Malik Rhodes

REVELO ISSUE 03 • Written by Brooke Carlock Miller

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Malik Rhodes doesn’t like to be put into specific boxes. From childhood, the artist and musician has always felt… a little outside of normal descriptions. For starters, Malik identifies as non-binary: “When we’re growing up, we’re taught that there are two genders, male and female. Non-binary is basically just—I’m not either one. I know that I’d be classified as AMAB, which is just ‘assigned male at birth,’ but that isn’t me. I know it’s there, genetically and biologically, but that doesn’t define who I am.”

When asked about work, Malik shrugs, “I get called an artist, so I assume that’s what I am, but I don’t consider myself one. I guess we feel like if we start calling ourselves what people call us, that we’re more than we actually are. But then there’s the other side of that, where people start to get annoyed if you don’t know how to take a compliment. So I’ve settled on, ‘I’m a person who makes things,’ and that seems to work.”

A tumultuous childhood growing up with only a mother and grandmother in Lancaster city originally led Malik on a destructive path. As a teen, Malik turned to drugs and alcohol to hide a growing depression. “There was just this overall feeling of things being tense. There were good family moments, but for the most part I just felt angry and scared and sad. But I was not permitted—and I don’t think it was intentional—but I was not permitted to express anything but being angry. Being sad, or being scared was looked at like, ‘Oh, boys don’t do that.’”

“Going into my teenage years, I got worse and worse… I stopped talking to people. I stopped playing on sports teams in school. I stopped doing good in school. My adolescence became what I thought was adaptation, which was really just cutting myself off and finding solace in all things that looked really cool—from my perspective of seeing all the bands that I loved doing it—which was heavy drinking, and heavy drug use, and disobeying the rules at any opportunity,” Malik continues. “It was kind of like playing with fire—It’s super fun, but then as soon as it gets out of hand, you just don’t know what to do, and it’s not fun anymore, but by that point, it’s kind of too late.”

To assuage growing feelings of depression and anxiety, Malik turned to two forms of therapy— art and music. “My mom likes to tell people I’ve been drawing since before I could talk. I didn’t start playing music until I was about 12 or 13, but it just made sense, and felt like an extension of trying to create stuff.” As an artist, Malik’s talents manifested in the form of tattooing: “In my early 20s, I just had nothing going on. I started hanging out with this kid Matt and we started a band together, and he worked at a tattoo shop as a piercer. He asked me if I wanted to learn how to pierce, and I said, ‘Sure.’ Then he asked me if I wanted to learn to tattoo, and I said, ‘Sure.’ Initially, it was just kind of good luck, and then it became something that I held onto for dear life, so I felt that I had something that was stationary in my existence at the time.”

Now an accomplished tattoo artist, Malik works at Mantra Studio on Prince Street (you can check out some of Malik’s tattoo samples on Instagram @inkbreather). However, the world of music has been occupying more and more of the 29-year-old’s time. “When I was about 12, I used to take my grandmother’s acoustic guitar and I would learn to play Green Day songs—poorly—on it,” Malik laughs, “and then I kept it and learned how to do other stuff. Taught myself how to play. Then taught myself how to sing and play. And then messed around with recording stuff, and writing, but I never did too much publicly with it.”

That is changing, however, now that Malik is gracing local venues as both the vocalist for local metal band Mind Rot as well as branching into a solo folk venture, All Hail West Texas. “I’ve started doing music more and more, and the climate seems kind of fine for seeing if other people enjoy it as much as I do. It seems like it’s going that way. Music-wise, it would be cool to tour. Keep making it, keep selling it, keep giving it away.”

Listening to All Hail West Texas songs, it’s clear to see music is therapy in this artist’s life. Themes of addiction, gender, politics, and activism pepper the lyrics of the songs. “I definitely had my own version of recovery from abusing different substances,” Malik admits, “and one of those things that you have to do when you do that, is you have to sit and really learn how to understand yourself and your feelings, rather than try to numb everything.”

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