PET POLITICS: Amanda Yun of Crazy Pills Sees Cats as Living Works of Art

Happy New Year! I hope everyone is starting 2018 off on the right foot. This month, I got to chat fluffies with a fellow cat lady: Amanda Yun of Crazy Pills. For those of you who have not yet experienced this band, it is time to check them out. Amanda can solo like all of the classics while incorporating unique melodies and some early ’90s rage into the mix. Along with being an animal lover, she has been an outspoken advocate for feminism and the promotion of female artists on the Brooklyn scene.

Amanda and I first met back in spring 2013 while playing a show together. At the time, my singer had a sprained ankle and our drummer was recovering from a stomach virus, so we were a little late to load in. The sound engineer was not too thrilled, and Amanda totally stuck up for us, despite having just met us. It is no surprise she likes the clawed, elegant feline as she definitely shreds with her own paws on stage. However, knowing her to be friendly, affectionate, and loyal, it makes sense that she actually views herself more as a cat-dog hybrid. It was a pleasure to hear about Amanda’s wild and successful 2017, her upcoming release and projects, and animal-loving history.

AF: I know you are a fellow crazy cat lady! Do you remember where you love of cats stems from? Perhaps a first feline that caught your heart?

AY: WONDERFUL QUESTION! I believe a past life had something to do with cats as I have such an inexplicable affinity for them. (I don’t think I was a cat – my personality is more dog-like in terms of being eager to please and high energy at times. Maybe if I get this life right I’ll earn a cat’s life.) In this life, I think my maternal grandmother, whose presence in my life was brief but incendiary, helped that along. I lost her when I was 9, so I never got to ask her about her love of cats. But it’s one of her enduring legacies.

AF: Any animals that come second to cats in your book?

AY: Probably dogs. I love them too, in a different way than cats. I get the dog mindset. I’m earnest and transparent, I smile a lot. I want to love everyone and everything, and receive that love back, like a dog. Or pigs. They are so smart and so misunderstood. It’s a shame how they are stigmatized in many cultures.

AF: What do you see as the main difference between cats and dogs?

AY: Body odor/grooming. Dogs have this natural musk – it smells to me like raw eggs. Also lethality factor. Some domestic dogs are physically designed to be pretty powerful and efficient guards. They’re able to rip a human trachea out. Be nice to them. Always receive consent before petting them and sticking your face in theirs. (Goes for everyone, animal or human, really.)

AF: Can you introduce us to your current pets?

AY: Ha sure!! We have two freeloadin’ roommates and wards, Bibinka “Binky” (he/his) and Snuggles (she/hers). They’re both gray tabbies, Muhammed’s “M” mark on their heads with little white paws. They look similar from a distance, but per the vet clinic from where both were adopted, they’re not genetic siblings. Binky is 7, he loves sleeping on warm pizza boxes & is a fan of Ween’s The Mollusk. Snuggles is 4, and she does not actually like to snuggle. She’s into performance art and her current work is called “Fuck Your New Couch,” a deconstruction protest piece under constant revision.

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Binky & Snuggles

AF: I remember your internet handle used to be Tha Kitten: what is it about cats that make them your spirit animal?

AY: Ah geez, I miss that moniker. (Stupid Facespace policy forced me to change it. I wanted to be THE Kitten but at one point there was a The Kitten and Thee Kitten so I went phonetic. But now, there are no more “Kitten” people. I digress. Anyway.) Yes, cats. What can I say, I can’t even really put my finger on it. It’s so basic for me. What isn’t it about cats? They’re tiny and vulnerable and soft, and yet their mystical magical energy is so powerful that they kind of provoke strong reactions by most folks I’d say. They’re seen as halal in Islam, beloved by Muhammed. All my favorite writers and musicians loved cats. Not for nothing, it’s documented that Hitler and Genghis Khan were terrified of cats. So what can I say. Their intelligence is very obvious, though like most non-human intelligence, is not measurable by human standards. They’re also aesthetically beautiful animals: their stride is unique to them and horses; they’re very quiet but when they speak it’s a healing rhythm (purring) or a musical, tonically diverse meow. Their eyes are so pretty, they have triangle ears and such beautiful coats… I mean, the Egyptians worshipped a feline god, Bast(et) so I know I’m not the only one who’s ever observed that they’re living works of art and a case for a benevolent god and intelligent design. Did I mention that I love cats?

AF: When did you start playing music, and what instrument was your first instrument?

AY: I started trying to play music at age 9 or 10, I think. I took piano lessons. I started out strong but bailed after a few sessions of “Bobo and Toppy,” the cartoon monkeys in the books my nice but checked-out piano teacher was using. So at that point, guitar came into my life, and I got to a level on both instruments where I could adequately express my ideas at a slow and steady pace from that point on.

AF: Was there a moment of inspiration that drove you to play music? A band, song, or personal experience?

AY: Been wracking my brain here. I cannot really remember any singular event or influence. Hmm. For the longest time I was pretty shy and quiet and used painting and drawing to identify and express my feelings and myself. I really didn’t see myself as a verbally expressive person. But that creative drive was there. It’s just like something in me was growing and had to take its time to emerge. How it pivoted to music, though, that’s the question. I’m fortunate in that when it felt like radio was just starting to hear the value of non-bro musicians, I was at that level of comfort with guitar that I could learn alongside bands like The Breeders, Belly, PJ Harvey, The Cranberries (RIP D.O.), et al. Seeing and hearing them helped me gain confidence to realize the compositions in my head. Representation matters. It must be that all things happened at the right time – my acquisition of serviceable rhythm guitar skills and the rising visibility of musicians who looked and sounded like something to which I could connect.

AF: What was the name of your first band and when did it form?

AY: My first band was called “Naka naka yaru na” and it was comprised of a group of Japanese and Western immigrant (aka “expat”) pals I met when I lived in Japan. We liked to assemble at this snack bar and just noodle and jam until 5am. That’s when I stepped into the front-person role and got closer to the electric guitar. We mostly just did covers of rock and roll and punk stuff like “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “Hanging on the Telephone,” “Cherry Bomb,” stuff by the Kinks and the Stones. Really good times. The name is a Japanese phrase you say to someone after they mildly surprise you by managing to exceed your low expectations. There’s not really a direct translation but since irony doesn’t really function the same linguistically in Japanese – it comes off as either absurd or profoundly rude and inappropriate – this is the closest approximation, and the guys were ok with it. Miss those super late night jams.

AF: How did Crazy Pills come about?

AY: In 2010, I was sitting in traffic on the way back from a show I’d just played with my last band, pow wow! which is our bassist Eddie and his brother Jeff’s band and for which I played lead guitar. (I think a young Sharkmuffin played a show with pow wow! & that’s how we met, isn’t it?) My mind wandered to a song in my head that I wanted to write but didn’t feel would work with pow wow! as I was happy to stay peripheral in that band. It’d been awhile since I’d collaborated with non-male musicians so I put out a call for collaborators on Craigslist via which I met our first drummer, Becca, and bassist Stephanie. I envisioned a band of fun people that could play seriously and make good tunes but also have a sense of levity and humor amidst all the absurdity, pain and awfulness in the world. I tend to make music for people as isolated as me – a small, East Asian, non-dude, lonely weirdo very well-acquainted with afflictions of the psyche who grew up in a blue collar Irish Catholic town. I’ve been gaslit my entire life so a name riffing on a quote speaking to that seemed both hilarious and affirming. And so we became: Crazy Pills. The line-up shifted around a bit (especially with bassists), but after a few years it stabilized to its present membership: my ex-bandmate (and now husband) Eddie, our drummer bud Jim, and myself. We’ve held it down since 2012.

AF: Any other musical projects you are currently working on?

AY: The amazing Rachael Pazdan of Le Poisson Presents curates a woman-centric collaborative series called The Hum and at my girl Shilpa Ray’s recommendation, invited me to participate in the 2017 season. Through that, I have a quasi-ongoing collaboration with Zula and Toebow’s JoAnn Hyun and Desert Sharks’ Rebecca Fruchter. (We are still figuring out a name, haha.) We are recording one of the tunes we developed for that performance at the request of NO ICE singer Gwynn Galitzer and Suffragette City Zine for an upcoming compilation. I name drop purposefully to show how fucking amazing this network of rad musicians is and to show how critical it is to be supportive and in touch with each other we must be. Rock and roll / “punk” (whatever that means) / guitar-based music on the national or global level is being accused of dying or being dead. I have to disagree. It’s only dead if you’re ignoring the emerging voices from communities and people who were sidelined by the old guard (see: any Rolling Stone magazine cover of the past ten years for reference). I’m proud to be among this community, creating with the tools I have with some damn great and talented people.

AF: Have you written any songs about animals?

AY: Haha no, not as of yet, though folks are welcome to interpret the subjects and topics of Crazy Pills’ tunes as they wish. I have covered Shonen Knife’s “Catnip Dream” before.

AF: Do you have a favorite (non-human) animal-inspired song?

AY: Shonen Knife’s “Catnip Dream”? ^..^ or “Wop a Din Din” by Red House Painters.

AF: Would you consider your bandmates’ spirit animals to be cats?

AY: Oh the guys will love this. Jim’s this gentle giant, I do think he’s dutiful & dependable, happy when others are happy, sensitive. Maybe he’s a Great Dane? Eddie, our bassist, is canid in a way too but maybe, but more mysterious as he’s an Aquarius, so like, a panther or jaguar.

AF: What do you consider to be some of your greatest accomplishments of 2017 to be?

AY: Definitely finishing up our long-delayed sophomore record, A Reckoning. Super psyched about how that turned out. We worked with our dear friend and beloved engineer, Jeff Berner at Studio G. That felt so good to track and mix! I also had a blast backing the amazing (and super down to earth sweetheart) legend Peaches in Thundercunt! for Samantha Bee’s “Not the White House Correspondent’s Dinner” in D.C. alongside some badass shredders including Gina Volpe of Lunachicks, Betsy and Laura of Ex Hex, Alyson of BETTY, Jessica from Alekhine’s Gun and Brujeria, Kathy from The Julie Ruin and Bikini Kill, Ann Hairston… highlight was an understatement. Collaborating with Jo and Reb for The Hum was also amazing. And personally, I stepped into a professional role working with the Manhattan and Queens communities to educate folks on consent, healthy relationships to eradicate power-based personal violence from our spaces. Love my team and that program. So, these amazing developments in my life were all were significant protective factors against the general awfulness I and our communities have been facing to escalating degrees.

AF: What are your plans for 2018? Any upcoming shows?

AY: Release and distribute A Reckoning, tour the hell out of it and win a prize! Continue developing materials and discussions to eradicate all the vestiges of predatory capitalism (racism, sexism, trans- and homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, all this shit) from what is also a beautiful, dynamic and diverse world. Next show is February 9th at The Bell House for this Brooklyn Brewery party and then after that we party with our friends The Space Merchants and a special guest at one of our fave little hidden DIY spots, Pet Rescue on February 23rd. See ya there!