Neutral Zone’ (trailer), As Slow as Possible (excerpt from performance), ‘Poder Elegir’ (song), Sound of the Silhouettes (’Hodge Podge’, a song from the album), Native Son (information).

Also on Silent Frame