Interview: Celeste Bell

With the release of the documentary Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché set for early next month, we caught up with Celeste Bell – Poly’s daughter and co-director of the film (along with Paul Sng) – to talk about the inspirations behind the film, her relationship with her mother and the sexism that still prevails in the music industry. Currently based in Barcelona, where it sounds as though things are a little less fraught than in the UK right now, Celeste seems in good spirits – looking forward to the film’s release, despite not being able to promote it in the usual face-to-face ways. 

Anglo-Somali artist and punk maverick Poly Styrene (or Marion Elliott as she was born), of the band X Ray Spex, was one of the first women of colour to lead a successful rock band, and was a truly innovative figure both in music and for women generally. Chronicling her remarkable, and often troubled, life, Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché includes never-seen-before footage of Poly throughout her life, and tells her moving story predominantly through the eyes of her daughter, Celeste. 

Discussing the inspiration to make the film, Celeste explains that it was the idea for the book Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story that came first – a collection of archives put together and written about by author Zoë Howe (Typical Girls? The Story of the Slits; Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams & Rumours) and Celeste. “The original inspiration for the book was my mother’s diary entries. She had created a retrospective look of writing the album Germ Free Adolescents – for each track she had written a short diary entry, which she planned to publish all together with the title ‘Diary Of The Seventies’…”  Sadly, Poly Styrene passed away before she was able to do this, but sharing it has always been something that Celeste has wanted to do – “… And so I decided it would be nice to match the diary entries with her artwork. She had done all the artwork for the band herself, including an amazing collection of original posters and art she’d done by hand.” That’s when Celeste decided to get in touch with Zoë Howe: “I knew Zoë as she had interviewed me for a book before (How’s Your Dad? Living In The Shadow Of A Rockstar Parent). She interviewed me for that in 2008/9 backstage at a gig at Cargo – my mum was actually there in the audience. And I just have a clear memory of Zoë being a really lovely person, and that’s why I wanted to work with her again.”

It was whilst Zoë and Celeste were working on the book that the idea for a film came about: “Zoë introduced me to Paul Sng – the co-director of I Am A Cliche – who was looking to make a music documentary, and he had asked Zoë if she had any recommendations, and she mentioned our project. And it went from there – after that first meeting, two months later we’d started our crowdfunding campaign. It was like a runaway train – things moved very quickly after that. So, the first book project was actually happening in parallel to planning the film.”

For those of you that haven’t seen the book, Dayglo really is a wonderful collection: featuring some incredible artwork by Poly, alongside some stirring insight into her personality and life through diary entries and letters, it’s not only a moving read, but a visually exciting journey. Of her mum’s artistic skill, Celeste explains: “She had never had any formal art training – she was always self taught, and just had a natural creative ability. She did go to drama clubs and performing arts when in school, that was mainly what she was into as a child. But she just seemed to have a natural gift for visual art. And not just visual art, but also fashion design – anything she put her mind to, she was good at!” 

The film Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché draws on the diary entries used in the book, as well as Celeste’s own memories, and plenty of never-seen-before footage of Poly throughout her life. “A big part of the journey of making the film was sourcing archive. This was very challenging as we obviously wanted to use as much archive from the time as possible, to bring my mum to life. There were a few sources that we had to go to and we used, for example the Arena documentary made in 1979 Who Is Poly Styrene? – there’s great footage that we used from that. There were also various other bits of my mum performing, in Top Of The Pops and things and interviews that she did at the time. There was also a great interview from ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Company), so we used footage from that.” As well as sourcing this archive, Celeste and Paul were also gifted some unseen footage of Poly Styrene by the widow of her manager, who had happened to also be filmmaker and shot a lot of her and the band throughout the time they were together. “So, we had lots of different archive sources, but it was challenging in terms of finding everything that was out there and then negotiating with the various owners in terms of paying for it, except for the archive we were gifted. Gathering it all together was a big part of the journey of making the film – it probably took us a lot longer to do this than to actually shoot contemporary footage.”

Throughout the film, it is evident what a pivotal figure Poly Styrene was, and continues to be. In addition to interviews with those that knew her personally, it features various people from the industry (including Kathleen Hanna, Pauline Black, Neneh Cherry) talking about her and the impact that she has had on their lives. Celeste explains the process of choosing those who they featured in the film: “We got in touch with the people that we wanted to interview. There were three categories of people that we interviewed: People who knew my mum – so contemporaries of hers in the punk scene, for example – or musicians who had worked with her; then friends and family – people who knew her in a more intimate way; then the third category was people who didn’t necessarily know my mum, but who were inspired by her – we learnt who they were through research, they may have mentioned being fans of hers in an interview, for example.”

Going through all this footage of her mum, and hearing people talk about her so fondly, was both an emotional and cathartic process for Celeste. Throughout the film, it’s not only inspiring to hear about all the incredible steps Poly Styrene took as a woman of colour in the world of punk, but it’s particularly moving to hear Celeste talk about her mother and their relationship. It’s wonderful to hear her talk about Poly Styrene not only as the innovative figure for women in music that she remains to this day, but as a mother and a person. Of the process of gathering all the information for the film together, Celeste adds: “Looking at all the interviews together and the process of writing the script (Zoë Howe and I were writing script for the film whilst making the book) really helped me build a much clearer picture of who my mother was before I was born – this whole process of researching and discovering really enabled me to understand my mum a little better.

Alongside the interviews, throughout the film extracts from Poly Styrene’s diary are narrated by the actor Ruth Negga (Preacher, Loving, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D ). Of the decision to cast Negga as the voice of her mother, Celeste explains: “It was a really fortuitous moment – one of those moments that fate puts in your path. I met Ruth Negga on a night out in 2017 or 2018, and it was shortly after we’d started on the film project. I was in Soho with my cousin Soloman – we’d been out, and just ran into her in the street. My cousin is very outgoing and a great people-person – he just started speaking to her, and it came up about my mum. Ruth said that she was a huge fan and my mum was inspirational to her. So, we ended up spending the evening with her and we had a great time. After that night I thought to myself that Ruth would be a great person to do my mum’s voice.” Although originally the plan had been for Celeste to narrate the diary entries, she then decided that this could get confusing as you hear her voice a lot throughout the film anyway, so a different voice was needed. “Ruth is such a great actress. She is so talented, and she was able to really nail my mum’s voice. I think it was the right choice, I can’t think of anyone else who would have done it justice in the way that she did.”

It is through these diary entries and Celeste’s own memories that we gain a poignant insight into Poly Styrene’s ongoing struggle with mental health difficulties throughout her life. Eventually diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, after a previous damaging mis-diagnosis of Schizophrenia, the film charts her difficulty with being in the public eye, so often scrutinised by the media. One diary entry references her feeling that being “broke and famous was the worst of both worlds”, and we see that this feeling eventually culminated in her deciding that “Poly Styrene had to die so that Marion Elliott could survive”, bringing an end to her time in X Ray Spex. Discussing what may have triggered her mother’s breakdowns and deterioration in mental health, Celeste reflects: “The general experience of being in the public eye and having that brush with fame I think really tipped her over the edge. She was predisposed to having a mental illness – she told me that there were signs when she was very young, and she always had an understanding that there was something not quite right. But I think that if she’d never been in a band and hadn’t had that success and fame, I don’t think that it would have necessarily manifested as a full-blown disorder.” 

Throughout I Am A Cliché, Celeste also talks about her own experience of having a mother with Bipolar Disorder and the difficulties this could bring, including having to go and live with her grandmother on and off throughout her childhood. However, as is somewhat tragically highlighted in the film, her and her mother’s relationship changed as she got older; they became closer, working together to create Poly Styrene’s final album Generation Indigo, and Celeste even joined her mum on stage at the Roundhouse in 2008 – the footage of which is particularly moving, clearly a moment of joy and pride for them both. Talking about the experience of working together, Celeste tells me: “It was a great experience – we had a lot of fun. My mum was in a really good place when she was writing the songs, and we wrote a couple of songs together. And it was just pure fun. My mum didn’t put too much pressure on herself that time.” Having always felt an enormous amount of pressure in terms of having approval within the industry throughout her career previously, and having been very affected by criticism, by the time she started working on Generation Indigo, Poly seemed to be a lot more relaxed and comfortable with who she was – “… She’d reached a place of acceptance. And it was just a real pleasure for me to be on that journey with her and participate and see her in that environment – to see her be happy, relaxed with it, and it not stressing her out. It was just a joy to work with her and Youth, the producer – we would go to his home studio, which was a very warm and comforting environment. It was very different from going into a more corporate recording studio. So, the whole experience was very enjoyable.” Despite Generation Indigo being a step away from the raw punk sounds of X Ray Spex, its eclectic fusion of genres, futuristic themes and vibrant energy are equally as innovative as Poly Styrene’s previous projects and imply that she would have shared a lot more creativity had she lived longer. “I think after making that album she had a new lease of life and was feeling a lot more positive about the music industry. She’d had so many negative experiences before, that I think it took a lot for her to say ‘right, I’m ready to start making music again’. So, I think that if she hadn’t gotten sick, she would have continued to make music without a doubt. Hopefully she’s still making music, wherever she is now…” I’m sure she is. 

Poly Styrene was, and continues to be, a role model for many – as such an innovative woman in music, and a woman of colour, at a time when ingrained sexism was rife in the industry. We see snippets in the film of interviews with her, comprising questions that seemed to focus solely on her appearance or relationships rather than what she was creating, and she was repeatedly described as “not conventionally beautiful” in the media – something which understandably was a source of much frustration for her, and affected her own self-esteem. And the moments in the film where you see how explicitly she was treated differently from her male peers are certainly some of the most powerful – Celeste expands: “… The scrutiny that she came under from journalists and the focus on her physical appearance was really tough. There’s a moment in the film when my mum recalls that the record label had slimmed down her image on the Germ Free Adolescents cover – the cover where they’re in the test tubes. That really upset her. Also, there was this insinuation that she was big or chubby, but she wasn’t at all – she was actually very petite, just curvy. She just had a natural woman’s body! Even though she never played on being sexy and never wanted to use her body, she still came under all this scrutiny about the way she looked and it had a huge impact on her and her self esteem. It was something she was struggling with throughout her life – feeling that she wasn’t pretty enough or slim enough, or feeling that she had to make herself more elegant. So much attention was on her and the way she looked. Even though she was this prolific writer with so many important things to say, journalists would often ask her really stupid questions about why she wore braces and whether the braces were real, as well as comments about her being frumpy, or questions about her romantic life.”

It’s easy now for us to dismiss the way that Poly Styrene was treated by the media as symptomatic of society’s attitudes towards women in the ‘70s, of how sexist the music industry used to be, but Celeste feels that this is still very much an issue for female artists today: “It hasn’t changed for women. It hasn’t got better – it’s still the same bollocks. It’s a huge issue. In fact it may be even worse today.” A strong statement, but one which is hard to disagree with, and is evidenced by the fact that organisations such as ourselves at Get In Her Ears are necessary today: we’re forever fighting the ingrained sexism and sexualisation of women that is still so rife in the industry. “Women are more sexualised than ever. We’re sexualising ourselves. But you have to ask why – why are so many successful women today so overly sexualised? If you think about any pop star in the last twenty years – whenever they’ve put on a bit of weight, they’ve all ended up losing weight again, getting surgery. There’s always this beautifying journey. It always happens. It’s almost impossible to resist. It’s easy enough to sit back and say ‘I would never do that, I would never get surgery etc’. It’s easy to say when you’re not on the screen, when your picture isn’t everywhere all the time.” Reflecting on this begs the question, how can we go about changing this? “This won’t change until society changes. A drastic structural change. Entertainment just reflects society. Until we see some major societal shifts in how women are perceived in society, I don’t think it’s going to get any better in the music industry.” 

A somewhat depressing, but undeniably true, thought. However, the fact that we have strong role models to look to, such as Poly Styrene, is a definite comfort – the pivotal steps that these women before us have taken in a quest to be heard continues to inspire and motivate me every day. The songs that Poly wrote still seem so relevant and her lyrics are so poignant today, perhaps more so than ever before – take ‘Germ Free Adolescents’, for example – Celeste’s current favourite song of her mother’s: “It’s the most perfect song for this age of ‘antiseptic’, where we are all germaphobes and kind of OCD all of a sudden. Mum was actually inspired by OCD for the song, which wasn’t something that was talked about back in the ‘70s, but something that she was well aware of. So, ‘Germ Free Adolescents’ definitely seems like a very prescient choice.” It does – such a poignant and prescient sentiment when looking back now, and further evidence that Poly Styrene was somewhat ahead of her times in her awareness of mental health struggles and associated issues. 

Continuing to inspire women in music years on from the release of Germ Free Adolescents back in 1978, I wonder what current bands or artists Poly Styrene would be a fan of today. “There are so many great bands out there at the moment….”, Celeste begins, “I really love Big Joanie –  they’re just lovely people as well a great band, which helps! There are so many great underground punk bands around right now – Screaming Toenail are another one that I like. A really fabulous band.” Both fantastic bands that we love and promoted many times here at Get In Her Ears! “And there are so many artists that I see and can see my mum in them – often more in the pop world. People forget that X Ray Spex was more of pop-punk band really – very catchy, quite commercially successful. They did really well in the charts. So, Billie Eilish, for example – I see a lot of parallels with my mum in her. The main parallel being in the way she refuses to dress like a more ‘conventional’ pop star, and also the way the media have responded to that. Sadly, she seems to face the same sort of problems that my mum faced about her appearance now.”  Again, although the issue of the sexualisation of women in the industry continues to be a problem, there are plenty of women who are going against these patriarchal expectations of them and not holding in back in being who they want to be – “I see a lot of my mum in all these maverick, very independent women that are making music on their own terms: people like MIA, Grimes… There are just so many powerful women in music who are really original.” There really are, and I’m sure this is – in part – thanks to the innovative women, like Poly Styrene, that have paved the way for them in the industry. 

Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché is both emotion-driven and informative; an insightful and poignant look at a true pioneer. It is not only deeply moving to hear Poly’s story and Celeste reflect on her mother’s life, but seeing some of the original footage of her playing live – the vibrant energy and ferocious charisma that she brought both on and off stage – is truly joyous; an inspiration to watch. As well as looking back, the film highlights how far the industry and society’s attitudes towards women still have to go, and evokes a feeling of motivation, a desire to revive some of Poly’s punk spirit – to unite, overcome adversity and bring about change, we could all do with being a bit more like her, to start to undo the bondage that binds us into this patriarchal society. In the words of Poly Styrene: “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!”.

Massive thanks to Celeste for taking the time to talk to us!

Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché is directed by Celeste Bell and Paul Sng, and will be released via Modern Films from Friday 5th March. By purchasing a ‘virtual ticket’, viewers will be able to support a participating local independent cinema – the revenue will be shared with the venue. The World Premiere is the week before at the Glasgow Film Festival (details here). And, if you like the film and want to find out more about Poly Styrene, I strongly recommend you also check out the beautiful book Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story (by Zoë Howe and Celeste Bell), still available to buy now.

 

Mari Lane
@marimindles

‘Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché’ Film Patreon Launched

Anglo-Somali artist and punk maverick Poly Styrene, of the band X Ray Spex, was one of the first women of colour to lead a successful rock band, and was a truly innovative figure both in music and for women generally. Chronicling her remarkable, and often troubled, life, Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché is directed by Paul Sng and Poly’s daughter Celeste Bell, and includes never-seen-before footage of Poly throughout her life, as well as interviews with other people in the industry including Kathleen Hanna, Pauline Black and Thurston Moore, about the great influence she had on them.

Now, to help them finish the film and bring it to international audiences, Bell and Sng have launched a Patreon campaign. Of the film, Bell explains:

“I set out with a clear goal to share my mother’s story as widely as possible because her story needs to be heard. In making this film, I have uncovered aspects of my mother I hardly knew before and also discovered that she made a huge impact on culture that is still being felt today. The fact that her legacy has not been properly acknowledged is something we are seeking to redress with this film.” 

Poly’s life was fraught with difficulties: poverty, racism, misogyny, and chronic mental health issues. After suffering a nervous breakdown at the height of her success, she left music to join the Hare Krishna movement. The film follows Poly’s daughter Celeste Bell as she examines her mother’s unopened artistic archive and uncovers the legacy of a woman whose lyrics were described by radical musician Billy Bragg as, “a slap in the face” to male artists and journalists.

Although rose-tinted spectacles are firmly off, the film looks to show Poly Styrene not only as the innovative figure for women in music that she remains to this day, but as a mother and a person.

The film follows Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story – a book released earlier this year by Celeste and author Zoë Howe.

Watch the trailer here:

Find out about the Patreon crowdfunding details here. Visit the film’s website.

And, make sure you tune in to our radio show tomorrow 5th December on Hoxton Radio 8-10pm, when we’ll have Celeste Bell in for a chat!

Mari Lane
@marimindles

INTERVIEW: Le Butcherettes

When I speak to Teri Gender Bender – front woman of Le Butcherettes – she’s in the van with band mates Alejandra (drums), Rikardo (guitars) and Marfred (bass) on her way to Kansas. Later that evening, the band (who are based in El Paso) are supporting riot grrrls L7 on their current tour, and naturally, Teri is in high spirits. I’m in high spirits too, as I’m talking to the woman who I saw dominate the stage at Hackney’s Moth Club at Le Butcherettes’ headline show a few months ago. Her voice and her presence are a formidable force, and I’m pleased to hear that off stage on the phone, her energy is just as prolific. We talk about the band’s new album bi/MENTAL and their recent support slots with Bikini Kill in LA, and even manage to conjure up a voodoo Beatles collaboration….

Hello Teri! I saw you play with Big Joanie at Moth Club in Hackney a few months ago. Talk me through how that went and how you discovered them…

I wish I could say that we’re in the know, but I have to give the credit to the show’s promoter. He hooked us up with a great new discovery. They blew my mind, holy shit! They were amazing. Putting that all aside, they’re not just talented – there are many super talented people out there – they’re genuine sweethearts. We shared a dressing room with them and they were very self aware and conscious of space, and we’re the same. We always try not to be a burden, so we were both really shy together, and we bonded over that. It was really sweet you know? “We were like cool, we’re weirdos too, yay! You like pizza, I like pizza!” It worked out beautifully and I saw that they’re playing with Bikini Kill in London soon too, which is fucking awesome.

It is, I’ll be there to watch them! You recently supported Bikini Kill in LA too. Please tell me in as much detail as you can how the gig went…

It was like a dream come true. It felt like winning a Grammy. It was a pretty emotional day as it was, because it was our guitarist Rikardo’s birthday. He was turning the big ’29’ so that was pretty symbolic, it was his birthday and we got to spend it at The Palladium, another great venue that we really love and are big fans of, we’ve seen a lot of great shows there before. And to top that, we were opening up for one of our favourite bands ever. Someone once asked me if you could organise a festival who would you have as the headliner? And I was like “Bikini Kill would be my headliner!” They’re also super sweethearts. They came in to say hello and treated us as their guests, so in that sense it felt like home, very Latino, very welcoming. Some bands are shy, and I know I have been before. But when you get a little older you’re less shy, and you take things less personally. Sometimes people might just be having a bad day and not want to talk you know? I used to take that personally, but the end of the day it’s not about me. Everyone has their own movie going on, you know?

But yeah, Bikini Kill are sweethearts and they were very, very welcoming. Such a breath of fresh air. And their set was amazing, holy shit! They played ‘Double Dare Ya’ ‘Tammy Rae’, ‘Suck My Left One’, ‘Rebel Girl’ of course! They essentially played almost all of their songs off the two records they put out, and the EP that was produced by Ian MacKaye from Fugazi. There were loads of people in the crowd too, I ran in to Henry Rollins, and Juliette Lewis was at the show so it was really cool. There were a lot of people who I would say are usually introverts that came out to go and see them.

That sounds amazing! I can’t wait to see them at Brixton in June. You have a very strong performance style and you seem fearless on stage. Who inspired you as a performer and a front woman?

It’s basically this never-ending love/hate relationship between me and my Mother. I say that because she’s the “real deal” artist of the family, and when I was little she was basically putting her career in theatre on hiatus just to be able to be a stay at home Mum with us. But over the years, she took that out on us. So there was this relationship of “damn, I am guilty because she’s the real deal and she knows it, I know it”, so it’s this angst of me just trying to scream all of that desperation on stage trying to get rid of it. And also to get rid of the wrong-doing that’s been done, you know? For me it’s my therapy.

It helps to have other women Pioneers to open up the past as well, like Alice Bag, Kathleen Hana, Tobi Vale, Karen O and Mon Laferte. Mon Laferte is also fearless off stage. She’s had politicians who want to take pictures with her and she’s been put on the spot by them, and she’s had the guts to be like “I am not going to take a picture with you”. Especially in Mexico, the politics can be very corrupt and messy, so just hanging out with one of them can have you end up on someone’s hit list. So to say no to a Politician is to basically get your name on a hit list. But she’s a badass, she still said no to them and she still continues with her art.

But my Mother, she’s an unlimited source of inspiration. Even though we’re sometimes at one another’s throats.

Congratulations on the release of your third album bi/MENTAL. I read that you felt comfortable working with Producer Jerry Harrison because you were able to be “vulnerable and in-your-face at the same time” – that definitely comes across in the songs on the new record, but can you elaborate on that a little more? Did he leave you to your own devices or did he play a bigger role?

I think it was a combination of everything. When you mentioned about be left to your own devices, that’s something I’m definitely aware of when I’m working with a new producer. When you have your original idea and you’re working with someone new, because it’s always been myself in the past or another member of the band so that there’s always a comfort or a shoulder to lean on, you know? But I felt like it would be great to work with Jerry. He was number one on my list because I’ve always admired his work with Talking Heads, but I’m also a big No Doubt fan, and out of the songs he put out with them, ‘New’ is one of my favourite songs and he produced that.

The fact that he was open to producing for us – and that he’d actually heard of our band – was like “Oh shit, I’m not left to my own devices then!” So from the beginning when we just had a phone call I was shaking! It felt so “Ooooh the mystique!” because we hadn’t met face-to-face before. Then his wife was on the phone and she was great, saying she couldn’t wait for pre-production to begin and she invited me to spend that time with them in their home. They were very welcoming, they had me in their home before we started work in the studio, and I got to see the process of how they live and they welcomed me to be part of their family dinners in the evening. I was living in a home full of love, I felt like the family cat you know? Like when a cat relaxes and their tails gets kinda curly? That’s what I felt like, a relaxed little cat. Being able to relax and explore the songs together and just be part of a family. They had no reason to do that either, it could’ve been all just via email you know?

That’s really generous, and great that you felt relaxed. I know you’re an advocate for being open about mental health, and I think that comes across on the themes and lyrics on your new album. Without being too invasive – are you able to tell me why you think it’s so important to be honest with yourself and with others about your own trauma, and the emotions that come with it?

I think it’s important – at least for me – it’s definitely helped. But some people don’t feel comfortable talking about it, and that’s okay too. It’s okay to hold on to something for a long time, eventually the time will come when you want to talk about it. It’s hard to know if there will be someone to hear you out. You’re never alone though, and I try to tell myself that. Just opening up a dialogue is very healthy, which is something I wish I had when I was younger at school when I had all these questions about why I was feeling this way, or why do I have the urge to cut myself and think these horrible thoughts about myself?

I remember when someone would try to open up about it, at least in Mexico with the Catholic Church – we’d be automatically expelled or put in for psychological testing with such a rude manner. There was no tact, it was like “we better evaluate her because she might be a threat”. So maybe a little empathy and dialogue are what’s needed. With mental health in general though, sometimes people don’t want to take care of themselves, period. They’re dealing with over stimulation constantly. A breather would be good. I feel sorry for kids at school now, I remember when I was barely going in to high school when MySpace was becoming a thing, but I cannot imagine being around [social media] now during pre-school or even kindergarten.

It must be a bit of a minefield trying to grow up nowadays.

Collaboration seems important to you – you worked with Alice Bag & Chilean vocalist Mon Laferte on your new album, and you work with members of the Mars Volta in your other project Bosnian Rainbows. In your mind, what makes for an effective collaboration? Who else would you like to work with in the future?

What makes for an effective collaboration is just the wanting to and the will power to do it. There are many times when people say “Yeah let’s do this!” and I’m guilty of it myself, but then dead air…you see the inactivity or you keep pushing it for later, later…that’s what kills a collaboration. For me, I’m attracted to individuals that are like “Shit, let’s do this now, I don’t care where the fuck we are! We’re gonna make this work”. Where there’s will, and want, and desire to do it then hell yeah – we’re in! So luckily all of these individuals that we’ve worked with have had that and the appreciation do it, you know? Why would you want to work with someone that makes you feel shit, right?

There are many, many talented people out there [that I’d collaborate with]. I say this time and time again, but there’s this great artist called Natalia Lafourcade from Mexico and Vanessa Zamora who is a great folklore/pop star, and a great shredder and songwriter. Also Selda, she’s an OG from Turkey, the list goes on! The Beatles, well Paul McCartney…maybe do some voodoo and get the whole group back? Some Voodoo Beatles?

I think you just found the concept for your next record…

You’re returning to London on 9th July to play the Boston Music Room. What are your anticipations for this gig?

Well, hopefully that some people go! We’ll be playing the new songs off of the new record. I take things one day at a time really, but hopefully when the time comes, that everything goes to plan, that we get there safe, that everyone going to see us gets there safe. The cool thing about it – here comes a sales pitch for our shows – is that we never really know what’s gonna happen, we fucking roll with it. It’s a real kind of feeding thing, a give and take situation, that’s why I’m hopeful that people are going because it’s a two-way street. I feed off of the people the band feeds off the people, we feed off each other. It’s like a feast! We’re all just eating!

It’s going to be a banquet, I can’t wait! You’re on tour with L7 now, so tell me as much detail as you can about how excited you are to share a line-up with them…

It’s show number 6 or 7 with them, but it’s been so chill. Another example of great talent and great people who are fucking inspiring and their fans are really sweet to us. It’s been amazing. Our set is about 30 minutes, so it’s really nice to have some chill time afterwards, because when it’s our own shows we have to basically leave right away because it’s curfew!

We played one show with them in this really old and rustic theatre, which I loved! I felt like there were at least a couple of ghosts there, so that was a highlight for me. I love ghosts, who doesn’t right? Who wouldn’t want to hang out with a ghost? I mean, not a demon, just a ghost. But there were a couple of ghosts in that theatre for sure.

Sounds spooky…What artists are you listening to at the moment. Who would you recommend?

Blood Orange – Marfred & Rikardo put it on when we drive, so we’ve all become fans. I’ve kind of been on a repeat too, going back to the classics like Talking Heads, but my biggest obsession that’s been taking up 80% of my listening time is Ariana Grande! I wish I could say something underground, but I went to see her recently and it was insane how she’s only like, 5″ tall and that voice comes out of her! You can see the pain and grief in her eyes.

Good recommendations. Finally, do you have any advice for any woman or non-binary person who’s contemplating starting a band?

My advice – and I’m sure you hear this all the time – is don’t feel like you’re a burden. I feel like that will hold you back. I’ve missed out on so many beautiful friendships and possible songs and ideas only because I thought I was a burden. I felt like I started late, I was 17 when I started a band but I wanted to start a band since I was 6! All those years – from age 6 to 17 – that’s so many years of fear! I wish I’d started earlier. I mean, there was a band who opened up for Bikini Kill on their other LA date that were 10 years old! When I saw them I was like “damn!” and I was so inspired. They’re definitely not having any fear of being a bother or holding back, and that’s so great.

I feel the same about writing, you know? I’ve always wanted to write books, tangible things, because songwriting can be kind of abstract. I wanted to be a tangible “real” writer but my teachers would get frustrated with me because of my language impediments and I felt like I was being a burden on them so I gave up. But it’s never personal, that frustration you know? Sometimes it’s projection. It’s scary sometimes, but you have to just get out there!

Huge thanks to Teri for answering my questions. Catch Le Butcherettes on their upcoming UK tour (dates below)

9th July – London, Boston Music Rooms
10th July Brighton, Green Door Store
11 July – Cheltenham, 2000 Trees Festival

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

GIHE Celebrates International Women’s Day 2019

As you may be aware, at Get In Her Ears we celebrate wonderful female artists every single day! So, you may feel that there’s no real need for us to remind you on International Women’s Day to recognise them. But, as much as we try, days like today still seem necessary for society to take a minute and recognise not only the achievements of all the fantastic womxn in the world, but also to draw attention to the ongoing injustices and ingrained sexism that still sadly exists in 2019.

So, this International Women’s Day, we’ve put together some of the female/non binary artists that we feel have been pivotal in pushing forward womxn and equality in music over the last year. Read about why each of them inspire us, and listen to the super mega playlist below…

Aretha Franklin – ‘Respect’
I just couldn’t not include Queen Aretha, who the world sadly lost in August last year. She remains one of the most influential artists the world has ever known; a beautiful soul who changed music forever, as well as campaigning for civil rights throughout her life.
(Mari Lane)

Nova Twins – ‘Lose Your Head’
A lesson in cutting loose and walking on the wild side, South East London duo Nova Twins provided us with this mind-melter of a track earlier in the year. Last year, we were lucky enough to have Amy & Georgia come into the Hoxton Radio studio for a chat, and they blew us away playing live for Loud Women at The Lexington too. Their raw, abrasive, genre-defying tunes are consistent favourites here at Get In Her Ears, and I’m sure they’ll bring the noise again at Cro Cro Land next month!
(Kate Crudgington)

Noga Erez – ‘Bad Habits’
Tel Aviv renegade Noga Erez has been a favourite of ours ever since blowing us away with 2017’s Under The Radar. Last year’s ‘Bad Habits’ is a snarling tirade of anger, spoken through gritted teeth, exhibiting an intense defiance in both Erez’s lyrics and her music: “I’m no-one, but who the fuck are you? Huh?” she repeats, as the beats of Ori Rousso – her partner, co-writer, composer & producer – helps it mutate in to a “gritty, truth-seeking alt-pop” anthem – culminating in Erez’s vicious “Fuck you” at the close of the song.
(KC)

Mavi Phoenix – ‘Bite’
We’re massive fans of Austrian artist Mavi Phoenix’s dreamy lo-fi electro offerings, and even bigger fans of all she does to promote LGBTQ+ rights. We were lucky enough to have a chat with her on our radio show last year, listen back here.
(Tash Walker)

Little Simz – ‘Boss’
I’ve been a little late to the Little Simz party, but now I’ve found her, I don’t know what I did without her immense power in my ears. Having released her debut album A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons in 2015 via her own independent label, she has continued to defy genres and receive acclaim over the last few years. And now, with her completely mind-blowing brand new album, Grey Area, she proves once again that she’s an incredible force to be reckoned with, with her ferocious, empowering anthems. She sums it up perfectly in this track: “I’m a boss in a fucking dress.”
(ML)

Pussyliquor – ‘MY BODY.MY CHOICE.’
Bringing their pure, uncensored female rage with a wild, punk-fuelled passion, Pussyliquor’s ‘My Body.My Choice’ gives an urgency to its explicitly important message. Having played for us at The Finsbury last year, they immediately filled the venue with the heaving bodies of an army of moshing fans, their intense riotous power, tongue-in-cheek wit and empowering messages of equality being delivered with a fierce energy and searing, colossal force.
(ML)

The Menstrual Cramps – ‘The Smash’
The Menstrual Cramps pretty much sum up the current state of things with each of their topical, tongue-in-cheek offerings and empowering, feel good vibes. Taken from their incredible album Free Bleedin’, ‘The Smash’ blasts out the all-too-relatable refrain of “It’s time we took back the floor, kick the Tories out the door – we want a revolution”. Oozing an immense, politically-charged force as vocalist Emilia’s genuine, seething passion shines through, The Menstrual Cramps combine activism with musical prowess, providing an essential soundtrack for all womxn right now.
(ML)

Big Joanie – ‘Fall Asleep’
DIY punks Big Joanie released their debut album Sistahs last year, and it’s a mix of the personal and political; coupled with riotous rhythms and a sistah-hood ethos. Recorded at Hermitage Works Studio with producer Margo Broom, and released via Thurston Moore and Eva Prinz’s new label (The Daydream Library Series), Sistahs is a strong debut from a band who have been actively working on and off-stage within London’s DIY scene for years.
(KC)

Alice Bag – ’77’
Taken from last year’s poignant album Blueprint, punk legend Alice Bag brought together a dream team for her single ’77’. Featuring Riot Grrrl queens Kathleen Hanna and Allison Wolfe, plus an appearance in the video from Shirley Manson, it draws inspiration from Dolly Parton’s 1980 proto-feminist workplace comedy ‘9 to 5′, commenting on the gender pay gap that still plagues society. Filled with seething, punk-driven riffs, the women not only rage that “I make 77 cents and it’s not right / It’s bad for women!”, but make the point that “it’s worse if you’re not white”. As Bag poignantly sneers “… don’t pretend that we’re paid equal… You wrote the script / But I’m writing the sequel”, ’77’ is an empowering, inspiring call to arms to unite against the patriarchy and make the changes needed for equality, in the workplace and beyond.
(ML)

Peach Club – ‘Boy In A Band’
I first became aware of Norwich Riot Grrrls Peach Club seeing them support The Tuts at The George Tavern a few years back, and they continued to blow me away headlining for us at The Finsbury last year. With a raw ferocity, thrashing hooks and driving beats, ‘Boy In A Band’ builds with a frenzied energy to a riotous anthem, blasting into the ears with a racing sense of urgency. And rightly so. We need voices like Peach Club’s now more than ever; a voice that gives motivation and inspiration to girls and women to speak out and be heard in order to prevent the damaging actions of certain boys in bands continuing to be swept under the carpet (or even accepted as the norm) within the music industry.
(ML)

Queen Zee – ‘Boy’
Making weirdness into wonderful, inclusive, explosive new tunes, GIHE favourites Queen Zee shared their debut self-titled album last month, and it was every bit as glorious as we’d hoped. Album highlight ‘Boy’ is an anthem for trans-gender rockers and their allies who refuse to be ignored, or oppressed by transphobic or homophobic attitudes. “You can try and bury my head in the sand, but that won’t make the body at the surface a man’s” sings Zee, as manic guitar and heart-pounding drums smash out for just shy of five minutes. A poignant offering that gleefully cuts down any of the forces that attempt to stand in the way of equality.
(KC)

Lizzo – ‘Juice’
Another utterly empowering and ferociously fun offering from GIHE favourite Lizzo, ‘Juice’ is filled with all the refreshing wit and funk-filled grooves that we’ve come to know and love from the Minneapolis artist. With Lizzo’s joyous, body-positive spirit and its immensely infectious, ’80s reminiscent hooks, ‘Juice’ is the ultimate feel-good anthem for women everywhere.
(ML)

Tirzah – ‘Gladly’
Beautifully understated, gently hypnotic and lyrically touching. I cannot get enough of Tirzah right now, and you know what, it’s not just this track, but the whole album Devotion. What can I say… I am hopelessly devoted. Cringe statements aside, please go listen if you haven’t already, your life will be better for it.
(TW)

Gazelle Twin – ‘Hobby Horse’
A unique artist with razor sharp vision and uncompromising creativity; Gazelle Twin (aka Elizabeth Bernholz) combines glitchy beats, menacing samples and an uncanny new costume on her latest album, Pastoral. Gazelle Twin delivers her Pastoral vision through grinning but gritted teeth. Her altruistic style is one that can’t be mimicked – even though she herself is a master at adopting the traits of others, and transforming into a new species of performer who offers brutality and intrigue in equal measure.
(KC)

Pitou – ‘Give Me A Glass’
So gentle, so beautiful, and so delicate. ‘Give Me A Glass’ by Pitou is taken from her EP I Fall Asleep So Fast, released via Mink Records. I think this track is just mesmerising, and it probably helps that it was the first song I listened to after meeting my niece for the first time. So here’s to raising that glass to the new addition in my family!
(TW)

HAVVK – ‘Glass’
Last year, GIHE faves HAVVK (formally HAWK) marked their rebrand with the re-release of their bewitching single ‘Glass’. Originally written in 2015, and released in the run up to the Irish Marriage Equality Referendum, ‘Glass’ addresses themes of conflict and resolution. Oozing an eerie subtle power and magnetising grace, it showcases HAVVK at their most exquisite – doing what they do best; combining activism with their unique musical prowess. And front-woman Julie doesn’t stop there; she has also co-founded SelfMade – a platform to explore DIY music in Ireland through performance, discussion, and art, and last year launched Female Fronted Drawn Together – a project through which she has created a playlist of admirable female bands/musicians and created an illustration to accompany each song.
(ML) 

Courtney Barnett – ‘Nameless, Faceless’
Courtney Barnett is probably my favourite, and most relatable, lyricist. She has a unique ability to tackle everyday life with a perfect wit and raw honesty; that, combined with her woozy vocals and infectious jangly melodies, makes for an utter dream. Taken from last year’s Tell Me How You Really Feel, ‘Nameless, Faceless’ is a refreshingly honest take on male chauvinism; with lyrics inspired by Margaret Atwood – “Men are scared that women will laugh at them, women are scared that men will kill them…” – it perfectly sums up why we still need International Women’s Day.
(ML)

Wolf Alice – ‘Yuk Foo’
Seeing Wolf Alice perform under the sparkling mirror-ball lights at their Alexandra Palace headline gig in 2017; I swooned so hard I thought I might drown in my own heart-shaped tears. And I couldn’t be happier for them winning the 2018 Mercury Prize this year; extremely well deserved from Ellie Rowsell and co., and a promising step in the right direction for female bands and artists at award ceremonies.
(KC)

Dream Nails – ‘Vagina Police’
“Your body is not your own, you are public property…” our favourite Feminist Punk Witches rage in last year’s ‘Vagina Police’. A formidable offering from the band that proved once again just why we need Dream Nails in our lives; a group willing to combine activism and music to form a unifying force against the patriarchy; a group who create sparkling, energy-filled tracks that succeed in inspiring and motivating girls everywhere to get to the front and make our voices heard.
(ML)

Bikini Kill – ‘Rebel Girl’
We don’t need to say how inspirational Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill and the whole Riot Grrrl movement are to us. But what we will say is that we’re are over the moon excited to all be going to see Bikini Kill live this June! Literally dreams can come true…

Listen to our International Women’s Day playlist on Spotify, and catch us for our IWD party tonight at The Finsbury. We’ll be joined by ARXX, The Baby Seals, Scrounge and Rainbow Corp, and will also be raising money for fantastic charity The Outside Project.