INTERVIEW: Lauren Denitzio of Worriers vs. our Cootie Catcher

Worriers Cootie Catcher

At the second night of a three-part Don Giovanni showcase last Friday, we caught up with three of the New Brunswick-based punk label’s brightest and best.  We also decided to pioneer a new interviewing technique based on a popular children’s fortune telling game, using a folded paper “cootie-catcher” (or “saltcellar” or “chatterbox” or “whirlybird” or whatever you may have called it).

Worriers Cootie Catcher

Lauren Denitzio, lead singer of Worriers, isn’t at all squeamish about dealing with weighty concepts when it comes to songwriting.  Her band’s debut full-length, Cruel Optimist, draws from rich literal references, personal experiences, and the politics of being a feminist.  Denitzio’s words sometimes come across as a challenge to examine privilege, and she’s spent plenty of time here delving into her own and opening up about the conclusions she’s come to, without any heavy-handedness.  When taken together, the album’s overall feeling is one of exhilaration, energy, and inspiring call to action.  And her band, comprised of former bandmates from The Measure [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][sa] Tim Burke and Mikey Erg, as well as best friend Rachel Rubino on bass, is more than willing to back that up.

LAUREN PICKS CAT, 8, 4, 5 and gets the question: What’s more important, the personal or the political?

LD: Woah. That is a good question. Maybe I’ll say the personal because of the saying “the personal is political”.  Over the years, the way I’ve written songs comes from a very personal place, trying to find a way to use personal things that I write about to talk about other, political things. That’s what I try to have fun with, is writing about personal things that are cathartic for me to write about and sing about but they’re also talking about larger issues. And being able to bring that into the band without it being like “We are a POLITICAL BAND, and we’re going to sing about these things that are important to us but don’t necessarily relate directly to our personal lives.” So yeah, I’d say the personal. Because I think it can be more dynamic.

LAUREN PICKS GHOST, 6, 2, 7 and gets the question: What’s your favorite song from “Cruel Optimist”?

LD: I’ll say “Best Case Scenario” is my favorite one.  I think a lot of the songs maybe have more to them than face value, but I think “Best Case” is really fun to play, really fun to sing, and it’s also just a straight-up love song about my sweetheart, so I always really enjoy that one.

LAUREN PICKS GUITAR, 3, 9, 2 and gets the question: “Passion” is a reference to Jeanette Winterson, and there are lots of literary references on the record.  What’s a book you think everyone should read and if it happens to relate to your songs, how so?

LD: Well I feel like the obvious answer to this would be Cruel Optimism by Lauren Berlant. It’s kind of where the title for the record came from and I think that it’s a more theoretical, maybe a bit more academic book than say, Passion by Jeanette Winterson. But I think it’s an accessible read.  She talks about a lot of things that make a lot of sense to me in terms of how we define success and how people can be very attached to this mainstream, neo-liberal, everyone for themselves, very capitalist mentality of the quote-unquote good life – whatever that means to you.  And how detaching from that can bring about new possibilities. Regardless of the examples that she uses in the book, it has been really useful for me in both my artwork and music in thinking about how we construct our own worlds and our own lives based on goals that don’t have to do with what we’ve been told growing up or what the news wants to tell you is successful or the right life path. She also talks about how those things can be where living takes place, like in the pursuit of the good life. But I think it’s a really interesting book. I really love it, and love her writing and it’s a book I would hand to anyone.
AF: Do you think she knows that you named a record after her book?
LD: In fact I do know that, because her publisher, Duke University Press, found a link to the record online and links to it underneath her book on their website. It says, listen to the Worriers’ punk song “Cruel Optimist”.  And I’ve written to her and told her it was an inspiration and she approves. She likes the music, she thinks it’s rad. It gave me a reason to talk to someone I admire.  The record is Lauren Berlant approved.

LAUREN PICKS BEER, 2, 6, 3, and gets the question: How did you get involved with the folks at Don Giovanni?

LD: Well, the first band I was ever in, The Measure [sa], was based in New Brunswick, where Joe and the label are also based.  Most of the original Don Giovanni bands were from New Brunswick, so just through knowing people from New Brunswick, through my friendship with Joe. He’s just always been very supportive, and I think the focus of the label is really on the creative output of his friends, even though that’s kind of widening location-wise.
AF: So it’s sort of like a family?
LD: Definitely.

LAUREN PICKS GHOST, 3, 8, 4 and gets the question: Are you worried right now?  If so, what about?

LD: I’m worried about when we have to go on!  [laughs] But I’m not worried all the time.  I mean I think it definitely reflects a certain sensibility that I have sometimes. And that we as a band had when it started.  It’s a mix of just trying to humorous and actually being apprehensive.

LAUREN PICKS CAT, 7, 5, 6 and gets the question: How have the bands you’ve been in in the past shaped the current band you’re in?

LD: Well, I think it has definitely influenced the way I interact with other people I’m playing music with, especially because I’m really the only songwriter in this band.  It’s influenced how I respond to not having someone else consistently writing songs.  If I want there to be a range and don’t want everything to sound the same it’s kind of up to me to do that.  But I also have all these freedoms, and I feel like I paid my dues in other bands and really worked hard and put out a lot of records and really went for it.  Knowing that you can really play as many shows as you want and do it all the time, even as I am getting older or whatever, it’s a reminder that there’s really nothing stopping me from just making it happen.

LAUREN PICKS GUITAR, 3, 4, 9 and gets the question: If you were asked to take part in the Winter Olympics, which sport would you choose?

LD: Oh my god [laughing]. Well first off I wouldn’t participate in the Winter Olympics. The olympics are a very nationalist, problematic thing that I wouldn’t want to actually participate in. But, in terms of athletic prowess, you know, if you were asking me to participate in an athletic competition of such caliber –
AF: The Don Giovanni Winter Games.
LD: Yes! If I had all the athletic ability in the world, maybe snowboarding. Only because as a kid there was this Tony Hawk video game I would play, I think.  I feel like that would be like the “punk” sport. Or ski jumping maybe. I could never do either of these things. I would just be too scared. But in this universe where I am playing winter games, I am also not scared, so there we go.

And lastly: What’s the scariest thing about declaring yourself a feminist?
LD: Well I think in general, it is a scary concept to put your foot down about your own politics, especially if you’re using the word “feminist” around people who don’t identify that way or aren’t as familiar with it.  They may be a little scared of it or have preconceived notions about it. So I think it’s scary to try to hold your own when people want to attack you for that or don’t agree with you. It’s that way about any political belief, kind of. For me personally, I am not scared any more. I’ve had confrontations between friends, and on the internet, and wherever, where I’ve had to defend feminism or the things that I think because I consider myself a feminist. The scariest thing is just having to put out the emotional effort to have difficult discussions with people who you otherwise get along with, or to think that people are gonna judge you for that or any other thing that you do or say politically. Any time you make a big statement  that you can fully put your weight behind, you wonder if someone is gonna give you a hard time, or push back on it.  I just don’t care any more, and on the flip side it’s great to be able to be be like “Whatever man, this is how I feel” and I’m not gonna change because somebody doesn’t think it’s a popular thing.

Worriers Live Don Giovanni Showcase

That fearlessness comes across in the content of her music as well as her performance of it.  On stage, Denitzio’s lighthearted interactions with her bandmates belie the most serious subject matter.  The band rounded out selections from Cruel Optimism by revisiting work from 2011’s Past Lives EP and playing two songs from a 7″ single recently released on Berlin’s Yo-Yo Records titled Sinead O’Rebellion.  Denitzio’s unadorned vocal delivery is matter-of-fact, assured and refreshing, while Erg, Burke, and Rubino play with a classically indefatigable punk spirit, giving the sense that no one on stage is worried in the least.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

INTERVIEW: Laura Stevenson vs. our Cootie Catcher

Laura Stevenson Cootie Catcher

At the second night of a three-part Don Giovanni showcase last Friday, we caught up with three of the New Brunswick-based punk label’s brightest and best.  We also decided to pioneer a new interviewing technique based on a popular children’s fortune telling game, using a folded paper “cootie-catcher” (or “saltcellar” or “chatterbox” or “whirlybird” or whatever you may have called it).

Laura Stevenson Cootie Catcher

Laura Stevenson’s been a part of the Don Giovanni family for a few years now, having released a solo project under the name Laura Stevenson & the Cans on the label in 2010.  Stevenson released Wheel last year to much acclaim, keeping her live band but dropping ‘the Cans’ from the moniker for more clarity.  “Now it’s just my name, and it’s really really weird.  I don’t know how to introduce us” she says, laughing warmly.  She and her four bandmates recently moved into a house together formerly rented by The Felice Brothers, a folk rock band with whom they’ve frequently shared a bill.  Her history of making music stretches far back into her childhood (her grandfather was the composer who wrote “Little Drummer Boy” among other Christmas classics), with stints as a keyboardist in Bomb the Music Industry! and Radiator Hospital.

LAURA PICKS BANANA, 5, 2, 6 and gets the question: What’s the best song someone’s ever put on a mixtape for you?

LS: My friend Katie made me like the best mixtapes ever. She introduced me to a lot of bands. she introduced to the Mountain Goats, and she put that song “Going to Georgia” on it, which was really good.
AF: Were you going to Georgia at the time?
LS: Well, no. But I’m usually traveling so maybe she foresaw that happening.
AF: Do you have mixtape go-tos?
LS: I really like that song “Maria” by American Steel. I put that on mixtapes, that’s a good one.

LAURA PICKS TREE, 3, 8, 8 and gets the question: Name something that inspires you to create music.

LS: I guess just life, just things that I’m experiencing personally.  I have a lot of feelings, which can be hard for me.  I’ve never done hallucinogenic drugs because I’m terrified of what’s going to come up.  My friend  was like “You’ll think about every blade of grass,”  I’m like “I already think about every blade of fucking grass.”  I don’t want to think about everything.  Maybe it would actually be freeing, because I do worry about lots of things.  I feel like maybe all of that is fodder for a long career of songwriting. Or maybe my head will just explode.

LAURA PICKS SKULL, 2, 7, 5 and gets the question: I don’t if you read what people write about you, but you have a very unique voice.  What’s the most annoying phrase a music writer has ever used to describe your voice or your music? 

LS: I read everything.  I’m not at a place where I don’t desperately care what people are saying. Let’s se, uhm… “cute”.  That’s like across the board. It’s like oh, I’m like a baby. Or a small dog.  And not like a grown woman with like real-ass problems.

LAURA PICKS KEYBOARD, 4, 4, 9 and gets the question:  Tell me more about your childhood – growing up on sugar barges, having a grandfather who penned some very well-known songs…. I was just wondering if you hate Christmas music.

LS: I love Christmas music, for sure!  My parents got divorced when I was very little so it was like having two childhoods. At my dad’s house he was super into music, always playing guitar.  And he was in the shipping business so he would always take me on big rigs, on Domino ships. The sugar ships were the worst smelling things in the world. The thing is, the sugar gets spilled out of whatever the containers are, like on the deck. And the water comes up because it’s crossing the Atlantic. So briny salt water mixed with the sugar… it makes it smell like greek olives but like rotting Greek olives. But I really loved just being on those huge ships.  Things at my dad’s house were a little loose. He would take me to see Jerry Garcia bands and all those iterations of Grateful Dead and then we’d go to go see Phish, and that was a whole thing.
AF: And yet you’ve never done hallucinogens?
LS: I probably have, just like, accidentally, in the air somewhere. But I would hang out with people that were definitely on acid, they’d be spinning around and dancing, and I was a little girls so I was like “This is cool! These people are awesome! They’re treating me like I’m their equal!” And then at my mom’s house, she was like “Play piano!”  As a single mom she was working her ass off but she was constantly taking me to lessons because she saw that I had an ear for the music. And her parents are the musicians. So they were always coming over and my mom would say “Play them something!” And I was like “Noooooo, that’s fucking terrifying.” My grandfather plays Bach – closes his eyes and plays the most difficult thing in the world. And my grandmother was an incredible piano player, it was so crazy.  So I would never want to play for them. And then I started writing stuff, and my grandfather helped put things on staff paper for me and that was really exciting. There was always kind of a pressure, but I was the only grandkid on that side that got into music, so I felt like I had to represent. It was kinda scary.
AF: Did they ever get to hear your music? It’s pretty different from “Little Drummer Boy”.
LS: No, they’re long gone. “Little Drummer Boy” is a fucking weird song, it’s based on a Hungarian carol. So it has these hints of Eastern Europe and very interesting melodies. It’s one of the weirder Christmas songs.  And people hate it. But I like it cause it’s just like, oh yeah… it’s the song.  My grandfather was a famous choral arranger, that was his big thing, so all my chorus teachers growing up would study him when they were studying how to be chorus teachers. I don’t know what kind of classes you take in college for that… choral science?
AF: And they knew that you were related.
LS: Yeah, and they were so into it.  At least for the first week of school, and then they’d be like “This little girl is annoying, never mind.” I thought we were friends! But it worked for a little bit.  I was a star student.

LAURA PICKS TREE, 5, 7, 4 and gets the question: Do you think fans of Bomb the Music Industry! or Radiator Hospital were surprised by the direction you took with “Wheel”?  Just in that it steps away from lo-fi recording and has a more polished sound.

LS: As far as people that knew my writing and were fans already, I feel like they were like coming along on the ride with us. So I haven’t gotten and flak from fans of other bands I’ve been in.
AF: I wouldn’t expect flak, I think people were probably pleasantly surprised that you pulled it off while staying true to your prior work.
LS: They’re super open, and that’s really cool. Bomb definitely draws a crowd of people that are open.  Either they like it or they don’t, but they don’t say that they don’t like it if they don’t like it. They just quietly don’t like it. But they will request Bomb the Music Industry! songs at shows.  My accordion player reminded me of this today – the last time we were in Dallas we had all these nice posters and we thought, either we’ll give one to someone if they buy something, or they can get a poster if they give a dollar fifty or whatever they wanna give, so we had a sign that said FREE POSTER WITH TIP.  And this kid after the show goes “Here’s a tip: play more Bomb the Music Industry! covers” took a poster and walked away. So maybe there are some fans out there that might not be into it.
AF: I mean, is that hard for you to do both things? I’m sure your head is in different spaces approaching each project.
LS: Yeah, but this is where I do the writing. With anything else I’m just playing whatever somebody else writes. I’m enthusiastic about it, if I like the person’s writing. I’m not gonna play with a band that I don’t like. I’m not going to do guest vocals on a record that I don’t believe in.  I did something for our friends The Saddest Landscape, the polar opposite of our band.  They’re a screamo band from Boston, and they’re super super awesome, and people still thought it was weird.  But if I believe in something, it doesn’t feel weird to me at all.
AF: Music is music, it’s probably good to switch it up.
LS: Yeah, it definitely changes your brain.  I can be open to different ideas melodically.

That covered one of our other questions as well, so we skipped it.  Next, LAURA PICKS SKULL, 3, 5, 3 and gets the question: If you met someone who had never heard your album, how would you recommend they listen to it?

LS: The order?
AF: No, in what setting. I listened to it a lot while I was driving on a recent trip home. And it was perfect.
LS: I was gonna say driving, because even though car stereos might not be the best you’re still getting stereo. Our van is very wide, so the speakers are like very far apart. So you can really hear the ideas that the engineer had when they were mixing it.  So depending on how wide your dashboard is I think the car is a good spot.  There are some slower songs, so definitely not if you’re tired, but usually it gets picked up with an energetic one right after, just in case people are starting to get bored.

And the last question: What’s up with the dildo on your Instagram?

LS: I don’t know! It was so weird!
AF: Did anyone claim it?
LS: No, nobody told us. We were in kind of in an industrial area. We were out East, in Copiague, Suffolk county, Long Island, seeing a band called Iron Chic.  I’d never been to Copiague.  I drove my van to the show because we don’t have a car, just use the van when we drive around, and right underneath that back tire was a giant dildo. It was crazy. And the dildo was a deep black color, the color of the asphalt. But it was kind of raining, so there was a little glimmer of wetness. Otherwise I wouldn’t have seen it. I just saw moonlight shining off of it. And I was like, that can’t possibly be a dildo, that’s ridiculous. But it was a dildo. It was so crazy. I thought somebody was probably playing a trick on us, but after this all happened and I put it on the net, people were saying, “Yeah, people find dildos all the time.”  And apparently there’s this dildo-finder twitter and they retweeted me. They just retweet anybody that finds a dildo. There are so many people, they turn up everywhere, who knows why? I guess if you’re in a car and you’re going somewhere and you’re using it with someone, and you’re like “gotta destroy the evidence” and just toss it? I’m not sure.
AF: Dildos are expensive though.
LS: Yeah. They’re like $25, the cheapest ones. So yeah, I don’t know.
AF: A mystery for the ages.

Laura Stevenson Don Giovanni Showcase

As silly as that story might seem, Stevenson’s music is all about untangling life’s absurd mysteries.  Calling her “cute” is an absolute disservice; on stage she is nothing short of captivating.  She exudes the kind of confidence that must come from a lifetime of performing, the range of her voice not only robust but extremely emotive.  She never lets it get away from her, knowing when to belt out her unabashed lyrics and when to whisper more tender ones.  At the Don Giovanni showcase, she played plenty of material from Wheel but didn’t neglect the older songs in her catalogue like “Nervous Rex” and “Master of Art”, the latter of which she dedicated to her sister, who was in the crowd.  She shared funny anecdotes between songs, and though she introduced most of her tunes as “sad” there were plenty of smiling faces in the audience, often singing along.


INTERVIEW: Upset vs. our Cootie Catcher

Upset Cootie Catcher

At the second night of a three-part Don Giovanni showcase last Friday, we caught up with three of the New Brunswick-based punk label’s brightest and best.  We also decided to pioneer a new interviewing technique based on a popular children’s fortune telling game, using a folded paper “cootie-catcher” (or “saltcellar” or “chatterbox” or “whirlybird” or whatever you may have called it).

Upset Cootie Catcher

It seemed especially fitting for Upset, whose debut album She’s Gone was released  last year and lyrically speaking, addresses the kind of teenage angst that never really goes away.  I talked with Ali Koehler, who formerly played drums for Vivian Girls and Best Coast before releasing a cassette of solo material and forming Upset, as well as Patty Schemel, best known as the drummer for Hole.  The band’s regular line-up includes Jenn Prince on guitar (you might know her from La Sera or Negativ Daze) and a rotating cast of bassists (if you know anyone, tweet @weareUpset because they’ve been diligently looking).

ALI PICKS TACO, 4, 5, 3 and gets the question: Do you think it is necessary to shed the legacies of bands you’ve played with in the past before starting a new project?

ALI: No…. no, cause that’s part of who you are and it informs the music that you make now and you can’t make everyone just be like, “Hey, remember all that other stuff?” and erase their memories. So you’ve just kinda gotta keep movin’ along.
PATTY: Yeah.
AF: Do you think, especially with this project, that you’re building on other projects you’ve worked on before?
ALI: Probably. I mean, just cause those are life experiences we have that we’ll never get rid of, so that always…
PATTY: Shapes you.
ALI: Yeah.
PATTY: Ali’s a singer, and a guitar player, and a songwriter, and she’s been a drummer, so there’s that difference.

PATTY PICKS TELEPHONE, 8, 9, 7 and gets the question:  You’ve toured with a lot of female-fronted bands.  Is there a reason for that and does it differ from touring with dudes?

PATTY: Uhhhhm YEAH. It does.
ALI: For sure.
PATTY: This is gonna sound dumb but I like hanging out with ladies, I like women. Guys are fun and stuff but I just identify with what women talk about and sing about.
ALI: They bring a different vibe to the tour. I know when Vivian Girls toured with… well, Vivian Girls toured with a lot of guys, cause we were on In The Red, and it was more of a boys club. And we played with Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, and King Khan & BBQ Show, and Black Lips and stuff, and that is a waayyyyyyyyy different vibe.
AF: Well those are all bands that have a little bit more of a reputation for being rowdy…..
ALI: Yeah, I mean, they don’t represent all guys. They’re particularly nutty. But. There’s a lot more of like, going to strip clubs, and… having a lot more fights with each other. Just not as chill.
PATTY: They let some stuff go, where I wouldn’t let it go. Like a shower, or something. Maybe a good scrubbing.  Or a place to sleep. I’ll go the extra two hours to get to a good Holiday Inn.
ALI: Yeah, I’m into being comfortable. Okay, so King Khan BBQ Show… King Khan, this nails it. The hotel we were staying in, he got drunk and threw up all over his hotel room and then took photos posing in it the next morning, and we’re all eating breakfast like, ugh!
AF: But there’s not so much of that with the ladies? They don’t really pose in their own vomit?
ALI: No. Dudes do.

ALI PICKS CROWN, 8, 5, 6 and gets a question written for Patty.  Is it weird watching a documentary about yourself?  Or being in one in general?

PATTY: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t really say, I’m gonna do a documentary. I was preserving all the footage and was approached by my friend David, who is the director, who was like “We should do something”. So I did, and then it took a while, it was done in 2011, and going back and looking at all that footage was like going back through a crazy time machine. But it’s always good to take an experience, the good parts and the bad parts, and do something with it, make something, create something out of it, you know.
ALI: Like a phoenix rising from the ashes!
PATTY: YES! To do that with it, to create something and then also kind of  share what I saw.  I always like the archival footage when I watch a documentary. I wanna see that.
AF: I really liked that the filmmakers talked to so many female drummers because there is definitely this unfortunate thing that happens even in a band that’s mostly women, it’s like the drummer’s always a dude. It’s so hard for people to name female drummers off the top of their head.
PATTY: Yeah. To acknowledge the ones that came before. Gina Schock, Debbie Peterson from The Bangles.  Nowadays there’s more lady drummers.
AF: Did you see the Kathleen Hanna documentary?
PATTY: No. Not yet.
ALI: I had snot running out of my nose. I was inconsolable. My boyfriend said, it was as if someone you love has died. I was so moved to tears.
PATTY: I’m gonna watch it this weekend.
AF: You should, it’s really really great. I just think it’s funny that you have that in common, first making such prolific music during that era, but then also both having had documentaries made about you.
PATTY: I lovvvvvvve Kathleen Hannah. Always have.

ALI PICKS: DINO, 2, 6, 2 and gets the question:  Why’d you decide to call the band Upset? What upsets you most about the music industry?

ALI: I was looking up the definition of the word upset for… no reason, I don’t know why. And it was something about anxiety, a disquieted feeling, all this shit, and I am a very anxious person. I dunno, I thought it made sense. And it has multiple meanings. You could be upset, or have an upset.  I just thought it didn’t sound like any one genre so we could kinda grow into it.
AF: And so for the two-parter, what upsets you about the music industry?
ALI: (makes whistling sound) I don’t know… the fact that it is run by people that don’t know shit about music?
AF: That’s a good answer. That pretty much lays it out.
PATTY: I know. That’s good.

PATTY PICKS CROWN, 6, 3, 4 and gets the question: What’s next for the band as far as doing more albums, touring, etc.?

ALI: We’re doing SXSW this year and we’re gonna work on writing new stuff. Jenn’s been writing new stuff. We kinda took a break over the holidays.
PATTY: We’re sorting out our bass player situation.
ALI: Oh, right. We still don’t have a bass player.
PATTY: Rachel from that dog. played on the West Coast tour with us, which was amazing and great.  Thanks Rachel! And then Katy Goodman [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][of Vivian Girls, All Saints Day & La Sera] was doing a lot over the last summer. So sweet. So tonight Kyle’s playing with us and he’s the one that wrote all the bass parts.
ALI: Kyle Gilbride from Swearin’ recorded the album and wrote the bass parts and played the bass parts on the album because we didn’t have a bass player then either. And it’s comin’ up on a year. We formed the band with a bass player who moved away….
PATTY: He got married.
ALI: It’s become a Spinal Tap thing where we cannot find a permanent bassist. 

ALI PICKS TACO, 6, 3, 8 and gets the question: Whose cool dog are you posing with in your promo pictures?

PATTY: Her name is Maddie. And she is an amazing rescue dog that my friend Molly, the photographer, owns now. She’s been in a lot of stuff. she’s been in some PETA ads and she’s just an all-around popular fashion dog.
AF: She’s a star.
PATTY: Yeah, she is.
AF: Air Bud’s got nothin’ on her.
ALI: She’s really tolerant, with the posing.
PATTY: Which really speaks to how far she’s come. Now I’m gonna get into “dog stuff” because she was from the streets…
ALI: Terrified, right?
PATTY: Yeah. She was on Dog Whisperer. Because when Molly found her some kids were throwing rocks at her. And they did a lot of work together and I started working with her too….
AF: Yeah, cause you do work with rescue dogs as well….
PATTY: Yeah. So that’s that.
ALI: Now she’s like the best.
PATTY: And those are genuine smiles.  When you have a dog like that on your lap, you’re not posing. It’s pure joy.
ALI: Yeah, we all couldn’t have been happier.
PATTY: That was our best pic.

Upset with rescue dog Maddie

PATTY PICKS DINOSAUR, 2, 7, 8 and gets the question: The girls on your album cover look like super heroes, is there a reason for that?
ALI: Yeah, because it’s a rip-off of the Adrian Tomine Weezer Superhero poster. Not a rip-off… but….
PATTY: Inspired by.
ALI: I love it. Jenn’s friend James does all the art for Audacity and stuff. I basically told James I wanted the vibe to be that poster with that color scheme meets Now And Then. And he’s the best, he had never seen Now And Then, so he actually watched it.
PATTY: Is that that movie with like… Gabby….
AF: It’s like Christina Ricci and Gabby Hoffman….
PATTY: Who is RULING on Girls now…
ALI: Yes!
PATTY: This season is Gabby Hoffman.
ALI: Have you seen Crystal Fairy?
AF: I haven’t watched Girls at all, but I like her character in Crystal Fairy.
ALI: She’s basically the same character.
PATTY: Oh, I love her.
ALI: You need to see Crystal Fairy. It’s amazing. Anyway so Now And Then meets that poster. With those mid-century modern colors. Muted, whatever. And he did it and it was awesome.

AF: The last question we kind of already talked about, just about how you all got together.  Ali, you and Jenn had kind of played together-ish?

ALI: Yeah, we kept trying to start a band but could never get it together. Around that time Patty and I started talking, and I asked if she was playing in bands and she told me she played with her brother and different things, and she asked if I was playing in a band and I was like, well I don’t have any friends….
PATTY: It was between me and Adrian Brody. No. Not Adrian Brody…. Brody the comedian.
ALI: Brody Stevens.
PATTY: That would be funny though.
ALI: I kept trying to start bands, actually, with comedians. I don’t know if you know this comedian Jonah Ray…. he’s really into music and punk rock and stuff and he plays drums and then Kyle Kinane plays guitar and I was like maybe I can like get them to form a band for me, but… I have a wayyyyy better band.
AF: You guys just played a comedy show, I think I read somewhere.
PATTY: I love playing comedy shows. It’s fun.
ALI: We’ve played comedy shows a few times. I go to more comedy shows than music shows. And the first time that Patty & I spoke was because she was the monologist for ASSCAT at UCB.
PATTY: I’ve done it a few times.
ALI: I feel like the L.A. comedy scene is better than their music scene.

Upset Live Don Giovanni Showcase

The band brought a great sense of humor into their set later that evening.  Koehler may have started her music career behind a kit, but she truly shines as a front-woman, cracking jokes between songs and delivering a snarling vocal performance.  Schemel’s drumming has never been more powerful, marked by the sheer joy of having returned to the stage after a long absence.  Jenn Prince’s guitar presence was laid-back, though I spotted her getting wild in the mosh pit during Shellshag’s exuberant set.  Gilbride seemed pleased to play with these girls again, and even if it’s not as a permanent member if was a treat to see him bring their sound to life outside of the studio.  They ripped through material from She’s Gone in a whirlwind.  “Queen Frosteen” and “Game Over” got the most shouts from the audience, which was unfortunately a little thinner than it probably should’ve been.  But with promising SXSW appearances on the horizon it’s only a matter of time before Upset become a household name.  For many of its members, it’ll be the second time around.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

YEAR END LIST: AF’s Guide to Riot Grrrl’s Influence in 2013

Body/Head at St. Vitus

It is a goddamn golden age for girl-fronted punk.  It’s not that there haven’t been important works by women in the ensuing years, but 2013 saw a Riot Grrrl Renaissance unlike anything since its early ’90s inception.  Back then, Kathleen Hanna had to make safe spaces at Bikini Kill shows for female attendees by calling out aggressive dudes.  The ladies at the forefront of the movement had to blacklist the mainstream media that painted them alternately as fashion plates, dykes, or whores (sometimes all three, and always with negative connotations; it shouldn’t be implied that to be any of these things is bad or wrong in the first place).  By all accounts, they “couldn’t play” anyway, so the medium and its messages were barely worth discussing as anything more than a passing trend.  Meanwhile, riot grrrls preached their radical politics one Xerox at a time.

If the wisdom of these women seemed to skip the generation that adored Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” without criticism, it has finally come full circle in a way that feels vital and urgent now.  Not only are we as a culture stepping up to finally examine sexism and exploitation and appropriation within the industry, there are more acts than ever completely unafraid to do their own thing – be it overtly political (see: Priests) or revolutionary in its emotional candidness (looking at you, Waxahatchee).  Maybe it has to do with direct influences of stalwart ensembles like Sleater-Kinney and Bratmobile, and maybe it’s a thing that’s happened gradually as those first voices carved out room for other female performers (for instance, in establishing Rock Camps for young female musicians throughout the country, a project that initially came about through discussions and direct action in riot grrrl communities).  There’s no way to make an inclusive list of all the phenomenal bands (punk or otherwise) now blazing their own trails through their various scenes but taking a tally of at least a few of these acts felt like a necessity for me as someone whose entire life was informed by music like this, and girls like them.  And because fifteen years after I discovered it for myself, 2013 feels like one giant, celebratory dance party/victory lap.


If 2013 is the year female-fronted punk broke, it has to be said that not all 90’s era veterans burned out or faded politely away.  In fact, two of the grunge scene’s most influential women put out intensely personal releases this year.

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Kathleen Hanna Kim Gordon
Hanna and Gordon in 1994’s “Bull in the Heather” video

Body/Head, Kim Gordon’s noise project with Bill Nace, created a moving exploration of feminine and masculine tropes in the form of a noise record.  I wouldn’t want to reduce Coming Apart to a document of her split from long-time partner Thurston Moore, but the whole thing feels every bit as raw and awkward as a life change that catastrophic must have been.  It’s Gordon’s most powerful, wild moments in Sonic Youth distilled down and then blown up.  Her vocals can sound desperate and strained at times, but this is ironically the most forceful aspect of the recordings – the anger and the vulnerability existing together in all its anti-harmony.

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Body/Head at St. Vitus
Kim Gordon and Bill Nace perform as Body/Head in June at St. Vitus

Likewise, Hanna’s record is not a chronicle of her late-stage Lyme Disease, the chronic illness that forced her to quit touring with socially-conscious electro outfit Le Tigre (for that, check out Sini Anderson’s brilliant Hanna doc The Punk Singer) but a testament to the triumph that creating it had over her sickness.  Reviving her moniker from ’97’s bedroom-recording project Julie Ruin by adding a “The” to the front and four incredible musicians and co-conspirators at her back, the band released Run Fast in September.  It manages to meld every one of Hanna’s prior sonic sensibilities, burnishing the the dance-punk of Feminist Sweepstakes with the sass and cacophony of The Singles and adopting the confessional tone of that first solo record.

This is riot grrrl all grown up; though neither project should necessarily bear that particular label, it feels like a continuation of the story that in turn validates its importance.  And the influence of Gordon and Hanna and others of their ilk can certainly be heard in a whole host of bands with break-out records that landed this year.  Again, it’s not that anyone in these bands are running around calling themselves riot grrrls, just that they’d be right at home on a playlist with bands who did (and bands of that era, from Red Aunts to Discount to that dog., that demanded my affection as equally).


Katie and Allison Crutchfield have been making music since they were teenagers, most notably in P.S. Elliot before splitting up to pursue creative projects as separate entities.  Katie released American Weekend in 2012 and Cerulean Salt in March, Allison released a self-titled record with her band Swearin’ last year and followed it up with Surfing Strange a few months ago.  The girls are mirror twins, meaning they’re identical but that their features are reversed in some instances, and that’s a good approximation of how their musical projects merge and divide.  Cerulean Salt is stripped down sonically and hyper-focused on thematic subject matter, dealing directly with her family history and its personal stories.  Swearin’ takes a music-making approach more classic to pop punk, its subject matter just as earnest but with a broader focus.  The two have reunited for one-off projects (like an incredible cover of Grimes’ Oblivion for Rookie Mag) and live together in Philly with their boyfriends (both of whom play in Swearin’).  In interviews and in their song lyrics they espouse feminist ideas unabashedly and have talked openly about finding inspiration in the riot grrrl movement.

Speaking of Alison’s boyfriend, Kyle Gilbride produced girl-punk supergroup Upset’s debut album, She’s Gone, out this year on Don Giovanni.  Uniting Vivian Girls contemporaries Ali Koehler and Jenn Prince with Patty Schemel of Hole, She’s Gone is a quirky collection of catchy, rapid-fire jams that at first listen might come off as slightly superficial.  But at the crux of the record is the idea of examining female experience, in particular the formative teenage years, in which break-ups and female rivalry loom large.  Taking what might be written off as juvenile and giving it its due importance in song is what makes the album both accessible and relevant.  If it seems precocious to compare one’s dreams to a dinosaur, at least it validates them by re-calibrating the scale.

Don Giovanni put out another astounding release in The Worriers’ Cruel Optimist.  Fronted by Lauren Denitzio of Measure, the project seeks to combine her interests in literature, art, and queer activism in a way her past musical projects have not.  Over hooky guitars and crashing drums, Denitzio talks about privilege in feminism and the need to re-evaluate personal politics with growing older on “Never Were”, references Jeanette Winterson as a way to talk about androgyny and gender identity on “Passion”, and ruminates on the toll that conservative politics took on a personal relationship in “Killjoy”.  The album closes with “Why We Try”, a triumphant reminder of the reasons these discussions still need to happen in music and elsewhere.  “If we expect something better / things won’t just move forward / Remember why we try“.

In talking about New Brunswick’s esteemed DIY circuit, we’d be remiss to not include Marissa Paternoster, active for several years now in the punk scene there, releasing work under solo moniker Noun as well as with her band Screaming Females.  It’s the latter’s most recent release, Chalk Tape, that sees the band going in some very interesting melodic directions with their particularly searing brand of guitar rock, recording most of the songs without revisions based around concepts scrawled on a chalkboard.  Paternoster’s commanding vocals, gliding easily between out-and-out aggressive and tender, looped sophistication, paired with her exceptional guitar work, make Chalk Tape a tour de force.  Here’s hoping a few misguided Miley fans accidentally stumbled on the wrong “Wrecking Ball”.

Nestled in another well-respected DIY scene, Northampton-based Speedy Ortiz represent a collective of 90’s-era rock enthusiasts with a poet at the helm.  Sadie Dupuis feels more comfortable behind a guitar than on open-mike night, but the lyrics she penned for Major Arcana and delivers with brass are practically worthy of a Pulitzer.  Razor sharp wit, slyly self-deprecating quips, and vitriol marked by vulnerability characterize the general tone of the record, its particular lyrical references so nuanced and clever it begs about a million listens.

Potty Mouth sprang out of the same scene when Ally Einbinder, frustrated with the difficulties of booking shows and playing in bands with men who rarely asked her input when it came to songwriting, decided to form and all-female punk band.  Einbinder and her cohorts are frequent participants in Ladyfest, which has sought to showcase feminist artists across different mediums for thirteen years running.  Bursting with energy and attitude, Potty Mouth’s debut Hell Bent calls bullshit on punk scene bravado, questions obsessive tendencies, encourages punk girls in small towns “it-gets-better” style, and delivers acute, sharp-tongued kiss-offs to any doubters.

Though the pun alludes to classically trained harpist and witchy-voiced weird-folk patron saint Joanna Newsom, Alanna McArdle and her compatriots in Joanna Gruesome stray pretty far from that reference point.  Instead, the UK band cherry-picks from shoegaze, twee, and thunderous punk with Adderal-fueled ferocity.  McArdle is a study in contradictions, one moment singing in a sweet-voiced whisper and the next shouting psychotically, often about crushing skulls or some other, equally violent way of expressing her twisted affections. The group met in anger management, and every second on Weird Sister sees them working out some deeply seated issues, the end result proving what a gift anger can be.


This particular calendar year, it seems, is only the beginning.  With a record crate’s worth of amazing releases from 2013, there’s a bevvy of bands with bandcamp profiles, demos, EPs, cassettes and singles that hold a lot of promise for future releases.  Across the board, when asked how their bands formed or when they started playing, the response is “I wanted to do it so I got a guitar and I just started playing.”  The DIY ethos and “fuck it” attitude are what make these projects so vital and exciting.


The DC group are explosive live, in particular thanks to Katie Greer’s spastic growl and Daniele Withonel’s revelatory drumming.  The band’s been known to spout off about anti-consumerism between songs, out of breath from the high-energy set, but there’s plenty of radical content in their self-released tapes, too.  Those searching for manifestos need look no further than “USA (Incantations)”, a spoken-word bruiser that skewers the non-inclusive founding of America and ends with “this country was not made for you and it was built on lies and murder”; it kind of makes me want to vote for Priests for president.  Elsewhere on Tape 2, Withonel steps from behind her drum kit to flip the script on the male gaze, with perfect Kathleen Hanna pitch. Whether they’re singing about Lana del Ray or Lillian Hellman, these self-described Marxists provide an electrifying listen.

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Perfect Pussy

Perfect Pussy plays notoriously brief shows – if you blink during their set, you’ll miss ’em – but all have played the Syracuse scene for years now.  The quartet got a lot of attention this over I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling, a four song EP with walls of guitar fuzz and synths and some forceful vocals from Meredith Graves buried low in the mix.  Trained in opera but trying out punk, she’s said that because she’s insecure about her singing they’ll likely stay that way when the band records a full length.  But it’s not because she’s trying to hide her words – you can read them by clicking through each song on Perfect Pussy’s bandcamp.  They are well worth extracting from the sludge, coming across like a Jenny Holzer send-up of rape culture, mixed in with some personal meditations on growing past a female betrayal and catharsis through relationships thrown in for good measure.
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Ellen Kempner writes off-kilter lyrics that perfectly distill the wonder and worry that comes with being a teenager, but with a wise, almost nostalgic tone that does not belie the fact that she is, actually, a freshman in college, living these experiences for the first time.  Her musician father taught her how to play guitar, and in high school she was in a band called Cheerleader before releasing some solo recordings that morphed into Palehound.  Their excellent Bent Nail EP came together this year, featuring the quintessential “Pet Carrot”, which seesaws from sing-songy folk to scuzzy 90’s grunge more reminiscent of Liz Phair than of Lorde.
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The Philly trio are a perfect picture of female solidarity, repping other girl bands from Philly in interviews and inking their bodies with matching arrow tattoos, as well as getting involved with Philly’s Ladyfest.  They sing about friendships and loss and the city around them with a raspy roar, holding back just enough on their three-song demo to hint at the spaces they’ll grow into.
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All Dogs

Coming out of Columbus, Ohio’s great lo-fi scene (which bands like Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit helped build, and contemporaries Sex Tide and Connections will only continue), All Dogs take that same energy and clean up the grime just a bit to let Maryn Bartley’s hopelessly catchy vocal melodies shine.  There’s a youthful exuberance and earnestness that propels the material on their split cassette with Slouch and their self-titled 7″ released on Salinas Records.  The Crutchfield sisters have been big early supporters; Katie booked them as openers on an upcoming Waxahatchee tour after saying they “made her cry”.
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About an hour south in Cincinatti, Bridget Battle takes an endearing 60’s girl group intonation and spits it snottily into a microphone while her bandmates in TWEENS play messy, immediate punk rock.  Their CMJ performances earned them rave reviews and helped them release a bit of the energy they’d pent up during the recording of their first full-length in DUMBO, set to see release sometime this spring.  Until then, they’ll be touring with fellow Ohioans the Deal sisters for The Breeders’ extended reunion shows.
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Heavy Bangs

“I don’t care what you think as long as I can’t hear it / I’ll be a fly some other place.  / I don’t care what you do / As long as you stay away from me / I can’t stand the way you do the things you do.”  So begins “All the Girls” from Heavy Bangs’ bandcamp demos.  It’s a departure from the quirky indie pop Cynthia Schemmer played as guitarist for Radiator Hospital, but it takes cues from the same attention to clever melody.  The best indication of what might come from her solo project are the artful and contemplative postcards she posts to her tumblr ( before sending them to to friends, apologetically explaining why Philly drew her back after time in New York, or recounting conversations she had with a therapist over the loss of illusions.  Like the two tracks she’s shared, these can feel sad but are intently self-aware, the attention to detail speaking volumes between the lines.
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Are those alive in a golden age ever able to really realize it?  Or can it only be understood by looking back?  With the passage of time we grow older and wiser and we’re better able to put things into context, but there are some moments that are simply meant to be lived.  If you’re not screaming at the top of your lungs to these records or dancing in the front row at one of these shows, you’re doing it wrong.