Upon first meeting each other at a writing session and instantly clicking over their shared love of music, Kat Hamilton and Emily Huslander of the LA-based country rock duo Guyville immediately knew that they would be working together for a while. Taking their name from the iconic 1993 Liz Phair album Exile in Guyville, the duo formulated their very own unique blend of roots rock and country.
Now with a steady supply of songs in their arsenal, Guyville is ready to unleash their magic and take the world by storm. Their debut single, “Nothing,” a powerful condemnation of toxic relationships and ode to self-love, flaunts the group’s effortless knack for seamlessly blending the cutting razor-sharp wit of Liz Phair with the twangy sass of early Shania Twain.
I chatted with Huslander and Hamilton about their songwriting roots, their undeniable chemistry, and their forthcoming debut record.
You two have very palpable chemistry. What would you say it was that made the two of you click during your initial sessions?
Kat: Absolutely! We connected in this natural way almost immediately and the songs came just as easily. That’s really rare, especially in LA. When you find that kind of collaborative ease with someone, you hold on for dear life!
Emily: I think Kat and I just have incredibly similar taste in music and songwriters. We just “got it” and our sessions had a great creative flow between us. One of us would bring in a melodic or lyrical idea and the rest of the song just worked itself out seamlessly and easily, always resulting in a finished song.
What were the first songs each of you learned to play on an instrument?
Kat: I consider guitar my first instrument even though I was in piano lessons many years before. The first one I learned to play was “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd.
Emily: I was singing songs from “Les Miserables” as a three year old in the bathtub lol. I taught myself guitar at 13 with a Beatles songbook that had little pictures of the guitar chords in it, and I was so familiar with the songs because they were always playing in my household. My first violin song was probably “Ode to Joy” or something in the Suzuki book.
What are each of your top 3 Liz Phair songs?
Kat: “Why Can’t I,” “Fuck and Run,” and “Extraordinary.”
Emily: Oh man! Only 3?? “Go West” from Whip-Smart, “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Exile in Guyville, and “Only Son” from WhiteChocolateSpaceEgg. I got to meet her at a book signing/ concert for her Horror Stories memoir.
How did “Nothing” initially come together, and what were each of you listening to when you started composing the single?
Kat: The idea for the chorus and the concept kind of fell out of our brains. We wrote most of our record together over FaceTime and the rythymn of the chorus “Na Na NA NA NA NA Nothing” was the start.
Emily: I think in a session we were talking about how amazing it feels to be over an ex. Not just over, but truly indifferent. I started strumming out “I feel nothing” over an E chord and it just started to come out. We are super fans of Maren Morris and her first album ” Hero” is a big favorite of ours. I think we wanted “Nothing” to feel like an upbeat/rock-country tune off the bat.
How has working as a duo allowed each of you to develop as writers?
Kat: I’ve learned a lot from Emily. She has a knack for melodies and is a real perfectionist around the work. She’s always listening critically to make sure the melodies flow and nothing is awkward. I can be overly verbose and less attentive to the shape of a melody.
Emily: Kat challenges me in the best ways possible. She gently nudges me out of the proverbial “pop box” of “everything must rhyme, simplify etc.” and pushes me lyrically to tell a story no matter if it rhymes or not. She’s an amazingly talented songwriter and her lyrics have such an emotional gut punch to them. Co-writing is like dating. The chemistry is there or not, and with Guyville we just captured lightning in a bottle and I’m so grateful for our collaborations. These songs are some of the best I’ve ever written and I’m really excited to release them.
What are you most looking forward to with your introduction to the world as a band?
Kat: Playing shows! We got songs on songs.
Emily: I’m just really proud of our upcoming record. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone. 90’s inspired grunge rock, alt-country/roots rock, beautiful singer/songwriter balladry with acoustic elements, etc. it just runs the sonic gamut yet in a cohesive, focused way. Our voices blend together really well and we ‘re really in tune with each other as artists when we perform and in the studio. Our producer/engineer Mitchell Haeuszer was such a gift to work with and with the addition of Taylor Robinson on drums, we played every single instrument amongst Kat, Mitchell and myself. I can’t wait to play it live!
What are your favorite additions–old or new–that you’ve made to your record collections this year?
Kat: I’ve paused building my collection a bit, but my most recent was “Same Trailer, Different Park” by Kacey Musgraves!
Emily: Oh man, I listen to almost everything. I love the latest Sarah Jarosz album World On The Ground. There’s a wonderful Danish jazz duo named Bremer/McCoy whose album Utopia has been on loop. One of my favorite records of all time is Flutterby by Butterfly Boucher. I’m constantly adding music to my collection. Always getting inspired by other artists!
Taking her name from the children’s book, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter and a fell of mountains in the Lake District of England, dreampop singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Catbells invites her audience to immerse themselves in her wistful world of mature introspection and childlike wonder. This was on full display with her first single, “Fade (Rainy Day Demo),” which juxtaposed the melancholy fatigue of heartbreak against sullen detachment with velvety-smooth vocals and lush instrumental soundscapes.
On her newest single, “It’s Not Hard,” Catbells delves into the deepest recesses of human emotion to explore the pensive nature of escapism, comparing her life decisions to boarding a flight; once you’re on the plane, there’s no getting off of it.
I was fortunate enough to chat with Catbells about how the song came to fruition, utilizing her mysterious aura to keep the focus on her art, and finding solace in her childhood memories of New England.
What was the biggest thing that gravitated you to the dreampop/shoegaze space?
I have always loved music that makes you feel something, a feeling of nostalgia or something familiar that brings back memories. Dreampop and Shoegaze are both genres that put a listener into another world and really overtake the senses.
I’ve always loved when artists build a mystique around their persona and output, and I was wondering what made you decide to take a similar route as Catbells?
The mask and Catbells kind of found me, I can’t say I had great foresight or a plan into things. But the name Catbells really resonated with me when I first heard it as a name of a beautiful mountain in the Lake District of England. And then honestly I just felt that the cat mask would give me the artistic freedom I was longing for… I have always loved when an artist is an artist for arts sake, where the focus lies on the art they are making rather than focused on themselves as a person. I have loved too when artists and musicians transform into something that becomes art in itself, like Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, or the amazing magnetism and mystery of Orville Peck, or the creative cartoon genius of the Gorillaz. And it’s a lot of fun too!
When is the earliest you can recall having an inkling of wanting to pursue a career in music?
Music as a career was never my focus, music as a life choice is more the way it is, I am not sure I can say it is a career in the sense of a job, but more so a life path and just a part of who I am. And that probably was something that was there as a young child and just took time to develop.
How did “It’s Not Hard” first come to you and what was the creation process like from there?
Many songs come to me in the form of one phrase or lyric and then build from there. “It’s Not Hard” started with the verse and the memory of a strong urge I had once sitting on the runway with the plane moments from taking off… in that moment being trapped, unable to turn back, no longer able to get off, no longer having any control, not wanting to go where I was going, but also not wanting to go back to where I’d come from… and seeing the rain pouring down outside the window and wanting nothing more than to literally break out the window and go lie in the rain and be free from it all… But ultimately the plane started rolling and then it took off and that was that. And that is how the song came to be.
What is one record that never fails to alleviate frustration and angst for you?
I think Split by Lush is a record I could listen to over and over when I am feeling that way.
I read that your vocal stylings and sound were inspired by the likes of Hope Sandoval and Nico. Would you like to tell me a little more about what they mean to you, and any other musicians that you really look at as pioneers?
Hope Sandoval brings goosebumps when I hear her voice, she has such a calmness and sadness when she sings, and well. Nico brings a sullen yet matter of fact almost emotionless or numbness tone to her vocals that really makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear her voice. I also love, like I mentioned above, Lush and the harmonies between Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson. And lately I have been listening to lots of Portishead and just enamored with Beth Gibbons’ voice.
Something we have in common is we’re both New England kids. I was wondering how your songwriting has allowed you to reflect on your childhood hometown memories and how that has been beneficial to you?
Ah New England is such a special place!!! I think being from a place so amazing, with all the seasons and the scents and images that go along with each of them, makes feelings like nostalgia and longing something easier to tap into when I am writing. Thinking about the way the air feels there, and how the trees look, or the smell of the first snow about to fall, or the muddy fields after it rains, all of that really fuels my lyrics. Every month has its own special characteristics that feed the senses. I miss it terribly.
Today, indie electronica mastermind Cassie Marin debuts her new single, “Busy Body,” which explores the voyeuristic thrills and pitfalls of being the watcher and the watched in the digital landscape of social media.
On “Busy Body,” Marin’s melodically ethereal vocals coast along effortlessly wavy synths, delivering reflective stanzas unpacking our culture’s obsession with with follows and likes in a time where social politics have become hyper-digitized, reducing one’s social life to a hollow shell of what it used to be.
I was fortunate enough to speak to Marin about the single, her initial forays into electronic music, social media, pushing boundaries with her production, and much more!
How did you initially get into making electronic-pop music and what was it that gravitated you to that specific field of music?
I think electronic-pop music is a genre I’ve been listening to since I was very young. The sonic direction I’ve taken over the years has been entirely unintentional. Ultimately, I think I blend many of the genres I listen to regularly into my music. It happens somewhat naturally.
You seem to have a serious knack for tackling hard-to-navigate experiences throughout modern life? Would you say it comes from both personal experience and people you’ve observed as an outsider?
I mean, I do like a good challenge! My life, like anyone else’s, has had various ups and downs. I think it’s important to learn from every experience and make the best of every situation so you can help others who may face similar challenges in the future.
If you could cover any song throughout music history, what song would it be and why?
“Moonriver” by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. This song is very special to me because it transports me to a time (before easily accessible technology) where music was all a person could need. It wasn’t about fame or a successful career path, it was about feeling good in your own company with music to aid you.
What is the process of sculpting these unique soundscapes in your songs like?
Each process is different, depending on whether I’m starting the song from scratch on my own or collaborating with another producer. But, usually my mood defines the atmosphere of the song as well as the musical elements I choose throughout the writing process.
Do you model your vocal stylings after any specific influences or would you say that you came up with your style of singing on your own?
I’ve admired and learned from many vocalists growing up. Most notably I would say, Hayley Williams, Anthony Green, The Weeknd and Jesse Rutherford.
What is the most difficult part of having to live in a world where it’s nearly impossible to have a social life without having an online presence?
I think the most difficult part is the lack of real connection. Communication and behaviors can be easily misconstrued while interacting online. You never know what a person could be going through based solely on what they reveal to you on the internet.
What was one of the most valuable and useful discoveries you made when you first taught yourself to produce?
That I could push myself beyond my own boundaries, surprise myself and experiment to my heart’s desire with my own sound design.
Today, California-based indie songstress and self-proclaimed “technological maximalist” Roo debuts her first ever single “Glo,” which she co-produced with JJStewart. “Glo” is an experimental dark pop tale about toxic relationships and the struggle to navigate queer romance.
Opening with frosty coldwave synths and static white noise, the track envelopes the listener in a ghostly sonic embrace that could easily go toe-to-toe with Portishead’s Dummy. Before Roo herself even utters a word, the song will already have the listener hooked and stopped dead in their tracks. Roo pulls absolutely no punches in this grandiose artistic introduction to the world, and what an opening statement it is.
The lyrics show Roo laying bare her emotional vulnerability and pleading with the subject of the song to do the same. “How could I be enough,” she preens in the second verse with a Bjork-style cadence over eccentric production, distorted and accentuated telephone-filtered vocals, coarse basslines, and spiky 808s, adding a distinct R&B groove to this experimental synthpop masterpiece.
I had the privilege of chatting with Roo about her artistic introduction to the world, how her computer science degree has been a valuable asset in her experimental production, and what she anticipates for future career moves.
“Glo” feels like an amalgamation of trip-hop, neo-psych/soul, and dream pop, which I loved. How did the process of building a sonic landscape for the single come about?
My approach toward production is about play and intuition rather than rules, which is what gives me my genreless sound. My genius friend JJStewart created the original composition, then we went through transforming pieces to achieve the feeling we wanted. I did some pretty off-the-wall vocal production on this one, trusting my ear and pushing things further and further out of the box. It was a blast.
How has your computer science background and affinity for technology informed your music?
A lot of experienced producers I’ve met don’t understand the nitty gritty of how their plugins work – but I do. And I’m pretty nimble with signal routing, which is how I achieve some of my more experimental sounds.
Also, I taught myself to produce over the past year. So much of coding is teaching yourself new skills, so I’m good at that – especially because production/mixing is really technical.
I ask everybody this because I’m always curious to know; what are some records that you’ve heard throughout your life that changed everything for you?
I’m very inspired by Vōx; Swim Good is one of my faves. The vulnerability and use of emptiness contrasted with the heavy bass and grit – it’s something I’ve never heard before.
Reconstruct by Photay is another one that ends up on repeat all the time. His composition is so off-the-wall, so clean, so effortless.
And all of Miss Anthropocene by Grimes. She was hugely influential to me before I learned about her relationship with Elon. The dystopian techno-fantasy universe she built completely blew my mind.
How has songwriting helped you traverse your individual experiences related to romance and identity?
I process experiences through songwriting that I couldn’t hope to in my journal. It’s a direct lens into my intuition. Sometimes I won’t even understand what I’m feeling until I sing about it, or I’ll figure out what to do next through the creative process.
Glo is about toxic love that I experienced while learning to navigate queer romance. My journey into queerness is a huge driving force in my music. I can’t wait to share more of that with my audience.
What is your current number-one played song on Spotify or Apple Music?
This is my first song out, so “Glo!”
What artist–living or dead–would be your dream collaboration?
SOPHIE. Rest in peace. A true visionary. Her enormous, mind-bending sounds with my haunting atmospheric flavor – a tasty futuristic blend.
Since Glo is your first single, what is the number-one thing you’re anticipating once it’s finally out to the public?
I’m really just excited to get on the map. Expectations will certainly be created based on this one project; I can’t wait to break them.
Raised on a diet of Taylor Swift and Shania Twain, pop punk powerhouse Caroline Romano, a self-proclaimed “loudest sort of introvert,” has had a whirlwind of a past few years. She first caught the attention of the public with her debut single, “Masterpiece,” in 2017, combining the iconic lyrical zingers of Taylor Swift with the dark anti-pop drawl of early Lorde. A year later, she achieved a Top 3 hit on Radio Disney’s chart with the commanding and ultra-magnetic single “Ready,” and later went on to work with one of the most in-demand producers in pop music when she teamed up with DJ R3HAB for a remix of her song “I Still Remember”—all at the tender age of 20.
And while it may seem shocking to some that she’s already achieved this level of notoriety at such an early age, it’s only natural; Romano has done this her entire life. The Mississippi native first picked up a guitar at the age of nine and started playing at open mic nights in Nashville—the songwriting capital of the country—when she was just 13. One of her most recent singles, “PDA of the Mainstream,” has received critical praise for her witty, cerebral songwriting that captures youthful Gen Z angst with a distinct pop punk flair.
Today, Romano unleashes her latest single, “The Hypothetical,” a gritty tongue-in-cheek punk-pop banger where she ruminates on her innermost fantasies involving a romantic interest. “I wanted to capture that feeling of being so infatuated with a crush that it’s borderline a state of psychosis… even if it’s only in your head. It’s just hypothetical,” she said in the press release.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Caroline about the new single, as well as her upbringing and her first trip into Nashville.
Was there anything specific (an artist, a song, a movie, a friend, etc.) that initially sparked your interest in starting to play the guitar?
I’d definitely say my affinity for guitars started with my love for Taylor Swift and Hannah Montana. “You Belong With Me” and The Hannah Montana Movie both came out the year before I turned 9, and I was physically addicted to both. Particularly, I think my interest in guitar stemmed from the “You Belong With Me” music video. It was one of the first music videos I remember ever really watching. It was unlike anything I’d heard before, and I think it was the first time I realized that Taylor Swift was just a girl too. I wanted to make noise like that, and I knew a guitar was what I needed to do so. I remember holding my first real guitar for the first time. My hands were too small to fit around the neck, and my arm was cramping from trying to strum. Despite my inability to reach the E string, it still felt inexplicably right. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, 9 year old me knew exactly what she was doing with that guitar.
What are some of your most vivid memories of your very first trip to Nashville and how have you grown as an artist since then?
I’m convinced no trip or vacation or beautiful place will match the wonder I experienced my first time in Nashville. I begged my parents for weeks to take me on that trip. I made a PowerPoint presentation to try to convince them that I was ready. I researched all of the best places to try to play, and I planned our entire week around trying to do as many shows as possible. My mom and I would wake up super early in the mornings at our hotel to call different venues and try to secure a spot for that night. The first night we got there, I played an open mic night at this little outdoor college bar. I was the youngest person there by nearly a decade, but I felt so certain that it was where I needed to be. With my mom and dad and little brothers in the audience, I got up there and played one of the first songs I’d ever written. It was called “Chase Your Dreams” (very creative title), but that’s what I knew I was doing in that moment. I was literally chasing after my dreams. It was happening. I played shows every single day that week, while exploring the city I’d one day call home. One of my favorite memories from that trip was when I played the Bluebird Cafe. That was the big one, the place I’d dreamed about since I first heard the name Nashville. While I was there, I happened to be in line behind a kid and his mom. He was very kind and he shared that inexplicable, silent fire that I also felt for music. It was a silent understanding that we were both going to give this all that we [had]. I played a show later with him in the week, and I told my mom that he was going to be a star. [That kid was] Jack Avery from Why Don’t We. I hold those memories close.
You seem to have found a sweet spot between extremely catchy pop hooks and head-banging rock instrumentation. Has combining pop and rock sensibilities always felt natural to you?
I’ve always felt a natural inclination towards the punk-pop space. It’s what I listened to to get me through middle school, and I find it’s the genre I turn to in the most intense of my feelings. I don’t like rules, and alternative/rock pop feels like a giant F-you to the rules of musical genres. I’m all about words. I simply cannot get enough of them. When I write, I often just word-vomit onto my paper. I like things unedited and raw and far from perfect. What I love about punk-pop is that you work to fit the music around the lyrics, instead of the other way around. The less edited and manicured, the better. There’s so much passion to it as well, combining pop and rock. I am not a lukewarm person. I often want to feel the extremes of everything I experience. Punk music is so dramatic and I love it. It’s always the end of the world. I can scream and whisper and jump up and down and lie on the floor all while performing the same song. It’s awesome.
Do you find that songwriting can be like having a conversation with yourself?
Songwriting started for me as writing journal entries after I’d get home from school in the 6th and 7th grade. I’d write about my day, or whatever 6th grade tragedy was occurring. I could always understand it better if I wrote it down. Once I started putting those journals to guitar, there was songwriting. I spend a lot of time in my head. I can’t say I like it there, but I’ve yet to find a way out of it. The only way I can really cope with my brain is talking to it through music. I’m always having a conversation with myself, whether that’s a good or bad thing. I am incredibly self-aware and self-conscious. I’ve never grown out of that feeling like when you’re twelve or thirteen and you’re at the popular kids pool party. You feel like everyone is staring at you, and no one likes you, and you definitely should’ve worn a different color swimsuit because everyone is judging you. In reality, none of that’s true, but I think a lot of us go through life like we’re still at the 8th grade pool party. Though it’s terrible, putting it into words makes it so much less terrible for me. It makes it kind of pretty in a way. Through me publishing these internal narratives I have with myself, I’ve come to find that most of us feel the same way. I don’t have much to write about when it comes to love or parties or kissing a boy behind the bleachers. Those things are not my field of expertise. But, I’ve been with myself for as long as I can remember, so I thought I might as well write about it.
How did the collaboration with R3HAB first come about? Was he the one who reached out to you or vice versa, and what was it like getting to work together?
I had written “I Still Remember” back in 2018 with some friends of mine. I knew it was a special song from the moment it was written, and I knew an opportunity would one day come along to do something special with it. I had the opportunity to reach out to R3HAB in late 2019, and I was ecstatic when he said he was down to remix the song. However, this was occurring basically at the start of lockdown/quarantine, so we basically sent him the song and said “do ANYTHING you want to it.” The first mix I got back from him is extremely close to what ended up being the final product. He’s a genius, and it was such an honor to get to work with him.
What I really loved about “The Hypothetical” was how relatable the subject matter is. It’s very common to have a fantasy play out in our own heads, and I was wondering how the song initially came about?
I’ve always said that I’m not much for reality. It’s just not as fun there. I’m fascinated with the scenarios and romances we create in our heads. You can imagine an entire wedding after an interaction with a hot stranger at a Target. In these little worlds our brains create, the only thing impossible is impossibility. I love that, and I try to take a bit of that mindset out into reality with me when I’m there. I wrote “The Hypothetical” with two of my good friends in Nashville, Michael and Chuckie Aiello. They are both well aware of how my brain works and my aversion to the limitations of reality. Michael came in with the idea of letting me build a hypothetical world for a song. We had way too much fun, as again, the laws of reality simply did not apply to this song. We took it to the extremes, in a psychotic Barbie sort of way, and I love it.
What is your favorite part of being a songwriter that you wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else?
Sometimes I still can’t believe that what I write in my lowest moments, or through tears in my childhood bedroom, is heard by people. I get to tie up my experiences and views on the world as they occur in little bows of poetry and ugly emotions and guitar strings. And sometimes, crazy things happen, like when someone reaches out and says that my words have helped them in some way. There are people out there who understand what I’m trying to say through my music, even when I didn’t at the time of writing it. It’s the loudest form of communication, often to people I’ve never spoken a word to. The thing I hate the most about myself is that I’ll never be able to put it into words. Words don’t exist for that innate whisper of a calling deep down in my bones that begs for me to make music. I must sit at my piano and thumb through my brain for words, or I will simply die. It is as simple and complex as that.
Despair. Elation. Regret. Relief. Rinse repeat. These are the feelings evoked in the initial listening stage when you hear the opening crescendo of synthesized drones and faded hums on the opening track of Bailey Baum’s debut EP, Over It. The title track smoothly transitions from despair into hope as she croons, “Over and over and over, till I’m over it,” over cushioned basslines and dreamy laidback orchestrations, ruminating on the constant cycle of post-breakup recovery, trudging through the five stages of grief until finally landing at the stage of acceptance.
To say that Bailey Baum is having quite the year would be an understatement. Her 2019 single “Simple Feelings” is approaching 2 million streams on Spotify and she has also been praised for her “reflective lyrics, stirring soulful vocals, and clever pop melodies,” in publications like Flaunt Magazine and UPROXX.
Baum released her first EP “Over It” today through Next Wave / Ultra Records. Her most recent single off of the EP “Bad For Me,” is a synth-laden lamentation on the constant tug-of-war between her common sense and the part of her that wants to go back to the way things were before the fatal impact of her first heartbreak.
This new EP is an incredibly clever subversion of the typical heartbreak ballad. Instead of dwelling in the sadness, she goes on a trajectory to find the light at the end of the tunnel. She expertly weaves the ethereal high-register melodies and lush harmonies of BANKS and Lana Del Rey with the razor sharp wit of Guyville-era Liz Phair on songs like “Thinking Bout Me,” and “Not Missing You,” (“Don’t wanna go back/Finally your gone and it’s clear that I’m not missing you”).
“I want the EP to help people feel empowered to get ‘over it,’ while also acknowledging how important it is to let yourself feel everything deeply,” Bailey said in a press release. “No emotion or thought you have is invalid, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel of heartbreak. We all deserve to find happiness and peace and fulfillment and that all starts within yourself. I’m still learning and growing from my experiences, this EP is all about that process.”
I caught up with Bailey over email to chat about the new EP, how songwriting has helped her heal, and what she’s most looking forward to in this new phase of her career.
What are you most excited for listeners to experience once they finally get their hands on this EP?
I’m most excited to see how people resonate with my music. This project is one that came from a really vulnerable place in my heart and sharing it with everyone is definitely scary in a lot of ways but I’ve had so much support from my team and everyone I work with and I’m confident that this project is something that can help other people get through similar situations and feelings of heartache.
What was the first piece of music that made you feel empowered to pursue life as a musician?
I always was always listening to music around my family or on the radio so from a young age it was always a very organic discovery process. I remember when I was 5 or 6 years old and started singing “White Christmas” and told my mom I wanted her to hear it because I thought I could really sing. I stood up on the fireplace in front of my whole family and sang my heart out and that was the moment I knew this was what I wanted to pursue. I started voice lessons soon after that and never quit.
Fiona Apple once said that it’s important to make art that scares you. Since this is a very personal record, were there any personal revelations you had that scared you?
I woke up a few months ago in the middle of the night freaking out because I was so scared for this project to come out. It’s so scary to be open to the world with your emotions and feelings, but the only way I know how to process how I feel is by turning it into music. Sharing my most personal feelings with the world is daunting, hoping that everyone perceives them in a positive way, but I know this is something that so many people can relate to at any age.
You said in your press release that you want this EP to help listeners on their journey to recover from heartbreak while also allowing themselves to “feel everything deeply.” How has music played a role in your own individual quests?
Whenever I feel literally ANY emotion, music is the first thing I run to. Music evokes so much emotion and even though I don’t project it in front of most people, I love feeling deep emotions. Music is that escape for me. I love driving around the city listening to different songs and just singing as loud as I can. It’s not always easy to let yourself feel things, so if you can find an outlet like music has been for me then it truly is the best feeling and the best way to heal.
You’ve been praised in Flaunt and UPROXX and I also noticed two of your songs on Viral Hits playlists on Spotify. How does it feel to see your music doing this well?
I’m so grateful for the support I’ve had on the music. Every little message, article, or other kind of support helps push me to continue going and not give up. There’s so much more I dream to do and accomplish but it really is the little things that help validate my journey and realize that everything I’m doing is reaching people in a positive way.
I really resonated with ‘Bad for Me.’ It feels like a universal experience to feel drawn to people that we know are toxic. How has writing about this allowed you to traverse this particular phenomenon in your life?
I think writing this helped me process the emotions I was feeling, and helped me acknowledge honestly to myself that the situation I was in wasn’t healthy. The truth is that I’m still learning and I haven’t totally figured everything out yet, I’m still making mistakes as I go but I’m forgiving myself at the same time because I know it’s all part of the process.
Something I really enjoyed about the progression of this EP–specifically on a song like “Not Missing You”–is how you seem to come to a genuine sense of closure as the EP goes on. Was that sort of progression intentional?
It was intentional in the way that once we had all the tracks ready for the EP we decided on the best order for them that felt like a progression of a relationship. However, when I was recording the music I wasn’t thinking that I was going to make songs for each stage of a relationship. Everything fell together as I was feeling it all. I recorded these songs at different times over the course of a few years and once I knew that this project was next for me I handpicked the ones that felt the most right and wrote and recorded the last few tracks based on emotions that I was feeling at the time and those just happened to be the last two tracks on the EP that give a feeling of “closure.”
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, the darkly melancholic post-punk five-piece Catcher—made up of Austin Eicher (vocals), Wilson Chestney (drums), and Cameron McRae (bass), Christian Reech (guitar) and Jack Young (guitar)—recently made their scorching double-sided debut with the singles “Yesterday’s Favorite,” and “The Skin.” Casting a wide net of influences from the Fall to the Birthday Party, and drawing comparisons to their contemporaries like Iceage and Protomartyr, their sound is a crashing symphony of chimes, tambourines, idiosyncratic drum patterns, and fluorescent visuals.
“The Skin,” and “Yesterday’s Favorite” are both hauntingly existential anthems that sound like they were recorded in a cavernous chamber, with lead singer Austin Eicher’s gravelly vocals cloaked in reverberating feedback, cymbals, and white noise. The band has described the process of making their soon-to-be released album as “a sense of dedication to switch things up,” and “gaining ideas from listening to music that didn’t sound similar to anything they’d personally done before.”
Last month the band took to the stage at a sold-out show at Gold Sounds Bar in Brooklyn, their first live gig since March of last year. This month the band released two new singles, “Only Advice” and “Fallen Stones,” and have also announced a North American tour.
I caught up with lead vocalist Austin Eicher to discuss the band’s upcoming releases, drawing inspiration from film and literature, and finding band members on dating apps.
You guys recently played a sold-out gig at Gold Sounds Bar. How was that experience for you after being in lockdown for so long?
Speaking from my own experience, the first show back was very strange. Being in front of that many people again performing for the first time in over a year was quite daunting and uncomfortable at first but that quickly faded and we had a lot of fun. I don’t exactly know if it had to do with nerves or if it was just a disconnect with the motions of performance after so much time without it, but it definitely kept me on our toes. The next show after that felt like we had never stopped playing shows though.
You guys take a lot of inspiration from films and authors (Jean Genet, Graham Greene). How do these inspirations unfold in a session?
I think just a lot of the stuff we read and watch makes its way into both the music and the writing process. I can hear a lot of themes from things that Wilson and I were obsessed with at the time all over these 4 tracks. It’s kind of hard to explain how they’ve impacted the process apart from the more obvious examples (direct references in lyrics, etc.) but I guess it just leaves a trace on our own creative output.
How did you guys come to form your current sound and vision? Was it a gradual process, or was it something you immediately knew you wanted to do?
It was definitely a gradual shift. I’ve explained it before as falling back in love with stuff we used to really enjoy rather than a definitive shift. We’re in a place now where we definitely have our influence sorted out. We know what we like and we know what we don’t, and that’s helped us a lot in figuring out where we fit in the creative process.
You guys famously used Tinder and Craigslist to recruit band members. Would you recommend this to other musicians?
Sure I’d recommend it but with the footnote that we got incredibly lucky with how that turned out and that it won’t always be that way. We’ve been through a ton of band members in the past and everything kind of just fell into place right around the time Wilson and I were recording the demos and I’m grateful for that.
I read that at least one of the singles was inspired by your experience as a caretaker with a person who has dementia. What is it about being close to mortality that draws you in and makes you want to write about it?
I find it terribly boring when people avoid pessimism in their writing. I feel like that’s most of what I’ve heard as of late and it was probably a response to that in some way. I have been fascinated with mortality recently and the idea that we all think about it often but feel socially confused about how to maneuver it in conversation. I’m sure the pandemic plays into that somewhere, though I am not sure how.
What else does the band have going on that you are excited for new listeners to experience?
We’re just ready to get back on the road this summer and play shows again. We try to stay concerned with the immediate future and not make too many plans.
Hailing from Seattle, Washington, the fresh-faced punk trio, King Sheim, is one of the most enticing and sickeningly sweet DIY punk pop bands currently making waves in the Seattle indie scene, along with other Seattle-based bands like Mommy Long Legs, Childbirth, Tacocat, and Chastity Belt. While the band has a rotating ensemble of members, the original lineup consists of Eli Bolan on drums, Luke Sorenson on bass, and the exuberant, charismatic, and delightfully brash Celeste Felsheim on lead vocals. Felsheim’s high-energy playing and style of singing that is equally delicate and brutal—with their smooth alto croons, and grittily evocative snarls—is the sonic equivalent of Brody Dalle getting into a fist fight with Fiona Apple.
King Sheim started making noise in the Seattle indie scene with their eponymous debut EP in 2019, with delightfully sweet and sour pop rock anthems like “Prom Heels,” and “Grape Soda.” The band’s debut album, King Sheim Is… Taking Things Personally, is packed to the brim with high-energy thrashers, like the blistering album opener, “Center of the Universe,” as well as lethargic slow jams, like “Pacify.” The album strongly recalls nineties pop rock outfits and legendary grunge acts from the Seattle rock pantheon—the sludgy, off-kilter instrumentation coupled with Felsheim’s cathartic growls on “Magic 8 Ball,” sounds like somebody has taken Shirley Manson and Green River and put them in a blender. “Spiders!” evokes grotesque imagery of obsessive-compulsive paranoia. “At least I’ll have control,” Felsheim sneers on the chorus, their raw vocals sounding like they’ve been processed in a meat grinder as they defiantly chant, “Clean my whole house.” Mellower cuts like “Queen of the Losers” finds Felsheim grappling with the fact that they feel trapped in a never-ending rat race for validation—constantly faking, pushing, projecting, and trying hard to prove to their peers and to themselves that they are busy, relevant, and worthy of respect (“I’m afraid of never leaving here, the comfort of mediocrity/But I gotta calm down, it’s only Tuesday”).
Speaking to Felsheim, it’s clear that their sound was plucked from an eclectic mélange of influences—everything from Taylor Swift to the Beastie Boys to Bikini Kill. Below is our full conversation where we speak in depth about the modern age of DIY music-making, the fragmented scene in Seattle, Steely Dan, and Celeste’s love of teaching music to city youth.
If you wouldn’t mind, I would love for you to walk me back to the genesis of King Sheim. What was it about the collaborative effort of playing in a band––as opposed to playing as a solo act––that really drew you in?
I’ve always loved to play with other musicians, whether it be covers, or playing in my friend’s bands. Originally, I wrote the King Sheim songs by myself, but then recruited Eli Bolan to play drums. Eli and I have played together in bands before, and he completely got my vision for King Sheim on the spot! I wasn’t great at arranging back then, (this was the summer after I graduated from high school) so we played around with lots of drum parts and I basically got to choose the ones I liked the most from Eli’s large brain-library of wonderful creations. It was this collaborative energy that really started to entice me, as I got to create melodies and chords and rhythms and Eli helped fill out the structure.
After recruiting Luke Sorensen to play bass, we had a pretty awesome trio to play shows with, and it was super fun giving my songs the attention that they deserve! As the band rotated and changed, I learned more about myself as a bandleader, my confidence grew and I saw what I liked and didn’t like about playing with others. King Sheim also gave me a chance to work on my confidence in decision making, and helped me grow into more of a semi-adult. My last show before covid was with that original trio and it was kick-ass, and gives me a good pre-covid show memory to look back on.
What was the first record you heard that changed your relationship to music (or the way you thought about songwriting/playing), and how has your relationship to music evolved since?
Wow, there’s so many! The first song I heard that really made me fall in love with rock ‘n’ roll was probably “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I learned it on my acoustic guitar and showed it to my dad when he came home.
I’ve been a Taylor Swift fan for just about my entire existence, and she is one of my biggest songwriting influences. Her albums, Red and 1989, defined my early high school years and really changed my outlook.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a couple of semesters ago I took a Javanese gamelan ensemble at Cornish College of the Arts where I attend school, and it totally flipped my musical outlook on its head. Learning about this entirely percussive ensemble in which I couldn’t read the music or pronounce the song names–feeling like I truly knew nothing–was a great music-making experience. I got to sit on the ground for 80 minutes a couple times a week and just make music with people in the class. It was magic! I really recommend Gamelan music.
I read that your mom was a punk rocker in the 90s and your dad is heavily into classic rock, so I imagine that your family must have had a killer record collection. Who were some of the artists that you had in heavy rotation in your house growing up?
Yes! I love them so much. They have the greatest music taste! While my parents aren’t musicians, they are the greatest music-appreciators that have ever lived. I remember being woken up on Saturdays by Good Vibrations on KEXP, and now when I hear reggae on a Saturday in my car I smile and think of all the cleaning and cooking we did to that music. I heard Aretha Franklin, Prince, The Beastie Boys, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Rait, John Prine and of course Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan from my dad. Being surrounded by music my entire life is one of the reasons I’m still creating today, my love of music is so deeply ingrained in my soul that it’s just a part of me now! My parents instilled in me a love of music so strong, diverse, and overflowing.
What I love about your music is that you’re clearly inspired by riot grrrl and punk, but you also have a serious knack for crafting these fantastic earworm-y pop songs. Are there any specific influences that have recently crept their way into your songwriting process that listeners might not expect?
Oh gosh, yes. I’m a pop lover at my core! While punk and rock ‘n’ roll defined my later teen years, they say you never shake what you love at 14, and I believe my music is most influenced by Avril Lavigne, early Demi Lovato and Taylor Swift. I truly believe that writing a good pop song is an art form, and these women did so in a way that really will stick with me forever.
You’ve been studying music for a while now and you also teach voice and piano. What is one specific tool that you’ve learned from being classically trained as a musician and teaching that has been particularly useful to remember as your profile continues to grow?
Honestly, as I’ve gotten into teaching lessons, I’ve learned how essential it is to use teaching as a tool for your own learning. As I relay concepts to my students they are cemented into my brain several times over in a way that could never be told to me. I’ve also realized the importance of effective practicing, and how you can spend 3 hours “practicing” but not getting better, but 30 minutes of practicing in a way that makes sense to you, whether it be in the form of a game, or a YouTube video, or metronome practice, or anything else that is specific to you is so much more effective. I also try to experience music and art everyday in some way!
I would love for you to tell me a little bit about your local scene over in Seattle. The state of Washington has such a rich culture and history with scenes like riot grrrl, grunge, and stations like KEXP. What is the local music scene/community like now, and what is your favorite thing about it?
Ahhh the scene. Honestly, it feels disconnected, especially because of covid. But Seattle has always had a great place in the scene for young people, so I have been and still am able to get gigs and play shows. I’ve recently gotten more involved and connected through my work with Dan’s Tunes Seattle, interacting with other artists through my essay writing and social media work, which has been really fun, and has helped me feel more connected. I LOVE all of the youth programs, Rain City Rock Camp and Soundoff! are my faves.
We seem to be living in a very exciting time for DIY artists, especially since the internet has offered more accessibility to music and less creative limitations with the cross-pollination of genres. Do you feel lucky to see your music gaining traction in the current climate?
Oh, I feel so lucky. I love creating music and all sorts of art, and quarantine especially has given me the time to appreciate how much I really enjoyed my life of playing gigs. I’ve made some wonderful friends playing shows, and learned so many things from people online, so it’s incredible to see the scene open up and flower. It’s wonderful to see the growing accessibility of creating your own music as it becomes something everyone can enjoy at some level, which is closer to our base instincts as humans that tell us to dance and sing and play even if it’s not our job or main hobby!
What has been one of the most valuable discoveries you’ve made as you continue to develop a musical identity of your own?
Oh wow. These questions are so good. I’ve always thought that I have or had a solid musical identity, through every phase and genre that I experience. I thought I was really good at being in the orchestra in high school and that it was my thing, and it totally was for a while, but now I have an appreciation for all of the classical and experimental that I never will shake. I guess the lesson here is that no growth will ever be linear, and all of the phases you go through just become tools in your [arsenal]. I’m a punk rocker at heart, yet my bones were hand crafted by Taylor Swift and Dvorak and Brahms and Bikini Kill! It’s totally cool to be an amalgamation.
New York is the place where many of us flee to in hopes of starting anew. The senses become heightened as we absorb the smog that permeates the air and contaminates the lungs, passing street vendors selling fruit, and having near death experiences every time a taxi carelessly swerves around a tight corner while we are crossing the street.
The isolation that comes with living in pockets of the city can either transform us beyond recognition or break us entirely. We will occasionally escape the noise by fleeing to places like the West Side Piers and Rockaway Beach, inhaling the salty air, listening to the rippling of the trash-filled bodies of water before the inevitable return to the whirring white noise of midtown traffic, chugging subway cars, and business deals being made over the phone. It’s a city that tests our capacity for resilience, before we eventually decide to leave or begrudgingly grow to love it, even if it never cared about us.
New York is the place where many queer individuals migrate to when we are attempting to purge the oppressive poison that we internalized growing up. We become hardened and hyper-sensitive, careful not to let our guards down while simultaneously trying to liberate ourselves from shame and prove to ourselves, our families, our co-workers and our lovers that we are busy, relevant, and special.
Queer New York is as vast and complex as it is confusing. The city is easily malleable, allowing queer communities to find spaces that we can transform into our own. We commiserate with each other in underground nightlife spaces—bars, clubs, and cabarets—the few places where we can escape the violent heteronormative gaze of the streets, public transit, and work and create a world of our own.
After moving to New York and surviving by busking in subway stations, singer-songwriter Viktor Vladimirovich began making waves in the Brooklyn indie scene by writing and recording music under the moniker Prince Johnny, a reference to the St. Vincent song of the same name. Their music is an amalgamation of cabaret-infused folk and indie pop that finds a middle ground between tragedy, humor, and radical emotionality.
Prince Johnny is no stranger to the power of transformative work. Refusing to shy away from how their identity informs the ways that they see the world, their music encompasses every feeling imaginable from uncomfortable confrontations to warm hugs and sighs of relief.
Prince Johnny’s newest EP, Stupid Sex, which is slated to be released on May 17th, is a blisteringly emotional and delightfully lighthearted portrait of the modern queer experience in the shadow of the AIDS crisis. Places like New York and Amsterdam provide the backdrop to their introspective journey to exist on their own terms while navigating the world of self-loathing on slow, sorrowful ballads like “Sex Party” and “Fort Tryon,” which each have shades of Mitski, Leonard Cohen, and Daniel Johnston. Meanwhile, more lighthearted cabaret-themed songs like “Boys Just Wanna Have Fun,” and “Stupid Sex,” do an impeccable job of tackling the pervasive hyper-sexualization of the queer male gaze and the fine line between sex and mortality.
Below is my full conversation with Prince Johnny, where we discuss how they came to fully embrace their artistic impulses, starting their own collective in Brooklyn’s artistic queer community, and finding inspiration in Regina Spektor’s capacity for empathy.
If you wouldn’t mind, I would love for you to walk me through your first foray into music-making. How did you come to decide that it was something that you wanted to pursue?
My body told me who I was before I had the courage to accept it. My parents told me that as a child I would go around belting “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” any opportunity I got. Starting in middle school, I began compulsively writing Regina Spektor and Amanda Palmer lyrics in my notebooks during class. I don’t know why I started, or anyone else that did it, but I’d always de-focus from the subject being taught and find myself writing out lyrics. I also remember writing them on whiteboards in our choir wing’s piano closet. If I’m walking anywhere alone I still sing about 83% of the time and have been since I can remember.
In terms of making something myself, I remember really wanting to write songs but thinking I wasn’t “chosen” to do it. I remember watching an interview with Alanis Morisette in middle school where she talked about walking around her house and melodies just “floating into [her] head.” I was super bitter because my favorite people were my songwriters and I wanted to be like them. Then one day I was practicing Moonlight Sonata and a pattern of notes struck me as really beautiful and I repeated it over and over and added my own chords underneath and then suddenly a melody floated in and I wrote my first song.
I continued to write songs throughout college but my neuroses were far too powerful to allow me to share anything publicly. I remember having little meetings with my closest friends and “coming out” to them as a songwriter. I felt ashamed and hopeless. The volatility of a musician’s life scared me. I didn’t think I was good enough. Why couldn’t I be someone that could be content with something safer & more normal? I resented that I had no control over what I needed to be doing to feel alive. I continued to keep everything bottled up until about 22 when I was having the classic first year in NYC rock-bottom moment and I found myself screening therapists. I sheepishly told one that alI thought about all day was lyrics and songs and I thought I was a musician. He asked if I was actually doing music. I got really defensive and tried to explain that I couldn’t even afford my food—how could I do something so silly and childish as try to be an artist. And he matter of factly said, “if you are an artist and you don’t let yourself make art you will never be happy.” That was the mindset shift I needed and a few months later I went to my first open-mic and the rest is herstory. I see it less as something I decided I wanted to pursue, but more as something I finally accepted I needed to do.
In what specific ways have your most formative influences (Perfume Genius, St. Vincent, Regina Spektor, Amanda Palmer, etc.) affected the ways that you create your own music?
Oh man, they’re my everything. I believe the stories they gave me in my adolescence developed the infrastructure of my mind. They all taught me so much but I’ll try to pair it down to a few things for each. Amanda taught me how to play with exaggeration, theatrics, character work and “lying” in order to better tell a truth. Regina taught me empathy. What it means to live in another’s world and how to take details from the world and craft lyric from it. She also encouraged idiosyncrasy, reminding me that I could deliver things [however] I wanted in whatever style.
Perfume Genius taught me the power in wielding my inherent fagginess & femininity as a source of strength, instead of shrinking away & hiding it. He taught me simple but visceral lyricism. He taught me to ask myself with every lyric I write “what am I risking? What am I revealing?” Annie [St. Vincent] taught me about the power of contrast, juxtaposing something soft and delicate with something acidic and brutal. Mitski taught me to reframe my relationship with yearning, and how to integrate that primal tension into my lyrics. She showed me how I could get my lyrics to glow all soft and romantic.
What this EP does so well is balance the heavier themes–like the fine line between sex and mortality in the shadow of the AIDS crisis–with lighthearted humor. The cover art [for ‘Boys Just Wanna Have Fun’] in particular was giving me “horror and decay but make it camp,” which I loved. Was that in keeping with the theme of exploring these specific anxieties?
Yes [ …] you hit the nail [right] on the head. I think of my work as winking with a tear in your eye. It’s direct emotionality and eye contact, but also an acknowledgement of the inherent absurdity and melodrama of our neuroses. I want to honor the emotions they bring up, while never falling into victimhood about it. I think our demons get most mad when we laugh at them. & I love to see them pressed.
Something that a lot of queer youth recognize is the necessity to create spaces for ourselves outside of mainstream society. In what ways do you feel your actions and art have allowed you to transform certain spaces into your own?
I think what we want, at the end of the day, is to be accepted for who we see ourselves as. I know I expected this queer wonderland when I got to New York, but could not find my community. So, I created “The Troubadour Lounge,” which is a monthly performance showcase of queer songwriters I curate to play sets alongside my band. It’s like Tiny Desk mixed with Sofar Sounds, but gay. Those nights are some of the best of my life. Because it isn’t asking to fit into traditional spaces, it’s a space specifically made for queer people to queer TF out. I aim to bring them back post-quarantine and I would love to hear any suggestions for queer songwriting talent in NYC! Anyone [who has any suggestions] can feel free to email me.
I really resonated with the way songs like “Stupid Sex” capture, in your own words, “being queer in the way you think you should be” in NYC (cause I very much relate). How has New York in particular informed your work?
Ah, New York. Smoke free lungs, alien pods, game show hosts, the souls of the dead, crumb free bread, the back of a car, roadway maps, the back of a head, the back of YOUR head, to be more specific. Those are the things Regina says you can find being sold from the back of a truck in this heinously gorgeous city.
New York cuts your teeth sharp as hell, but then you’re constantly biting your lips and bleeding everywhere before you get used to it. You can also find yourself biting into foods you don’t actually like, but think you’re supposed to, since everyone else seems to be enjoying it?
Being around so many strong personalities is a test of your sense of self because it’s so easy to just fall into what’s happening around you. [But] oftentimes, the loudest thing is not what actually aligns with who you are. You have to learn to ask yourself what you actually want.
Once you connect to your true essence, that’s when the party really begins. I felt like New York cooly and coyly challenges you to show up as the Super Saiyan version of yourself. Find that swagger, take up that space, reclaim what’s yours, become your own hero.
I began my career busking in the 175th street station. New Yorkers WILL tell you how they feel. I had all sorts of experiences. A man screamed in my face to “SHUT THE FUCK UP,” a kind grandma made me promise her I’d never stop performing, this one man gave me $5 so that I could “go get some voice lessons.” One time I looked down and someone had left me a bag with a water and chips from the bodega in it. I see busking as a bootcamp for performers and everyone should try it. I’d go hours and hours being ignored while singing my heart out. It eviscerated my ego into the best way.
On “Sex Party” and “Boys Just Wanna Have Fun,” you explore the urge to liberate yourself from shame but also somehow never feeling quite satisfied. Tell me a little more about that.
There’s a spiteful rebelliousness I’ve felt concerning my sexual expression since I can remember. I always resented all the forces that come together to undermine a queer person’s right to find their own version of healthy sexuality. I think shame is one of the most pervasive and insidious detractors of a queer person’s sexuality. What I explore is how this overcorrection with hyper-sexuality that a lot of queer people fall into can be just as detrimental as shame-fueled avoidance.
There can be this urge to prove to yourself that the bigots haven’t won and that all of the shame you’ve internalized against your will hasn’t stopped you from becoming who you’re meant to and doing all the shit that pisses them off. But living in strict opposition to dogma can be just as confining a prison as buying into it. I want to be what my body wants me to be, not an exaggerated inverse.
In those songs I explore the emptiness, confusion, and anxious self-loathing that I felt after trying to make myself fit into what I saw as modern queer culture. Why did going to that Dutch dark room in Amsterdam send me into a week-long depressive spiral? Wasn’t I supposed to love random hook-ups? Why were my ears ringing and my body going into fight-or-flight even before this stranger showed up to my door? Maybe I just needed more practice. Why was I so fucking ~~sensitive~~?? Did I want the sex or was I just trading my body in hopes of a cuddle after? I think other people enjoying these things is fantastic, but I had to figure out that for me—right now at least—it was not serving me.
I also wanted to ask you about Regina Spektor (who we are both massive fans of) because she is a figure who you seem to connect with over both music and a similar background. What does she mean to you?
My heart feels glowy just reading that. I could write a dissertation. I think of her as family, not in the sense that I want to be invited to her kid’s bar mitzvah, but in the sense that her worldview has consistently guided me through my adolescence and young adulthood. When I imagine the way she sees the world I feel buckets and buckets full of empathy and loving attention to detail.
I think of the “new shoes stuck to aging feet” she notices of older people in the Upper East Side thinking of “how things were right when they were young and veins were tight“ in “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” I think of the “heroin boy” in “Daniel Cowman” realizing he just died of an overdose. I think of the “androgynous powder nosed girl next door” in “Back of a Truck” wanting “more, more, more.” I think of the “Genius Next Door” drowning himself in the lake. I think of the “Man of a Thousand Faces” smiling “at the moon like he knows her.” I think of the old woman in “Happy New Year” wrapped in her blanket greeting the New Year alone with her bottle of champagne next to her open window. I feel her quietly contemplating and reflecting on the way her life has gone.
Damn, I literally [just] got teary eyed. That lady always makes me cry when I spend enough time with her. I adore the way Regina brings us these details about these people, the way she takes the time to try to understand them. These people float around in my head and show up in my songs too. [Empathy is my best quality] and I believe listening to my [favorite] songwriters and their lyrics is how I developed mine. Regina means so, so much to me. I met her a few years back at a small Amanda Palmer concert. We talked about raw emotionality in songwriting while I did my best to dissipate the panic in my face by white-knuckle squeezing the back of a chair. It was a lovely experience.
What do you feel is the most important takeaway audiences should have when listening to your work?
A Joni Mitchell quote comes to mind: “If you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it. If you listen to that music and you see yourself, now you’re getting something out of it.”
The first year that I attended college in New York City, I had gone to a party at a nightclub in the Financial District. I remember hearing a song that blared through the speakers with these rapid, mosquito guitar licks and a woman’s playful, childlike voice shouting, “Wanna disco? Wanna see me disco?/Let me hear you depoliticize my rhyme!” That song was called “Deceptacon,” and the band was a lo-fi electronic rock outfit called Le Tigre. I later discovered that the lead singer of Le Tigre was a feminist punk pioneer from Olympia, Washington named Kathleen Hanna. And she was a leader and a torchbearer for the Riot Grrrl movement, which originated in the early nineties.
After hearing Le Tigre for the first time, I immediately fell down a Riot Grrrl rabbit hole. I read all about the punk scene in Olympia, Washington, where Kathleen Hanna, drummer Tobi Vail, and bassist Kathi Wilcox formed the band Bikini Kill. I then discovered other quintessential Riot Grrrl bands like Bratmobile, Huggy Bear, Team Dresch, Tribe 8, and Sleater-Kinney.
What made Riot Grrrl so great was the fact that it grew out of a need for young women in music—many of whom were queer—to build their own musical communities outside of male-dominated punk scenes. With their blisteringly emotional and unabashedly political songwriting that called out institutional sexism, homophobia, and sexual assault, bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney made me realize that my feelings of resentment and anger—just aching to be seen and heard as a young queer woman—were shared by many of my queer feminist foremothers. It didn’t feel like I was shouting into the void anymore. There were others.
Unfortunately, there are still many critics and music fans who believe that Riot Grrrl died at the tail-end of the nineties, which is false. Riot Grrrl is not some miniscule niche movement from the past. The movement has spread to at least twenty-six countries. Bikini Kill reunited last year, and over the past five years, new Riot Grrrl chapters have sprung up in places like Paraguay and Argentina.
But after some of the most well-known American Riot Grrrl bands—including Bikini Kill and Bratmobile—disbanded in the late nineties, the male-dominated music press seemed determined to quash any and all evidence that Riot Grrrl ever existed. And they almost succeeded. Riot Grrrl is still rarely acknowledged as an important part of rock canon and feminist history. I have been an ardent music fan since I was fourteen, and I still didn’t find out about Riot Grrrl until I had graduated from high school.
But the spirit of Riot Grrrl is still very much alive. We now have musicians like Tamar-kali Brown, Maya Glick, Simi Stone, and Honeychild Coleman writing brilliant punk anthems and curating alternative spaces for black womxn in punk, like Sista Grrrl Riot and Decolonize Fest. We also have punk bands led by trans women like G.L.O.S.S. (now broken-up, but still fantastic), Against Me!, and Trap Girl writing queer anarchist anthems. And who could forget about Pussy Riot doing elaborate public demonstrations and risking arrest to protest Putin’s Russia?
A few weeks ago I attended an event called “Riot Grrrl’s Little Siblings,” which was curated by the June Mazer Lesbian Archives and the award-winning playwright and musician, Gina Young. Gina Young has written and directed several queer feminist stage shows and musicals including STRAIGHT PLAY, BUTCH BALLET, and This Is Why I Don’t Come Home. She is also a singer/songwriter who has released several albums and toured the country opening for artists like Le Tigre, Team Dresch, and Kimya Dawson. Gina also served as a leading organizer in the NYC chapter of Riot Grrrl in the early 2000s, while they were still a theatre student at NYU/Tisch.
I first encountered Gina’s work when I left New York and came back to Massachusetts for winter break during my sophomore year of college. I had been sitting in the back of my family’s minivan on the way to a family gathering out of state. I wore out my Riot Grrrl playlist on Spotify, blasting songs by Tribe 8 and Sleater-Kinney on a loop, and one of the first songs that popped up on Spotify’s radio algorithm was one of Gina’s most beloved songs, “So Called Str8 Grrrl,” a confrontational punk anthem that chronicles the turbulent relationship between two young women. Gina narrates the song from the perspective of a girl who is already out (“I know you see me/Over your boyfriend’s shoulder”), and sympathizes with her love interest, who is still not ready to come out because she fears that her family and her inner circle of friends will reject her.
While media that caters to queer people has certainly increased over the past couple of decades, that doesn’t change the fact that many queer people—especially trans, nonbinary, intersex, disabled, and BIPOC queer folks—still do not feel seen, heard, or adequately represented on screen or on stage; let alone behind the camera. Legions of queer people, myself included, do not even feel safe holding hands with our partners in public. Gina has always understood the necessity for queer people to create our own spaces of outside of mainstream society, which is why I was so eager to talk to her. Gina’s first two albums, Intractable and She’s So Androgynous, have been my biggest comfort records during quarantine, and they recently released a collection of previously unheard demos and bonus tracks, in a compilation album called Little Sibling.
I first reached out to Gina after attending “Riot Grrrl’s Little Sibling.” We spoke about how cleaning her house during quarantine has led to the creation of these new digital Riot Grrrl archives, being inspired by writers like Kathy Acker and Audre Lorde, and why it’s so important for queer creators to take the reins ourselves when the overwhelmingly white, cishet male gatekeepers will not let us through the door.
Who was the first artist (musician, author, filmmaker, or otherwise) who you felt like you could genuinely relate to?
Definitely Riot Grrrl bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. I was raised in a conservative area (13 years of Catholic school!) so it wasn’t until I found bands like that, and writers like Kathy Acker and Audre Lorde, that I was able to understand who I was and who I could be.
When did you initially discover that you had a knack for crafting these stories that you’ve transformed into plays, songs, and films? Was it something that you always enjoyed, or was it a more gradual discovery?
I grew up in a family and community full of musicians and singers, which was really inspiring. I know now how lucky I was to have that. And then I was the kind of kid who was just always—every time there was a family gathering or a dinner party or free time at school—I was like “OK! We’re making a play!” and I’d be roping my cousins and my friends into making something. We’d put together whole musicals to show our parents, or write songs, or make up dance choreography to songs on the radio. My cousin Joanna and I did a whole “lip sync concert” to Motown songs at the beach one summer, with makeup and costumes like baby drag queens or something.
I really enjoyed “Riot Grrrl’s Little Siblings.” What made you decide to get in touch with the Mazer archives, and what do you feel the current media discourse about Riot Grrrl today is still missing?
Thanks for coming to the event! What happened was that Casey Winkleman from the The June Mazer Lesbian Archives was in the audience for the last play I wrote, which was called STRAIGHT PLAY (a queer beach blanket musical). She approached me after the show and was like, “hey, the Archives would love to have a copy of the script and any incidental materials from the creation of the show, like notes and the program and stuff.” I was like, “be careful what you wish for!” Haha. A few months later I sent them a *massive* box of materials from my music career and from my theater company, SORORITY. Then I spent a large part of quarantine going through all my old things and creating a digital archive of over 500 images from my personal collection for them. It includes riot grrrl zines, flyers and photos from the late 90s and early 2000s, a lot of material from all of the plays I’ve done, and a bunch of other feminist and queer stuff from y2k to the present that I thought people might want to see. This will all be available online via the Mazer’s website.
So then, I suggested we do an event together—mainly because they mentioned that the Mazer didn’t have any riot grrrl materials yet! I think most of their audience is a little older, and most of my audience is a little bit younger, so I thought this could be a perfect opportunity to do something intergenerational and really bring people from different walks of life together. So we did an event called “Riot Grrrl’s Little Siblings” on Zoom, which took the name from Little Sibling (my new album of old demos and live material I just released), and we had performances I curated from some of my favorite SORORITY regulars, I sang a couple songs, and then the Mazer and I did a slideshow of some of my materials and a Q&A. The whole thing was recorded so I think you’ll also be able to watch that online via the Mazer’s site and eventually SORORITY’s YouTube as well.
But to answer your question about the media discourse, the biggest thing for me is that the media declared Riot Grrrl “dead” in the mid-90s, when actually, Riot Grrrl chapters and bands and activism were going strong for like another 10 years. And I think that’s important to note; they tried to erase us. So it’s twice as important to tell our own stories and preserve our own history. And now I see Riot Grrrl and queercore bands getting attention all over Spotify and TikTok, and Bikini Kill is touring again, so it’s clear that everything that was happening back then is just as vital and relevant today.
When did you first come up with the idea to start SORORITY, and what is your favorite part of getting to curate these events and performances?
SORORITY came about in 2016 because I was looking for an artistic community. I had moved to Los Angeles about 5 years prior, and while LA has so many amazing queer and feminist artists, a lot of them didn’t know each other and there wasn’t a centralized hub for our work. (LA is a really decentralized city—with traffic it can sometimes take an hour or two to get places you might want to go.) I wanted to create a community for the kind of queer and feminist work I wanted to see, and the kind of people that I wanted to hang out with. It’s a great alternative to the bar scene, too—I love queer bars, but SORORITY is a space that doesn’t hinge on alcohol, and the shows are usually salon-style, so it’s like an exchange of ideas with a room full of interesting people and sister artists (of all genders). So yeah, we’ve been doing the shows for five years now—just hit our five year anniversary! I think my favorite part of curating the events is just getting to hang out with everyone and see their amazing work. Also to know that I’m providing the kind of space for emerging artists and queer folks that was so important to me when I was finding my voice.
I also recently discovered your Team Gina raps, and I loved how they took a genre that can be (sometimes, but not always) homophobic and misogynist, and reappropriated it to cater to the queer feminine gaze. How did that project come about?
Haha Team Gina!! Well first of all, I think it’s important to note that not all hip hop is misogynist and homophobic, and the hip hop Gina Bling and I bonded over was often by women and queer artists who were underground at that time. Gina Bling and I met in Olympia Washington and both ended up living in Seattle. We were introduced by Cindy Wonderful from Scream Club and were instantly like, “Woah! We’re both named Gina!! We’re both allergic to cats! We’re both obsessed with musical theatre… and butches!” It was wild to have so much in common. Like how many people do you know that own tap shoes, know all the lyrics to Low End Theory, AND want to hang out at the Wildrose (Seattle’s lesbian bar) every weekend? So we became best friends, and we wanted to start a performance art pop project that was flipped pop culture on its head. You’re totally right about how you characterized our intention. We were like, what does pop music do? We’re going to do that, but queer it. So most of our tracks were produced by “producers,” we had costume designers and stylists, we had stage shows with a ton of synchronized dance moves, kind of like what the Spice Girls or Destiny’s Child might do, and then we tried to really flip a lot of pop culture tropes on their head, especially when it came to gender. The other Gina went by Gina Bling because she wanted to manifest glamour and luxury, I went by Gina Genius because I wanted to manifest business savvy and being the brains of the operation (that’s why my Instagram handle is @ginagenius) but above all, our guiding principle was FUN, like any time we had a “business meeting” we would watch Sex & the City and weigh all of our band decisions on how fun it would be or not. Touring to play underground queer venues in Croatia and Slovenia? Woah sounds incredibly fun! Opening for misogynist boy bands? Not so much. We made one music video that went really viral, in the early days of YouTube and Facebook when going viral wasn’t even really a thing yet. It’s called Butch/Femme and it’s all about how much we love butches; the video is a bunch of butches auditioning to be our girlfriends, haha. Team Gina’s music isn’t really available on streaming platforms, but I still have a few of the CDs left in my online shop!
How does it feel to continue to have young queer kids reach out to you about your music after all these years? I imagine it must be overwhelming and also rewarding.
It’s really cool and honestly it was so unexpected. Like after I stopped touring I kind of expected all that to stop. And it did for a few years. But then a younger generation of queers and feminists found my music on Spotify and TikTok and started messaging… and I can’t speak for everyone but I know for some of them, they appreciated that I never hid anything with pronouns or calling out politicians… it’s all pretty out there and explicit. And it’s an honor that the songs mean so much to people. “Punkrockdyke” is a song that still resonates with a lot of folks, because it’s basically about finding someone to love who is as militant and passionate as you. And “So-Called Str8 Grrrl” is another one that resonates, which is funny because it’s just about that kind of universal experience of falling in love with a “straight” girl who is clearly not straight at all, but chooses maybe a safer path because she’s not ready to be on your level yet. My music is on the streaming platforms and I love hearing from people that they’ve put it on playlists for their crushes and stuff.
When did you first come up with the idea to hold acting classes, and in addition to your students, do you feel like they’ve helped you grow in certain ways as well?
Honestly Feminist Acting Class was born out of my own frustration with actor training. As with a lot of institutions in this country, we’re taught that this is “just the way it is” and that we can’t do anything about it. But… why not? A lot of the old giants are dying. A lot of the dinosaurs are going extinct. When I studied theatre, there was so much sexism, racism and homophobia. It was normalized in the classroom, and in the work that was taught. The vast majority of plays produced in America are written and directed by straight white men. So then the quantity and quality of roles for straight white men is vastly superior to those for the rest of us. We’re relegated to stereotypes and villains and trauma porn. It’s really cool to be a small part of the movement [where] queer and trans people are ready for representation, and we demand to write the roles, play the roles, and have safe work environments. And women & other groups will no longer accept harassment, sizeism, etc. So my class, Feminist Acting Class, is an experiment to see what an acting class free of sexism and stereotypes might look like. One where we make the rules.
The most surprising part to me is how many people come to my class to heal from bad experiences they’ve had with other teachers, universities and acting studios. That challenged me to grow really quickly. I’m not a trained therapist or anything. But I think I’ve stepped up my game to better hold space for everyone. And my students have also challenged me to improve the ableist practices in my teaching. There are certain things that as a white, physically abled teacher I will always need to grow on. Holding classes on Zoom has been one way to make them more accessible to disabled and chronically ill students. And the biggest reward has been seeing students become best friends. I mean seriously, so many of them keep in touch, collaborate on projects and support each other’s performances. I LOVE TO SEE IT.
What do you feel is the most important thing that audiences should take away from your work?
I talk about this a lot… we are a community. Part of the reason that I love theatre and live music is that it puts us in the same room together and reminds us that we are accountable to each other. We don’t have to feel isolated all the time. And I hope that especially, after this pandemic, there will be a renewed interest in building queer and feminist community and supporting each other and each other’s creative work. I hope my work reminds you that you’re not alone and encourages you to connect with like-minded people. That’s it, yeah!