Since moving to New York, I’ve been introduced to a ton of local artists, both organically and at the hands of friends who’ve already been living here. In this new series of interviews, Grrrls in the Five Boroughs, I sit down with inspiring womxn and queer femme musicians based in New York City to discuss their personal connections to music, their communities, and their favorite local hotspots scattered across their neighborhoods in New York.
Formed out of the ashes of former projects and the urgent need for connection in a post-2020 ghost-ridden Brooklyn, New York rock and roll quintet 95 Bulls are the much louder and raunchier spiritual successors to bands like Blondie and the B-52s. The ferocious howls of frontwoman Emily Ashenden, coupled with the virtuosic shredding of keyboardist Kayla Asbell and Zach Inkley’s zany guitar work on songs like “Big Fight,” “Crazy,” and “Golden Tooth,” all make the band’s debut album, GO HOME, a heedlessly thrilling sonic rampage from start to finish.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents sat down with Emily Ashenden of 95 Bulls to discuss sobriety, politics, her favorite local haunts in Brooklyn, and the new guard of angry girls with guitars.
How and when did you start making music?
I was fourteen. My best friend and I started a band together, which was hardly a band to begin with. We would play at local Potbelly sandwich shops across Chicago. I think we were called Rabbit Season. That band dissolved when we both went to college and my friend/bandmate passed away. I stopped making music altogether after that because I was so broken up about it. I finally started playing music again five years ago, and that was a huge turning point in my life.
What ultimately made you realize you were meant to continue writing music?
Getting sober. Having a creative pursuit and a community centered around it honestly saved my life. Creating was a way to connect with other people. Getting the band together really brought it full circle too. I would never want to be a solo act because there’s no better feeling than getting to create with other people.
You mentioned that the band “conceived like a big, angry baby at Our Wicked Lady.” Would you like to tell me about that specific night?
This was in 2020. We were all in different bands before quarantine, but when things started to get really scary we got together because we needed a pod of people. I had wanted to start a project with our guitarist, Zach Inkley, for a while. We all thought, “well, all our bands are scattered across the country now, we should all jam together.” It was really out of necessity. We never expected anything to come of these jam sessions. It was just to get our ya-yas out and have some fun. From the minute we met up it was so loud and fun, and we immediately wrote “Crazy” and “Big Fight.” It was a crazy sound, like a Frankenstein’s monster combination of all of our previous bands.
That’s incredible. Those Farfisa keyboard riffs are insane. Kayla’s an absolute beast on that thing.
She’s a shredder. She’s a shredder. That’s really one of the hardest instruments to shred on, and she plays keys like a guitarist. She moves more than anyone I’ve ever seen play keys. She can just do a full back bend and not miss a single beat. I can’t even imagine doing that.
What made you decide to make the keyboards a signature component of your songs?
I don’t even think it was a choice. Within the first two songs, it just came so naturally. Even in the writing process, Kayla ties in every part of the song to what she’s doing. She’s very much a leader in that department as well.
How difficult was it to get that shot of you hanging upside down from the basketball hoop in the “Crazy” music video?
Tyler [the director] just immediately climbed the back of the hoop like it was nothing. I got on Zach [Inkley]’s shoulders and it all happened really fast. That was the best time, filming that video, cause we had a whole day and no obligations because we were in the middle of a pandemic.
How does the resurgence of angry girls with guitars make you feel in today’s cultural climate?
It’s exciting. It’s so rad to see women getting the space to do what they’re meant to do and play on the stages they’re meant to play on. For Kayla and I, it’s really lit a fire under our asses, especially with everything that’s going on right now. We’re not just doing this because it’s something that we love, but because we have a real opportunity to demonstrate that women’s anger is a gift. It’s a gift that leads to beautiful creations. Seeing frontwomen who don’t feel any pressure to adhere to certain standards of femininity has been so liberating for me on a personal level as well. That was something I always worried about as a kid, seeing only one subset of women in the spotlight and worrying that I wouldn’t fit that specific image. I’m grateful for all the frontwomen setting an example for liberation and refusing to fit a standard.
Your set at the abortion benefit at Baby’s All Right last month was so liberating to watch. How did you initially get involved with that?
That show was awesome. Definitely one of the best shows we’ve played in a long time, mostly because everybody was there for the same reason. We’d played with Sunflower Bean before at one of the secret shows they did at The Broadway, so when Julia Cumming asked us back to play at the Baby’s All Right benefit it was an immediate yes. It was a very warm and special event, and there was also a documentary being filmed there, and Kayla and I got a chance to speak with the film crew about abortion rights, which was pretty heavy, but very necessary. It needs to be something we’re openly talking about, especially when it’s under attack.
What are your favorite Brooklyn bands and venues?
That changes all the time. Let’s start with venues: Right now my number one has to be Market Hotel. I just love everyone that works there, and the sound is great. I also love The Broadway, because I used to work there and it’s such a fun hangout spot.
Band-wise, that’s tough, because now there are ten times more bands than there were five years ago, and I think that has a lot to do with the pandemic. I’m in love with pretty much every band we’ve shared a bill with in the last three months. I love Venus Twins, and Smile Machine’s pretty cool. I love CLOVIS. Dog Date is another great one. Not all necessarily “Brooklyn-based”–Dog Date’s from New Jersey–but that’s at least Brooklyn-adjacent, so close enough.
What does the rest of the year have in store for the band?
More shows, and hopefully finishing our next record before the end of the year. Thank you for having me!
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