‘Think that you are the biggest person in the room and you will be her.’ Frau // Interviewed

In May 2012 a friend was organising a benefit gig in a long-gone squat and I suggested Frau, a new band with no songs, ready to play their first show. I told him I’d heard them (not true) and that they were gonna be pretty special (very true, in fact I could never have predicted just how special.) Since then, Frau have toured Spain, (two of their number hail from Tenerife and Catalonia) and western Europe, and have become a common fixture on nearly every bill in London. Uncompromising and unpredictable, every Frau set flies in the face of staid expectations, ramshackle noise shaking up your bones. With a sound that borrows from the annals of radical woman-powered post-punk of times gone by without ever falling into rehash, where rollicking bass lines battle atonal guitars, these are insistent screeching truths forged in circles of trust. Their demo tape on Riots not Diets Records has now been repressed more times than I can count, so steal it from someone you know. Frau are downing Jagerbombs and spitting venom through clenched teeth, arming you with the only battle cry you ever needed: “YOU’RE GONNA LISTEN TO ME.”

Frau is:

Ashleigh: Vocals

Colette: Guitar

Núria: Bass

Paula: Drums

MRR: What do you want someone seeing you play for the first time to feel?

Ashleigh: Personally, I want you to be drawn in by the whole thing and I want it to be commanding. I want it to be hypnotic. I want you to let yourself go along with it. More recently it’s become a performance of authority, and I want people to feel that. A lot of punk is performance, whether it’s some guy pretending to be angry about wars he has nothing to do with, or people genuinely frustrated with their everyday lives, it is all performance. We don’t generally, in life, lock ourselves in rooms and ask people we know to watch us stamp around, so I want it to be a performance of the things I have written about, I want to put that across.

Colette: This is the first band I’ve been in where I’m not the singer and the lyrics aren’t mine so I’m thinking from another perspective. When you have good feedback it’s often really humbling. Sometimes people say, “Wow, I’ve never seen women play music like that,” which makes the reason for doing it click. I like music that is difficult and has different layers, so I want people to find the method accessible but also be challenged.

MRR: So you don’t want people to get to comfortable?

Colette: It’s more like, if I was seeing Ash for the first time I’d be like, “Fucking hell.”, She’s scary! I mean—not that I’m not allowed to talk on stage but…

Ashleigh: She’s not allowed to talk on stage.

Colette: I run the risk of getting a very dark stare, and I kind of appreciate that I try to adapt into a submissive part of me in that situation.

Ashleigh: She’s not submissive! She just yells through her guitar!

Paula: As a drummer, sometimes I can’t even see the audience, but I love to see people smile when we play and maybe just dancing. When they are very still I am more nervous. It is cool to have a scary singer.

Colette: I’m glad Ash is scary because it gives the rest of us confidence.

Ashleigh: I’d rather play to a hostile audience.

MRR: That’s a good segue—what’s the best and worst response you’ve had after a set?

Núria: I didn’t like it when I was being told I move funny when we play. It made me feel self-conscious, I don’t normally think about my body. I am concentrating on what we’re playing, not my body. I am in another place when we play, I don’t think about the audience, but this made me feel strange—I don’t think I knew I was moving at all! The best was probably someone saying my bass lines remind them of Flux of Pink Indians.

Paula: My father saw us live at the Grosvenor in Stockwell, an early show. He said the guitar was too loud.

MRR: Daaaad!

Núria: The best thing was when Colette made a little boy cry.

Ashleigh: She Chuck Berry-ed him.

MRR: She hit him with her guitar?!

Colette: It’s only happened three times!

Ashleigh: She kicked Núria in the crotch once! When we played in St. Etienne she ran into the crowd and hit a six-year-old boy who was there with his dad. She also knocked a grown man over in Spain.

MRR: What were your feelings on deciding to learn guitar for Frau, Colette? I know you told me you’d never play a power chord for ideological reasons!

Colette: Playing a guitar always seemed the most appealing instrument to start within a band. There are a few examples in punk of guitar players that I felt played in a really messy erratic, non-conventional way. There’s this band Corey Orbison from Bristol and London and I always felt the way all three of them played was amazing—Michal and Irene seem to just hit their guitar/bass in different places, I guess a bit like the no wave band DNA. It makes perfect sense and is terrible chaos all at once. In terms of looking at the way Michal plays guitar, I now realize he’s an incredibly proficient player and is playing jazz chords and weird riffs that the casual observer would just see as nonsense. Also Jaume, the guitarist in Orden Mundial, the way he plays is crazy. I love their new LP so much, just for how exciting the guitar sound is. All of the guitar playing on the first Frau tape is open chords with basic progressions, I dunno, that just seemed an easy way to play loud, full chords akin to the sound I wanted to make. I got a lot of “That song only has one chord?!!!” and my response was “Why not?” I really love the recording of the song “Sherman’s Gone,” it has an amazing texture to it with the way the guitar sound shrills in and out.

MRR: Paula, when did you first learn to play drums? I am right in thinking you are also a trained sound engineer?

Paula: I started playing drums in my friends’ practice spaces, I had a band but we never ended up playing live. I also had classes which is what gave me a little more confidence, keeping in mind that I’m from Tenerife, a small island where female bands are not very common. I did a sound engineer course five years ago, but I have never done it as a professional job—after all this time I feel like it’s the moment to put it into practice.

MRR: What about you Núria?

Núria: About ten years ago I bought my first and only bass. I spent the first years practicing in my room. Finally, I started a grind band with some friends and we released a tape that nobody bought.

Paula: The best comment we had actually was a guy saying he couldn’t figure out if Colette just couldn’t play, or was a total genius. She is a genius.

Ashleigh: The nicest thing, and it is usually women, is they say it’s really genuine. When we played in Zurich, loads of women asked me how I could be so powerful. It was weird, I didn’t really know how to answer. I eventually said to them, “You have to think big.” Like physically, you need to imagine that you are bigger. I am five foot tall so most people are bigger than me, but when I playing I feel like I am fifty feet tall, but generally I try to live in a mindset of having a bit of an attitude because I have small man syndrome, haha.

MRR: Does anyone want to mention the worst response they’ve have?

Ashleigh: Well, something that stuck in my mind quite a lot that comes to mind now is that someone once referred to us as “more of an art band.” For me, this really wasn’t an acceptable thing. If you want to dismiss us, fine, if you don’t want us to be part of your punk scene, fine, but art?

Colette: What’s wrong with art?

Ashleigh: We’re not an “art band,” we are a fucking punk band and how dare anyone punk disregard us. I find that fucking offensive.

Colette: I guess I’m less bothered about the word “art” itself, more just what is meant by this, that someone will dismiss us as being relevant because we’re not fitting into a very narrow conception of what a hardcore band is or should be.

Ashleigh: It’s just a dismissal, so lazy, it’s a way to not even have to engage or deal with us as a punk band, it positions us outside of the scene by saying we’re “art.” What about us is not punk?

Colette: Ugh, I think I sometimes we can dwell on this stuff too much, and we do have to remind ourselves that this sort of viewpoint tends to be said by people who benefit from the status quo of a conventional punk scene, where men and straight people are plenty. I really like that women and queer people are drawn to our band, but that we also play lots of different types of shows. One of my friends joked that the reason Frau do sometimes go down well on a straight up punk bill is because we have a kick drum beat that dumb men can nod along to…

Ashleigh: Don’t say dumb men…

Colette: Okay, someone with dumb taste can nod along to. I guess I bring this up because it’s an interesting tool, like art is a tool and punk is a tool.

MRR: Regardless of the genre, making even the most rudimentary “anti-art” band is technically still creating art though right?

Ashleigh: It’s just about letting people define themselves! Like, I do not go around saying to people “Yeah, so how’s that super aggressive, masculine-sounding music going for you?” just because it’s not quite to my taste. I love hardcore, some types appeal and some don’t, but I don’t tell other people they need to change their style for my benefit.

MRR: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from being in Frau?

Núria: The best thing to do is do something by yourself.

Paula: Another lesson is it doesn’t matter if a song just has one note, it can be amazing. I feel very fortunate to belong to a group that is not lacking in affection, trust, and respect. After almost two years I have learned that the love that I feel for them has no limits and I have also learned that this group has strength and a lot of rage, ready to fight for what we think and believe in.

Ashleigh: I learnt the phrase “eres un pedaso de mierda.” Oh shit, and I know it’s lame, but sisterhood. These girls, they lift me up. I have never felt more comfortable with anyone.

Núria: You saved my life. Thanks to them I survived.

Colette: Yeah, sisterhood. The phrase sounds a bit dated culturally now but it is this special type of female friendship. Being in a band is a different type of friendship.

Ashleigh: The struggle is powerful too, the struggle to create something together when you are already friends or you become friends, it is a next level thing and it’s so much deeper.

Colette: It’s like, you’re playing, as we did, supporting Los Crudos, playing for hundreds of people with their fucking arms folded. We did that together, you have to have each other’s backs to have the confidence to even get on that stage. I feel like the last few years the DIY scene in London has been incredible for sisterhood and queer solidarity. All the female and queer presences at the front in shows – at that Crudos gig, the Hysterics gig in Brighton, that Las Otras gig—it was just amazing, this new power I’ve never felt in the scene before.

Ash: There are a lot of women in London that are so amazing, we definitely feel connected to all of them.

MRR: That definitely leads me on to my next question, about your respective feminisms. You all identify as feminists amongst other things, and it would be interesting to know how you feel being in Frau has developed your opinions on this?

Colette: There are so many problems within even addressing a third-wave or progressive feminism in radical spheres and punk and I think a lot about these words, but I’ve been thinking recently how feminist is one of the words I won’t ever detach myself from. A lot of my friends shy away from it because they feel the word queer is better for them, but for me feminism is unquestionable. Frau has been a confirmation that I just prefer making music with women, and that it’s just the best thing I can engage with in life.

MRR: Do you feel that you all have different takes on feminism?

Colette: Only sometimes, yes—Paula and I had an interesting argument the other day about whether men can be feminists, which I think they can.

Paula: For me, men do not have the same struggle.

Ashleigh: I think I was always a feminist as a young girl, but my real introduction to it came through my A-level film tutor called Nada—one of our songs is named after her—she was so powerful and passionate. I have always tried to be quite rational, though, so being in Frau has given me the opportunity to learn from these women’s experiences, and take on some aspects of them. I guess an example is Paula has really encouraged me not to question my anger, she will remind me that hating something and being fucking angry is really good. I have that within me but I tend to stamp it down, it turns into self-hatred, whereas they’ve shown me to embrace that hatred, that it’s okay to be that angry. I have always been this angry but I’ve been taught to aim it at myself. Being around them makes me remember this.

Paula: Thanks to the fact that each of us is coming from the same scene, I have never felt that my ideas have been put into question, and we are in agreement on the basic issues. My struggle is situated within a political vision that is opposed to all relations of forceful power in which patriarchy is seen, obviously, as a form of authoritarianism. In the day-to-day, direct action and self-sufficiency are our tools, we do things on our own, we confront incidents that make us feel uncomfortable, we are in charge of our own bodies, we decide openly about our sexuality, we don’t tolerate violence towards us and we fight for this. We know that mutual support is fundamental, the small differences that might exist between us are not an obstacle, but on the contrary help me learn and value what my female friends feel.

MRR: Ash, can you explain the meaning behind “Hostile” and “Safety Instructions,” my two favorite songs?

Ashleigh: “Hostile” is about not labelling angry children. I work with really young children, some with emotional behavioral difficulties, some with autism spectrum disorder and other learning needs—I’ve got scars from these kids, then later shared biscuits and games with them (as well as teaching them!). I’d never call one of them hostile, but we live in a world that treats them as a risk and I hate that. “Safety Instructions” is my first love song! I broke up with a boy and remember being sat on a train looking at the safety instructions on the seat in front feeling that heartache kind of sick. It’s about feeling a huge need to protect someone and make everything easy for them, and knowing really that you can’t, there are no instructions for that kind of thing.

MRR: It’d be cool to talk about tour and your experiences of it. How did going to Spain compare to the other Europe?

Núria: I enjoyed every gig, every night. Every gig was special.

Paula: I have good memories of the Spanish tour because my sister drove us!

Colette: Miriam is so cool and strong. Now when I am feeling unsure of what I’m doing, I think of her and imagine her telling me, “What the fuck are you afraid of?”

Núria: We met the guys from Asesinato del Poder because they set up a show on the Spanish tour, and then we ended up doing the whole of Europe with them.

Ashleigh: It was a bit awkward when we first met because Colette and I do not speak Spanish and none of Asesinato boys speak too much English, but we communicated through punk. I actually had a really embarrassing incident at that show, Paula was outside still trying to park the van, and I was inside trying to set the drum kit up, having never set one up before. All these boys, none of whom spoke any English, are like politely trying to help me and I am generally terrible at accepting help, so I’m there like, “Don’t touch it! I can do it! I don’t need a man to help me!” I am literally patting their hands away and frowning, and obviously couldn’t do it and I felt weird about it. Then when I actually spoke to them, they are the most childish, stupid baby boys ever and I love them, they are so amazing. Their band is incredible.

Colette: They all got Frau tattoos! I loved tour but you do get a bit worn out half way through for some reason! I was a bit tired, a bit sad, and a bit of an ungrateful bastard and kept having to tell myself to shut up. Spain was so good. The main thing I took away from that experience was getting a glimpse of the amazing network of DIY in Spain. In the UK we have a punk scene, and you know, yeah, it’s DIY in the way we organise, but it can be, you know, in a Vice-run venue or whatever, whereas in Spain, the full spirit is DIY, it’s political, people have been so creative about building things. It made me think when our friend Jokin from the Basque country who is living here said that in London, it’s “harder to be an outlaw”, it makes sense.

Ashleigh: They take a lot of risks.

MRR: Is this because laws there are more lax, or because there is a culture of risk-taking that we don’t have here as punks?

Paula: In English culture everything feels more polite, it’s like you respect the laws. We have no respect for the law. We do not respect authority. We pee in the street, you know?

Ashleigh: We piss in the street…if we’re really drunk. Colette pissed in the street on tour, she said she normally only “does bushes” though…

Colette: Paula, you don’t even sit on the toilet, that’s how much you don’t respect authority. Núria, how do you feel about toilets?

Núria: In Barcelona, being in the punk and DIY scene means squatting, stealing, being against authority. Punks in Spain are ruder, dirtier, and illegal. It really surprised me here that almost all the gigs are in pubs, that people don’t seem to steal.

Paula: I find that the punk scene in London, in general terms, is less political than in Spain. The scarcity of social centers and squatted places makes it so that punk bands have to mostly play in bars, which are not related to DIY projects. Also, it seems to me that this city is different in that money is not a problem. People pay to get into shows, even if the prices are kind of high, and this is inevitably a product of the economic situation. Here, people respond, and although they aren’t that politically committed, they do collaborate, which makes it possible to gather funds for projects. One of the things that I value most about the London scene is the marvelous queer scene that it has, which is constantly growing and forging a path through the deep patriarchal roots of punk.

Ash: Our friend Ines said to me that she feels the punk scene in the UK is very academic, which was interesting, like everyone has degrees, or is thinking stuff through instead of just doing it.

MRR: As if it’s like “here’s my chosen cultural interest” rather than an impulse or a worldview. That makes a lot of sense to me. Núria and Paula, is London a hard place to live compared to where you grew up, and how have you found your experiences as immigrants here?

Núria: I grew up in a boring, quiet town next to Barcelona and when I could I moved to the city. Barcelona is an easy place to live in comparison to London, at least, when I was there. The weather is usually good, the distances are short, and I had no problem finding recycled food, clothes or furniture. In this city, I found the long distances really hard. That, and how expensive everything is, but this is something that I have to accept if I want to enjoy the rest. As a legal immigrant too, I think that the language is the first barrier that you can find. It’s frustrating to not understand or to not be understood. After two years here I still have loads of problems trying to express myself properly. (If I can’t do it in Spanish, imagine in English…) Also, since I’m here I’m more alone than I used to be. I think that the rhythm of the city pushes you to be a loner.

Paula: London is an enormous city that I love and hate at the same time. Thanks to the quantity of immigrants here, I have never really felt discriminated against, but when I’ve had to express myself or have serious conversations, or when I’ve tried to find “decent” jobs I have felt some frustration. The language is a barrier that has impeded me in expressing my true self. In Spanish, I am funny and I crack jokes; in English, I am somewhat more shy.

MRR: My last question is this: What would you say to a young woman coming to her first punk gig who wants to get involved and start a band?

Núria: Pick up the instrument and start to make a noise.

Paula: I would say, because I come from Tenerife which is a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it was so hard to do an all-girl band, just grab an instrument and don’t expect to be approved of. Sometimes you’re afraid to not play well, you feel you are being watched by men. You feel the urge to demonstrate you know how to play, just resist that pressure. Find friends and do it.

Núria: And if you don’t have any friends, call me.

Colette: Use that fear and pressure and turn it into your energy. Use it—“Fuck this, I don’t fit in and this is what I’ve got to say about it.” You truly can pick up any instrument, as scary as that sounds. Compared to the conventional standards I can’t play guitar at all but I am still doing this.

Ashleigh: Your guitar playing is beautiful.

Colette: I can’t walk into a guitar shop and try something out though can I?

MRR: Never go to guitar shops is also good advice.

Ashleigh: I would tell them to think big. Think that you are the biggest person in the room and you will be her. When it comes to punk, you don’t have to be in a band to feel big. It’s not about what you do, it’s how you feel. When I first started in my first band I said, “Okay guys, I’ll do it but I will never play live” and now here we are, several years later, with a few bands and tours, one of which I sing in that that has made me feel really powerful. Try doing a band and if it feels even remotely good or even fucking terrifying, remember that it’s scary for a reason and keep going. Doing a band isn’t the only thing you can do to feel powerful. Put on a gig and try standing right at the front, make your presence felt and take up the space you deserve because you deserve to fucking be there. You deserve to watch what you want, to make the sounds that you want. This is your world so be a fucking part of it.

Frau wants to come to the USA/Mexico in 2015 – Get in touch if you can help –

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