Noise-pop fivesome Joanna Gruesome have been making a name for themselves with ease over the past few years and if you listen to their latest LP Weird Sister, you’ll know why. Based in Cardiff, Wales, the band takes you on a rollercoaster ride that’s like a Stefon Meyers club: it has everything. Solid pop hooks, melodic yet distortion-drenched guitars, frantic solo freak-outs, and defiantly versatile vocals from the dynamic Alanna McArdle. McArdle has been involved with a few other projects prior to Joanna Gruesome, including flying solo as Ides and slappin’ the bass for indie-rockers Evans the Death. We were stoked on the chance to speak with Alanna about her work in feminist collective Misery Chicks, dealing with sexism in the music industry, and what’s wrong with the term “twee.”
How long have you been performing as Ides? I really love the vulnerability and confessional nature of Ides lyrics.
I started writing Ides songs 3 years ago when I was 18. I didn’t play a show though until about a year afterwards. Playing on my own was a really terrifying prospect for me especially because I wasn’t that experienced playing guitar, I’d just sort of taught myself. Also like you say the lyrics I was writing were very confessional and performing seemed really daunting as I’d be laying myself bare in a lot of ways. I’ve sort of taken a break from playing Ides shows at the moment but a split 7” I recorded with King of Cats just came out on Reeks Of Effort.
Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like to play in Evans the Death? How long were you in the band?
Being in Evans The Death was really fun, and it was also a big learning experience and definitely led me onto a lot of the things I’ve done since. I was really lucky they asked me to join because at that point I’d never really played an instrument before. I learned the bass parts and from there I started messing around on guitar and writing my own stuff as Ides. They’re a really fun band to play with and hang out with and I think they write really great pop songs. I was with them for almost a year and I left when I decided to focus on doing Ides, which was also around the time I joined Joanna Gruesome.
The Misery Chicks is such an awesome collective and I love what you all are doing. How did you get involved with the other girls in the group?
I met all of them through Joanna Gruesome! Meeting all these cool girls with the same politics as me was super inspiring and we all found common ground in the music we like and the shared frustration we have at the treatment of women in the media. I have so much respect and love for all of them.
What’s been the best part of your time as a “Misery Chick”?
We had a Misery Chicks girly sleepover where the idea was that we’d be getting a zine together but instead we just drank a lot of wine. Also I got to interview Mish Way from White Lung and I love her.
Who’s your current “grrrl crush”?
100% Meredith Graves from Perfect Pussy. I wouldn’t call it a grrrl crush though, just sort of a general crush. I’m so obsessed with that band it’s unreal. When we played with them last year in New York we got to the venue I think during their first or second song and we all were just totally awestruck by their performance. I remember reading an interview with Meredith not too long ago where she talks about how we kind of look the same and I was totally thinking the same thing at the time but also, “Oh my god I can’t possibly do what she’s doing”. I think she has a really great sort of “moral code” or whatever you want to call it as well. Sadly in all areas of music there’s a reluctance for bands to call out other bands or promoters or whoever for being sexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist…and when it happens in DIY culture it’s especially disappointing to see, but Meredith always calls bullshit when she sees it which is a really important and inspiring thing to do. I find her lyrics really empowering and amazing as well.
Which songs did you contribute to Le Sigh’s Monday Mix and what made you choose those songs?
I chose “Where Good Men Go” by Baroque because I’d just found out about that band and I’d never heard of them before at all but they’re so awesome! I think they only released one EP and disappeared. I don’t know anything about them but I wish I did. Then “Heart Factory” by Sleater Kinney because they’re one of my all time favorite bands so it seemed like an obvious choice, and then “Hey Stephen” by T-Swift was a collective decision because we love her.
You wrote a great article for Collapse Board about the sexism that female musicians still experience. As someone who’s experienced it firsthand, what do you think is the best way to deal with those douchebags?
That’s a good question because at the moment I’m still not really sure what the best way to do that is. I think what is really important is for bands to call people out. If some other band or some journalist or promoter was being a sexist jerk just tell people. There are a million journalists and promoters and bands out there and we shouldn’t have to deal with the ones that make us feel uncomfortable. They don’t need to be there anymore.
I and we as a band try very hard to do that because I don’t want this pattern of girls in bands being discouraged and feeling alienated to continue because it’s so depressing to see.
And while it definitely shouldn’t fall on only us to change this, I feel like if I could offer any advice to other women and girls in bands when dealing with sexist assholes it would be to be absolutely unapologetic about yourself.
Women in music feel like they have a lot more to prove because of negative stereotypes and the general pervasive atmosphere of misogyny, but if someone is making you feel uncomfortable or being rude to you it’s their fucking problem.
I read that Owen writes most of the Joanna Gruesome songs but as the lead vocalist, do you write the lyrics? What’s the process like?
It’s sort of a 50/50 split. When I joined the band most of the songs for the album were already written before I even knew the guys. Then there were these other songs Owen had written and he took them to me and said he felt like he wanted some shouting to go in them so I wrote those bits. The screamy bits. He wrote the lyrics for the more melodic vocal parts though.
A lot of people have compared Joanna Gruesome to My Bloody Valentine. Do you see the similarities?
Ah yes. We’re all very flattered by the comparison. I think the people who make this comparison have probably only listened to “Sugarcrush” and nothing else though. Let’s just say the intro to “Sugarcrush” is definitely a tribute to “You Made Me Realise”.
How do you feel about the word “twee” as it applies to Joanna Gruesome?
The whole “twee” thing has sort of morphed into this weird label that’s basically lost all meaning now. We’re all really against this trend of equating indie-pop with twee, which seems to be born out of nothing but laziness. It seems as though as soon as there’s an indie-pop band that has a female vocalist the word twee is applied so quickly without any hesitation, and there’s definitely some sexism there. As if female vocals necessarily equate a cutesy kind of fragility. People use the word twee to write things off, and twee seems to be mostly reserved for women. I’m not a fan of that at all.
Are you guys working on another release now? If so, can you tell me a little bit about it/how it’ll compare to your past albums?
We’re going back into the studio with MJ (who recorded our album) in March to record songs for two split releases we have coming up! One is with Perfect Pussy and the other is with Trust Fund. We’re still finishing off writing the songs, the writing process has been a lot more collaborative this time. I don’t think it’s going to be drastically different to what we’ve done before, we’re still writing pop songs. I’m still shouting about stuff. We’re really really excited to release some new songs though and especially with these two bands.
"Rock Dreams" is an ongoing series of interviews with amazing female musicians we love, and is sponsored by Sock Dreams.