Dexter Gilmore is the frontman of the exhilarating ’80s funk-meets-rock-meets-shoegaze-meets-indie-pop band Sexy Dex and the Fresh. He sings in a soaring voice that ranges from velvety to screeching. He plays sizzling guitar lines over his band’s slap bass, driving drums, electric synth lines and female vocal foil. His live shows feature no small amount of gyrating, occasionally synchronized dance moves. He often wears a leopardskin vest with little underneath.
So let’s just get it out the way: The dude reminds you of Prince.
“It’s only obvious because I’m a light-skinned black male with an edgy haircut who sings in a high range and plays guitar in a dance band,” says Gilmore of the relationship. “He is the closest link in the chain to me in every way.”
Gilmore accepts the comparison mainly because he sees more than two links in this “chain.” “I mostly take from Prince’s performance, but I embrace that because he was such a good performer,” explains Gilmore, “and there are dudes who came before him that he’s emulating too. You have to give credit to Little Richard, to James Brown, to Sly and the Family Stone. If you’re going to talk about me being Prince, I’m catering to that because he did it so well.”
Gilmore does not have the hubris to see himself in that rarified air. Rather, he just wants to see more of what he loves. “There’s a reason why people see performance like that and they legitimately feel something in their heart,” says Gilmore. “Why should that ever stop? I don’t care if people are going to compare me to that. No one else is doing that right now.”
The music actually being performed also came from Gilmore following his muse with little regard for outside opinion. While he was a member of local shoegaze band Glish, he spent his free time developing his passion project by working on pop and R&B demos in his bedroom. Former Glish and current Fresh drummer Evan Cvitanovic—Gilmore’s roommate at the time—offered to play drums on the songs, providing the push Gilmore needed.
From there, the band came together by finding people who already shared a personal connection. Cvitanovic’s close childhood friend and former Glish bassist Andrew Landry was soon recruited. Keyboardist Ben Buchbinder was an old college friend from Gilmore’s short stint in Loyola’s Music Industry Studies program. And once the band was formed, Gilmore visited his hometown—the Washington D.C. area—and returned to New Orleans with vocalist/guitarist Gabrielle Washington, his longtime girlfriend. “It all just fell into place,” says Gilmore. “We already had the chemistry.”
That chemistry is apparent in both the band’s energetic live shows and feature length debut Plus One Edition. But performances—both live and recorded—show there is far more to Sexy Dex and the Fresh than Prince. Glish’s wall-of-sound shoegaze has carried over into this new band, with Gilmore’s fiery guitar and Buchbinder’s electric synth building thrilling sonic landscapes. And with both Glish and the Fresh being on local punk label Community Records, punk plays a huge role in shaping the band’s sound and image. “We play funk and dance music,” says Gilmore, “but it’s through a lens of heaviness and a punk attitude.”
The band’s visual aesthetic underscores this punk DIY attitude. Sexy Dex and the Fresh have multiple music videos shot in warbly VHS-era effects. The frantic, image-saturated videos—which are defiantly contradictory, featuring cheeky comedy alongside horror film imagery and ’80s production values portraying modern technology—represent, according to Gilmore, “the will and the need.” “We could just buy a VHS camera for cheap and make our own interesting and compelling music video.”
It is no accident that one of Gilmore’s projects would feature a strong visual arts element; he has been a visual artist since he was a baby. Literally. “My mom would carry me around in a stroller and I had a pencil and pad,” recalls Gilmore. “I’d draw people’s faces and give them the pictures. Some people even gave me money!” Even as a small child, Gilmore was performing for others.
Music was also part of Gilmore’s life from a young age. His father was a guitarist and radio deejay in Washington D.C. who wanted to eventually pass down his musical knowledge to his son. However, tragedy intervened. When Gilmore was 14, his father was in a car accident that severely impaired his short-term memory. With his father in the care of assisted living, Gilmore was compelled to learn music anyway. “After the accident, I naturally picked up his guitar and taught myself to play,” says Gilmore.
Pop music is often about lineage. Each of the performers Gilmore lists has taken what he liked from his predecessors and added his own spin to reflect his time. Gilmore is no different, taking Prince’s ’80s funk, melding it with a punk attitude and blending it all into video content for the digital age. From Little Richard down to Prince—and from father to son—Gilmore is stepping into a long tradition of using the past to shape the future.