Born in the UK and raised in Oklahoma, he worked for an environmental non-profit that advised the Obama administration and was an FCC press secretary, but what Bartees Leon Cox, Jr. will be best known for is the music he makes as his alter-ego, Bartees Strange. While doing his work with the government, Strange was also playing in Hardcore bands in Washington, D.C. and Brooklyn, expanding on the musical experiences he had growing up singing in church choirs and playing Country music, leading him to the decision to break from his day job and explore the musical calling of his soul. “Things are changing,” he says. “I can change too, and this is who I want to be.”
Who Strange wants to be is a product not just of the Hardcore music world from which he most recently sprang, but also of the experiences he had as youth growing up in Mustang, OK, that he was trying to escape after leaving home. “I realized that the thing I was trying to run away from – Oklahoma, Mustang, my upbringing – was actually the thing that’s separated me and made my music worth making,” Bartees points out. “The thing I hated most about myself was the thing that could possibly separate me from other people.”
The talent that does separate Bartees Strange from the pack was first evident on two 2020 releases, the EP Say Goodbye To Pretty Boy and his first full-length album, Live Forever. The unique melding of styles and Strange’s undeniable creativity led to immense praise from publications like Billboard, Stereogum, and The Fader, other artists like Hayley Williams from Paramore and The National’s Matt Berninger, and notice from Triple A radio, particularly on the non-comm side. It also led to his signing with 4AD, which has brought his most recent release, the song “Heavy Heart” to the world, with another tune close behind, hinting at even more music before the year is out.
“Heavy Heart” opens bombastically, before revealing a dense and intricately layered soundscape, creating an intimate canvas for lyrics that are at once personal and universal. The radio reaction has been strong, with KRVB, Birmingham Mountain Radio, KRSH, and KTAO joining Indie 102.3, The Current, Colorado Sound, and WXPN leading the way for over 20 other stations offering Strange their initial support. And he’s not stopping there.