OUT OF EARSHOT: INTERVIEW #3 – RACHEL FROM RABIES/SURVEILLANCE

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 third interview in this series, I spoke with Rachel (she/her) from Rabies (vocals/guitar) and Surveillance (vocals/bass). Originally from rural Ontario, where she grew up on her family’s farm, she is now living in K’jipuktuk (Halifax, NS).

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Photo by herself

I’m curious about your initial introduction to playing and writing music. What inspired you to start making music?

Both my dad and brother are talented bluegrass guitar players and many of my family members are musicians or music fans, so music has always been a big part of my life. As a teen, I went to a lot of shows and always wanted to perform and play in a band, but I had no idea how to get started. I played acoustic guitar a little bit (my brother and dad had helped me learn some chords) but I was mostly playing Tegan and Sara covers secretly in my room, and playing in a band seemed impossible. I thought it was an impenetrable world to me and I was too embarrassed to admit that I wanted to participate.

When I got a little older, I continued to go to shows and my desire to play didn’t fade away. I spent a lot of time talking about this with my partner Dave (guitar in Surveillance/drums in Rabies), who had been playing music since we were teenagers. Together we worked through a lot of the complex feelings and emotions we had around playing music and everything that was holding us back from being creative.

He supported me, and helped me push through my fears, and together we started the band Surveillance when I was in my mid twenties. He really wanted me to have a bass because I could play it just one note at a time so he got one for me for about $80 on Kijiji. Dave had a few songs already written that he had imagined playing in a band, so I learned those songs on the bass and we practiced them together in our apartment.

We have a broken “Fender Jam” amp with a really distorted setting and I loved playing my bass through it – the distortion covered up my mistakes, and it just sounded big and bad in a way that I really liked. I’d practice the songs that he’d written, and we’d also have “Free Jams” where we would encourage one another to stop worrying and just play.

Dave and I did work on some songs together in our early days, but I don’t exactly remember how I started writing songs on my own. I was practicing alone pretty often and I would just hear combinations of notes that I liked, and sing over it. Sometimes because singing and playing at the same time was too hard, I’d open GarageBand on my computer and record the bass line, and then sing over the recording. I added different tracks, and would just experiment by making demos. I think the first song I ever wrote for Surveillance on my own was, “Bud” and I remember playing the demo I’d made for Dave when he got home from work. He was just so excited – he has always been my biggest fan. The encouragement really motivated me and eventually I figured out on my own that I love writing songs, but it was really hard not to feel self-conscious. Over time I became used to the idea that I was a songwriter, but I am still working on building my confidence as an artist.

I eventually started playing guitar through the same distorted “Fender Jam” amp, and I picked up my guitar everyday single day for a really long time – practice has always been really important to me. I still don’t have a lot of technical knowledge and I think that is my next step – learning the names of the chords and notes that I’ve been playing for years. Doing it kind of backwards has really worked for me.

So, now that you’ve broken through a world you once felt was impenetrable, what would you say to youth that feel the same way that you did when you were a teen?

I think for anyone who wants to play music – whether they’re young or old – the best thing you can do is just try. Get your hands on some cheap gear and get started. It used to drive me bonkers when people said this to me, because I felt so vulnerable and confused, and starting from scratch is extremely hard. It’s so easy to feel embarrassed. When I found a way to practice that felt okay, and found some like minded people who made me feel empowered, I was able to actually visualise myself playing in a band. If you can’t find those people in real life, look to musicians and bands that you love. Explore the world of musicians and their history – there are a lot of inspirational stories out there.

It’s also really important to find a way to enjoy playing because there is no way around it – you have to practice. So experiment, and find a way that works for you – whether it’s learning covers, trying to play along to songs you love, taking lessons, jamming with friends, writing serious or silly songs, or just slamming on your instrument to make noise – just find something that feels right and keep it up.

And remember that anyone who tells you, or implies to you, that you’re not good enough, they’re wrong!

I read on the tumblr page that Rabies started as solo project, and later developed into a band – can you tell me a little bit about the formation of Rabies?

I can barely remember how Rabies started, even though it was only about three years ago. At the time in my life (my early/mid twenties) I was feeling pretty down. I tend to having really strong feelings about things in general, but I really only like sharing that side of myself with people that I trust. I’ve always been very private. I felt that through music I could express some of those feelings in a theatrical, kind of overblown way.

My songs aren’t typically overtly political, but they are usually written about my general confusion about the world, and informed by my feminist perspective. And you know, over time my feelings have grown and changed so sometimes some of the things I wrote about in the past are not necessarily things I feel now. Some of those feelings I wrote about are still very important to me (For example, the song “Rabid” is about being a settler living on indigenous land), and others were written about certain feelings or circumstances that have since changed (For example, the song “Celtic Frost” was written when I was feeling very insular).

For most of these songs, I just wanted a different feel than we had in Surveillance, and I had written a lot of them – enough to start another project. I knew I wanted the songs to have synth so I asked one of my dearest friends and favourite people, Jeremy Costello (of Aquakultre / Glenn Copeland / Special Costello). We played as a three piece for a while and decided to add bass. We didn’t want to ask just anyone to play bass, we wanted someone who would align with our approach and asked one of our close friends whether he knew anyone that played, or wanted to play bass that could join the fold. He recommended Bria Cherise Miller, who had never played bass before, but through our practice together she has became a close friend, an incredible musician, and a very important person in our lives.

As part of the Halifax music community, do you feel like it’s been an inclusive and supportive experience? Are there ways in which you feel like it could improve or be safer?

I can’t speak for the Halifax music community as a whole. I have witnessed and experienced various levels of inclusion and support, and over time an awareness of inequality and prejudice in the scene has been revealed – but this has certainly not been resolved. The scene continues to be divided, and at times deeply confusing and disheartening.

With that said, I have found, and continue to find many musicians, artists and organizations here who have helped raise myself and others up to feel included and capable (special shout out to members of the band Century Egg for being especially supportive). There is still much work to be done.

I personally believe that the best course of action to build a stronger, safer community is through direct support. Send messages of support to people who you think are doing good work, help new musicians book shows and access gear, break down the “skill” illusion, act as a mentor to people who are learning, encourage people to open their minds to different genres of music and experimentation, talk and learn about the history of imperialism, racism and sexism in music, question the sketchy bands and dudes and people, and try to create show line-ups that are actually good – not just based on who your friends are.

Outside of music, are there any other community involvements you participate in that empowers marginalized or vulnerable people (whether intentional or not)?

Over the years I have worked and volunteered for a number of community driven initiatives and organizations aiming to support marginalized communities, however I feel that the most impactful work that I’ve done has been in my personal education, and in the relationships and friendships I choose to foster and grow.

OUT OF EARSHOT: INTERVIEW #2 – RENEE SHARPE

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.

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Worst Lay

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

OUT OF EARSHOT: INTERVIEW #1 – SARAH HARRIS

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 first interview in this series, I spoke with Sarah Harris (she/her), an Out of Earshot organizer whose role focuses on tech/sound and general festival coordination. She is from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and is currently a student at Memorial University studying Folklore and English.

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Sarah Harris – Photo by Lawyna Vawyna

As one of the organizers of Out of Earshot, can you first first tell me a little bit about the origins of the festival and specifically what motivated it’s formation?

From my perspective, Out of Earshot contributes to and was formed out of a wave of community-based DIY initiatives in St. John’s such as Band-Off, Girls Rock NL, St. John’s Womxn in Music, the RPM challenge, Fresh Riot, and more. Many of these initiatives were formed in response to a lack of representation in the local scene and a lack of resources and spaces available to womxn, queer, trans, and marginalized people in music and the arts. As a result of these initiatives, the past 2-3 years saw the proliferation of local bands led by and fronted by womxn, queer, trans, and marginalized people. Out of Earshot is about bringing folx and bands from other cities into this community that we’ve created so that we can showcase local bands alongside like-minded touring bands, take in new music, and learn from each others’ experiences. For touring bands, Newfoundland is certainly not an ideal tour-stop (especially when you’re booking a DIY tour) so a festival like this is really important to connect St. John’s to the larger Canadian DIY scene.

How did you get involved, and what is your involvement?

As I recall, festival organizer Jess Barry invited a whole bunch of folx from the music community to get together and chat about a prospective new summer festival. I was super stoked on it and asked to be involved! Eventually the large group dwindled and became the current organizing committee. My role for the festival itself will focus primarily on tech/sound engineering and gear coordination. In the time leading up to the festival we’ve met in our small group to discuss programming, fundraisers, code-of-conduct, and general organizational stuff. We are always learning from each other, our community, and other festivals in Canada!

Can you tell me a little bit about the ways in which Out of Earshot practices inclusivity and upholds their code of conduct?

Out of Earshot operates with both a mandate and a code of conduct in mind. Our mandate guides our programming decisions, the spaces in which we choose to hold our events, and the kind of role we aim to play in the community. We mandate to program our festival and events with diversity in mind. That means prioritizing spaces for women, non-binary-trans, and queer folx on our lineup and at our events.

Throughout the year, organizers have reached out to other community organizations to encourage broader participation in our events. In order to reach folx that may feel barriers with participating in the music scene, we try to offer a variety of fundraising events such as Clothing Swaps, Pop-up Food Stands, and Karaoke. In the interest of keeping things financially accessible, Out of Earshot offers a PWYC option at events when possible and offer free festival passes to various community organizations.

Our Code of Conduct outlines our safety and inclusion policy for conduct at our events .Out of Earshot events have a no tolerance for abuse, discrimination, or disrespect of any kind. Many of the festival organizers are involved in community work outside of the festival and some have experience and specific training in areas such as naloxone training, applied suicide intervention training, and sexual assault crisis training (peer support/active listening).

We are always learning from other festivals (OXW, Lawnya Vawnya, and Slut Island to name a few) and resources such as Project Soundcheck in order to learn do better in encouraging safer spaces. We also encourage feedback and ask anyone with any questions, concerns, or suggestions to get in touch at outofearshot.fest@gmail.com.

Are there ways in which you practice inclusivity and empower marginalized groups in your community outside of Out of Earshot?

I moved back to St. John’s in 2016 after a year in Halifax. At that time, a lot of awesome womxn run organizations were starting up and I was super eager to get involved. 2016 was the first year for Girls Rock NL, a rock camp for girls and gender non-conforming youth. I joined on as an instrument instructor that summer and have taught at the camp in subsequent years. That same year, Joanna Barker and Kate Lahey started St. John’s Womxn in Music, a community arts organization which is dedicated to prioritizing spaces for women identified, two-spirit and non-binary folk to acquire and share conceptual and technical knowledge about the music industry. Through SWIM I’ve offered workshops on home recording, guitar pedals, and live sound. Through these workshops and sessions I’ve also had the opportunity to learn from so many amazing folx from our community and from away. In 2018 I joined the board of directors of SWIM and co-presented, with Lawnya Vawnya, a workshop on multimedia performance facilitated by Maylee Todd (Toronto). Always down to share knowledge/chat/jam/troubleshoot!

What are the overarching goals and long-term plans for Out of Earshot?

Out of Earshot is an incorporated non-profit organization and we intend to build on the festival and grow each year. At the moment we’re focusing on putting off our inaugural festival to the best our ability. We intend to build a sustainable festival model and develop relationships with other music festivals and labels in Canada and really help connect St. John’s and Atlantic Canada to the larger Canadian music scene.


STAFF CONTRIBUTION: Nikki A Basset

FESTIVAL LINEUP: OUT OF EARSHOT

On the weekend of August 23-25, 2018, not your boys club will be in St. John’s, NL providing media coverage for Out of Earshot’s inaugural festival.

Out of Earshot is a non-profit community-based festival that aims to create supportive spaces for DIY and emerging bands and artists. This mission has been reflected in the festival lineup announcement released last Wednesday. As the festival organizers advocate for safe and inclusive spaces, they prioritized bands and artists who demonstrate inclusive practices within their respective communities.

not your boys club will be covering headlining artists such as DOXX (ON), LAPS (QC), Surveillance (NS), Syngja (QC), Claire Whitehead (ON), Rabies (NS), Blunt Chunks (ON), and BLOOD BEACH (NS), local artists such as Eastern Owl, Hard Ticket, Hopscotch, yee grlz, PROPERTY, Worst Lay, and nybc alumni BABY BUNNY (BBQT) and Lo Siento.

Out of Earshot shares similar values to not your boys club (providing a platform for emerging and underrepresented artists), so it is truly an honour to provide guest coverage for artists I admire, and in a place I adore.

Tickets are for sale online at http://www.outofearshotfestival.com or locally at O’Briens Music or Fixed Coffee & Baking. For $40, you can pick up an Early Bird Pass until June 25th.

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STAFF CONTRIBUTION: Nikki A. Basset