With such pressing topics, the band doesnâ€™t waste time with metaphors or ambiguous introspection. Abortion law is messed up in the USA and the band lets you know. Now is not the time for reserved reflection. Itâ€™s time for action.
But, the bandâ€™s willingness to say exactly whatâ€™s on its mind has made it a lightning rod of controversy. A lot of people love the bandâ€™s Crass-like attackâ€¦ and a lot of people hate them becauseâ€¦. Well, no one can seem to say for sure. But, no doubt, the band has received a pretty constant blast of hate via Internet comments and have also been heckled on stage. (Theyâ€™ve gotten lots of love, too.)
Because this band has ignited such a firestorm, Punknewsâ€™ John Gentile has written a piece contemplating the group, followed up by an interview with vocalist Shawna Potter. You can read it below.
The War on the War On Women
War On Women is the band we need right now. Weâ€™ve got plenty of bands that sing about whisky or bands that talk about relationships like middle-schoolers or bands that sound like Third Eye Blind. What we need is a band to kick our asses.
And here is War On Women. Theyâ€™re fronted by the fiery Shawna Potter, whoâ€™s sort of a cross between Penelope Houston and Kathleen Hanna. She lashes about on stage, spitting out lyrics like â€œNo man can kill me!â€ while alternating a drill sergeantâ€™s bark, a gentle coo and a straight up scream. Meanwhile, the band rocks. Consciously or unconsciously influenced by late '80s anarcho-hardcore, '90s alt rock and more modern avant-garde soundscapes, they succeed by blending the together is something thatâ€™s identifiable, and identifiably fresh.
Now, to be fair, War On Women isnâ€™t the only band cutting these kinds of lyrics and theyâ€™re not the only band setting them to kicking hardcore. But, War On Women seem to have a knack for taking this material and forging it into a battle cry, whereas a lot of other bands just rattle of lyrics like a political treatise. It might be informed, but it often falls on deaf ears. Whereas, War On Women will make a snapper out of â€œFuck women, fetuses mean more!â€ It doesnâ€™t hurt that thereâ€™s a Motorhead-ish buzz in the background. It rocks.
But, the band has not garnered universal praise -- not by a long shot. In fact, theyâ€™re one of the most loved and hated contemporary punk bands. Theyâ€™ve had their fair share of hecklers at shows. Potter has been told to â€œshow me your titsâ€ on more than one occasion. It gets even more insidious when theâ€¦ ahemâ€¦ â€œcriticsâ€â€¦ have a shield of anonymity.
For instance, here are some quotes taken off YouTube: â€œawful. Shallow and stupid music.â€ (thatâ€™s the first one that comes up on their first video, actually); â€œWhy do feminists have such a victim complex?â€; â€œthis is the worst thing I have found on the internet today. Dear femtards: please stay far far away from metal. Sincerely, an anti-feminist (rational) metalhead.â€; â€œIâ€™m embarrassed to be a woman now. This was garbage.â€; â€œI like metal but this is just shit, her vocals are trash, the only half decent thing about this bands are the men playing the instruments which is ironic, talking about clits and dicks is a typical feminist thing to, its always about sex organs with these people. (sic)â€
Now, you could say, â€œPhhshaw! Thatâ€™s just YouTube! That doesnâ€™t mean anything!â€ But, I would disagree. YouTube is one of the places where people can post what they really feel, deep down, without fear of reprisal, physical or otherwise.
In fact, Potter herself has made it a mission to attack the this type of nastiness, particularly when itâ€™s bolstered by anonymity or a public setting. Potter is the founder of the Baltimore chapter of Hollaback, an organization dedicated to ending street harassment. (In case you donâ€™t know, thatâ€™s when creeps yell stuff out at women in order to assault, intimidate or harass them. Itâ€™s really not nice.) As a director of Hollaback, Potter provides people with a place to express themselves following street harassment, a place to identify harassers and a safe place.
That dedication seems to fuel the bandâ€™s debut album, out on Bridge 9. The sef-titled record follows their Improvised Weapons EP, and frankly, the new release is more focused, more direct and more daring. â€œYoutube Commentsâ€ is compact tract where Potter rattles off a string of anonymous barbs, letting the words speak for themselves. â€œRoe v. Worldâ€ talks about abortion in a straight, no dilly-dallying attack. â€œMeatheadâ€ calls meatheads meatheads.
Because the band has sharpened their weapons, I had to speak to Potter about how the band is evolving, weirdos on the â€˜nets, and Danziiiiiiiiiig!!!
I know weâ€™re going to be great friends because as it turns out, we are both Danzig maniacs. Is that not correct?
Oh yes! Weâ€™re out there, arenâ€™t we?
I think Danzig is one of the greatest song composers ever. I think he embodies the great tradition of the Italian tenor.
Yeah! Is he our version of Sinatra. Is that what youâ€™re saying?
I think heâ€™s our version of Puccini!
I think they are just great songs. I havenâ€™t compared him to other crooners, though, I must admit.
An issue with Danzig, however, is that heâ€™s got a lot of good-looking, half-naked girls in his videos. Is that him being a sort of Michelangelo, appreciating the human form or is it objectification? Is it somewhere in between?
Heâ€™s not the only one doing that. Itâ€™s the symptom of a larger issue and itâ€™s a game a lot of us are playing, whether we want to or not. Heâ€™s an artist that knows that sexualization and objectification is wanted and accepted, especially back then. Hopefully now, there is more push back, but it is definitely still out there… um… this interview isn't only going to be about Danzig, is it?
Oh, if only! But, let's talk about your band! You guys are pretty special. By its nature, War On Women is a political band. Do you feel pressured that some people think that you represent all feminism, as opposed to just your point of view? Do you feel pressured to defend feminism as a whole, when really, thatâ€™s unfair to ask any one person to do?
That definitely happens. People ask me to explain feminism to them. Thatâ€™s fine. Being in this position, being in a feminist band, I think it would be silly of me to avoid using this platform. Itâ€™s a really dangerous game if you go into this and hope to represent an entire movement and an entire people. You would be setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. I can only represent my own opinions, and how I feel about the world, but that is all through how I feel as a feminist. Not everyone who identifies as a feminist has to agree with everything, or maybe they feel some issues are important than others, and thatâ€™s fine. I respect that.
I think thereâ€™s something special about War On Women. I think that the band is bringing certain feminist issues to light, or at least acting as sort of a rallying cry within the punk rock scene. Do you agree?
If thatâ€™s true then I would be absolutely honored, humbled, and grateful. I donâ€™t think I could say that is happening without sounding like an egotistical maniac.
Then, let me rephrase the issue. How tactical was the creation of War On Women? How tactical was the new album? Did the band sit down and say, â€œwe need to make an album that totally rocks, that clearly investigates feminist issues?â€
We wanted to make a feminist band that was a hardcore punk band. We wanted it to be heavy because thatâ€™s what were into. We want it to be thoughtful and purposeful.
I really like the song â€œYoutube Comments.â€ In the song, you read all these ridiculous YouTube comments. First of all, are they real?
Yes, yes. I have screenshots of all of them on my home computer so I could remember them.
By paying credence to these comments, are you in some way admitting that these online comments can hurt you?
Oh, thatâ€™s interesting. I mean, people always have advice. People always to give you advice about how to deal with harassment online and trolls online. Some people always want to argue. Some people say never engage and donâ€™t feed the trolls. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s black and white. I think itâ€™s more complicated. Iâ€™m a human being and some things are going to affect me. I wouldnâ€™t say that Iâ€™m sad or scared when I read the comments. Itâ€™s not about me. Itâ€™s about these comments create unsafe spaces for women and LGBTA folks. But, Iâ€™m definitely human, and sometimes the things get to me. But, some of the comments are hilarious because they are so stupid because you know the person has never played a live show or only has played a show in their momâ€™s basement. Some of the comments are like, oh my God, thatâ€™s guy is really fucked up and probably murders women. It runs the gamut.
Who are these trolls? Do they fit the stereotype? Are they chubby dudes with beards that have no finesse with women? Or, do they come from all backgrounds?
You know, I heard something interesting the other day. One theory is that a lot of these folks work in IT and they are being paid to be on the computer all day. So they have time post on website, like Punknews.org, and other people just donâ€™t care enough or have enough time. If you share a link, then cool, maybe I buy it. If I donâ€™t like it, then I â€œXâ€ out of it. I just donâ€™t have the time to comment. But, I donâ€™t know, because Iâ€™ve never met any of them in person.
Ah! But you have been heckled on stage a little bit!
Oh yeah! But, thatâ€™s a different kind of gutsy to do it online. Itâ€™s a little bit more cowardly to just do it online. Donâ€™t you think hereâ€™s cowardice if youâ€™re just saying it online? At least when a person says it to my face, they are not quite as cowardly.
Should society be trying to beat these guys down or should society be trying to rehabilitate them? Personally, I think we should beat them out of existence!
Iâ€™m much more of an optimistic person. Iâ€™m all for rehabilitation any time that it is an option. Whatâ€™s the end goal? The end goal is that people all over the world would just treat each other better. How do we get there? Beating people down, and locking the in rooms doesnâ€™t get us to a better positive place. Iâ€™d much rather rehabilitate trolls, and harassers, and misogynists and get them over to our side. I do think one of the ways we can do that is by shaming them. Rehab doesnâ€™t have to be nice. It doesnâ€™t have to be comfortable. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m all about Hollaback. Hopefully with a consequence, this behavior can be reduced.
Hollaback is the organization that you are a part of down in Baltimore. Tell me a little bit about that.
I spend a lot of time on Hollaback because I really care about it. Hollaback is an international movement to end street harassment and bring awareness about street harassment. Street harassment is sexual harassment in a public place by strangers. At Hollaback, we let people share their stories of street harassment and take photos of their harassers. We provide an outlet for people to express themselves where they hadnâ€™t had one before. I started the Baltimore chapter with Melanie Keller and we recently both decided to take a step back and take on a role as advisory board members. Iâ€™m no longer a director. Iâ€™m just on the advisory board. I took a step back so I can work on War On Women.
The new albumâ€™s closing track is â€œDiana La Cazadora.â€ Who is this figure?
Thereâ€™s a statue in Mexico of Diana the Hunter and itâ€™s this beautiful statue of a woman with a bow and arrow, pointed. Over the last few decades, Mexico, in Juarez, there have been these mass disappearances of women. People have found mass graves of women in the ground. Women are being tracked down and murdered and the local government is so corrupt that they donâ€™t do anything about it. This practice of killing women on their way to work, normal women, women on the way to the factory, disappear. All they want to do is go to work and make a living and feed the family. Diana La Cazadora was a woman, or women, we donâ€™t know, who wrote a letter to the newspaper saying she killed a bus driver, because he knew about these murders and wasnâ€™t doing anything. The song is more about her, this vigilante that took justice into her own hands and how that relates to feeling empowered, for any woman. Itâ€™s just a really, really fucked up situation. I think, at some point, you canâ€™t fault people for defending themselves. Even if her actions were, sort of, really harsh, what else could you do, living there, being fearful, and being killed, just for your gender.
Iâ€™m always interested in musiciansâ€™ backgrounds. Growing up, did you get along with your parents?
Oh, yeah, definitely.
What was your childhood like? Did you go to private school? Public school?
My parents got divorced when I was five. Then, my mom and I moved to LA. I went to a private school there because she felt, I donâ€™t even know if this was true, but she felt that public school might be too dangerous for a kid. Maybe it was because of where we lived. Then, I moved to Asheville and went to high school there, pubic school. I kept in touch with my dad. Heâ€™s in my life and I see him a lot. Both of my parents came to our Houston show. They both came out to see us and it was really cute. It was really fun to see them in the audience while I was singing songs about rape and abortion. I told them donâ€™t worry about the music, just try to have a good time. It was cute.
Are your parents art-types? Are they squares?
I would say that they are artistically inclined. My mom made jewelry for a long time. She can sing. They were teenagers in the '70s and they were into Bad Company and Led Zeppelin. they were kind of cool actually. I looked through my momâ€™s old photos and my dad has some really cool shirts that I wish were around so I can take them from him.
Now, the oppression of women has been around for thousands of years. Oppression of women goes all the way back to Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome. What does that say about human nature, that the oppression from women is so permanent?
There hasnâ€™t always been oppression of women. In really early human history, I think from what we know, tribes were led by women and mothers and it was a little bit more of a matriarchal society. I think one of the biggest factors in changing it was when we stopped wandering in tribes and we started to settle down and cultivate land and farm our own land. We started to get these ideas of ownership. â€œThis is my land! These are my cows! These are my sons, my daughters and my wife!â€ It was through that change, we went that route and religion has it hand in really driving it home that oppression of women was awesome and we should keep doing. I donâ€™t think that itâ€™s inevitable. I donâ€™t think it has to be that way. I think people need to hear that it was that way, and it can be that way again, so itâ€™s more fair and just for everyone.
Letâ€™s bookend this interview. Weâ€™re both big Danzig fans. But, weâ€™re also both big Dolly Parton fans. I like Dolly because sheâ€™s this strong, independent, feminine voice in the '70s and '80s in the mainstream, which was a little unusual for the time. What does Dolly Parton mean to you?
Yes! I am a fan! Sheâ€™s just always seems like she does what she wants. I love, love love love, anyone that you can tell that they love what they are doing. With Dolly, she just loves to sing and perform and sheâ€™s just so good at it. And it makes me so happy to see people that are so into. Sheâ€™s got a great voice. Sheâ€™s the whole package to me. I love being entertained. I think we all do. I think sheâ€™s entertaining. Sheâ€™s a strong voice. A strong female presence.