I’m so excited that a conversation with Shawna Potter of War on Women about which merch top would fit me best turned into such a fantastic Q&A. She is one of my idols, both as a frontwoman and an author/activist, and has so many interesting points to make about being a women in the music industry. Read to the end to find out how you can buy her book (which you SHOULD because it’s GREAT).
How important is being a DIY band to you? How has that changed as you have gathered fans along the way and got bigger?
I don’t think bands have much of a choice in being DIY or not, unless they are working from a trust fund or get that kind of instant success that invites you into the industry (which is rare, considering how many bands exist). So the idea is if we want to play, we gotta make it happen. We make the decisions, but honestly we get a lot of help that enables us to accomplish what we want and still keep our day jobs when we’re not on tour. DIY sometimes means doing it together. After years and years and years of booking my own tours, the second I could get WOW a booking agent I jumped on the chance. So does that mean we’re not DIY? I don’t know.. But Margie at Do It Booking has enabled us to play in front of crowds we never would have otherwise, to tour with bands we respect and admire, and for us the goal of this band has always been to present a feminist perspective to anyone listening. But we don’t have a manager, we don’t have a major label pushing us into a direction that doesn’t feel natural, and we don’t do anything we don’t want to do. I guess the idea is if any of that changes, we just have to work at making sure we are still in control of our sound and our message.
I am so excited to read your book! When did you start thinking about writing it? How did it feel to have all the overwhelmingly positive responses? Any plans for more writing/other creative projects besides music?
I’m excited for you to read it! After six years of conducting safer space trainings, I realized I was repeating myself – so why not write it all down in a book? That way, more people have access, it’s cheaper than paying for a workshop, and the tactics can spread farther than I can travel. I am so glad people are embracing my book as the definitive guide for creating safer spaces. It gathers tons of information and stories and science to present the basics from a number of perspectives, in a non-academic and actionable way. Writing a book is hard, so of course I have no plans to do it again unless I have something solid to say. I am very happy to present this ideas as far and wide as I can for the time being. (If anyone wants to book me for an online training, visit shawnapotter.com)
Sorry to bring this up, but… How has coronavirus affected your band’s plans? Do you think it’s affecting womxn musicians more? If so, how?
Well obviously all our tours for 2020 have been cancelled. That was a blow, but we’re dealing with it and readjusting. We all have to hustle and find work or get on unemployment, and that’s not very easy for us to do as a band, you know? So having to isolate physically means we have to work hard to not feel isolated emotionally. We are lucky that we were able to continue with our plans to record a new album, which helps us feel productive. If we couldn’t do that either, I think I’d be much more bummed out. I don’t know about which musicians are being affected more right now, I think any big bad event like this will always hit women, people of color, and other marginalized groups harder. A lot of touring musicians are freelancers with no job security or health care, so that’s really scary right now. Of course, right wing politicians will use any excuse to limit the power of the people and enhance their own, so pushing forth agendas to limit access to reproductive healthcare during the lock-down was just so outrageous. And as I’m writing this, protestors of police brutality are being targeted with state-sanctioned violence and police brutality. It’s hard to prioritize having our dumb little punk shows right now.
‘Pleasure and the Beast’ is one of my personal favourites of your song -, the lyrics blew my mind because they spoke to me so much and I recognized a lot of myself in that song. How do you balance writing from personal experiences with wider issues of gender and sexuality, as this song does?
Unfortunately, women share so many sexist experiences! And even if we haven’t experienced something personally, I think we can relate to the general feelings of being dismissed or abused. When I write lyrics, I either can speak from personal experience, or the experiences of friends and family, or I approach an issue I’m interested in and learning about myself from a place of care and curiosity. I do my best to not speak for anyone, or over anyone, while still admitting “Hey this thing is fucked up, aren’t you angry too?”
Obviously, putting a womxn in the headline slot of Download Festival will not magically stop the patriarchy in its tracks. But it will make a difference to the music industry and to young girls growing up in need of more role models and encouragement to pick up instruments. What would it mean to you, if anything? And who would you pick if you could pick anyone?
I would choose us, obviously! OK seriously, I don’t care who specifically headlines because I’m over here in the States and can’t attend unless I perform. What I do care about is representation. You can’t be what you can’t see. Booking more women, people of color, trans and gender non-conforming people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups is necessary at EVERY level of music. The sooner people see themselves represented on stage, the sooner they pick up an instrument and get to writing and performing, giving them more time to improve and get better and become the next headliner at Download. You know? Women can’t become huge headliners if they’re never given the opportunity!
Thank you so much Shawna! You can find links to War on Women’s socials down below, as well as a link to buy Shawna’s book about preventing harassment in public spaces. Also linked is our petition, as always, but ALSO a link to lots of resources which you can use to help the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which should and must take priority right now.
Shawna’s book: https://www.akpress.org/making-spaces-safer-book.html and her website: https://shawnapotter.com/ (I didn’t know this when I interviewed her but I have JUST found out you can literally book her to do your wedding for you. Omfg.)