Interview : Petrol Girls @ Maifeld Derby Festival 2022
Im Rahmen des Maifeld Derby Festivals 2022 hatten wir die Möglichkeit mit Sängerin Ren von den Petrol Girls zu sprechen. Über die neuen Songs, das neue Album „Baby“, Frauenquoten auf Festivals und vieles mehr.
Subtext: Hi Ren, thank you for taking the time. This is your first time here at Maifeld Derby Festival, how do you like it?
Ren: It is super nice. I love this little stabels for the backstage. It is really cute, I wish their would be some straw, that would be very nice.
Subtext: It has been three years between your last album Cut & Stitch and your two new songs „Clowns“ and „Baby I had an Abortion“. Compared to your old songs they are more aggresive, more into your face, more direct. Especially when you compare it to songs like “ The Sound“ and „Tangle of Lives“. Could you give us an insight of why you choose this style?
Ren: It is interesting that you find them more aggressive, I would say that they are more playful. Obviously it is not playful like the hallway through, because we do have songs like „Fight for our lives“ that deal with topics like femicide that are really heavy. I particularly wanted to allow myself to be more funny and silly and allow that more playful side of myself to come across. Thats because I think when you deal with quit heavy political topics, you can get stuck in a very sanctimonious headspace. I actually beliefe that humor, irreverence and mischief are very political powerful and also I need be alloyed to have a good time as well.
For songs like „Baby I had an abortion“ I really wanted to make something as shameless and like in your face as possible. The intention was to turn that into an abortion party banger. When we were talking about writing it, I wanted it to be like an iconic pop song. Love it and don’t care, like that but about abortion. Clowns was honestly just like pissing around in the practice space. Joe wrote this riff that sounded like steam punk, like a fairground gone wrong. So I had to think about Clowns. Then I was messing around, honestly was doing it as a joke, like with the lyrics to „stuck in the middle with you“ by Stealers Wheel. I was messing around with those lyrics and then I thought, holly shit ,this actually makes political sense! And I kept going with it. The whole song is a rewrite of the lyrics from „to stuck in the middle with you“.
Subtext: Did the lyrics or the instrumental came first?
Ren: With „Clowns“ the first part was the instrumental, like joe came with the riff and then we build on that in practice. With „Baby I had an abortion“ the concept was there from the beginning and then Joe brought the fitting music to what I was describing.
Subtext: You have alway been an political band. If I do an interpretation of the songs I would say that „Clowns“ is about the political shift from the middle to the right in the general public and „Baby I had an Abortion“ obviously about how society and the church are approaching the abortion topic. Did the sound followed the topics or did the topics followed the sound?
Ren: It is really complicated with us and a back and forth. We all write our parts on our own but Joe is the musical visionary behind all of it. He is the one that starts to grasp the idea of what the sound will be and I am focused on the politics. So me and Joe have a lot of conversations about mood and things like that. But he really needs Zock on the drums to complete a song, we can’t write without each other, we need us altogether in the practice space to bounce the songs and ideas around. With this record we became even more collaborative and creative because we started just like scrapping songs if they were not working. We hade about 20 songs before we came to the studio and kind of cut it down from there. It was a really cool process this time. I love writing and collaborating. It is hard to explain how this works, every time we do it I have to think for my own how we are doing this again.
Subtext: Do you had problems after two and a half year of pandemic to find the mood as a group?
Ren: I want to be quite open. The whole pandemic situation, the stopping made me mentally collapse. I was mentally very unwell when we startet working on this record. Everyone was struggling to some extend. I had the worst depressive episode I have ever had in my life. I’m so lucky to have a really great therapist, a really great support network of family and friends and particularly my partner taking care of me because I was very unwell for months. I think this record to me is so much about putting myself out of this depressive state and all of the things that but me in this headspace. This whole thing about regaining playfulness, that is such a big part of coming out of this depression. Tracks on the new record like „Sick & Tired“, „Feed my Fire“ and „Bones“ are so much about that headspace. „Bones“ for example for me is about being a musician and choosing this life. Which is hard and it can have a really serious impact on your mental life. There is a lot of bullshit talking about musicians that we are all acting the suffering.
Actually it is the precarity of trying to be a musician in a society that does not value creativity or creative people. Even if that is what makes us human. There is no value placed on what musicians do. I think that is something that really needs to be addressed in the music industry. If you wanna see people that are not wealthy, not only rich people on stage then you need to create music communities where people get fairly payed. We need to deal with the precarity of this situation. Especially in this moment when the cost of living is going up and we got covid on top of it. I guess I really wanted to talk about mental health and being a musician, which is hart. Especially when you ad being a woman and someone outspokenly political on top of that. No fucking wonder I collapsed mentally (laughs). To come back with this record, with such a stronger sense of myself and clearer idea of how to navigate all of this, makes us me and all of us really proud.
Subtext: Coming back to „Baby I had an Abortion“. The song was released in February, I guess then you recorded and mastered it about December or January. The big discussion on this topic startet with Roe vs Wade in the states at the beginning of April. Why did you choose to take on this topic at this time?
Ren: Abortion is under attack, it is something that has to be fought for and defended. What we are seeing in the USA is a wake up call for everybody who thinks that the access to and the right for abortion is something we can take for granted. We often have this linear idea of political progress that if something is allowed it can’t be taken away. I am reading this book right now, called „Modern fascism in the feminist fight back“. I have not read in a long time, but it is an interesting premise that we are living through a sexual revolution. Things like birth control, women rights and rights of marginalized genders have improved immensely in the last 15 years and now we are seeing the backlash. I really believe that we will fight it and overcome it in the end but be realistic.
There are some viscous motherfuckers out there who not want us to have rights, freedom and justice and have access to normal things like abortion or trans health services. I don’t understand that mentality. The song came from my own experience having an abortion. I realized I was pregnant the morning after the eight was repealed in Ireland. That really woke me up to how easy it was to get one that time when I lived in Scotland. I remember being at a demonstration while pregnant for Northern Ireland. Having morning sickness, but also feeling that I am gonna be ok and get an abortion on the NHS. (Anm.: National Health Service, public health service United Kingdom). Knowing that I don’t have to feel like this and don’t need to continue this thing I don’t want.
Feeling that injustice that other people are facing in other countries all over the world really woke me up to this issue and made me want to do more activism on it. We have also seen the situation in Poland intensify over the last years and the restrictions around abortion tightening there hugely. We are raising money for abortion without borders, a network of a lot of cool groups that are helping people in Poland to get access to it. I really want the song to be an anthem and a party banger, because I really think abortion is so often framed as something dramatic and awful and stuff like that and of course it can be those things this but for me it wasn’t. For me it was something that I wanted for myself and I don’t need to have further reasons. Having an abortion gave me my life back and I want to celebrate about that. I think that the shame and stigma and the secrecy, the fact that we should be quiet and private about it, contributes to the culture that allows people to treat it that it should be something that we are sorry about and not to be allowed.
Subtext: That it becomes a normal thing.
Ren: Yes, so many people have one and yet so many people say that we should be quiet about it. I am not saying that if you have an abortion you have to shout it from the rooftop because different people are in different situations. As someone who is really privileged and doesn’t really need to hide it from someone in my life I want to talk about it openly and be like it is normal, it is fucking health care, if you had one you don’t need to be ashamed, you don’t have to be sorry, it is total normal.
Subtext: Could you give us a little bit more insight into the approach of the new record and what defines it?
Ren: In terms of the record itself we wanted to move away from any kind of sanctimonious and epicness. With Cut & Stich we have gone for huge and epic sound and I think we needed to strip away all the bullshit. We are super proud of what we have done before but we really needed to strip it down. I guess the new record is a little bit more honest. Like I said about mental health stuff, part of that was kicking back at the holier than faul, preachy and sanctimonious that can be in very radical left punk communities. There is a lot of finger-pointing and holding people to very high standards of behavior. We are all humans and the things we are fighting against are these huge structural systems and we need to accept that we are human beings who make mistakes.
I don’t say we cant be critical about each other but we can be kind and understanding. With tracks like „Preachers“ which is coming out in a few days we are going for this. There are no saints here. We need to interact with each other as like flawed, fucked up human beings who are trying their best.
We need to be nuanced in the way we respond to different kinds of mistakes. Rape is one thing and misspeaking or saying something wrong is vastly different. We can be a lot more kind to each other on the left. Thats in terms of the record. For political themes I would not be able to choose. We have got abortion, a track on femicide which is like the issue where I am the most political active at the moment. There is a track on the record looking into the intersection of police violence and violence against woman and marginalised genders. We have a track attacking not only the gender binary but binary ways of thinking in general. We have a song about burnout and mental health and many more topics. I could talk about all of them for a very long time.
Subtext: We had a discussion starting even before the pandemic about festivals line ups and the few amount of femal artists and bands in comparison to the male ones. When you like at the line up here the ratio is very good but looking at other festivals it is still bad. How do you think this development is going?
Ren: I think it is very different in different places and very hard to say an overall thing. There should be more women an marginalised genders on stage. Because statistically, there are more than cis men in the population. I think there is a fast improvement, but you do see a lot of festival line ups that are cis dominated and that doesn’t reflect the wealth of talent there is from woman and marginalised genders in the music industry. It is also really important for people that want to play in bands. I had to see other woman on stage to believe this is something I could do. Especially bands like Pettybone, woman that are doing hardcore stuff. To think myself that I could do hardcore. I can do that vocal style.
Thats considering I played in a metal band when I was a kid and did metal vocals, I still internalized so much bullshit about what I could or could not do as a woman in the music scene that, I needed that believe in that ability to be rekindled in my twenties and start Petrol Girls. It is hard to be something you can’t see. The same goes for that we need to see more people of color on festival stages. There has always been people of color in punk rock from day one. It was invented by people of color and yet like so much of the punk scene is dominated by white people. It is just not a reflection of the talent that is out there.
There is a lot of good work done but we can still and have to do better. Shoutout to initiatives like „Decolonize Berlin“ and „Decolonize Fest“ in London. Those are doing a lot to change the perception of race within the scene because I think it is important.
Subtext: Thank you. As we are running out of time I now would make the block I always do. I give you the beginning of a sentence and would like you to finish it. I can’t go on tour without…
Ren: My pillow, my pajamas and my vocal steamer. We are wild on tour, out of control!
Subtext: The funniest moment on tour was...
Ren: For me personally, I really enjoy farting right before going into a tunnel and everybody puts their windows up. I feel like this is something I personally find really entertaining. My mates fucking hate it but god I love farting when they put their windows up.
Subtext: If I had not become a musician I would become…
Ren: Propably a writer or an artist. I fuck my life up somehow, sorry mum, sorry dad. I would have done something else silly.
Subtext: I am finished with my questions, do you have one last topic or message you wanna say to the audience?
Ren: Omg, how do I do this quickly. Femicide is the topic I am most active at the moment. One women or marginalized gender is killed at least every ten minutes around the world. You got three women killed in the UK every week. Even in Austria with a small population at least two women are killed every month. I really think this is a point we need to organize around, hit the streets and make visible. Because the rates women and marginalized genders are being murdered is fucking crazy. I like to shout out to the women strike movement and groups in Latin America, UK, Poland, Austria, etc. Everybody who is working really hard to change patriarchic systems and injustices that allow these kind of violence.
Something I always say when we are on stage is like: Man you have a huge part playing this. It is your responsibility to challenge sexism and patriarch bullshit whenever you see it. Femicide is the visible peak of a whole pyramid of bullshit. Every fucking rape joke, every bit of fucking controlling, coercive behavior, every bit of harassment. You see it and call it out! Everybody need to be on site for this because this has to change. I am sorry, this is very heavy for a festival but I feel very fucking strongly about this.