Thursday, 15 September 2016

DOLLS: Cathartic Rock! Getting Out 'What Frustrates Us About Current Society'.

Photo by Neil Anderson.
There is a famous story about a music journalist who went to see Buzzcocks supported by Gang of Four. He was so amazed by Gang of Four that he left at the end of their set, missing Buzzcocks, so that nothing would diminish the significance of what he had just witnessed. In about 2004 I went to see punk band Capdown supported by Douglas but first band up on that night was a band I had never heard of, Adequate 7. I was so impressed that I went to see them another ten times before they split up in 2006!
A few weeks ago I travelled down to London for an All-Dayer, and despite the above paragraph I decided to nip to the hotel I was staying in for a quick shower before going onto the gig. I left the hotel, found the venue and walked in catching an exhilarating, energy filled last couple of garage rock/grunge punk tracks of what must have been a cracking set by DOLLS, a band I will definitely be making the effort to catch in full!
DOLLS are a two piece comprised of singer/guitarist Jade Ellins and drummer Belinda Conde, they formed DOLLS in 2014 and have three excellent tracks up on Soundcloud, double A-side single ‘Audrey’ and ‘Kid Kannibal’ plus ‘Killing Time’. Despite my frustrating tardiness they were kind enough to agree to an interview.  

Q: Could you give us the story so far!? Have you been in other bands before? When did you form?

Jade: I had my own gothic (well tried to be) rock band at Uni and now currently I’m also in Long Teeth. Bel and I met about 2 years ago now and got on ‘like a fucking house on fire’.

Bel: Before joining DOLLS I was in a seven-piece band… so this was quite a change!

Q: Where did the idea for the name DOLLS come from? Is it a comment on the reductionist view of women in contemporary society as in 'Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism' by Natasha Walter?

Jade: No actually, I thought it was a cool, short punchy name, and original… then it turned out almost every other band ever had the word ‘Dolls’ in their name.

Q: Did you have a fairly clear idea of the sort of sound you wanted from the start or has it been more evolutionary?

Jade: When we were first jamming together I was still very much in my Blues Rock stage. So every song was very riff based with wailing vocals. I was a bit scared to use more pop based chords back then as I thought it might sound cheesy. I got into listening to more punk and ‘arty’ bands such as Bikini Kill, Sonic Youth and Ought about a year ago so our sound changed a lot. I realised pop chords weren’t the problem, it was more what you did with them. Now there is hardly a blues riff in sight!

Q: How would you describe your sound?

Bel: I think our sound is a mixture of wanting to ‘get out’ what frustrates us about the current society we live in, with a touch of Jade’s ballsy vocals and my loud drums. We like to make an impact through our music and really reach out to our audience.

Q: What were your early influences, was there any musician or band that inspired you take up an instrument yourself?

Jade: My parents are both musicians so music was always around. Pretty much as soon as I could move they gave me a guitar. Thank God! I loved classic rock bands when I was little as my Dad used to play them all the time in the car such as Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. I also loved a bit of Britney and Christina though, I still do!

Bel: I didn’t come from a musical background at all – I had to fight my mum over the years to get a drum kit! My early influences were serious heavy and nu metal bands, such as Slipknot and SOAD. Hehe…

Q: You've three tracks up on Soundcloud-could you talk us through them-'Audrey and 'Kid Kannibal' seem quite dark!

Jade: ‘Audrey’ and ‘Kid Kannibal’ are supposed to be fun and tongue in cheek. Not taken too seriously at all. I guess people can interpret them however they want though!

Q: More generally what sort of subjects do your lyrics engage with-are they mostly based on experiences or inspired by other sources like films and books?

Jade: It’s a mixture really. Sometimes I will see a film and a character will inspire me for a song. Some are more personal.

Bel: When I write some lyrics for our songs, I like them to be quite ambiguous so each person that listens to them can find a particular meaning themselves.

Q: How does the creative process work for DOLLS, is it a collaborative process or one main songwriter?

Jade: I generally will have the chords and a basic structure of a song ready before I take it to Bel and our other co-writer Sam. I find it really difficult to get songs out of jamming and rather have some time to myself first to decide what kind of song it will be. A few songs have formed out of us jamming them on the spot like ‘Kid Kannibal’ but that is quite rare now. Other times Bel may come up with a drum beat that I find inspiring or Sam may come up with some chords that I want to work with.

Q: I caught part of your set at Loud Women Festival and was so annoyed with myself that I hadn't got there earlier-you were excellent! Is it on stage where you are most at home or in the studio, which do you prefer?

Jade: Thank you! Performing on stage, is definitely why I do this. It’s actually my favourite thing to do! That’s why I don’t mind us gigging all the time and never understood when other bands would complain about it. The studio is still bit of a weird environment for me, however we have just been recording four songs with Jim Sclavunos (Grinderman, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds) which was a brilliant experience. I felt like I needed to go and practice a million hours after working with him as it was so inspiring.

Bel: Being onstage is where I feel the most comfortable! I love playing live and I believe that is the best way to put our music across. It’s great to get good feedback from our gigs!

Q: A lot of female musicians seem to experience a degree of sexism, what has your experience been like in the alt rock/punk/DIY scene? Is it a better place for women than mainstream culture?

Both: Each scene varies, even the more underground scenes still have sexism. The Punk DIY scene where they put on female fronted bands in particular has been great. We haven’t experienced any sexism and always feel supported. Which is why these nights exist! The general alt rock punk scene can be very different. There are a lot of male ‘punk’ bands that still think it’s OK to belittle you, or expect you to be a bit shit as you are a woman. Some of these bands have even had female members in. I guess sexism is still more dominant in mainstream culture, but it can happen anywhere.

Q: Do you think things are improving in that respect?

Jade: There’s still a lot that could be improved.

Bel: Yes, definitely gender equality in the music industry still needs to improve massively.

Q: What bands and writers are you enjoying at the moment?

Jade: I’m loving Parquet Courts, Hinds, Angel Olsen, Ought, Queen Pj and the Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds new album is ace!

Bel: I really like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, The Oh Sees and when I need to chill out I go for Bowery Electric.

Q: What are your plans for the rest of 2016 and into 2017? An album at all?

Both: Like we said before, we have just recorded four tracks. What will happen to those four tracks is still a bit of a mystery. Hopefully they will become super popular, we will become mega rich, and we will be able to finally afford a roadie so we don’t have to carry our shit around with us on the tube!

Big thanks to Bel and Jade for interview, here is their Soundcloud page 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Franklys: Danceable Garage Rock!

Photo: Neil Anderson for Wildblanket.
As with most festivals I went along to this month’s Loud Women Festival in London for one band in particular but instead of my normal festival experience of a mixed bag of varying interest (to me), there was a continual stream of great bands! One of the stand out bands that day, and I hadn’t previously heard of them, were The Franklys. They came on early evening (I think- by then I was a bit time warped) and were outstanding; mesmeric, energetic, playing a kind of danceable garage rock. When I got home I checked them out online and turned out they played Download Festival earlier this year! The Franklys are comprised of Jennifer Ahlkvist, Fanny Broberg, Zoe Biggs and Lexi Clark and were described by Shindig! Magazine as…’classic old school rock...riotous girl rebellion...frankly something you should be getting yourself some of’.(1) Despite the awful pun they’re right, so I contacted the band for an interview!

Q: Could you give us an overview of The Franklys?
Two of us are from Sweden and two from England, and we play frenetic garage rock with heavy and psychedelic overtones รก la Led Zeppelin-Blondie-Strokes-QOTSA-punk-pop-rock-madness.
We’ve toured across both the UK/Europe and America, including festival slots at Isle of Wight, Download Festival and Camden Rocks, and our debut album is out early 2017!

Q: What artists and other figures have influenced you as a band and individuals?
Blondie, The Strokes, Led Zeppelin, Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys, The Runaways, Green Day to name but a few.
Bands that we are currently enjoying….Petrol Girls, The Tuts, WHITE, La Luz, Muncie Girls & Tom Jones

Q: Did you have a clear idea of the sound you were aiming for from the start or has it gradually taken shape? How would you describe your sound?
It’s been a natural progression I think towards the sounds we are putting out now. We never want to be put in a ‘box’ so we try to get lots of different elements or the unexpected into our songs, whilst keeping a sort of heavy garage rock backbone to it. We definitely sound different to how we did a few years ago, and that’s great because you want to keep pushing forward.

Q: Earlier this year Lexi Clark joined as drummer, has that reconfiguration changed the band’s sound at all? Given it a different dynamic?
It’s always going to be a different dynamic playing with someone new, who will bring new skills, and sounds to the table, and Lexi is a great drummer so it’s just been very easy for the rest of us to adapt around that. Our sound and live performance is still as energetic as ever!

Q: I was watching the video to ‘Comedown’ and it reminded me of the third series of ‘The Bridge’ where due to trauma and drugs the male detective sees his deceased family around the home, the visions ceasing as he recovers. Was a similar idea running through
the video, of a man haunted by figures from his past, but in this case pressuring him to sort his life out? Was the song/video based on any particular incident?
Haha that’s a great interpretation and I love that you have really thought about it! That’s one of the reasons we’ll rarely tell you what actually inspired a song’s lyrics, then everyone can take away their own meaning from it, and nobody is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, it’s just a different view. Jen’s lyrics come from so many different inspirations, there’s always a new meaning to be found.

Q: How does the creative process work within the band-is it collaborative or one writer per song?
Usually we will just jam together and the beginning of something will start from there. Or someone will come in with a riff or a beat that we then work on and build up. Overall, as long as something sounds good and sticks in our heads then we’ll work on it.

Q: You play an intriguing spectrum of gigs from Isle of Wight and Download Festival to Loud Women to small town venues, is it hard to adjust to different settings? Does the immediate environment-the audience/ building-affect what you play or are you fairly self-contained?
There’s no denying there is a different feeling and vibe to those varying venues, but we never change or try and stifle our performance for anything. Even on the tiniest of stages (or floors!) we are still trying to bring as much energy to it as possible, which usually means a guitar in the face or a cymbal in the back, but it’s all part of it!

Q: I saw you at Loud Women where you were amazing! Do you prefer playing live or songwriting and recording-which context suits your music best or do the different situations emphasise different aspects?
Thank you, we’re glad you enjoyed it! I think it’s been hard for us so far to capture the energy of our live performance on recording, but with the new album it’s closer than it’s ever been. It’s hard to say whether there’s a preference for either; they’re two different beasts.

Q: When you go in the studio are your songs pretty much complete and it’s just a case of recording or are they still a work in progress?
I think it depends on the song really, mostly the songs are complete and ready to record but as we go along we will always hear new things to be added or taken away that make the song better as a whole. It’s a luxury to be able to sit and listen back to a song and hear it as a listener rather than as the musician playing it – you notice things you usually wouldn’t when you are playing it altogether as a band.

Q: Female musicians can experience at least casual sexism. What has your experience been like in the rock scene? Historically it’s often been very macho, do you think things are improving?
Casual sexism, overt sexism…it’s still out there and still happening, of course not only in this industry. Personally I feel like things are improving, but there is such a long way to go and we have to keep pushing for changes. Maybe it’s because of who I follow on Twitter, Instagram etc. but there seem to be a lot more visibility of musicians who are female than there ever was, and it’s getting better every day. But, then again…in the mainstream, I’m not convinced many are breaking through to the public consciousness, which means you have to really seek these out and be motivated to do so. In terms of our own experiences, well, how many male musicians do you think have had a sound engineer come up to them and try to change the settings on their guitar for them in the middle of a soundcheck? Or had the comment ‘oh you play well for a boy’? Perhaps some, but we are still scratching our heads over this A+ comment from a sound engineer the other week ‘oh where’s the drummer, probably gone off to buy some new shoes…’, hmm…

Q: What plans do you have for 2016/17? I think you’ve a single out later this year and an album coming out next year, will you be out on tour in support of that?
We are currently finishing up mixing and mastering our debut album, which will be released early next year. It’s been a long time coming and we can’t wait to share it with everyone. And we have just announced a few live dates, which you can check out here We’ll be celebrating the launch of our new single with a gig at The Shacklewell Arms on 2nd November, hope to see you there!


Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Sister Ghost: "indie rock with no mucking about."

Photo by Carrie Davenport.

Citing influences that include Cocteau Twins, Fugazi and The Smiths, Sister Ghost from Derry and Belfast in NI create music that has been described as having “echoes of Sonic Youth, early nineties discord stuff...classic indie rock with no mucking about."(1). They formed in November 2013 and released their debut single ‘Scent’ the following year. This was followed by four more tracks including the excellent ‘Growing Pains’ in May’16. This autumn they are touring including gigs in Derry, Belfast and Dublin to promote their October EP release (2,3).
Song writer and vocalist Shannon O’Neill has form, her previous band Vanilla Gloom’s EP ‘Vexed’ was favourably reviewed in April ‘13 by Sander van den Driesche on Echoes and Dust. I contacted her to find out more about Sister Ghost, her experiences fronting a band and the music scene in Northern Ireland.  

Q: You formed towards the end of 2013 and had your debut single ‘Scent’ out in July 2014! Had you all been in bands before and were therefore able to hit the ground running? Had any of you worked together before?

Yeah all of us had been in bands or played solo before - my first band was with a group of guys from my village when we were 12. None of us in Sister Ghost had been in projects together before though (although Jake and Stevie are brothers and would have played together in stuff no doubt). When my most recent band called it quits Sister Ghost was a bedroom solo project that then became a full band for performance reasons. 'Scent' was my first ever entirely solo track (I played everything on it and continue to write all the demos of Sister Ghost tracks this way).

Q: Your second single was an intriguing entwining of ‘Spellbound’ and ‘Don’t fear the Reaper’, does that give some clues to your influences?

So this was more of a fun Halloween gift kind of thing I wanted to do that year. They are two of my favourite songs (I am a classic rock and British punk fiend!) so I arranged them together in some bizarre tuning I made up. I recorded the guitars and vocals with Stevie in his old flat. The heating was broken or something so my clearest memory of the whole thing was how cold his bedroom was - you could see your breath!

Q: How would you describe Sister Ghost’s sound?

I think I've called it a spectral mess of all my influences at one point and I still think that rings true. It is growing and heading toward a heavier territory with the EP that is due in October, but will always have a melodic heart due to my being raised on 80s pop & rock radio stations.

Q: You’ve been getting some great reviews and wrote about your ‘always blistering live show’ (4), is it on stage that Sister Ghost are most at home or in the studio-or do the different situations emphasise different aspects? Which do you prefer?  

Live! Always. I only really make music with the outcome to perform live - as much as recording is an exciting adventure, it can be stressful. Performance is such a release and there's not much else that comes close to playing a great gig and sharing a collective experience with a room of people enjoying themselves. It's a bit of a drug when it all comes together nicely.

Q: How does the creative process work within the band-is it collaborative or one writer per song?

I mentioned earlier how I make the demos of each song by myself before teaching them to the guys but I still think it's important that each of them can bring a bit of themselves to their parts - everyone has their idiosyncrasies in music and I think it would be wrong to stifle that. It’s a respectful process and always feels special when I get to hear my attic demo become a full-sounding track with everyone on it.

Q: What sort of subjects do your lyrics engage with? Are they anecdotal or do you draw on a variety of sources, like books and films?

Absolutely a mix of all of that really. I have used phrases from characters in my favourite TV shows ('Little Lamb' has a line from Twin Peaks for example) or films before and more recently from novels too to inspire parts of the songs. I have always found animals to be very interesting and you will often find evidence of that in my lyrics. I also like word play and occasionally write down any memorable things people say to use in songs too.

Q: What is the alternative rock/punk scene like in Northern Ireland? Are there plenty of opportunities to play?

Sadly not as much as it did ten years ago when we had the likes of Fighting With Wire melting faces. I hope to see more punk bands forming in the coming years (especially that of women and girls!) - after all, Northern Ireland was a melting pot for punk at one point! I am very proud of our punk history and take pride that I and a handful of others (like Charlie Loane from Worm Hears) are helping to fly the flag for the new generation of punk here.

Q: Is there a good sense of community between the bands- thought I’d better ask after watching the video to ‘Growing Pains’!

Haha! Those pesky skater bands are ruining the scene for everyone! The scene just feels very small at this point in time but I think there's a new influx of bands coming in (like Brand New Friend and Little Arcadia), and that young fresh blood and energy is going to do us all good.

Q: I saw in an interview (5) that your previous band, Vanilla Gloom, had played Hollaback Belfast-is that an organisation you have an ongoing involvement with?

It's an organisation that I wholeheartedly back but haven't done any gigs for with Sister Ghost. Could be a plan though! I am on the committee for the Women's Work Festival ran here in Belfast that works to promote women in all areas of music and art in NI and further afield. I also run Girls Rock School NI in Belfast and we are in the process of organising our next sessions - exciting!

Q: Female musicians can experience at least casual sexism. What has your experience been like in the punk/alt rock scene? Do you think things are improving?

With Sister Ghost I've mostly seen stuff like 9 times out of 10, guys will come up to one of the boys in the band first to shake hands and say 'great gig I really liked that song [whichever it is]'. Girls tend to be the first to come speak to me after a gig (which is obviously great because I love that they have enjoyed it and hopefully are/will go out and play too).
All I can say, from all that I've experienced so far, is that you must stick up for yourself and know that your place in music is important and valid. Make yourself heard and don't let anyone make you feel inferior in your craft because of your gender or identity; whatever those terms mean for you.
We are in the middle of a new wave of Feminism at the minute and I can only hope that the music industry wises up, all the way to the dizzy and often sickeningly sexist top. Fighting for equality shouldn't be this overwhelming and tiring responsibility for women when they choose to make or consume music - it should just be completely normal for us to be there in the first place! Imagine if everyone could just rock out and not ever have to worry, discuss or analyse gender issues? Not much to ask in my opinion.

Q: What bands and books have you been enjoying lately?

This week has been about revisiting the Cocteau Twins and shamelessly grooving to Go West and Johnny Hates Jazz. That should hit my music taste nail right on the head!
I need to read books more often like I did in school - this summer has been mostly involved reading Morrissey's autobiography.

Q: What plans do you have? An album, any chance of seeing you on tour.

The EP will be out in October and we are playing across Ireland starting with Derry on the 15th of October. An album would be great some day, I'll see what 2017 has in store and take it from there. Touring the rest of the UK, maybe starting with Scotland, is definitely on the cards in the near future. Of course I also plan on saying Sister Ghost are 'bigger than Jesus' at some point and go out in a haze of smoke and confetti.

  2. Cunningham, A (2016) ‘Watch: Sister Ghost-Growing Pains’ on
     (5) Female-identified musicians everywhere (2013) ‘Vanilla Gloom’   

Saturday, 13 August 2016

War on Women: Feminism, Gender Anarchy and Empowerment.

Image courtesy of Karolina Collier.
Confrontational, at times literally in your face, feminist polemicists War on Women are a hardcore punk sonic assault on sexism. Their lyrics incisively expose and challenge the multi faceted, many layered cultural, political and economic oppression, inequality and harassment experienced by women. The band were formed in 2010 by Shawna Potter and Brooks Harlan and have had two releases Improvised Weapons in 2012 and their eponymous album released in 2015 on Bridge Nine Records (1).
On their recent European Tour I was able to see them twice, a few days apart, at The Owl Sanctuary in Norwich and Our Blackheart in Camden. On both occasions they were stunning! Scalpel sharp lyrics embedded in next level hardcore punk with monster riffs, a huge drum sound and bass playing that takes no prisoners they somehow combine power and intelligent subtlety.
Singer Shawna Potter’s experience in drama means the lyrics are delivered within an unusually full spectrum of communication as she commands your attention with her stage presence. This is no more apparent than in ‘Broken Record’ when she subjects a male member of the crowd to the escalating aggression of street harassment normally experienced by women. Live she reminded me of a terrifying flamenco dancer I saw a few years ago in Seville; the same flashing eyes and controlled power. To be honest I don’t think I’ve seen a better front person.
Before their Norwich gig Shawna kindly took time out to discuss music, feminism and, well, pretty much everything really!.

Q: Could you give us an overview of War on Women? Had you been in bands before? How did you get together, had you collaborated previously?
Shawna: Brooks Harlan and I had been in a band before this one, we are based in Baltimore and I moved to Baltimore from Nashville to join a band that Brooks was in. You know I needed a change, I grew up playing music and touring, being in bands but I hadn’t done a lot of different stuff so I thought I’d take a risk and move to the East Coast and join his band. We’ve been writing music together for a long time and at some point that old band, which was called Avec, kinda fizzled out. We knew we wanted to do something heavier and we wanted to talk about the political climate, which it seemed like no one was at the time. We had the midterm elections of 2010 coming up and we were thinking about songs and I was getting pissed (off) and I didn’t know why no one was talking about it. And that might even be ignorance on my part I’m sure there were plenty of people talking about it, but there wasn’t enough of a connection quite yet. So Brooks and I have been writing and playing music together for a while, we have a really good solid connection and working relationship.
Q: So out of Avec came War on Women?
S: In a way yeah but I think we felt it was more like a fresh start. No one else in the band was in Avec, we started talking to people asking ‘Hey do you want to join this band, by the way we are incredibly outwardly feminist, are you OK with that? Do you want to play this kind of music?’
Q: So when you went again with War on Women you had decided you wanted to make women’s invisible experiences visible, that you wanted to confront people with the uncomfortable truths about women’s experiences in society?
S: Yeah it was very thoughtful, I’ve never done that in any other band before. It was very intentional that this is what the band is, this is what we’re doing, and that gives me these interesting parameters to what I write about. Can I talk about XYZ subjects from a feminist perspective? Or can I educate anyone on how this is a feminist issue when maybe it doesn’t seem like it is on the surface? It’s neat from a writing standpoint because I think when people give themselves some sort of parameters or restrictions you can actually really flourish. I’m obviously very passionate about women’s equality and women’s rights and I do my best to continue to educate myself on LGBTQ rights and rights for people of colour. There seems to be an endless amount of things to write about, that’s for sure!
Q: I read that the phrase ‘war on women’ was first coined by feminist author Andrea Dworkin and has become shorthand for Republican policies that disadvantage women (2). How did you come to choose that as a name? Has it led to any confusion?
S: We’ve definitely got some looks in the airport for carrying our guitars with ‘War on Women’ on the side, I remember a woman in the airport looking at the guitar case and then looking at Brooks and saying ‘What does that mean?’ like you had better explain yourself! Which he did and then she was like ‘I don’t like that’. So I don’t know if she just didn’t like it from a man or if she was anti feminist herself, you never know. The term ‘war on women’ was coined a while back but it’s only really avalanched the last few years, at the time we were writing these songs and wondering what to call ourselves it was gaining popularity among feminists. So I’m reading articles on Jezebel and stuff on these subjects and using ‘war on women’ as shorthand. It just seemed it perfectly summed up what’s going on, and it’s aggressive and fits with the musical style. I didnt want it to be vague just like I don’t want to write lyrics for this band that are vague. I used to write more poetically about whatever...relationships.
Q; This band is set up to deliver a message...
S:  Yes, and hopefully we do it in an interesting way, because when things are too obvious and simple it’s a bit much. The name seemed to fit with the style of music and we wanted people to think what does that mean, what is this? I’m OK with the fact that people have to check in with the name and make sure that we’re against the war on women and not for it, but I also think that people’s confusion comes from the fact that sometimes all male bands decide to have fucked up names like Whores or Black Pussy or things like that. I don’t know if they’re are doing it to be funny or ironic but they are discounting people’s lives, they’re clueless and they think it’s OK. So of course someone is going to doubt War on Women and assume it’s just a bunch of dudes that are actually sexist. I get that and so hopefully we can do away with that idea!
Q: Talking of Republicans and Republican policies, what does Donald Trump V Hillary Clinton look like from an American feminist perspective?
S: Like total ...garbage!  I am extremely third party, I vote third party, I vote Green Party which is a political  party that basically believes all the magical things that all the Bernie Sander supporters believe but have spoken up about them for decades, they have been saying all these great progressive things forever but because no one is giving them any money the general public doesn’t know or care about it. Money is only being thrown at the Republicans and Democrats so those are the messages that are coming through. It’s really complicated though because when you really look at it Hillary Clinton is super centre and maybe even right of centre so Trump is like off the Richter scale! Just batshit crazy! A meglomaniac who probably just wants to get another TV show out of it, I really doubt his intentions, I really think it’s just advertisment for him. I don’t think he cares why he’s famous, he just wants to be famous. I think no matter what happens he will be satisfied, but I think this situation has gotten away from him and he’s starting to realise he could have real power, and any real power in his hands would be extremely dangerous. I understand that most Americans feel like we just have a really bad choice. Most people that are reasonable want to vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s not Trump but that’s not a real choice. Also because of the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court in America that basically says that corporations are people they can donate unlimited funds to political campaigns under Free Speech, all the money is going to Republicans and Democrats and no one else, so no one is going to hear Jill Stein from The Green Party talk about all these “Bernie Sander’s” ideas. I’m lucky enough to live in a Blue state which means I know it will go Democrat no matter what so I can vote with my conscience basically, which is absolutely Green Party. Not everyone in the band agrees, we all have different views because it’s just so complicated and we don’t have any reasonable choices. But Hillary Clinton is obviously more technically qualified to be a world leader. As a feminist I’m like ‘Damn, I wish the first woman President had politics closer to my own’ but I wonder if she is elected whether I might tear up-it’s such a beautiful thing to see yourself represented.
Because we are so limited in our choices for electing women and we just don’t have enough women and people of colour being represented then we’re forced to feel torn between our personal politics and just seeing ourselves up there. Again not a fair choice, if we had a more diverse Senate, House, President and Supreme Court that actually looked like America looks like I think we could all vote with someone who aligns with our views instead of just being excited that there is a woman or a black candidate.
Q: Yanis Varoufakis recently referenced Picasso’s comment that art is not meant to be decorative but should be an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy (4). Is that what you would hope for with your music, that it would disrupt, challenge, wake people up? Music as weapon or entertainment?
S: I look at the music itself as more of a weapon and I look at our live shows as entertainment. I appreciate both and I think there is room for that. What I hope is that if our music is considered a weapon then it’s considered a weapon by traditionally marginalised people, it’s something they can wield against whoever oppresses them or makes them doubt they’re a human being deserving of rights. I would rather it be empowering for women and Queers and people of colour than to be a weapon in the hands of anyone else. A weapon of self defence, if you will. Whereas I look at our live shows as, our lives can be really tough let’s have some fucking fun, we deserve it!
Q: I just finished reading ‘The Equality Illusion’ by Kat Banyard (3) it makes being a woman in a sexist patriarchal culture sound tough; inequality, objectification, sexualisation, harassment- issues you confront in your music, for instance in ‘Broken Record’ (1). You’re particularly involved in ‘Hollaback Baltimore’, could you talk a little bit about that?
S: Yeah, absolutely. I actually founded the Baltimore Chapter but there are Chapters all over the world on almost every continent, many different languages, many different countries. It’s based out of New York but local people in their own towns can start their own Chapter, where they can organise and educate people around the issue of street harassment. It shows that street harassment and sexual harassment in general are not peculiar to one area or to one type of person or one language, it’s a worldwide problem. In general women are second class citizens and LGBTQ folks even worse. It is everywhere and the people that live in their own communities know best how to tackle it. I like that there is no white saviour coming in to tell everyone what to do. The people who actually live there are working on the issue, which I think is really beautiful. I founded the Chapter around the same time that I started War on Women with Brooks. I was just feeling really inspired to do something in my late twenties, when I was realising that the world is bigger than me and that I need to do something about it! So I ran that for four years and I recently handed it off to someone else to run the day to day but I’m still involved in a general shaping of where they go and running training sessions. I train venues which could be a bar, a music venue, a store, a coffee shop, whatever, in how to become safer spaces, directly telling them how to deal with street harassment when it happens on site, patron to patron. When a customer comes in and has just experienced street harassment, how to help them through the moment, basically acknowledging that street harassment happens and that our response should be victim centered. At least half of their clients deal with street harassment all the time so how do you help promote the wellbeing of your customers and let them know they can come into your place anytime and feel OK and really in the end feel OK enough to keep spending money in your place, that they know they can complain to you. Everyone that I train gets the same information and the more trainings I do the bigger the network of people in Baltimore that know these simple steps to create safer spaces.
Q: Talking of harassment and objectification do you think that is a problem to the same extent in the punk scene as the mainstream? Or is it an easier, safer place to be a woman?
S: I think sexism and harassment are absolutely everywhere, I think there is a little bit more of an idea that if you’re going to a punk, hardcore gig or space, where you’re surrounded by people who look like you that it should be safer. In a way walking down this street in public I expect street harassment more than when I’m in The Owl Sanctuary and I drop my guard a little bit more walking into that space, ‘cos I’m home and I’m hopeful and it’s tiring to carry around that expectation of ‘attack’ and you want to let it go some time.So walking into this space I’m going to let that go, I’m going to relax, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen and when it does its profoundly disappointing but I’ve found some hope in that as the lead singer of a feminist band I can stand up for myself in those situations. So I live up to my own standard of how powerful I think I should be, especially if it’s our show and we’re playing I don’t let anything slide and that’s a really great feeling. Honestly the more shows we play the easier it is for me to feel that empowered on the street- I deserve to take up space, I deserve respect, I deserve dignity, I don’t deserve to have you talk to me that way!
Q: Contrasting 70s feminism which was quite essentialist with third wave feminism which was more social constructionist- where do you stand on the gender thing? Gender as a social construct?
S: I long for a world of gender anarchy, I think that’s really beautiful. I don’t think any specific trait is a straight line to sexual organs or gender identity even. But people’s lived reality is that you have to be categorized in a way in order to be counted, in order to make sense to the people around you. We humans we love to categorize things. It’s a really personal thing and people should identify however they feel and I respect each and every individual’s right to do that, and applaud it, because I know we’re not in a world yet where we can let all of that go.
Q: Claudia Mesch wrote in ‘Art and Politics’ that mainstream culture is market and media driven (5) do you think the punk community with its ethos of DIY art and grassroots participation  can be a site of resistance to passive capitalist consumption. Can the punk scene be something that encourages activism?
S: I certainly hope so! We are so limited by capitalism these days, we’re trapped because you have to have money to survive because I don’t live in a country that provides any resources to people that don’t already have some money. There are people who have Food Stamps so they get some free food  but we have way too many homeless people on the streets, there are way too many drug addicts who can’t access methadone or rehab, we just shoo them aside. Any kind of survival in America right now is based on having money. So you think ‘Can I lead a very simple life and just pay my bills and make art?’ And I definitely think that’s possible because that’s what I’m doing! We go on tour and play these songs because we love it, I can’t be home to do Hollaback every day-so to me doing this band has become my form of activism, hopefully changing some minds and validating others and empowering people. That’s hard to talk about without sounding like you are full of yourself but I do hope that.
Q: Capitalism tries to create a sense of insecurity and anxiety about appearance, in women particularly, encouraging them to construct a sense of self based on visually pleasing society (3). Do you think exploring your creativity and having a sense of community can help in resisting those pressures?   
S: Yes, I do. When you show up at a punk club and you see all different body shapes and sizes and funky hair and makeup, just kind of experimenting, playing around with their appearance I think there is something innocent and fun about that actually. Capitalism makes money off people who are unhappy, it wants you to be unhappy and then wants to sell you the only solution to your unhappiness, and maybe there are 70000 versions of the solution, maybe try them all! It’s all bullshit and we all get duped by it from time to time and we all perpetuate it. So walking into a punk space and seeing people engaged in even the slightest bit of rejection, to see people play around, to see them happy is ‘Oh, I can do that too!' But it’s not about individuals, it’s about systems that keep people down so any woman who does really care about her appearance, you can’t know if it’s a really genuine choice and she just really fucking loves makeup or whether she feels like she has to in order to feel like a person who has worth, even if I ask her and she tells me an answer I can’t know for sure because I can’t read her mind and to badly quote Gloria Steinem ‘I can’t blame anyone for playing the only game they know’ I blame the people who made the game and keep it running.
Q: The Women’s Lib movement of the 60s and 70s had an anti-capitalist thread within it- how do you think that got lost so that now feminism is framed within the parameters of the capitalist system?
S: Like any movement once it gains a little bit of traction someone in the capitalist system tries to co opt it, they try to figure out how can they make money off this? That’s absolutely true of feminism, I just read ‘We Were Feminists Once’ by Andi Zeisler which basically traces feminism’s origins and how it got co opted and how now it’s like a consumer product and what we need to do to re-steer the ship and get back to the roots of what the whole fucking point is; general equality. To actually create an egalitarian society is hard work and choosing which eyeliner to buy is not!
Q: A lot of versions of masculinity seem to include dominance over women (3), which I think you refer to in ‘Meathead’ (1), also the mainstreaming of violent pornography, pole dancing clubs etc seems to have led to a deterioration in men’s attitudes towards women, sex and equality (3). How can men be rescued from such a shit model of personhood? How have the men you know who have got their act together done it?
S: They listen to women!  It can sometimes be that simple! To actually listen to and believe the women in your life! And if they’re are not saying anything about it to ask them. I have a partner who grew up with a sister and a mother so you think he’s totally set up to be a righteous feminist  but he’s become one because he listens to me. He has ideas and thoughts and cares about equality but he would misstep sometimes or not understand something because he couldn’t, because he can’t live life like a woman because he’s not one. So he had to sometimes just stop and listen to me  and see what it’s really like and listen to my perspective and actively incorporate that into his perspective. I think that a really big issue is the lack of empathy men have for women, men don’t see women as being as human as they are.
Q: Who is your song ‘Diana La Cazadora’ (1) about?
S: Diana La Cazadora is Diana the Hunter, she is a mythical person but there is an amazing statue of her in Mexico City. Not many people know about this but in Juarez, Mexico for decades now there have been mass disappearances of Mexican women. Either never found or found in a mass grave. The political system there is very corrupt and it can be a scary place for your average hard working person. The cops do nothing if anything they perpetuate it and so I read a story about a woman who wrote into a  local newspaper calling herself Diana the Hunter and claiming credit for the murder of a male bus driver saying  ‘The bus drivers are in on it, the cops are in on it. The bus driver knows, he’s the one taking them back and forth and so he’s complicit in some way. Even if it isn’t the specific bus driver who died’. She was saying this is really fucked up  and you can’t keep doing this to the women of Juarez without expecting retaliation. I thought that was a really powerful story of revenge in an environment where there is no justice. So that song is about the woman who wrote the letter claiming to be Diana the Hunter claiming to have killed this bus driver, I still don’t know if they know if she did or not.  But I definitely know that still women are dying and disappearing in Juarez today. People should look that story up and see if there are ways they can get involved.     
Q: OK, last question! Who are currently listening to and reading?
S: I’m currently reading a book about the basics of electronics as a refresher, I work in an amp and guitar repair shop, I’m a technician there and the manager, I actually run it with Brooks our guitar player. He designs and builds the amps that we use at home- we had to rent stuff to play over here. I have more practical knowledge and experience of ‘Here is a thing in front of me. How do I fix this thing? OK now I know how to fix that thing’. I don’t have as much theoretical knowledge about electronics so it’s just trying to build up my knowledge so I know more about the ‘Why’ behind everything.
Q: ... and what bands have you been enjoying lately?
S:  Well, we are playing with Clowns (Australian punk band) tonight and a few days ago we happened to play in Vienna together, that was really fun, I actually like them. And Beyonce, I’ve been mostly revisiting the self titled album, watching the videos on my I-Pod! And I’ve also been revisiting a lot of my early Sonic Youth records because I’ve just finished Kim Gordon’s book and she was talking about specific songs and I was going ‘I got to listen to the song’ while I was reading about it!

Big thanks to War on Women for music, ideas and time and big thanks to Karolina for organising the interview.

  2. Banyard, K. (2010) The Equality Illusion, Faber and Faber, London.
  3. Varoufakis, Y. ‘Artists should be feared by the powerful’ – Keynote closing the 6th Moscow Biennale, 1st October 2015
  4. Mesch, C. (2014) 'Art and Politics; a small history of art for social change since 1945', I. B. Tauris, London & New York.