As part of the media coverage for Out of Earshot’s inaugural festival on the weekend of August 23-25, 2018, not your boys club will be showcasing some of the truly wonderful people organizing, playing, and performing at the festival in the weeks leading up to it.
For the second interview in this series, I spoke with Renee Sharpe (she/her), a long-time feminist punker living in St. John’s and singing in Worst Lay. Her active role in the community starts from a place of creating what she needs and inviting other marginalized people into the space who may need it too.
I want to start this interview by asking about your introduction to playing music and participating in the music community, specifically the punk scene.
I’ve been in playing in punk bands since I was a kid, and I’m 36 now. It’s been my favourite way to hang out with my friends and write lyrics that are true to the specific community building I’m interested in at that moment. As a long-time feminist punker, it’s always been my focus to create spaces that are kind of like “yo, you are welcome here if you are into anti-oppression frameworks” from within in the punk scene. My favourite way to do that has been to play in bands and invite people to play in bands with me; I take whatever is upsetting me in the moment and I get real loud about it. I’m a loud kind of woman, and I’m usually the one with the mic. Punk is one of the ways that I can have the mic in the community, and give the mic to others who are pretty under-represented. Punk is definitely not my defining point in life, and it holds less and less importance to me. It is a youth subculture that gets on my nerves, but I do find myself sticking around chasing that feeling that only a ripping band with friends can give you.
Can you share a little bit about the formation and origins of Worst Lay?
Worst Lay came from feeling pretty isolated and is one of a series of things I’m doing for myself to not feel so alone in a predominately cis male scene. So, it started as one of those things where me and my real good friend Mara were just talking about what bums us out, the darkness that we have in our gut, and just not having access to things like counselling. From this I just felt like we needed to start a punk band, but Mara has never been in a punk band, like, she’s in Hey Rosetta!, so even though she’s the biggest punker I know, she has just never been invited to be in a punk band. I told Mara that we should just make some dark noise and talk about what bums us out; it could be our healing process. We then invited our friends Pepa and Jono to start the band with us. Like anything I do, it just ended up being your typical in-your-face, short, fast, and loud punk band which is my favourite thing in the world.
I ended up singing, and I’m 36 now, but one of the lyrics is like, “I’m 35 years old / I piss in my pants / all these men / why am I still here”. I literally piss in my pants now that I’m 36 and yelling in a punk band (haha), like why am I still here, in punk? It’s still predominantly men in the scene, but for me, it’s punk therapy. That’s what the lyrics are about. It’s my favourite place, punk, it’s the easiest place for me to work from as kind of a springboard for what I care about: justice. So even though, since I was like 18, I ask myself why I am in a scene that usually disappoints me, it still gives me the freedom to do whatever I want and create the community I feel like I need at the time to heal and work against the patriarchy collectively. So, that’s been my work in punk since I was like 16. It doesn’t work and it usually disappoints, but we build community where we can get it. My community work extends far beyond punk, and I’m working more on healing and being soft these days – but I’m still here.
Where did the name Worst Lay come from?
The name Worst Lay comes from one of our songs, Candy, which acknowledges patterns in relationships that I’ve had with men where when I don’t want to fuck, they say that they would be depressed, sad, or bummed out if we don’t have sex. So then I would have sex with them to save our relationship. That’s the worst lay. It’s about consent. It’s the worst lay to have sex with someone when you don’t want to.
As an active member of the music community in St. John’s, could you describe to me ways in which the St. John’s music scene is inclusive and safe, and ways in which it, like any other city, could improve?
I lived in Montreal before I moved back home a few years ago. In Montreal, we had a very hot and inclusive scene. We were just very queer, very anarchist, very “on it”. We definitely still had lots to work on with our lack of representation, but it was the most inclusive, diverse, and supportive scene I have been apart of. We put on this thing called “Band-Off” where we would invite people from the community who wouldn’t always necessarily feel invited out to shows. People would come, we would put our names in a hat, and then that was your random band. We did that a few times and it significantly increased the amount of women, trans folx, and (ideally) other underrepresented people that would come out to our shows, pick up instruments, and play in their own bands. So I brought that home to Newfoundland. When I arrived I was looking for the women and queer folx, but with no surprise, it was my usual disappointment with the scene. I wanted to see the kind of bands that I like, and hang out with people that I can relate to, so I did a “Band-Off”. It worked. I did it a few more times, and since then, there have been so many women, queers, and politically charged freakers and ragers playing in bands and making music. It wasn’t just me, obviously, there were other groups like St John’s Womxn in Music (SWIM), Girls Rock, and now Out of Earshot. There’s still work to do – it’s still real white. There’s a lot that can be done for diversity and being inclusive without tokenizing people. It’s always about sending out that invitation, and making sure everyone feels like they are welcome if they want to come.
Finally, I wanted to ask you more broadly about the ways in which you promote a safer and more inclusive community outside of the music scene.
Totally, yeah. So, I’ve been taking Wen-Do Women’s Self Defence since 2002. My first experience with it was fucking revolutionary, and I’ve now been teaching it since 2011. From a feminist anti-oppression framework, it basically looks at the way women experience gendered violence and it starts with an acknowledgement that women can, and know how, to defend themselves. When we – by we, i mean, cis women, trans women, and gender non-conforming folx – fight back, we actually get away effectively. We are stronger and smarter than the world tells us. We talk about how to protect ourselves and support others in the community that have been targeted by bullying and harassment, have experienced sexual assault, and are in abusive relationships. Then we move forward with physical defense strategies that are made for our bodies (just as they are) that can be used against someone that wants to hurt you. This person is probably someone you know, or is someone in your community with power. We aren’t looking for that racist trope – that tall, dark, stranger in the bushes – we know that it is usually someone we know and trust who we need to defend ourselves against. It is crucial to understand the realities of our experience and name them, so we can give ourselves permission to act and get to safety. Wen-Do is an acknowledgement of this, and it’s an empowerment piece. It’s quite incredible. It’s what I do.
I also host the Renee Sharpe Show, which is my favourite thing. I invite people on – who are definitely not punk (haha) – and I celebrate them. I like celebrating people and making them feel good about themselves; I like giving them a spotlight. We just shoot the shit. It’s cool. It’s my thing.
I guess finally, I’m always trying to create what I need. I’m hosting something called Hold Space, an active-listening workshop that acknowledges how a lot of us are feeling isolated from a lack of community. Hold Space is a thing that I think can help us all figure out how to hold space for each other. I will give a short introduction on what it looks like to actually active listen and how that can feel for a lot of us that need that. The other part of it is working through how you can actually ask people to hold space for you. If you feel like no one hears you, or you (like myself) are the person in the community that everyone goes to, it can be difficult to learn how to ask for that support. It’s kind of like an exercise in community building 101 and how to better support each other. Another part of it is kind of like speed dating. We have chairs set up, we move every 5 minutes maybe, and after asking for permission to hold space, we practice active listening and accepting that support. You don’t spend that time thinking about what you are going to say to fix their problems; you just be that person for them that listens. I think it’s going to be really cool and I’m excited to try it out.
STAFF CONTRIBUTION: Nikki A Basset