Avan Jogia celebrated his 28th birthday by releasing Mixed Feelings, which freely celebrates every piece of who he is.
The Canadian-born actor, musician and poet does not like calling Mixed Feelings an album. He favors describing it as a mixtape but shudders at the thought of making a pun, even if unintended. The fact that Avan is struggling to place the 10-track project, unveiled Sunday (Feb. 9) under the musical group he has with his brother, Ketan, called Saint Ivory, into one category is kind of perfect. The poems-turned-songs illuminate the struggles mixed people face when diminished to one identity. Avan is actually the last person who would label Mixed Feelings as an album, EP, mixtape or otherwise.
Mixed Feelings perpetuates that identity is best served when plural.
Avan originally published Mixed Feelings: Poems and Stories on Sept. 17, 2019 via Andrews McMeel Publishing.
Prior to that, he had made his name as an actor. He’s perhaps best known for his role as Beck Oliver alongside Ariana Grande on Nickelodeon’s Victorious from 2010 to 2013. He has also appeared on Ghost Wars, Now Apocalypse and Zombieland: Double Tap. It was Avan’s 10 years in the acting business that propelled him toward fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming an author.
Avan, born to an Indian-British father and English-Irish mother, took a decade’s worth of casting directors needing him to just be one singular thing to fit into a particular role and used it as fuel to seek out how he defines himself. As a child, Avan was drawn to poetry. He wrote “silly” poems while trying to imitate favorites such as Edgar Allen Poe and Lord Byron. Now, poetry was serving as a vessel to confront difficult questions internally “that I had been putting aside for the majority of my life.” He also interviewed people from around the world to add different perspectives to the book.
“When your pieces don’t really fit in with everyone else’s pre-aligned pieces, you sort of have to start asking heavier questions,” Avan tells tmrw. “What I like to say is you don’t get, like, a rulebook, and nobody should live with a preordained rulebook as far as how they operate in the world based on their race or sexual orientation or gender or political beliefs or religious beliefs, whatever. But when you’re mixed, you actually really do have to start asking these questions. What do I feel about this? How does this make me feel? What are my views on this? Because there’s no bandwagon to throw your views behind.”
Following the book’s release, the initial plan was to record an audio book. That snowballed into an idea to simply read the poems over music, but over time, flirted with the line that separates proper songs with soundtracked spoken word. Avan and Ketan had transferred “a significant portion” of the poems into songs before their 10-city North American book tour last fall.
“The writing of the album was also motivated by this tour because I was sort of like, I don’t want to just go up there and read poems,” Avan says. “That’s sort of boring. You know, you have to be better than Netflix. You have to be more entertaining than Netflix, and that’s hard. People want to sit on their couch and watch Netflix. So, if they’re gonna get clothes on, go on the subway and get pushed around on the subway and show up at a bookstore, I wanted to give them something worth that that wasn’t just a guy a couple feet in front of you reading some poems.”
The brothers decided to incorporate live musical performances into each book tour stop in an effort to connect with audiences. Avan was pleasantly surprised by how many people needed Mixed Feelings as an entry point to explore their mixed identities and initiate uncomfortable but necessary conversations. In other words, he succeeded at finding a niche outside of Netflix.
“During the book tour, people would come up, crying, to talk about what their experience has been as a mixed person,” Avan remembers, “and you feel like people really wanted to speak about it or speak on it. That was, to me, a reminder that, oh, people don’t get to talk about this. … There actually is a mixed culture. It doesn’t matter what your racial background is. Everyone who’s mixed has a similar story about their racial identity. Too much of this, not enough of that. Those kind of conversations came up a lot, and people really wanted to talk about it because they felt alone.”
Avan adds: “I wrote the book to work this shit out for myself. That was the main goal. But in doing that, I also helped people work it out for themselves. … We’re both helping each other get better or deepen our understanding of ourselves.”
The poems by themselves are evocative, but the music demands an extra layer of attention. It was on purpose that the Jogias chose to activate another of the five senses to really drive home their message.
“If you don’t like to read, I thought, I can make an album and get the same ideas across,” Avan says, “because I think the ideas are important.”
“Grow Up” begins with Avan singing overtop a pulsating beat. The music abruptly cuts and takes a back seat to the spoken word: “Oh, it’s cool to be mean now, huh? / Shut up.” The track takes a positive turn in the last seconds with Avan singing, “Plant your seed and watch it grow / You have more power than you know / Don’t let people push you down.”
Identity is addressed in blatant terms on “Ancestor’s Dreams.” Avan reflects on how he and the listeners are their respective ancestors’ “wildest dreams.”
“Uganda 1965,” the longest of the 10 tracks in run time, features voicemails from Avan’s mother and father wishing him a happy birthday.
“Flowerboys” delicately touches on masculinity through the premise that Avan and Ketan were simply “taught that being kind was the powerful thing you could do.”
Avan then calls out others’ outdated racist ideology that only recognizes mixed people as the most convenient label for them on “Halfbeing”: “I am not half of anything / I am a full being.”
The thread, though, is Avan finding peace in his many identities while waiting on the outside world to follow suit.
“Through the discovery and pursuit of this book, I became very comfortable with the amount of identities that I hold in my bag or that represent me,” Jogia reflects. “Gender identities, racial identities, all the identities that up me. I’m not a monolith. You can be even two seemingly opposing forces at the same time. That’s what I wanted to express in the music. That’s what I wanted to explore in the music. That’s what I explored in the book. It’s a continuation.”
Saint Ivory released two singles in 2018 titled “Do You Love Me?” and “Loretta” before dropping Mixed Feelings. Avan’s poems demanded a particular kind of music, so Saint Ivory adapted in order to do right by the material. But, unsurprisingly, listeners cannot necessarily expect more of the same in the future. “This band is very flexible,” Avan adds, “and it can be whatever it needs to be.”
Seeing as Saint Ivory is an extension of Avan, that makes sense. Maybe Saint Ivory’s next offerings will veer in the opposite direction. Maybe Avan will write another poetry book. Maybe he’ll act more. Maybe he’ll write his own screenplay. Maybe he’ll do all or none of the above.
Regardless, Avan will proudly use every inch of his patchwork fabric to build with.