Clandestine Convos: Redbait

As the literally tens of my devoted readers are aware, I’m kind of a wordy bastich when it comes to writing intros. For this week’s Clandestine Convos, however, I’m going to all but skip writing an intro entirely. This interview is north of 7k words, so I don’t think we need any more of my yammering up front.

So just a few basic facts: Redbait is a ‘proletarian crust’ sextet from St. Louis whose second 7″ EP Cages will be available via New Age Records on June 14 (preorder here). As per their FB page, their lineup is:

Rebecca: vocals, Event Planning Coordinator, most fun
Madeline: vocals, Art Director, scariest
Will: guitar, Communications Director, still waters
B: guitar, Logistics Whip, youngest at heart
Nicholas: bass, Band Dad, champion corn shucker
David: drums, Tech Wizard, most cats

I had the chance recently to talk with all six members about a wide variety of topics, which you can find below.

Clandestine Sounds: Hey…so first off, thanks for the interview. Cages fucking rips, and it appeared in my inbox at a really opportune time in terms of where my head has been lately – I’ve been musing about the ways in which ‘protest music’ has changed since the days of Woody Guthrie and his ‘This Machine Kills Fascists’ guitar, and I wrote about it a bit when we did the Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze track premiere. There’s a clear through-line from Guthrie to bands like Redbait, but at some point (maybe the Reagan/Thatcher years?) the ‘mainstream’ perception of protest music changed from ‘Bob Dylan is the voice of a generation’ to ‘shut up and play your guitar.’ It reminds me of a verse from a Billy Bragg’s “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward”:

Mixing Pop and Politics he asks me what the use is
I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses
While looking down the corridor
Out to where the van is waiting
I’m looking for the Great Leap Forwards

So after that incredibly wordy setup, here’s my significantly less wordy question: what do you think the ‘use’ is of being a political band in 2019?

Will: A big part of it for me is just letting people know that there are fellow travelers out there. Putting out records and playing shows doesn’t make political change happen, but those things are tools that you can turn toward your politics. If you can write a riff that people enjoy, you have an opportunity to pair it with an idea that challenges what they believe or maybe spurs them into action if they’re already on the same page.  If you can get people to come to your show, you have a chance to organize and make connections with people who might later show up to canvass or change tail-lights or whatever. If people pay for your music, they might have an opportunity to contribute to front-line organizations who are already doing the work you care about. Long story short, the “use” for political bands today is in supporting their communities and focusing attention on ideas that change people’s perception of what’s possible.

 The way we create and distribute music can have a political character, too. If you’re a band that plays shows, your platform doesn’t end when you leave the stage. You have the opportunity to make sure that you’re playing spaces where people can come see you without fear of sexual harassment or assault (Shawna Potter from War on Women just released a great book on how people in scenes can help with this). Not just bands, but venues, promoters, and labels are all in positions of power when it comes to whose voices are represented in music. If we’re leftists, if we care about marginalized communities, we have to interrogate whether that’s reflected in how we do business. If our shows or our rosters are dominated by white men, it’s probably time for some introspection about why that is. As far as the “shut up and play your guitar” thing…nah. Not every band has to be political, but we are. It’s integral to our work as a band. If you want to keep politics out of music, listen to somebody else.

Nicholas: To your point about “shut up and play,” music has been starved of politics. The days of CSN&Y’s “Ohio” or The Guess Who’s “Share the Land,” or even Elvis Costello’s “Radio, Radio” are light years behind us (Americans). Americans as a monolithic group have somewhere bought into that trope of “two things you don’t talk about: religion and politics” as a way to maintain an impossibly straight-line social status quo.

We are all trained organizers in Redbait. Two of us have been professional organizers for both labor and community. Rule number one is to “meet people where they are,” and music is an easy common denominator. Many might tell you that music is for forgetting troubles, but fuck that. Some of those same people will also tell you that pro sports are no place for protest. Folks will accept being challenged (politically) only when they are ready for some fresh ideas, so…to quote Billy Bragg myself…“wearing badges is not enough in days like these.” 

Madeline: Leftist thought has historically been excluded and even blacklisted from entering mainstream political dialogue. When everything we learn, view, and observe is controlled and maintained by the capitalist cultural hegemony, there has to be other ways to find viable outlets to connect with others who have similar political tendencies. I think that one viable outlet that can be utilized is playing in bands. I understand that sounds kind of trivial, but going through less mainstream channels can open dialogue and introduce leftist and working-class ideas. In hardcore, left-leaning politics are already widely accepted and have been since the genre’s  beginning, so it naturally works.

CS: I had a different follow-up question in mind here, but Will said something that I want to pick up on instead about “our shows or our rosters” being “dominated by white men.” I couldn’t help but notice that in every one of Redbait’s promo pictures, the male band members’ faces are blurred out. Is it a safe guess that there’s some sort of correlation there?  

Madeline: Rebecca does all of our photos, and channels a great deal of creativity into her work. We try to avoid the average band photo that consists of four dudes staring blankly into a camera. We already set ourselves apart from most hardcore bands by having two female members, so by obscuring the guys’ faces we highlight just how uncommon it is to see multiple women in a hardcore band. 

Rebecca: I put a lot of thought into the symbolism in the photos. From the tofu and cupcakes in the scene to the lace used as bindings. It’s meant to speak to who we are, what we stand for, and the challenges we face.  I like the blurry face thing both because it is symbolic of centering the female perspective and also because it is technically challenging to do in-camera. Madeline and I had to get real good at standing still.

Will: Have to admit that it started because most of the men in the band were happy to not be clearly pictured for a variety of reasons, but it is a good visual representation of what you’re going to get from the music. The voices are women, the lyrics are written by women. Not coincidentally all of the photography and a lot of the visual aspect of the band is in  Rebecca’s hands.

There’s probably a fine line between trying to represent what we’re about and doing a tokenizing “female-fronted” kind of thing, but going back to the idea of confronting people with ideas that challenge how they think, a good chunk of the criticism we get it is along the lines of “I’m a 40 year old hardcore fan and I don’t like the way these women sing”; if we can do a promo pic that lets those guys know they don’t need to bother, so much the better. On the other hand, we’ve gotten messages from non-male fans, kids, and, people who’ve connected with the lyrics in some way; if the photos can also help signify that we’re here for those folks, that’s fantastic. 

Nicholas: Equity as an extension of equality is a fairly new concept. Historically, “extreme music” similar to ours extends back about 50 years. One can’t throw a stone without hitting the dude’s perspective. The lessons we need to learn come from the experiences of women. The hoods, masks, and blurred-out faces are one step further: “what are you looking over here for?” 

CS: Let me rewind here for a second and correct something: I should have said ‘male presenting’ members or something similar instead of assuming everyone in the band is cisgender.

I definitely appreciate the way those promo pics actively work to subvert that usual sort of “female-fronted” presentation, and I’m all for anything that gets people to actually stop and question why they believe the things they believe. However, I can’t help but wonder – and this is something I’m curious about with any overtly political band, not just Redbait – how much of what you do is preaching to those already converted? I’m thinking more about live shows here. At the average Redbait gig, how much of your audience is made up of either the curious or the average hardcore fan, as opposed to those already on board with your platform?

Will: At most of our shows we’re probably speaking mainly to people with similar politics, and it’s not like people are really able  to break down the lyrics if they’re hearing us for the first time in a live setting. In those cases it’s not about changing minds so much as highlighting a specific issue or cause. If you’re at a Redbait show, there’s a good chance you’re going to hear about an animal rescue, or a campaign to raise the minimum wage, or something where you can  direct your activism or at least your money. And it’s also just a positive thing to be in a space with people that share your values. A couple of us got to go to Black Flags Over Brooklyn, and if we can create anything like that room full of solidarity and support at our shows, I’m stoked.

I think we reach more people who don’t agree with us online than live. I’m not sure we’re changing a lot of minds, but metal and hardcore both have their share of centrists and right-wingers. Every time someone says we should leave the politics out of it, we know they at least had to consider our politics for at least a few seconds, and that’s a win. If people dig the riffs, maybe they’re a little more open to the message. It’s an arduous process to connect with people who don’t agree with you about stuff that matters, but every crack in those walls counts for something. At the same time, we’re not trying to have a dialog with misogynists or fascists or whatever. Solidarity first, and bring people into the community where you can.

Rebecca: Punk records educated me and changed my life. I would not have the politics I have today were it not for the likes of Crass, Dead Kennedys, Bikini Kill, etc. If one kid picks up a record and finds their voice in it, or hears me preaching at a show and is then able to then distill their own thoughts in a way they weren’t before, then this whole thing is worthwhile to me.

 CS: I definitely want to talk about Redbait’s online presence – and metal politics on the Internet in general – but I think that will lead us off in a direction it’ll be difficult to circle back from to talk about anything else. So let’s talk music. Redbait seems to draw from a wide variety of influences, especially on Cages – crust, grind, I hear a bit of black metal in there. As has been mentioned, though, your sound is primarily rooted in hardcore. With six members, I’m guessing that your musical backgrounds are pretty diverse as well, so how did you land on hardcore as your dominant mode?

Will: I’m not sure we did, although you might get a different answer from other members. Hardcore is definitely a big part of the sound, along with all the other elements you mentioned and more, and we play with a lot of hardcore bands, but I don’t think we sound much like most of them. When we first started writing, what we had in mind as our common ground was bands like His Hero Is Gone, Tragedy, Appalachian Terror Unit, and Iskra, and that kind of heavy crust is a pretty natural center of gravity when we try to cram all our disparate tastes together. The songs on Red Tapemostly feel like they’re the average of our influences, but on Cages you can see a lot more of the individual touchstones. For me, Cloud Rat, Svalbard, and Fall of Efrafa were huge while we were writing this record. There are also Sepultura riffs in there, and it might not be as apparent in a bunch of songs that average two and a half minutes, but stuff like Vile Creature and Thou are a component too.

 At any rate, I’m not sure genre matters much at this point. It’s not like we need to be slotted into a category for radio or MTV. Hardcore and metal fans both seem to find something to enjoy, and one of the most exciting things for me has been to see our music show up in lists and mixes with a wide variety of music and alongside artists I admire. Whatever the genre mix, it feels like we’re doing something right.

 Nicholas: Truly, we are a hardcore band…but does that designator actually mean anything these days? For someone over 40 like myself, “hardcore” has historically meant either “punk from Los Angeles in the early 80s that deviated from rock-type punk” or youth crew. Unbroken changed the meaning of hardcore, then Catharsis, then the Refused, then The Locust, etc.

 Writing in Redbait has been more difficult than my past bands. All of us have different agendas for our sound, which causes a lot of tension. That seems to force us to either really commit to fight for or abandon what we want to hear in a song. The results have been unique compared to my other songwriting experiences.

B: Sonically, were much more than just straight up hardcore. However, for the first two releases, we had four hardcore kids making music – so naturally at Redbait’s heart we’re a hardcore band. But a couple thing kinda go with that statement.  First, Hardcore has become a much more broad sound. There’s some bands that exist in the hardcore scene, tour with hardcore bands, and call themselves hardcore that have a sound that doesn’t really resemble hardcore. For example, Code Orange. 100% a hardcore band. They’ve repped hardcore their entire career, but their sound got more and more metal, some would say nu-metal. That’s still hardcore to me. Or Ceremony. Hardcore band. Put out a shoegaze record. Still a hardcore band. Which leads me to my second point here. Hardcore is truly more than just a genre. It’s a mentality. It’s  ALWAYS using a DIY ethos in the way the band carries itself, and it’s the energy you put into the music and the message. 

Cody: To kinda echo others, I’m not sure Cagesis a hardcore record because I’m not really sure what hardcore is. The bands I listen to that people call hardcore I grew up calling metal, so maybe it’s purely a rhetorical disagreement. I do know it feels a lot different to play than Red Tape, that’s for sure. I mean, two-thirds of the title track is basically a dang doom metal song.  

I will say that if the music we listen to influences our sound, consciously or otherwise, then the drumming in Redbait up to this point has been influenced by Lamb of God, Trivium, Thrice, and CKY, since that’s what I’ve listened to the most and practiced to (well okay more Thrice and CKY, I’m not gonna front like I can keep up with LoG). And that’s not to mention the music beyond the metal/hardcore/whatever that is most obviously reflective of Redbait’s sound.

CS: I’m actually a massive Cloud Rat fan, so I picked up on that almost instantly. You already mentioned that Rebecca and Madeline write the lyrics, but how collaborative is your process of writing music? Is Redbait one of those ‘jam things out in the rehearsal space’ kind of bands where everyone ends up contributing?

Madeline: We tend to come up with lyrical concepts before anything is written. We have certain commentaries and ideas we keep in mind as we write and a skeleton of how we lay out those ideas. I generally don’t like to sit down and just make up a bunch of lyrics on the spot. Even if that is the case, we do a good amount of workshopping lyrics and working out the vocal arrangements.

Rebecca: Madeline and I  edit each other’s writing. It’s a true collaboration. There are a couple of exceptions like “I’ll Be Fine” and “Forever Ends Now,” which are primarily me writing about deeply personal experiences.

Will:I think we say in pretty much every interview that none of these songs would sound like they do if any of us tried to write them on our own. The most common scenario is that one of will bring in a riff or the bones of a song and then the collaborative process takes over and changes it into the something that sounds like Redbait. On Cages, for example, B. brought in most of the pieces of “Forever Ends Now,” the beginning and the Hope Conspiracy breakdown especially, and that one went through a lot of revisions and turned into probably the most experimental thing we’ve done with clean vocals, shoegazey bits, and slide guitar. I brought in the first half of “Bred for the Knife,” trying to do a traditional crusty kind of thing, and the band as a whole workshopped the acoustic part and the big payoff at the end. “Capital Gains” was a last minute addition and maybe the most on-the-spot composition; we’d gone in a lot of different directions on the EP and wanted to write something short and fast and recognizably Redbait, so we took the kernel of a riff B. had to start it out, tacked a Sepultura breakdown onto the end, and added it to the record. 

 The vocals are a huge part of the process, too. The feel and focus of the songs always changes when those parts are added, and even the lyrics are connected to that process sometimes. We’d talked about doing an animal rights song, for example, and that was an influence on the Fall of Efrafa/Momentum type riffs in “Bred for the Knife.” 

CS: That seems like the perfect segue into talking about the vocals. I’ll admit that at first I had an awful flashback to those ‘one screamer + one crooner’ metalcore bands when I saw Redbait’s dual vocalist lineup, but thankfully that isn’t the case. How did you end up having a pair of vocalists? How does that impact your songwriting?

Will: There wasn’t a conscious plan to put together that kind of lineup. It was really just a function of “these are the people that want to be involved, here’s what we can each do.” Once the lineup solidified, it was easy to find some examples of vocal things that would work well for what we had. Bands like Nausea, Iskra, and Appalachian Terror Unit do the dual vocal trade-off thing well in a context where both singers are screaming, so those were early points of reference for us. From a songwriting perspective, it’s just another tool at our disposal to try to make some interesting music. Madeline and Rebecca have such distinct voices that it stays clear when they’re trading lines or when they’re singing together, almost as if they’re harmonizing with each other while they’re screaming. I think my favorite example of what they can do is Red Tape’s “I’ll Be Fine,” where they’re doing a very conversational back and forth as different characters in the song.

B. When I was first getting into heavier music, the two vocal thing was going on a lot. And it was never good bands. PG. 99 did it well, but it was before my time. It was usually meathead hardcore bands that wore parka coats on stage and had wireless mics. I admit that I too felt those flashbacks when we first talked about two vocalists. But our Madeline and Rebecca execute it so well that I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a pretty special thing we got.

CS: They really do have very distinct voices that are easy to pick apart in the mix. The name Redbait had me expecting you to primarily deal with anti-capitalist/workers’ rights themes, but you’ve made mention of quite a few different topics thus far: animal rights, sexual harassment/assault, raising the minimum wage, misogyny, fascism. Why cast such a wide net instead of focusing on a single issue? Or do you see them all as essentially being interrelated?

 Will: I think there’s huge overlap between all of those issues. You’re right that anti-capitalism is central to the band, but that’s not separate from the rest of those things. Fascism and white supremacy have deep ties to capital. Building a culture free of sexual harassment and misogyny is inseparable from the struggle for workers’ rights. Veganism and animal rights were my gateway into leftist thought; I first met most of the rest of the band at a vegan potluck. But animal rights activism without a focus on food justice and how capital affects our ability to make choices about diet is gross and it frequently slides into racism.

I don’t know that there’s much of a strategy to what shows up in our lyrics, but casting a wide net as you say circles back to the idea of confronting people with new ideas.  Whatever cultural segment we’re addressing, whoever’s tuned into the message of a particular song, may have work to do in some of those other areas. The one that stands out in my mind is that every leftist group or every music scene I’ve been part of has a huge blind spot when it comes to sexual harassment and assault. If people get into us because they want leftist music or animal rights stuff or whatever, they’re going to have to reckon with the lyrics about street harassment and abusive relationships, too. And thanks to social media, we can be vocal about a much wider range of issues than we can address lyrically. There’s not much in the songs to date that’s specifically anti-fascist, for example (although Cages addresses the current U.S. administration, which isn’t much different from fascism), but I think we’ve been able to make our stance pretty clear nevertheless.

 Nicholas: It’s all connected. Veganism/animal rights is a Working Class issue because ecology, personal health, and anti-labor industries are Working Class issues. Police brutality is a Working Class issue, because protecting unjust socio-economic hierarchies by force is a Working Class issue. Drug abuse is a Working Class issue. Domestic violence is a Working Class issue.

 CS: I agree with you about the overlap. I’ve been teaching college-level writing for about 15 years now, and I often joke about how I use my courses to push my own radical feminist/socialist/vegan agenda. As such, I’m always on the lookout for new reading material to add to my syllabi or recommend to students who get into a specific topic and want to know more. You’ve already mentioned Shawna Potter’s Making Spaces Safer. What are some other books you’d consider essential reading for anyone interested in learning more about Redbait’s platform?

 Will:For leftist stuff, Marx is of course foundational, but he can be a grind to get through and there some holes in his analysis. David Harvey’s Reading Marx’s Capital was super helpful to me both in understanding some of what Marx was talking about and contextualizing it in the modern world, and his Rebel Cities is a great look at how groups of people can come together to determine the quality and organization of their lives, based on the idea of the right to the city.

 I’ve been fascinated with some different histories of enclosure; Steven Stoll’s Ramp Hollow is a good look at how it happened in Appalachian America, and right now I’m reading Sylvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, which covers a lot of the same history Marx did with an eye toward correcting some of his blind spots on gender. Andre Gorz’ Critique of Economic Reasonis good on how we’ve probably passed the point where we could return to a pre-capitalist relation to work and what we can do to make that relationship benefit us in the future, definitely in the Fully Automated Luxury Communism vein. I would also say that learning some theory and articulating your politics is good and useful and I encourage everyone to do it, but it’s not a substitute for action. People intuitively understand a lot of these ideas without formal study, and you don’t have to pass a test to start getting involved.

Madeline: I will second Caliban and the Witch. I would also highly recommend Michael Parenti as a good starting point. His works are both amazing and accessible, and provide thorough histories on U.S. empire and working class history. Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord, The Problem with Work by Kathi Weeks, The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams. 

CS: Okay…I’ve held off on it for as long as I could, but I suppose we should talk about the Internet and social media. Will, I know you’re pretty active on Twitter – the Lady Pöshibelle calls you one of the major figures of Leftist Metal Twitter. I have to admit that I can’t handle too much of that sort of thing for a variety of reasons, most of them having to do with the rhetorical approaches that seem to dominate the discourse. What is it about that platform that you find so useful?

 Will: Uhh, “major figure” is entirely too generous, first of all. There are tons of people who are smarter and more worth listening to than me. I followed a bunch of people because they were posting cool music recommendations and stumbled into a community full of folks with similar values and made a bunch of friends who have been incredibly supportive, both personally and musically.

More than any specific political or promotional thing, what’s useful to me is the ability to build a network of people who are concerned with taking care of each other, which is itself politics to me. It’s not different than any offline community in that way, it’s just not limited by geography. There’s a never-ending supply of bad discourse out there (especially bad vegan discourse), but there’s also a wealth of voice with perspectives and experiences I don’t have. If we have to reckon with racism, misogyny, and every other axis of oppression in our daily lives, we at least have the opportunity to listen to voices from those communities about how it affects them and how to help. I’m lucky to have befriended some folks online who have broadened my perspective about a lot of issues, not least around gender and sexual assault, and I’ve had my head graciously pulled out of my ass more than once by people who were kind enough to educate me when I was wrong. That process is ongoing; it takes work to interrogate your biases and privilege, and it kind of sucks, but that’s the biggest part of what Twitter has been for me: a bunch of friends who have been invaluable in making me a better person than I was.

There’s also a more material use when it comes to activism and political work. Social media makes it possible to disseminate information and mobilize people with previously impossible speed and reach. I first started using Twitter after Michael Brown was murdered; it was radicalizing to see what people were sharing from their work in the streets during the Ferguson uprising, and to see how different it was from the news coverage. Social media also affords the ability to do some active good sometimes; in the past week, for example, in the wake of multiple states enacting vile anti-choice legislation, Kim Kelly Tweeted that she would give a music recommendation to anybody that shared a receipt for a donation to the Yellowhammer Fund or the National Network of Abortion Funds, and people donated a thousand dollars within a couple hours, and something like five thousand after a couple of days.

From a band perspective, social media is indispensable. We’re not a touring band; among other things, the demands of capital keep us pretty close to St. Louis, so for the most part that’s how people find out about us.. On Twitter in particular, I think a couple of things have really helped us. One is that we’ve lucked into friends and fans who are great about sharing music and supporting artists. When we first started, I was nervous about shilling our music to people, I didn’t want to bother people with it, but a few people enjoyed it and then relentlessly shared it until complete strangers were buying the tape. Mutual support in underground metal is huge, and we’re grateful for it. The other thing is that our band account has a personality, even if it’s just mine. When we set it up, I thought about what I’d want to see as a fan; a lot of bands just post their tour dates and stuff, and that’s useful, but I don’t follow any of those accounts. The bands whose online presence I like seem like actual people. They interact, they talk about what they’re into, they post pictures of their pets, and so on. Allfather are absolute masters at it, and everything good about Redbait’s Twitter is stolen from them. It’s basically the online equivalent of sitting at the merch table at a show. If you like what we’re doing, come say hello (@burgleyourturts/@redbaitstl). And please, I can’t stress this enough, show us pictures of your pets.

CS: It’s interesting that you bring up people who are ‘kind enough to educate’ you when you were wrong about something. Granted, I don’t know what these situations were, but one of the things that bothers me the most about social media is the whole ‘call-out culture’ thing. It’s inevitable that people are going to fuck up. I believe that what really matters is what comes after. I’m an educator – I believe in teachable moments. Does the person own it in a way that seems sincere? Then that’s the exact sort of situation for a teachable moment, but I don’t see a whole lot of that happening. I see a lot more shaming instead. I’m not sure where my question is in this…assuming the point of building these communities of people with similar values is at least in part to help each other do better, mightn’t there be a better way to go about it?

Rebecca:  I was abused by a scene dude when underage in the 90’s. He filmed it, started trading VHS tapes with other pedos, got caught, and went to prison for three years. Then he got out and started popping up at shows again. If I had a way to just send out an electronic signal to everyone booking and going to shows then, I sure have shit would have used it. Instead, I just left. Idropped out of punk. Ileft town.Isuffered the consequences of his actions over and over again. Call out culture is better than the alternative, which is survivors suffering more at the hands of their abusers. Sure, some people will learn from their mistakes and become better people. But that’s not really the point. How will the survivor feel every time they have to see their abuser and breathe the same air? How about you take your teachable moment and get it out my face so I’m not retraumatized every time I try to leave the house? 

 Will: Let me articulate that part about educating me a little further.. It’s not anybody’s responsibility to tell me if I’m being an idiot, least of all someone from the community being harmed by whatever horrible thing everybody’s talking about online that day. It’s a true friend who’ll tell you when you need to shut the fuck up and listen, and I’m fortunate to have found a few. So with that in mind, yeah of course I believe in teachable moments, I believe restorative justice is possible, but to Rebecca’s point, sometimes that stuff is pursued in extreme bad faith. in a very public, self-congratulatory way that helps no one and harms survivors. If somebody makes a bad post or follows a shady person online, that’s a teachable moment. I guess I think of them in terms of prevention, like, can you get somebody to acknowledge and change behaviors before it becomes a situation of abuse. If we’ve missed those moments and harm has been done, then it’s time to support survivors. Restorative justice is…extremely hard, and I don’t think there’s much need to weigh in with a lot of my opinions about it because it’s almost never going to be up to me to decide what it looks like. I’m a white cishet man, and my voice isn’t particularly needed when communities are making decisions about whether a white supremacist has redeemed themselves or whether an abuser should be able to re-enter a scene.

 The phrase “call-out culture” feels like it has a growing connotation that it’s something negative and ugly, and it can be, but that obscures what’s positive about it, which is that people deserve to know who is in their communities, what kind of artists they’re supporting, and so on. To me, it’s good to out fascists and abusers, but it’s also good to pay attention to who is loudest when those conversations are happening. If people have been harmed, pay attention to what they’re saying. If you’re minimally affected by whatever the situation is but you still feel the need to take part in the conversation, maybe do some introspection. Think about how your biases and privilege might be affecting how you feel about it. Think about your own culpability and whether you really have anything helpful to contribute. This is all advice for me as much as anybody else. You’re right that everybody’s going to fuck up. Most of us already have, and have been given space to grow and do better. I don’t know if any of this answers your question. So is there a better way? Probably. I don’t know how to achieve it except listen to marginalized people, believe women and survivors when they speak up, white people and men just be quiet sometimes.

CS: Just to be clear, I’d never dream of suggesting that sexual assault is a ‘teachable moment.’ I’m of the opinion that convicted, registered sex offenders should be required to wear signs while out in public. That’s well beyond something that can be addressed via any sort of teaching, and a victim should absolutely nothave to fear seeing her abuser every time she wants to go to a show. That’s not the point I was trying to make, and I apologize if I didn’t phrase the question as clearly as I could have. I’m talking about a person who posts a shitty meme or follows a questionable account – identifying problematic behavior and using teachable moments as a way of preventing that individual from crossing the line and becoming an abuser or a fascist.

However, this is a good example of something that I struggle with considerably. I am a white, cishet male, and I’m in my mid-40s to boot. I feel like the last thing anyone needs is another voice from that demographic weighing in on anything– not only have we dominated the conversation for long enough, I’ve seen too many examples of ‘advocates’ and other wokebois with good intentions totally losing the plot and mansplaining to a group of female activists how they’re doing Feminism wrong. There are plenty of things I’d like to shout about from the (virtual) rooftops, and I’m not sure how true change can really come about if only certain voices are allowed to join the conversation, but I worry that there’s a serious risk of my doing more harm than good. At one point I had an op-ed ready to go about why I believe metal desperately needs its #metoo moment – a piece about how men need to do a better job of policing ourselves, and how we need to hold each other accountable when we see fuckboi-type behavoir or worse – and I had several feminist colleagues and good friends tell me in no certain terms that those were waters into which men have no business wading. So how can you tell where that line is between when you can contribute and when you need to shut up?

Will: I don’t think there’s a broadly applicable threshold, except that shutting up is probably a safe bet the vast majority of the time. Listen first, and if you have to speak up, speak in solidarity, speak to acknowledge your own missteps, then listen some more, and then, critically, consider whether your posting matches your behavior in your offline life. All the words of solidarity in the world don’t matter if you log off and treat women like shit  or give your racist friends a pass or whatever. Also, like you kind of mentioned, just talk to people directly sometimes before you wade into the wider conversation. A good group text does wonders for getting dumb takes out of your system. Anyway, I don’t know that it’s useful to think of it in terms of lines and rules; just think about whether you’re helping anybody before you post some stuff about how woke you are. I guess we should acknowledge that a big chunk of this conversation is a couple of dudes using a public platform to talk about the right way to be woke, so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt.

CS: This one is specifically for Madeline and Rebecca, but I’d be interested in everyone’s perspective. Are you familiar with a book by Jessa Crispin called Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto? I read it right after it came out, and the gist of her point is that feminism has become too palatable: a feminism with a broad appeal is essentially toothless and thus essentially of no use. Instead, she wants her feminism to be a “cleansing fire.” Since your lyrics do address topics that are of significance to feminists, which in turn introduces them to broader audiences in a context that may resonate more than they would if read about, how do you feel about Crispin’s assertion? Do you see yourselves making these ideas somehow more palatable, or is Redbait your “cleansing fire”? Or is it neither?

 Madeline: I have yet to read that, but I’d say I’m generally in agreement. I’d argue that mainstream feminism or liberal feminism is another instance of capitalism hijacking and co-opting something that it can bend to its advantage, to become profitable. It’s the commodification of feminism.

 It focuses less on direct action and theory while embracing consumerism. It makes organizing all the more difficult because liberal feminism usually espouses a more individualistic approach rather than thinking in terms of direct action politics. Oppressive structures go unchallenged both theoretically and practically if you limit your understanding of society to an individual level. The notion of equality is accepted over a goal of liberation. An example: people who celebrated Gina Haspel for becoming the first female CIA director yet failed to critique the atrocious CIA and Haspel herself, who oversaw the carrying out of a significant amount of abuse and torture.. The idea that this is somehow a milestone for women is repulsive. White bourgeois notions of feminism only perpetuate western imperialist perceptions of the world around us.

 Obviously, there are amazing groups of women on the ground who do tremendous work, and that isn’t celebrated enough. The first example that comes to mind is the recent teachers strikes that were led primarily by women. The political power these women needed in order to fight for their livelihoods, their students, and communities was harnessed through acts of solidarity, through strong unions, and through direct action.

I’m not quite sure I totally get what you mean by “cleansing fire” but I do hope that Redbait can offer some kind of message regarding the importance of direct action politics as well as effectively illustrate how many different struggles are interconnected with capitalism.

Rebecca: I’m not familiar with this book, but when I went to the Women’s March with all the pussy hats and Starbucks lattes and pink feather boas, I would have liked to have met that walking bachelorette party with a cleansing fire. Feminism that isn’t informed by and inclusive of women of color, trans women, and working class women isn’t useful. It is only shifting the power to a different set of hierarchies. Furthermore. there is nothing about Redbait is particularly palatable. Burn it down!

CS: You’ve hit on another one of Crispin’s major criticisms: modern feminism is too focused on issues that primarily affect middle-class white women. I think that bridges into what should probably be my final question – I’m really enjoying our conversation, but if we don’t rein it in soon there’s a real risk that we’ll end up writing a book.  

Internet ‘activism’ takes on a lot of forms, from changing the color of the border around one’s Facebook profile pic to other, far more active modes of online engagement. Ideally, what do you hope Redbait will inspire your audience to do? Is there anything you hope it won’t inspire?

Will: My favorite praise that we’ve gotten as a band is from young fans who want to start their own band. Everybody can play music, everybody should if they want to, and the barriers to entry are lower than they’ve ever been. There’s nothing that makes us specially qualified to do what we’re doing, and if it inspires somebody else to do the same thing, that rules. If they start bands that are vocal about their politics, even better.

B: A close friend of ours told us that we inspired him to be in bands again. He went on to do Extricate, an amazing band full of our comrades with a fierce lefty message. That was a pretty huge confidence boost for me. Kinda blew my mind actually!

CS: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you’d like to add?

Will: Thanks so much for having us, and thanks to everybody for listening. If you like what we’re doing, find us online and say hello. Listen to Body Void, Vile Creature, High Cost, Couch Slut, Amygdala, Sarparast, Ragana, Adzes, Ithaca, Feminazgul, Dawn Ray’d, etc.

B: Do yourself a favor and look up St Louis hardcore, punk, and metal bands. We have a lot of hard working bands that are putting out some incredible tunes.

 

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