Interview by Gareth Ware.
It’s been two years since precocious upstarts Joanna Gruesome took over the church stage at Indietracks, and what a two years it’s been since. Part melody, part fury, theirs is a world where their riot grrrl and hardcore stylings can be mentioned in the same breadth as their harmonious pop songs, as best evidenced on 2013’s Fortuna! Pop-released début album, ‘Weird Sister’. Ahead of their triumphant return, Owen and Alanna talked sexism, progress, and what returning to the festival means to them.
So, Indietracks then. Are you going into it with any preconceived expectations? Is there anything you’re already really looking forward to seeing?
Owen: It’s actually our second time! We played two years ago – looking forward to seeing our friends Trust Fund and Big Joanie, Hidden Cameras. Sweet Baboo, Blue Minkies, Withered Hand, Spook School, Los Cripis, No Ditching, Slum of Legs, The Yawns + others.
Lan: Yeah the lineup this year is really great, it’s cool to be playing with loads of our friends as well. Indietracks is a great festival because it has a really relaxed and friendly vibe so I’m looking forward to going back.
What’s it like from your perspective to be playing Indietracks in July, and something like ATP’s Jabberwocky in August? It must be gratifying to be playing such different events at such a relatively early stage of the band’s life?
Owen: Mmmm it is pretty gratifying, we’re kind of adaptable I guess, like we tend to fit in on an indiepop bill, a punk bill, an emo bill or whatever but we’re basically a pop band and it’s a scene that we’re always completely indebted to. We’re pretty picky with festivals we play, like we wouldn’t play a festival we wouldn’t go to ourselves. Indietracks + Jabberwocky are deff ones we would.
Lan: It’s pretty weird to imagine playing something like Jabberwocky that’s happening at such a huge venue [London’s Excel centre] after doing Indietracks. It’ll probably be the biggest thing we’ve ever played so it’s kinda daunting to me. I’m actually a bit confused why we got asked to play Jabberwocky but it’s cool nonetheless.
Does catering for such a diverse audience present any issues – do you feel yourselves feeling the need to be different things to different people? Or do you just focus on being yourselves, irrespective of who you’re playing to?
Owen: Nah I mean it would just be a confusing and tedious process if we tailored how we played to each specific audience. Plus we’re generally in control of every band we tour with, the bills we play, so we don’t generally find ourselves in a position where we completely stick out. I put quite a lot of thought into the balance of dissonance and pop/melody in the songs, so if we started over emphasising certain aspects it would probably just sound kind of shitty!
Let’s talk about your sound for those who don’t really know you yet – it seems to expertly blend the frenetic and the melodic. Is it difficult to get those two characteristics to meld together without drowning the melodies and vocals or is it something you’ve always found relatively easy?
Owen: Yeah it’s taken a while! When we play live we play quite loudly, so we kind of have a system of quickly turning everything down when we sing quietly and turning it back up when Lan shouts or whatever. Is that weird?
You said in a recent interview that you’ve started to become bored with your set/old songs. How odd a feeling is that for a band – especially a fairly new one – and has it acted as a catalyst to write new material in any way?
Owen: I guess we’ve just played a hell of a lot for a band who, for the majority of our existence, only knew how to play like 7 songs? I wrote a few of those songs about 4 years ago and touring a bunch of times made them seem pretty boring to us. Hasn’t really acted as a catalyst, catalyst was that we wanted to do splits with Trust Fund and Perfect Pussy. But yeah, it’s time to do new ones!
As a band – Alanna especially – you’ve undertaken a highly admirable and impressive stand against misogyny within the music industry. Has there been any point where it’s become wearing or has it consistently been something that’s spurred you on to make the best music you can and prove a point?
Lan: Feminism and trying to combat misogyny has always been incredibly important to me in every aspect of my life- not just music. But now we have this platform I guess I feel like it’s even more important to draw attention to everything women in music repeatedly go through. I do get pretty depressed about it sometimes and it feels hard to try to continue to be proactive; after the most recent interview I did with Drowned in Sound it was especially difficult as some of the reactions to what I was saying were really extreme. I got rape threats, it was really tough to deal with at the time but ultimately it just pushes me to try harder to speak out and try and help women. I do have a problem with the idea that women need to try and overcompensate in terms of their musical ability as a way of combating sexism. It shouldn’t have to be like that. There are countless men who make shitty music and can barely play their instruments but it’s not called into question in the same way as with women who most of the time are actually excellent musicians anyway. Women are scrutinised for their ability in a way men are not, and what has to change is the way women in music are perceived and we shouldn’t be burdened with the responsibility to fix this.
What are your plans for the rest of 2014 and what are you most looking forward to?
Owen: We’re doing these splits with Perfect Pussy and Trust Fund, we’re touring the UK with PP in July, touring the US in August and then maybe recording our next LP if there’s time? Probably most looking forward to getting splits out and going to America.
Lan: Yeah I’m definitely most excited about going to America, we get to play with some really amazing bands – I feel really lucky. Also touring with Perfect Pussy and generally hanging out, they’re my favourite band right now for sure.
In a handy, wee mission statement, what can people expect from your live show and why should they go and see you in the event of a clash?
Owen: Black turtlenecks, wimpy singing and shouting. If there is a clash, I think the individual should think critically about why they want to see us and consider the possible benefits of seeing the other band instead of us.
You’ve done a rather cracking cover of ‘Tugboat’. If Dean Wareham is playing on the same day as you are you tempted to try and get him onstage to do a duet?
Owen: Haha! Err, if he wanted to.
Lan: Oh boy I’d be so nervous if that happened.
Finally, do you think that you’re possibly the finest band to have ever met at anger management therapy (feel free to use that on the promo sticker on your next release…)?
Owen: Yeah I’d say so. Actually no!