The re-emergence of the riot grrrl movement has been with us a little while now. Spearheaded by young highly motivated and talented artists this second wave has become firmly established within the music community. Made up of Grace ‘GK’ Kelly, Jess Ayres, Hannah Barralough, Grace Stubbings and Gabby Cooke, Venus Grrrls are a Leeds based band already making waves since the release of their debut single ‘Goth Girl’. The group epitomize everything that riot grrrl has become. Gary Trueman chatted to the grrrls about their influences, their new single and feminism in music.
How did you get together and form Venus Grrrls
Venus Grrrls was formed by GK in 2017. She set out to start a female punk band and asked around for any female musicians who wanted to be involved. The rest of us came on board and it took off from there.
Your music and indeed part of your name can be directly associated with the Riot Grrrl movement of the 90s. How much has your song writing been influenced by that movement? What else is in the Venus Grrrls meltng pot?
The Riot Grrrl movement was definitely our initial core inspiration, our first song we learnt together was Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl and this was the song that bonded us as a band. As we began to write our own material it became clear that our individual influences thrown together weren’t creating the punky, riot grrrl sound of the 90s but a more rock/alterna8ve vibe with synth pop influences and far more melodic vocals. The biggest way the riot grrrl movement has influenced us is the ethos of that time, what the music stood for and was trying to achieve. While it’s not the focus of our musical style it’s certainly shown through our lyrics and our goals as a band to achieve equality and keep the conversation going about women in the rock genre.
You’re a five piece and no doubt all have differing music tastes. So who listens to what in Venus Grrrls? Anything surprising in anyone’s playlists?
We have such a wide range of musicals tastes within the band, but we all share a love for areas of the rock genre, GK particularly is into the more riot Grrrl stuff like Garbage and L7, while Hannah is more into indie Rock like Arctic Monkeys, Stone Roses and the Beatles. Gabby is into more classic rock bands and (maybe this is surprising?) dance music. Grace’s music taste delves more into the experimental side of things with a love for dream pop like Fear of Men and Men I trust. And I guess the most surprising from a member of a rock band is Jess’ love for soul, Motown and disco. Although being musicians, it’s not really surprising that we love all genres of music between us.
Who gets to decide what music gets played on the way to a gig, and what is the usual choice while on the road?
Hannah is our go to Aux queen, her taste encompasses all of ours and she always on it with new bands and tunes! If we’re on tour, it’s guaranteed that Send Me on My Way by Rusted Root and 99 Luft Ballons by Nena will be played multiple times.
You’re releasing a new single called Goth Girl on January 21st. What’s the story behind the song?
Goth Girl explores the ideas of a fickle society that is quick to point the finger at something that it doesn’t understand. This is expressed through a story of two friends hanging out and eventually realizing their mutual struggles for their choice of clothes and makeup. Goth Girl is inspired by the struggles and strange interpretations of counter culture like Goths and witches and how it’s difficult to see these cultures that were once discriminated against, come into fashion and be socially acceptable.
Will we be getting an EP or album in the near future?
It’s safe to say that this single is the start of a new journey for Venus Grrrls so de?nitely keep your eyes peeled!
Feminism has taken a leap forward in recent years. We’ve had a lot of movement against misogyny in some fields, notably the film and entertainment industry. Music must be due a shake up soon too surely?
Yes, there’s certainly more to do in that respect however, there are ways it has definitely changed. Festivals like Primavera Sound now has a 50/50 male/female line up and we’re seeing many other festivals take this approach, especially smaller ones. Also the Me Too movement has really encouraged women and aided female empowerment, which has in turn helped the music industry, with women becoming more outspoken about issues that need to be addressed.
While there is still much to do in terms of really seeing equality how do you view those early female pioneers. Firstly from acts such as the Runaways and the Plasmatics from the 70s and then 90s artists such as Bikini Kill and Babes In Toyland?
We really look up to those early female pioneers and feel they still don’t get enough recognition for the part they’ve played in our industry. There are still people who don’t know who you’re talking about when you say Joan Jett or Kathleen Hannah. Those early movements weren’t perfect but it was a strong start and without their influence, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing today.
There have been quite a few leading female acts calling out festivals for booking male dominated line ups. There’s been some coverage in the media and social media has been buzzing about it at times. What’s your view on gender balance. Without having any type of quota should we be seeing more women booked? And why isn’t it happening?
We definitely should be seeing a more diverse line up over all, tackling not just gender imbalance but ablism and regionalism too, which are so apparent in this industry. Representation is so important in the music industry as it helps young people feel like they have equal opportunities and provides them with relatable role models from all walks of life. We really don’t know why it’s not happening yet, there are so many incredibly talented female and non binary artists at the top of their game so it’s not like there’s no one to book!
What are the main hopes you have for the music industry and society more generally for the future?
The music industry still has a long way to go but our hope for the future is that it’ll be more inclusive and accessible. Over the Covid period we’ve seen that venues are more than capable of making gigs accessible for everyone. Live streaming is a huge example of this, allowing people who wouldn’t normally be allowed to leave the house to watch performances from their home. Another example is the Gosforth Park gigs in Newcastle providing separated booths for the audience, this allows you to sit down which usually isn’t a possibility at shows and helps to eliminate crowd anxiety. For society more generally, we hope there will eventually be equal opportunities for everyone, no matter who you are or where you come from.
Back to the band now. How do you write? Have you got a specific song writer and a designated lyricist? Or do you write by committee with everyone having ideas?
Our writing process has differed from song to song. Most commonly, an idea like a chord progression, riff or vocal line is brought to rehearsal and we work on it all together to form a song. Other times an almost fully written song has been brought in by one member and we finish it as a group. One thing that stays constant is GK writes the lyrics and melody. We’re always open to experimenting with new writing processes to see where it takes us!
You’re based in Leeds. So any great venues you love to go to/play at? Any local bands you think our readers ought to check out?
Leeds is full of great indie venues and so many amazing local bands, we’ll try and name just a few. Hyde Park Book Club will always be close to our hearts as we played our first ever sold out show there for the release of our first single. Lending Room is the first venue we ever played at and have played there many times since! Oporto have supported us for a while now and is also a great venue. La Rissa is one of our fave Leeds artists and we always love playing with her. Others to watch would have to be Luka who’s also on Monomyth Records and Lunar Sounds who supported us on that very first single launch at Hyde Park Book Club.
Every band has members that fill certain roles. Who’s the band joker? Who gets things done and manages any crisis? Who has a strange talent unrelated to music?
When is comes to band joker, it’s all of us for sure! In terms of getting things done, it’s got to be GK, Grace and Jess. Both GK and Gabby can make their ears move and it’s definitely strange that we have two people in one band who can do that.
2020 has been a very difficult year to say the least. How have all the band members been coping?
It certainly has been hard! But we’re very lucky to be surrounded by such supportive people and we’ve been keeping in contact and all been looking out for each other despite being apart for so long.
Have you all been staying in contact with each other? How have you managed to get ‘stuff’ done? Are you booking gigs for 2021 yet or waiting to see what happens for a bit longer?
We’re unfortunately spread across the country at the moment so it’s been a struggle to keep things going behind the scenes with the covid restrictions. We keep in contact regularly but we’re going long periods of time without playing with each other. We’re keeping spirits high and continue to book gigs in the hope they’ll go ahead. We’re working really hard on everything that we can work on at the moment and just holding out for our upcoming gigs.
If you could choose one band to share a stage with (play a gig with) who would it be and why?
A band that has massively influenced us since the beginning is Bikini Kill. It would be so incredible to share a stage with the people who played such a huge part in our development as a band!
Let’s finish with something a little different. Imagine in a few years a big movie studio want to make a film about Venus Grrrls but they need actual musicians to play the parts…. So a drummer playing a drummer etc. You can choose any five musicians from any era. Who would you pick and why?
And what should they call the film…..
This was so hard! But speaking to all the members we have thought of people who have heavily inspired us to play music, whether it’s their musicianship or their influential persona. For Gabby it would have to be Hannah Welton who was the drummer for Prince and for GK, Ann Wilson from Heart who’s a huge vocal inspiration. Grace would choose Jessica Weiss from Fear of Men, and for Hannah, Melissa Auf der Maur the bassist from Hole and for Jess, someone who’s inspired her greatly, Annie Clark. Feel like we’ve actually put together a pretty cool band there, wouldn’t mind seeing them all on stage together!
In terms of the name, the first thing that came to us was, and it’s an inside joke, “99 fish balloons”. But on a more serious note maybe something like “Venus, the girls”.
Interview by Gary Trueman