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Straya: The Chain Letter Interview

 Straya (left to right): Mark, Sanjeev, Toby,  & Cody //  photo by Isabel Fajardo

Straya (left to right): Mark, Sanjeev, Toby,  & Cody // photo by Isabel Fajardo

Straya came our way through a recommendation by He Whose Ox Is Gored drummer John O'Connell. I was hungover in his kitchen after a late night in Seattle. 58 people were dead from a shooting in Vegas the night before and we woke up to the news that Tom Petty had also passed. John squeezed oranges and fixed me a drink and we listened to Straya's Sobereyed in its entirety.  I was struck by how limitless the music was, how grand the scope. Turns out, I'm not alone, as rave reviews continue to pile up for the Minneapolis post-metal band's second LP. I had a chance to correspond with them recently about various sentient topics. Read the interview below and go see Straya on March 29th at Mortimer's in Mpls. Or, if you're like me and live elsewhere, check out this rad live video of my favorite track from Sobereyed, entitled simply "K."

 

Filmed by Sam Silverness for Natural Media

 

Taken as a whole, ‘Sobereyed’ is a colossal piece of music. I’m curious how a band goes about writing a record like this. What can you tell me about how ‘Sobereyed’ came to be?

Cody (guitar/vocalss): Sobereyed took a long time to come together (e.g. “Timid” dates back to 2015), and the writing was more conceptual than anything we’d done previously. There wasn’t a ton of “jamming” to figure out these songs. Ideas — either constructed parts or just concepts — usually originated with one person, then were brought to the whole band. There was a lot more talking before diving into playing than there was just feeling out parts, etc. Even before all the core pieces of the album were finished, we wrote out a sort of sonic path we wanted the album to follow. The major dynamic contrasts and flow were very critical to the album.

Toby (drums/keys): Like Cody said, I think we tried to be very aware that we were writing a record, not just songs. Four of the songs were more or less written independently (Timid, Acoustic Song, Leach, and K.) and I think those were the pillars we structured everything else around. But even before we were completely done writing those songs, we were talking and thinking about song order, album flow, etc. We agreed on loose ideas of what we thought the record was still missing, and then brought in concepts that we individually had on how to fill those spaces.

Is the record a concept record? It’s obvious to me, with both the Faulkner and Kafka references, that there’s something literary behind it.

Mark (guitar/keys): Sobereyed is not a concept album in the lineage of 70’s prog where there is a focused thematic narrative throughout (e.g., Pink Floyd’s Animals or Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans)—and it certainly is not a Bowie-esque concept album with characters and a sense of physical space being constructed (e.g., Outside or Ziggy Stardust). I understand the sentiment behind the question, though, as a feeling of “literariness” seems to be a large factor in how people define the concept of a concept album.

A distinction that feels relevant to me is that many concept albums have a transparent artifice and organization to them: “I am going to write all of these songs about different types of people that I feel negatively about, and I’ll represent them symbolically as different types of animals like Orwell did . . .” Sobereyed is much more diffuse than this, with lyrical themes simply being derived from the art we had been engaging with at the time and how it made us feel about the world. Luckily, all four of us have some overlapping sentiments that we wanted to share, so we built an aural/textural/harmonic narrative to give it structure. It’s important to me to not create art that forces others to engage with it in one particular way, so I’m not sure if I/we could ever write a “traditional” concept album.

As for the Faulkner reference in the title, that was half aleatoric; I chose texts that I felt fit the mood of the beginning of the record, then mined them for passages that called to mind descriptions the album cover. There is no direct (intended) correlation between the themes of that text and the themes of any of the lyrics—but it is a text that I like to have existing in a network with Sobereyed. Kafka is much more directly linked to the thematic content of the track “K.” Aside from the direct reading of “Vor dem Gesetz,” the lyrics are essentially my impressions/meditations after rereading two of his novels.

Tell me a bit about the Minneapolis scene today.

Cody: I’m not sure what to say about it, at this moment. There’s not a singular sound of the scene; it’s a lot of little niches. Fortunately, Straya gets to play on all kinds of different bills, thanks to nice friends who make a wide variety of music. If you know where to look, you can see some great and strange music most nights of the week. For example, tonight I’m excited to go to a free show at a bowling alley to watch Sanjeev’s screamo band play with an experimental noise group.

Overall, it bums me out a bit to consider the scene as a whole: Two of the best venues for underground bands — the Triple Rock and the Reverie — have closed in the past year. It doesn’t really feel like there’s a “home” venue anymore. The main music press here consistently brings up the same types of radio-friendly, highly groomed pop acts. One company owns many of the popular venues and books most of the bigger shows, effectively monopolizing the parts of the scene that aren’t explicitly DIY. So, I tend to stick to going to shows my friends put on. And the more time I spend here, the more great musicians I meet.

You grew up with the internet. Every musical nugget has been available to you. How does one think about music with that advantage? How does one discover a major influence? For example, in my formative years, I found out about bands from reading zines, or word of mouth, or going to shows and seeing the opening bands, and, to a minor extent, the radio. I’d imagine it’s different now?

Toby: I don’t know about the others, but for better or for worse the main effect has been that I often now think of music in terms of time. Everything is always available for me to listen to, and if there’s any particular niche or genre I want to explore there are literally hundreds of lists that could guide me. It kind of becomes a matter of what’s “worth it” at a given time or what’s the “right thing” to spend my time listening to, which is really confusing and disheartening. On the bright side, this glut of music also means that I usually give up on trying and just listen to what my friends recommend, which is always great and very rewarding. I think I end up attaching to the records my friends love a lot more than to records I know I “should” check out, etc.

Sanjeev (bass/vocals): I have always discovered new music primarily through friend recommendations so things haven’t really changed much for me. Maybe that’s because music has always been a social and not purely personal experience for me. The particular access routes have changed (I mostly stream now) but how I find the music in the first place is basically the same.  

Mark: Digital files of music being easily and often freely available was integral to my development as a musician, especially as a child. In November 2016, we lost our most important digital cultural institution, the private torrent tracker What.CD. (Yes, I’ve heard the argument that file sharing is making artists lose money—but US copyright laws are insane and a massive barrier to creativity. I am not advocating for breaking copyright law here.) Everything was so meticulously cataloged on their website (much more so than the library that I work at), and you could always find that strange demo from your favorite artist that isn’t available anywhere. Having that kind of access didn’t make me voraciously dig into everything that I could, though; it mostly led me to finding very specific artists/records that felt perfect and investing a lot of time into interacting with them. My path to locating those works was usually through reading articles on Wikipedia, searching through similar artists on Last.fm, and finding strange playlists. As I’ve grown older, though, recommendations from friends (who are now also older with more developed taste) have become increasingly important.

Cody: Most music that has been really impactful for me has come from other people’s recommendations. I’ve definitely found artists I like through things like clicking around on Bandcamp tags or waiting for a streaming algorithm to feed me a song it thinks i’ll like. And I recognize that our band has grown up with an endless supply of digital music available to us. I’m glad we’ve lived in a time that allows us to hear art from all over the world, and that music is usually accessible for free to anyone with an internet connection. But like Sanjeev, music is often a highly social/communal thing to me. I love to share music and have it shared with me.

Tell me a bit of the band members’ interests outside of Straya.

Toby: Currently I’m super into trying figure out how to work Ableton.

Sanjeev: I spent a lot of time organizing with the Fight for 15 here, and I’m starting to get back into organizing with local socialist organizations. I am in two other bands in Minneapolis, and I’ve also started strength training. (Editor's note: Sanjeev's other bands are Tulip and Sleep Debt. Both have yet to release music, but are playing locally in Mpls.)

Mark: I spend most of my time lately on Wikipedia or reading Samuel Delany. Physical activity is really important to me too; I make most of my important decisions on a bicycle or a long walk. And I think that everyone could stand to watch more animated films/TV shows.

Cody: I work as a journalist, so most of my energy outside of music goes into consuming/trying to understand the news and the topics I cover(climate change/environmental issues). I like to bike whenever I can, too.

As a label, we’re interested in challenging certain aspects of capitalism and social conservatism. However, we’re reaching a stalemate between ideological standpoints in this country. If we’re to make progress, the arts are more important than ever. Often it’s movies, music, and writing that changes culture. Where does Straya fit in to this polemic?

Cody: Our music isn’t overtly political, as you’d find with even a cursory read of our lyrics. To me, this album is more of a means for meditation and release, which has grown more important even over the course of making it.

Sanjeev: I remember waking up after the election to a gray and foreboding sky. I could barely drag myself out of bed. When I mustered up the energy to make some breakfast before work, my eggs and bread turned to ashes in my mouth. I felt powerless, afraid, and alone. In this condition, people are physically incapable of struggling for a better world for themselves, and for all of us. The political drive of my music is to combat these dispiriting processes through acknowledgement, connection, and resonance.

Beneath the atomizing forces of neoliberal capitalism under which we all struggle today, music has so much radical potential. People working together and connecting can help re-establish the communal bonds that have been severed under the indoctrination of the “bootstraps” myth. I want to acknowledge the mundane isolating terror that most people wake up to every day but also communicate that this isn’t the only truth there is. (This is most clearly seen in “Leach.”) By re-discovering the social nature of humanity and working together, we can start to erode the foundations of the structure under which we all toil. Music, and art in general, has the power to shatter the narrow expectations of what is possible and allow us to imagine a radically just and equitable world.

Talk about the last thing that inspired you. It can be anything.

Sanjeev: The West Virginia teacher’s strike. Solidarity!

Mark: Hearing a friend talk about a collection of short stories that I lent them—or watching Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev for the first time!

Cody: A random call from my friend Adam, and Ryuichi Sakamoto's “async.”

Straya's Sobereyed continues to rule this writer's musical world. They've got a host of dates up at their bandcamp page plus are working on a potential tour of the West Coast this August.

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FACIAL: The Chain Letter Interview

Facial TJ pic.jpg

Facial's second LP Facade is a darkly luminous affair, a perfect reflection of our times. Chain Letter correspondent Emily Twombly sat down with the group last October while they were on tour to discuss the meaning and genesis of the new record. The result is a frank and enlightening conversation on all things Facial.

You can catch Facial at the Hi Hat Jan 27th for the Hi Hat's 2 Year Anniversary party.

(ET) This has obviously been a super tough year for everyone. How has that affected your song writing for your new album? 

Jay: Well, actually all of the songs on FACADE were written before Trump was even elected, but a lot of the lyrics on the record talk about things that are extremely applicable in a post-trump America. We have been writing continuously all year, and the current state of our world has certainly affected our songwriting, giving us new perspective and a new passion to feed off. 

Cam: I feel like the political climate is an unavoidable influence, even if it feels tired it’s just so overpowering between the media and the anger felt by peers.  I wrote the lyrics to Zero Sum months before Trump was elected from my experience in England, everyone was cold to me as an American and I just wanted to wear a sign on me everywhere like “I am an American but also hate this orange Cheeto man!”

Sam: I think it is important to use the chaos of today’s world to reexamine what it is we are doing with our time and energy. To use the overwhelming uncertainty of it all to focus on the things that matter and make sense to you. I definitely feel a renewed sense of purpose with music in today’s world.

What is your process as a band for writing songs and how do you decide what you want to write about? Talk about the importance of your lyrics to your songs. Do you have a favorite on the album? 

Jay: We write in many fashions; all together, alone or tag-team. Cam and I handle most the lyrics, and one of us will usually decide what the song is about and give the other a theme to work off of. It may be abstract and vague or concrete and specific, depends on what kind of song it is. In some songs the lyrics act to paint an impression of mood and feeling, and in other songs they are literal and are trying to say something specific. 

Cam: Ditto what Jay said, we trust each other’s ideas and passion so it always comes out on top. I’d say lyrically my favorite on the album is probably Animals.

Talk a little bit about what Animals is about and what it means to you. 

Cam: In LA's music scene (or of course any music scene) there seems to be unavoidable large chunks of time spent in dive bars.  It's part of the culture.  Sometimes though it’s disgusting, people lining up desperate for sedation, like cattle waiting for the slaughter. I grew in small town Oregon and have seen slaughterhouses. It's pretty brutal.  I guess we just wanted to paint that connection, corralling together in dark places slowly offing ourselves...damn this came off dark!

Jay: We all work in bars too, so we have front row seats to this display almost nightly. People totally checking out mentally, probably running from something or another. People completely lose awareness and I think that kind of self-induced unconsciousness is a plague within our culture and is something that leads to a lot of the sexual behavior that we are now becoming aware of in this industry and the movie industry. I drink and do drugs but I'm not into checking out.

I've been thinking a lot about how to make shows feel more inclusive to everyone and what responsibility the band has in facilitating that. Do you think a band has the responsibility to make their own shows inclusive and safe? 

Jay: Sure, I think the band sets the tone for shows. Our music is pretty serious but at shows we like to keep it silly and have a lot of fun being crazy and being ourselves, which I hope makes people feel open and let loose. That being said Facial is not for everybody, but all are welcome! Except Nazis.

Sam: I agree with Jay. While it is not the responsibility of the band to write music for everyone, it is everyone’s responsibility to promote an environment that is open to including anyone. When you have a stage of any kind that you can use to speak to others, it is your responsibility to set an example that does not promote hate. That goes for any stage, from a plywood platform in a dirty bar, to being the president of the USA.  

I'm writing these questions in the wake of the shooting at the music festival in Las Vegas. There have been multiple terror attacks (domestic or otherwise) in the past couple of years that have happened at music events. I guess I'm wondering if, like me, you feel personally violated by these attacks since they've been on what normally feels like "our turf." 

Jay: Certainly it hits close to home, and makes you think twice about going to any large events. but this fear it creates in us, its the only thing we actually have control over. I  think we have to stare that fear in the eyes and tell it that we aren't scared and we won't cower. We will always congregate to experience live music together, no matter what. If you close off because of fear, you aren't open for life and love, then life isn't worth living. Then the terrorists win! Fuck that.

Cam: Of course, deeply violated, it’s disgusting and makes me fucking sick.  But you start living in fear and the domestic terrorists win.  It’s hard to go off about without getting into a gun control argument, which I’d rather not, so yeah, guess we’ll just wait for the next one huh?  Fuck domestic terrorism.  And fuck the media who won’t call it that.

I really like the video you made for Black Noise. Tell me about what it means to you and how you came up with the idea. 

Jay: we came up with the idea with the director, Jack Mikesell. The idea transformed through many iterations, but to me its basically saying: no matter how much men think they are all powerful and no matter how impervious they think what they've built is, they will be put into the ground by a force much greater than them, i.e. mother nature (or strong women who take a stand together)

Sam: I also means that we are killer dancers

Do you guys like dancing? So often, I see dudes in their own music videos just standing around and looking cool or doing "tough guy" things. I really appreciate that you guys take a more active approach and aren't afraid to look weird or gross. Was it a challenge for you to push those boundaries? 

Jay: I love to dance! I am definitely not interested in portraying a cool guy image. I feel when that image is exalted, everyone tries to act cool too but really just makes everybody more uptight and controlled. But when u set an example that is more loose and crazy, then it gives room for people to be that way as well. When i was a kid, though, I was terribly scared and embarrassed to do anything that might bring any attention or judgement to myself. I would never dance or sing or be loud at all. But now that’s pretty much all I do! iI was a really uncomfortable and long process for me to get to slowly break free, but now I dance and am wild and free.

Sam: There were definitely a few times before we shot the video, like while we were rehearsing the dance, where we were laughing, 'are we really gonna do this dance on video?' 

Jay: But we did it, for all to see!

 

What art//film/books inspire you to play music? 

Jay: I don't know if they inspire me to make music exactly, but stylistically I think Jean-Michel Basquiat and Cy Twombly capture the facial ethos pretty well. Primitive childlike abandon!!

Cam: I’m hugely inspired by David Lynch. His use of sound design blows my mind.  Also his detached use of plot & mystery retools how I think a piece(whether a song, film, piece of art) is supposed to go.  He throws out all the rules and just goes for raw human emotion, to me he’s kinda the musicians filmmaker. 

I can definitely see the influence of all those artists on your music. They're all pretty wild and dark at times and as you said, Cam, none of them really play by the rules. And in fact! Have you listened to either Basquiat or Lynch's music? They're very similar in themes and use of sound design. Not really much of a question there.. just a fun observation. I wonder what Cy Twombly's band would sound like if he ever had one. 

Cam: I love Lynch's sound design, his actual released music can be a little too odd for my tastes, though not always.  That "American Women" remix he did for Twin Peaks was absolutely brilliant.  He just took a modern rock song and slowed it down until it felt like Type O Negative, so dark and groovy.

Jay: I've heard Basquiat's band Gray and i really like it.

What are your hopes for the future of the band? 

Jay: My only hope is that we get a weed sponsor, that would be great!

Cam:  A weed sponsor is a good realistic goal.  I gotta say, despite all the negative in the world, what a time to be alive for a weed smoker!  West coast tours have never been stonier.

Sam: I’d like to see more people follow the Del Taco trend with their brilliant $1 milkshakes.

In what way, if any, has Los Angeles had a part of who you are as people and as a band? 

Cam: It connected the dots for us in a lot of ways.  The 3 of us are all NW born & raised but all moved down here to explore music.

Jay: It hass played a big part, inspiring songs like "Fashion Show" and "Unknown" on the new record, which are about the trappings of superficiality and the quest for fame, respectively.  i think being in LA drives anybody who lives here a little nuts, which you can definitely hear in our music!

Sam: Not only does LA provide endless amazing content to inspire and irritate, but we have found a pretty amazing family of beautiful and creative people here who have pushed us along the way. Our label Chain Letter Collective, for example, has not only allowed us to get Facial out into the world, but have inspired us as people in this scene for years. 

How would you describe the music scene in LA to someone who has never experienced it before?

Jay: That’s like trying to describe Los Angeles itself, its very complex and diverse and big. There are so many different things happening in so many different parts of town, and most things you will never experience because its just too vast of a city and because you are trapped in your own bubble. So you can't really pretend to know what its like just because you know what’s happening on the east side, but you have a better idea than someone in Montana.

Sam: It's also like TV, mostly full of things you definitely don't want to watch. but you find the few things you do like, focus on those, and block out everything else.

 

 

 

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Caleb Miller of dimber: the Chain Letter Interview

 Caleb in Silver Lake, 7/9/17  photo by Heather Heywood

Caleb in Silver Lake, 7/9/17 photo by Heather Heywood

Caleb Miller, frontwoman of dimber, recently chatted with me over the interwebs.  She was extremely honest and gracious with her responses, and the resulting conversation is a must read as we navigate the latest front of the civil liberties fight in this country: transgender rights. Please note: this conversation took place before the repugnant events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Chain Letter:  Let’s jump right in, because the story of the day (as it almost always seems to be lately) is Trump and his potty fingers.  As a transgender woman, what was your reaction to Trump's tweet banning trans people in the military?

Caleb Miller:  I woke up that day, already kind of soaked and drowning in depression, and then read the news... totally the best thing to do when you're feeling swallowed up by depression is to read the news... and I fell apart. Broken and in tears and lost in it. Not because of the shock of it. I wasn't surprised to see such a decree from the current US President. The rainbows were stripped from the White House website on day one.

I'm constantly sickened to see a world leader operating in such a manner as he does and I felt the reverberations of his hate speech... and also the ramifications of the policy, should the ban take affect.

I felt broken for every trans kid in every town where they already don't feel safe or accepted... seeing and hearing the figurehead of their country degrade their existence and have to feel that much more afraid to step outside their front doors into a world that does not accept them. And the precedent set forth, consistently with every bigoted word that comes out of this administration’s mouth and slimes over a twitter feed, emboldens those hateful ideas and actions in others. It stokes the fires of the racists. It encourages disgusting jokes made at the expense of the physically disabled. It incites violence against Muslims and the queer community.  

And historically speaking, minority groups were first given advancement in rights through the military and then it spread over into general society. When we see the reverse, I fear for the reverse. This could prove an indicator, a move to evaluate public opinion with a plan for future legislation which gradually strips away more and more rights from already disenfranchised minority groups. That scares me quite a bit.

 

In fall out of this Trump statement I also heard and read a few statements from people along the lines of "Well I don't support the US government and its military force so fuck the military... I wouldn't serve anyway and these trans people should be happy they don't have to anymore..."  as if being excluded from the military is some sort of grace or gift - Which is such a gross grandstanding POV from a clear position of privilege that neglects so many facets, because serving in the military supplies people with a whole mess of benefits, like all of the things pertaining to the GI Bill and getting assisted funding for higher education. Its one of the major avenues in which all people with a lower income, transgender people obviously included, can get access to higher education, decent unemployment benefits, health care, and generally improve their overall living situation. 

And also as a transgender woman I don't appreciate being called a burden. Even by a pig person.

CL:  With sexuality being a personal spectrum, can tell us a little about your journey?  Did you ID first as gay and then trans or were you always aware you were trans? I'm curious, because as a young adult I was unaware of what transgender meant, like, in my ignorance, I didn't even know that option existed. What was it like you for you?

CM:  It's complicated. But yeah... I first started identifying as queer in high school. I wasn't out of the closet then but I was pining after Sarah Michelle Gellar and scoring lingerie to seduce the boys I liked at school. I figured out the spectrum aspect of sexuality pretty early and feel super grateful for that but definitely considered myself queer at a pretty early age. I didn't come out until my early 20s, I think, though.  And then it hasn't been until recent years that I came out as being a trans girl. Part of that is definitely how the dialog has progressed in our culture in conjunction with my understanding of myself. 

The conversation on gender and sexuality has developed so much since I was a child. Those times are where I place my earliest concrete memories of being seen and recognized as a female and feeling validated by those feelings. But for the longest time, because I wasn't actively seeking genital reassignment surgery, I felt invalidated as a trans woman. That somehow that was the sole factor in allowing for me to be transgender. I have gender dysphoria, and there are the days where I feel totally destroyed and suffocated by my own body, but I have a lot of thoughts and feelings that keep me away from certain surgery. And I'm trying to learn to love myself as I am with only slight permanent modifications, which conform to the western standards of female beauty. I'm getting laser hair removal on my face and body among other things. But the advancement in notions of fluidity and placing things on a limitless spectrum, eliminating the binary mindset, has definitely helped me quite a bit. And these are ideas I didn't have access to even just ten years ago. All gender is performance, “gender is a drag” as Queen Ru would say, but that's an ongoing conversation that we are only now starting to scratch at the surface of.

I'm so thankful to see where it has gone is just my lifetime. I think a lot about life as a queer person or a transgender person in the decades past and the additional challenges they faced. Perspective is important and can assist with thoughts of gratitude. Especially on my bad days.

CL: We hear so often about heart breaking examples of extreme bigotry towards trans people. In no way am I trying to discount these stories, because they are valuable in the way they help change public opinion, as well as to help us relate to the humanness of this struggle, but do you have any positive stories you could share about your transition, or is it as bad as it seems?

CM:  Indisputable fact: the quality of life for a vast majority of trans people is extremely poor. Alienation and discrimination. 40% rates of attempted suicide because the world around you invalidates you at every stage and relegates you to the gutter. And to the grave. No access to employment opportunities and daily fear of violence against your body. All of these particularly heightened for trans people of color. 

I have my fair share of these experiences and feelings. 

That said... i consider myself incredibly privileged and lucky. Mostly I'm grateful for the community I've found here. I have an adopted friend family of queerdos and allies that gives me vast amounts of support and love. They are a large reason why I can walk proudly down the street and feel confident in being my truest self. They're everything to me and I cannot thank them enough for their gifts in my life. I have safe, fulfilling employment that isn't sex work (as a lot of transgender people with little or no other options are forced into the sex industry out of necessity for survival) and employers that embrace, protect, and value me. But a lot of this comes from the privilege of living in a city like Los Angeles that contains a lot of magical humans and progressive minds. A vast majority of the world can't afford to live in cities like this and don't have access to such a likeminded community. Access and placement in the social geographical spectrum are things we all need to think about. Where we all fit in....and take an assessment of how your actions have an affect on the world around you. I'm a white girl in Southern California... so I'm part of a very small, very privileged demographic.

CL:  The fight for gender equality rages on, as a culture of sexism and misogyny still dominates corporate America, as well as in most theocracies around the world.  How does being trans inform your views on this battle.

CM:  I feel a responsibility to be visible and vocal as a woman, partly because I'm of a group of people largely relegated to the sidelines. Mainstream culture would have transgender people rendered invisible unless we are white, trans FEMALE supermodels, fetishized porn material or serial killers on TV.  I speak up for my fellow women and for all collections of oppressed humans because it’s the only way I feel OK existing in our fractured and corrupt human society. I feel an added responsibility pertaining to my access and social placement... because I live in a place which affords me the opportunity to be loud without fear of immediate violent reprisal, to be as flagrant with my words and image as possible, in hopes that somehow it makes it easier for others more alienated to strike out with pride and cultivate a safer, better life as those who are denied the right to exist as themselves - in health and moderate happiness.

CL:  Let’s talk dimber for a bit. As the primary songwriter of the band, how do you balance message with music, because I think dimber does a fantastic job of it.  Do you consciously juxtapose the sound/feel of the song with the subject matter?  Does the band discuss the issues you sing about before hand?  Also, tell us about the zine you'll be including with the damber 7"

CM:  Well I should clarify that I am in no means the primary songwriter for the band. We all contribute fairly equally to the writing process and all bring songs to the table. From our inception as a band, though, we all agreed that we wanted to tackle topics of substance whether it’s politicized material or an aching expression of some personal value. Sometimes we talk about a specific issue we'd like to cover in advance but mostly we all retreat to our private spaces and come back with words and ideas. This band is very special in that everything coalesced without much contrivance. We all love and support each other and we all sort of fell onto the same page without too much design. It just all lined up. Everything about it.

I think in general with dimber, if I'm working on lyrics for a song and if the melody is particularly poppy I'll try to cover a challenging, darker topic that feels especially upsetting to me, like the religious persecution of women by branding them as witches and burning them alive, or the insidious nature of homophobia in mainstream media. And if the melody is a little more melancholy then maybe I'll make it more of a personal exploration. I also try to write songs that hopefully serve to inspire and cultivate strength. We have a lot to fight for and it’s good to remind people of that. I write a lot of songs about the power of friendship and triumph over intolerance.

We're working on a little accompanying zine with the new EP. It has lyrics and art but also a section of resources for queer and transgender life assistance as well as recommended reading material and a few activities pages. Fun and educational! Hopefully fun. Hopefully educational.

CL:  Switching gears, tell us a little about Pony Sweat and how you got involved.

CM:  Pony Sweat is a fiercely non-competitive dance aerobics class for feminists, created for all bodies and levels of fitness. To distill it into a bite sized, tag line... it’s like if Richard Simmons listened to Bikini Kill. And it literally has saved my life. It was created by Emilia Richeson, one of the most powerful and magically gifted people I've ever met. She is a constant force of inspiration for me every single day and a miraculous friend. 

Pony Sweat is her creation. Her child. And it involves engaging on socio-political issues and exploring notions of radical self acceptance which rally against social programming and challenge the existing social model - a model (as we've discussed at length in this interview) steeped in sexism, racism, abelism, xenophobia, transphobia, and homophobia - and we do this while dancing to bands like the Cure, Killing Joke, Romeo Void, and Santigold. It has had such a profound influence on my life in terms of teaching me to love my own body and understand why I was hating it in the first place - which has helped in turn with my coming out as a transgender woman to such an immense degree. I was coming out before Pony Sweat but with it I gained a new confidence and resilience. I also gained additional control of movement which again, as someone who has felt awkward in her body for most of her life, this is an incredible gift. Before Pony Sweat I never felt comfortable moving in my own skin or even really looking at myself in a mirror. These sound like hyperbolic statements but I attest to the their truth. You could ask a great many of the other Ponies (as we refer to our collective) and they will share similar stories. Its a huge part of this supremely inclusive and loving queer community I've found here in Los Angeles and something I will cherish forever. Pony Sweat and Emilia have pulled me up from the depths of despair more' times than I can count.

I have to thank my dear friend Lauren for bringing me into the Pony Sweat fold. She'd been going for a while and she thought it was something I should do - so she encouraged me to come to class with her.  Lauren knows me well. And she was certainly right in this case. I've told her before but ill say it here again... THANK YOU LAUREN. I love you.

So I started going with fervent regularity and after a time Emilia approached me about becoming her second instructor. I accepted with joyful tears but it's been a scary undertaking, mostly because its something that is so precious to me and to so many others and I wanted to make completely sure I was handling it in a way that would represent the ideals of the class. Preserving it for all its treasures and taking care of all the Ponies... in the same way they've taken care of me. And now I'm an aerobics instructor for Pony Sweat! And every time I say that I'm exploding inside with pride! It makes my heart smile.

CL:  What advice would you give to someone still struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity?

CM:  Take care of yourself. Give yourself love. If you are questioning whether or not you are queer... you're queer. Love yourself for it. And find a community where you can talk about it and express your self. It may be a long bus ride or a train ride away but find a place where you can feel safe and accepted - even if it’s just a day trip when you can afford the time. Having a community that embraces you and loves you is supremely important. The internet can be a place to find solace and community as well. I bemoan the internet for a lot of things but there is a lot of help there also. It's where I learned to tuck properly and how to do my makeup like a Disney princess. And it can be a life raft when you live in a town full of small minded bigoted garbage people. Strike out where you can but ultimately be safe. We need to be out and be seen, especially in hotbeds of homophobia and trans-phobia, but at risk of violence and death you need to be careful. We need you to be alive most importantly. And retreat to the places where you feel safe when you need to. But always inside... if you're queer or asexual or trans or non binary... be proud of who you are and give yourself love for it. I love you for it. Very, very much.

CL:  Finally, what was the last thing that inspired you? It can be anything....

CM:  Another friend of mine, Laura (Burhenn), is releasing a new record this month with her band the Mynabirds called Be Here Now and she's using the media attention on the album as a platform for some real talk. A lot of her words approaching similar topics we covered here and she is an inspiring woman in general - but I think it’s radical - in the true sense of the word - for a mainstream musician to align herself in such a way and be so outspoken about political issues. So many other bands in the world, cowardly shy away from making any kind of statement or attempt to create a cultural shift to level the playing field for those less fortunate. Even a lot of bands in the "punk scene" - which in my days of youthful idealism I thought was supposed to be a politically charged scene and one that held people accountable - I sadly know now this not to be the commonality in 2017. I think what Laura is doing with this record is fucking awesome and I'm so very proud of her.

Also, at a diner I frequent here in town called Cindy's, there's a sweet lovely girl who works there from time to time, and this week when I saw her she had on a huge pink and blue “fight for transgender rights” pin. I told her how much I liked it. And then I overheard that she and some of her high school classmates had made them and were disseminating them at their school. I'm not much of an optimist for the progress of humanity but then sometimes I see a thing like that and think... the kids are alright. 

dimber performs at the Chain Letter 2nd Anniversary party this Wednesday Aug 23 at the Hi Hat.

Damber EP comes out November 10th.

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MANUOK Premiers "The Edge"

Scott Mercado, aka MANUOK, knows a thing or two about loss, as chronicle in the new video for "The Edge," a standout track from this years's The Gift Horse LP.  Watch Mercado's Bitmoji embark on a internet-meme-fueled odyssey that will at turns make you smile, and make you pity the poor dude.  Vinyl editions of The Gift Horse, limited to 100 in 3 different colors, are available in our webstore.

 

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Alex Onate from MINNOW talks "Waves Goodbye"

 

From time to time we come across an LA band we really dig whose record we didn't release.  Earlier this year a band called MINNOW put out a stellar EP called Exploded View of Home.  At first blush, Home is a straight-forward guitar record, but a closer listen unlocks a chilly cinematic world of complex arrangements, sparkling keys and head-bobbing rhythms.  Our favorite track is called "Waves Goodbye."  Recently, we chatted with Alex Onate, drum player in MINNOW, about the band in general and this track specifically.

You can catch MINNOW live tonight at the Bootleg with Toothless.

 

 

CL:  Alex, I like how we met, reaching out and going to a show.  It spoke to the way you operate.  Super community based.  That's fucking cool.  Give us a brief history on yourself and how you got involved with MINNOW.

ALEX:  Thanks, Ben. Yeah, one of my favorite parts about being involved with music is the community. It's really cool to think about the amount of longtime friends I've made over the years just from playing in bands and becoming immersed with all the amazing artists around me.  I was born and raised in Los Angeles, started playing drums around age 6 and really just haven't stopped. Joining punk/hardcore bands is where I really found my place and that lead to a fair amount of touring and studio experience at a pretty early age. As for Minnow, the idea for the band began in 2011 with myself and the two guitar players Madison and Kenny, just a bunch parts that we had all individually been sitting on for a while that eventually became our first batch of songs. In 2012, with a full line up and a name, we released our first self titled EP and played our first few shows. I guess that made things official.

CL:  Ah, makes sense that's how the songs came about.  There's a real sense of dynamics based on the rhythm and drum parts.  That's true about my favorite track on the new record "Waves Goodbye,"  What can you tell me about that jam?  Where'd you guys record it?

ALEX:  "Waves Goodbye" is probably my favorite song on the new record as well. The idea for that one came from our guitar player, Madison.  When we started the writing cycle for this EP he sent us a few ideas he had been demoing and this was one of the first songs we put together. I'm really stoked on how it came out. 

The recording for Exploded View of Home was done between two studios. We did all the drums first with my good friend, Roger Camero, at Bright Mountain Studios and everything else was recorded and mixed by Kenny Tye, who plays guitar in MINNOW. He works for a music publishing company that has a really nice studio that Kenny actually redesigned and brought back to life. This was the first time that we had the opportunity to actually take our time in the studio and sit on ideas for a bit before committing.  We'd spend most evenings and weekend mornings in there just tracking a bunch of ideas. The mastering was done by our friend Jack Shirley who also engineered and mastered our first full length Trembles & Temperance.

Exploded View of Home is available anywhere you stream music.

 

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