Freya Wilcox is impossible to forget. Her live performance hearkens to a late seventies rock n roll. Her voice sounds like a dirty bullet propelling through a wind tunnel. Freya Wilcox & the Howl have been making a racket in the NYC scene since she moved from Australia about five years ago, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be able to chat with her for Safer Scene.
You just returned from a West Coast with Oh My Snare! How was the tour, and were there any memorable moments in particular?
The tour was totally exceptional! We had a wild time with those crazy Quebecois and it was pretty incredible getting to drive from the desert to the fields to the forests. The Australian in me was wildly happy to feel some semblance of home in the American wilderness.
As far as memorable moments go, I’d have to say my favorite memories were playing 924 Gilman St in Berkeley where a bunch of super sweet punk kids formed the best pit we’ve ever had, eating burritos at Fat Wreck Chords in SF with Direct Hit and PEARS who were the kindest, funniest humans, and having Milo from Descendents arrive at our show in Denver for no known reason. So naturally, I proceeded to break a record number of strings and make everything as difficult as possible, finishing the set with a borrowed guitar slung higher than George Harrison’s… sigh.
As an Aussie turned NYC artist, how does the NYC music scene differ from the Australian scene and other scenes you have been a part of?
It’s interesting you ask this as it’s something that has been a pretty big point of contention for me internally since moving to the US. It was hard for me when I first moved to decide whether musically I would have more or less opportunity in NYC. Australia is place with a very well-supported independent scene and people are really, really into music and making the scene something beautiful, but it’s a product of the love for music and friendship more than a ‘support the scene’ mentality.
In the US, the punk scene in particular is much stronger, and I feel very at home wherever I go as a result of the web of friendships we’ve formed on the road. But the general attitude towards going to shows and supporting bands is different somehow and people are less likely to be major advocates of your music, likely because here you’re spoiled for choice.
In Australia, you can pay $100 to see Pearl Jam once every 5 years, or you might catch a local-ish act that you adore at a pub if you’re lucky. But in NYC and it seems a lot of the US, you can see your favorite bands in your favorite venues almost every week. I think that Australians are more susceptible to new music while Americans are more likely to engage with bands that they already know. Having said that, we are welcomed so warmly everywhere we go which is pretty mind blowing for me considering the shit that comes out of my mouth half the time.
How did the split EP with Oh My Snare! come about?
I was thrown into the Oh My Snare machine last year at Pouzza Fest in Montreal when their bassist Lily recognized me in a beer garden and stole my heart. We’ve since become the best of friends. And so, when they reached out to ask if we would like to tour with them and release a split under For the Love of Punk ,there was no question. Their song ‘Quantum Entanglement’ on the split is actually about myself and Lily and our fiercely loyal friendship.
I was really excited to perform on that track and be able to sing a line like ‘I met an awesome girl, she plays opposite geeks in that band around the world – well, not really the world, more like Vermont’, which I’d never be able to pull off in my mean-ass songs. I deeply hope that we’ll continue to tour together in future, they bring so much laughter and love to the world, and the french is super cute.
As a major focus of Safer Scene’s is to raise awareness about discrimination in the music scene, have you experienced or witnessed sexism while touring?
Fuck yes. Yes. Absolutely. Sexism at shows happens EVERYWHERE. I can’t speak of a single show I’ve played where I haven’t seen or experienced some form of sexual discrimination.
For me personally, it normally comes in the form of men ‘helping’ me, telling me what I should be doing differently/better, telling me how I should play, how I should set up my amp, offering to ‘help’ me with the business/networking side of things because they have a cousin that once signed so-an-so and other attempts to inflate self-importance via undercutting my own experience.
I’ve had sound guys stop me mid-song to tell me to change something on my amp, I’ve had a LOT of sound guys treat me very badly and make no effort to ensure that our sound is reasonable, and of course there have been countless sexual advances, marriage proposals and some inappropriate touching. Now I’m about as big a lesbian as they come and with my resting bitch face and big leather boots I can’t imagine I seem too approachable, so it is a major concern for me that women sitting closer to a standard feminine archetype likely face safety concerns far above my own, and that’s scary as hell.
I’ve been playing for 15 years, I studied sound production, I’ve built my own guitars and amps, and I’ve been in studios since I was 11. But my experience doesn’t measure up to the dudes with a couple of years strumming under their belts in most cases, so I get steamrolled a lot and I’m the only one who is aware of it happening most of the time. It has happened with audience members, engineers, producers, even band members.
Respect isn’t granted, it must be demanded. And even then you’re probably just going to end up with a ‘bitch’ label because you’ve challenged some gentleman’s fragile sense of self. Makes no difference to me, I’ll be doing what I do regardless of the outcomes, and I think that’s the most important thing that we as female performers need to remember – we shouldn’t change to meet someone else’s expectations, ever.
What advice would you give to women who want to become a musician or start a band?
Learn everything you can. Know your shit and stand your ground. If you’re gunna be playing live, get an understanding of live sound. If you’re gunna be playing guitar, learn how to restring it, learn how signal chains work, learn what all the knobs on your amp does and know how to troubleshoot.
If you can walk into a place and feel secure in your own knowledge, you’re less likely to be taken advantage of as a result of your sex on the professional side of things.
In terms of personal safety, learn how to stand up for yourself, say ‘No’ when you mean it, be kind but firm. And don’t stand for shit that makes you uncomfortable and don’t compromise who you are to make other people more comfortable, that’s not your job. Your job is to be yourself and do what you love, that visibility is priceless.
Do you think there is anything specific that can create a safer and more inclusive music scene?
I think that we need to avoid the trap of creating ‘safe spaces’ where there are so many rules that it begins to feel exclusive. Social isolation is a big problem and it leads to the perpetuation of discriminatory values. Sometimes it’s easy for spaces to feel exclusive if you’re not queer enough, punk enough, woke enough, whatever, and that’s total bullshit. Bridging the gap is all about education and acceptance.
We need to ensure that safe spaces are inclusive, non-violent and drug and alcohol free, not a place for punks to preach and alienate those who have spent less time crafting their personal politics so far in their journey.
I’d love to see more drug and alcohol free venues, not just because kids under 21 deserve to be a part of the music community and probably need it more than most of us, but because this country is in the middle of an addiction epidemic and it’s up to us to ensure we’re supportive of the people in our scene that are trying to keep themselves safe and healthy and break that cycle.
People in recovery can feel so fucking isolated when all of the social gatherings, shows, etc. become triggers and we need to nurture a scene where it’s possible to learn from each other’s experiences and break the cycle of hatred, isolation and addiction.
What are your plans for the upcoming year?
We’re releasing our debut record early 2017 and we’re ridiculously excited for it. We spent months at Sabella studios laying down the biggest guitar and vocal tracks we’ve recorded to date and coming off the back of a very, very tough year, it’s been really good to catalogue that pain and move forward.
I’ve never put so much work into a recording before and I’m busting to get it out. We’ll likely do an East Coast/Midwest tour in the spring and after that I guess we’ll see where the wind takes us!
Are there any female rock artists you look up to in particular, and why?
Absolutely! I’m kinda old school but here are some women I fucking adore.
Janis Joplin – She showed the world that vulnerability does not equal weakness and love is a universal affliction, not just a pain point for the soft-hearted.
Courtney Love – I’ll cop shit for this one but CL is a very well-read, intelligent woman who really set the platform for women to stand up and demand the treatment that they wanted. Courtney taught me how to overcome fear.
Kathleen Hanna – Because she perpetuates the idea that feminism is based on the individual, which is important now as I think a lot of people struggle to identify with feminism based on their preconceived notions of what that means. It means what you want it to, it means advocate for change.
Erica Freas – What a champion, seriously.
Are there any places, scenes and/or venues that you’ve noticed to be a safe space? If so, what are they doing that should be emulated by others?
I really liked playing Gilman St in CA this last tour because it was SUCH a safe space. They are really clear about what kind of behavior will be tolerated and they make sure that there is water/coffee/snacks, etc. so it’s a welcoming, healthy environment where the history and future of the scene is respected.
I guess I’d like to see more volunteer-run spaces where a community can be build around the space and not just the shows. It seems like a self-enforced community is more effective in altering attitudes and creating a safe scene.
Are there any particular bands, musicians, and/or organizations you believe are making an effort to help the cause?
There are so many people behind the wave of change now that it’s really hard to point fingers. I saw War on Women the other night and was so happy to see a feminist dialogue onstage that was so genuine and impassioned. I love RVIVR and the values that they’re bringing to the table all over the country too. There are so many female/queer bands doing so much amazing work and I feel so lucky to exist in this time and place where change is imminent and we’re all pushing forwards like we are, sharing ideas so freely and being able to access the discussion so easily.
Thanks for chatting with me Freya! Hope you are well. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
VOTE, check your privilege, pick people up in the pit, don’t be a shit to anyone, don’t be afraid to be yourself. That is all.
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