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.
It’s a chilly November evening, and I’m sitting outside the Bushwick dive bar Ice House along with the four core members of Brooklyn intersectional-feminist punk quartet Frida Kill; Lily Gist (guitar, vocals), Jeanette D. Moses (guitar, vocals), Maria Lina (bass, vocals), and Gaby Canales (drums, vocals). Moses and Gist are engaged in an impassioned discussion about how seminal the music of the Spice Girls and the movie Spice World was to them in their formative years, while Canales and I spout off our hot takes on the Blink-182 reunion tour. In our periphery, two adult men to our left start jumping up and down belting Curtis Mayfield’s “Diamond in the Back,” as it emanates from the outdoor speakers, clearly drunk off their faces. One of these men walks up to our table, and when he refuses to back off after we’ve politely declined his request, Lina says, “Well isn’t this poetic? A man interrupting a group of women having a conversation about feminism!” This directness throws him off, and he starts to fumble through a mealy-mouthed apology. Gist immediately cuts him off and says, “Just buy me a shot of tequila! Then it’s water under the bridge.”
As soon as he’s out of the picture, we all give each other a bewildered look, sharing an unspoken knowingness of the visceral fight-or-flight response that every woman has to being approached by an entitled male stranger in public. We quickly decide to migrate over to Pine Box Rock Shop around the corner, where a friend of the band who’s bartending allows us to use the back room for the remainder of our conversation.
Frida Kill is the type of punk band that embraces an egalitarian ethos wholeheartedly, both on and offstage. Songwriting credits and lead vocals are split equally, with the band rotating instrumental duties in their live shows as well. Gist takes the lead on the song “Get Over It,” sharing her personal struggles as an out trans woman and walking the listener through how getting misgendered can wear her down mentally (“I thought to write you off/I gave it time, time to get over it/Should I even try”). “Mujeres con Mangos” is a cathartic ripper where Lina sings an ode to New York City street vendors selling fruit, an occupation often helmed by LatinX migrant women trying their best to make ends meet. Another major highlight on the EP is “Demons,” a hooky earworm where Moses muses on the daily grind of living, working, and partying in Brooklyn (“Weekends I can’t remember/Late nights I don’t regret/Hangovers that burn forever/Oh shit, did I close my check?”).
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents sat down with Frida Kill to discuss their origins, the music-fan-to-punk-musician pipeline, and how the younger generation gives them hope.
How did the band start and how did each of you meet?
Maria Lina: Gaby and I are cousins and we always wanted to be in a band together, but it wasn’t meant to be at the time. Then I met this lovely woman named Gwynn Galitzer, who started a feminist zine called Suffragette City. I contributed for a while and we started booking a bunch of shows with femme-fronted bands. I first met Lily when I went to Gwynn’s house to cut her hair. A few years later, I started a cover band with Lily for Halloween, and that was when we decided to form a legit band together. Gaby and I are cousins and we always wanted to be in a band together, so I asked her to be the drummer, and as soon as Jeannette shared that she was learning to play guitar, I asked her to join and Frida Kill was born.
What is the ethos behind your band and how does your music reflect that ideology?
Lily Gist: One of the things I really love about playing in Frida Kill is that we’re free to deeply explore and shout about the things that matter to us individually. We don’t agree on everything, but we have a lot in common in terms of how we see the world—specifically everything wrong with the world. It’s about solidarity. I’ve never gotten to play in a band with all women, and this is my favorite band I’ve ever been a part of. When you’re facing an insane political climate that is essentially making it illegal for parents to put their children on hormones, or send doctors to jail for helping them, it’s simultaneously destroying us and bringing us together. I love that I get to be part of a group that cares about these issues and knows how to talk about them without shying away. So if there’s an ethos to our band, it’s that we want it to be better for everybody, in this circle especially, but everybody who wants to speak who isn’t able to. But at the same time, we also want to be able to party and have fun because it isn’t always that serious.
Jeanette D. Moses: We’re also a New York band, and the way stuff plays out in New York City is very different than other places. We exist in an environment where it feels less dangerous to talk about these things than other places, but it’s also exciting that we get to reach those likeminded people outside of New York as well.
Gaby Canales: For me, it’s all about empowerment—for women, the trans community, and other minorities. It’s about standing up for people who are often ignored or talked over, like people selling mangos on the street, or bartenders who get harassed and aren’t getting paid enough.
How have your identities affected your personal experiences in the local punk scene?
Lina: When I got into the scene I would have all these punk dudes be like “How did you get into this? How do you speak so well? How do you know about this band?” And I’m like, “Bitch. I’m from New York City. How could I not get into this stuff?” I love the local scene a lot, but I feel like every time I perform the songs that I write, I want the kids like me who might feel alone at these shows because they don’t look or act a certain way, to feel supported. That’s really important to me.
Moses: And I think the really cool thing that’s happened with our band is that we’ve had younger people who look like us at shows who are very excited and want to talk to us because we’re representing their experiences, which is something I didn’t have access to growing up. None of the bands I listened to looked like me. Even some of the female-fronted punk bands felt contrived and hypersexualized. I was a little kid and couldn’t relate to that. So it’s been really cool to see young kids come to our shows and tell us that they want to start a band or have started a band because of us.
Lina: I’ve always loved the local scene and have become such great friends with so many of the bands who play here. And they’ve always accepted me as a friend, but there was always a sense of loneliness because I wasn’t seeing someone who looked like me up on stage. That’s why it’s so important to take chances. I may not have felt like I was allowed to be onstage, but the important part is that I fucking did it anyway.
When was the first time you saw a woman on stage who deeply resonated with you?
Gist: For me, it was Jenny Hurricane from the band Midnight Creeps. I’m from outside of Boston, and she introduced me to punk. I went to a show with a good friend of mine who was the only other out queer person at my high school at the time, and we saw the Midnight Creeps at this place called T.T the Bear’s in Cambridge. We became completely obsessed and ended up following them around. I saw them at CBGB’s, which was insane. She has an amazing song about being on her period and another song about her mom masturbating called “Mama Was a Race Car Driver.” I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, because at the time I was an orchestra kid who played the cello, so that was the first time I was ever exposed to punk. The band that followed had a frontman who shoved his entire arm down his throat and puked all over the stage, and I remember thinking it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. That was the first time I saw a ferocious woman onstage with an agenda.
The first time I saw another trans person do that live wasn’t until after I joined Frida Kill. I can’t imagine being able to find that as a kid. I obviously listened to a lot of those groups later; bands like G.L.O.S.S., Against Me!, and a lot of pop singers who are out as trans. I remember a thirteen-year-old trans kid and her mom coming up to me at an all-ages show that we played and telling me that seeing a person like me on stage really meant a lot to her. And that’s something I seriously wish I could have had as a kid.
Moses: My dad worked in the music industry when I was younger, so as a kid my favorite artists were people like Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Dolly Parton, and Cindy Lauper. They’re not necessarily heavy bands, but they’re honest women with a very distinct viewpoint. I loved the Spice Girls when they came out and I still love the Spice Girls. Spice World rules. Once I got into heavier shit at fourteen, I really loved the Distillers. Then I discovered bands like Crass, who had an anarcho-feminist agenda that was really cool to hear. Then there were bands like Naked Aggression, Bikini Kill, L7, and I Object!, and I strongly identified with those bands as well. It feels weird that it took so long for me to actually join a band, because I already spoke the language fluently. Frida Kill is my first band, and for a while I had given up on the idea of being in a band and decided to stick to band-adjacent stuff like photography and tour management. But at a certain point, seeing really cool bands on the east coast like Haybaby, THICK, Mannequin Pussy, and Gymshorts really made me believe that I could do it too.
Lina: It’s funny, because when Gaby and I were kids in the early-2000s, there were no women of color in the bands we had access to when we really started getting into alternative music. I didn’t start finding out about women like Poly Styrene until I was in my 20s. Finding out that the roots of rock and roll come from black culture was a big turning point for me. I think I was 22 when I found out about X-Ray Spex, and it’s crazy how buried that band was.
So when I was a kid, the women who appealed to me were people like Joan Jett. She rules, and she rules forever. I also loved Kim Gordon and Kathleen Hanna. They’re all awesome and great, but I didn’t feel represented until way later. So to see bands like Downtown Boys and Big Joanie, who actually look like us and make us feel represented, has been great.
Canales: For me, the first time I saw a woman on stage was Fefe Dobson. As far as punk music goes, I didn’t have a specific role model growing up, but there were always women I loved. I loved Hole. I loved Erykah Badu—she’s punk as hell, I don’t care what anybody says. And it’s great to see so many local all-female punk bands popping up now with women of color like Witch Slap, and Spite Fuxxx who has Anaïs, a Dominican, on guitar. People often confuse me for her, which I find hilarious.
Lily, since “Get Over It” is centered on your experience, what can you tell me about that song?
Gist: That song came out of a very specific incident where I was at a show and there was a performer on stage who was visibly trans performing Britney Spears-adjacent bubblegum pop. And my friend who was with me at the time said something that deeply misgendered her. I remember asking a bunch of friends at the time if my reaction was justified, and wondering if I was overreacting. I felt like I was going crazy because I wanted to just be cool about it, but it wasn’t cool with me. It upset me and I dwelled on it until it festered. I really wanted to get over it and I couldn’t. So that made the song very easy to write.
Lina: I’m actually really glad you brought that song up, because when we were trying to figure out our setlist for tomorrow, we were like, “Can we please add “Get Over It”?” Because we haven’t played that song in a while.
What are the biggest pros and cons of being a band based in Brooklyn?
Moses: We’ve gotten a lot of love from the local scene, which is awesome. I think we also had the advantage of already being immersed in the community before we started the band. Maria was already booking shows and did sound, I’ve photographed bands for a long time, and Lily was already going to six shows a week. So people were mad supportive and very excited the entire time we were doing this. So whenever we’ve had questions about things, the people who we’re friends with have been such a wealth of knowledge. I would say that what sucks right now is that there aren’t a whole lot of venues to perform at if you’re an up-and-coming band. It’s a real estate problem. New York is fucking expensive, and it’s hard to keep those DIY spaces open.
Lina: Definitely. I feel like in 2015 when so many of the all-ages venues started shutting down, that was a massive blow to the community. Now all of the shows that are getting booked are at bars and there are so many caveats. There are not a lot of places for all-ages shows to happen, and that fucking sucks, especially since there used to be a lot of them. You can’t even have an underage person come in with a chaperone.
What I’ve always loved about the local scene is the fact that so many of my friends are willing to help people out in their time of need. I was booking a lot of fundraiser shows back in the day and people were always down to play those shows for free, cause they knew it was for a good cause.
Gist: For me, one of the pros of the scene is that as soon as you find one band that you relate to, there is a ready-made community of people waiting for you. For myself, it was discovering other trans-femme frontwomen like Saoirse from Dilators or Julia from Tits Dick Ass. If you know anybody even remotely associated with a community that you’re a part of, those bands will help you get shows, especially when they share your perspective. And people want that now. You can’t book a show around here with only cis white men on the bill anymore, and I’m happy that we’re heading in that direction.
I also wanted to ask about “Mujeres con Mangos.” Maria, how did that song come about and how does it feel to perform it live?
Lina: My parents are immigrants. My dad is a contractor and my mom is a cleaning lady, and there’s a woman we know who sells mangos on Knickerbocker Avenue. My mom would always tell me to buy some mangos off her because she’s freezing her ass off on the street. And I remember walking down Knickerbocker one day and the cops were writing her a ticket. It was in the dead of winter. She didn’t have gloves on, it was dark outside, and it really upset me. I blew a gasket at the officers and then I gave her $20, gave her a hug, and she told me “I’ll be fine, this happens all the time.” And the minute I saw the viral news report about the women selling churros on the subway getting arrested, it took me back to that memory. This is how they make money. This is how they survive. So with everything going on with the election, the camps, and all the migrants walking over here, I wrote that song to paint a picture of that memory of my mother reminding me to help out these women who are hustling their asses off to pay their rent in a city that’s already grueling to live in. It feels great to perform it live too, because it really allows me to express what I’m feeling. I’m a very emotional person, so to really go berserk and allow other frustrated people to release their pent-up energy and have this collective freakout together is so much fun and so cathartic.
What makes you the most hopeful for the future?
Gaby: The children! [Laughs]
Moses: Yeah. It’s mad corny, but it’s true. It’s really exciting to have these conversations with young fans and to realize that you inspire somebody else.
Lina: Definitely. We’re already seeing a push forward to normalize queerness and protect the trans community. And seeing the younger kids refuse to take any bullshit is what gives me hope. When I was growing up I would go to a record store terrified, because they were always full of dudes. I would pull a record that appealed to me, buy it, and run out. I wouldn’t even give it a spin in the store, because I was terrified. So I hope our band can offer a space where that shy kid like me can walk away and say, “That’s cool. I can do this too!”
Gist: I remember these kids who came to see us when we opened for Destroy Boys at Le Poisson Rouge. We played another show afterwards, and these kids followed us to that show. They knew all the words to our songs even though we hadn’t released any music yet. They came up to us later and told us that they wanted to start a band. And if these kids asked us to play a show with them tomorrow, I’m already there. There are so many people feeling empowered now who would have felt pressured to blend in twenty years ago. I definitely felt that way when I transitioned, and these kids deserve a world where they feel entitled to the spotlight, and they don’t have to fight for it. It’s theirs.
Moses: That’ll be our new slogan. “Frida Kill: For the children!”
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