Pretty Girls Make Graves interview at Bayswater shopping centre London. Andrea, Jay and Eric. Interview done early 2004.
RN: I guess it must be something like your fourth time in the UK in the past year. I don’t know how many times you’ve been over here but it seems like a lot.
A: I think this might be our fourth time in the UK ever but this year, this is our second time.
A: We were here last December.
E: And then we were here for four months three months ago and then this time and then a long time ago.
RN: Yeah, and you came over with the Blood Brothers?
E: That was a couple of months ago, last summer in August.
RN: Didn’t you tour with them before?
A: Not over here, in the US.
RN: You seem to have quite a nice relationship with them.
A: Yeah, (laughter)
RN: What’s the response that you’re getting?
A: England has been pretty good actually, yeah its pretty fun, just trying to think of all the shows we have ever had here, London is particularly fun, really fun the last times we were here.
RN: With the music press as well you seem to be getting quite a lot of recognition. Is that the recognition you want?
A: Ha hah,
E: I don’t know. Some of the things we’ve read are incredibly stupid.
RN: Like what?
E: The dance.
A: Like the pretty girls dance
E: I don’t know, they’re just really corny.
RN: What’s the Pretty Girls dance?
A: You’ll have to ask the NME
E: Hey, I can video tape it. Do you wanna do the dance?
RN: Yeah I remember reading in the NME they had some kind of reference to HOT NEW BAND. Do you think that’s like ‘Well, really?’ They seem to do that a lot. They just seem to take something and say that it’s come from now and it hasn’t existed before. What are your thoughts about that?
E: Yeah maybe because our label that we have here now. Before our record wasn’t out over here, so that may be part of it.
A: Yeah that’s the first time that we’ve ever had music available to buy in this country, but the NME, my understanding of it is that they sort of create their own hype, in their magazine anyway. It’s just kind of what they do. They do it whether it’s good or bad, they just do it.
RN: I think it was in the NME I read that they kind of referred to your band as being like a Benetton advert or something and it just seemed a really contentious thing to say.
E: I didn’t see that.
A: Did they? I never saw that either.
RN: But I mean what do you think about someone saying that?
A: I guess I’d have to know what they meant by that. I mean in all honesty to me the NME is sort of like a tabloid. It’s this big music magazine here that everybody hates but everybody reads right. That’s my understanding. I could be wrong. I could be naïve, but this is my understanding. It says a lot of garbage but people read it anyway. You have to, or at least I take it with a grain of salt because they can also be very insulting and very mean so it’s only a matter of time. Like with their Pretty Girls dance and with their pictures of me were very flattering to begin with but I just feel like a lot of people don’t listen to the crap, but maybe they do, it’s hard to say.
RN: I guess I just thought maybe the way the music system is set up, it’s structured in a very definite way and if a band doesn’t conform to that expectation or structure then they kind of try, I don’t know, to trivialise it or something. Do you agree with that?
A: Yeah, I do agree with that, absolutely
E: That’s just the media, you have to play their game if you want to. That applies to all media.
RN: How do you think then, if that’s what it does, how can you ever…?
E: Mainstream media, yeah. How can you ever….?
RN: How can you ever get out of that, is it like a trap.
E: I think with the NME there are the people that know our band and knew about it before NME wrote about us and they came to our shows and then there are people that read it and go like ‘Oh I need to have this new thing’ and if NME is writing about us its like you know if they are only going to see the bands that NME is saying are big and when NME turns round and says this isn’t good anymore or something like that…
J: They were never there from the get go.
E: Yeah it doesn’t matter, they weren’t really there. It doesn’t make a difference.
J: Yeah we don’t depend on this. It doesn’t define who we are as a band.
E: I mean we would tour over here regardless of whether magazines paid attention to us or not and having them write about us, its funny because there’s a new interview in the new NME and I read it and it was like for me and Nick both, it’s the first time that we’d read this magazine and I didn’t go ‘This is fucking bullshit.’ It actually was decent and it is what it is.
A: But we’ll keep making music and be who we are and keep writing regardless or that. Touching on that there’s an alternative world besides that mainstream world, absolutely that’s what we grew up in and if the NME decides to like say ‘Fuck this band’ it’s not going to affect us.
E: It doesn’t matter. We definitely have treated some…. I mean we’ve done interviews where we didn’t like the questions, we didn’t like the people that we’re doing them and we turned against them, not in a bad way but we won’t play ball necessarily. We’ve bullshitted so many people, said so many ridiculous things, some funny but not true at all and I don’t think that you have to be stuck in either just a punk thing or a mainstream. I don’t think you need it. Promotion is bullshit. (Turns to PR rep sitting in on interview) I love you and you do a great job and everything but I think its bullshit. It’s all ass kissing and it’s all depending on these magazines, they have to display you in a way that looks more appealing. That’s bullshit because that’s not what music is about and that’s not what we’re about.
RN: You have an early song that about a ‘Modern Day Emma Goldman,’ what do you think about Emma Goldman.
A: What do I think about Emma Goldman?
RN: Yeah, why did you write the song?
A: That song was written about a girl who was one of my best friends and that was sort of autobiographical about us, growing up together. I grew up in Seattle at the time the riot grrrl explosion was happening and Olympia was only an hour away from Seattle so I spent a lot of time there right in the very beginning of that scene. That was what we were all about. Emma Goldman was one of the many people who we looked up to and it was an ode to my friend.
RN: I’m also really interested in the way you’ve got a lot of references to doctors and heath and mental issues. What’s the deal with that?
A: It’s true. You think we’re kidding. (laughter.) Because I’m crazy and a hypochondriac. Yeah, and he’s a hypochondriac too.
E: I have anxiety disorders, panic attacks. She has them too.
A: Yeah. I think that’s always been a really big issue for me, even from a young age. It’s something I’ve dealt with in my life and so I can talk about it and not be embarrassed by it.
E: Calling our record Good Health was a joke.
A: Yeah, it was a joke because we are such messes a lot of the time, or I’m a mess, but it funny because we all touch on it a little bit.
RN: Yeah, it’s just with Good Health and a couple of references and with the New Romance. I mean even the idea of classifying something and the whole idea of mental health. To say someone is abnormal, what is normal anyway. Are you trying to get at some of the issues that are there?
A: Oh yeah, just trying to touch on… I don’t know, probably because I’ve been so reflective of my life for so long… so much of it has been so ingrained to me that’s probably why I touch on it so much. I’ve dealt with it. I was in crazy like… like I got physically restrained and taken to freaky fundamentalist Christian… I got locked in a church basement. Many times in my life. Trying to fix me when I was young.
RN: Yeah I guess like trying to fix something when it may not be broke. I don’t know if you know but the whole Mad Pride thing. Well it wasn’t very big but it was just like an anarchist thing about the health system and protesting against it.
A: Mad Pride? I’d never heard of that before. But oh yeah, it’s a fairly fucked up system for sure. And the way doctors base their studies and whatnot. I can understand that and also and there’s everyone bonding through not being normal.
RN: I guess this question is for you specifically Andrea but have you experienced any kind of sexism. I guess if you were into riot grrrl, how have you taken that on?
A: Yeah, riot grrrl’s kind of funny because riot grrrl was a very specific movement, where it was actually the name of a fanzine that was around and then based around that people started having meetings once a week so it was actually almost like an organisation is how it started before it was like a movement, and a name for that movement. So it started out as something different to what it shaped into. But I deal with it every day, in everyday life, outside of playing music also. It’s something that I’ve been dealing with for so long, I’m sure the same way Jay deals with racism every day. I mean he’s black. So he’s been dealing with that his whole life the way I’ve been dealing with sexism every day. It definitely gets hard and it definitely is challenging. It can get you down if you let it. But that’s the whole thing, not letting it.
RN: I guess I see the structures with the music industry, it is sexist. It will sexualise someone or it will dismiss them. What can everyone do themselves to stop it being sexist?
E: I think the problem with that though is that’s the problem with the world. It’s not just music. That’s been a problem since the beginning of time. That man has dominated women, that’s how people are raised and I think it has to start at home because you have to change everything, before you change music, It’s not going to happen. It just could never happen because most countries are run by powerful white men and unless we can change that…
A: Some day there will be change.
E: Yeah, but I mean until that happens as a standard for the world, that sort of equality, it would be next to impossible to have it isolated to this one area. It’s really funny too to be bringing up the music industry in sexism. You know when we put out our first EP and all we heard from were like DIY hardcore kids about how, and it’s the classic line ‘Oh I hate girl singers but your actually pretty good.’ And this is from the DIY scene. From punk kids who are supposed to be open to everything and that wasn’t a one time thing. That was for a year and a half straight all the time that was all we heard. Like ‘Oh man I usually hate girl singers,’ or even people saying ‘You know you guys would be a better band if you didn’t have a girl singer.’ So you actually just get it everywhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s the music industry or kids in a hardcore scene or whatnot.
A: This is why you have to handle it. You have to be a person yourself. Be strong and keep true to your beliefs and not back down to people.
E: Keep rock and roll.
A: Yeah, it’s totally true and we’re not ever going to change who we are. In the beginning and everyone’s like ‘uhh they could be successful if they just lost the woman’ but they didn’t kick me out.
E: We were going talk to you about that.
A: (laughter) We’re going to have a meeting after. I’m just going to wear a sash.
E: How do you feel about playing bass?
A: (laughter) Yeah, we won’t change. People who have issues with my body, because you always have to sexualise the woman in a band, I’m not going to change my body. It will not happen. It’s about not letting that stuff affect us. We’ll just be who we are.
RN: Yeah I think punk does sort of say like ‘Oh look we are so progressive’ and the people are supposed to be open minded…
A: Yeah but then…
E: Yeah some of the people… our first tour over here we played a hardcore festival in, where was it…well it was in Europe and we set up our merch table and right next to our merch table was this group of hardcore kids who have a fanzine and in the fanzine one of the first lines is how they hate black music. We’re sitting right next to them and they’re like ‘Oh not, not, not you guys…other bands with black members.’
A: I was the only woman in the entire festival. Jay was the only black person in the entire festival and our friend Steve was the only Asian person at the entire festival, in the entire thousands of people who were there.
E: It was a huge three day hardcore festival. She just got a magic marker and started taking their stack of zines and started writing racist over them
A: I did this to their zine and they were like ‘no no no, because the guy who wrote them he’s a really nice guy’ and I’m like ‘I don’t give a shit.’
RN: That’s a really cool direct action thing to do.
A: Yeah exactly. That’s how you have to handle it
E: But listening to these hardcore kids, they’ll try and justify it and it’s amazing
A: And it was a very political thing. The whole thing was people who are like vegan activists, straight-edge activists, so there was politics. It’s not like these people weren’t thinking about politics.
E: It was the Epher festival in Belgium.
A: Yeah, so it was like fuck these people, and all their friends were like ‘No no he’s not a racist’ they kept grabbing him and bringing him to us.
E: ‘He’s not racist he just doesn’t like black people.’
A: It was like ‘I don’t give a shit.’ I mean like it’s not ok with me so as long as I’m going to be here I’m going let you know that’s its not ok.
RN: I guess it’s like people who say ‘Oh I’m not a racist but…’ I mean has the band experienced racism as such.
J: I haven’t really experienced too much racism, but I’m also really good at ignoring it, if it does happen. I get a lot of ‘Hey brother, hey bro’ and I’m like ‘OK. Good try,’ with the black talk. Yeah, but I mean for the most part I just, it really hasn’t been that bad or that apparent to me.
A: But I think that’s also because that has a lot to do with not paying attention to it and just being yourself and not letting that shit in.
J: Especially because I mean I’ve been in either a hardcore scene or a punk rock scene or an indie scene for so long and it’s like there are three black guys in Seattle and I’m one of them and we’re all the same person. You all get mistaken for each other all the time. It’s amazing but it’s true. And I’m just so used to it. It’s sad but I’m just going to do what I’m doing and if there’s ever like a confrontational issue then that’s one thing…
A: But I mean on the individual level I will always try to do my best and support anybody in music who’s not a white male.
RN: I think on the same kind of level it kind of sucks that the fact that you even have to ask the question ‘Have you experienced racism’ or ‘Have you experienced sexism.’ It sucks that it comes to my mind that they might exist.
A: Yeah it shouldn’t be an issue.
RN: Everything is so white and male that it’s almost like people are having to ask to get legitimisation in the scene.
A: And that’s why I think it’s important to change it. Just to do it and change, and that goes for everything besides music too, but music is what we do and that’s where we’re focusing on changing it.
RN: I think that applies to what you were saying about the world as well. But I mean your lyrics don’t really come across as political but would you say you’ve got it within it and what do you do kind of within yourselves to do that. What do you do either with the band or just in life, and your actions that relate to the politics?
A: Well, like I said before I deal with sexism on an everyday level. I definitely handle every situation.
E: I guess everything I do is very personal. I handle situations as they come and the thing is the reason why I would never be involved to a larger degree to any sort of organisation is because in that general they are run by people who have no idea and can not identify with what they are fighting for or against and they don’t really know how to do it, I don’t think. That’s what I’ve come across especially in the punk rock scene in the US. You have all these upper middle class white kids that are so political and they know so much about sexism and racism and how to fix the world but at the same time you need to understand where both sides are coming from and I find it frustrating. I’ve found it frustrating to try and identity with them. It was more like pity. There is this horrible television show, ‘Rich Girls’ on MTV and the reason I bring this up is because it is Tommy Hilfiger’s daughter and her rich friend. Watching these two rich people, there is this one episode and they are talking about how they can ‘help these black people’ that are down and out and they are like ‘Oh lets do a…’ I don’t remember what they wanted to do. They wanted to have a sort of fundraiser or something and they were like ‘We feel a need to help them by giving them some clothes’ and something and it was like ‘Your father is a fucking racist.’ Everyone knows it. There’s no backbone in it. And they were talking about adoption and they were like ‘If I ever adopt I’d probably adopt an African.’ You know she was saying if she ever adopted a kid she would adopt one of those poor kids you know you see on TV, it just such… I don’t know… I don’t want to get into it. See I don’t generally talk about this.
A: I haven’t seen the show but I’ve heard of it and it sounds disgusting. It’s sick.
E: It’s wholly disgusting
A: And it’s getting into a whole another thing which is part of American culture being obsessed with watching a train wreck or something that shows it.
E: It’s really easy to be fed up with politics within the United States because our media sources and our news it is pro American in everything and right now there are American troops, every day that get killed and they cover the one or two that get killed. They don’t talk about the probably 100 to 150 other people that are killed by Americans. Every single outlet we have for news is a reality show. It’s all completely right wing and its just meant to make everything George Bush and the administration, everything they are doing, it’s to make it ok and its to convince everyone so. For me, I just can’t even deal with it. When it comes time to vote I’m just going to vote to get Bush out of the office, but it’s impossible…
A: A lot of people wonder how Bush got into the office to begin with and that comes from a weird resistance in our generation to things like politics. Its true politics are really weird in the United States because people are so, not narrow but I don’t know what they right word is….
E: I mean you, your news source; you have an unbiased news report.
RN: Not really.
E: Actually the UK is more of a fence sitter. They are afraid to piss anybody off. No it’s true they are afraid to make anyone mad whereas the United States doesn’t care.
RN: But in England though a lot of the media is owned by one person and stuff like the Daily Mail, it hates asylum seekers, it hates anyone that isn’t middle class.
A: What’s that?
RN: The Daily Mail. It’s one of the big newspapers. Those messages are pretty much put across and the only kind of like ‘lefty’ newspaper is The Guardian but even that is often not very good either so it isn’t really. And the BBC and the news do claim to be and maybe it’s better than American news, but it’s definitely not independent.
A: Right. But it is still better and it is still less bias than what American media will show Americans. If you want to find out maybe what is really happening in the world like with the war most Americans will have to get on their computers and have to go to the BBC. Most people don’t even know that they could turn to the BBC for less unbiased news. Most Americans don’t know that, so most Americans only know what they hear and they rely on television for their news. They rely on American media so therefore they are in the dark.
E: I mean it’s awful.
RN: Does that scare you?
A: Oh yeah, it’s terrifying.
E: I mean if you see the way our news shows are, I don’t know if you guys have reality television shows over here it’s a joke. Everything has a catch phrase.
RN: Yeah like the reality car chases, we don’t have those.
E: That’s what our reporting news has turned into. They put a catch phrase on everything and everything is flying at you.
A: Spinning graphics. Everything is extreme.
E. It’s just awful. So I’m not a very political person because of what I’m fed on a daily basis I can’t even take it and I’ll do my part as far as when it comes time to vote I’m going to do my best to vote him out and I’ve never voted before. It’s my fault that’s he’s in. I used to be a lot less interested in what was going on.
A: Well I agree with what was said. When I was younger and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with being younger or getting older, but I was way more involved in a lot of political causes and I’ve been really discouraged, like you said, there’s no discussion of what’s really behind the causes, so that’s why I don’t identify with any political group. There’s no political cause because even in the punk scene which is seen to be the one place where you can find refuge, like the DIY scene, is one of the most closed minded scenes, which used to be alternative and now that is isolated from anything else so that’s why everything has to be on an individual basis.
RN: It’s kind of really depressing though.
A: It is really depressing. That’s why you have to handle everything on an individual basis and try to do what is right for yourself and hope other people catch onto that.
RN: I guess its still about maybe trying to build a possible viable alternative. I don’t know if you guys know but we have Indymedia and stuff like that but its still web based. So that has a problem just in itself. I think its being critical if there’s a problem rather than just accepting it.
A: I definitely think when the next election comes up in the States that there will be a huge change in how many people of our generation vote because its kind of hard to explain but most people in our generation think that the government and our country is so fucked they don’t want any part of it so they think if they, and I actually think this way too, but they are like a peon in the game. It doesn’t make any difference. It’s like a mockery of yourself so therefore by not voting is almost like this resistance against the system but really because that system is in place and that system isn’t changing anytime soon. George Bush got in office which is something no one ever dreamed could happen. Everyone’s was like there’s no way the country would let him but everyone’s resistance against the system backfired in a way where now we’re outnumbered. The people who thought you could beat it in that way, are outnumbered by conservative voters. Therefore I think there will be a huge change in people who vote just to get him out.
RN: Yeah I think like the American system at the moment, it scares me personally. I mean what it wants to do to the rest of the world but even within itself like its policies like the anti-abortion thing. It seems backwards.
A: Yeah it’s all been put back into place. It’s terrifying. Yeah no one would have ever thought in a million years that’s the thing, yeah it is going backwards, no would have ever thought this would happen. That’s why I think everything about his turn in office is turning politics upside down. I mean it’s a serious kick in the ass for me to be involved in it whether I want to be involved in it or not. The things are being reversed. That’s not being sensational saying that it really is going back. You know like the abortion laws, its crazy.
RN: You’re playing the Kerrang thing which is sponsored by Clear Channel. What do you think about that?
E: Well I didn’t know that it was sponsored by Clear Channel
A: Yeah I didn’t know it was sponsored by Clear Channel. We actually never really know that they are Clear Channel shows until we show up at the show but yeah Clear Channel are terrifying.
E: And then we call our booking agent and say, ‘Don’t have us do a Clear Channel show again.’ We did two in the States. The way it works we have two booking agents. We have a booking agent here and we have one in the states and Clear Channel in the last six or seven months have spread everywhere. We’ve done about 12 tours that never had a Clear Channel show and then this last US tour was the first tour ever where all of a sudden they showed up and they were like ‘hi, I’m from Clear Channel’ and we called up our booking agent and said ‘You know Clear Channel are here?’ but now we have to tell our booking agent here, because yeah I didn’t know that.
RN: Do you think bands can by boycotting clear channel event…
E: It’s easy you just don’t play clear channel events. Not every show, and every promoter has to go through Clear Channel. Not yet, I mean who knows at the rate its going.
RN: Finally how do you see like the future of the band?
A: Still touring, lots of touring.
E: More touring and writing songs.
A: And hopefully getting home to start working on new stuff would be ideal.
RN: Ok, cool.
A: But, what I was going to say relating to politics is that a lot of people ask about politics with us and how our lyrics aren’t very political and whatnot and coming from a standpoint where I used to be extremely outspoken and very aggressive, to me I feel I can be way more effective by not coming from that angle, and this is for me, not in general for anybody else, but I tend to think the more in your face you are with our own political views the quicker they are to put a wall up and not listen to what you have to say and write you off instead of actually letting anything in whether it’s right or not. I feel it is more effective for me, say if I was going to interact with someone, for me to change their opinions just by them getting to know me, they are more open to it that way. It’s something I wrestle with all the time because when I do write lyrics I do think should I use this opportunity to get a point across, but I feel I couldn’t do that without being in your face and I feel that’s going to be not the most effective way. (tape cuts)