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I’ve read somewhere that the ghosts of glam rock are alive and well. Their current incarnation has a background of psychedelic and fine arts, writes about introversion and hidden identities, and has angst sliding on their knees. Their name is Jemma Freeman and they play the guitar with an ever-growing pedal board that threatens to take over the entire stage.
By the time they finished answering my questions, they had contemplated two dawns and two sunsets and felt ready to turn into a mythological creature.

1) When growing up, what music were you listening to?

Initially anything that my parents were playing on their 80's dinner party mix tapes. My dad would borrow CDs from the library and make playlists. There used to be a lot of Grace Jones, David Bowie, Eurythmics, Jean Michel Jarre and as the evening wore on old school Ska, Prince Buster, Sly and Robbie. I would sit at the top of the stairs and try and listen in on their dinner table chat, but all I ever heard was the music really.
I bought my Mum a Best of T-Rex cassette tape for mother’s day, but she was more into Madonna and Annie Lennox by the early 90's so I borrowed it a lot and took it to school. Everyone would be dancing to MC Hammer and Take That on their walkmans and I would be trying to convince them ‘20th Century Boy’ by T-Rex was the coolest thing ever. I was ever so unpopular. I learnt electric guitar playing along to every track on that tape. I never had any lessons.
I got into heavier stuff mostly because of my dad. Neither of my parents played any instrument, but my dad did like to drunkenly play Led Zeppelin at top volume after Sunday tea. His test of my progress would be to get me to plug in my guitar and see how much of Stairway I had mastered.
I had a nu metal stage, but mostly as a way of trying to fit in and find friends. I was a troubled and often lonely person growing up. Connecting with friendly metallers changed my life. The comraderie and exhilaration experienced in a circle pit is something else. I discharged myself from hospital after a failed operation to fix a fractured nose just so that I could mosh to Slipknot at the now sadly demolished Astoria in London. A lot of my metal friends had an affinity for hip hop and drum and bass. I spent many underage evenings at Bagley’s in Kings Cross, Best of British raves in disused theatres in Stratford, watching Nicky Blackmarket, Shy FX, GrooveRider, Mc Hype only to shiveringly catch the first train home and work a 12-hour shift at the local supermarket.

2) You started playing the guitar at 15. What made you pick up a guitar? And why the guitar specifically?

There was something so inherently glamorous and powerful about the guitar, I can remember watching Live Aid, seeing Queen and thinking (optimistically) I could do that, I will do that. I started with the recorder, which I was good at. I played a variety of shapes and sizes... But it wasn't a sound that captured my imagination and you can’t sing words over the top. More by mistake than anything else I started on violin, which I was ok at. I spent most of my time holding it on my lap like a little ukulele, working out chord shapes and trying to play along to the radio.
At school there were a group of cool indie kids who I was desperate to be friends with. they liked Bowie, Mansun, Silver Sun, and didn't think my T-Rex obsession was weird. Through some kind of miscommunication I was invited to go to their next band rehearsal, which I hastily agreed to, only to be filled with horror when my new cool friend Suzi asked, "You are gonna bring your guitar, right? You have got one?" I lied and said I did, and what ensued was my most surprisingly effective campaign to convince my parents to get me an electric guitar. I had a black Kay Les Paul rip-off. It weighed more than I did and the first time I took it to play at the rehearsal the strap got caught round my foot as I stood up from sitting on the floor. The head of the guitar swung straight into my face causing me to pass out and get a minor black eye.

3) What are your music influence/s?

David Bowie, Shay Khan, Ginger Baker, Siouxie and The Banshees, Deep Purple, Micha Chu and T Shapes, Grace Jones, movie soundtracks... I watch at least one a day... Too many to name. The last great soundtrack was from a B movie about ants trying to organise and overrule Earth called ‘Phase IV’, which had amazing synths in it.

4) Before The Cosmic Something, there were The Fucks, and The Landshapes. What were these bands like, in terms of music and dynamics?

The Fucks were a Yamaha keyboard drum machine backed new wave art band formed as a dare with my friend George Lionel Barker. We were chaotic and punk as hell. We formed at art school, hand drew all our flyers (that always included a 'Free Route' guide to public transport to help our poor student following to get from Kingston to Central London to watch us, bunking ticket gates and using the infamous bendy buses). We would inevitably spend our entire fee on 3-for-£5 wine at the pizza shop on the way home and have disruptive, creative parties in my unheated flat. We released two EPs and an album, all recorded in 10 hours for less than £100. They were released on the same label that put Bloc Party’s first single out and we got to party at the then unheard of The Horrors house in Southend where Pete Perret of the Only Ones’ son watched us. We thought we had made it. You can see us in a feature-length political film called ‘The Art Party’.
Landshapes started as a nu folk act and needed a bass player. I came along and immediately brought chaos and effects pedals to the proceedings, and very rapidly every member became a gearhead... Each rehearsal heralded the unveiling of a new effect pedal, snare drum, large upright wooden bass made of a tea chest, electric uke, glockenspiel... You name it, we probably incorporated it into a performance at some point. We grew a lot as musicians. Heloise and Luisa learnt their instruments as they went along and this lead to more depth and complexity as we progressed, simply because they became more proficient and experimental. Our last album was a doomy shoegazey wonky pop type thing... There is a new one in the pipeline... It's nothing like that... Prepare for another transformation!

5) You play guitar and sing. Any other instrument/s?
Tell us about your music gear, including every pedal…….

Top secret... But I do own three pitchshift delays that all get used at once on a few songs. The key to my sound is really my tunings and amp choices... But that would really be letting the cat out of the bag ;) My vintage Mesa boogie MK4 is the love of life. I have a handbuilt Jazzmaster guitar made by Philippe Dubreuille. It's the one. I have never found one to rival it... Oh, except that Andy Ramsay has an amazing Jazzmaster at Press Play, but that's from 1966... I need a hit single before I can ever consider being able to buy one of those.

Jemma relented and listed everything…. And more!

Boss tuner, Fairfield circuitry compressor, Earthquaker Devices Sea Machine, OCD overdrive, Death by Audio Fuzzwar, EHX Hog, Empress Super Delay, Boss RV5, Red Panda Raster, Analog Man Sunface Fuzz. As my live set up…
I used five others on the record though… Jacques Tubeblower, EHX Memory Man, Moog Moogerfooger, EHX Ring Thing, Boss RPS10.
I also used a Cornell Romany amp, Traynor Bass Mate, Selmer treble and bass, Yamaha Pacifica 12-string, Fender Mustang bass, Fender 52 reissue Precision bass, DR 505 drum machine, Japanese Westone Thunder 2A, Yamaha keytar, Fender Super 60, and Shure sm7 vocal mic.
Oh, and an Ibanez phase tone.

6) The Cosmic Something is your first solo project. How would you define your music style? How does your music evolve?

Alternative wonky glam... I am constantly challenging myself to play guitar parts or styles I couldn't before. I often don't succeed in nailing those, but the detritus from my attempts are where I find the gold. This is where the cosmic something comes into play. I feel guided by invisible powers to make choices, trust the universe, trust the mistakes to take you somewhere unexpected. I rarely sit down and think, “hmm, I think I will write a disco tune.” And if I do, then it’s usually a Cramps style grunge number that comes out.
I'm also very impatient making my own demos... I can't stand getting tangled up in wires and equipment being glitchy. Usually if I get one mic sounding good, I'll use it for everything. I might even sing the bass part and use an amp and pitchshift to get the sound I want. It's almost always done in one take... Any more and my concentration is lost.

7) You write your own songs. I’ve read online that the audience should expect “cosmic songs about introversion", "hidden identities” and “dreaming in another dimension”. What inspires your lyrics?

Mostly my life experiences, though sometimes I do just ad-lib over a demo completely improvising the lyrics. I like to incorporate text I see around me, book titles, newspaper headlines, things like that. I have some dark thoughts… It's good to expose some of those sometimes, for sure!

8) I have seen you perform on your own at the Queer Arts Weekender launch in February 2018, and with a drummer and a bass player at the Bechdel Sound Test weekend in March 2019. How would you describe your on-stage persona?

Brash, confrontational, reclaiming stage presence from our male counterparts, chewing it up, spitting it back and they still want more... I perform in Non-binary drag; they're called Jeff and they take no prisoners.

9) What are the advantages of performing on your own? And the advantages of performing with a drummer and a bass player? Besides the knee slides…….

You have the support of two other musicians that opens up more possibilities for dynamic range and impact. You can of course deliver these solo, but the variety of textures and sounds available if you are playing a guitar will be more limited.

10) As Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something, you released two EPs. ‘Someone Else to Blame’ (four songs) in 2017, and ‘Heaven on a Plate’ (two songs) in 2018. Who do you work with in recording studio and why?

On those records I play almost everything myself, apart from the drums, which are played by my long-time collaborator Hamid Mantu of Transglobal Underground and Furniture. I played for many years with him in a Dub Improv group called Solus 3; so we know each other’s measure. We can communicate almost telepathically. He's an incredibly talented drummer. I am so lucky to work with him.

Our bass player Mark runs a studio in South London called Marketstall Recording Studios and we did all the recording in the incredible live room he has there. On ‘Heaven on a Plate’ it was the first time we jammed any elements of a song out as a band and Marks' bass line slinks in with the guitar hooks gloriously.

11) In September 2018, I saw you in the Anarchistwood music video 'Fear is the Mind Killer' at the Portobello Film Festival. You were a TV talk show host turning into a clown. Tell us about your experience and your involvement with Anarchistwood.

I met lead singer Frank at a gig in Camden. We were on the same bill as Anarchistwood and we just got on immediately. Frank was so kind. I foolishly knocked a whole pint of water over in the opening bars of our set and they helped clear it seamlessly within seconds. Frank has an amazing onstage persona and costumes, not to mention outlandish clown-like makeup. It was obvious her and Jeff would get along, I think.

12) You are releasing a new single on April 26. What is the title and what can you reveal about this song and the accompanying video?

New single ‘Helen is a Reptile’ screams through a dark tale of night-time paranoia, creeping fears and obsessive thoughts. Racing in at just over two minutes long, scuzzed-up guitars, impassioned vocals and off-kilter solos grab your attention and draw you in before squealing to a halt.
It’s going to be released on limited edition individually hand-made lathe cut 7” vinyl by South London’s Teabar records with an accompanying horror-pop video made by Black Triangle films and starring my drag alter ego, Jeff. Also featuring performance artist Martina Ziewe and musician and dancer Wendy Rae Fowler. The video explores a rockstar’s daydream that quickly descends into a psychedelic nightmare.

13) And finally, if you couldn’t be a musician, what would you do?

Be one of those artists that only get discovered after they die when the janitor comes to clear the flat and they discover 60 years worth of outsider art drawings... I do this already. Can you tell!

If you want to see with your own eyes and appreciate with your own ears how much of an amazing something else Cosmic Jeff happens to be, here are the next dates:

April 5: at Harp Restrung in Folkestone
April 19: Fan Club Art in Nottingham
**Big Single Launch Party**
May 2: at the Windmill (Brixton) in London (tickets available on Dice)
May 5: Portobello Live Festival in London

You can find Jemma Freeman online:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JemmaFreeman3
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHmF2hhmaJ7d2UUl2RX89Jw
BandCamp: https://jemmafreemanandthecosmicsomething.bandcamp.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cosmicsomething/

ELLA SKYE: The Interview

ELLA SKYE: the interview

She has fronted three bands and is now going solo. Her musical influences are diverse. It has been said there is some Iggy Pop in Ella Skye.
The first time she ever saw Patti Smith, her mind was blown away.
Truth is, she read everything rock’n’roll she could find. Rock’n’roll is her life.
Watch out, Ella Skye is about to blow your mind away, turn your life upside down, change you forever……

Here is a sample: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYztXEeagCc

1) When you were growing up, what music did you listen to?

I was raised on Motown, Elvis, Tina Turner.

2) When you were growing up, did you already want to be a musician?
I wanted to be a singer/actor since I saw Judy Garland singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ in the Wizard of Oz at around 5/6 years old.

3) What are your musical influences?
I still love all those great soul artists and Elvis. I then became a big Wham!, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson fan. It was much later when I fell in love with Patti Smith/Iggy pop/The Doors/Nirvana, and got into rock and punk. And Rock & Roll became my kind of religion.

4) You play the guitar and sing. Do you play any other instrument?

I only play guitar.

5) Your guitar. Acoustic or electric? What make? What do you like about your guitar?

I prefer electric guitars but sometimes compose on acoustic. My favourite is the Joan Jett blackheart Gibson melody maker.

I love the simplicity and the sound (it’s made to her specs).

6) Previously, you had a band called Zen Dog. What's the Zen Dog story?

Zen Dog was a four-piece rock band that played its last gig four years ago. Happy memories of those times with some great guys and talented musicians and some songs I’m really proud of and will still record from that period.

7) Have you been in other bands? Or solo?

I’ve gigged solo and been in two other bands: ‘bastards of doom’, a psychedelic rock band; and ‘Temple Chaos’, another band I put together.  And actually got fired from!

8) What is your experience as a womon on the music scene and in the music industry?

It’s very male-oriented rock, obviously; it can be frustrating at times. You just have to hold on to your own power and self-belief. I’m so grateful for all the female artists that have done that.

9) You are currently working with producer Cris Bonacci. How did you meet her? What is it like working with her?

I met Cris Bonacci over ten years ago through a mutual friend, Kelly Johnson of Girlschool. It’s incredible working with Cris; she’s inspiring, such a talented musician, she’s very patient and we have developed a working dialogue that I really trust. I’m very much looking forward to us being in the studio together with the first album.

10) You are currently looking for musicians for your new band. What kind of musicians are you looking for?

We are looking for talent and good attitude/energy in the musicians we want. Also image is important. {C}😎{C} I love a band as a creative unit and hope there will be new collaborations through the new line-up. We are on the hunt now!

11) You have one music video on YouTube: 'Beautiful Terrible'. Tell us about the song and the making of the video.

Beautiful Terrible is a song that’s inspired by Kelly Johnson and is dear to my heart for this reason and that’s why it’s the first video Cris Bonacci and myself shot together. It’s December on that beach in Brighton and freezing. I wish Kelly was here to see it.

12) You knew Kelly Johnson. I've read her memoir. She sounded like a remarkable womon. What could you say about her?

Kelly was gentle and kind and humble; a beautiful soul and so incredibly talented; the music just flowed through her. I love watching footage of her playing. She’s truly inspirational. I’m blessed to have known her. As a friend she was so encouraging and accepting. That’s why I have Cris Bonacci in my life, too, through our mutual friendship with Kelly. We all miss her greatly.

13) How would you define your style of music?

I don’t know. It’s just me. It’s music for people who know pain and heartache as we all do, but somehow remain hopeful and hold onto that elusive dream, whatever it may be, however hard. I hope it has honesty and rawness and just that it manages to touch people somehow.

14) What are your musical/career ambitions?

I’d like my music to mean something to some people, and play to as many people as possible.

Basically music saved my life and music and art continue to on a daily basis. If I can give something back with mine, that’s the soulful stuff right there… I’m not so motivated by the superficial. I should add though I’ve never had any money so I won’t be complaining if that happens 😬

Find Ella Skye online:
Website: www.ellaskyeofficial.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/ellaskyemusic
Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/ellaskyemusic


It was almost Hallow’s Eve when Ember Swift performed on a London stage with a guitar she had just befriended that afternoon. This first European gig was at the Half-Moon (in Putney, South London). She puzzled the people at the bar by ordering a cup of hot water. Not tea or coffee, but just hot water. It’s a Chinese thing, she said.

Expect humour from her lyrics and talent from her guitar playing. 

1- You are a songwriter and a musician. You play the guitar. What brand and model of guitars do you play, and what do you like about each of them?

Read more...Collapse )



Back in 2015, I started interviewing Debbie Smith (of Curve and Echobelly fame). This talented musician’s career being busy and far from over, I got carried away with questions. We never finished the interview, but here is what Debbie and her Blindness bandmates had to say…….

Debbie Smith: The Music Being
1) Debbie, what music did you listen to when you were growing up?

I listened to a great mixture of all kinds of music growing up, as my dad was a huge music fan and was always playing music in the house. He was primarily a Reggae, Jazz and Blues fan, but he also listened to Country & Western, pop and easy listening. He would play the Top 30 every Sunday and I would listen to it and apparently either recite it or perform it for his friends when they came over. My mum didn’t seem to be as much into music as him but I have lately found out she was a fan of The Beatles, Searchers and Who during the 1960s, so that’s nice! When I was very little I am told that I was a big fan of Cat Stevens and Led Zeppelin, and that I would sing the bass line to Miles Davis’s ‘So What’ to my dad a lot...
My very first record was one my dad bought for me the year I was born - it was ‘Deborah’ by Tyrannosaurus Rex. It didn’t survive very long after my brother started toddling! After that I had some kiddy records on the ‘Music For Pleasure’ label – the Pink Panther Theme, Rolf Harris’s Two Little Boys, stuff like that. Still got those somewhere.
Later on, at about 10 or 11, I started to listen to Elvis & Rockabilly – I was obsessed with Elvis - and then I found out about the Mod Revival, Two Tone and punk stuff around the end of the ‘70s / beginning of the ‘80s. In my teens I was a massive Goth – Siouxsie and the Banshees were my life.

2) What music do you listen to now and what are your influences?

I have listened to pretty much every kind of music there is, and there is generally something good in every genre. Some genres don’t appeal to me as much as others – I’m not a huge Jazz or Heavy Metal aficionado, but I do like some stuff – I have a Dizzy Gillespie film soundtrack that I’m very fond of, and I love Motörhead.
I love guitar-based indie/alternative music, as that is what I’ve pretty much always played in bands, but I do listen to a lot of 1950s/60s soul, garage, girl groups as well.

Influences? Too many to name, but if you’re talking about guitar players – all the Banshees guitarists.

3) What guitar (brand and model) do you play and why?

I have several guitars, but generally have only really played two in the last few years – my short scale 1967 Fender Mustang and my new baby – The Smith, a handmade guitar especially built to my specifications by the brilliant luthier David Ayers. It’s a bit of a Jazzmaster copy, but short scale, with switchable pickups that give you all sorts of tonal variations that you wouldn’t be able to get from a standard Jazz.

4) You also play banjo. What do you like about it?

I don’t really – I play a 6-string banjo with Ye Nuns, which is tuned like a guitar. When we started the band I did try to play a bluegrass 5-string banjo, but it was really hard – different chord shapes and the high string at the top of the neck would shred my strumming hand as it’s like cheesewire!
Then I found some film of The Monks on YouTube and realised that Dave Day was using a 6-string, so I got one of them. I didn’t know that they existed before then.
What do I like about it? That it’s easier to play than a normal banjo!

5) What music style/s do you prefer playing?

I can only play what I can play. I play in my own style, whatever that is. I think that is what people who ask me to play with them expect, really. Too bad for them if it isn’t.
As I said before, I have mainly played punky, indie type stuff, I’m no jazz guitarist. I don’t do widdly solos either.

6) What is your experience of the music industry, as a woman? As a black person? As a black woman? As a lesbian?

My own.

Debbie Smith: The Music Career
7) I remember going to see Toni Halliday perform at the Fridge in Brixton (London, UK) in the late 80's. Later she started the band CURVE. You joined CURVE in 1991 and stayed with them about three years. What are you greatest memories with CURVE?

Having roadies and a tour bus was good. Travelling to and seeing Japan was good. Smashing my teeth up in an alcohol-fuelled incident in Germany wasn’t so good.

8) In 1994, you joined ECHOBELLY and stayed with them three years. What was it like?

Kind of like being in Curve, but with suits, and less dry ice.

9) Before CURVE what were you doing, music wise?

Playing in Mouth Almighty, a London/Scottish lesbian alternative band with a fixation on Joy Division, The Cure, The Proclaimers and Lloyd Cole. I also played bass in a goth band from Salisbury called The Siren. We played The Bell (legendary 80s London gay pub) - one of the highlights of my musical career.

10) Throughout the nineties, you were interviewed, mentioned and quoted in various books (including Amy Raphael's 'Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock', and Mavis Bayton's 'Frock Rock: Women Performing Popular Music'), and in an episode of a BBC TV series ('A Woman Called Smith'). Tell us about your experience of media attention.

I don’t like it all that much. But if other people get something useful or entertaining from it, great.

11) What did you after ECHOBELLY?

Get very out of it for a year or so, broke every ligament and tendon in my left ankle playing in a charity ‘celebrity’ netball match (against the Eastenders Women), had a breakdown and then got a job in a record shop. Also played in a couple of bands – PMMFFF, Bows and Snowpony.

12) You are currently in several bands. You play banjo in YE NUNS, an all-women tribute band to THE MONKS. I know nothing of THE MONKS, but I've seen YE NUNS a few times and enjoyed the the excellent musicianship. What is it like to be in a tribute band? What is it like to be one of YE NUNS?

Great fun. People enjoy it, we enjoy it and that’s all that really matters, isn’t it? Having the blessing of Eddie Shaw, one of the last remaining Monks is very gratifying, too.

Debbie Smith and BLINDNESS
13) You play guitar in trio BLINDNESS. How and when did you meet Beth Rettig and Emma Quick?
14) Beth and Emma, what were they doing before BLINDNESS?

BR: Before Blindness, I was in a band called The Mekano Set. We spent a lot of time experimenting with sounds and effects and drinking wine.
EQ: Before Blindness? Well, I was lurking around East London playing bass for Climbing Boys, at the end of my second year of living in the city and in my thirteen year of working as a Business Analyst for one of the 'big bad' banks. Thankfully I finally saw the light (yes by that i do mean actual daylight), i quit the stressful day job, took some time out, repeatedly asked myself what the hell I was doing with my life and somehow eventually became to be my own boss. I doubt any career advisor would have seen this one coming but I'm now working as a taxidermist. Weird, huh? Yeah, maybe. Give me the dead over the soulless any day though.

15) What bass guitar (brand and model) does Emma play and why? Does Emma play other instruments?

EQ: I have a couple of other things to play with at home including guitars, an acoustic, synths, random drums and parts, accordions and harmonicas (yeah, my neighbours hate me,) but my real pride and joy is my beat-up crappy old thunderbird. It's my first and most loved bass and we've both been through hell and high times together. I bought 'Tim' on a bit of a whim as somewhat naively, I'd only just had started playing bass for the Kiara Elles just a few weeks before they were due to record a new single. I didn't even own a bass then so I had to beg and borrow something from the producer... He loaned me a beautiful vintage thunderbird for the recordings and even though the neck was so long that had to take it off to tune it, it just felt strangely right and i was hooked on the tones immediately. It was a bit of a Wayne's world moment when we first bought mine own shortly after... I clutched my hard-saved fortune of £200 sincerely hoping that Bradford's only music store would have something that didn't look I should be playing funk on it and to my surprise there it was... Fucked-up Thunderbird for £199.

16) Beth is the voice of BLINDNESS. What else does she do?
BR: At the moment I do all of the programming for Blindness and also write the vocal lines. I'm also studying and working for a charity.
17) How would you describe the sound of BLINDNESS?
BR: Noisy

EQ: Hmm... Perhaps a sexy sort of grrrr?

18) What are BLINDNESS's influences?
BR: We have a lot of influences combined. From the Stooges to Joy Division to Kate Bush to The Jesus & Mary Chain. For me, I tend to wear my influences on my sleeve and I use my influences in different ways and in different parts of the music. 

EQ: Sounds. Dirty evil sounds.

19) Last July BLINDNESS released their first album, "Wrapped in Plastic'. Nine songs. What's the story?
BR: It's been a long time and a lot of stories to get the album out. We've been through a lot of ups and downs on the way so, while it's obviously exciting to finally get it done, it's also partly a relief.

EQ: There's no cutting the long story short here. It's possible some of it may have been written before I was born.

20) The album was launched on the 26th of July in London, playing a gig, of course, with bands CAULDRONATED and DEUX FURIEUSES. What was it like?
BR: It was great to be playing with two bands that we love and it was a really fun night. As we organised the gig, it was nice to have control over the event.

EQ: It was shit loads of fun. It was my first time seeing Deux Furieuses, they blew my socks off. Well, I say socks... I don't know if anybody reading will have seen the photos from the night, but let's say that although plurals would be an accurate description, the photos showed that my little wardrobe mishap definitely didn't affect my socks.

21) The band writes the songs together. How do you proceed?
BR: For the songs on the album, it tended to be me writing the core of the songs and then taking it to the others to write their part. That's certainly starting to evolve now, and we're starting to mess around with new ideas together when we're practicing. It's great for me to have the others' ideas to go from sometimes.

EQ: With caution. And Guinness.

22) What is BLINDNESS's impact on the music scene?
BR: I'm not sure I'm best placed to answer this one. It probably hasn't been a massive impact, but we're enjoying it and making something that moves us; that's what matters the most.

EQ: Please read aloud from the chart below:

23) What are the plans for the future of BLINDNESS?
BR: We're keen to start recording some new ideas. Hopefully we'll have something out, in some form or another, in the new year.

EQ: The same plan that we make every night... To take over the world. That and to find a cure.

In 2016 Beth Retting had to leave the country and Blindness split up after a remarkable farewell performance at DEUX FURIEUSES’ debut album launch.
However, BLINDNESS haven’t said their last musical word and belatedly released in March 2017 a digital E.P. on BandCamp: https://blindness.bandcamp.com/album/the-monsoon-e-p

Who knows, they might perform again together…….


Gender-bender is an informal term used to refer to a person who actively transgresses, or "bends", expected gender roles. Gender-bending is sometimes a form of social activism undertaken in response to assumptions or over-generalisations about genders. Some gender-benders identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, but challenge the norms of that gender, feeling that the gender assigned to them at their birth is an inaccurate or incomplete description of themselves; some are transsexual and desire to change their physical sex through hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery, while others were born intersexual. (Wikipedia)

SpecFic (Speculative Fiction) is an umbrella term that covers science-fiction, fantasy, horror or dark fiction, and just plain weird fiction. (Elyse Draper)

In fiction the term gender-bender may refer not only to characters modelled after real-life gender-benders, but also characters who undergo changes in their physical sex – magically or otherwise – throughout the story. A work of art which challenges gender roles or features gender-bending or transgender characters may itself be referred to as "gender-bender". (Wikipedia)

As a child I read every Famous Five book (Enid Blyton). My favourite character was George the tomboy, who refused to be called Georgina and was always pleased to be mistaken for a boy.
As a teenager I read a lot of science-fiction. I especially remember a short story – maybe written by Joanna Russ – where a female secret agent went undercover on a male-dominated planet, passing as a man. Written at the first person, it was a critical and sarcastic description of a culture dominated by inflated male egos.
As an adult I read many literary genres, favouring wimin writers featuring strong female characters or lesbians. Quite a few of the stories used gender-bending in various ways.

A play especially sticks to my mind, 'The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs', written by Simone Benmussa, based on a novella by George Moore. Albert Nobbs was a womon passing as a man and working as such (19th century, Dublin).
Other works that left a sizeable impact on my mind would be 'In the Darkness, Hunting' by Janrae Frank, and 'I Am Morte' by Elyse Draper.

In ‘In the Darkness, Hunting’, the main character, Chimquar, is from a country where genders are equal. Chimquar, known as Tomyris in the country she left behind, is a warrior in exile. Among the people she chose to live with, she hides her gender and passes as a man in order to be free of her actions. This secret could be her demise if discovered. With Chimquar the Lionhawk, Janrae Frank created a character who, Jessica Amanda Salmonson reckons, could have made these tales ground-breaking (as were the intergender characterisations in Ursula K. LeGuin's 'Left Hand of Darkness') in the late 70's, if the lottery known as fame had struck in its author's favour.

In 'I Am Morte', published in 2009, a short story written in the first person, Elyse Draper presents us with Death, and Death being the narrator, no gender is applied. Death is an entity, who follows a specific light/soul throughout many lifetimes. This light is of male gender in some lives and of female gender in other lives. The genders are totally irrelevant to Death. By not applying any gender to Death, the author leaves it to the readers' perception/choice/filter to either sway for a definite option, or enjoy the genderlessness altogether (Yes, in French, 'dead' is morte or mort. It just happened that the name Mort was already taken. It would have been confusing). Pratchett chose to apply a male gender to Death, even so the character is just a skeleton wearing a cloak, in his Discworld books. Gaiman, in The Sandman Library, pictures Death as a Goth young womon, wiser than her youthful appearance would let on. While the character Desire is fluid of gender and of appearance.

In the Chronicles of Tornor, Elizabeth A. Lynn presents the readers with various cultures where it is ok for people to be homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual. There is even a hermaphrodite in the third book (‘The Northern Girl’) while in the first book (‘Watchtower’), one character is assumed to be male all throughout.

In ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, people are generally genderless. In the mating season they temporarily develop male or female genitalia.

In ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ (by Alison Moon), werewolves are genderless in werewolf form, and can choose to be male or female when taking human shape.

What is gender identity? Is it biological or is it psychological?
It was once considered taboo, and even illegal, in western society for women to wear clothing traditionally associated with men. The idea of men wearing skirts is still not accepted. One could say that each person has two genders: the gender the person identified with, and the gender people project onto this person.
If gender identity is the person's perception of their own gender regardless of society or people's projections, if gender identity refers to one's internal sense of being male/female/both/neither, is gender a necessity?
The revised edition of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary (2008) tells us that "The words gender and sex both have the sense 'the state of being male or female', but they are used in different ways: sex usually refers to biological differences, while gender tends to refer to cultural or social ones."
So, in western society gender is generally stereotyped, functional, role-orientated, imposed, connected to the visual, and projected. While it can be all that in speculative fiction, it can also be fluid, free, diverse, irrelevant, invisible, and non-existent.
Does Speculative Fiction encourage a re-definition of gender/s? Is gender-bending an attempt to escape from gender binary? And what is gender-bending?

I believe that Speculative Fiction evolves along with reality. What once could have been considered gender-bending might not be so now. However with so many diverse minds with such diverse imaginations, genders can still be bent in many ways. If literature is an escape from reality, what is it about genders that readers and writers, consciously and unconsciously, attempt to escape? Gender is a limitation for some. Others might be curious. I like to bend genders in my fiction work because I see it as the best way to open people's minds to different options. As a reader, I like to read instances of gender-bending because it gives me temporary amnesia from the so-called real world; it makes me feel better about myself; it strengthens me in my beliefs and in my identity.
What is gender-bending in Speculative Fiction? Lesbianism once was. A womon passing for a man (or a man passing for a womon) still is somehow. A man living more than a century and transforming into a womon in the middle of it. Wimin wielding swords as best as their male counterparts. A being, who can be male or female according to whom it is sleeping with. An appearance so fluid that gender cannot be identified.
Maybe it is the ultimate freedom, when and where you can be whoever and whatever you want to be, without anyone attempting to impose their projection onto you. Because isn't it what we would all want, but cannot get, in this so-called real world. Maybe, ultimately, it is about power, when full equality is still a dream.
Maybe gender-bending in Speculative Fiction is just a tiny thorn in the side of a patriarchal society based on two genders where men are still on top of the food chain. Something allowed/tolerated to keep some of the masses at bay.

A reference website for Speculative Fiction:

Some speculative writings featuring various degrees of gender-bending:
'In the Darkness, Hunting' by Janrae Frank
'I Am Morte' by Elyse Draper
'The Left Hand of Darkness' by Ursula K. LeGuin
'The Chronicles of Tornor' (Watchtower, The Dancers of Arun, The Northern Girl) by Elizabeth A. Lynn
'Stone Butch Blues' by Leslie Feinberg
'The Doctor' by Patricia Duncker
'Orlando' by Virginia Wolf
'Herland' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
'The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs' by Simon Benmussa
'The Sandman Library' by Neil Gaiman
'Lunatic Fringe' by Allison Moon
'Imajica' by Clive Barker
'Wild Seed' by Octavia Butler
'The Female Man' by Joanna Russ
'When It Changed' by Joanna Russ
'The Two of Them' by Joanna Russ
'Golden Witchbreed' by Mary Gentle
'Woman on the Edge of Time' by Marge Piercy

Once upon a sunny day in London, I met up with GIRLS ON TOP to interview them. We had a fun afternoon in the beer garden of a pub.
Here is the interview, uploaded in memory of Vicki de Vice who departed this mortal realm on August 23, 2016 after a five-year battle with cancer.

(September 2006)

[Girls On Top are: Vicki De Vice (vocals, harmonica); Liddy Lustre (drums, vocals), Amanda Pukon (bass), Neil Downe (guitar, vocals)]

First, I'd like to ask each of you what you were doing, musicwise, before getting together for Girls On Top. What bands you were in before you ever met. Vicki?
Vicki De Vice: I was in a sort of rock'n'roll band. Greasy rock'n'roll. So the band was called Greasy Pig! I'd sing and play the harmonica. That's the first band I ever fronted and started writing songs for. I learned not be nervous and to be able to talk in between numbers. I did that for about three years. Very Rolling Stones style.

So, after Greasy Pig, what happened, did you decide you wanted your own band?
Vicki: Yes. I think that's after that all split up that I met Shanne, who was a bass player at the time, and-
Liddy Lustre: She met me first.
Vicki: We were introduced together through an art group.
Liddy: I was doing an Art Foundation course where I met Shanne. I told her out of the blue that If I could get a band I would call it Girls On Top, just to take the piss. And the following week she said "I've got a singer"! "You're joking!" "No, we're gonna meet in Camden". And that's how I met Vicki.
Vicki: I think everyone was thinking about doing a band at the same sort of time. It gelled very easily, very quickly.
Liddy: We started writing songs in Shanne's loft for a couple of months.
Vicki: We were looking for a girl guitarist at the time. We wanted an all-girl band because we were very pro-femme and we wanted some very punk, outrageous, sexual stuff. We couldn't find a girl guitarist at the time, and then it just happened that Neil Downe, actually Tony from the Dead Beats, was available. We were introduced at a gig. It was-
Neil Downe: Bill Hurley.
Vicki: Apparently, we all knew each other through different people.
Liddy: And that was the band! We carried on writing songs, we had three songs before Neil Downe joined in, and we said: "Ok, let's go to the studio!" We had never heard each other play.
Vicki: Liddy was on a rubber mat doing the rhythm. I was doing the singing. Shanne and Neil were acoustic. We thought it might be awful!
Liddy: And when we went into rehearsal and we heard it, unplugged, we thought: "Wow!" It was a shock.
Vicki: We all loved it.

So, Liddy, before Girls On Top, you were doing Art College, but musicwise, what were you doing?
Liddy: I had been drumming for three-four years in a gothic band called Scarlet In Heaven. Then I started singing and drumming in a cover band called The Playgirls at the same time I was doing Girls On Top. I've been doing both for ten years now.

What about you, Neil Downe, what were you doing before joining Girls On Top?
Neil: I played in a band called Plummet Airlines. They were one of the first bands on Stiff Records. I also played in a band called the GT's on the "Raw Deal" record, which is quite a collectible now, I found out. Then I was in a band called the Dead Beats. After that when Suzy the singer went back to America, I did a bit of session work with Bill Hurley, a garage punk rock band. Then I was in a band called…….
Vicki: Something like Abortion or Cesarian!
Neil: No, that was different. This one ended up being called The Big Bad Wolf. It would change name for every gig. Then I didn't do anything for a couple of years. I was into football really, my big vice. Then when Suzy came over from America one time, we went to see Bill Hurley play and I was introduced to Vicki who was looking for a guitarist. Was I interested? I said "well, I'm not doing anything, I could give it a go."
Vicki: You always liked girl groups. 60's girl groups.
Neil: And I ended up with Girls On Top!
Vicki: We also found out we knew a lot of the same people. Very small world in the end, the music business. And the Camden scene.

Alright. What about you Amanda?
Amanda Pukon: Before Girls On Top I was in an all-female band called Virago. Sort of punky, but more poppy.
Walki: And who were in Virago?
Amanda: Jackie was the guitarist of the band, and she now plays with Girlschool. And a singer called Emma. We didn't get signed. I met Liddy through that band.
Liddy: Yes. I went to a gig with a friend who is now dead. We thought Amanda was an extremely good bassist so we decided to get her number because we were doing a cover band at the time. So, she started playing with The Playgirls, too. Then we started to have problems with Shanne; Shanne wasn't interested in the Girls On Top anymore.
Amanda: I was with that band a year and a half. Before that, there were a lot of heavy metal bands, which were great fun. Chilli Peppers style bands. I had seen Girls On Top before but I hadn't recognised Liddy!
Liddy: We used to wear lots of wigs in the old days. We were dressed as men dressed as wimin.
Vicki: Like the New York Dolls. Glam rock. In N.M.E. they wrote: "Are they chaps?" They couldn't tell! Question mark sexuality, it was our style at the time. But you can't keep something forever. We've been together ten years! Then we went through a glittery phase! Plastic. Leather. What you wear helps you getting into your persona. Dressing up. We wanted to be what people didn't want or couldn't be, just to piss everybody off. There was a lot of dance music at the time. I think we were together because we liked retro music, rock'n'roll, real music.
Liddy: We don't take ourselves too seriously.

So, Amanda, you had seen Girls On Top play. And then what happened? Did they ask you to audition for them?
Amanda: Yeah, I had to audition! [everyone laughing]
Liddy: I knew she was the right person, but at the time, we had that feisty bass player. She wanted the job.
Vicki: They were only two contenders and Amanda walked away with the job and with flying colours.
Liddy: It was everybody's decision. Shanne was not pleased about being sacked, but she was not turning up at rehearsals or gigs, so we had enough. Vicki tried to pluck up her courage and went to tell her, but Shanne wouldn't even open the door! Later on, she was really annoyed we didn't tell her, but we needed to move on.

How many years into the band did you switch bassists?
Amanda: For the new millenium. It has been 6 years now.
Vicki: Yes, we started in May 1996.
Liddy: For the first album, it was Shanne playing the bass. The second one, too.
Vicki: Not all of them. It's actually Neil playing the bass.
Liddy: Sometimes she had problems keeping the beat. Sorry, we're not slagging her off……. But, it's the truth. The G-string was a bit loose…….

How would you describe your style of music?
Vicki : I think it's a very hard thing to do. I hate writing it down.
Liddy: It is such a mixture. We write together.
Vicki: It is a mixture of retro 60's, punk, rock'n'roll, glam.
Liddy: A bit of everything.
Vicki: I think the best to do is to listen to all sorts of music you like and bring it
together in a sort of melting pot.
Liddy: It's our style. I think we are into different things. If you look at our new album ["A Taste of Cyanide"], there's a bit of French -because I'm French-, there's a bit of tango.
Vicki: We wanna bring something different. We don't wanna be fashionable. We were all doing sort of garage rock'n'roll.
Liddy: That was before The White Stripes.
Vicki: Yes, before The White Stripes bring back the guitar. We're actually grateful to them because they made people listen to something else. Before, it was just pop and dance stuff, music made in studio, rather than real instruments.
Liddy: People often say that we're punk, but we're not because if you listen to proper punk, there are a lot of different punks around.

Currently, Mel Roxy is replacing Neil Downe on guitar. Previously, she replaced Amanda on bass when Amanda was pregnant. How did you meet Mel?
Vicki: I think we were doing a gig at the Borderline. We saw this other band play. There was a feisty Japanese chick on bass. She was jumping up and down like a mad thing.
Neil: There were two girls and two boys in the band. The two girls were good. So, when Amanda got pregnant, we asked Mel because she was very capable.
Vicki: We didn't want to take any risks. And now, Mel is replacing Neil on guitar.

Yes, let's get to that. Neil, last February, you were attacked by a sea urchin.
Neil: It went for me! [everyone laughing]
Walki: Since then, you've been unfortunately incapacitated: You haven't been able to play the guitar in the band.
Neil: I still can't bend my finger properly [flexing his injured left index finger]. It is not as swollen anymore, but the joint has stiffened out because of the trauma. I had a spike through my finger. I am still doing physiotherapy.
Vicki: we were lucky Mel was available. The thing is, because we've been together for so long, and we've got such a catalogue of songs, it is difficult to bring someone in overnight. Some of our songs are quite intricate. It is hard: ten years of songs to choose from. You can only teach a certain amount of things.
Liddy: We've rarely cancelled gigs during these years. Maybe three or four.
Vicki: You never know when someone's gonna be ill, or something.

Fortunately, you had recorded all the songs for the new album before the attack of the sea urchin.
Vicki: We recorded last summer. By February, we were mixing and mastering and stuff like that and getting the work done!
Liddy: It took a while because we didn't have the money.
Vicki: We all pay for ourselves.
Liddy: And thankfully it's been out now since July. Two months.

So, tell me about this new album. What has it got that the previous albums haven't got?
Vicki: I don't compare it to the previous albums. I believe it's still the same. I think there might be a gradual difference, but I don't know what that is.
Liddy: we still talk about girly topics or ideas, or the world. We've got a song about -
Vicki: Killing the parents!
Walki: Yes, you hated them, now you kill them!
Liddy: We had a song called "Barbie Is A Smackhead" on one album ["Ovulater", 2002], we have "Barbie, Sindy, Ken + Paul" on the new album, now we're thinking, maybe Barbie goes religious. That's another project.
Vicki: The Barbie song was such a smash hit with the audience. Everyone knows it, everyone asks for it. It's got petty frost. This song has an underlying message about the fashion models wanting to look like junkies. At the time we did know a lot of junkies -and still do-, we didn't know what the real problem was. We thought it was a very stupid attitude, so we wrote "Barbie Is a Smackhead". We don't only write fun jokey songs, we do actually talk about serious things, underneath it all.
Amanda: Some songs are stories that happened to our friends or even to us.
Liddy: One line I got one night ended up in one of the new songs. I went out with a girlfriend and one guy thought she was single, when actually she was married, and I was the one who was single. So I told him: "No, I'm very very very very single!" It turned into a song!
Vicki: We have songs about pain, about addiction, about fun. "Cryonic Suspension" is about people not wanting to die. They want to keep their body and live forever. What it would be like to fall asleep now and wake up in the next century. "All I Got" is about people buying things constantly just for the sake of it, not enjoying what they already have, and always wanting more. Our songs are about life. They are light-hearted.
Liddy: We have a lovely songwriter here: Vicki De Vice. She is very quirky. She writes about things and twists them around.
Vicky: I do like playing around with words, but we do the rest altogether. We all feel very strongly about the band.

To finish up this interview, would you like to say a few words about your upcoming tour?
Vicki: We're undertaking a tour in France, next week. We always appreciate the way the French like us, feed us and water us. The audience is very loyal. We also have the official tenth anniversary of our first gig, which was at the Red Eye in King's Cross [London], on the 5th of October 2006. We're gonna play Gaz's Rhythm & Blues Club at the St Moritz in Wardour Street [London] on that very day.
Liddy: To mark the actual date of our first gig. Ten years.
Walki: Ready for another ten years?!
Liddy: I don't know, do we? I think it's pretty good to be there with the whole line up after ten years.

Girls On Top's discography:
On Vinyl: "Boys Meet" on 4-track Salon Talon released by Nana Records (London, UK)
On CD: 1997, EP: "He's Been Around", "I'm Hot", "Barbie is a Smackhead" and "Thrush".
2002, LP: "OVULATER".
2002, single: "Wrap Yourself in Tinsel" and "I Hate my Parents".

The long-awaited debut album by DEUX FURIEUSES was released on May 20, 2016. The lyrics are inspired by life and politics, the music is fuelled with anger and determination. More than a smack on the head, ‘Tracks of Wire’ will hit you with full force square on the face. Driven with passion and fury, each song is as sharp as the cutting edge of a blade.

1) While DEUX FURIEUSES have apparently soft moments, theses moments are only deceptively soft, and they are delivered with a vibrant punch. What is the haunting 'Are We Sexy Enough' about?

We wouldn't really describe any of our songs as soft. But we are interested in quietness and stillness as well as loud, frenetic extremes. We love brooding, building fury as well as explosive fury. “Are We Sexy Enough?” is about the many ways we can be raped, the rules we are told to follow as girls growing up which will protect us, the way society rewards females who sell themselves in a sexualised way.

2) 'Tracks of Wire' was produced by Rob Ellis. How did you meet him and what was it like to work with him?

He was a long time hero of ours from PJ Harvey’s original trio and we just emailed him with our first demo introducing ourselves and asking him to produce us. He actually thought we were French and the demo very good so he met us at the BFI to talk about it and came to a gig. It was an intense ten day session, he was serious about getting the music and performances right.

3) Four singles released over 18 months, each with a video. Except for 'The Party of Shaitan', they are in black and white. Deliberate choice of stark aesthetic to convey a socio-political message?

(We have only released three singles “Can We Talk About This?”, “ The Party of Shaitaan” and “Are We Sexy Enough?”. Neither “Kill Us” and “Dream for Change” have been distributed for release or available to buy out with the album.)

On all three videos we made artistic choices to bring out the musical mood and the message of the song. We discussed it all in depth with Dan Donovan who directed them, looking at images and videos and emailing ideas and locations.

On CWTAT video we chose black and white because the lyrical theme was very dark, disturbing and uncompromising and this seemed the most atmospheric way to do it. We were looking for contrast between darkness and light. We wanted to cast shadows with the cross image that became the cover. We had one light I think and wanted to stand out dressed in black against white.  It was very low budget and Dan Donovan filmed us in his garden shed one at a time as there wasn’t enough room for the two of us with our gear. We also used the idea of splicing us both together in greenish CCTV footage. Dan did a brilliant job with the editing, putting across the edgy feel we wanted.

On “The Party of Shaitaan” we wanted something different..a riotous, garish, explosion of colour, lots of reds and oranges. Dan melted our faces and there are lots of teeth, it is quite nightmarish. We were influenced by Samuel Beckett’s “Not I”.

On “Are We Sexy Enough?” we wanted to simplify, perform the song in a huge empty space with lots of candles using longer, slower editing . We were thinking of the vigils in India for Jyoti Singh who was gang-raped and thrown off a moving bus in Delhi and later died. We didn't want to distract from the brutality of the words. Yes again, stark, atmospheric, mournful was our intention.

On “Dream for Change” we didn't have the budget to do a proper video with Dan Donovan so made one ourselves using some live footage from our first ever gig shot by Lubert Daz. The footage of Vas as she slow marching around her neighbourhood in a black hooded cloak playing her snare drum was just filmed by Ros on her phone. We then edited this together with the live footage and phone footage from our Russian tour. We wanted this video to have an ominous, dream like quality, a sense of change coming for good or bad.

4) Mixing with Mark Freegard. How did you meet him and what was it like to work with him?

We had worked with Mark before and he is right up there with the best mixers. The performances are all there on separate tracks and he reconstructs it all back together again with drama and real understanding of the song. Sometimes he gets it right for us on the first mix he sends us like Time to Mourn which made us cry and other tracks like Kill Us had many mix takes as we explored where it might go. He added additional production textures as well which you can hear on tracks like “Are We Sexy Enough?”. Mark also recorded and  produced The Party of Shaitaan single after the album session at his studio in Glasgow where he was mixing the rest of the album.

5) 'From Fear to Fury' is an instrumental. Do you believe that an instrumental can have have as much power as a song?

Interesting question! Vas wrote this piece as an outro to Time to Mourn and played it to me on guitar. It does have vocals but no words other than the title. It had no song verse/chorus song structure, just a ferocious drum groove and the melody of the wail. This gives it a power that the other songs don't have. It can change, it can get really furious. We have only just started to explore it live and it is quite liberating. How can fury be captured by an ordered song structure?

6) If you had to choose one song only from your album, which one would it be, and why?

VAS: “I Want My Life Back” - This was the first track we demoed and we knew we were on to something as a duo. We knew we wanted things to change and to say something. We felt at the time it was just two of us against the world, we wanted to take control of our situation and this song made us feel strong.

ROS: “Can We Talk About This?” – This was the last song I wrote before the album session and I was trying to say a lot in very few words. I remember driving home from the recording thinking we had really nailed this song and that it should start the album.

7) 'Tracks of Wire' is released on May 20. Then you have a gig launch with BLINDNESS on June 5 in London. What are your plans afterwards? What is your vision?

That is going to be a brilliant night although we are gutted it will be Blindness’s last gig. Our plan is to have a drink! In the longer term we have no record label or money to record our next album, no booking agent or tour. We shall see if the release of the album will help us get into a position that will allow us to carry on.







THE AGONY welcome you to their crazy world

Rising band on the Czech rock scene, THE AGONY is composed of four wimin who will rock your socks off with their heavy riffs and grunge vibe.
Could they be a Czech version of GIRLSCHOOL?
I interviewed Niki Kandoussi (rhythm guitar and lead vocals) over the internet.

1) You started THE AGONY in 2013. Who is in the band with you? How did you meet them?
There are three other fabulous women in the band with me, first of them being the wild intellectual red-headed beer-drinking and always-smoking Katie Skatie who plays bass. My ex-flatmate gave me Kate’s contact details as I was growing desperate – I’d auditioned or asked 6 female bass players with no result. I rang Kate with no expectations, but even on the phone I liked her instantly, then we met and rehearsed, and she turned out to be just the one I needed - she could play, looked good and became my best mate.
Terka Pšenčíková (read it as Pshencheekhova! Czech is funny) plays lead guitar and joined the band in April 2013 being the last member of the original line-up. We couldn’t find a decent lead guitarist so, desperate and out of ideas again, we simply put up an ad on the internet to which Terka replied. At first, we didn’t think she’d fit in, but it only took a few band parties for Terka to open up a bit and we knew she DID fit in perfectly.
Martina ‘Kajda’ Balcarová is our 3rd and last drummer. I’ve known Kajda forever, it was my Mum who introduced us as she knew Kajda from local bands, and from the beginning I wanted to be in a band with her. There was an attempt when I was 16, but nothing good came out of it, we had one rehearsal and it was awful. Then we kept missing each other – I played in another band, she was free, then I was free but she played elsewhere, then I was free again and she... goes to play a cruise ship?? It took years and our original drummer leaving the band due to pregnancy, but Kajda did join The Agony eventually, thank goodness!

2) "A bit of Motorhead/Girlschool meets Motley Crue with punk and grunge vibe, heavy riffs and catchy choruses". Who write the songs? Where does the inspiration come from?
It’s usually me writing the songs or at least coming with the main structure, riffs, chorus, melody, title or a piece of lyrics – something that gets it started. Katie’s written one song so far, but I know she’ll come up with more. The songwriting process has changed in the three years of us being together; most importantly, it’s not all about me anymore. I used to record full demos and tell the girls exactly what to play, like a dictator. With time, I realised the girls ought to have an input too. They do now and, since we all have different influences, the music suddenly gets quite different and colourful too, even though I still like to be in charge of arrangements. Nevertheless, with all of us involved, it's then The Agony and not just Nik’s songs, although I gotta say there are still a few songs I wrote in my teenage years (Evil Angel, Rockin’, Waiting) that we still play and they work amazingly.
When it comes to inspiration, I’m no different than other musicians, because my inspiration comes from feelings and emotions. Desire is an incredible and pivotal driving force, and so is pain; the more unhappy I am in my personal life, the better songs I write. It’s like therapy when you turn all the struggling, letdowns, sadness, anger, frustration, longing, boredom or whatever else into music… That’s why more than a half of The Agony’s song catalogue probably wouldn’t exist without my ex-partners or lovers; most of them have an AG song, some of them two, bless them.
But we also write about partying, good times, stories, darker stuff… it depends.

3) What's the rock scene like in the Czech Republic?
Good question. As everywhere, there are good things and worse things. We have a lot of bands here, some fab musicians, great deal of music, and competition too – this is a small country. We’ve got some great venues, studios, professionals who help bands so that’s all good. What I’d say is worse about our rock scene is that it’s a bit behind (but it’s getting better), and quite polarised and torn in two. You have fans who prefer the bands that sing in Czech, then you’ve got other fans, usually from younger generations, who can’t stand Czech bands and root for English-singing bands. Some bands here have been going strong for 30 years, but none of them sing in English. They sell out each gig of their tour here, but have them play abroad and they’ll be back to square one. So I think the language thing is a big deal here.
4) One E.P. released in July 2013 ('Loud and Furious'). Followed by a debut album in June 2015 ('Dirty and Dangerous'). How do you (the band) relate to you fans?
Our fans are great and crazy sometimes, just like us. And from the beginning, we want them to feel they’re a part of our mad bunch, and that we appreciate them and are happy for their support and attention. It’s good you mentioned Dirty And Dangerous, because we’d started crowdfunding campaigns prior to the recording, and that was a prime example of us relating to fans and the proof of the fact it works. We knew we wanted to do the album for them and with them… we let them be a part of it and it was a win-win - THEY gave us their time and money, therefore a chance to record the new material, WE gave them the new material and some nice merch. And our eternal gratitude!
5) You perform a lot in Prague and the Czech Republic. What about Europe and the UK?
We’ve got some Germany gigs under the belt as we play there every year since the beginning; we’ve also played Slovakia. The second part of your question is on the agenda in August of this year, we’re setting off for the first tour in Netherlands and the UK. I’m setting it up on my own with a little help of my friends which is sometimes harder than it sounds as venues tend to ignore me thinking nobody gives a damn about us abroad. But we’ll prove them wrong, so please check our website and Facebook for upcoming NL / UK tour dates, we’ve got a few by now and there’ll be more :)
What I’m really happy about is sharing the bill with Jax from Girlschool who will also play the festival Women In Rock with her other band Syteria. I love Jax to bits as she’s a great mate of mine, so I’m looking forward to seeing her and the girls, and we’re chuffed we’ll be sharing the stage with them.

6) What are THE AGONY's influences?
My top 5 consists of Girlschool, KISS, Crucified Barbara, Motley Crue, Metallica. But I also love more current stuff now, things like Biffy Clyro, Muse, Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age. I’m sure the new material of ours will reflect this somehow.
Katie is into more weird and alternative stuff. She listens to L7, Arctic Monkeys, Kraftklub, Nirvana, GN’R, Led Zeppelin. As far as I know, the latest earworm of hers seems to be QOTSA’s Era Vulgaris.
Terka loves her classic rock stuff. Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Jeff Beck, Michal Pavlíček (the best Czech guitarist), King Crimson.
Kajda is a fan of Gotthard, Asia, KISS, Journey and mainly: 'TOTO!'
As you can see, it’s an interesting and a bit crazy mix, but (still a mystery to me) it works well with us.

7) And, please, tell me, each of you, about the instruments you play. Nik: the brand of your guitar and what you like about it. Katie: about your bass. Terka: about your guitar. Kajda: about your drum kit.
I’ve got the guitar of my dreams which is called NK Explorer Pro and it’s a custom-built guitar, thing of beauty. I’d have hardly gone for a custom-built guitar if I wasn’t forced to it by circumstances – I’m a lefty and every visit of a guitar store makes me wanna yell as for me, there’s nothing to choose from, so when I got a chance to have my own guitar built, I jumped at it :)) The brand is Kobrle which is a surname of Libor Kobrle, a well-known and renowned guitar builder from the magnificent Prague 7. The guitar’s body is smaller and therefore lighter than the classic Explorer (hence the Explorer Pro name); the mahogany wood and neck-through give the instrument an impressive sustain and the whole guitar is very comfortable to play whilst having a forceful sound, so suitable for heavy rock rhythm guitar-playing. Oh and it looks great too, I’ve never seen a more beautiful red in my life :)
Katie: I actually have two bass guitars, and though I didn't choose either of them, I don't want any other. Both with five strings. (I've never liked five-strings, but now, I'd never change.) First of them is Epiphone Thunderbird V, probably the biggest, heaviest damn bass in the world. I use Rotosound strings with it and I love it because it's mine. The second one is a Squier by Fender bass, I have no idea what type, because I bought it as a second-hand, and never found out what the hell it is. It looks like SbF never even made anything like this. I don't know. You can see it in our "Give it to Me" music video. But it has good sound too, so why not. I mostly just use it at rehearsals, (because it has weaker signal so it's less perfect for the stage,) or when I don't feel like picking up heavy stuff, which is almost never. Oh, and I don't think they still sell any of the basses I have, so you can't have it.
Terka: My guitar is American Fender Stratocaster with rosewood fretboard and two humbuckers, what is quite extraordinary for Stratocasters. This model is called "Fat Strat" or "Big Apple" and it has really wide range of sounds. The rosewood gives her warm honey sound, what I like about this guitar most. That was the reason I chose her. I have not played better guitar than mine yet :) I would say that choosing the guitar is like choosing a magic wand :)
Kajda: My drum set is Mapex Orion Burl Maple in Coffee Burst Finish. The set up consist of 22" bass drum, 10", 12" and 14" rack toms and 14"x5,5" snare drum. In combination with Remo coated heads I get a powerful sound that I need. And I love sound of Paiste 2002 cymbals. I use 14" hi-hat, 16" and 18" crash, 20" ride and 18" china Paiste 2002 and 10" splash Anatolian Ultimate. My double bass pedal is Yamaha 9500C.

8) Where do you get your inspiration from for THE AGONY's music videos? For example, 'TWS'?
'T.W.S.' was pretty simple and based on the storyline in the song’s lyrics. I wrote the script for it (that included the band members’ cameos) whilst the CCTV cam thing was Allan’s (our director) idea. He’s been great at coming with ideas on the spot, take 'Give It To Me' for an example; shortly before the filming started, Allan came out with the thought the fans should be writing on us, and it came out brilliantly. The latest vid, 'Waiting' was amazingly done by my Dad, and the idea of letting the fans and viewers see the whole process of theAG gig was his.
9) What's THE AGONY's status on the rock scene in the Czech Republic? Basically, how big is THE AGONY in the Czech Republic?
I think we’ve got a great status in the CZ. We’re not in the '1st league' of bands and we won’t be, because there’s the language thing I’ve already mentioned, but we’ve been around for three years and already have a very good reputation, some respect from our peers and press, and ever-growing fanbase. I’d also say we definitely are in the 1st league when it comes to all-female bands in the CZ. We’re one of the best here for sure, but we have to work more and be better so we can be bigger – and higher!

10) What are THE AGONY's plans for the future (besides the usual gigging and recording)? World domination, perhaps?
World domination indeed! We want to have fun doing what we love, be as good as possible, go as high and far as we can... remain friends and never become twats. Speaking from my personal perspective, the ultimate plan is making an impact and continuing the legacy. I saw Girlschool when I was 15 and immediately thought 'Blimey, women can do this?? I want to do this too! I want to have my own all-female band!' So more than anything, I wish for my band and music to have this influence on young girls the same way Girlschool (and others) influenced me. When a young woman comes to us one day and says 'I picked up the instrument because of you guys', then I can die happy, 'cos I’ll know all the effort, time, energy and whatever else I’ve ever put in or sacrificed for the music was worth it.






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