I have a bizarre fascination with seeing how things are built. My favorite season of The Wire is the first one where we watch the cast come together. I love the rebuilding years of any sports team. For some reason, I’m always more fascinated with process over the absolute final iteration of a thing.
So when I found out my friend Chrissy was in a very new band, and they’re actually good, I had to interview them. Womantra is a riot grrl band out of Cleveland, who recently made Cleveland.com’s Top 15 album releases of 2017 list. We talked about playing protest shows, what it’s like to be in a band in their formative days, and the music scene in Cleveland, Ohio.
What I really find interesting about your crew is that you’re a punk, indie; riot grrl band without being annoying about it. Sometimes bands that are interested in politics are so on-the-nose about it that gets pretty cheesy — even when I agree with the politics. But I don’t really get that vibe from Womantra. Given the current politics of Earth, that has to be pretty fucking difficult, right? Is it a conscious decision to balance political songs with more personal ones? It’s kind of amazing that your music isn’t 100% angry 100% of the time.
That’s because I’m only angry 75% of the time. 75% anger; 25% real life manic pixie. Patrick is angry eating things all the time, and Lisa is never angry, so it all evens out.
From what I’ve heard, “Two Depressed” actually impacts people the most on the deepest level.
And I don’t consider that song aggressive at all. I was completely depleted and lonely when I wrote that, and I think people can really relate to that kind of depressive apathy.
Another fan favorite is “Beach Balloon”, which is a mellow tune about existential crisis and relinquishing control, accepting life as it is.
But listeners definitely also connect to the aggression of assertive communication and empowerment in “Body Conscious” and “Shut up Dad!”
I’m glad you feel that way about us, it’s high praise. Our more aggressive songs tend to be the ones that encourage people. That seems to be a better use of the energy.
It’s easy to be angry about things more or less 100% of the time, for me at least. While I don’t think that’s a bad thing necessarily as it shows you care in at least some capacity, it can be quite exhausting. It’s necessary, these days especially, to take a step back and remind yourself there is good in the world, that many people aren’t garbage. Positivity and hope is important and I feel like that drives a lot of what we do. It’s like, yeah, stuff sucks and we should do something about it, and hey, there is hope if we work together.
For your band, what I do wonder is if you ever feel the pressure to play up the political aspect. You’ve played a decent amount of benefit and protest shows this last year, and I imagine there’s some internal pressure to really go after that one aspect — especially since it would play well in those kinds of shows.
I, for one, would definitely like to play more political shows and rallies. And I will probably write more political songs…but I don’t just decide to write about something, I literally get overtaken by a passionate creative force like you read about… so I’m never quite sure what I’m going to write or what about, but I do know how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking these days and what is influencing my perspectives.
You walk a line when you choose to make politics a part of your music. You can shove your politics in people’s faces, which I respect, but you’re going to speak to people who already agree with you and turn away the ones who don’t. Or you can send a message in a way that respects your listener. That’s what I enjoy about this band. The message can be political, but it’s empowering. You’ll leave our show hearing, “take ownership of yourself. Don’t be afraid of who you are. Stand up.” I’m glad to have a part in that.
I love doing benefit shows and the like, and look forward to more. Music is a great equalizer and can help bring people together.
As Patrick alluded to, there is a certain “preaching to the choir” thing that can happen if everything you do is in your face politics. Heck, even doing political events can end up being an echo chamber situation, but that’s okay. Bringing people together and pushing for action is a good thing. And within any movement, people will have different ideas of how to tackle different things. So these events are good for that, as well. Also raising money for the causes.
I don’t really feel a lot of internal pressure to push the political aspect of the band. Whatever has happened so far feels fairly organic. I’ve always get we were kinda more about empowerment than slapping you in the face with politics, anyways. That said, pushing for empowerment of some groups is considered political, and that in itself is kinda sad…
I feel like being political is personal. Your anger about the world can inspire action and as an artist I am way better at taking action in the form of art. Sometimes I feel like it’s a selfish cop out of not doing more people focused change in the work like I see my friends doing. And then I remember how music and art bring people together and inspire action. Maybe it’s at the top of the chain of making change.
I think in music there is a unique paradox, especially in songwriting…in that it can be, and is, simultaneously selfish and altruistic, personal and political. And creating original music can be both a secret stroke of genius, and a cry for attention…a sort of plea of insanity.
Most of the music I’ve written is very personal, and I keep it to myself or only share it rarely in small group settings. My music is like my journal, my history. Some of the things I’ve recently written just happen to be more overtly political, but it’s all tangled rants of everything.
There is anger in all of it, and peace and hope in voicing it and letting it out. The less afraid I become, the more I share this sacred part of myself. And the better I can articulate and communicate it, I think.
What’s fascinating to me is that you’re a newer band — you literally have one EP to your name at the moment. For the reader’s information, it just dropped. I was honestly expecting it to be very bad, but instead it’s good. What got me is the level of polish, and that’s sort of what had me interested in talking to a band that’s in this stage of their existence. This is going to sound really fluff-piece-y, but how and why does it sound this good? I’m asking that apart from songwriting or instrumental proficiency. A band’s debut EP has no right being this polished.
Maybe some folks expect it to be bad because the band is really new, and we’re in Cleveland and not outsourcing recording to some Nashville studio…
But in all seriousness: this isn’t any of our firsts. We’ve all been making music for years.
I’m by far the youngest, but I’ve been writing music since I was 10 and performing in theater since I was 12…
Patrick has toured nationally with a pretty big pop star, Lisa has been touring as a solo artist… Rob studied music professionally.
I spent about a year and a half working with Kate Voegele back in 2007. I toured regionally when she was seeking record labels (Interscope eventually picked her up). I’ve done some work in a jazz trio, and I spent a little time doing session drumming in the Cleveland area. I’m also producing an ambient electronic project with a good friend. I think we’ve all got pretty diverse musical backgrounds. I find that exciting.
As far as the recording, I was so amazed by hearing the first play back at the studio. I remember thinking “oh this is gonna be good!” And I just chalked it up to how proficient my band mates were in getting the takes so quickly and cleanly plus the studio we were in was very professional considering it was in a residential basement. I am also very impressed with how new the band is and how it sounds so polished so soon. I feel so lucky and that this is pure magic happening really. It’s like the music gods said to me, “ok, you’ve been working so long and hard on this craft that I will gift you what you’ve been searching for this entire time.” I think some people say “paid your dues” but I guess that’s for further down the road.
As far as what Rob brings to the table, it’s an amazing knowledge of music theory blended with skill, and melded with a real grasp on and feel for what sounds GOOD.
He slays on the synth/key-tar, and he adds so much dimension to the music…it blows my mind! And he’s a reformed jazz horn player, I believe! I don’t know that any of us necessarily saw ourselves being in a group like this.
It’s been a really organic process!
My music history is far less impressive unless you include all the sweet video game music “remixes” I did in college…
It helped we went into the studio prepared. Though we hadn’t been together that long, we had been rehearsing pretty consistently, playing shows, and shaping these songs along the way. We recorded with some seasoned producers, so that helped the quality obviously. Getting the right mix also helps, and Angelisa and Taysu helped move that along nicely.
YES video game remixes!!
I forgot Rob worked on the original “ROCK BAND” game, too!! He helped create a lot of the music, that is, doing audio and sound design.
Do you find a supportive community out there for your band – in Cleveland’s music scene or otherwise?
The Cleveland music scene? Well. Where do I begin on this? It’s like all the greatest musicians in the country said to themselves, “I don’t need to go to a bigger city and struggle to make the cut. I can stay right here, have a nice quality of life and make my art while having fun.” And we all keep this secret within the community. There isn’t a cut throat culture here to impress and climb the ladder while stepping on your friends. We are all doing this because we love it and there are fun places to perform and we are all inspired by each other. It’s a real DIY attitude here which I think reflects the soul of our city to the core.
I am routinely reflecting on how most of my favorite music on earth is created by people I know and see out and about around town. And we all help each other to make this scene a fun way to spend your time in a city that isn’t flashy or full of itself. It is reflected in the music and performances too. Musicians here are humble and honest and so effing talented! I could go on and on and on about this subject so maybe I’ll stop here. Let me know if you want me to say more about it.
That does bring up a question, which is how does a band that’s where you are right now go from here?
We still haven’t really reached a consensus on where we’re going. I’d like to write more music, release an LP, play bigger venues and do some touring.
I’d also like to put together more rallies and philanthropic benefit shows for important causes, to raise awareness and support.
We never really had a set plan, but that is something we need to communicate about. Periodically we have meetings where we just hang out, check in and share what we’re thinking and feeling.
I think that’s a good thing! Personally, I didn’t expect the band to go where it has. A year ago I thought this would be a one-off show for a protest rally. Now we’re launching a record worldwide. It’s never happened this quickly before. I’m honestly just humbled that people like this music we’re making. I think they’ll ultimately decide where we go. If the record sells and people come out to support us live, we’ll be able to make more music and take it on the road.
Ultimately, I just want to make music I enjoy with people that I enjoy. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I’m just kind of along for the ride at this point, I guess.
Personally I would like to keep writing songs, recording and getting great local gigs. Those are short term goals and the long view is uncertain. I’m up for all of it really. Touring, SNL, the Grammys – whatever! But I think it’s good to be realistic but like I said before, if Taysu wants to set the bar higher and higher I am up for the challenge of trying to reach it.
Feels like we’re wrapping up, so give me your plugs and goodbyes.
Our new EP Stand Up! was just released on December 2. It’s available for download on iTunes, Amazon Music and Google Play. You can also stream it on Spotify, Tidal, YouTube and must other streaming services. But if you’re so inclined, the best way to support the band is by purchasing the album from our Bandcamp page.
We’re setting up shows for next year to support the record. Head over to our Facebook page to stay up to date.
We’re also on Instagram as @womantraband – if you take photos or videos at our gigs, remember to tag us so we can say hi!
Ya, Thanks so much for chatting with us! And best wishes in all of your endeavors.
Thanks for your time, Kendon!