Category Archives: Interviews

Because We Want Control: An Interview with Melanie Finn

The Gloaming centers on an accident – a woman, Pilgrim, swerves her car to avoid hitting a dog that has run into the street and instead strikes and kills three children waiting for the bus. Recently divorced, her life out of her hands and feeling the weight of whispers all around her, Pilgrim runs away to Africa, only to find the accident haunting her even there.

It’s intense, raw, a story less about moving on with ones’ life than learning how to live aware of life’s messy, connective tissues. And of course, it’s a testament to the striking writing of its author, Melanie Finn. I got the chance to ask Finn a few questions, about the story, her connection to Africa, and how a person should deal with the weight of their own actions:

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A Mix of a Sassy Teenager and a Crotchety Old Lady: An Interview with Hadley Freeman

One of the most enjoyable, personal, and feminist books I’ve read this summer had to be Hadley Freeman’s 80s film exploration Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them From Movies Any More). Not only is this a book that examines in detail some of the greatest films of (dare I say?) all-time such as The Princess Bride, Coming to America, Pretty in Pink, and Ghostbusters; the real draw of the collection is Freeman herself. Reading this book is like having a way cooler older sister watching the film right alongside you, pointing out the lessons you would have overlooked while simply laughing at the classic John Hughes wit. It’s hard to finish the book without feeling like Freeman is that cool upperclassmen in school that for some inexplicable reason, has taken you under her wing as friend, and a girl like me couldn’t waste the chance to extend that feeling into an interview. Read on to see some of the questions I couldn’t help but ask her about the book, feminists in film, and of course, Ghostbusters:

Kati Heng: As I read the book, I kept thinking that the subtitle very easily could have been “What 80s Movies Taught Us About Feminism and Why We Don’t Learn That Stuff from Movies Anymore,” or something catchier. Did you ever consider releasing this book in a more upfront feminist version?
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Talking with Cheena Marie Lo About A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters

A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters (Commune Editions, 2016) by Cheena Marie Lo is a book of poetry that challenges what “poetry” can be. This text “[attends] to the sorts of mutual aid and possibility that appear in moments of state failure. As such it maps long and complicated equations, moving from Katrina to the prisoners at Riker’s Island as they await Sandy. It understands disaster as a collective system, the state as precarious, and community as necessary” (Commune Editions, 2016). While Lo’s original preoccupation concerned headlines of the past, in light of recent events in Orlando, I feel like this text, unfortunately, continues to be relevant today.

so what about the instinct to survive.

so what about birds and burying beetles.

so what about support and what about struggle.

so what about ants and bees and termites.

so what about the field upon which tender feelings develop
even amidst otherwise most cruel animals.

so what about migration. breeding. autumn.

so what about the numberless lakes of the russian and siberian steppes
and what about aquatic birds, all living in perfect peace—

Geraldine KimMany sections in A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters begin with some sort of carrier word or phrase that is repeated throughout that same section (e.g., “Because Another Tropical Storm is Looming,” with the word “because” or “Poor Marks for His Handling of Federal Response” with the word “poor”). Can you talk a bit about the function of this repetition in regards to the overall project/subject matter?

Cheena Marie Lo: Repetition is something that I use a lot in my writing because it reflects my thought process when I’m trying to figure something out. I have a tendency to relentlessly circle around things in my head. Some of these “carrier” words or phrases were part of the procedures I used when writing this– I lifted instances of “because” or “poor” or other “carriers” in the texts that I was working with. Reducing the materials to these words and phrases that surrounded them illuminated patterns and narratives in the source material. My intention with the repetition was to build and expand these narratives out.

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Trying to Express Something but Can’t: An Interview with Chelsea Martin

Chelsea-Martin-by-Catlin-Snodgrass

Mickey, the new novella from Chelsea Martin, starts as the story of a breakup gone wrong. The unnamed narrator dumps Mickey almost as soon as the story starts before asking him back, asking him for favors, pushing him away and pulling him in every confusing direction. It’s a tale of an accidental dominatrix, until, that is, the third major character of the novel, the unnamed girl’s mother, is introduced. The novel opens up, explains the narrator as a human rather than some dumb, flawed millennial as we see every one of the girl’s actions reflected back onto her from her own mother.

It’s a fascinatingly quick, yet intense tale of flawed relationships and the cycles they create. I couldn’t help but ask Martin to tell me more:

Kati Heng: Is the narrator of Mickey in any way based on, or like you?

Chelsea Martin: She’s a character. She’s not me. Her experiences are different than mine and her relationships are different and her personality is different. But I do see the book as a self-portrait in some ways. I was working through some personal stuff while writing it. That stuff just didn’t get expressed literally in the book.

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Crazy Excited About Being in the Car: Talking with May Black and Juli Sherry of Mutt

Mutt is a scrappy animal. Look closely and you can see traces of punk, riot grrrl, grunge and more, but no other dog can bark like this. Formed in 2015, Mutt is an Oakland-based trio, currently featuring singer and guitarist May Black, drummer Chris Maneri, and bassist Juli Sherry. Mutt’s first album, Creature, just came out in March. May and Juli recently answered a few of my questions from the road during a northwest record release tour.

Mutt

Elka Weber: What are your influences?

May Black: We are constantly introducing each other to new music. I grew up listening to a lot of country music, soft rock, and Broadway musical soundtracks gleefully provided to me by my folks but I also had a brother and sister a decade older… I did not start realizing I wanted to actually be a musician until I heard Cat Power’s album Myra Lee. After that the doors were blown open. I think whenever I approach a song I am still trying to capture that sort of edgy vulnerability.

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Defining a Clit Lit Tradition: A Conversation with Elizabeth Hall

Elizabeth Hall

Elizabeth Hall (Via)

We need to start saying “clitoris” more. As Peggy Orenstein’s research in her new book Girls and Sex illustrates, we don’t focus enough in American society on female pleasure. We talk about consent, but not what comes after consent: patience, creativity, communication, orgasms, reciprocity, etc. Cis male pleasure is still prioritized. (Ann Friedman points out, in The Cut, that this isn’t just a young girl problem—it affects women of all ages.) Elizabeth Hall’s nonfiction book, I Have Devoted My Life To The Clitoris, just out from Tarpaulin Sky Press, is an unflinching contribution toward normalizing female pleasure and educating others on the full complexity of the clitoris. I wish I had read this book so much earlier in my life; it’s one of those ideas that seems so simple (a book about the clitoris!) that it’s unbelievable how long it has taken to be born into existence.

Elizabeth Hall uses bullet points to string together bits of information: historical facts, scientific research, female and male literary excerpts on the clit, and occasional first-person anecdotes. This is a slim book, easy to read in one day, though clearly the type of book you return to constantly or lend out to friends. Hall’s writing is smart, engaging, personal, political, and willing to take risks. Hall doesn’t hold back. I Have Devoted My Life To The Clitoris will give you courage and make you proud to have this complex, tiny nubbin of history, politics, and pleasure between your legs.  Continue reading

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They Don’t Really Hate You: An Interview with Anna Drezen and Todd Dakotah Briscoe

Todd Dakotah Briscoe and Anna Drezen both studied theater in college before becoming involved in comedy at UCB. The two now perform sketch and standup comedy regularly around New York City and beyond. Over two and a half years ago, they launched a hilarious website called, How May We Hate You? which was released as a book this week. I recently had a chance to ask the two writers a few questions about the origin of their book debut, their collaborative writing process, class structures in the United States, why not everyone should be a blogger, and other lighthearted matters.

Cathy de la Cruz: When did the two of you know you had to start your website, How May We Hate You?

Todd Dakotah Briscoe: Anna and I started posting guest interactions on our personal pages a year or two before the Tumblr itself launched. The interactions we had with guests were just too bizarre and hilarious to keep to ourselves. These interactions were far more popular than anything else we posted. We could have launched our own separate blogs, but one random summer day, Anna and I decided to meet for a drink at some terrible bar near Union Square to discuss combining forces. I’m so glad we did, because it’s great having twice the stories and another person to help do all of the work. Continue reading

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Talking with BOYTOY’s Saara Untracht Oakner & Glenn Van Dyke

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Saara and Glenn from BOYTOY gassing up. Photo by Will Warasila


BOYTOY‘s music makes me feel like summertime. Like smoking weed by a river. They’ve been described as alt-pop-shoegaze, but they definitely have garage and punk elements, a skateboarding-barefoot-to-the-beach vibe. Here, I talked with Saara Untracht Oakner (vocals and guitar) and Glenn Van Dyke (guitar and vocals) of the Brooklyn-based band about haters in middle school, their songwriting process, the surfing influence, thoughts on feminism, and more. 

Matt L Roar: Can you tell me a little bit about what the band has been up to? Are you living in California now? Do you have any new stuff coming out?

Saara Untracht Oakner: Glenn and I went out to LA for the winter to play some shows and write and demo for a new record. We were working with Lena from La Luz in her little loft/studio space and she was playing bass with us for some shows.

MLR: Do you guys all surf or is it just you? Do you think shredding waves influences your approach to shredding music?

SUO: Glenn and I both surf. She grew up surfing in Jacksonville, FL and I grew up surfing Lido and Long Beach on Long Island, NY. We also say the ultimate day is surfing and then playing a show. Tacos in between the two don’t hurt either.

Glenn Van Dyke: I think surfing provides a certain amount of mellow and excitement that might carry over to some other parts of our lives.

MLR: Can you describe some of your influences? Describe your sound for people who don’t know you…

SUO: We listen to a lot of everything, from 60s garage pop nuggets to Lou Reed, Rolling Stones, CCR, Sabbath, the Kinks, to Jesus And Mary Chain, Nirvana, Brian Jonestown Massacre, My Bloody Valentine. Glenn and I have always been into punk growing up skateboarding like the Ramones and Operation Ivy, Rancid and the misfits. I love reggae music and soul but I’m not really trying to make reggae music. Desmond Dekker, Althea and Donna, Alton Ellis. I could go on forever.

FL_SHOW

GVD: Same — including but not limited to Kylie Minogue, Biggie Smalls, Eminem, The Spice Girls — okay I have to stop….

MLR: I was watching one of your videos where you guys talked about coming together to practice for one day and then cranking out five songs on a recording the next. Can you talk about the process for writing BOYTOY songs and if that’s changed or what the ideas behind this approach is?

SUO: Glenn and I usually write the skeleton structure of songs on our own and bring them to each other and flush them out. Other songs start as a jam between the two of us.  We’re writing these new ones we are demoing now kind of as we go building on the recordings which is fun. Usually we write them and play them live and practice them until they’re ready to record. It’s been fun going in with just the skeleton and layering them in recordings, not sure where they’re going to end up.

GVD: We definitely write songs quickly, I think we’re both pretty good at not overthinking or falling into the abyss where a song never gets done. We know when it’s there and then we move on to the next.

MLR: Can you talk a little bit about how you came to the band name?

SUO: I’m always brainstorming band names. I came up with the name BOYTOY before the band even existed. My old band had just broken up and I knew I wanted to start a new project. Glenn’s band (our bands used to tour together) was also just breaking up. I checked Google and bandcamp and MySpace and Facebook and all the other outlets and couldn’t find another BOYTOY or at least an active one. So I secured the gmail, bandcamp, and handles before the band even existed.

MLR: Who are some of your favorite female musicians?

SUO: We just saw Thelma and The Sleaze for the first time at SXSW. They’re a 3 piece from Nashville and they fucking SHRED. They’re all super rad people too. Screaming Females has a front woman. She rips on guitar too. I’ve always loved all the strong women in the late 90s rap game: Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, Eve, Lil Kim.

GVD: THE SPICE GIRLS, Heart, Joan Jett.

MLR: When I approached you to do this interview, you mentioned that you don’t identify as a “girl band” or feminist musicians. Can you talk a little bit about that?

SUO: Just because we are women who play music doesn’t make us feminists, or a girl band. We’re a rock and roll band. You wouldn’t call a band of men a “boy band.” Yeah, I believe women should and can do everything men can do, but I don’t believe in separating the two or excluding one group from the other. Both Dylan and Matt (our drummers on the last two records) are guys. How does that make us a girl band? We’re not trying to make any statements by playing. It’s just what we do.

GVD: I’m definitely a feminist but I didn’t learn how to play instruments to stick it to the world because I’m a woman. It’s important to recognize that all over the world women are still not treated equally whether it’s a question of salary or respect or any other ungodly means of discrimination that exists due to physical disparity between the genders. I think it’s important to understand that you can achieve whatever you want to regardless of the parts you were born with. it’s fantastic to continue to see strong women emerge culturally and I think it’s important to keep showing girls AND boys of the next generation that it shouldn’t matter how you look on any level, that person sitting next you is your fellow human and you should respect that. I don’t think either of us want to have to talk about what it’s like to be a woman and actively pursuing goals all the time, I’d rather talk about what kind of gear I like.
MLR: Ooh! What kind of gear do you like?
 
GVD: Haha! So broad! We could be here forever. Right now my new favorite toy is a fuzz pedal my friend David Harrington built, he sent it to me for Christmas. It’s called The Bloody Finger. It’s has two controls — volume and tone — and works great for filling out some low end and adding texture. As we speak I’m having a guitar built by Johnny Rushmore so I’m really psyched on that too!
MLR: Any words of inspiration for the young musical shredders of the future?

SUO: Play all the time. If you want something go after it and don’t accept defeat. Because you will face rejection. In middle school these boys were starting a punk band. I asked if I could be in it and they said they didn’t want a girl cause it would mess up their image. I told them I was gonna get so good that it wouldn’t matter I was a girl and everyone would want me in their band anyway. I can say for certain none of them are playing music at this point.

GVD: Don’t be afraid to mess up! Learning music is a process that never ends and sometimes the best riffs come out of a fuck up or an accident. You’re gonna mess up, maybe even at a show but it’s just going to make you better.

***

To learn more about BOYTOY, check out the official music video for “Blazed,” and if you can’t get enough, check out the 11 tracks on Grackle on Soundcloud.

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The Guy Was a Walking Metaphor: An Interview with Susan Perabo

Author Susan Perabo

There’s a story in Pushcart Prize winner Susan Perabo’s new collection of short stories, Why They Run the Way They Do, where an awkward stuffed-animal armadillo creates a metaphor for a struggling marriage. How is that even possible, you wonder? I have no answers. Perabo’s magic lies in her ability to pull beauty, insight, and depth out of the most mundane experiences. Read on to learn more about Perabo and some of the stories included in her collection. 

Kati Heng: The first quote I fell in love in this book with comes quickly — “My father thought the Hanleys were lunatics, but…he believed it was important for me to be exposed to lunatics — provided they were harmless — in order to be a well-rounded adult.” Did your parents share this same theory? Who were some of the “lunatics” you were exposed to while growing up?

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Not Hiding Behind Her Skirt: An Interview with Aurora Lady

I first encountered the work of Aurora Lady, an LA-based artist, illustrator and writer, when I read her zine Don’t Hide Behind Your Skirt, a powerful, personal work on her close bond with her mother and her story of surviving family violence. In the zine she shares how she came into her own power through art, music, feminism and forging intense bonds of friendship. After I read it I had to know her better. Who was this brave and creative woman? We met up for the first time the day before the LA Zine Fest in 2014 at a copy shop in Pasadena and spent our morning frantically gluesticking together flats and folding our copies before the fest. In Aurora I found the tradition of intense relationships and understanding I forged in the late 1990s with other girl zinesters continued. Perched on stools in the quiet copy shop, I felt we were in a secret girl gang, preparing our manifestos to let them loose on the world.

The next time I caught up with Aurora she was bedazzling a pink boombox to use in a photoshoot in preparation for the launch of her t-shirt line which features her illustrated, bold, sassy and very serious feminist messages. Aurora doesn’t just create beautiful t-shirts, she creates worlds filled with diverse, glamorous girl gangs and gauzy, glitter filled sleepovers. In her world these are places where blanket forts are built, secrets are spilled between best girlfriends, sisterhood is strengthened, and revolutionary dreams are put into motion. Her lookbooks and styling are impeccable.

Her attention to detail, emotion and subtlety, as well as her embrace of all the DIY, witchy, punk weirdness that is Los Angeles, all contributes to the power and pleasure of Aurora’s art. Through her work Aurora understands how the exhilarating, strange, and too often dark world of girlhood can become a powerful source for connection, love, creativity and feminist solidarity. I caught up with her over email in order to know more about the process and inspirations that drive her feminist world making.

Eleanor Whitney: Your work has a very specific aesthetic – tell me about your influences and inspiration. How did you form this vision of a tough, beautiful, feminist dream world that is so present in your work?

Aurora Lady: I came of age in the 90’s, and I never really let that go. Courtney Love was a huge gateway for me— she lead the way to a million other influences. Her story, her music, and her look were a prime example of how a vision can completely crystallize and work on a million different levels. I can recognize that now in different ways and apply it to my own work. Courtney’s look  was so overt that I was able to wrap my junior high mind around it and really sink into it. I’m still low-key obsessed with her. I check in every few years to see who she’s working with, who she’s referencing.

My other influences came through my experiences with my friends and my family. Most of my friends growing up were my pen pals. Because of this  idea of written communication in letters and zines and mix tapes as “feeling interpretations” really resonates with me still. I still feel like music is this grand gift we can give to ourselves or our friends to help grow and heal. I had the benefit of being raised by my mother, who had a tough life but acted gently and thoughtfully while getting shit done. My family moved around a lot as I grew up, and I learned how to acknowledge and adapt and just soak things in. Mostly, I just aim to be honest about what I’m feeling and what’s guiding me. If something makes me uncomfortable or is painful, then I know I need to work deeper in that direction.

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