Feminism, Gender, Epiphany, Revenge: A Conversation with Childbirth in the Sonoran Desert

joe enlight tagged

PROLOGUE:


There is no such thing as women in literature for me, that does not exist. In literature, I do not separate women and men.  One is a writer, or one is not.  This is a mental space where sex is not determining.  One has to have some space for freedom. Language allows this.  This is about building an idea of the neutral which could escape sexuality.

– Monique Wittig
[Feminist Scholar; One of the Founders of the Women’s Liberation Movement]

 

We do not identify as a girl band.  We are a band and all our members have vaginas, but the term “girl band” is absurd.  We are a band.  Led Zeppelin never got called a boy band and, if they did, no one ever fucking heard about it.

– Childbirth [bust.com interview, 2015]

 


HOW AN OLD 80s PUNK DISCOVERED CHILDBIRTH; RETRIBUTION IN GUYVILLE

SUMMER 2015 – AUSTIN


Sometime in the summer of 2015 — I think it was in July — I caught a glimpse of the video for Childbirth‘s “I Only Fucked You as a Joke.”  It made me stop, watch, and listen.  In fact, I didn’t just stop, I came to a screeching halt and watched the video over and over for days.  The song was as refreshing as it was startlingly abrasive and uproariously funny.  Here was a trio of women sporting hospital gowns as band uniform, unabashedly singing about casual sex without the least bit of apology.  Indeed, what they were presenting would certainly be perceived by a majority of the populace as transgressive, if not dangerous.  The track not only cheerfully flaunts its contempt for patriarchal society’s ridiculously strict limitations on women’s sexual agency, but sticks a fork in it (it’s done).  If there was any apology, at all, it was to the band themselves for getting into something they “thought…would be funny, but it wasn’t,” and risking pregnancy.

Oh…I hope I’m not pregnant!  ‘Cuz I don’t wanna have a kid!

The most striking aspect of this tune was how it turned the predominantly male prerogative of “love ’em and leave ’em” on its head.  Here was a rare representation of a woman using a man for sex, strings of emotional attachment be damned.  One can imagine the love sick puppy face on the scorned male partner as the band sings:

I don’t wanna be your girlfriend,
I don’t wanna be your friend.
I only fucked you as a joke!

And then, there is the kicker that serves as both self-apology and harsh rejection of the woman’s male sexual object:

Ewwww Weeee Baby… I can’t make good decisions every day!

Man.  Ouch!  That line is a kick in the teeth.  That guy must really be feeling it.  Feel sorry for them?  Stop and think first.

How many times has this happened to women over the centuries, or millenia?  How many times has it happened without the least bit of pity for those women, the blame falling squarely on the victim of “the joke”?  Why can a man abuse sexual agency and fuck a woman as a joke, and not vice versa?  This was the patriarchy getting a musical comeuppance, and perhaps a literal one, too, but I won’t get into that.  What happens in a Childbirth song stays in a Childbirth song.  Here was Liz Phair‘s revenge.  Here were women who were “Fuck(ing) and Run(ning).”  It was transgressive.  It was scary.  It was glorious.  It was about time.

Aside from the philosophical angle, there was another reason that I was intrigued by “IOFYAAJ” and the band that wrote it.  On the evening of Friday, June 5 of last year, my girlfriend and I went to see Courtney Barnett at The Mohawk in Austin.  By the time we left, we had become ardent fans of one of the opening acts: Chastity Belt.  The lead singer/guitarist of that outfit, Julia Shapiro, also happens to serve the same role in Childbirth.  Just as I had purchased and binged-listened to both of the group’s albums —Time to Go Home [2015] and No Regerts [2013] — beginning the very next morning after the show; once I heard “IOFYAAJ,” I immediately got my hands on Childbirth‘s one and only release, 2014‘s It’s a Girl, and listened to it endlessly.

This led to curiosity about the other members of Childbirth.  It turns out that the trio is a “supergroup,” of sorts, with each of the members already involved in other established, successful musical projects around Seattle.  Along with Shapiro, Childbirth is comprised of bassist, Bree McKenna of Tacocat, and drummer, Stacy Peck, from “disco garage” duo, Pony Time.

Things really began to cascade as Tacocat and Pony Time became part of my listening orgy; Tacocat‘s “Bridge to Hawaii” and “Crimson Wave,” and Pony Time‘s “Lori and Judy” and “Go Find Your Own” soon earned heavy rotation on my Linux Mint mplayer.  With all of these bands hailing from the same city, it made me wonder if the insanely high level of creative energy that surged through Seattle in the grunge days of the late 80s and early 90s wasn’t active again.


CHILDBIRTH’S WOMEN’S RIGHTS ALBUM TAKES IT UP A NOTCH; MAN ENOUGH TO BE WOMEN; WEST COAST TOUR

OCTOBER 2, 2015 to early DECEMBER 2015


womens rights album art
On October 2, 2015, Childbirth released their second album, Women’s Rights.   Like It’s a Girl, it’s hysterical, punk powerful, and pitilessly feminist.  It surpassed the group’s previous effort in both energy and humor, which may sound hard to believe considering the quality of “IOFUAAJ” on its own.  Nonetheless, I was convinced that they were on an upward trajectory with not one, but at least two songs — “Tech Bro” and “Siri, Open Tinder” — in the same league as the hit that, initially, made me a fan.

Also like with It’s a Girl, the trio start Women’s Rights by yelling out their band name and the name of the album:

Childbirth!! Childbirth!! Childbirth!! Childbirth!! Childbirth!! Childbirth!!

Women’s Rights!!! Women’s Rights!!! Women’s Rights!!! Women’s Rights!!! Women’s Rights!!!

It’s classic repetitive punk that I can listen to forever — loud, sloppy, energetic, and most of all, fun – a spiritual heir to such American Punk pioneers as the Big Boys, Really Red, Bad Brains, Black Flag, and many others.

From there, Childbirth slide right into the Sex Pistols meets Scratch Acid anthem “Nasty Girls” that glorifies women as slobs — “We don’t floss our teeth, We don’t wash our bras, We don’t wash our hands.”   How’s that for turnabout?  This is, then, followed by die laughing track, “Tech Bro” that certainly makes me wonder if this is what the Minutemen would sound like if they dropped acid and went to the beach to watch surfers wipe-out and be eaten by sharks.  Hmmm…

Tech Bro, Tech Bro!
Take me to your condo!

It’s a perfect ode to Seattle’s, and America’s, over-saturated tech scene and our society’s unending obsession with gadgets and gear; not to mention using sex as a means to get access to appliances and tech toys.

“I’ll do my laundry while you code
I’ll let you explain feminism to me… if I can use your HDTV”

Later in the album, “Siri, Open Tinder” delves further into technology’s invasion of the most intimate details of our personal lives, the example here being the dating/hook-up app, Tinder.  Lead singer, Shapiro trudges through the various meat offerings displayed by the app on her iPhone, and finds her choices more carrion than comestible.

Dreadlocks — swipe left!
Dick Pic — swipe left!
Trout guy — swipe left!

Apparently, swiping a “potential match” to the left is a rejection, and vice-versa.  [Yes.  This is all new to someone of my advance years.]  Ah… the mating rituals of the digital natives…

Both “Tech Bro” and “Siri, Open Tinder” seem to be, not only about technology, but men’s oblivion to what women really want and how easy it is to use them when testosterone urges override their gray matter.  “Siri…” also hints at the tedium of the whole “appsloitation” of sex for sex’s sake.  Maybe it’s not a bad thing per se (hey, if people want to indulge in hook-ups via an app, so be it), but, can’t it, ya know, get just a bit hollow, after awhile?  Maybe?  From the song’s tone, Childbirth seem, kind of, bored with it all.

But Women’s Rights is anything but hollow or boring.  No question about it; it’s a classic of self-effacing, self-aware snark right up there with The Cramps’ Bad Music for Bad People and anything by the great Wayne Jayne County.  Speaking of which, if there’s any doubt, let it be known that Childbirth are more than man enough to be women.

Women’s Rights made me fall even harder for the group and, quickly, joined their first album and all of those Chasity Belt, Pony Time, and Tacocat songs on my mplayer’s heavy rotation.

In early December, Childbirth published their West Coast Tour schedule, which so happened to take them into the Great Southwest, and, more specifically, Tucson; a mere 14-hour-drive from my humble little Texas ‘burg.  I, immediately, purchased two tickets for the February 2 show, hoping that my girlfriend would be able to come along, and got ready for a crazy road trip.

Then, I got a really crazy idea..…


MORE THAN A ROAD TRIP; CHILDBIRTH’S “DEEP-ROOTED FEMINIST AGENDA”; THE LABOR PAINS OF A THOUSAND QUESTIONS

December 2015 to the end of January, 2016


suicide squeeze promo

[Left to Right]: Bree McKenna, Stacy Peck, and Julia Shapiro

My really crazy idea?  I wanted to meet this band, interview them, and photograph them.  But this wouldn’t be easy.  I’m just some random guy who writes for a some random online publications (the present one excluded from the “random” category, of course), two of them being my own.  Sure, I’ve written for some national publications, as well as some daily and weekly newspapers, in the past — I even got paid, sometimes, back then — but that was more than 20 years ago.  It was practically another lifetime and a completely different generation of musicians, not to mention, the music business and publishing paradigm have been comprehensively transformed by the internet, since then.  Besides, I hadn’t interviewed any musicians in more than 12 years.

There was something even bigger standing in the way.  I’d have to make my socially-anxious, socially awkward (My 87-year-old/former Special Education Teacher Mother still theorizes that I’m somewhere on “the Spectrum”. Thanks Mom!), hyper-introvert self, actually, pick up the cell phone that I never answer, and rarely call from, and talk to strangers; send them emails; be nice to them; have patience with them; try to get into their good graces; and all the other things that normal people do on a daily basis.  This was truly scary; scarier than driving 14 hours and talking to three “rock stars.”  I’d have to play “the game.”  I’d have to be “sociable.”  When I told my girlfriend about this interview idea, she looked at me as though she was looking at a stranger, or as if I’d been possessed by unnameable forces.  You can barely get me down the street to see a band, much less all the way to Tucson to interview one.  This was a big deal.  As strange as it was, she was all for it.  She’d been trying to get me out of my comfort zone for a long time.

After a little bit of struggle — Childbirth‘s people had some (cough…cough) “philosophical differences” with at least one of the parties involved in the original pitch – and some bolt from the blue good fortune, it was arranged, though tenuously, via the persistent efforts of at least three people.  No matter what, I was determined to get to Tucson and pull this thing together.  Maybe I was possessed.  There seemed to be some deep quasi-religious force telling me to make this trip.  It was like a pilgrimage, as though I was going to Via Dolorosa, the Wailing Wall, or making the Hajj.

What if I couldn’t get the interview and the photographs?  Hell, I’d still get to see one of my favorite bands.  It would be worth my time and effort, no matter what.  I was going to Tucson. I had made up my mind.  I was “all in”.

I spent the waning days of the month of January — named for Janus, the two-headed God facing in opposite directions — preparing to interview the group, furiously reading everything about them that I could get my hands and eyes upon.  I’d relentlessly listened to their two albums in the preceding months.  I could mimic the the riffs for all their songs on command.  I even managed to memorize some lyrics — I’m terrible with lyrics.  Still, there was so much more to learn.  I needed to find out what had already been asked and what new questions needed to be addressed.

After all of the reading and researching; all of the interviews, articles, features, and bios that I poured over; one sentence continued to stick out from everything else that  I read about Childbirth:

We… have a deep-rooted feminist agenda.

The quote is not credited to any one member of the band, but to “Childbirth,” as a whole.

A deep-rooted feminist agenda?

This frightened me to holy hell.  I realized that I had not just a gap, but a yawning abyss in my education.  Despite being a feminist sympathizer from way back and owning a pink T-Shirt that says “This is what a feminist looks like,” I really had no idea what feminism was.  Sure, I’d picked up a few terms like “sexual agency” here and there, while reading books and articles on the internet, but did I really understand what those terms meant, especially for women?

I cannon-balled into obsessive reading and research on the subject of “Feminism.”  I discovered French Women’s Liberation Scholar, Monique Wittig, as well as Gender Scholar, Dr. Monica J. Casper; both, appropriately, associated with the University of Arizona in Tucson — Wittig, until the time of her death in 2003, and Casper, presently.

I did my best to familiarize myself with such concepts as “liberation of desire,” “the notion of difference,” “heterosexuality as political regime,” “abolition of gender,” “the politics of visibility,” “gender spectrum,” and so many others; concepts that are probably old hat to feminists and members of the younger generation.

There was another thing that I noticed that was far outside my ken.  What is it with the kids nowadays and “gender fluidity” and the “gender spectrum?”  What about transgender, cisgender?  What do all these terms – relatively new to me – actually mean?  I only had vague notions.

I read all that I could, but I didn’t so much get answers about feminism and changing concepts of gender as much as lots of random information that just piled-up several fathoms deep in my mind.  I soon realized that I wasn’t going to get the simple answers that  I wanted.  there weren’t any.  I would have to learn to be happy with the big bad beautiful ambiguity of it all.  There were so many questions; endless questions.  There were so many; they perpetuated not so much an inquiry, as a reverie.

My head spun mercilessly in the gyre of the Wide Sargasso Sea.

What is feminism?

What is gender?

Is gender inherent, or is it a cultural construct?

These were three very basic concepts about which I really had no clue.  Still, there were countless more questions that I couldn’t keep track of.  There was much to learn, but little time to learn it before February 2.

I had to hope that Childbirth could, a la “Tech Bro,” “Explain feminism (and a few other things) to me…


ARRIVAL IN TUCSON; THE FESTIVAL OF PURIFICATION; THINGS FALL TOGETHER; HOTEL CONGRESS; SPACE WESTERN; THE OUIJA BOARD LOUNGE

February 1 through February 2, 2016



The final day of Janus clicked into the first day of February, named for the Roman Festival of Purification, Februa.  I arrived in Tucson alone (the girlfriend couldn’t get away from work), after 14 hours on the road, hit the YMCA and, apropos, swam for about an hour.  Afterward, I’m high as a kite.  The psychic grime of the road is washed away.  Purified.

Tucson was calm, quiet, graceful, contemplative, almost meditative; the complete opposite of the swirling, angry, screaming, hammering, screeching, traffic-jammed, ego-driven, money-grubbing, hipster-strewn, condo-filled metropolis that I had left a little over a dozen hours earlier.  It was a relief to be here.  It had been more than 20 years since my last visit to the city and I’d forgotten about the beauty of the Rincons and Catalinas looming over the desert floor.  There’s kind of a crackling mystique that hangs in the air of Tucson just like other El Norte towns — Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Marfa, Terlingua, and others.  But, in Tucson it’s different — I’m not exactly sure how.  I loved breathing it in again, it had been far too long.  I couldn’t believe how slowly I walked the streets.  It was as though I was listening for something, perhaps a message from the spirits of the Pima ancestors.

The clock clicks over into the month’s second day, and the festival continues.

Things finally started to fall into place for today’s interview with Childbirth.  So far, it had been a long, strange, yet enormously fun, trip; over two months of emails and social media messages involving the band; Dead C  (founder/editor of Monster Fresh), at least one publicist, and myself.  The status of the interview remained tenuous at best, up until now.

A member of the band — most likely, bassist, Bree McKenna — finally responded to my social media messages, after several days of radio silence.  We agreed to meet after load-in at the venue at 5pm.

Hotel Congress at 4th Avenue and Congress Street is an old railroad hotel established in 1919.  Downstairs is a bar, a restaurant, and the live music venue, Club Congress, where Childbirth would be playing, along with fellow SeattleiteLisa Prank and TucsonansKatterwaul.  It could well be a living, breathing set for The Wild, Wild West on most days, Robert Conrad kicking back in a cowhide chair, downing shots of whisky (yes, the Scottish kind that is spelled correctly), eyeing the saloon girls.  But, not today.  Not with three of the biggest femme power bands on the continent, if not the world, on the premises.  It felt more like Firefly, on another planet somewhere out there in the far-flung reaches of the ‘verse.  I kept expecting Mal and crew to walk through the door at any second and head for the gig — Zoe, River, Kaylee, and Inara leading the way, of course.

On the second floor is a small out of the way lounge area with a coffee table made from an over-sized replica of a Ouija board in front of a large dark leather couch.  This is where the interview, the product of a really crazy idea and 2 months of sustained efforts, would be held.  This is it.  This is the venue, an old railroad hotel on a giant Ouija board.  This whole endeavor had been kind of a long, drawn-out Ouija Board query.  I couldn’t think of a better place.  All that I needed now was for the three members of Childbirth to mosey in wearing brown dusters and bearing Lassiters.

You can’t take the sky from me…

We didn’t quite make our 5pm-ish deadline.  Some issues came up for the band, not least of which being the citizens of Arizona and their stubborn habit of not participating in daylight savings time, putting the state one hour ahead of Pacific Time during the fall and winter.  However, while Katterwaul were playing, the four of us — Bree McKenna (bass/vocals); drummer, Stacy Peck; guitarist/vocalist, Julia Shapiro); and I — ran up the stairs to the Ouija Board Lounge, and the interview actually happened; my heart pounding a mile a minute.

There were a mere 30 minutes before Childbirth were due to take the stage.

For now, Childbirth would take the couch.

Not realizing it at first, I knelt on the floor across the mystical table from the band and hit record on my iPod.  I started my questions without hesitation and remained kneeling the whole time.  Maybe, on some unconscious level, I was seeking absolution, genuflecting before the saintly, ready to receive communion, or just wanting to confabulate with the Ouija Board spirits.  There’s a religious aspect to this whole project boiling up to the surface again.  Damn knees hurt like hell when it was over.


CHILDBIRTH’S DEEP-ROOTED FEMINIST AGENDA; FEMINISM 101; THE TROUBLE WITH TROLLS; THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL; GENDER IDENTITY AND SPECTRUM; DOES GENDER MATTER?; FEMME IS NOT WEAK


childbirth how do girls do it

I immediately dive into the subject of their purported deep-rooted feminist agenda.

McKENNA:  Oh yeah?

SHAPIRO:  Oh, we have an agenda!

Shapiro’s tone sings and winks.  She lights up from behind her big glasses.  Both she and Peck grow mischievous grins as the trio smile and laugh in unison.  McKenna’s smile is thoughtful.  You can see a subtle squint in her eyes.  It says, “I know exactly how to answer this.”

My nervousness begins to subside with the laughter and McKenna’s expression.  I’m actually breathing.

McKENNA:  I think a lot of bands don’t have agendas.  So, we have a definite agenda against the patriarchy, and feminist issues are usually shining through in our songs.

SHAPIRO:  We do have an agenda against the patriarchy.  Abolish the patriarchy is our agenda.

The guitarist’s statement is firm and unwavering.  I don’t think she meant it as a joke.

What is feminism?

SHAPIRO:  Equal rights for men and women, basically.  Women not getting treated like shit all the time.

I hear you’ve had some trolls online.

McKENNA:  Yeah.  We’ve gotten some trolls.

But, she doesn’t want to get into talking about trolls.  This is lucky, because what she does touch upon is far more compelling, leading the band into a deeper discussion than I’d originally intended.

These ladies are pros.

McKENNA:  All of our songs approach all the nuances of being a woman in our society and the focus is on the smaller issues that are present and part of a bigger problem.

What is the bigger problem?

PECK:  I think, overall, society is afraid of women and of women having any kind of power.  Even something so simple as us having songs about our daily lives is threatening to people, because, normally, women’s role is to look nice and to be kind of docile.  For us to even talk about something like not washing our bras becomes threatening.

I’ve seen interviews with Peck before.  She’s wickedly sharp.  I realize that she’s just getting warmed up.

Why are people threatened by that?  What are they afraid of?

PECK:  I think, ultimately, that people — especially, men — are afraid that we don’t need them, because we don’t.

[Future follow-up question (“FFUQ”): Why do men need women to need them?]

What is your experience of men being afraid that they are not needed by women?

PECK:  A lot of the comments we get are that we are not technically good at playing our instruments, or that we aren’t really punk, or all this stuff.

I mentally note that maybe these attackers focusing on these small side issues could well be an implicit admission that Childbirth’s songs are, actually, really good.  Methinks the attackers are jealous of the band’s songwriting ability.  It’s a hunch.

SHAPIRO:  Guys want to rape us.

PECK:  Or, that we’re ugly.  But, there’s even that stuff that we are too ugly to fuck and stuff like that.  But, then, just for the actual musical criticism, is that we aren’t technically good at playing and stuff like that.  But, it’s not really anything that we’re trying to do, and I think it all kind of boils down to that they’re upset that no one is paying attention to their band.

SHAPIRO:  I also think that we are technically good at playing stuff, kinda, because of this.  At least, I think I’m good at guitar, because I think that I have to prove myself in that way.  It makes me better at guitar.

PECK:  Also, I feel like a lot of the ways that people want us to be good is not in a way that we would want to play.  I’m not trying to do a thousand drum solos.  It’s not the genre we’re in, it’s not the target market we are after.

Who is your target market?

PECK:  Anyone who wants to listen to our music.

McKENNA:  It feels like our music is really for the whole world.

SHAPIRO:  It is kind of crazy, though, how people think that we are extremely political.  I guess you could put that spin on it.  I dunno.  We’re really like, “This is funny.”  Our songs are based off of things that make us laugh and they end up being controversial.

McKENNA:  It’s like the personal is political, and I think all of our values, kind of, leak through.

Isn’t truth the foundation of humor?

SHAPIRO:  Yeah.  There is an underlying truth there.  That’s what makes things funny.

Is there such thing as gender?  What is gender?  Is gender inherent or just a social construct?

SHAPIRO:  I think there is a thing that’s a sense of self and that has to do with gender and what you identify with.  For sure, I think there is such a thing as gender.  People either identify with one, or the other gender.

McKENNA:  I guess there are social constructs there, though, that people lean towards.

SHAPIRO:  It’s not, necessarily, physical.

So, it’s more of an attitude, mentality, way of being?

SHAPIRO:  Yeah.  Like a sense of self, I guess.

PECK:  I don’t think gender is really relevant anymore, like how it was before.

So, this is how millennials think?  I think it’s cool and great, the gender fluidity and all.

PECK:  I just want to make it known that I’m not a millennial.

SHAPIRO:  What’s the cut-off for millennials?

McKENNA:  I’m like an older millennial, and you’re (looking at Shapiro) a millennial, and Stacy’s not one.

SHAPIRO:  I’m such a millennial.

PECK:  I think I’m Generation X.

SHAPIRO:  What’s the cutoff for millennial?

McKENNA:  What is it?  It might be 34.

SHAPIRO:  I should look it up online, or something, about the cut-off.  I know that I’m a millennial.  I’m certain of that (laughs).

Those curious about generation cut-off years, can follow THIS LINK.

And yes, by my calculations, Peck is GenX/GenY, by a couple of years;  McKenna is among the first wave of millennials; and Shapiro is right smack in the heart of millennial-dom.  But, of course, if you read the above article, you’ll see that the cut-off years are a bit fuzzy.

PECK:  I’m excited for when gender doesn’t matter anymore, like, completely.

Peck makes a sweeping gesture with her left hand with the word “completely”.

You think we’re gonna get there?

PECK:  I think so.  Everything is moving really quickly to the point where I don’t know where it’s going to go next.

SHAPIRO:  I don’t think it’s about gender not mattering.  I just think it’s about gender being equal and being accepted.  It’s like…

McKENNA:  Being anywhere on the gender scale…

SHAPIRO:  Yeah.  Because, I think that it’s important that people identify with different genders.  I identify as a female and that’s important to me.  I think that matters.  {To Peck} I think that, maybe, what you’re trying to say is that it shouldn’t affect you in a way like you’re disadvantaged because of your gender — like, the gender you identify with.

PECK:  No.  I more mean, like, I don’t think gender should matter at all.

Peck is adamant making this point, creating a chopping gesture with her right hand, slicing up the last four syllables of the sentence and emphasizing each one – “MAT! -TER! – AT! – ALL!”

SHAPIRO:  That you shouldn’t identify with…

PECK:  Because, it puts people in these boxes of things they should and shouldn’t do, or things that they should or shouldn’t like, or they’re expected to do, from such an early age, that I feel like it influences people to a degree that immediately puts people at a disadvantage.

SHAPIRO:  I think that gender, and social constructs of gender shouldn’t matter and shouldn’t exist.  Things like, “oh, girls should like pink.  Oh, girls should like this thing.”  I don’t think that should exist at all.

PECK:  I don’t mean like scientifically gender.  But, I’m not a scientist.

ALL LAUGH, including me.

SHAPIRO:  I feel like I do feel a sense of camaraderie with other females and people who identify as females in a different way than I have friendships with males.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been raised that way.  I do think that’s cool.  I dunno.  I don’t think this has anything to do with our music.

I, kind of, mumble that, maybe, it has a lot to do with their music.

McKENNA:  I also think, even in the queer communities, sometimes, femme-identified people, even male femmes, kind of, just get labeled as weaker.  It’s cast as sort of a “weaker thing.”  There’s something really, really wrong with that.  Being femme is not a weak quality.  It’s like, sometimes, all these masculine attributes are glorified.

Like Toxic Masculinity?

McKENNA:  Yeah.

So, it’s as though the male side of things is more valued?

McKENNA:  Yes.  I think so.  Sometimes that’s why it’s important in making it known that femme is a strong quality, too.

What would you envision as a perfect world?

McKENNA:  I think with every year that goes by, younger people, millennials, are really cool in how fast they’re progressing and how they make it a known that sexism isn’t okay, and how they’re just a more socially conscious generation.  It’s really cool.

I admit to the band that my head is, kind of, spinning from all these new concepts coming my way, and shift the questions away from the philosophical direction, for a moment.


HOW THE MEMBERS OF CHILDBIRTH GOT TO SEATTLE; PROFESSOR GORDON; HATED ROOMMATE; WHITMAN COLLEGE; SEEKING COMMUNITY; TINDER BRO


julia violet tagged

Are any of you originally from Seattle?

McKenna:  I moved from southern California (Long Beach) to Seattle when I was 18.  Stacy is from Iowa.   Julia is from Northern California.

SHAPIRO:  I’m from Palo Alto.

PECK:  I drove to Seattle in my GEO Prism.  It took two and a half days.  That was back in 2001.

What happened when you got to Seattle?  Did you have your drums in the back for the GEO Prism?

PECK:  I didn’t play the drums, yet.  I played the bass.  I had my bass with me.  I drove out to Seattle and I had a stuffed animal named Professor Gordon.  He was a beanie baby monkey and I talked to him all the time.  It was before cell phones.

SHAPIRO:  Was that like the one called Bongos?

PECK:  Professor Gordon was cute.

McKENNA and SHAPIRO:  Was he red, or brown?

PECK: He was kind of red.  And I moved out there to live with my friend Mark, who I met, for one day, while he was visiting Iowa for Christmas Vacation, and he emailed me and said I should move to Seattle.  So, I emailed him back and said, “Sure, I will.”  So, I drove out there and, by the time I got out there, I didn’t have any money left.  Then, I lived in this house where I hated my roommate so much that I crawled in and out of my window, so I wouldn’t have to talk to him.

Didn’t you (Shapiro) get to Seattle via Walla Walla?

SHAPIRO:  I moved to Seattle, after I graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla.  So, I moved to Seattle in 2012.  I haven’t lived there as long as Stacy and Bree.

McKenna:  I moved up to Seattle from Southern California, because I really thought the music scene would be cool, because I really liked Riot Grrrrl and Grunge, but I was like way too late.  It was around 2006, when I moved there.  So, I got there and, sort of, hung around, and it was when Beard Rock and Band of Horses was exploding.  It was not the greatest music community, at the time.  So, I started playing with my other band, Tacocat, and we weren’t well-received (laughs) until more recently.  Now, there’s so many women playing music in Seattle and they’re all in amazing bands.  These two (pointing to Peck and Shapiro) are in amazing bands, and Lisa Prank, who is on tour with us, is amazing.  I’ve got a really good community, right now.

SHAPIRO:  This is like, total…  Well, it’s related.  But.. Sort of.  Can I interrupt this to just say something…?  I wanted to show the guys this Tinder dude’s profile.  (She holds up her phone for the other two members of the band.  I can see a guy with a beard.)  It’s a Tinder guy and his profile says “I like that Childbirth song“.

McKenna:  Oh wow.  That’s amazing.

SHAPIRO:  And he looks like such a bro.  That’s so cool.

All Laugh, including me…

McKENNA:  I like that he likes it.  That’s amazing.

SHAPIRO:  That’s amazing.  I’m going to Instagram it, I think.

So, Tacocat is going strong.  Pony Time is going strong.  (To Peck) How’s Luke [Beetham of Pony Time]?

PECK:  He’s fine.


CHILDBIRTH AS CREATIVE OUTLET; ITS APPEAL AND FUTURE


What is Childbirth for you guys, and where is it going?

SHAPIRO:  For me, it’s great to have a nice outlet, to have a band that I, kind of, take less seriously than Chastity Belt.  Our songs are written so quickly and naturally that it doesn’t feel like such a huge burden as writing an album, or something.  It just, kind of, comes out naturally.  I feel like the songs we write in Childbirth are a lot different from the ones in Chastity Belt, that there’s enough of a distinction where I don’t get confused at this point.

McKENNA:  It feels very natural and low stress, and fun.  I think it has a lot of our personalities in all the songs.  Because, our subject matter… we just, sort of, come up with ideas together…

PECK:  It’s all the kind of stuff that doesn’t really make sense in our other bands.  We have a really easy musical chemistry with each other, which doesn’t come really easily for a lot of people, so it’s really fun to just go and write songs really fast, and we all just, kind of, agree on what we want to do.  It’s really nice.

McKENNA:  Yeah.  It’s really, really nice.

SHAPIRO:  Yeah.  Things happen really fast with this band, which I like.  We’ll just write a bunch of songs — like, five songs, in a week — and we’ll be like, “Okay, we’re recording in just a couple of days…

McKENNA:  We all worked so hard for experience in our other bands that we just write off that.

PECK:  Yeah.  It’s like we’ve been training our whole lives for this.

ALL LAUGH…

So, you wanna keep it going, even if, tomorrow, Pony Time is playing in Cowboys’ Stadium, or somewhere big like that?

PECK:  That’d be awesome!

ALL LAUGH...

PECK:  I think part of what draws people to this band is that it’s kind of inaccessible.  We don’t play that much and we have to say “No” to a lot of things.

SHAPIRO:  We leave people wanting more.

McKENNA:  We don’t play a ton of shows.  This tour is only our second tour.

SHAPIRO:  Yeah.

McKENNA:  And it’s only a little short one.  (Two weeks).

Hearing this, I’m enormously glad that I made it out to Tucson.


MUSICIAN, SONGWRITER, SOMETHING ELSE?


bree blue tagged

Do each of you consider yourself a musician,  or songwriter, first?  Or, something else?

McKENNA:  You know what?  I was just thinking about this the other day, while I was reading that Kim Gordon book, and she doesn’t consider herself a musician.  She considers herself a conceptual artist.  That’s kind of how I always thought of it, too.  I don’t think of myself as a seriously skilled musician, even though I am a musician.  I just see it as my expressive outlet.

PECK:  I think I consider myself to be a musician.  After being in so many bands and playing different instruments in all of them, and stuff like that…  But, if people ask me what I do, I say I work in a coffee shop.

LAUGHTER

SHAPIRO:  I, definitely, consider myself to be a musician, at this point.  For awhile, I wasn’t confident enough to say that, but now I’m like, “Yeah, that’s what I do.”  I will tell people that.  I bar-tend for money.  That’s my day job, but I identify more with being a musician.  When people ask what I do, I say, “I’m a musician,” which is cool.


WRITING SONGS FOR CHILDBIRTH


How does the band write songs.  I think I’ve read somewhere that it’s pretty much a collective.  Is there one person that does lyrics, the other melody…?

SHAPIRO:  We come up with the ideas together and, a lot of times, Stacy and Bree will shoot key words at me and ideas.  And then, I’ll fit it together in something that I want to sing, and Bree does backup vocals and comes up with those on her own.

McKENNA:  I think a lot of the chord progressions are ones that are simpler like “Siri, Open Tinder,” or “How do Girls Even Do It?”  It’s a little bit simpler.

SHAPIRO:  It’s like what comes to mind.

McKENNA:  It’s simpler songwriting.  It’s, kind of, like easy punk riffs.


A LITTLE MORE EDUCATION ON FEMINISM


If I wanted to learn more about feminism, who should I read, listen to, etc. ??

SHAPIRO:  I’m into a lot of female comedians.  Chelsea Peretti.  Amy Schumer.  The ladies from Broad City

McKENNA:  Definitely, Broad City.

Reading articles about you guys, that was the first time I’d ever heard of Broad City.

SHAPIRO:  It’s so good.  I think there’s a new season coming out soon.

PECK:  I really like this website called Reductress, reductress.com.  It’s like the feminist Onion.  It’s really funny.  Megan Amram.  These are all, kind of, comedy people.

McKENNA:  I like Bitch and Rookie.  I think those are cool.

PECK:  Lindy West is really cool.

I mention Monica Casper at the University of Arizona.

PECK:  We’re not like feminist scholars, or anything.  We’re just talking about ourselves.  When I talk about gender having no meaning, it’s just like a fantasy of mine.

SHAPIRO:  Yeah, I don’t really know anything, you guys.

PECK:  I just wanna make it clear that I, 100%don’t know what I’m talking about.

Or so they say…

Maybe Childbirth’s claims that they don’t know what they are talking about are true, though I doubt it.  On the other hand, there’s certainly no doubt they know what they are doing.

The band rush off to play their gig.

I think one of the members mentioned liking the duo Girlpool on the way down the stairs.


PEYOTE TRIP SET; DARKNESS; SHADOWS; SADNESS; McKENNA IS RIGHT


stacy4
Childbirth‘s set at Club Congress is devoid of linearity.  It’s what I imagine a peyote trip to be like.  Time and space collapse upon one another.  Songs blend into one another.  All I remember is my Sony RX10 desperately firing away in the dimly lit club.  I would stop every 20 seconds, or so, to change settings – ISO, shutter speed, aperture – praying that one of these clusters of clicks and knob turns will yield a few respectable exposures.  My bones resonated with the thumping of McKenna‘s bass.  Getting a decent shot of Peck on the drums was virtually hopeless.  She was awash in shadow.  Shapiro was bride of Frankenstein in black lipstick and eye shadow.  Yes.  They’re in their signature hospital gowns.  The crowd stays back a few feet.  Perhaps, the energy is too much.  I have the lip of the stage to myself.  I feel dizzy.  I’m out of body.  The camera keeps clicking from below the band, but somehow, I swear that I’m above the stage.

A sharp sadness stabs my heart.

I couldn’t believe it.  My socially anxious, possibly ASD, hyper-introverted self pulled it off.  The interview happened.  It was a miracle, I guess, thanks to that intangible energy that pushed me along the whole time.  Of course, my mom would likely label that “intangible energy” an “abnormal obsessive interest” symptomatic of ASD.  Thanks Mom!

I finished a few more exposures, during the fourth song of the night – don’t ask me what it was – and made my way to the back of the crowd.  All my defenses are down.  I’m on the verge of tears. Though there are another 30 minutes, or so, to go in the set, it would all be over much too soon.  My eyes pool.  I cannot believe it.  My head says, “Resist,” clutching fiercely to everything a man is supposed to be – cold, stern, unemotional, Clint Eastwood.  In the end, my heart wins.  My head says “fuck it”, and there are streams.

I think I saw a few drops hit the black floor.

McKenna is right.  There’s nothing weak about it at all.


MORE SADNESS; WALKING IN TUCSON; JESUS AND TEA


The set ends.  No encore.  The lights come on, music goes up.  I go and sit on an old black vinyl restaurant booth bench serving as a couch over against a wall in a shadow, wiping my eyes, savoring it all.  It’s sadness, sure, but a weird sort of buoyant sadness, if that makes any sense.  It’s joyful in a way.  It’s hopeful.

I wait as the crowd starts to clear out.  I must sit 20 minutes, or so; I don’t want to leave.  Though the band is gone and the stage is clear, there is still lots of energy in the room.  I sit just a few more minutes, trying to orient myself for the half mile trek back up to my little Airbnb cottage off West University.  I go and thank the individual members of Childbirth one more time, tell Lisa Prank “thanks” for letting me take pics of her set, and head out the door, a few steps left down Congress, then a sharp left on 4th Avenue along the trolley tracks, past head shops, food coops, and t-shirt stores.  One t-shirt in a window says, “When Jesus Makes Tea, Hebrews.”  Being a sucker for a good pun, I take a pic and post it on social media at the girlfriend back in Austin, so she knows I’m thinking of her.  We often try to kill each other with puns.  She was still alive when I got home.


COLONEL KURTZ MOMENT AS EPIPHANY; THE REVENGE OF A BIBLICAL TRIO; THE TRUE FEMININE ARCHETYPE

photo via Childbirth’s facebook page

We’re not feminist scholars.”

Peck says this looking up from beneath her black trucker hat, sitting between her two band-mates; Shapiro to her right, McKenna to her left.

Apocalypse Now; Heart of Darkness

It’s a Colonel Kurtz moment of the sort, where the wayward superior officer bluntly tells Captain Willard he is neither assassin nor soldier, but an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect on a bill.  There’s a stark realization of truth.  Peck has plucked something from the sky that manages to, simultaneously, toss out and crystallize all my research and mental meanderings with four words.  The only thing missing was a bald head, a bowl of water, and those disturbing lips.

I could have easily been disappointed, but I wasn’t.  It was a moment I didn’t expect nor want, but certainly needed.  I was relieved.  The picture was suddenly clearer.  Childbirth had not been explaining feminism as much as showing it.  The religious tremors I’d been feeling reached the surface.  But this was not any type of religion I had known before.  This was a new religion of the divine holy writ of the great mother of equality.  The Seattle trio was participating in more than just Liz Phair‘s retribution.  There was a sort of biblical revenge going on, too.  I could see them as the embodiment of TheklaMary Magdelene, and Lilith, three important women in the bible who had their stories diminished, mostly written-out, or heavily distorted by patriarchal leaders and curators over many centuries.

Sure.  It’s a trippy concept, but when was music ever meant to not be trippy?  No peyote necessary.

Childbirth not only refuse to be written out of the story, they are writing the story.  More importantly, they are the story.  They are living it.  They have agency.  It’s a story, not just to be seen or heard, but to be experienced, to be felt.  It is powerful, proof that the myth of Adam and Eve was but a patriarchal artifice; the true story of creation being Adam and Lilith, made of the same earth, equal.

Lilith, frustrated with Adam‘s insistence that she be submissive to him, leaves him and goes to be with the archangel Samael.  Adam is consoled with nothing but a rib transmogrified, a mere projection of himself in the form of Eve, a fantasy about woman and women, a place to keep all the unwanted parts of himself, the parts that fall into temptation.  This sad myth of women being nothing but inferior extensions of men has oppressed them far too long.

Childbirth are part of an ongoing historical movement to set the record straight, one that’s bringing Lilith back to replace Eve as the prime feminine archetype.  May their loud, brash sonic messages help bring us closer, not to a braver, newer world, but a stronger better one, one where feminism has triumphed and equality and cooperation are the rule, rather than the exception.  Considering what 5,000 years of patriarchal dominance has done to society and the little blue orb we call home, it may be the only way the human race can survive.


 

Witchcraft is remembrance.  There was a time when you were free. Remember that.  You walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed naked in the sunlight — remember.  You were wise woman and healer, you were huntress and amazon — remember that.  You say you have lost all recollection of it; remember.  Your bones remember.  When you invoke your past, your heroines, your goddesses, your dreams, it is yourself you call to life.  Remember who you are.

Les Guerillereres – Monique Wittig