Petrol Girls are on album two with new release Cut & Stitch but this time around the band are gaining the attention they really deserve recieved accolades such as being awarded Rough Trade Records Album Of The Month earlier this year. Many bands are extremely important because their words speak to us as humans but there are also bands that society needs; Petrol Girls albums fit into both of those categories. Lead singer Ren has had a tough time again standing up for her cause (in this case a fight she never chose to be part of) so the chance to have our male editor interview a positive feminist was a brilliant opportunity which led to this fascinating email exchange. 

Hi, how are you? Your last tour was with La Dispute and no you’re about to go on your own tour, how are the band feeling? 

Helloooo! I’m alright yeah, just in the van on the way to the UK to start the tour. We’re shooting a music video on the way. We’re dead excited to come back over to the UK and see our friends in various cities – especially Loud Women Fest because that’s a huge feminist musician meet up! I think we’re also all still pretty knackered from the last run because we were out for 2 months, which included runs with War on Women first, then La Dispute and Milk Teeth after. We had a great time but it was LONG. We all went straight back to work after, and I’ve had a lot of other stuff going on, including being publicly named as a defendant in this defamation case which I’ve been fighting for almost three years now along with a group of women including Nadia from The Tuts. We’re crowdfunding for our legal costs here  as Solidarity Not Silence, and we’re on twitter, facebook and instagram, so please take a look and share our case! I also spent most of August building two huge textile pieces made out of flags to float in the river that marks the border of Austria and Slovenia for an art festival called Transborders, where we also played a show. They said ‘CONTAIN’ and ‘CONTROL’ and I’m really stoked with how they turned out!

The tour had a 2-week pre-sale where people are able to buy tickets for £5 which you said they “are explicitly aimed at folks that simply can’t afford to pay more to get into a show, but still want to come out and have a good time.” How did this idea first come about as a band and how did your management/booking agent feel about this choice?

“We’re self-managed…If anyone ever wants to see us but has no money then we’ll do everything we can to sort them out!”

This was Zock’s initiative! We’re self-managed, but we’ve always been clear with our lovely booking agent Olivia and label Hassle, that when it’s headline shows where we have more say in how things are run, we want to make sure that people can afford to come. If anyone ever wants to see us but has no money then we’ll do everything we can to sort them out! Our label and booking agent are really supportive of us. 

Has there ever been a gig you missed due to a reason such as cost/illness/distance, who was it and have you ever got to see them since the missed gig?

I’m sure there were loads when I was younger because I lived in a village with shit public transport so it was always really difficult to work out how to get back from town! 

Also we actually had to pull out of Loud Women Fest last year because I went down with horrendous flu – honestly haven’t been that sick in years. Luckily Janey from Dream Nails let me stay at hers – she ran me a bath for when I arrived and let me sleep and sweat it out in her bed – absolute angel! We’re so happy that we’re able to return to play Loud Women Fest this year. 

In May you released you second album Cut & Stitch to such critical acclaim that it was Rough Trade’s Album of the Month; how have things changed for as people and as the band between your first album and this release?

They’ve changed in so many ways. We’ve now all moved out to Austria, and Liepa’s still based in the house where we recorded that first album. I came to Austria via a year in Glasgow where I did my masters – which slowed band things down a bit and made writing for that second record very instrument focussed to begin with. 

My legal battle also started not long after we released the first album, and that has obviously had a huge impact on me and the band as a whole. It’s put me in a relentless state of uncertainty as I have to constantly be ready to respond to lawyers demands very quickly. I actually spent the journey to the UK and first week in the studio recording the new record, compiling evidence and going over my defences. On top of that, it’s been incredibly hard work crowd funding the money that we’ve needed to pay for our legal support – there’s no legal aid. The only reason we’ve been able to fight it as far as we have and not be silenced is because of coming together as Solidarity Not Silence and crowdfunding those costs. We’re so grateful to everyone that’s helped. 

We also signed to our new label Hassle who put out Cut & Stitch and the EP preceding it, ‘The Future Is Dark, Which Is The Best Thing The Future Can Be, I Think’, which has been such a great move for us! Things for the band are really taking off! I just hope this legal case draws to a close soon so that we can enjoy it all a bit more. 

Many bands with a ‘cause’ no matter what that cause is they can find this overshadows the musicianship of the band, how did the musical sound of the band form and musically what makes Petrol Girls stand out from other hardcore bands?

Everyone in the band has quite different priorities and very different skills, talents and music tastes. We also write very collaboratively – there’s no one person that writes a whole song and brings it to the rest of the band. That back and forth between different instruments, including vocals, is where things really develop. We write in different directions, so sometimes start with a guitar riff, sometimes a vocal line, sometimes a bass or drum part. Liepa also writes guitar parts as well as bass. I guess it’s something to do with finding a balance between all these different factors that pull the sound in different directions. We mess around with time signatures and stuff but aren’t interested in making anything that’s just technically wanking off – I find that kind of thing really macho. We also have such different ways of understanding music – like I literally can’t count a beat so I operate intuitively or just have to learn to feel where a vocal line lands. The others shout numbers at each other quite a bit in practice.. We’re all into loads of different music besides punk, especially Joe and Liepa. So I guess our sound comes from an amalgamation of all of that! 

You describe yourselves as feminist hardcore, what does that mean aside from lyrics? Will there ever be a side of your work that will not be activism led?

“We’re trying to use shows as an opportunity for people to connect with local and wider campaigns wherever possible.”

It means not tolerating macho shit at our shows, which is why I often call women and non binary people to the front and will intervene if someone is hurting the people around them. It’s not hard to dance and have a good time without hurting people but when you challenge cis men’s sense of entitlement to space it can lead to some very repetitive conversations and sometimes a lot of conflict. It also means campaigning against sexual violence in the music scene and beyond. I always speak about consent every time we play live in the hope of preventing it happening in the first place. We do our best to support survivors wherever we can, which is how I ended up in this legal case in the first place, because I wrote a blog post calling out the abusive behaviour of a man in the music industry and publicly refusing to play shows with his band. 

We also try to do what we can to support our trans siblings  because they’re the ones that are on the front lines of tearing down a gender binary that harms all of us.

We try to make sure we prioritise bands that include women and non-binary people as well as people of colour whenever we get a say in who’s supporting us. We do our best to make sure that our headline shows happen in accessible venues and try to let people know when that isn’t the case. We’re trying to use shows as an opportunity for people to connect with local and wider campaigns wherever possible and this extends beyond feminism to all the stuff that intersects with it like antifascism, climate justice and migrant solidarity. 

But yeah absolutely we do have songs that aren’t explicitly political. Both Rootless and Skye on the last record are much more personal and introspective. However the personal and the political are often the same thing or feed in and out of each other so I guess it all just depends how you see the world! 

When did you first realise you were a feminist and when did you realise your band would be built around feminist activism?

“I needed Petrol Girls to release some of the rage that was building up inside of me as a result of relentless sexism experienced within the music community as well as beyond.”

I’ve been a feminist since I was about 16, though what that means to me has changed over the years. Petrol Girls was created to be a feminist band. We formed for an International Women’s Day house show, and we’re named after the mythical molotov cocktail-weilding petroleuses from the Paris Commune. I needed Petrol Girls to release some of the rage that was building up inside of me as a result of relentless sexism experienced within the music community as well as beyond. 

In a time where parts of the male population are doing and more to advocate for women’s rights how can men support equality without accidentally ‘mansplaining’ due to not actually being women?

“I think it’s really important and extremely helpful for men to speak with other men about feminist issues, and for men to intervene if they witness harassment or assault.”

I think it comes down to positioning and listening. Men shouldn’t be trying to tell women and non binary people how to define their experiences – they need to listen to those experiences and reflect on what they can do and take any concrete suggestions on board. Men shouldn’t speak over women and non binary people, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t speak at all. I think it’s really important and extremely helpful for men to speak with other men about feminist issues, and for men to intervene if they witness harassment or assault. It’s most helpful when men focus on dismantling the toxic masculinity that has infringed on women and non binary people’s rights for such a long time. That’s an internal process as well as an external one. It’s also something that’s hugely beneficial for men because toxic masculinity is something that teaches men to deal with their emotions in really unhealthy ways, which is likely to be a factor in why male suicide rates are so high. It also leads to a whole load of emotional work for the women and non binary people in that man’s life. 

I also don’t think anyone’s going to get it right all the time and I think accepting criticism is a really important part of engaging with an issue where you’re in the more privileged position. 

When writing lyrics and piecing together songs is there thoughts behind how clear some of your words are and which lines are important for the audience to understand?

Depends on the song! But yeah it is a consideration. I talk a lot on stage so I feel like I get the things I want to get across in a live context that way, and that leaves room to be more poetic with the actual lyrics. I totally think there is power in blunt lyrics that cut straight to the point, but I also think there’s power in lyrics that are a bit more open ended and make people think a bit more or start a conversation. 

Should readers want to continue learning about feminism how would you recommend this?

There’s so many campaign groups and articles on the internet that it’s hard to say where to start. 

I guess I’d say bare in mind that it’s a broad field and a lot of different takes on what it means to be feminist. Sisters Uncut are great, Gal Dem, Abortion Support Network, Good Night Out Campaign to just name a few.. 

There’s also heaps of great books and writers: 

Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks [lower case letters are intentional] is a great starting point. Men Explain Things To Me, The Mother of All Questions, and Call Them By Their True Names, all by Rebecca Solnit are great. I’m currently reading Living A Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed, which is quite hard going but brilliant. Audre Lorde is brilliant, as is Angela Davis. Laurie Penny was someone that massively influenced me in my early twenties. 

This interview has been led by Underscore Part 3 dictating its direction with questioning, please sign this interview off in whatever way you choose…?

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14 London, Tufnell Park Dome – Loud Women Festival

15 Norwich, The Waterfront Studio  

17 Leeds, Hyde Park Book Club

18 Edinburgh, Sneaky Pete’s

19 Birmingham, Flapper

20 Bristol, Exchange

21 Southampton, The Joiners

Words: James Wadsworth @jamespart31

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