Tag Archives: USA

A protest music interview: Pleasure Venom

It might sound tricky to be a band in one of the most musically active cities in the US but socially conscious dance-y punk group Pleasure Venom seem to be enjoying the ride.

I caught up with singer Audrey Campbell and asked her a few questions about the band, the music and how 360°music videos are the future.

First off, for those not already familiar with your music, who are Pleasure Venom?  

I like to call Pleasure Venom a 5 piece  experimental punk project based in Austin, TX. I’m Audrey Campbell, I sing and write the lyrics. Current lineup has Fern Rojas on bass. Thomas Valles on Drums. Brendan Morris and Scott Riegel both on guitar. A collaboration, collective and solo project focused on myself collaborating with other musicians. It’s all about the collaboration and we play with a revolving door even though I wish every lineup will last forever. PV is like a train that just keeps on jugging. The collaboration with this lineup is just so great. I get really excited to play and write with them for sure.

How is it to be a working band in as a vibrant of a music community as Austin, Texas, (sometimes referred to as the Live Music Capital of The World)?   

Everyone you meet is basically in a band or has played music before so that’s probably different than most cities. There’s so many great bands making very interesting music that it really pushes and inspires us to work as hard as they do or harder. It can be competitive but we stand out and not just because “oh we have a black front woman” but because I can’t think of a band in town that sounds like us.

Sometimes it feels we are too loud for the garage rock scene then too dance-y for the heavier noise punk rock hardcore scene so I’ve felt a bit isolated in the past. It just became really important to stick to my vision of the band because I felt some woman or little black girl, I don’t know, somewhere would be into it. Now I’m here talking with you, a music blog in Iceland. Like this is really wild for me and the band. 

How do you feel musicians and artists are using their voices responsibly today?   

I think it’s really important to be honest. So if politics is generally not an interest of yours it’ll feel contrived if you force it trying to be a “woke” person. Just be honest. I really try not to overthink when I write. I have my notebooks on notebooks of poems and lyrics but I also try to just be avail to what kind of a day I’m having, or news, events etc.

The music industry doesn’t seem to want to address much. All the popular artist particularly in popular music feel like they are just rich kids that are disconnected. I question why half of them got a deal because it seems so bad. The who you know thing just irks me because that’s probably the only excuse for it not talent. If you’re rich and talented dope but it doesn’t feel that way per the radio.

I basically just don’t listen to alot of it. There’s really good pop and hip hop and rock music, etc you just have to hunt for it unfortunately. None of its dead. But yes, I wish there were more artist that are more vocal because I do feel it’s a responsibility. We are late for another Beyonce “Formation” global moment I think. For me it’s like word vomit, like I can’t help myself but that just me. I can only speak for myself. 

Has your music been political since day one?

Definitely not. I just write about my experience. That’s all I can do. It’s been interesting venturing into music videos because I don’t think anyone thought we were doing anything political until there were visuals. Music videos like “Seize” or “Deth” are undeniably our takes on black or poc, queer lives and how there’s definitely room for progress.

It’s unfortunate we have the alt right and white supremacists in the US up to the white house that feel the killing of black life, queer life, female reproductive rights etc is a non issue. It’s really important for me to say it is thru the music. Or someway thru my filmmaking address the things I find hard to say or problematic. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be as direct as even saying it like you as a person living your life the way you do as you see fit can be a form of protest. That’s incredibly inspiring to me. 

How do you feel people are receiving your more political music these days?   

So far it’s fine. No death threats yet! I don’t scare easily though. Overall I think because the songs are dancey, hopefully there’s a more even if it’s a tough issue we are addressing, hopefully there’s a “let’s dance about it” vibe. Or so I hope. Our shows have been these mosh-y lovefest lately where folks aren’t afraid to dance which is great. It’s pretty cathartic especially when the news on TV or the internet can be so bleak and divisive. It’s the reason I need to do this. To exercise these feelings so when I look out into a crowd doing the same, it’s great! 

What do you hope to achieve with your music?  

To keep experimenting. To be honest even if it scares me. That’s really important to me. Folks, myself included, can smell bullshit a mile away. 

Photo by Allie Mouret

Do you follow other conscious bands or musicians active today? Any protest musicians out there you want to shout out to?  

Blxptn is an ATX based band and are really great and very vocal about issues I care about or feel like aren’t spoken about enough. Overall I just listen to music I like not like oh this is politically conscious so I like it or vice versa. I honestly am into a lot of classical but from punk to hip hop it’s literally about the way it moves me. 

The music video for These Days, off of the last EP, is brilliant. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Thank you!! Well I directed this one (as well as “Seize” and current single Deth””) and got the opportunity to shoot in 360 as well. When I wrote the song I was coming out of some really dark shit but I was also falling in love and I think I kinda wanted to translate that into visuals. I really like how multilayered the song is so I wanted to kind of play that up. The traditional cut I really wanted to focus on the visuals. We towed a car to the outskirts of Leander which is quite a bit out of Austin. It was May last year and so hot even at night and I’m dancing on this car and trying to look calm in the heaviest fur coat and the band in suits. It was an experience for sure. Plus having to hop off the car to direct. It was grueling and we shot into my birthday til 4 am.

For the 360 shoot, I really wanted to focus on the band and loved the idea of being able to watch whichever member you like the most, however long you wanted to. You can look up at the sky or look at the ground that’s covered with a bed of roses. It’s up to you. 360 is definitely the future of music videos. It’s incredibly immersive as experiencing music should be. It’s the natural next step as far music and film.  

You’re new EP dropped on the 24th of November 2018. Can you tell us a bit about the creative process this time around? What has changed since the last EP? 

The revolving door. We have new members on this EP. It’s the first time writing and going in the studio with Scott Medmier, Fern Rojas and Brendan Morris. They are all so talented. Fern has a background in classical music and can play the cello so that’s featured on this EP.  Scott plays some piano. There was a time when that kind of stuff scared me but I’ve been leaning into like if it makes me nervous it’s probably right or at least interesting or new.

We are just way more open now I think. I’m not as afraid to take more chances. Thomas Valles, drummer, is the only other original member and it’s been like 4 or 5 years playing with him and I’m just blown away by how good he’s  gotten over the years from when we first played together. So overall being the OGs of the band, we feel tighter and more practiced than ever and the new members are so inspiring, great songwriters too that I really want to bring them quality interesting lyrics and vocals to match the music they bring.

A song like “Untitled” I’m really pushing my vocals and I had to learn how to sing that chorus line: “Lying to your face” that way. So it’s learning and just a true collaboration. We are writing more this month so hopefully a new EP isn’t too far away because it’s just so fun to write with this lineup. I love you dudes!!!   

What are some of the issues you confront on the new album?

Can only speak for myself.  Probably the most devastating thing I kind of came out and survived a hell of a year that I wasn’t sure how things were going to end up or if I was going to be ok. It’s a quasi celebration or middle finger in the air to all the bs that may have tried to get me or us down. I just really wanted this record to sound like it was going to explode if that makes sense. I think we all wanted it to.

It’s easily the biggest and loudest we’ve ever sounded. My “give a shit” meter is at its lowest ever I think. I jus wanted to own what I’ve learned the years of playing live and recording so this is where we are at now. I’m ok…I think.  

What about activities outside the music? Do you partake in any activism in your free time?  

Music takes up pretty much all my time outside of the day job. But for that reason, I try to stay active by doing benefits or turning shows into benefits. We did one recently and it was really great. At the moment I try to focus locally and make sure whatever benefit or non profit I work with proceeds are going directly to folks that need it. Not like being sat on or a percentage of bs. That’s like really important to me.

I’m also in a Stereolab cover band called The Groop that’s awesome and challenging in its own right because it couldn’t be more polar opposite of what I do in Pleasure Venom. From pushing my vocals literally against the wall to trying to sing soft and low and channel my best french girl. It’s honestly so much fun to be honest. But it’s a really left brain/ right brain thing being in both of these projects.

We all have other projects as well. Our bassist Fern is in a band called Sheverb. Thomas Valles also plays in Caleb De Casper.  Scott Riegal has a new band called Friday Boys and Brendan new project is Boom Gang. So we all are pretty busy music wise between Pleasure Venom and our various projects.

What else is on the horizon for the band?   

Tour, tour, tour and I can’t wait. There’s some fun announcements happening that I’m not even allowed to talk about but want to very badly so I’m jus going to skip to next question. We also want to write a new EP soon as well. I’ll be directing another music video in March. So more singles from new EP to come soon.   

Thank you very much for participating and for the music! Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?  

Hmm at the moment we are looking for a label or vinyl pressing company that may be interested in helping us reissue the latest Pleasure Venom EP to vinyl. The album art by Dawn Okoro alone just screams this should be made into vinyl.

Can’t wait to get on the road and if you’d like to follow, subscribe we are Pleasure Venom on all platforms(YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc) Merch and album sales help us to tour at pleasurevenom.bandcamp.com   

Thanks so much for chatting with me Shouts! -Audrey Campbell  

Cover photo by Allie Mouret.


Support California fire relief through music

 

Cover photo taken from Raye Zaragoza’s Bandcamp page.


Recent wildfires in California have been some of the more devastating in the states’ history. Anyone interested in helping can donate to several organizations that are on the ground like American Red Cross and California Community Foundation. New York Times recently made a list of organizations one can donate to.

There are often some artists out there that use their voice to reach more people in order to spread the dire word. After all, we all have to what we can and what our talents direct us to do. Raye Zaragoza is one of these artists. As a resident of California state she feels the fires and for her neighbors. In 2017 she published Red Moon, High Tide with Madison Malone in support of organizations offering aid to victims of the then ongoing La Tuna Canyon Forest Fire. Now she is directing all profits from the song to the current fire relief efforts.

 

 

 


A Protest Music Interview: Racetraitor

In 1998, when performing songs off of their debut album, hardcore veterans Racetraitor regularly created both controversy and critical debate with their brutally honest shows. Racism, white supremacy, sexism, the prison industry, religion, their own privilege – nothing was off the table. When ‘Burn the Idol of the White Messiah‘ came out, 20 years ago, guitar player Dan remembers that the lyrics and ideas behind the album sparked conflict. Today on the other hand he recognises more of a longing from the audience for such a political debate. I spoke with Dan and bass player Decker about the band reentering the hardcore scene (with a new album that just dropped and is a gargantuan banger) and how things are different for them as artists now, both on and off the stage.

What made you step back up onto the stage?

Decker: The climate around the 2016 elections was the motivating factor for me. Don’t get me wrong, all of the previous US presidents have been illegitimate and served the interests of the white ruling class. Obama, who was the best president we will ever have, is a fucking war criminal. There just seemed to be something else opening up in terms of outright fascist and white supremacist thought which felt different. I mean now 2 years later we see things like the immigration policies which are literally referred to as the “Muslim ban”and it is completely normalized. We have always seen punk and hardcore as cultural resistance and we wanted play our small part.

Dan: For me the most pressing piece was the continued incidents and footage of black being ruthlessly murdered by the police. This wasn’t a foreign idea having done activism with black communities in Chicago, and having heard these accounts, and worse for years. There was something about seeing it, this wave of incidents. I think if you’re not experiencing that reality, no matter how much you try to stand in solidarity etc. it is hard to grasp the brutality without seeing it. For me seeing this re-sparked a level of outrage, and we had this vehicle that gives us a voice to reach more people. It seemed wrong not to use it. Selfishly, it also served as a productive emotional outlet. Add the Trump campaign to that, the reemergence of unapologetic fascism, racism, jingoism in mainstream politics,and the liberal lefts typical weak response. It felt musically and politically relevant.

Dan quote
Photo by Eduardo Ruiz – IG: @mylegsgavein

The band being active in the 90’s and then stepping back onto the stage now, because of the current political climate, must give you an interesting feel for the scene. How are people receiving your political talk on stage differently now than before? Has much changed?

Dan: We didn’t really know what to expect or how we’d be received. First time around these ideas and politics were much more unfamiliar to the scene and generated a lot of conflict. This time around people seemed to almost be looking for a rallying point for these types of politics. It’s been a warm supportive reception so far with some online trolls here and there keeping it “interesting”. We’ve been able to connect with some bands with similar politics and missions and it’s been overall a very inspiring and humbling experience.

Decker: We spend more time talking about what topics will be addressed in between songs than the actual setlist. We feel a responsibility to clearly communicate the more nuanced content of the songs. I think Mani has done a really good job of personalizing some of the issues in a way that makes it relatable for people who might be hearing these ideas for the first time.

What do you hope to achieve each time you have the stage and an audience in front of you?

Dan: If we inspire others and ourselves to look at how we can be effective instruments of change and action the mission’s accomplished. Again we want to continue to expand ours and others’ awareness of the brutal conditions oppressed communities experience and look at how we can use privilege and access to destroy systems of oppression.

Decker: We are all part of this weird hardcore/punk community, I mean I can literally connect with someone who I have never met before over the first Earth Crisis 7 inch and be friends for life. We hope to play our small part in inspiring this community to be its best self and support each other to be active in whatever way makes sense.

It seems like some people don’t understand that no matter how ‘radical’ any sort of activism can get, it always pales in comparison to how radically horrendous this world can be. How does it affect you when someone says you are ‘too radical’?

Dan: “Too Radical” is an interesting notion. I think what may seem radical to one person, is not that radical to another. We have all personally explored some pretty radical fringe stuff, so in some ways, even though our message is the same, from my perspective we’re being pretty reasonable now hahaha.

In the States I think there is a severe case of historical amnesia; segregation, slavery and lynchings weren’t very long ago. These are institutions that have long lasting effects on the Psyche of communities and huge economic repercussions that are long lasting and still effect people’s lives today. And of course these institutions still exist in different forms today.

So my opinion is we aren’t saying anything that “radical” we are talking about historical and current realities of the political and economic systems and they way the impact human beings. Nothing we’re saying can’t be empirically substantiated. Part of the problem is American society is constructed in a way to keep people practically functionally illiterate, inundated with work, sub-par public education and overwhelmed with consumerism. Add the flood of information from so many varied sources, and people haven’t learned to differentiate what are legitimate empirical sources, it is difficult for people to have a reference point or context for what is happening around them.

Do you have any bad or weird experiences with the audience’s reaction to what you have said on stage?

Decker: When we first started in the 90s there was way more weird reactions from people at the shows – to be honest we caused a lot of it. This time around we have been way more in community building mode than calling people out. I think some people have been disappointed that we aren’t calling everyone crackers.

What advice do you have for young artists who want to use their voice to spread political/activist messages through their music?

Decker: I think you just can’t listen to the cynics and their apologies for this white supremacist capitalist system within our scene. They will always have a reason why you shouldn’t do or say something. It will never look cool. It is important that you are connected to real communities and real work to inform your art or music.

Mani mentioned in a recent interview that the song Dar Al-Harb had some seriously controversial lyrics for its time. Is there anything today that makes you wonder about whether or not to tackle it in lyrics?

Decker: No, I don’t think anything is really off the table. I know Mani had to deal with that song because of his work and I have been asked about the band a few times in my “professional life” but our lyrics aren’t even that straight forward anyway. They are more in the modality of Sufi poetry than traditional protest songs. If we could write a song like Phil Ochs or Nina Simone we would be stoked but I think it just doesn’t come out that way for Mani or I when we write them. It’s these interviews that will get us in trouble haha!!!

You recently released a single, BLK XMAS, off a new LP. Can you tell us a bit about how the creative process has been different now than on for example Burn The Idol of the White Messiah (1998)?

Dan: One thing that has been amazing is re engaging with the band, in some ways feels seamless. I love that the song was fully collaborative. Everyone has a significant finger print on it. The other thing I love about it is the skeleton was completed Xmas eve.

Probably the biggest aspect that has been different on the new material (Invisible Battles…, By the time… and 2042) is technology. A lot of the “skeletons” of songs are demoed with me and Decker in Chicago, on Garage Band, then sent out, and worked over by everyone. Without that we couldn’t have done it. The current technology gives us more ability to continue the writing process in a collaborative way with Andy in Portland, Mani in NY, me and Decker in Chicago.

I think we’re all older, slightly better at communicating (haha) and appreciate each other and the process in a wholly different way then from when we were kids.

Will you revive Racetraitor again in 2042?

Decker: God no.

Are you following any current protest music?

Dan: Definitely Run the Jewels, SECT, HIRS collective, Wake of Humanity, La Armada, and Propagandhi, there is so much good music out there right now it’s hard to keep up.

Decker: Our collective favorite newer band is Redbait from St. Louis. If you haven’t already, you really need to check them out!

Decker quote
Photo by Eduardo Ruiz – IG: @mylegsgavein

Do you feel there is a lot of bands today using their voice responsibly or not enough?

Dan: “It seems there are a lot of bands using their voice in that way. But there is also a lot of music out there, so I don’t know if proportionally it’s increased. Obviously I think protest music is important, but I think music that delves into different and all human experience is important as well.”

Outside Racetraitor, do you partake in your community or activism of any sort?

Decker: “We are involved at various levels in our personal and professional lives. If it was any other way I don’t think this band would work. They range from immigration to human rights to “criminal justice” reform to environmental to community organizing work. I specifically have been very much involved in community violence prevention in the US and Latin America, working to end mass incarceration here in the US, and have long standing work/ties to post-genocide Guatemala. I don’t think any of us in Racetraitor are under the illusion that we are doing enough. What we love about punk and hardcore is that it can be a community that supports each other to be more active in the cities/countries where we live. That’s what we are interested in. Fuck cynicism.”

What is on the horizon for the band?

Decker: “We are putting out the record 2042 on Good Fight this month (October) and will be playing a bunch of shows over the course of 2019. We are also working on a project that is going to combine the lyrical content of the band with short documentary series. The members of the band are actively involved in the issues we write songs about and are privileged enough to have access to many places and people that many do not. The project is our attempt to bridge the two and communicate the larger issues outside of a two minute hardcore/punk song. We will see if we can pull it off.”

Thank you again for participating and for the music! Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Decker: “Thanks for the interest and I would strongly suggest that everyone takes a hour of their day and listen to Public Enemy’s ‘Fear of a Black Planet’.”

2042 is out on Good Fight Records on October 12th. Below is the second single off the new album, titled Cataclysm, featuring members of La Armada, Decline, Redbait, LIFES, Through N ThroughMalinche and Turnspit. The cover photo is by Eduardo Ruiz – IG: @mylegsgavein