This year, Girls Rock Santa Barbara has developed The Summer of Love Internship, its first ever paid internship for teen girls and gender-expansive youth, which allows the organization to continue to provide a safe, collaborative environment in which to encourage lifelong skills like positive peer bonding and self-confident resilience. The internship, which lasts six weeks and pays each intern $500, offers six exciting and arts-focused disciplines: Record Label, Recording Artist, Social Media, Journalism, Photography, and Podcasting. Audiofemme is pleased to publish the following article, written by Julia Duva and Emelie Sanchez, two interns from the Journalism program.
“Sorry if my audio cuts out,” Patty Schemel apologizes as she joins our scheduled Zoom call from the passenger seat of a moving car. Introducing herself while the world flashes by behind her and the bumpy roads shake the camera, she quickly explains that she’s on her way somewhere and will only have about half an hour to talk. It seems fitting that she’s in her car, doing an interview, while already on the way to some other engagement; Schemel was never the type to sit still. That’s part of the reason why she started drumming when she was just twelve years old – it was a loud, fast, and efficient way to burn energy and work through her stress and anger. She continued with this unique type of therapy for the majority of her teenage and adult life, playing in several different bands and on countless other studio recordings over the years.
Having been in the music industry for a few decades, questioned constantly about the ’90s and her former band Hole, Schemel was excited to take a break from analyzing her tumultuous past to talk to us about her current band, Upset, how she is dealing with quarantine, and her new passion projects.
For the past four months, Schemel has been on a break with Upset, which dropped their third album just last November, after five years of no new releases. Because of the break, she has been working on other music-related ventures. Many artists are having to find new ways to make music without actually being in a room with a band. “You can really record drums so easily today,” she confirms. “Like, just play a beat, record it, put it into your software, and double it a bunch of times. It’s not so organic. You don’t hear a lot of real drums anymore.” While this new way of making music is exciting, it can have its downfalls. “It’s frustrating because I can’t just make a sound come out by…you know,” she says, while making a drumming motion with her hands. “It’s a new way of thinking about making music which is interesting and exciting. And that’s what my focus has been.”
Despite having made music with her computer, Schemel admitted that she hadn’t played the drums in a few months. Drumming has always been her way to de-stress and escape, so four months into the pandemic, she picked it up again. “You know, just on Saturday, I set up my drums and played them for the first time in months. And I forgot how good it makes me feel,” she says. “It grounds me and gets my mind to think in different ways and it’s a good workout. So I am going to start doing that more.”
Since musicians and performers rely on a gig economy, where income is based on one-shot performances or touring, the recent shutdown has affected many independent artists, including Schemel. “Right now is such a fertile time to rethink what we do as musicians and performers,” she suggests. “I think the fact that we can stream [music] and create it in our bedrooms is so great now. So we have to think: will we be able to make a living playing music? And how do we repackage it or rethink performing? Is it screens?” Schemel’s punk-oriented work with Upset doesn’t quite fit into the category of “Bedroom Pop,” but she and other artists might look to the genre which has set an example for producing and releasing music from home.
While taking the time to focus more on herself, her close friends, and her family, Schemel has been working on some more personal projects. As the population began sheltering at home, people became invested in baking bread, playing Animal Crossing, and binging Money Heist. Schemel, instead, started a podcast, still unnamed, which will hopefully be released soon. “It seems like everybody has a podcast,” she jokes. “I have just been thinking about what is gonna make my podcast unique. It is me interviewing women who play music and talking about why they did it and talking about creating their work. And how, in the ’90s, there was that wave of feminism in music and then it just sort of died down. What happened? What can we do today?”
Along with her podcasting, Schemel has been teaching woodworking to children, which she began when she met a woman through her daughter’s school that was hoping to collaborate on classes. “I like the idea of making something, working on it start to finish, making it with my hands. It’s not plastic and it’s not a screen. You don’t plug it in. It’s just a piece of wood and you put it together,” she explains. For her, woodworking was the perfect creative outlet – next to playing the drums. And Schemel loves working with kids – she describes her students as “my own group of friends who are between five and seven [years old].” She is also a drum coach at the Girls Rock Los Angeles summer camp. Though she may not have understood what she was getting herself into, when she realized she’d be able to teach young girls to play the drums, she was able to be the role model that she needed as a child.
“[Girls Rock] spoke to eleven-year-old me – the girl who wanted to play drums, who had a really hard time navigating the world as a girl who wanted to play drums, the girl who had a hard time going into the music store afraid of getting drumsticks because I was always looked down on,” she says.
Now, Patty Schemel has grown comfortable being a role model. “I have had fans say, ‘Thank you for coming out, and being an out gay person in the ’90s.’ When they come up and say that, I feel good,” she says. “And other people who are in recovery like myself – I don’t drink or do drugs and I am pretty open about that, so people come and talk about that being the thing that helped them when I wrote about it in my book.” She paused and thought for a minute. “So it’s really those two things that, when I hear them, it’s a good reason to be in the world, that I did that for people.”
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).
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.
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? PATTY: No. 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.
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]
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.
CARRYING THE TORCH
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
“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 (http://cynthiaschemmer.tumblr.com/) 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.
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.
Part mix-tape, part choose-your-own-adventure, AudioFemme leaves the confines of NYC to bring you long-form accounts of the crazy things we do for the love of live-music. In this installment, Lindsey travels to Philly for Moonface and My Bloody Valentine, with plenty of pit-stops along the way. – Eds.
In February I lay on my couch with headphones on, slow tears streaming from the corners of my eyes and into my hair. I was listening to m b v, the first record by Dublin shoegazers My Bloody Valentine to be released in over twenty years and I felt as though my blood was running backwards. I’d discovered them long after their seminal Loveless had been released, unearthing the quintessential record as a high schooler at the dawn of digital downloading. In college, I dated a guy who introduced me to their earlier releases, and I fell in love with those songs as hard as I fell for him. They were a band that I considered mostly inactive, even as Kevin Shields involved himself in side projects here and there, even as Lost In Translation brought the band’s music to larger masses. Even when they “reunited” for shows in far-off places like Indio and London and Niigata (places it seemed impossible to get to) I thought of My Bloody Valentine as a completed project from which new music would never really come. And I’d pretty much given up hope of ever seeing them live. But then out of nowhere came m b v, with its gliding, grinding guitar on “who sees you” which felt like an extension of Loveless, its punishing flanger on “wonder 2” sounding not just like the end of the record, but the end of the fucking world…
My pulse quickened not only to hear these new compositions, but also because I knew there’d be a tour behind them. And I could already picture myself in the audience with more tears streaming down my face.
* * *
Months later when My Bloody Valentine tour dates were announced, I could already see that the NY dates at Hammerstein would be prohibitively expensive. But they were playing Philly, too – at The Electric Factory – and ticket prices were literally half the cost of those here. A good friend of mine who’d been begging me to come down all summer offered to host me for the weekend and the decision was made. So last Friday, I stood shivering on 6th Avenue, waiting for a Bolt bus.
I felt almost melancholy; it had been a strange week. I’d lost my wallet after getting wasted at my ex boyfriend’s birthday bash on Tuesday, gone home with him, and burst into tears mid-makeout. It was no secret that I’d had flings with this Philly friend off and on for the last eight years of my life, and my ex didn’t really want me to go, sometimes saying it was only because he felt left out, other times admitting that he didn’t want things to be over between us. Philly friend had come down with strep throat and though he claimed to no longer be contagious that pretty much ruled out any hook-ups anyway. So my weekend of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll seemed doomed from the get-go. But the thought of missing My Bloody Valentine filled me with a dread so excruciating that all I could do was shuffle onto that bus, find a seat, and watch the skyline fade behind me.
On the way down I listened to She’s Gone, the debut of supergroup Upset. Vocalist Ali Koehler and guitarist Jenn Prince are contemporaries of what can be described most simply as the Vivian Girls scene (both played in the band at one time or another, as well as several of its satellite projects) but what blew my mind most was that Patty Schemel (as in, Patty Schemel of fucking HOLE) was drummer of the band. My anxieties started to fade in a wash of bubblegum-snapping, toe-tapping pop punk. The little details took me back to my youth, from the disaffected chuckle at the beginning of semi-snotty “About Me” through the brazen “I just want to take you under the covers” coo on “Game Over”. All the songs stay short and sweet and two minutes at a time, my heart lightened.
And then “Let It Go” summed up my exact position in the universe at that moment:
i kissed the bottle when i coulda been kissin you / i know that i shouldn’t be missin you / so i’ll try / but how will i let this one go / i wish the subtle things i say to you / would read the way i want them to / but i know i should try and / just let this one go / you can call this an obsession or an indiscretion but i just dunno if / i can let this one go / you wanted romance well here it is / i just wanna love you from afar / and keep you just the way you are / safely distant from my heart / but close enough still / to keep that spark
…caught geographically and emotionally between two boys, neither really a viable option at this point.
I was so nostalgic for the days I’d spend driving around with my high-school punk rock partner-in-crime Patti that I actually sent her a facebook message though we haven’t spoken in two years.
There are so many albums coming out lately that I really wish I could listen to driving around Northeast Ohio with you. You have to check out Swearin’ and Upset and Perfect Pussy and Priests and Joanna Gruesome and Waxahatchee and Hunters and Tweens!!!! It’s a golden age of girl-fronted pop punk and a GREAT time to start up our band 73 Cents (or the Vanities as I wanted to call us). Hope you’re well!
No response yet. I tweeted:
Pretty much every band I've been listening to lately sounds like a that dog. throwback and I couldn't be happier
Then I actually put on that dog. and melted into wistful reverie until my phone warned me my battery was at 20%. So not punk.
* * *
Philly friend fed me grilled cheeses and spicy tomato soup and meatloaf sandwiches and tater tots from his favorite bar as soon as I got in. We dropped my things off at his house and I met his cats and his roommate and her pug who has a licking-things compulsion. Spencer Krug was playing at Underground Arts that night under his solo moniker Moonface to support his new record Julia With Blue Jeans On and I insisted we go; I’d been lucky enough to see him at Littlefield in Brooklyn the spring prior when he’d debuted a lot of the material that wound up on the record and the set was just gorgeous. In the bar earlier while I was shoving food in my face they were playing Wolf Parade’s flawless 2005 record Apologies to the Queen Mary so I was already primed for Krug’s crooning.
Underground Arts is a new venue in Philly with a lot of big plans. After Moonface they were hosting an Afrobeat dance party in the back room, which was actually larger than the one where Krug was set to play. I glanced at a poster on the column we’d committed to lean against and noticed that Thee Oh Sees had played there at the end of October and if I’d known how great this venue was I would’ve come down for that, too. Their beers on tap were legit, the sound was perfect, the floor plan pretty open (they’d set up chairs in clusters around the stage for the night’s performance that could easily be reconfigured or removed depending on the performer).
Saltland, a.k.a. musician Rebecca Foon, was already playing when we arrived. Foon is best known for stints in Esmerine and A Silver Mt. Zion and her solo project, while hinging on her very skilled cello compositions, also features some loops, backing tracks, and powerful if occasional vocals. She gave shout-outs to her mother’s charity organization, repped Montreal, thanked Krug and called his audiences “beautiful” and kicked her right leg like a marionette with a charley horse as she sawed her bow across the cello’s strings in more urgent passages. The songs took turns as dramatic and expansive as the imagery inherent in Foon’s nom-de-plume would suggest.
Krug and Foon have been friends for a while, coming from the same city and sharing a music scene, and they both display the trademark humility Canadians are stereotypically known for. Krug’s long hair obscured his face anytime he leaned over to play piano, but he would conscientiously tuck it behind his ear when he turned to address the audience with anecdote or gratitude, casually flashing a million-watt smile. He explained that he’d mainly planned to play through the material from his latest record before opening with album stunner “Love The House You’re In” . Even from the get-go, his voice was emotive and intense, needing no build-up or practice to slip into its full-bodied range. His piano playing was deliberate and complex and though he complained of some broken keys and out-of-tune-ness it sounded perfect with or without the supposed flaws.
True to his word, he stuck to material from Julia, moving through powerful renditions of the title track, singles “Barbarians” and “Everyone is Noah, Everyone Is The Ark”, as well as “Black Is Back In Style”, “First Violin” and “Your Chariot Awaits”. There was one song with the line we both know that we’re both crazy that had really stuck with me from the show I caught in May and was particularly delighted to find on the record. Krug introduced this song, “November 2011”, as his most straightforward love song. “If you’re thinking of proposing to someone now would be the time” he laughed. Someone in the back of the audience shouted “Marry ME!” but Krug politely declined before launching into the relatively bright, sweet melody.
It’s hard to know how personal to get here, how much to reveal. I can tell you that the first time I heard that song I was standing next to my ex and we were in the midst of a doomed reconciliation, but he looked down at me and took my arm and held my hand and I’ll never not think of that moment when I hear the song. I can also tell you that in 2005, a few months after I met Philly friend, I invited him to come visit me in Ohio and we had a time that very closely follows the narrative of the song. I can tell you that when Krug was one verse in, a lady near the bar fell off of a table she was sitting on and it clattered and it broke some of the gravity of all those memories, just a little. I don’t know how many details it’s appropriate to share, ever.
* * *
We went to a whiskey and go-go bar after the show that made me wish New York didn’t have weird cabaret laws. I drank Willet on the rocks and an elderberry cider and I can’t remember any music we might have heard in the bar or otherwise discussed. We went to another bar and got late night snacks (duck confit potato skins and pineapple habanero chicken wings) and he confessed he was kind of involved with another girl who sort of wanted to get serious and I confessed that I had no idea what was even going on with my love life and we laughed all the way to his place where I immediately fell asleep under an electric blanket trying to watch movie trailers on the Carnosaur DVD I’d found on his shelf earlier that day and had been making fun of him for owning since.
* * *
The next morning we drove to a Tex-Mex brunch place where I got a breakfast quesadilla filled with eggs and smokey pulled pork and something called a Cowboy Coffee which had Kahlúa and Bulleit in it. They were playing a pretty decent punk mix which is so different from the Michael Bublé bullshit I’m used to hearing at brunch that I got really wound up when Thee Oh Sees came on. We checked out a couple junk stores and I insisted on listening to the new Swearin’ record as we drove around because they’re from Philly and I’m an obsessed creep.
When I lived in the Midwest the place I listened to music most was in my car. Now I’m on a bike constantly (at least before the winter winds turn me into a wimp) or taking public transportation from Point A to Point B either lacking headphones or with my only mechanism for playing mp3s threatening a swift death if I open Spotify. So these days, it’s a bit weird to find myself in the front seat of a car cruising down highways and side streets and everything in between. Swearin’s first single from Surfing Strange puts me right back in the driver’s seat, if not literally.
We picked up my friend’s roommate and headed to the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market. She has this wry sense of humor, not wholly unblemished by the bitterness that goes along with sticking close to the same music scene your whole life. Having grown up in the Trenton area, it seemed like she knew everyone. The flea was filled with hand-made jewelry and record crates almost too overwhelming to dig through and the softest thrifted tees in bins labeled 4 for 10$ and lots of horror-movie paraphernalia and vintagey goodness. We drove back to Jersey with No Age blasting and the sun setting against Philly’s approaching skyline. We refueled with food and beer flights at Johnny Brenda’s where Tim Kasher was playing later that night. But we’d be at My Bloody Valentine, of course.
* * *
As showtime drew nearer I felt an excitement growing that I rarely feel about shows anymore. Most of the time I’m attending shows to check a new band out, or sometimes just because it’s something to do instead of staying home. Even with bigger bands whose catalogues I cherish I don’t feel jittery and I knew it was more than the Cowboy Coffee. I really felt poised to have a moment with Kevin Shields & Co., to be cleansed by intense volume and lose myself in guitar haze.
We got to the venue after Dumb Numbers had played. It took almost an hour for My Bloody Valentine to set up, a ring of monitors and amps poised to surround Shields like a sonic Stonehenge. I’m normally pretty good about weaving my tiny self politely toward the front of a crowd but the way Electric Factory was set up it bottlenecked between the impenetrable bar and the sound booth and a wall of the tallest people I’ve ever encountered had already posted up shoulder-to-shoulder between the two. I thought the crowd might shift a little and open up but nothing moved so we decamped to a balcony. The sightlines were great but it certainly wasn’t as excruciatingly loud as I’d wanted it to be, and the psychedelic light show couldn’t quite penetrate the darkness up there in the rafters in any retina-scorching way. Still, I was pretty pumped for things to get started.
They opened with “Sometimes” before I even felt prepared for it and it oddly felt like they were just trying to get it out of the way. As the show went on it felt more and more like the band didn’t even want to play with each other. Like chewing pot roast in silence at an awkward family dinner after mom and dad have been fighting, the quartet plodded through “I Only Said” and “When You Sleep” before appropriately introducing their most recent material with “new you”. By then, some worrisome sound issues were cropping up. I’d expected the mix to be a little muddy, especially as they visited works from Isn’t Anything, Tremelo, and You Made Me Realise – that is, after all, part of the allure of My Bloody Valentine’s oeuvre. But it wasn’t that the vocals were buried under fuzz – it was like the fuzz was flat. It all felt sloppily executed; the layers of distortion feeling disparate instead of layering gracefully on top of one another. Several times, Shields stopped songs a few bars in and restarted them. It was unclear whether these technical difficulties were occurring due to fault of the venue, but even from so far away I could see Shields point an accusatory finger at the audio engineer present on stage. Worried techs rushed out here and there in a desperate attempt to try to alleviate some of the problems but the whole thing seemed like a train wreck.
In the purest, most unsullied moments I felt a sort of dizziness, and though part of that was true exhilaration, I think it also happened because I had to hold my breath lest the magic dissolve in some tragic technical difficulty. “To Here Knows When” went off without a hitch and exuded an incredible warmth, “wonder 2” was almost as assaulting as I’d wanted it to be but I couldn’t help feeling like it should have been bumped way up in the set instead of buried near the end. The squall of closer “You Made Me Realise” almost approached bliss but the so-called “Holocaust” section felt like little more than an “Off-handed Anti-Semitic Remark” section. Which, referring to the jam session you tack on the end of your set as one of the most tragic genocides in human history probably is. And then Shields, who said little all night in terms of between-song banter except to apologize here and there for the technical difficulties, said what I could have sworn was “Fuck” but I guess could have been “Thanks” in heavy Brogue. Either way, he stomped offstage like a petulant child, the lights came up, and there was no encore.
The roughly 80-minute set was about as long as it had been in other cities, other venues, and the list pretty much identical. But I felt so jilted by the experience it was all I could do to not immediately buy tickets to the $70 Hammerstein shows I had been trying to avoid in the first place. I was stunned and crushed and not in the way I had expected to be at all. I didn’t want to believe that it had gone so badly, that what would likely be my only experience with a band so beloved would be utter rubbish. And almost everyone tweeting about the show had only glowing remarks with almost no mention of the sound issues, which made me feel as if I was going crazy. Other attendees were saying it was the best show they’d ever seen (do you even go to any shows ever actually?) and using pretentious phrases about “angelic drone” and all I could feel was total jealousy of their ability to suspend disbelief and make delusional snap judgments. I wanted to love that show more than anything and instead it was one of the hugest let-downs in terms of concert-going that I’ve experienced in my life.
* * *
I get that sometimes things aren’t the way you expect them to be. That often, disappointment goes hand-in-hand with any expectation at all. That you might imagine one scenario and have the reality end up completely opposite from the fantasy.
I spent the rest of my evening stress-eating cheesesteaks (from Pat’s – far superior to Geno’s in my opinion) and decompressing in front of a pinball machine. In the morning over cream-cheese filled Pumpkin French Toast and Chicken N’ Waffles Benedict I apologized to Philly friend for being so emotionally detached and physically hands-off, citing weird feelings I was having about my ex in NYC and my resent lack of self-esteem as factors contributing to why I’d been less than present. He shrugged and said he’d just assumed I was worried about catching Strep. Then he asked me why I’d been feeling so bad about myself. “I’m just tired and I feel old” I said, “and I haven’t been going to yoga.”
I am searching for a balance right now, but the ease I long for has been elusive. Weighty memories and distorted renderings are fine when it comes to a live music experience but there’s been too much of both in my personal life lately and it’s really complicating my ability to make decisions about the future of my relationships.
Back on a Bolt bus and headed home, I listened through Static, the newest from Brooklyn-based dream-poppers Cults. Vocalist Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion had formed the band as couple but split up after a grueling tour in support of their critically acclaimed self-titled debut. No one wanted to make a big deal about the break-up, worried that the focus would shift from the music to the personal lives of the duo behind it.
For what it’s worth, the record stands alone without that back-story; it’s a bit grittier and fuzzier than the last collection of songs we heard from the group but is still akin to that material in its updated 60’s girl-group pop vibe. Follin and Oblivion are joined by members of the touring band they enlisted to help flesh out the material live, and that synergy and practice shows on Static. While there aren’t as many standout singles on the record, the dark undertones that the band typically bury in sunny melody here have their moments in the forefront, allowing for greater depth. Cults has grown up.
That being said, the fact that Static was written and recorded by former lovers lends another kind of weight to tracks more outwardly breezy. Follin is known for her impish vocals but lyrically she displays a no-nonsense bravado. She comes across as disappointed in the turn of events despite knowing that things are over and is determined to move on, castigating her former lover and her former self on “Were Before” and then delivering healthy doses of inspiration in the soaring “Keep Your Head Up”.
Follin and Oblivion could have chosen to break up the band when their relationship ended, of course. Instead, we have Static, because there was too much there to walk away entirely. The force behind their creative collaboration was all the glue that was needed to pull everything back together, and it’s a permanent fixture in the group’s trajectory. “Always and Forever” highlights and celebrates the remnants of that relationship and the form that it’s now taken on, with Follin unleashing her sky-high falsetto.
I suppose there are just feelings that endure no matter the circumstance, no matter the disappointment involved as time marches forward. I’m not going to throw my copy of Loveless in the trash based on one lackluster live performance. And even though I wish I possessed the strength to whip my personal life into shape, I’m more in a position to be bandied by unpredictable whims than I am to take control. At the root of all it is true sentiment unraveling endlessly from my sensitive heart, drowning out everything else like so much noise.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
Each week Audiofemme gives away a set of tickets to our featured shows in NYC! Scroll down to enter for the following shindigs.