DS Interview: Shawna Potter of War On Women discusses political climate and show ettiquette

War On Women shows tend to straddle the line between protest and punk show. They exploded onto the scene in 2011 with their 10-inch “Improvised Weapons” and in the last year put out their eponymous debut full-length to thunderous applause from the punk rock community. Malamute sat down (figuratively) with singer/lyricist Shawna Potter and discussed, among other things, the band’s popularity in and outside the punk scene, sexism in Lord Of The Rings and punk show etiquette. You can read the full interview below.

War On Women’s last release was their self-titled full-length in February 2015.

Dying Scene (Malamute): So there was a Newsweek person here tonight doing a story on you apparently, and they ended up talking to me about you guys.

Shawna Potter (War On Women): I heard! That’s awesome.

DS: Very weird, but awesome. But how has it been getting picked up by…”normie” media. This certainly isn’t the first time.

SP: Yeah, the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, soon to be Newsweek. New York Times didn’t do an interview but reviewed our album. Those are some heavy-hitters in my opinion. Of course, the day they have me as a pundit on Fox News I can die happy; I’d love to yell at those assholes about sexism. I would totally walk into the lion’s den. But I just find it interesting that any of these organizations are interested in us. But I find it really encouraging because they’re really talking to us because of our message. It’s not just about the music, they really care about what we’re saying. And because that’s so important to us, I’m very happy to talk to them to spread that message and maybe even let people know it’s ok to be into heavy music. Some heavy music is inclusive and cool and not anti-woman and maybe you would like it if you knew it aligned with your values.

DS: So, the first interview I ever did was with Brooks at the Royale (venue in Boston, MA) and we talked a bit about “Effememania” and the Lord Of The Rings reference in the opening line. But he started talking about the book and how you and he had both read it and had differing views on how women were portrayed in the books and I was kind of curious to get your side of it. (Writer’s note; you can find that interview here)

SP: To be fair, I’m a really fast reader and I didn’t sit over Lord Of The Rings and study it in a scholarly way, I just went through it. So I’ll walk away entertained with the general themes but I won’t say all the details stick with me. So that being said…my impression and general feeling is when people put women on a pedestal, that is also unfair and sexist; that’s benevolent sexism. So all these female characters…there were so many male characters or dwarf characters that you know are masculine and they can be all these different ways and they’re really just…humans, because they’re flawed and all the women were somehow perfect, or so magical…

DS: Angelic?

SP: Yeah or angelic or I don’t know what and that doesn’t do any service to women as a whole. If you’re writing Lord Of The Rings and you feel women are superior to men and you put men in the underling position because you have those issues…you’re allowed to feel that way but when you start influencing…women are way up here, well there is only one way to go from there, and it’s down. So if you expect women to be perfect or magical, we’re not. We need to be seen as human, and flawed and okay. So yeah, I’m very uncomfortable with putting women on a pedestal. It kind of equates with the idea that men only want to be with women or fuck them. They serve no other purpose. That’s what they’re for and because sex is just so fucking important and sex is just way up here so I guess women are way up here, and when you don’t get it, you’ll be fucking pissed. I just think it’s very unhealthy and I don’t like it. I know that’s a really harsh review of that book. I get Brooks’ argument that he’s showing man – mankind being flawed and these women are mostly elves or something that is not of mankind and something where they are superior because of their “race.” Which we can go into, but I’d rather not, that’s a whole other thing. It’s just showing that the women need to be in charge and take care of it and no – we all need to take care of it and share being in charge and being responsible.

DS: War On Women shows tend to strike a balance between a punk rock show and a protest for women’s rights and trans-rights, etc. As a cisgender, straight white man I come to the show agreeing with the message and wanting to be part of the show but not always feeling comfortable singing along to some of the words because they come from a woman’s perspective and experience. I was wondering what your take is, as the writer of those words?

SP: I feel comfortable with anyone singing along to our songs at a show; any of the words because we’re all singing along at a show together. But really the point of the show is to get men thinking about that. Normally you go to shows and you don’t even have to fucking think about that question. You don’t have to wonder at all. So the fact that men are coming to these shows and thinking about that; that’s cool. It means you’re in a position where you have to acknowledge that you’re not the only type of person that exists right? And that you have to realize that other people have different boundaries or different realities than you. So I don’t mind people singing along, but I know what you mean, it can be awkward. I think if we’re all singing along together and we’re all having a good time, no one is getting pushed around or hurt, and no one is being super aggro dancing for no reason then I would like to think that the rest of the audience is cool with that too. But if some asshole is doing more than just dancing, just taking up too much space, pushing people around and just fucking with them then I’m not okay with that kind of thing and I’m not okay with them singing along because I don’t think they get it.

DS: In the same vein; I think being the straight white man in the room I try to be mindful of the “girls to the front” mentality and try to take up as little space as possible.

SP: Well, it’s about sharing the space and that doesn’t always mean taking up as little space as possible. Again, just thinking about it instead of just assuming you’re good to go. Assessing your surroundings, thinking is there anyone around me that could use some more space. Like it’d be cool I guess to have only women and queers up front, you know like five rows deep and have men in the back and everyone having a good time, but that’s not always the makeup of the audience anyway so even if all the women were up front it still might not be that many and it’s ok, and not everyone wants to be up front like legitimately some people are like “this is too fuckin’ loud, I didn’t bring my earplugs” or whatever reason. So I really think it’s more about the equity of the space and sharing the space and just having dudes checking around them “am I cool?” just thinking about things that they normally take for granted.

DS: So War On Women’s live show is lauded, or should be if it isn’t. You’re a big part of that and you take a very theatrical role in it and I was wondering what your influences as a front-person were?

SP: Well, I was in theatre in junior high [laughs] so that’s probably the biggest influence of just being comfortable in my body, comfortable taking up space on stage. And understanding that if you’re playing at a punk club, maybe the PA isn’t great or you’re at a house show and maybe people can’t hear you. But maybe somehow I can still physically convey the message that I’m trying to get across, so I have my voice and I do what I can with my voice but recognizing the limitations therein, all I have left is my face, my body and my gestures so I use that. It’s fun for me. Sometimes I’ll do impressions of other singers when I’m on stage, I do like to do that. Mostly super recognizable stuff like Mick Jagger, Ozzy Osbourne, or Beyoncé. I do Beyoncé…but just trying to be funny, trying to make fun of the lead singer thing. I’m just having fun and if anything, I feel more authentic being me; being the front person in this band instead of playing guitar like I have before.

DS: Hah, I have a burned in memory of a show during Ladyfest 2014 at the Windup Space (Baltimore, MD) where during Roe V. World you gave birth to a wooden owl on stage.

SP: Yeah! The wooden owl, that was fun.

DS: I asked this of Thomas [Barnett, Strike Anywhere] and I wanted to ask you as well. Sort of my take on the “desert island album question,” if you were on your deathbed and you only had time to listen to one album, what would it be?

SP: Ooooh, that’s interesting. It’s not even that you won’t listen to anything ever again, it’s the moment. Because the desert island would be Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” for sure, but that’s too peppy for your deathbed, it’s not reflective or thoughtful enough. I like this. You know, I don’t think it’d be a whole record. I think that’s a really difficult thing to be perfect all the way through. So like, the beginning of Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity, and the first song on Spoon’s record…shit what’s the title. The album is called….something with Girls (Girls Can Tell). Everything Hits At Once is the song. Just a nice, mellow song. I think something with that kind of vibe, that would make it for that half hour or whatever.

DS: Last night you talked on stage about Trump and being a green party supporter. I’m curious what your position would be on “protest voting?”

SP: Protest like…”Well, I don’t like Trump but I’m not going to vote for Hillary”?

DS: Not even that but like “I’m gonna write in Bernie” or “I’m gonna vote Jill Stein.” Not that voting your conscience is a bad thing.

SP: Honestly, I would just prefer people just fuckin’ vote. I think that there are so many people that just don’t vote. I’d be happy if everyone voted and voted their conscience. Can you imagine the president we would have? It would be fuckin’ Bernie, or Jill Stein right? The thing is, everyone is confused with who actually aligns with their conscience.

DS: Then there’s that idea put forward by the mainstream media of electability. It happened with Sanders before he got big; no one gave a shit about him.

SP: Yeah, I just saw the results of this study where they said something really extreme like, for every fifty-four minutes of Trump, there was like 30 seconds of Bernie. Don’t quote me on those numbers [too late] but it was that kind of idea where of course he could make it as the nominee for that party because the media has it in for the spectacle.

[short interruption from the rest of the band to figure who’s water bottle of vodka was sitting on Evan’s drumkit – spoiler alert; it was Evan’s.]

DS: Yeah. I read this article that I found interesting about protest voting being a matter of privilege. Again, I’m a straight white man, if Trump wins I will suffer less than literally everybody else.

SP: I mean there are absolutely times when you can and should use your privilege for good. I’m on food stamps so I get help from Maryland to buy food. So when I buy food I buy organic and I buy vegan. I think it’s important to use the privilege of having the money to do that, not that you can’t without it, but having the money to do that and to promote that because even though people don’t want to believe it, eating meat is one of the worst things for the environment. They can look it up themselves. I’m sorry, there is just too much science behind it. Going vegan is the best thing you can do environmentally. Better than anything else; turn the lights off, carpooling, fuck that; stop eating meat. So anyway I use my privilege to promote that and support the businesses that do have vegan options and all that stuff. So, if you translate that to voting…you have the privilege of voting in the first place that’s great. You’re not an old brown or black person and they’re not trying to take your vote away. I think voting out of spite is kind of bullshit, voting out of cynicism is bullshit, but truly voting your conscience is noble and I think if we all agreed to do it, it would actually end up okay. I actually believe there is more of us; more of us meaning progressive folks or people that care about equality. I think there is more of us than there are of them, they’re just more vocal and get out in higher numbers to vote. If everyone who is apathetic, and don’t vote because they feel downtrodden or like it doesn’t count went out and voted, I think we’d be in a good place and that means we would have to vote for Stein, or Hillary or whoever they want. I get it though. But I feel like I can also assess the situation; I live in a blue state and I honestly know, I know that I can vote Jill Stein and Hillary will win my state. So I would rather show representation to the green party so that they’re encouraged and keep running at the local level. I’m not just going to vote for president I’m going to vote for a bunch of fucking local issues like everyone else that almost matter more than who’s president. At least in the day to day lives of people. That’s why everyone should vote; to vote for their fucking representatives, their governor, or what their money is going to be used for. Is it going to be used for schools or after-school detention programs? That’s what we’re dealing with: is it going to go to more casinos or cleaning up our bay. That’s the shit that really matters, and again I think if you really know which way your state swings, you can use it.

DS: Favorite food spots?

SP: Favorite food? Sushi. Sushi is my desert island food.

DS: I mean like, spots on tour. Like “I’m in this city I gotta hit up this place!”

SP: Well we ate at Champ’s Diner today. Gotta go to Champs. In Philly we go to Blackbird, the vegan philly cheesesteak place. But honestly sometimes you just have to eat Taco Bell and that’s fine. I love Taco Bell; if you don’t eat meat there you have no problems. Everyone that fucking hates Taco Bell is usually a meat eater and that’s why they don’t like it.

DS: Do you have any recording plans?

SP: Nothing is in stone. After this next run to Fest we just want to take a break from the band. Probably write songs and write a record, record an album. But we want to not think about the band for a couple months. We’ve been touring relentlessly and it’ll be nice to take a break.

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