Queer Voices: Vancouver's Alt Rock Band Strange Breed Chat About Women in Rock, the Music Industry and Feminism - OUTtv
 

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Queer Voices: Vancouver’s Alt Rock Band Strange Breed Chat About Women in Rock, the Music Industry and Feminism

Published On: April 2, 2020
Written By: Bianca Sutton

Photo by: Evan Eye

Nestled in the downtown east-side of Vancouver, we found ourselves waiting outside a nondescript industrial-looking building. We were here to meet Strange Breed, a 4 piece, all queer, all-female Vancouver based band you wish you were in. Behind the walls of this unsuspecting building lay room after room of studios, all filled with the noise of aspiring musicians.

Strange Breed, who is made up of Nicolle Dupas (vocals and guitar), Terra Chaplin (lead guitar), Megan Bell (drums) and Jess Dubois (bass), are reminiscent of some of the greatest female rock groups with a nostalgic nod towards 90s femme rock. Forming just over 2 years ago and recently welcoming the newest member Jess to the fold, the group have already played many of the local hot spots including The Vogue and Fortune Sound Club as well as touring venues across Canada. To put it bluntly… these women are fucking cool!

As we crammed into the small space the band practise in, we were immediately greeted with giant smiles and excitable chatter. The over-excitement predominantly on my part – I was fulfilling my groupie fantasy of sitting in on band practice, something I had only dreamed of as a spotty, awkward teen. Strange Breed had given us backstage access to their weekly practice and over the course of the next few hours, we chatted about navigating a male-dominated music genre, the importance of female representation and the rise in queer music. Warning… be prepared to stan.

“We’ve evolved a lot since we started. When we started it was very intentional to go for the Riot Grrrl type thing and I think some of that still trickles through in certain elements of our music where it’s very nostalgic to the 90s,” explains Nicolle. “It’s definitely evolved as we’ve written songs without thinking about the labels. We just say we’re alternative rock at this point – it went from being we’re a punk band, we’re a rock girl band, we’re garage rock. Our music is just that alternative heavy kind of sound with accessible hooks and things like that.”


Bailey Morgan Photography

Just listening to a couple of Strange Breed songs you get an understanding of what they grew up listening to. The band is often compared to some of the most iconic female bands of the century – Bikini Kill, Hole, Sleater Kinney. Listening to Strange Breed is liking climbing into a teleportation device and finding yourself transported back to your teenage bedroom, listening, for the first time, to a band that totally gets how you are feeling when it feels like no-one else does. This feeling of nostalgia isn’t lost on the band.

“I feel we’ve started to find the perfect balance of bridging the gap between the modern rock sound and some of the influence we grew up with,” says Nicolle.

“Our first cover was Bikini Kill and people so excited to hear it from us. It was just like, no, we want to be part of the Riot Grrrl thing and we want to stand up for other people and be the band that we wanted when we were kids,” adds Megan.

Photo by: Evan Eye

While many musicians meet practicing in the garage as kids or navigating in circles with other musicians, Strange Breed came together in a way more fitting with the modern times… Craigslist. For the majority, it’s just a platform to flog some old junk or for a crazed psycho to hunt for victims, but for this quartet, an ad posted by lead singer Nicolle kickstarted Strange Breed.

“I’ve been a musician my whole life and was trying to do it on my own, but I missed being in bands. I was reaching that point in my early twenties where I was angry about everything. My feminism couldn’t be controlled. I needed an outlet. I was revisiting some of that music from when I was younger and the Riot Grrrl movement and reading all these books. I was immersing myself in it and being like, I can do that, I want to do that. So, I posted an ad and Terra responded,” explains Nicolle.

The fact the band is all-female and all-queer was not intentional, just a happy coincidence. With Terra, a Craigslist gem bringing the band to two members, Megan, who is Nicolle’s partner stepped in to play the drums temporarily. She soon became permanent.

Kaitlyn Roth Photography

Looking back through the history books, mixing the world of business and pleasure has sparked trouble for the status of many relationships. Lynsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks’ relationship was riddled with affairs, Ike and Tina Turner went down in history as one of the most infamously dysfunctional relationships and Sid and Nancy… well, it didn’t end well. For Megan and Nicolle, they have an optimistic stance on being together and working together and it works.

“It’s hard sometimes, working with your significant other, but we have fun. It’s just really cool to be able to experience some of our personal career milestones together. When we got to play the Vogue Theatre – that’s something we both wanted to do our whole lives and we both to experience that,” says Nicolle.

Jess, the newest member of Strange Breed, had little to no experience of playing to a live audience prior to joining the group. She described her experience as “bedroom bass,” and kept to the confines of her bedroom. Not long after becoming the group’s bass player, she was playing some of Vancouver’s big venues.

“I was thrown to the wolves,” Jess jokes. “It was crazy. It felt really surreal. I don’t remember the first one a whole lot because there was so much adrenaline going on. I got off stage and was like, ‘did I do okay?’”

“It’s like the greatest fear but the best high,” adds Terra, who has been Jess’s best friend long before Strange Breed.

The name Strange Breed originates from an erotic 30s novel, a poster for which decorates the wall of Meagan and Nicolle’s home. The poster portrays two lesbians and the words, ‘getting from each other what they can’t get from men.’ A subtle yet perfect nod to the queerness and gender of the band along with undertones of owning homophobic retorts.

“It worked in a few ways because we didn’t want it to be, ‘girls in a band,” says Nicolle. “It’s referencing this queer erotic novel, so it works in that way, and as we have queerness in the band it’s a cool nod towards that. It also just sounded cool as a band name. If you saw the name you wouldn’t necessarily know who to expect in the band, but once you get to know us it makes sense.”

While the inspiration for their name is taken from a vintage lesbian novel, the lyrics of their music, predominantly written by Nicolle, comes from an even deeper mixture of life experience, daily injustices and the current political landscape. People might dislike Trump – but we can’t argue he hasn’t inspired a surge in people finding their voices through creative outlets in order to speak out and stand up for what is right.

“[Our inspiration] comes from specific things happening around us. The song ‘sharks’ was very blatantly about the ‘me too’ movement. We try to reference things that are going on socially and politically where we can. There are songs about sexual assault, discrimination against women or violence against women. And then some songs are just kinda fun – it’s fun to have songs that are just fun to rock out to,” says Nicolle.

Photo by Evan Eye

The music industry has always been a tough one to crack. From a young age, many of us dreamed of touring the world to adoring fans, only to find ourselves disappointed by the croaky, out-of-tune sound we produced. For women with talent, they are competing against the manufactured, bubble gum pop, body gyrating, bikini-clad singers that fill the charts. Ultimately the ones who will fill kids Christmas wish lists with their merch and steal their pocket money for concert tickets. There are so many talented female musicians who don’t get the attention their musical abilities deserve. Take for example a band called Fanny (let’s be mature here), a 60s all-female rock band. They were the first all-female rock band to release an album on a major label, yet their recognition today is almost nil.

“It’s hard to hear about women in rock, even if you go on Youtube or Spotify to find a playlist. You see the same six people. It’s Joan Jett, Heart, L7, Hole – and they’re really great bands but there are so many people undiscovered,” says Jess.

“There’s so much more out there,” adds Megan.

Another pressure on women in music, especially those in rock is the need to prove themselves, something men don’t necessarily feel as much. It’s easy to name plenty of male guitar players, drummers, and bass players, but the same can’t be said for women. An invisible sign hangs above the door titled, “boy’s only.” Yeah Yeah Yeah’s frontwoman Karen O spoke in an interview with Elle about the loneliness of being in a male-dominated industry and Beth Ditto, lead singer of Gossip has stressed the importance for female artists to stand their ground in an industry run by men. As always women have proven, again and again, they shouldn’t be underestimated, and Strange Breed is another group of strong, talented women not only proving this but fuelling the argument to.

“It’s easy to get buried by the men,” Nicolle says. “There are a lot of phenomenal male artists and it’s just hard for the women to stand out when they’re just not being paid attention to.”

“It’s hard just to be taken seriously as a musician. How many times does it happen that people come to our shows and after we play they’re like, ‘oh we didn’t expect you to be that good, but you guys are actually pretty good? I’m a heavy hitter [on the drums] and people will be like, ‘oh I didn’t think you could hit that hard,” Megan adds, to the recognizing nods of the group. “To be accepted as a musician, let alone a decent musician, let alone a famous musician there’s so many more hurdles.”

As an all-female group, the band still sees a subconscious difference in treatment from people towards each of them based on their looks. Nicolle and Jess describe themselves as more feminine women while Terra and Megan more masculine-presenting women.

“People would approach [Jess and myself] for a hug whereas [Terra and Megan] might get handshakes,” Nicolle says.

“We never get hugs,” Terra and Megan say in unison.

Although visibility shouldn’t have to be a privilege, at times passing under the radar as a cis straight woman, or cis straight man can sadly save some from subconscious bias, insults, aggression and at times violence.

“I acknowledge my femme visibility as a privilege at times,” says Nicolle. “I can dodge certain prejudices or assumptions.”

“It’s a weird double standard, we’re [Terra and Megan] probably not going to get sexually harassed but we might get punched,” adds Megan.


Bailey Morgan Photography

We talked in a previous Queer Voices, with singer-songwriter Tafari Anthony about the increase in queer music and the rise in prominence of LGBTQ+ musicians. Most importantly we’re seeing it across all genres of music, not just in the pop circuit. However, Strange Breed makes the vital point, queer music isn’t new – if you look hard enough, it’s always been there.

“Queers have always been making music. Women have always been making music. You might only see 6 or 7 of the top ones but there is so much more out there,” says Megan. “Because we’ve made an effort and we’ve traveled Canada, we’ve made an effort to look for other bands and different people doing different things and fuck man, women are great, queers are great at making art.”

“Every genre is going to develop at different speeds, but everyone is coming to the forefront more and more,” adds Terra.

Rattan Prakesh Singh Photography

Today’s digital climate has changed the way musicians break into the music industry. In some sense, it’s easier, but then for the very same reasons, it’s difficult. More than ever before musicians are taking things into their own hands, producing and distributing their music to platforms and cutting out the greedy middleman. But in a world where popularity is measured by the number of virtual buddies you have and likability comes down to how many likes that picture of your hot dog legs on the beach got, it can be hard for musicians to measure success.

“The music industry is so different now that everything is digital, we have nothing to base certain things on,” says Terra. “Either things happen for us or it’s like playing the waiting game. A video can get 3000 likes – but how can you compare that to what is good? What is considered good sales? Have 1000 bots just liked your shit? It’s a strange time to be in music.”

“There is no incremental growth like there was in the 60s and 70s where you start a band, go on tour, and then you get a record deal. Things happen sporadically or they don’t. Last year we had all this growth, but how do you keep that going? You see all the stats and the numbers on your social media, and you think how do I keep people interested?”

Last year the band realized their latest album, ‘Permanence,’ which not only bought the band closer together through writing, recording and touring, but it also solidified their commitment to the band…

“It took a long ass time to make and literal blood, sweat and tears because we got all got matching tattoos,” says Nicolle. “It was a memento of something cool we made together – and that’s how the name permanence was there. [Permanence] also refers to some of the ideologies and politics we discuss in some of the songs, just being like, ‘we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, our music is here to stay.’ It’s also about a push for social change, these things are coming, and they are here to stay.”

Rattan Prakesh  Singh Photography

Don’t forget I told you earlier, these women are fucking cool. It bears repeating. Strange Breed is known for not only incorporating the messages of social change in their lyrics but also for installing a sense of community through respect and positivity at their live shows. From chatting to these women, I can confirm they live up to their reputation, and I fully stan.

To see the upcoming music video by Strange Breed, ‘25’ (Releases April 10th!) head over to their YouTube channel (where you can also browse all their other videos). You can also RSVP to their Official Video Release Party for that video here.

You can listen to their music on all streaming platforms and can follow the band and what they are up to on their Instagram. And be sure to keep an eye out on their website for their upcoming tour dates.