“I make music because the state of the world can feel so dismal,” says Louisa Solomon, singer, songwriter and bass player for the Brooklyn-based, feminist rock band The Shondes. For the past decade her band has been fusing politics into emotional, soaring rock songs. With their recently released fifth album Brighton (Exotic Fever Records), they have created their most successful melding of heart, soul, politics and rock riffs that also lays Solomon’s inner life out for listeners. “The act of creating is a coping mechanism, a survival tool, and I think some of what is most inspiring in political art is not the lyrics, or explicit content, or even the ‘topic,’ but the exposure of process,” she further explains. “We try to in some way be very up front in our music about how it affects us to create it, and how we hope it similarly affects listeners toward survival, toward hard work, toward hope, toward sustainable change.”
Category Archives: Music + Playlists
“Tell you my name/ F U and CK/ 50 foot queenie/ Force ten hurricane!!”
I first heard Polly Jean Harvey belt those words–from her fuzz-soaked mantra “50 Ft Queenie” off her second album “Rid of Me”– live in 1993, at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. I was 14 then, a combat boots wearing Hollywood teen with anger over the death of my mom, who died when I was a kid, just brimming on the surface, ready to explode.
PJ Harvey embodied that anger. She harnessed it. She made it acceptable, accepted, real and true. Words steeped in sexuality, revenge, art and the blues surged through her. She was wiry, stylish and beautifully British. She was the main headlining act, the star, only a year after her 1992 debut “Dry” hit all of us with an onslaught of grinding, raw Telecaster rock ‘n’ roll and songs referencing the bible, desire and rejection, and filled with gut-clenching moans. Distinctly female moans. Radiohead opened for HER, not the other way around.
Because misogyny is everywhere in our culture, internalized misogyny is also, unfortunately, everywhere. You know how it goes—maybe you find yourself hating on your body, or judging other women’s sexuality, or doubting your own awesomeness at work. Goddess forbid, you may have even uttered the phrase “I don’t like other girls.” Even the most hardcore of feminists are influenced by the white supremacist patriarchy’s messages about girls and women. And so are the most successful of female pop stars. Why are there *so* many songs about how stupid / deceptive / sneaky / crazy / unimpressive girls are… that are sung by women? Are these songs self-implicating appraisals of our culture’s sexist standards? Or just plain-old sexist themselves? Or simply honest expressions of women’s emotions… which are therefore inherently kinda sorta feminist? In the spirit of unpacking our internalized sexism knapsacks or Louis Vuitton bags, I rounded up eleven well-known female-fronted songs that hate on women—here they are, in no particular order:
1) “Stupid Girl” – Garbage
Not to be confused with “Stupid Girl” by The Rolling Stones, or “Stupid Girl” by Neil Young (hey, fuck you guys!), this song is one of several from the Songs by Women Called “Stupid Girl” canon. It features 90s chick singer icon Shirley Manson berating a “stupid girl” (herself? Someone else entirely?) for basically being a hot mess and a fake who wasted everything she had like the beautiful fool that she is. Is this song a self-aware look at one woman’s internal monologue amidst society’s messages about how “stupid” girls are? Or merely a condemnation of girls for being stupid wherein the speaker attempts to distance herself from a dumb, misguided girl who fucked up her whole life? Also, omg you guys, who hasn’t pretended they’re high and/or bored, just to be adored?!
2) “Stupid Girls” – Pink
This song presents the classic sexist binary of “stupid” girls who carry around tiny dogs and wear tinier t-shirts and go tanning (oh so 00s) and “not-stupid” girls who wear suits and run for president. It’s kind of weirdly an anthem of second wave feminist ethos. This song contains the cutting and very apropos to our current historical moment lines: “What happened to the dream of a girl president?/ She’s dancin’ in the video next to 50 Cent,” and “I’m so glad that I’ll never fit in/ That will never be me/ Outcasts and girls with ambition/ That’s what I wanna see.” This song is confusing, ‘cause Pink herself wears tight clothes and dances and parties—but for some reason (ahem. Internalized misogyny) chooses to reinforce a tired, sexist binary that girls who do these things can’t also be smart and ambitious.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By all accounts, I was a late bloomer. Someone whose idea of sensuality was shaped in layered ways by strong female musicians – Chrissie Hynde, Etta James, Janis Joplin, PJ Harvey, Patti Smith – from my childhood through adolescence, but not fully expressed in my own life until college.
Those were also the people I looked to when I performed, twisting my hips, growling and singing at clubs around Los Angeles starting in high school, and later, post college, as a sweaty, black eyeliner and neon polyester dress wearing dancer in the revival 1960s Mod scene in L.A. and New York.
Venue as bedroom. Audience as lover. Climax = song. Those singers still fill my spirit when I play now with my band, performing a mix of rock, Americana, blues and soul.
Prince – whose death just a week ago at age 57 continues to feel unreal – is the only man who similarly inspired me when it came to the expression of pure, musical, sexual freedom, a freedom both nuanced, open hearted and, yes, layered. The day he died, and days later, the floodgates of memory tore open for everyone I knew. Driving around L.A., I blared his music in my car, one of many doing the same.
The day Prince dies I find out this way: I’m supposed to do a radio interview in the morning and instead the interviewer texts, “Can’t do interview until I know what’s happened to Prince.” With a clutching stomach I write back, “What happened to Prince?” and she tells me and like everyone else I enter the social media vortex of first denial, then grief.
Later that day I sit in a café and try to write. I’ve written in this café for years but now it’s emptier than I’ve ever seen it. I check my Facebook feed hourly, it’s a glut of shock and sadness. No one can believe it; no one can bear to believe it. I wonder if the café’s empty because everyone has stayed home to mourn. The staff is somber too. They play “Raspberry Beret” and I hold it together. They play “Kiss” and I cry into my coffee even as I wonder why I am mourning someone I did not actually know.
Then I think, of course I did know him. Like everyone else, I met him in the space between him creating the music and us hearing that music. In that place some gorgeous alchemy happened, and in the specific way of the beloved artist he was known to us; he was loved by us.
I am seven years old and one of the kids in class starts singing “Bidi bidi bom bom” and I am ready to sing along because I love this song so much and I want to be Selena so bad. The kid continues singing and then ends the song with “Selena is a dumb dumb.” I turned so fast, gasped, and pointed my finger at the kid. “You cannot talk about her like that. Selena does not deserve your ugly words, pendejo.” I was ready to fight for my queen. I am still seven and it is time to take school photos, I specify to my cousin Omar, “I want my hair to look like Selena’s.” He curled my hair into tight swirls and then put it into a high ponytail and I never felt so beautiful in a school photo before. Anytime Selena’s videos played on TV, I was enchanted. Her energy was magnetic and I loved watching her perform. I am eight years old and I get home from school and turn on the TV. The news reporter is explaining that Selena was pronounced dead in the afternoon. I turned the TV off and stared up at the ceiling in silence for a long time, I didn’t cry, but my head felt light and I couldn’t think about anything else that day. I moved to Colorado that summer to live with my Tía Irma. For the sake of bonding, she used to drive me around in her red Toyota with the radio blasting. We danced and sang as loud as we could in the car. I remember we made it back to the apartment in the evening after a session of karaoke in the car together and Selena’s newest song, “Dreaming of You” vibrated through the speakers. We sat in silence and let Selena finish singing before we got out of the car. Today is the 21st anniversary of her passing and I still think of her often, as a light and as someone who was taken from earth too early (she was 23). Even with her tragic departure, she is still an icon. She radiates power and what it means to be a xingona (a badass).
Queen Crescent is a heavy rock band with psychedelic leanings from Oakland, California. They’re women of color, some of them are queer, and all of them shred. Queen Crescent has a sense of humor, an unapologetic prismatic identity, chops, knowledge, confidence and direction. The guitars are tuned low, and the flute floats over in what feels like a playful counterpunch or call-and-response. Vocals seem to traverse the land between. The ambiguity of the crescent moon itself might reflect conceptually in sonic, layered anthems, which are physically hypnotic to witness live—such music pulses through your body, even if you’re wearing earplugs. I can especially hear this in the band’s vocals, which keep to a low register, even when belting truth before some guitar hooks hit, crashing like waves.
I got the chance to corner Queen Crescent and ask them some questions about their sound, their future, and their recently released video for their new song, “Zodiacal Woman,” which is directed by Doug Avery, with director of photography Ethan Indorf.
Drummer for the hardcore band RHIZOME, Nicole Dunn and I went to the same high school in Concord, CA, a sprawling suburb only about 45 minutes from San Francisco but light years away in terms of issues of race, gender, and sexuality. Since then Nicole has played drums for several notable metal and hardcore bands including PROVOS and CLOAK, and has become an outspoken voice around trans and feminist issues. Here Nicole talks about what it’s been like making music in a feminist hardcore band, transitioning within a traditionally close-minded and conservative scene, and shifting gender values in the hardcore-punk and metal communities.
Matt L. Roar: Hi Nicole! I’m super excited to interview you. Can you start off by talking about your current musical endeavors and other recent projects? What have you been working on? What are you excited about?
Nicole Dunn: Hey Matt! I’m excited to do this interview with you because we go way back. Time flies. I’ve been trying to get some more musical projects going here and there but as of now, I’m drumming for Rhizome. Rhizome has become the punk band I’ve always wanted to be in. Female fronted, lyrics about the patriarchy within hardcore and fast and pissed off! We should be touring in the summer so I’m excited for that. I also started recently jamming with two awesome girls and this dude on vocals. The project is like heavy ‘77 style punk so I’ll keep you posted on that. I also was in a black metal band called Cloak but had to call it quits because I’ve really been trying to focus on this significant shift in my life and they wanted a lot out of me I couldn’t give them. I wanted to pursue other musical endeavors but at a pace that lets me focus on my gender transition as well. Cloak has moved on without me but I’m excited to see what their next release will sound like. I’ve also been doing a radio show for the past couple of years called Cult of Riffs where I play all heavy music. The show is on a internet based radio station called BFF.fm. I don’t think I have any listeners sometimes but it’s fun and keeps me busy, haha. Continue reading