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.
There’s nothing more grandiose, violent, or romantic than the beliefs and tenants of western catholicism. It’s also why so many catholic allegories, symbols, and imagery are frequently referenced in heavy music.
Taking their name from the notorious catholic symbol of Mary weeping for the sins of the human race, Brooklyn-based noise rock band Weeping Icon has revamped this phenomenon for the modern age, where the Lady of Sorrows cries for an entire generation hyper-saturated in late capitalism and the manufactured authenticity of social media. This concept was tackled on their 2019 self-titled album, with songs depicting two harsh polarities of the human psyche–true identity and personal brand–warring against one another.
Now, the band has returned with a three-song EP that documents the events leading up to Covid-19, the struggle to process everything that’s transpired over the past three years, and how the pandemic has exposed the colossal failures of capitalism and the government, including a lead single “Pigs, Shit & Trash,” with a cutting lyric that recalls former Vice President Mike Pence’s encounter with a fly at a presidential debate (“Flies are attracted to pigs, shit, and trash”).
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Weeping Icon over tacos before their performance at the re-opened and renovated Bushwick venue Alphaville, which was one of the first gutted establishments in the early stages of the pandemic. We discuss the writing process behind their new material, the haunting comfort of vintage consignment stores, the shallowness of online branding, and more.
How is the catholic symbol of the Lady of Sorrows relevant to the band in today’s digital world?
Sara Fantry: We have a mix of religious backgrounds. Some of it has to do with Christianity and some of it has to do with Judaism. We don’t necessarily have any personal attachment to the catholic figure, we just find it to be a really creepy and interesting symbol in our society that represents the crying mother figure that’s weeping for the sins of humankind. We wanted to re-appropriate the figure to represent something that’s crying for our entire generation and mourning what is lost when we digitize everything and hit the fast-forward button. Society is moving so quickly that we’re missing so much. When you really think about it, stuff that appears on the internet isn’t necessarily there forever, because these old websites always end up disappearing into the ether and nobody ever looks at them anymore. Where do these prior memories go? That’s what the crying mother figure represents to me.
As a band, what would you say makes all of you click as musicians?
Lani Combier-Kapel: I didn’t realize that not all bands jam together in order to come up with a song, but that’s what we’ve always done. There’s something almost spiritual about being so vulnerable with other people in order to make something beautiful. What you create gels and turns into a paste, and then suddenly it’s a song. And that’s pretty damn cool that we’ve been able to work that way. Every song we’ve ever written has come from us drawing from our emotions, coming together, and letting the trajectory take us somewhere.
I discovered your self-titled album in the pits of quarantine. Did the onset of isolation in 2020 make you look at that album any differently than when it came out?
Sarah Reinold: Definitely, especially since more important things have transpired since we put it out. We were mostly commenting on the frivolousness of social media.
Fantry: To piggyback off of your earlier question about the phenomenon of the weeping icon, we ended up doing a noise album and an art installation along with it at The Glove a while back. And so much of that was about the convolution between authenticity and a personal brand. Our output is about mourning what is lost when we start to conflate our true identities with the identities we aspire to have in this capitalist hellscape. Now I think the weeping icon cries for so much more, especially in this climate where we’ve been surrounded by so much death and carnage. So when I think of the weeping icon now, I think of the technological graveyard and everything we are losing in this rapidly-changing environment. We live in global capitalism, so everything is changing all the time and we can never catch up. So we’re dealing with much heavier subject matter with our new material.
You’ve said that the output of your band represents the duality of our online connected world and our real world. How does the dichotomy of being online vs. offline in our current political climate affect your work?
Combier-Kapel: When I’m writing, I’m writing very emotionally and in the present moment, which can come from something I saw on the internet, or it can be something happening on the news, but it can also be my own experiences with sadness and grief.
Fantry: The way we explore that dichotomy in our social commentary, is always a reaction to something. A lot of what we’re commenting on in our music is stuff that we’re participating in. There’s sarcasm, but we’re also self-aware about it. We may be commenting on stuff like selling shit on the internet, but we’re still doing that ourselves, because it’s the only way to get the word out these days. We’ve been forced to participate in online commerce (and commerce in general) in order to survive.
As musicians, how has your experience listening to music changed, as opposed to before you started playing?
Combier-Kapel: When I was younger I listened to a lot of pop punk and heavier music, and nowadays my taste is very all over the place. Since playing drums, I definitely have become a more percussive listener, which is why I also listen to a lot of techno and dance music. I think that rhythm is the center of the universe, and it’s completely changed the way I listen because now I tune in more to harder, percussive things.
Fantry: I was always playing music, and I think I still experience it in a very emotional way, but I do get sick of things very easily. So whenever I hear bands play stuff that I’ve already heard over and over again, I tend to get bored very easily. So playing has definitely led me to seek out more exciting and experimental music. We play a lot of noise music, and I fell in love with noise from going to shows. I think my love affair with noise started when I saw Rugrats as a kid because that show’s music is a lot more out-there than people give it credit for.
You’ve just released your latest EP Ocelli. What can you tell me about these three songs?
Combier-Kapel: One of the songs “Two Ways,” was written quite a while ago. And the other one, “Pigs, Shit & Trash” was written during the pandemic. And honest-to-god, when we wrote it, it had absolutely nothing to do with Mike Pence having a fly on his head. But because we write everything all together, the mood in the air was anger, so we felt the urgency to write a political punk song. I wanted to write lyrics about how I was feeling personally, living in New York and not leaving, because I’m from here. Throughout the entire pandemic I was seeing dead bodies get loaded into a truck, protests happening, and having to witness it every single day without being able to go anywhere.
It’s definitely interesting to have the marriage of a pandemic song and a pre-pandemic song. “Two Ways” was written about a person I encountered who was harassing a woman at a bar I worked at. I thought I could educate him about why it’s not cool to say the things he was saying, and he basically said “You’re right, I’ll take your advice.” And then he proceeded to walk outside and go right back to harassing her and calling her horrible names, so we had to ban him from the bar. And then the noisy interlude in between the two songs, “(everything has eyes),” is a mashup of both songs that we created in Ableton, which goes from the key of “Two Ways,” into the key of “Pigs, Shit, and Trash.”
What’s it like to navigate the living conditions in New York as artists?
Combier-Kapel: I think being from New York City, I’m so used to things change around here. People who say the city “isn’t what it used to be,” definitely aren’t from here, because that’s how it’s always been. I’m so used to venues I would frequent as a kid closing down after two years. I think during the pandemic, a lot of the venues closed down out of desperation. And it’s funny that we’re talking about this while sitting at Alphaville, because this place shut down within the first few months of the pandemic and only reopened very recently. Less intense restrictions have given people more hope that things can pick up again, and we need that now, especially for small and independent places, so that creatives can thrive.
What are some of your favorite hangout spots and local bands?
Combier-Kapel: I hang out at Knockdown Center a lot because I work there. Chaos Computer and TV Eye are also really cool. I also really love Wonderville.
Fantry: Choosing a favorite local band is hard because it feels like the scene is just starting to regain its footing. We love our friends Frida Kill. We grew up with BAMBARA and a few other bands that have played in the area for a long time. But it’s really hard because coming out of quarantine, we’re only just starting to get comfortable going to shows again.
What does the coming new year have in store for Weeping Icon?
Combier-Kapel: We’re working on our second full-length album and we’re hoping to tour in March or April. Sara and I opened up a vintage consignment shop in Brooklyn in October, so we’re also working on puffing that up. Thanks for having us!
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