Saturday, June 13, 2015

Interview with Christina Stijy from Gouge Away

It's always awesome to get knocked right on your ass by a new band that you had never even heard of. Such was the case for me with Gouge Away. I had befriended their guitarist Pete online a year or two ago after hearing his previous project Aversion, a band that had completely dialed in that classic Florida hardcore sound; you know, Strongarm, old Hulud, Sleeping By the Riverside, etc.   

A month or so ago Pete posted a link for his new band Gouge Away, who apparently had a new LP in the works and would be touring soon. I'd not seen him post anything about this band until that very moment, so I excitedly clicked the link and was immediately blown away. 5 songs of explosive, caustic hardcore punk in the vein of Fucking Invincible, Punch, etc. 

I had to find out more, and after a little bit of poking around saw that lyrically they were heavily focused on animal rights, gender equality, poking fun at overzealous straight edge kids, etc. Not only that, but their singer Christina is a school teacher. 

I was sold. A few emails were sent, and here we are, a discussion with vocalist Christina Stijy. Gouge Away will be headed up the East Coast and back for the next couple weeks and have an LP coming out later this year. Introducing your new favorite band. 

I always like to get a feel for people's background and everything, so in introducing yourself, talk a little bit about yourself; your family/childhood/adolescence, and the factors that led to your involvement in music generally, and hardcore/punk specifically.

I grew up listening to punk and metal. I always think I’m lucky to have been born at the start of 1990 because my parents had me listening to bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tesla when I was in diapers. When we had baby sitters over, I would ask them to play The Offspring while we played freeze dance. Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and No Doubt’s “Tragic Kingdom” were two albums that followed me throughout my life. My dad has played guitar pretty much since he was in diapers himself and my mom loves loud music, so it's a passion that my parents understand.

My mom would be just as excited as I was to go to Warped Tour and even bailed on me once when I was being a brat and told her I didn’t want her to go anymore. She just went and left me without a ride. That’s something that I HATED back then but it’s something that I see myself doing if I’m ever a mom, haha. My dad always tried to teach me guitar but it just wasn’t something that I was good at. I had this thing for drums and no one really believed me until I saved up my money and bought myself a kit. My parents went out to eat and by the time they came home, I had it set up in the living room. That’s when my dad started driving me to get drum lessons every weekend.

I played drums for a few years in middle and high school and started a few garage bands. We just played at each other’s houses and at parties. When I was 15 or 16 I was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which caused me to get blood clots in my arm. I went to the hospital and took care of that, and then continued to play drums (I was also a competitive dancer at the time), but then I kept getting blood clots, over and over, until I had to quit everything.

Booking shows was something that started to fill that void. I couldn’t be in a band anymore so why not book them? I started The Florida Scene 9 years ago, where I would spend my free time booking local and DIY touring bands and making compilations. I can’t keep up with it as much anymore with my career and band but it definitely helped get me where I am today and I have a huge appreciation for promoters.

Holy crap, that sounds so awesome, haha. At the time did you realize how unique your situation was with your parents being so encouraging about music and into it themselves, or did that come with age?                 
It’s definitely something I was aware of.  My mom was basically a taxi, taking my friends and me to shows before we could drive.  I had a harder time understanding parents who were afraid of shows. My parents would also let my bands practice in the garage all day until the sun went down. I’m not sure my neighbors were stoked on that, though.

Gouge Away has been playing together for a couple years now, and there definitely seems to be a lot of social and political issues that are at the forefront of things. When you first came together was there a strong and clear sense that you wanted to be an issue-oriented band, or has that focus come with time?

It was definitely intended!  Gouge Away was pretty much born when I was driving around with Victor, complaining about politics, social issues, our hardcore scene and shows, and it ended with… “and that’s why I need to start a band!” Victor said, “Okay, let’s do it.” We knew who to ask right away. Some of the lyrics that were recorded are songs that I wrote years prior because I guess I was just waiting for this to happen.

I was psyched to read you are a kindergarten teacher, it's always awesome to see fellow educators within the punk and hardcore realm! I know for me a lot of my motivation to work with young people came from my involvement in hardcore and punk; specifically wanting to encourage people to think critically and more deeply which has probably been the most enduring thing I've taken from my involvement over the years, as well as wanting to pass on the sense of empowerment through self-expression that I've found. I'm curious if your experiences have been similar, or if your draw to the classroom came from somewhere altogether different.

I feel like it came from a mix of things. I’ve worked with children since I was very young and it just came naturally to me. There’s something really special about the kids who are often labeled “bad” and I've always liked figuring them out and seeing how I can get them to trust me, or find out what works for them. Adults let children down a lot of the time and I wanted to be one person in their lives that had their best interest in mind 100% of the time. Punk definitely had an influence on me as a teacher as well because when I was in school, I loved to learn but I also loved to rebel. I respected my teachers if they showed respect for their students, but I still loved to push their buttons. While being a rebellious pre-teen, starting to learn about the world around me through bands like Thought Riot, and having an eager need to learn, I had a lot of skepticism about education. When I decided that I wanted to teach, I knew that I wanted to do so in order to change the world 20 children at a time, to instill compassion and a desire to think critically beyond my class and for the rest of their lives. 

The question of female representation/participation in the hardcore and punk scene seems to be an ever-present issue that we are constantly grappling with. While some would argue fewer women seem drawn to and have an interest in this type of music, others would argue that there are various barriers to entry for women, ranging from tough-guy bro posturing to sexual harassment, assault, etc. From your perspective as a women who is and has been very active for a long time, how do we create a space that encourages all people to participate?

I think one of the first steps to any kind of progress is listening.  Marginalized people will never be heard if people are constantly talking over them and dismissing them.      

Years ago, before calling people out and seeking accountability was prominent, a guy in a popular band in my state sexually assaulted me a number of times. I told a few people who were close to me or friends with him and I mostly got excuses. “He’s a nice guy.” “Are you sure it was assault or was he just confused?” “He’s creepy but would never do that.” That really instilled a rage in me that I carry with me to this day, and I never came forward about it because not being believed adds an additional element of fear than what I started with. We need to encourage an environment which supports people who come forward about harassment and assault to be taken seriously. Luckily, there are a number of people in my scene who are making this their priority.

This is something that I am still trying to figure out myself and I don’t think that we can ever stop learning about it. My experience as a woman in the hardcore scene and in society is a life I have to live with but then there are women of color and trans women who have it even harder than I do.
It was actually put into perspective for me a few years ago. I always wanted to be a roadie and merch girl on tour with bands but was hardly ever taken seriously. Guys would fear that their good times would be compromised because they would have to be mindful of their behaviors around me. I always wished I could have been born a man so I could easily do what I wanted to. I finally found a band, The Strikeouts, who would take me. I booked their tours and they took me out a few times. On the road I met my friend, Madison Turner. When she came out as trans she did an interview and mentioned that when she would see me on tour she would sit in the back of the van of her old band, Paranoia Dance Party, and look at her physique, and wish she was feminine like me. It was quite unreal to find that although things were hard for me at the time, I had a situation someone dreamed of.
So the new LP will be the third release so to speak, and certainly the most substantial in terms of the amount of content. What, if anything, were you trying to do differently this time around in terms of song-writing, lyrics, production, etc.?
Before the album was written we talked about making it community-oriented. We know a lot of local activists and otherwise influential people and we wanted to highlight as many as we could. We have 5 or so voices on this record and I wish we could fit more, but there’s always next time. I gave them pre-written lyrics and asked them to edit it as they please. Two people, Madison Turner and Maru Lopez, wrote their own parts completely. It’s really exciting to have such badass people included and I hope to keep this idea going.
Another idea was to keep the lyrics somewhat straight-forward and blunt. I really appreciate bands who have good writers and it takes some thinking to understand the message, but we tend to have this problem where people like us because we’re labeled as a hardcore band but then they get surprised when they realize that we mean what we say. I hope people can hear each song once and know what they’re about.
Other than that, unlike the old recordings, we wanted this one to sound good! Haha. Peter Allen joined us on second guitar a few months back and he definitely added an element we were looking for. We also couldn’t be happier recording with Daniel Colombo at Iceman Studios.
Florida seems to be such a hotbed right now for punk and hardcore, and Eighty-Sixed Records seems to be a manifestation of that. How did you hook up with Eighty-Sixed, and what's in the damn water down there?
Eighty-Sixed Records is comprised of John Mchale and Andre Hopman. We’ve all known John for years because he books the best shows in South Florida and then I met Dre through his band with John, Guilty Conscience. Our relationship is pretty standard: we played each other’s shows, we liked each other’s bands, and then they started a label and asked if we would like to be a part of it. It has been love ever since. 
So tour starts today I think....who are you most excited to play with and what places are you most looking forward to seeing/exploring? 
It started yesterday and has been great so far! I'm really excited to see Buffalo Buffalo, Swim Team, Soul Glo, Lipschitz, Ex-Breathers, and I've been told that WarXGames is tight. But I'm always exited to watch every band on tour. I'm pretty open minded about exploring new places, especially to try vegan spots. But my favorite part of tour is seeing friends! We know the most hospitable people.
The LP will be dropping later this year, what else do you have in store in terms of tours, releases, etc.
My dream is just to tour as much as possible until we're 90.
But as far as concrete plans, we'll be playing The Fest in Gainesville this October.
Lastly, for people just getting their feet wet with hardcore, DIY, radical politics, etc. what sort of advice or words of wisdom would you have for them? Conversely, for old jaded folks, why has this community continued to inspire you and keep you engaged?
My advice with everything is to not give up. Going vegan is hard. You will fuck up. Make it a learning experience and move forward. If someone says you don't support the scene because you don't go to every single show, tell them to fuck off. You have nothing to prove to anybody. Sometimes finding the right activist group takes a few tries. If you live in South Florida I strongly suggest trying out Food Not Bombs Ft. Lauderdale. They're hard-working, always eager to learn and help each other grow, and they understand if you need a break.
And to the jaded people, honestly, what keeps me engaged is the young people. The scene has changed a lot since I started going to shows over 10 years ago and I think it's for the better. It proves that if you put the work into it and stay true to yourself, you will see results.  If we keep pushing forward and continue to make the scene the way we want, it will only get better.

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