Multi-faceted artist Hannah Lew has been having quite a year. After a group consensus to put her post-punk band, Grass Widow, on the backburner, Lew has been spending her time starting her own record label, making music videos, and forming new musical projects with fellow Bay Area musicians. Lately the bassist, visual artist and filmmaker’s main focus has been her new band, Cold Beat.
Lew acts as the sole lyricist and vocalist of Cold Beat, whose debut full-length album, Over Me dropped just last week on her label Crime on the Moon. The record is an otherworldly collection of songs about dealing with a range of grim topics such as grief, the global economy and the current bizarre state of San Francisco, all written by Lew over the past few years.
Amidst her busy schedule, Lew was able to take some time to chat about what’s been going on in her life lately. Below you’ll find the talented lady’s thoughts on going through a hardcore Gary Numan phase, her capitalistic ethics for running Crime on the Moon and an eternal love for Neo Boys.
Living in San Francisco for a lot of your life, how do you think the changes (like the tech booms and population increases) in the city and the area around the city have impacted your music and creative energy?
It’s something I’ve definitely been thinking about a lot. Actually, on my label, Crime on the Moon, I’m releasing a compilation of Bay Area bands that have written songs as a response to the tech boom. It’s not just this latest tech boom, it’s sort of like a change in culture here. Basically, the city has changed so much and the biggest bummer is that most of my friends have moved away. Not all my friends are natives, but most of my friends are natives who can’t get out because people don’t know what else to do. But a lot of the other people who were from other places seem to be moving away and that does include a lot of people’s bandmates and artists and musicians that can’t really hack it here anymore. It’s definitely becoming a place where people are moving to become millionaires, as opposed to what it used to be. And people have always moved here for the arts and music scene and the poetry scene in the 60’s and the hippie movement. But now people are moving here to become millionaires so it’s a new climate of money and kind of, like, “foodie” culture and stuff that’s kind of catering more to people that want everything custom-made for them. It’s really different.
I’ve spent the last few years, well–it’s gotten to a point where we’ve just hit a wall. I mean, people are getting priced out, there’s just no way to compete with the rent that a lot of the new professionals are able to make. So, I’ve gone through a lot of depression and just, every day, having an existential “Why am I here? I don’t know why I’m here” thought. I mean, my mom lives here and me and my husband are both San Francisco natives, but every day I’m like “Why am I here?” Thinking about your environment that way on a day-to-day basis is really stressful and I think it’s kind of like a dull panic that a lot of artists feel. I don’t know, I mean, I guess I’m fucked up but lately my response has just been like “Yeah, my city SUCKS.” I love it here, there’s natural beauty and also still some secret hideouts that I’m not going to disclose in this interview but there’s still some spots that the yuppies don’t know about yet. There’re weird parts of San Francisco that are still intact, but I think about other times in my life when I felt unified with people around me and it had to do with the fact that we were all up against it. Like, I spent a lot of my early-20s with activists–all my friends were activists and there was a big spirit about everyone being up against it together and everyone being pissed and that did fuel a lot of the music that was coming out of everyone, and I think that I’m in that place again where I didn’t relate to the culture at large here, but the only reason I think about that more is because there seems to be so many new people here that DO relate to the culture at large, which to me is like “God, everyone fits in, that’s crazy.”
But, I still lately have a lot of friends moving to Los Angeles and they’re very pacified it seems and it just seems really nice there–it’s a good quality of life, you’re not existentially every day saying to yourself, “What am I doing here? It’s crawling with yuppies!” You know? You’re able to actually get a job in the arts or the film or music industry there and be valued for what you do, as opposed to San Francisco which doesn’t support the arts anymore, it just doesn’t support artists. Who knows how much longer all my bandmates will still live here, but as long as we’re here I feel that everyone has a unified “This city blows” attitude. At least a lot of good music is coming out of it. [Laughs] Basically, that was a mouthful, but you can approach it two different ways: You can be like, “The place I live in is so great and it allows me the space to make what I want.” Or you can be like, “The city I live in is really making it hard for me to do what I need to do, so I’m just gonna, like, roll with that energy and make stuff based on those feelings.”
That’s a really good way to put it. It kind of made me think of how I feel kind of trapped living in a small town.
The city is what makes art, most of the time and it doesn’t matter if it’s a small town or if it’s a big a city crawling with millionaires, there’s that adversity, you know? That kind of need for change or cultural comment that makes good music or art and that can come from many different places of different types of discontent.
So everyone in Cold Beat is based out of San Francisco, right?
Half Oakland, half San Francisco, yeah.
I heard that you got the name “Cold Beat” from London post-punk band, The Sound. What other bands are an influence, in any way, on Cold Beat’s sound on this new album?
It’s hard to say. I feel like I write from a really kind of a very weird introversion space, but I guess I was listening to a lot of Gary Numan when I was writing a lot of that record. Tubeway Army and a lot of the paranoid, sci-fi stuff. I really like how on his album that has a lot of my favorite songs, he was actually writing a sci-fi novel but then decided to abandon the novel and write a bunch of songs that were based in what the story was. So, that was interesting–I felt like I was relating a lot to sci-fi subject matter and thinking about other artists that worked in that way. I never really wrote a song and said like, “I want it to sound like THAT,” you know? I think a lot of Velvet Underground has worked its way into songs on Over Me, as well as Television. Mostly, with Kyle King’s guitar stuff, we’ll just be like “Let’s just go for it and do a Television part there.” [Laughs]. We haven’t been afraid to say, “Let’s do some really indulgent guitar parts”–especially in the live shows.
Cold Beat has given you the opportunity to be the sole lyricist in a band. Where do your lyrics come from? Are they songs that you’ve written over a period of years, or are they relating to recent events and feelings that you’ve experienced?
It’s definitely a combination of both. With Grass Widow it was very much like relating an experience and kind of putting out an idea and having two other people be like “Yeah, I can relate in this way and that way.” It was sort of a process–almost like in a psychoanalytic way–of, like, breaking down subject matter. I think that Cold Beat is a lot more direct of a communication of ideas and, um, I really love that Grass Widow would write so much in analogy and metaphor. I definitely use a lot of metaphor in Cold Beat songs, but I also say some things pretty plainly too.
There are songs that range in subject matter, but there are some songs that are just my own personal feelings and dealing with grief and things that are just not even easily relatable and kind of not putting the pressure on myself to have them be relatable but just saying them like they are. But also, with some songs, I would be like “What do I want to talk about on an album?” One of the things I talked about is San Francisco and the changes. Our song “Tinted Glass” is about the culture here where there’s a lot of people riding on Google buses and they’re not really interacting with people in the city, they’re just kind of in their safe Google buses rolling around and that’s a weird feeling here. We have other songs that are just about other things that bother me, like how money rules the world and how we need it. How we invented this thing that we need on earth just as much as we need rain, and it’s just crazy, so I have a song about that.
Then there’s a lot of songs dealing with depressed personal feelings. The songs are the way that I really express myself and deal with things, and I don’t know, I just kind of let it rip. And once I started writing about some stuff, I was like, “You know what? I’m just gonna write about all the stuff that bothers me and just get it out of my system.” And I really feel like I did that. There’s always going to be more things that come up, but I feel like there’s a range of subject matter dealt with on the record, from personal to political and all of that.
So you were saying that the song “Rain” was about how we invented money and how we need it as much as rain?
Yeah, what happened with me was like, I started this label, Crime on the Moon, and as I’ve been putting stuff out, one of the ways I’ve been funding the label was selling off my dead dad’s possessions. Which is really weird, but it’s also a way for me to kind of connect with him and have him be a part of what I’m doing. But I was finding myself very “month-to-month” in a financial way and really dealing with barely having any money because I was scraping by because I really wanted to give it a shot and do this label. So I found myself feeling really broke and feeling just kind of desperate, but knowing that I would bounce back in my financial realm. I’ll figure it out and I always do. Like, I’ve lived away from home since I was 17 and I’ve just always known how to hustle, I guess. So I was just thinking about money and I was like, “What is the big problem with money?” And to me, especially living in a city, there’s this kind of paradox of millionaires and then people who are really struggling. And it’s really in my face, how evil money is.
With Crime on the Moon, since it’s my label I get to decide what my role in capitalism is. And I know it’s on a small level, I mean I have a tiny label, but it doesn’t really matter–so I was like, “I want the label to have a sound business practice.” So I looked into charities that I could donate to. And just donating 2 percent, which is like, barely anything right? But I was like “This is my opportunity to lay out what I believe in,” so I was looking up big worldly problems, and clean water systems just seem to be the most needed thing for when you think about the balance of people being able to thrive and survive in the world. It’s everything I care about–it’s a women’s issue, because women are walking eight hours a day to get water, every day, in many parts of the world. Basically, female thought is missing from most of the world because women aren’t having the space to be any part of dialogue, they’re just walking…for water. So that was one way I was thinking about it.
The song “Rain” on the album is about just how it’s so insane that we invented money and that we need it and it dictates so many things, from like our health to just people surviving. And it’s interesting interfacing with that and interfacing with all these millionaires in my city at the same time [laughs] and just thinking about that. It’s like, this real imbalance of money. For me, Crime on the Moon is just sort of a vision of hope and allowing myself to accept a certain amount of doom, because I am just trying to put out there what I want to exist in the world. I know that my 2 percent donation to Charity Water is not that huge, but I heard that, for example, REI donates one percent of all their proceeds to wildlife refuge and they won’t distribute to stores unless they match that one percent. A little bit can go along way, and it’s really just the gesture of how we all think about money, because I think most people in San Francisco right now are not thinking critically about money. And that’s part of the problem. I mean, I’m happy for all the millionaires–that must be nice–but, I don’t know, I’m kind of underwhelmed by what people have been doing with their money here.
I feel like late ‘70s and early ‘80s punk bands, such as the Neo Boys, Wire, and the Urinals had big influences on Grass Widow, especially since you guys covered their songs. What are some other key bands that you feel have really influenced and inspired your musical career so far?
I really go through phases–I am kind of obsessive so when I get into an artist I get obsessed with their discography for a while, and listen to them a lot and go through another obsession for a little while later. I guess there was a lot of Gary Numan this past year. Actually, sometimes when I’m writing and I’m in a big writing phase I don’t really to as much music–I don’t know, it’s really kind of self-absorbed but I listen to the stuff I’m working on and I’m in this weird space. But I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff like The Sound, and primal stuff like Silver Apples. I don’t know, it’s hard to think off the top of your head.
Is there a band that really influenced you as Grass Widow was just starting or when you started Generation Loss or Bridge Collapse, or anything that made you really want to play music?
I love music and I listen to a lot of different music, but a lot of times when I write music it’s like, all of that stuff is in my subconscious but it tends to just be a weird insular thing about the collaboration. In Generation Loss, sometimes when we’re writing music, we’ll be like, “Yeah, we want it to sound like Simply Saucer or we’ll throw out parts and be like, “We want that to sound like Hawkwind!” We’ll think like that, but it always ends up sounding like…us. [Laughs]
With Bridge Collapse, Raven and I have been playing music together for over a decade, and we just have our totally own language. We actually just recorded a few more songs and are putting out another 7-inch soon! It’s interesting, I feel like bands are really about the relationships and communication. If you can play a riff for someone and they understand what you’re saying, that’s a big deal. It’s really like an exercise in being able to communicate ideas. I feel like being in multiple bands is a testament that I’m not a total alien [laughs] because I’m about to communicate my ideas and understand what other people are saying. People have such a different frame of reference and the way that people write music is often based on a hallucination they’re having in their head and it’s kind of about if you can pick it up or not. I’ve never really written music to try and emulate any style. I get put off by modern music that just sounds like regurgitation. I think that people who are writing new music that’s sort of “throwback,” they think, “Okay, that music was successful, so if I make music like that, people will like what I’m doing, because they like that thing.” But I’ve always made music for making stuff that I personally like, and I’m amazed that I’ve been able to interact with other people through my art.
I was wondering what prompted you to begin playing an instrument and what the learning process was like. I read that you started playing bass in your early 20’s, which is really inspiring to me because I taught myself how to play last summer at age 22. So I wanted to know about what prompted you to start playing and what it’s been like learning how to communicate through music?
Well, I was like, a really messed up teenager…like, I just never had my tools. Growing up, both my parents and myself thought that I was a visual artist. I went to art school and studied painting and art history and that was what I did. It was always assumed that I was going to make visual art. I always would sing and write songs when I was a kid, but it was the kind of thing that was like “Oh, it’s the thing I really want to do but it’s unattainable.” I don’t know, I never took music lessons. I was really stubborn and had a lot of problems with authority so I never wanted anyone to teach me how to do something. Music to me felt so innate that, I don’t know, I just couldn’t take lessons because I was such an asshole teenager [laughs].
This sounds really cheesy in a way, but 9/11 happened when I was living and going to school in New York and I had a moment like, “What am I doing?” The art world is this world of buying, and big money, and it’s ghettoized on the outskirts of town. And also, here I am spending so much time alone trying to capture a feeling on paper or canvas. I had always dabbled with Super 8 but had never actually made a film, and I always thought of songs but didn’t really have an outlet. Then I was in a band where I just played a Moog and I sang and that was on the East Coast.
When I moved back to San Francisco when I was 23, my friend Frankie Rose and I were like, really depressed. We were in San Francisco, it was 2003, and we were just like, “We need to start playing music.” We had no friends. We both just arbitrarily picked up instruments. She picked up drums and I picked up bass and we just started making music and really fell into those instruments, and then went on to play in bands with those instruments.
For me, film and music are just way more accessible for people. With visual art, only some people have the attention span to walk up to a wall and have an experience with it, and I felt like that was limiting for what I wanted to express. With the songs and music videos that I’ve made, they’re really immediate and people get what you mean right away and it’s something that anyone can have. I still make visual art but these days I use it in a way where anyone can have it–it’s not a commodity, it’s not really in that world.
But I think that the best way to learn an instrument is to play with other people in a band. I play bass weirdly since I never took lessons, but I have my own way of communicating. Some people–like Kyle in Cold Beat–know scales and sometimes he’ll get annoyed if I’ll bring in a riff or song that has a part that shifts scales. He’ll be like, “Ah, that makes no sense!” And for me, I’m just like “Well, it makes sense to me because I don’t think in that way.” But yeah, there’s a range of musical background in Cold Beat–some people know their notes and some people don’t [laughs]. I think it’s something that anyone can do and that they should try. The only way to move forward and figure out how you play is to play with other people and to just challenge yourself. And it is very affirming to play with people and know that you can do it. It’s a big deal. It can be more intense than a romantic relationship too, sometimes.
Cold Beat is my first band where it’s my songs and people are playing them. But primarily, what happens is that I’ll write all the lyrics and I’ll demo a song with bass and vocals and then Kyle will help arrange and add parts and throw some brilliant guitar stuff on there and then we’ll flesh it out. But before this, I’ve always had the experience where, like with Generation Loss, we all come to a space and…it’s really all about letting your ego down–just dropping it–and it’s about love, because it’s about hearing what someone else has to say and honoring ideas.
I think for me right now, for where I’m at, it’s good for me to have a crutch where I’m in control and also to have projects where I relinquish control. I know that about myself – that I need both those things. But I think that those are two modalities of playing music. There’s definitely a long tradition of bands having a songwriter and everyone kind of playing their songs. Even in the Beatles, it’s like “Oh that’s a John song,” or “That’s a Paul song.” But I think that there are many ways to have that going on. For example, in Cold Beat, Jackson has another band where he plays guitar, called Yi. He’s the main songwriter and he sings in that band. So I’m like, “I know you already have your main band, so you can just get to play guitar and have fun in this band.” [Laughs]. You know? You don’t have to think or write any lyrics or any of that. So yeah, it’s an interesting dynamic, but we have a lot of fun so it’s working out.
It sounds like it’s working out! I love Over Me so much. That’s why I was wondering about “Rain” because that’s one of my favorite songs.
Cool! I’m just so excited because some of these songs are 4 or almost 5 years old so I almost feel like the record’s already been out for years in my mind, you know? But it’s going to feel so different to put it out and to have everyone hear what I’ve been doing, because I’ve been going through ups and downs–and I’ve never had a band that was coming from me so much–and I’m just like “I don’t know, who cares? Does anyone care?” Because it’s hard when you don’t have anything out but you’ve been playing the songs for a while, so there’s really nothing for everyone to take in, so I think it’s going to be really great just to have a full-length record out. We’re also recording another 7-inch this summer and we have an alternate version of “Rain,” because it sounds totally different when we play it live, so I’m excited to record that too. I think I’m anticipating the record more than anyone. I’m just so excited!
You should be! It rules! Is there any advice you can give younger girls and women who want to learn an instrument but feel like they either aren’t qualified to play because they never took lessons or feel too old to learn?
Well first of all, when Grass Widow toured with the Raincoats, Ana da Silva was telling us that she didn’t play music until she was in her late twenties. I just think that there’s really no appropriate time to “start playing.” I know that we’re living in this age where like, there’s a MILLION bands–even since Grass Widow was a band 6 or 7 years ago, there’s already like a MILLION bands and it can feel like “Ah, everyone’s doing this when they’re so young!” But I really think that any time that you feel like it’s an outlet that you want to have, life is short and you just really have to follow your bliss and anyone at any point can just take it up. Music is really for everyone and anyone can come from any background of knowledge about it. It’s a tool; it’s another language.
Even for me, with Cold Beat, I have never been the only singer in a band, like I’ve never been the lead singer. With Grass Widow, we would all kind of hide in harmony, and I don’t think I ever really tried to hold it in a lead singer kind of way. So I didn’t even know if I could do it with Cold Beat, like “What will it sound like when I am the primary person singing? Is this something that I can do?” And I did it. I never had vocal lessons or anything, I’m not really into the whole American Idol style of perfect singing. All my favorite singers are imperfect. And there’s this real misogynist thing in culture where people expect women’s voices to be kind of perfect, but it’s totally okay if like…you know, the guy in Protomartyr or Crystal Stilts or The Velvet Underground, to have their voices be a little off and not perfect. And people really embrace that for some reason. Well, not for some reason. I love all those bands–but people don’t embrace that as much with female voices.
But I think that you don’t have to hold yourself to any standards–however you sing is how you sing and I think for a lot of women it’s about finding their voice and finding out how they sing. And the thing is like, you have to be willing to just…sing. And sing how you sing, and not try to sing like someone else, but just see how your individual voice is. It’s really powerful to be around people that you feel safe around that you can explore musically with because you just never know what’s going to come out. But whatever it is, it’s not going to sound like anything else. The kind of criticisms that I feel sometimes are like, “Well, she doesn’t sing perfectly–it’s a little off.” And it’s like, yeah, duh, it’s a little off – just like most rock music. [Laughs].
I don’t know, I think when you go into a project you just have to be willing to just try it out and not be judgmental of yourself and let yourself go through the ups and downs. Sometimes it’s hard–and maybe it’s just a product of my age because I’ll be 34 soon–but I’m not making music for validation of my peers. I feel like, especially with the dwindling of being here in San Francisco, I’m happy when my friends come to our shows, but for the most part, I don’t really know who the people are that are going to connect most with the music. They may not be people I know or have anything in common with–that’s totally possible–but it’s better for me because it’s like I’m making stuff for me and then, if people respond to it, that’s really great. But I think my advice would be you gotta make stuff that YOU like, and for women, it’s especially powerful because it’s an exploration of desire and allowing yourself to find out what you like, and not making stuff for other people. Your friends may like it, but as long as you like it–and with the way people can put music out on the Internet these days–you never know where your audience may be.
You have such an awesome variety of bands that you’re involved in – Grass Widow, Cold Beat, Bridge Collapse, Generation Loss – I love them all! Can you tell me what’s next for all of these bands? Any exciting things happening in the near future that you’d like your fans to know about?
Yeah, for some reason, this has been a huge output time for me. I think just because Grass Widow stopped playing shows and writing, we were so monogamous as a band for like 6 years and since we’ve kind of stopped playing, I’ve been exploring a lot. I think I’ve written like 500 songs since Grass Widow hasn’t played, it’s crazy. Generation Loss just recorded a new record, so we’re going to be putting that out sometime this year. We also just finished our video album, so we have this VHS–we made a music video for every song on our first tape–and we just put it all on a video which will be up for sale soon. Cut Rate Records is releasing that tape on vinyl, so that’s happening too. We’re also working on Volume II of the video album corresponding to the current record that we’re making. So a lot of Generation Loss stuff. Bridge Collapse is going to release another 7-inch, which will probably also be out on Crime on the Moon sometime soon. Also, I’m releasing a Synthetic ID 7-inch in August on Crime on the Moon. They’re a good San Francisco band. Cold Beat is recording and a 7-inch and a few music videos are coming soon. So a lot of stuff!
Speaking of videos, I know that you’ve made a lot of music videos, such as Grass Widow’s “Fried Egg,” Shannon and The Clams’s “Toxic Revenge,” and Cold Beat’s “Worms.” I’ve noticed that some of them have similar themes, so I was wondering what some of your favorite themes and ideas to incorporate into your films and music videos were and also which film projects were the most creatively challenging for you?
My approach to music videos is like another exercise in communication where someone will ask me to make a video and I’ll ask them, “What is the song about?” “Are there any visuals attached to the song?” We’ll kind of have a dialogue about what visual things would be an extension of the music. And then, usually I’ll roll with it. For me, it’s sort of outside of logic when it’s like, “I don’t know why, but this song is green.” Or like, “I can’t explain why, but we have to shoot this video in 16mm.” I don’t know, certain things, like color schemes will just make sense.
I feel very lucky to have made so many videos and I’m working with a low budget every time so I’m always like “Damn, if I had more money I could make really cool videos and use all the effects I want” and all that, but I use what I have. Basically all the videos I’ve made are camera exercises, using camera tricks and stuff. They’re all experimental. But luckily, I’ve worked with a lot of people who have really let me do my witchcraft and have trusted me enough to make them the videos. Right now, I’m going to have two more Cold Beat videos coming out soon. I’ve been putting a lot of my video energy towards Cold Beat stuff but I’ve been talking casually to a few people about making videos. It’s just really tough because a lot of the people that I want to make videos for are not people who have enough money for me to make the video, because things like film and hiring people to do the cool special effects cost money. I’m lucky enough that I’ve gotten to work with friends of mine that are really talented and have worked for WAY less than what they’re worth. But yeah, it’s tough.
I’m also shy to totally talk about it but I’m starting to work on a feature right now–I’m just in the beginning stages of it–but I’ve never taken anything on like that before. Like music videos and songwriting, those are all about 3-minute pieces that I know I can handle. I’ve made 23 music videos–I know I can do it. When I set out to do it, I know how to follow through and finish things, like that’s totally something I have under control. The thing about a feature is it’s kind of exciting because it’s something that I’m not sure if I can do. And I think that’s a healthy thing. I guess that would kind of go back to if I had any advice to people – it’s really good for you to try things out that you’re not sure if you can do. Like, you’re gonna have to have the guts to do that or you’ll never grow, you know? Every music video is like that too, cause they’re all experimental, but it’s like “I want to try to make this cube that’s spinning.” And it’s like, “Can we do that?” And then we try it and we can do it. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out like what you’ve imagined and so you just kind of have to roll with things.
Are you talking about the music video for “Mirror”? Do you like how that turned out?
Yeah! I mean, it’s definitely really challenging for me to direct and be in a video, so that’s not totally ideal. Like there will be a shot where I’m like, “Ah, I wish my hair looked better.” But I was directing…and I was editing…and I was in the video. Also for “Fried Egg” I was directing and also in the video, and that was challenging. But you just have to know that when you’re going into a project I guess. That’s part of music making or video making–have a plan and bring ideas that you have in your head, but also balance that with being open to the moment and incorporating mistakes. Generation Loss incorporates mostly mistakes….its like, all mistakes. [Laughs] And that’s why I think we write so fast. Every time we sit down to write we write like, three songs, it’s just crazy. I think it’s good chemistry but also the willingness to include mistakes and also be open to the moment. With filmmaking especially, you definitely have to do a lot of planning. I come from film, not video, so you’d have three minutes on your Super 8 roll and you can’t just waste film because it’s expensive, so you have to plan out all your shots. But, in the midst of that, you also have to be open to what happens.
With Grass Widow, you’ve gotten to tour with some of my favorite bands, like The Raincoats and Trash Kit, to some amazing places. What have been some of your favorite places to play shows in? If you could tour anywhere in the world, where would you like to go?
Well, I’ll just start with where I could go if I could go anywhere. I’ve been really wanting to go to Italy and Greece and Spain, and I’ve also been really wanting to go to Japan. I’ve always been into Greek mythology–so I want to see the Parthenon and just want to go to that part of the world. I’ve been to Italy before and just love it. I would love to go out to Europe with Cold Beat–that would be so fun! I’d also like to go to Japan since I’ve never been there. So those are goals that I really hope we get the opportunity to reach. In terms of places I’ve already been, Grass Widow got to go to a lot of places….I really liked being in England and France, and I’d like to go to more places in Italy–they just feed you so well and I feel like I relate more to Italians. I don’t know what the music climate is like though, I don’t know where the Cold Beat fans will be so I’m just looking forward to finding out! Who knows where they are but I hope I find them eventually!
That’s what’s so crazy, while I have so many complaints about technology, it’s also really amazing in that sense. You never know where your people are. I was in bands before MySpace existed and I remember there was this period when MySpace first started where people were getting “discovered,” like “buzz bands” were a thing. I think a lot of people thought Grass Widow was going to be a buzz band, but then we were like, “Actually, we’re not cool people…we’re just going to keep making music.” [Laughs] We were like being weird about getting TOO accessible. I feel like now, there’s just so many bands and people are finding out about music in so many different ways, it’s just changing all the time. These days it’s totally an age of information. That part is really exciting–once something is out there, it’s really out there…not like it used to be.
Maybe it’s a product of my age but when I was first making music and touring MySpace didn’t exist yet and you were really just going on tour and playing for friends of your friends. Nowadays it’s different–there’s negative sides to that because it kind of feels a little less about community and less about community empowerment, and people helping each other out. And I feel like people value bands on tour a lot less these days, just because everyone can just contact each other on Facebook. But the upside is people can have such easy access to what you’re doing and it’s easy to get your stuff out there and show things. And it’s kind of exciting and hopeful that there’s always a possibility there.
It’s interesting that you address the importance of music community, just because it seems like nowadays it can be really isolated these days just because it is the “Age of Information.”
Yeah, well it’s just like a false idea of community in a sense these days. It happened with Grass Widow a lot and pretty much every band I’ve been in since everyone had e-mail, but people will be SO friendly through e-mail and then you meet them in person and they’re just like, not nice at all…and you’re just like, “Oh yeah, I forgot, we talked through e-mail.”
I know I mentioned Neo Boys earlier and I heard that you were into them. What drew you in and made you want to keep listening to them?
One of the things that really drew me into Neo Boys was that they were writing lyrics about a lot of different things and it wasn’t just like, subject matter that women usually wrote about, they were writing about their world and their response to the world. Just really abstract things. I think they’re one of the most inspiring bands lyrically.
I just got their discography on Record Store Day.
Yeah, K Records put that out. I honestly am happy that K Records put that out but I have to say that I really prefer the actual LP and 7-inch as individual pieces. I feel that those are a better entry point into knowing about Neo Boys because it was how the band put the track listing together and it just felt like a real delivery.
I’m definitely somewhat new to knowing about Neo Boys so that’s really interesting to hear. I’d like to get both of those records and listen to them in that way instead of just listening to everything on this discography.
I am a huge Neo Boys fan obviously, since Grass Widow covered one of their songs, and Cold Beat actually covered an event for Girls Rock! Camp in Portland and Neo Boys was a huge part of that. I got to meet them all and it was amazing. They’re still amazing women–they’re so cool. But I feel like it’s really important for women to be part of our world and what we imagine for our world. With Neo Boys, they just had this really rich universe building–when I listen to their records, I think of these women who were creating this space that was outside of patriarchy, and it wasn’t necessarily a response even, and it wasn’t just about being a woman or one version of female. It was more of a comment on the world, and I think that’s really powerful. I think young girls should challenge themselves to write songs that are not even just a response to how it feels to be in a man’s world but to just get more women’s thought out there, you know? I think having an imagination and writing about our space is just as powerful as complaining about rape culture in our society. I’m just inspired to hear about more and more women who are tackling new subject matter and are imagining a new world. It’s exciting.
Over Me is out now on Crime on the Moon!
Photos by Madeline Allard and Ringo