Status/Non-Status, Formerly WHOOP-Szo, Tells Complicated Stories of Indigeneity
Bandleader Adam Sturgeon explains his family's history and band's future — and shares new single "Find a Home"
Published Apr 28, 2021After several years of amassing Canada-wide attention, Ontario rockers WHOOP-Szo delivered Warrior Down in 2019, an album steeped in sludge and psychedelia that dug into the devastating effects of colonialism and the Canadian government's acts of genocide against Indigenous people. As the project begins its next evolution, it comes with a reckoning of bandleader Adam Sturgeon's Indigenous identity, and a story that might be familiar to many Indigenous people across the country.
Today, WHOOP-Szo have been reborn as Status/Non-Status, a vehicle for Sturgeon's musical pursuits with a variety of collaborators. With the name change, Sturgeon is going public about his status as a non-status Indigenous person.
"Status/Non-Status kind of just represents my identity and where I'm at and where my family is at. My family is non-status," Sturgeon says during an interview with Exclaim!
As Sturgeon tells it, his grandfather Ralph gave up his Status Card in order to enlist in the Armed Forces and become a Canadian citizen. It's a decision that continues to impact Sturgeon's life, and the way his band is treated in the Canadian music industry, one he means to draw attention to with the change in name.
Sturgeon's non-status designation, he says, had prohibited WHOOP-Szo from opportunities for Indigenous musicians.
"The SOCAN [Foundation's TD] Indigenous Songwriter [Award] required a band membership or something like that in the qualifying [requirements], and I was going to nominate this collaboration for 'Cut Your Hair,' which is a story about residential schools. And I worked with [Ojibwe musician] Daniel Monkman [of Zoon] closely on that track," Monkman's "Cut Your Hair (Zoon Remix)" that appeared on WHOOP-Szo's 2020 remix album, Warrior Remixes. "And it was not something that we could apply to."
In a statement to Exclaim!, representative from SOCAN said, "Non-Status Indigenous peoples can apply to the program, but such applicants will need to share a letter of reference from someone in the community (e.g., elders, chiefs, etc.). We are following the teachings and guidance from advisors, and always open to collaboration."
In our discussion, Sturgeon mentions novelist Joseph Boyden and filmmaker Michelle Latimer, two people whose claims to Indigenous ancestry were questioned.
"I see these issues with Joseph Boyden and Michelle Latimer as highly problematic, but incredibly complicated, because as a non-status person, I'm still very aware of who I am, where my family comes from. And, I think through this pandemic, it's been really, really amazing for me to be able to focus on that and dig deeper and do all that important work."
Seeking to draw attention to these complex facets of Indigenous experience is what Sturgeon has always done with WHOOP-Szo.
"I think it's just about the overrepresentation of indigeneity within the structure, right?" says Sturgeon. "It's just how we're grouped. You know, like, you know, if we're nominated for a Juno, we're beside Northern Cree, and I don't think that that's entirely appropriate. I have a lot of respect for my traditional culture, and it isn't always imbued into my art that way."
To inaugurate the project's next phase, Status/Non-Status has announced a new EP, 1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years, set for release on May 28 via You've Changed Records/the Grizzlar. The five-track release was recorded in Guadalajara in 2018, during WHOOP-Szo's tour of Mexico, and the songs find Sturgeon and his collaborators incorporating a series of unearthed, pre-colonial whistles into their sludge rock sound.
The five-track EP kicks off with lead single "Find a Home," which has been released today. The lush, acoustic guitar-driven track hums with group harmonies, like a campfire song gone electric. The EP continues with a pair of heavier, shifting numbers — "Genocidio" and "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy" — the 32-second instrumental whistle clip "Untitled Travelogue" and "500 Years," a wind-bolstered monologue by the band's guide, Alvaro Moreno.
In fact, Alvaro's words close the EP, as he speaks about Guadalajara's class-driven, geographical divide between "the rich people, the white people, the nice people" versus "the people who are rejected by that" who "live across the city."
Whether with WHOOP-Szo, as Status/Non-Status, or in his roles as an educator, business owner, printmaker, neighbour, father and partner, Sturgeon remains committed to analyzing and questioning colonial systems of oppression, both explicitly or implicitly.
"As an artist, I'm an artist who is also Indigenous, and a lot of times, we are Indigenous artists, right? And so I'm taking a look at that, where it's like, 'Okay, this is who I am, I'm a non-status person. There, it is very clear. Now can I get to making the music?'"
Watch the "Find a Home" video below, where you can see the tracklist for 1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years.
1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years:
1. Find a Home
3. Untitled Travelogue
4. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
5. 500 Years
Pre-order 1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years.