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Catching Up with Bad Static at Arlene’s Grocery

In less than a year, the Brooklyn-based riot grrrl quartet Bad Static has rapidly captured the attention of the local scene with their abrasively acidic thrashers inspired by horror films and biting she-punk legends like the Runaways and the Anemic Boyfriends. In less than ten months, the band has already received thousands of streams and even won the emerging artist award from Deli Magazine.

Bad Static’s debut EP Cherry Cyanide explores the duality of the sweet and the sour with hair-raising screams and descending power chords. The name Cherry Cyanide comes from a chemical compound found in cherry pits called hydrogen cyanide, which is so poisonous that ingesting as little as 0.1 grams can kill a person.

On June 9th, Bad Static took the stage at Arlene’s Grocery on a bill with Friend, Public Circuit, and Midnite Taxi, where they packed their set with several of their hard-hitting singles, including the anti-creep anthem “Peach,” the invasive and violating “Ectoplasm Nightmares,” and covers of the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” and MARINA’s “Bubblegum Bitch.” Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Nicol Maciejewska sported a white tank top, ripped fishnets, and an aqua-blue Jackson strapped across her chest with the words “ABORT THE COURT” emblazoned on it in silver lettering. Bassist Kelsie Williams and lead guitarist Mario DiSanto provided the noise factor that bolstered Maciejewska’s blood-curdling screams, and Squelch’s Amanda Fortemps filled in for Demetrio Abikkaram-Ricardo on drums.

A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Bad Static, along with their playwright collaborator Mo Zelle, to discuss their joint project The Cherry Pit Demos, as well as the band’s response to the overwhelming support they’ve received in such a short period of time.

You started in 2021 and have already been labeled a “buzz band to watch” by several publications. What is it like to process all that attention so soon?

Nicol Maciejewska: It was definitely surprising, especially since I’m very new to music. We didn’t even get to play any backyard shows before we went straight into playing venues.

Kelsie Williams: It’s definitely really cool that we’ve gotten such amazing feedback from the start.

Maciejewska: I was expecting a lot more people to be really mean. It just comes with the territory. People are just always so critical of music, especially in punk. People always have something shitty to complain about, whether it’s the sound of the recording or the vocals, but we haven’t really gotten much of that. We’re still waiting for it.

What made you decide to repackage “Bubblegum Bitch” as a punk song?

Maciejewska: I honestly just wanted to scream the word bitch! I’ve always liked MARINA and I wanted to sing a song that wasn’t traditionally punk. We’re used to covering “Cherry Bomb,” which is more aligned with our sound and we thought it would be fun to do something unexpected.

Williams: Even the way that we grew up in the Tumblr sphere, the people who were more alternative might have narrowly missed MARINA and gone straight into Arctic Monkeys. We often get really mixed reactions when we play that song live because the punk kids don’t really know it and the pop fans are totally bamboozled that we’ve stripped the song of its original melody, so it’s always interesting.

Nicol, I’m so used to seeing punk kids with Strats. What made you decide to go with the Jackson?

Maciejewska: It was actually a Christmas gift. I would have either gotten that or the Fender Squier, cause those are the cheapest ones. But everyone already had the Squier and I think it’s fun to stand out, even with gear. I like playing punk on a classic metal guitar. I also went with it because of the whammy bar, which I barely use, but I think it looks cool!

Are there any influences on the ‘Cherry Cyanide’ EP that people might not expect?

Maciejewska: It’s funny you say that, because a lot of people assume we were inspired by ’90s riot grrrl bands, but we were actually looking a bit further back. Our two major influences were The Runaways and Anemic Boyfriends, which is a much more niche band. I found one of their 45s at a record store called Rebel Rouser, and I became obsessed with their vintage rock vibe. A big influence on our horror-themed songs is the band Jack Off Jill as well.

Williams: We’re obsessed with horror, especially old horror. Our name is a Frankenstein reference, so it all circles back to horror.

Speaking of horror, “Ectoplasm Nightmares” is one of my favorite songs off your EP. What can you tell me about writing it?

Williams: I came up with the lyrics “exorcise my brain, perform a lobotomy,” after a breakup. I was going through the stage where it’s impossible to remove the other person from your thoughts, even when they’re not physically in your life. It feels like the only cure is to stab an ice pick through your eye and forget it all.

Mo, what inspired the two songs you wrote for the band on the Cherry Pit Demos?

Mo Zelle: I wrote a play in my senior year of college, and I interviewed 34 different drag artists across the country for research. I wanted to talk to everyone about who they were and how they wanted to perform, and it opened up my eyes up to different forms of performance art that I wasn’t exposed to before. I really started to think about the idea of queer people being on display for other people to look at, similar to the concept that George C. Wolfe explored in his play The Colored Museum. I collaborated with a variety of different artists who could really deliver the sound I envisioned for those songs. One of the songs is called “Dirty D. Ike,” which is based on an experience I had in high school where my ex-girlfriend’s mother violently dragged me by the ear and called me a “dirty fucking dyke.” It was a really traumatic experience, but I’ve reclaimed it as a namesake for myself whenever I perform. Nicol and I are very close and it was really special to see and hear Bad Static give that song the life it deserves.

What else can we look forward to from Bad Static in the near future?

Mario DiSanto: We have an album coming soon, which I’m producing. The sound is going to be very gritty and reminiscent of early punk, so stay tuned for that!


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Music

Fanny: The Best Band You (Probably) Haven’t Heard Of

Contrary to what we may have learned about music history, rock music has never just been a boys club. However, it is also not a secret that many women get sidelined and under-appreciated in the music industry, especially in rock.

But believe it or not, some of the most radical unwritten heroes of musical innovation were women. Two of the first composers to produce electronic sound were Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, sound engineers who worked in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Oram produced tunes with electronic oscillators and tape loops decades before synthesizers were invented, and Derbyshire was responsible for creating the siren-like sounds we hear in the Dr. Who theme. 

Daphne Oram

Another groundbreaking composer in music history who came later was Laurie Spiegel. In the ‘80s, Spiegel invented the electronic musical composition software, Music Mouse, which was one of the first programs used to produce music on the computer. Similarly, pioneering queer feminist folk rock singers like Laura Nyro and Joan Armatrading from the ‘60s, paved the way for the likes of Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, and Kate Bush. But many of these women unfortunately slipped through the cracks of time.  

And one particular band whose story we don’t hear enough, was the trailblazing all-women rock band Fanny. They shredded their way to the forefront long before the Runaways, the Go-Gos, and the Bangles. They emerged in the 1960s alongside Creedence Clearwater Revival, and they were David Bowie’s favorite band. Bowie even reached out to the group by writing them a fan letter and inviting them to one of his parties in Liverpool, and in a 1999 interview with Rolling Stone, Bowie called Fanny “one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time.” He went on to say, “They were extraordinary: they wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time.” Notice that he said rock band, not “girl band,” rock band

Fanny was founded in 1969 by Jean and June Millington, two sisters from the Philippines who started playing music together after moving to California. June played lead guitar and Jean played bass. The band went through various lineup changes over the years, recruiting Brie Brandt, Alice de Buhr, Patti Quatro, Nicky Barclay, and Cam Davis as band members. 

Fanny may have been the first all-female queer rock act to release an album on a major label, but even in the major label department they were far from the first rock act with all women (i.e. Goldie and the Gingerbreads). There is so much unwritten and undiscovered history of women in music. In the lost notes segment on the podcast, “Switched on Pop,” the feminist music critic, Jessica Hopper, mines the history of Fanny. 

“They’re just not really remembered outside of feminist-minded music histories,” Hopper says, before going on to say, “and when they are written into a lineage, they’re talked about as sort of pre-dating the Runaways. Kim Fowley came to one of their shows and said, ‘I’m gonna do what you’re doing, but I’m going to make money off of it.’ And then a year later there was the Runaways.”

The band was signed to Reprise Records shortly after they formed. Unfortunately, they would soon come to learn that the label had signed them on the grounds of being a novelty act, not for their genuine musical talent. They were lucky enough to be mentored by experienced musicians in the industry, and they worked harder than most of their male counterparts, but those who mentored them often did so because they hadn’t seen them as a threat.

But they were not hindered in the slightest by the pressure to pander to corporate “girl group” standards. They remained authentic to their rock roots all the way to the bitter end. “No matter how much [people] sneered, we kept getting better, and that mattered,” June Millington told Guitar Girl Mag in 2018. 

“We had to create our own frame, and then step into it,” Millington told the Guardian in 2018. They were a consciously united band. Even when some of the members like Nickey Barclay and the Millington sisters clashed and didn’t always get along, they insisted that “our music got along, and what you all saw – the smiles, the laughter, the grinning asides – was a part of it, and therefore was the real thing.”

As Francky Knapp wrote in Messy Nessy magazine, “The united front they put up on stage wasn’t a front, it was ‘a conscious thought,’ to show that they ‘were rock and roll survivors.’ As women who’d carved out a place for themselves on the stage, the last thing they wanted to do was pander to the press’ desire for ‘girl group drama.'”

The group opened for bands like Jethro Tull, Slade, and the Kinks. They also collaborated with Barbra Streisand, Todd Rundgren, and Geoff Emerick, who engineered the Beatles’ discography. Fanny was not only a group of women who fought to maintain their creative freedom, but a band that was started by queer women and immigrants. And they really knew how to shred. Listen to any single one of their songs, and their force and passion is extraordinarily palpable. 

The band crumbled in 1974 for all the reasons that one would expect: the pressure and lack of promotion from their label, and their inability to reach people before technology and wide circulation of DIY musicianship. They were simply ahead of their time. As Earl Slick said in the documentary Fanny: The Right to Rock, “It’s always the ones who start [a movement] that get fucked.” But this doesn’t mean they were forgotten. The Runaways, the Bangles, Heart, and several other pioneering rock bands helmed by women, have all cited Fanny as an influence. 

“They’re flag-bearers – they should be in the front of the parade,” Bangles guitarist Vicki Peterson told Rolling Stone in 2018. “As a 10-year-old, or 12-year-old, I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, these women play better than anyone needs to, and play great music and look great and rock with a ferocious spirit.’”

Cherie Currie from the Runaways has said that the members of Fanny are “like queens to [her],” before going on to say, “They started all of it. They cracked that door and made it possible for us to believe that we could do it too.”

In 2018, the Millington sisters and Brie Howard reunited to form the band Fanny Walked the Earth. They released an album of brand new material with guest players from the Bangles, the Runaways, and the Go-Go’s. When asked why they decided to record their new record under a different name, Millington told Rolling Stone, “I have no attraction to competing with our 23, 24, 25-year-old selves. I think that’s crazy. For us to be nostalgic about the past, there’s no point. Look at where we are now: We’re in an exalted state, doing what we do and being who we are.” 

Changing the language matters if we want to shift the framework. It is important that we stop referring to women who play music as “female artists.” Female is not a genre; it’s half the world. And the fact that half the world has always been innovating in one of the most healing and immersive art forms in the world, is far from an anomaly; it’s common sense.

This is why feminist historical recovery in music is so important. These women have always been here. They never went anywhere. We already know that the music business is a toxic environment for a lot of women, and there are slim resources within the industry to hold people accountable for sidelining these women. It’s our job to not only give these women their flowers, but to create an environment where they never have to be left out in the cold again.