Chairlift's Caroline Polachek wants to change the "women in music" convo
Caroline Polachek is intense, and while that intensity is what makes the music she makes in the indie pop group Chairlift so vivid and lively, it’s a little unnerving in person. On stage, this makes her a magnetic frontwoman, playing the peacock against her more demure bandmates, particularly her Chairlift partner-in-crime, Patrick Wimberly. In conversation, she’s constantly in motion, her eyes fixed on the person to whom she’s speaking even as her hands and arms gesticulate wildly and openly.
Polachek’s had a fantastic few years: Beyoncé included “No Angel,” a song Polachek co-wrote and -produced, on her 2013 manifesto, and last year, Polachek got married to architect Ian Drennan. Before all that, there’s the matter of “Bruises,” the band’s first breakout hit and part of the indie love song canon.
HelloGiggles had the chance to speak with Polachek the day after Chairlift dropped their third album, Moth, and right before they performed at Los Angeles’s Teragram Ballroom. What follows is a conversation about women in music, women and their bodies, and how and from whom industry changes should come:
HelloGiggles (HG): One of the things that drew me to Chairlift is the band’s really elastic sound. It starts with your voice and then it’s mirrored over in the production.
On your third album Moth, you seem to be playing more with melody and structure — how did you feel about the album going into it, and what were your ideas about it when you first entered the songwriting process?
Caroline Polachek (CP): When we first started writing songs, I don’t think we had a sense of specificity. Just finishing something was the goal, and it was so new that really to us, every sound, every idea felt like a great idea and a great sound. Now that Patrick and I have been playing together for ten years, we know ourselves as musicians a lot better. Our skill sets have expanded, both as producers and writers.
Especially having collaborated with so many other artists, we have this really specific perspective of what Chairlift is: What makes Chairlift different from every other kind of project we could work on. We understand what’s good about collaborating with each other, and also what makes our catalogue different than anything else we wanna do. We look at Chairlift as a project that’s about fun and beauty and playful production, a certain quality that I can only describe as a “fruity” or “juicy” thing. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the only kind of music that we wanna make, but we want Chairlift specifically to be that.
This record, we had more clarity going into than ever before, and we just wanted to make it prettier and juicier and more 3-D and more fun and gooier than anything we’ve ever made before. As you grow up and you do something for longer, you can really start honing in on it.
HG: A song like “Show U Off,” there’s such an inherent joy in it. I know you recently got married. Within the past year?
CP: Yeah, three months ago!
HG: Oh, I thought I’d read the story a while back. It’s weird when you’re talking to someone and it’s like, “I’ve followed every move you’ve made for a decade!”
CP: Actually, four months! So you’re right, a little longer.
HG: There’s this real sense of innocence, almost, and fulfillment, in that song. It’s not as though your previous albums haven’t had that before, but what was the timeline of this specific relationship in regards to your solo work, and then this album?
CP: It’s interesting that you ask about chronology, because I met Ian at the very end of writing the Ramona Lisa [Polachek’s solo project] record. He got a couple songs that are actually at the end of the record — “Izzit True What They Tell Me”… my god, those songs were inspired by having met him. “Izzit True What They Tell Me” is actually about the feeling of premonition, almost that your body knows more than you do. Mentally, you’re like, okay, I should enter this with trepidation, I don’t know this person, and your body is just going BAM BAM BAM BAM. It’s almost about your biological clock telling you, this primal thing that knows it’s important. Like, someone’s smell; it’s a song about chemistry and realizing how dumb your conscience self is compared to your chemical self. How much knowledge is in your body that you don’t even realize you have.
“I Love Our World,” a song that came out of realizing there was magic in our relationship… Actually, the words “I Love Our World” are inside our wedding bands. But right as that record was being finished, we began the Chairlift record. Moth was actually finished, embarrassingly, about a year ago. Most of it was pretty close to done by the time we were engaged, so really, this was written while I was discovering that this relationship was one I wanted to be in, forever. I think you might know how this is, but when you’re with someone new, you actually become a new person completely. Both because of the way they see you, but also someone can make you a better person, or a worse person, or a different person, or you change your habits to be with someone.
It’s interesting that you use the word “innocent,” because I do feel like a genuinely more innocent person in this relationship than I have in past ones, where I felt that someone wasn’t accepting me, so I had to cloister a part of myself to the side, or I felt some sense of shame. But then when you feel completely loved, you feel like you’re starting over.
HG: When I was in high school, my ringtone for my then-boyfriend was your song “Bruises.” (CP: “Aww!”) When we broke up, I changed it to “Better Off Alone” by Alice Deejay. (CP: “Get it!”) Now, I’m with someone who… Your song “Crying in Public,” when I first heard it, I almost started, um, crying in public, because that feeling of being overwhelmed by your love for this other person, it’s really intense.
People always think that crying is a sad thing.
CP: And it’s not! Especially right before your period, do you ever happy-cry?
HG: I get overwhelmed-crying a lot, especially when I’ll see or hear something really beautiful… I actually just do that in general. I heard “Swimming Pools” by Kendrick Lamar on the radio after not hearing it for a while, and tears sprang to my eyes.
CP: I started crying last week, randomly in a deli, when Alicia Keys’s “Un-thinkable” came on. That song is so amazing! The bridge kinda sucks, but the rest of the song is really good. But I’m glad the bridge is there, because it allows me to get it together.
This reminds me, I need to keep my ringer on so someone can text me dinner options.
HG: I imagine that pre-show prep is extremely important. Especially for you, your vocal range gets downright operatic! Like on “Show U Off.”
CP: /sings/ “Is it ree-EEEEEAL.” We’re playing that song for the second time ever live tonight.
HG: That’s amazing. When you have a tricky vocal performance like that, that must be hard to pull off, especially right before you kick off a tour.
CP: It’s so scary right when you start a tour because you don’t have the muscle memory for anything yet, and the band is still so fresh. At this point, we’re starting to feel it. Touring starts to get really interesting when you’ve been out for two months, because that’s when everyone has a sort of unconscious connection on stage. But until then, everyone’s thinking really hard; there’s a rigidity, or nervousness, to it.
Vocally, the two biggest things for me are, well, four things: One is getting enough sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you have nothing to work with. Same with staying hydrated. You can’t drink a bunch of water right before a show, because that actually has the inverse effect — it fills up your stomach, and then your lungs don’t have enough space to breathe in. For me, I have to get hydrated in the morning, before 1pm, because then it has time to make it into all your tissues. But if you’re dehydrated all day and then chug water, your tissues are still dehydrated, you just have a lot of shit in your stomach.
Warming up: I can’t just walk on stage and sing, though some singers can. I need to sing for an hour before I can do a show. Then, I need to be really in touch with my body and knowing to turn my anxiety off. A lot of people get really nervous and don’t think they have an option. For me, sometimes I’ll get really nervous and I won’t realize that I’m getting really nervous; all my muscles will tense up, including my voice and my face. It happens when I start thinking about other things when I’m singing, thinking about analyzing things. If I actively realize I’m doing that, I can turn it off. I’ve been getting better, especially in the last month, about feeling it and turning it off, to stop thinking and let your body take over.
Again, I think the body is a lot more intelligent than the brain is sometimes. If you let it be happy and do what it wants, you tap into a zen situation.
HG: I interviewed Megan James from Purity Ring a while ago, and we started talking about body theory and how her whole thing is about the body connected to cosmic forces, and your mind goes along with that.
CP: If you look at all sorts of different schools, like athletics, or people who are into meditation or yoga or even artists… When I was in college, I worked for a couple of my professors. One of them, named Carol Bove, she’s an incredible artist, and she influenced me a lot in the way I work.
I was her assistant for two summers, and she would always say that before she even starts drawing, she has to make sure that her arm is comfortable, that her back is comfortable, that her head is comfortable, because otherwise the drawing won’t be good. I think it’s really important that she acknowledges that a drawing isn’t just coming from your mind. It’s coming from the alignment of all these different parts of you; the body affects your mind, and it’s one closed system. It’s something that you find across different fields.
HG: Especially when you’re in a “creative field,” when you’re so in your mind all the time, that when you actually have to go express those mind movements, that’s when things start to get tricky.
CP: Yeah, though I think at the end of the day, there’s no such thing as a non-creative field. Everything can benefit and can play with that sort of ecstatic attention to detail.
HG: True, I use “creative” in quotes because a lot of my friends are doing these amazing projects and have all these resources at their disposal for an ostensibly corporate goal. But then, even music, that’s an industry, so as much as we want to believe that artists can be these creative nomads and pull themselves away from the world, ultimately, you’re not stamping your own records and sending them out. There’s an infrastructure there to support you.
CP: I think any job can be both. We’ve all learned with examples like Steve Jobs, that artistry and awareness can be brought into anything. Even if you’re just arranging products on a shelf — if you bring that focus and sensuality to what you’re doing, everyone else feels it and you benefit from it too.
HG: There’s this Japanese home goods store, Muji…
CP: I looove Muji. But that’s what I mean! It takes something that you think is corporate, or cold-seeming, and people feel it when they enter the store: That quietness and beauty in the products.
HG: It helps that they have those aroma diffusers in the front of the store.
CP: But that was someone’s very inspired and creative idea, that was brought to something that’s what you’d call a non-creative field.
HG: It’s very easy to get lost in this cynicism about the state of music. It’s always there — every generation, people are like, “These people have no talent! Blah blah blah!” But now that we have the fluidity of the Internet, we shouldn’t run into that problem.
CP: Oh, I think we do! Well, by problem do you mean like, finger-pointing?
HG: A little bit? But it’s more the access of other things. If you take it upon yourself to look, you’ll find what you’re looking for. Versus, the structure that supports certain artists and certain styles of music.
CP: There are different things that make it harder now though. Not just online, when you’re looking for new music, because things like search engine optimization or major label backing make it, even when someone’s looking for music that’s very unusual, they’re still gonna have to go through a lot of stuff to find what they’re looking for. In the same way, someone in the ‘60s at a record store wouldn’t have found what they’re looking for immediately.
I believe that word-of-mouth is always gonna be the best way people find stuff. If you meet somebody who has an interesting taste in music, pick their brain: Write down stuff on your phone and don’t forget that you wrote it on your phone. Go out and look for it, and then tell people about that band if you like it. Even in the Internet age, word-of-mouth, including social media… Magazines and blogs will always be there, but all the good music that I find is through friends, and it’s always been that way for me.
HG: Or, you’ll find something on Soundcloud and then you’ll spiral. I find that technology has been really helpful for me, in terms of finding new music. Spotify has this feature called Discover Weekly…
CP: Sorry, I just got my dinner order text. I think I’ll go with the sashimi.
… Okay, done.
HG: You type unbelievably fast.
CP: With one finger. I’ve been made fun of a lot, for doing /frantic single finger stabbing/
HG: I have an iPhone 5, which is great, though it’s slowly shutting down and not taking most of my calls. But I don’t wanna upgrade, because it’s the only thing I can use where I can type with one hand.
CP: Why don’t you buy a refurbished 5?
HG: I’ll take a look around and see if I can get the “insides” redone, or something.
CP: The tyranny of preprogrammed obsolescence… There’s nothing wrong with my computer, I scanned it for viruses a million times and there are no viruses on it, but it’s slowly dying.
HG: I was having the same issue with my laptop, but then I realized I hadn’t restarted it for literally six months.
Speaking of the tyranny of tech, Soundcloud “chooses” what songs to play after other songs, while Spotify has its Discover Weekly feature, which runs on this very specific algorithm that targets you and all the interesting friends you have connected to your social media networks, and finds ways of connecting them. So, you have that same “word-of-mouth” experience, via a feed.
CP: I personally don’t trust it though, because I feel like the music they’re promoting is always biased toward bands or labels that they have affiliations with. At least for now; I don’t think the algorithms are totally neutral. But, at the end of the day, if people are finding new music that they love, then everybody wins. Hands down.
HG: The goal is to help people find what they actually would like in a timelier manner than before in the past.
CP: You can dig deeper, faster.
I have to say, I’m really impressed by the selection of music that Spotify has. And — OH MY GOD, THAT WAS A JALAPEÑO.
[One minute later]
HG: Are you okay? How’re you feeling?
CP: I’m back, I’m back.
HG: …I don’t know how to pick this up again. All I can focus on now was the last spicy thing I ate.
CP: What was it?
HG: It was this “super food” burrito with quinoa and kale and stuff. I was like, “This is gonna be the best thing ever!” But there was something like a cup of that green chili salsa in it, and I wasn’t prepared for it.
CP: There might’ve just been someone stoned in the kitchen. That’s what I always wonder — was that supposed to happen?
HG: You’ll read food industry stories, and they’re like, “Yeah, this stuff happens all the time!” Okay, that’s cool. I’m sure that chef culture is its own microcosm. Actually, I worked in the food industry, so I know it’s its own microcosm.
CP: I feel like chef culture is probably more rock’n’roll than rock’n’roll is.
HG: I’ve had this discussion with multiple artists. Everybody agrees that rock’n’roll as we “know” it is over, and that the only people who hang onto it are a literally dying breed.
CP: Well, I think that’s perfectly natural. If you look at the greatest rock stars that ever lived, if they had access to the electronic music technology that we have now, they wouldn’t have been playing guitar. If Jimi Hendrix was born this year, he would’ve been Skrillex.
HG: I feel ya, especially since the limitations of the four-piece rock outfit… There’s room to be interesting within that, but it wouldn’t necessarily be coming from the instruments themselves.
CP: Oh, I think it is. You have so much versatility of tone and creativity. Like, if you’re playing an instrument in a four-piece band, the most you can do is sing and play bass, or sing and play keyboards, or sing and play guitar. If you’re an electronic music artist, you can play everything at once. You don’t need to compromise with anyone; if you hear something in your head, you can do it all of it yourself without spending a dollar. Well, you need a laptop, but that’s it.
I think that’s why you see, especially all these solo women coming up now who are producers… Because in the past, girls weren’t even allowed behind the desk. You had to suck someone’s dick to even get into the studio; I’m not even joking. It’s different now, and when people go, “Oho, there are so many women in music now” — in fact, there were just as many female musicians as before. They just weren’t culturally allowed to have control. Things are changing fast because of how cool and accessible musical instruments are.
HG: You always hear that there’s a dearth of female producers out there, but it’s like, no, there’s a dearth of coverage and spotlighting of female producers. But there are plenty of girls and women who are tinkering and experimenting with things, who are out there.
The Fader did a piece, maybe two years ago now, where they rounded up a bunch of really interesting female producers. But it was like, the people who are actually able to elevate these musicians aren’t necessarily from the press. Within the industry culture itself, you have to recognize these women and then go, “Hey, we’re going to actually hire you.” And that’s the difference. It doesn’t matter how many articles are written about how so-and-so should be working with all these people. It’s more the artists themselves who have to spur this change.
CP: I cannot agree with you more. I especially think it’s on vocalists to work with female producers — like rappers, you know? People are unconsciously making a historically-based choice, like, I wanna get this fat beatmaker because you have all these images in your head of the male producer being the guy who’s gonna make your rap track be huge. You’re thinking of a Rick Rubin, or a Phil Spector, or a Timbaland.
But the other side of that problem, the female producers who are getting the most visibility are also the ones who are triple threats, by which I mean they’re beautiful and they’re also songwriters. Unfortunately, it’s putting this message out there that the female producer also needs to be both of those things. At the end of the day, you can be a talented visual performer and not be good at the other two, be a talented songwriter and not be good at the other two, and be a talented producer and not be good at the other two. But by this first wave of female producers all being triple threats, it’s making the girls who might be very self-conscious about the way that they look or might not be songwriters; it’s making them feel like they might not have a chance in the game, and that’s not true.
So if any female producers are reading this, any girls are out there who are making beats but don’t really write songs and don’t like dancing on stage — keep at it, and put yourselves out there, and don’t give up. We need you. We need you specifically, more than we need other people to change things, we need you.
HG: There are always exceptions, like Wondagurl [who’s worked with Jay Z, Rihanna, and Drake, among others], who always comes up in these conversations. I don’t think that I’m exaggerating when I say that part of it is that she’s so young, and she can’t be sexualized because that’s totally inappropriate. Of course, I’m glad that she’s getting the work that she’s getting. At the same time, she remains the constant exception to the rule, meaning the rule is still in place.
CP: Unfortunately, any woman can be sexualized at any age at this point. We’ve got evertything from cougars to like, ingénues or lolitas. The thing that’s so good about the example of Wondagurl is that you have the example of a famous male rapper working with a brand new female producer. That’s sort of where things should be headed — like, we’re not talking about this with a press release or anything, but all of the remixes that Chairlift’s commissioning right now are by female producers. That’s it.
The other thing that needs to stop, and stop now, is this whole idea of making lists of female musicians. For example, Chairlift gets put on lists of female musicians constantly, which drives me fucking crazy. First of all, Chairlift is half-male. We also work with a team that includes a lot of men. Our record was mixed, mastered, and engineered by men. There are male players on our records. So for someone to say, “This is a female artist,” is totally naïve. Why aren’t you putting a band that only has a female bassist on there? Why aren’t you putting an album that’s mixed by a woman or mastered by a woman on this list? Why does the vocalist stand for the gender of an entire project? I think calling a group a “female” because of voice is just as problematic.
HG: I’ve been guilty of this myself. I put together a list of female-fronted projects, and of course, the focus was on female vocalists. At the same time, the distinctions that you can make from within the industry, then the press side of the industry, then from the lay listener — that gap is there, and that’s where you run into issues.
CP: Well, it’s still nice to discuss female vocalists, so it’d be great to have some clarity in these lists. Like, “This is a list of our favorite female vocalists.” Another thing that drives me nuts is critics will constantly talk about our record in terms of “Caroline’s vocals and Patrick’s instrumentation.”
What they don’t understand is that half of the instrumentation is coming from my end as well, so they assume that the girl sings, she doesn’t do anything else. Both sides of the coin are incorrect. And I also don’t blame critics, because I think history tells us that the female vocalist isn’t the instrumentalist, but things are different now. The media has an imperative and a responsibility to do their research. Look at live videos. Read past interviews. Look at the AllMusic credits. Read the liner notes, before you say stuff. By blindly making assumptions, you’re perpetuating what used to be a problem and is less so now.
HG: Part of this was actually amplified by when Grimes put out her record. Everyone made a point of noting that she was the ultimate producing and songwriting credit on all of her songs, and it’d be like, she’s not the only one who does that though. Even though I adore her and I love that record, the way that people write about it and her sometimes… It’ll be frustrating because while she does stand out in the landscape, you’re also not taking into account that women who are in multi-instrumentalist projects always have a say in what they’re doing.
CP: Not just a say, it’s their hand on the dial. They’re making sounds you hear that aren’t vocals. But, I do think that’s Claire, that’s Grimes’s, all that press is thanks to her because she was so militantly vocal about the fact that this was her project. But I also put out a record last year that was completely produced, engineered, written, composed, whatever, by myself.
I intentionally didn’t broadcast it in those terms because, for me, a utopian world is one in which it’s taken for granted that women are also doing all these things. That was my way of making that world happen, to make it feel normal. I don’t want to assume a world in which that’s unusual, so I intentionally didn’t put an emphasis on it. And the nice thing was, the press around it also took it for granted, which felt really cool.
HG: It’s always weird when, even now, it’s a give-and-take between press and artists. You try not to accidentally dig yourself into a corner.
CP: No, but this is a nice situation. We can actually unpack it together. So it’s productive.
HG: When I came onto this job, specifically, I only wanted to speak with women who are in music. And what I’ve learned is that what that means is very different from how you might imagine it from the outside — I’ll talk to female vocalists and performers who only touch on that part of their project, or I’ll speak to women who are more heavily involved.
A recent interview I did was with the bassist and drummer from the all-women rock band Savages, and what they had to say in relation to what I was saying about women in music — I had to scrap half of my questions straight off the bat, because it was so clear that I was dealing with a specific kind of female performer, one less interested in gendered optics.
CP: I also hate this idea that women can’t work with men without losing their authorship. Men are wonderful, and there are a lot of talented men out there, and I love working with Patrick, and I want women to feel like they can work with men without losing artistic authorship. So again, no shame on anyone out there who’s working with men. In a band like Savages, they’re all women, so that’s a slightly different conversation. I don’t think girls should have to do that.
HG: Another aside — when I was interviewing lead vocalist and guitarist Sadie Dupuis from the indie rock band Speedy Ortiz, she had this point about how a lot of music she loves is by men, or partially by men, but because of the way that people frame conversations around “feminist musicians” or “the feminist music world,” it’s like, “We should only be shouting out female performers or female vocalists.” And that doesn’t necessarily help it.
When somebody says, “Beyoncé is a feminist idol,” she works with men all the time! That doesn’t discount what she does at all; you should be aware of the fact that a woman’s ownership of the work that she does, even when it’s with other people, shouldn’t be dismissed. It gets very complicated — people like to think in these binaries too.
CP: Of course, it’s easier. You used the term “layperson” earlier: Especially for people who don’t understand how music is made… I don’t think people should have to understand how music is made in order to pass judgment. Slowly, we can bring about a change in the sort of assumptions people make, even when they can’t see behind the scenes.
One piece of advice to women just getting started in the music industry, and this is something that helped me a lot, is: Take the time to educate yourself. Don’t be lazy. For example, if you have a strong idea and you want to record it and you have all the instrumental ideas in your head, don’t feel like you need to lean on your male friend, who’s already put in the time and already knows how to record your voice. Look it up on YouTube. There are tutorials, by people all over the world who want nothing more than to tell you how to do something well. That’s how I learned Ableton Live [a popular music production software], from YouTube tutorials. That’s it.
And also, pay for your software. If you pay for it and don’t use cracks [illegal copies], you get awesome technical support. You can call people up, text with them, and you have a full-time helper who works for you. So save up, ask for it for Christmas, pay for your software, don’t be afraid to use YouTube, and don’t be afraid to put in that extra time. All that time that gets spent, pays off times ten in your ability to control how you sound.
HG: Recently, I was looking up Photoshop tutorials on YouTube, and they all have like, terrible dubstep in the background, and based on usernames and lingo, clearly male creators…
CP: But if you learn how to make the thing in the video, think what else you can also do. If you actually go along with what they’re teaching you, you can use those same techniques to make something way better.
HG: Yeah, I used the thing that I learned in this video to make all the .GIFs for the piece that I wrote about female vocalists! That’s part of the process — being able to not necessarily mitigate your skills, but acknowledge that you can learn something and have that be your own thing from then on.
CP: The other message I wanna send out there too is, no shame for anyone out there who just wants to be a vocalist. Singing is an art form. The most amazing opera singers, like Maria Callas or Renée Fleming, they’re not writing anything they’re singing. These women are artists, and like in athleticism, there’s no shame in just being a musician. This is also for session musicians out there as well. I know it’s 2016 and people who are producing their work are getting a lot of glory right now, but if you’re reading this and all you want to do is be the best that you can possibly be at your instrument, no shame.
HG: The fact that you even have to clarify is part of this all-or-nothing thinking, like, “You should only support women who are making music, in the sense of producing or songwriting!”
CP: Honesty is important, and if you’re working with young writers, propping your songwriter up is power to all parties involved. That kind of clarity and transparency and honesty… Every part of this is an art form. Sometimes, spreading yourself too thin will actually make you fail.
HG: The world is a cruel, hard place.
CP: No, you have to know yourself, know your talent, know what makes you happy. And do that. Just don’t be lazy. Work hard!
HG: Something that’s always bothered me is the way that people talk about all-caps WOMEN IN MUSIC. Even when it’s in the most positive-seeming way… You still put people in a box, whether or not people actually want to be in that box. Once you do that, it gets really weird really fast.
CP: The good thing though is, we’ve been talking so much about technology, that artists have so much control now about how they want to represent themselves and how much access they even wanna give to the press in the first place. Like, artists who have their own Tumblr pages or are active on Twitter can effectively give interviews constantly with their own fanbase and cut out the media altogether. In that case, the media is sort of following up and taking cues.
Patrick and I, in the past, really left it up to the media to ask questions. But this time around, we’re putting so much information out there in the first place. I’ve actually been almost moved to tears by some of the questions people have asked us about this record, because it’s almost like they understand it in the same way that we do, and it’s so amazing, to be having conversations with people who are so informed. They’re coming from it from a place of understanding.
HG: There was a piece that came out recently that was like, “What’s up with all these music profiles done by fans?” Fans will literally know things about yourself that you won’t know about yourself.
CP: I think it’s ideal! Also, think about the 1950s. The 1950s music fan could’ve been told, “If you’d just lived 50 years later, you could’ve been able to ask questions and get answers directly to the band”… They would’ve broke down crying. It’s amazing. I feel very grateful for it.
HG: It’s not a coincidence that most of my favorite vocalists, and most of my favorite records, have been fronted by women. Part of it is reconsidering so much of what I learned is good because of consistent male influence. The projects that I’m personally inspired by or interested in tend to be led by women.
I keep bringing her up, but in my interview with Sadie from Speedy Ortiz, she mentioned that I could be interviewing her Patrick, Devin [McKnight, another member of Speedy Ortiz], just about the show Adventure Time. That could be its own interview, but there we were, talking about gender politics.
CP: I think right now is an important time to be talking about that, but I have to confess — I also mostly listen to female vocalists. I don’t think it’s a purely musical thing; it’s a perspective thing and also potentially an emotional thing. Women have a lot of experiences in common, going back to what we were talking about earlier, both in regard to their relationship with their body and their relationship with the rest of the world, and I don’t think there’s harm in that.
But I have noticed that it’s become more fashionable for men to listen to female vocalists without irony. Which I’m so excited by!
HG: The pro is that more men are listening to women. The con is that, dudes will be like, “I love Sleater-Kinney! I’m listening to Sleater-Kinney!” And that’ll be the extent of their engagement with the band’s, say, politics and message.
The more cynical you are, the more you pick up on that kind of thing. Like, listen to ladies, please, but it’s also kind of important that you like it? Like, if I only watched Michael Bay movies for a year as an experiment in engaging with white masculinity, I can’t imagine I’d enjoy it that much. Part of it is just listening to women and liking that! You shouldn’t have to force yourself to get there! And to try to pretend that you can get there by X/Y/Z means is ultimately a disservice to yourself.
CP: It’s also just nice that the onus is lifted off you. In the ‘90s, unless you were making very masculine music, you were very girly. Guys didn’t listen to you; you were a pussy if you listened to Mariah Carey. Now, we’ve opened the door for different audiences to approach something without shame or without a stereotype being put on them. Like, Patrick talks all the time about how he had a Destiny’s Child album in high school, but he’d only listen to it secretly in his car, and he’d hide the album when he parked his car. That just wouldn’t happen now, and that’s exciting.
HG: And that’s an actual change, and it has to be genuine to mean that.
CP: I think generally it is. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I do genuinely think it is.
HG: That is as much, or all you could ever hope for. That people could listen to someone who doesn’t sound like them in any way, across the board for every –ism, to be like, “I will fuck with your music, even though you don’t sound like me, you talk about things I don’t understand.” That part of it is an ongoing process, and hopefully it’ll continue to unfold that way.
CP: I believe in that word-of-mouth thing.
HG: And part of that is having friends who will do that too.
CP: Yeah, that’s true. I have a couple friends who consistently give me really good music to listen to. But it sometimes causes issues for me because, doing what I do, I get asked for playlists and mixtapes and song recommendations in a very public way all the time. I feel like I actually…
Some of my friends are part of a generation that sort of feels like, you wanna keep your favorite things a secret. That’s a generation gap — people who are younger, that doesn’t make sense to them. But some of my friends are older, and they’re record collectors, and I would actually feel like I was selling them out if I put the songs or artists that they showed me on a playlist. So I have to keep a mental inventory of who showed me what, what can I show other people and what can I not show. But the fact is, almost everything I listen to was shown to me by someone, and I also like to be generous with turning other friends onto music.
HG: At the level of recognition that you have within the music world, you have to figure out what you wanna do in your “tastemaker” role.
CP: Yeah, sometimes I get frustrated because, I’m not a DJ. Why are radio DJs asking me to do their jobs for them, for free? But then other times, I think, I would love to know what my favorite artists are listening to! I’m more interested in their recommendations than a DJ’s.