When Zo, bassist and vocalist from the gross punk duo Ew hit me up on Facebook messenger this spring to ask if I wanted to go on tour with them, I was in Miami, sweating my ass off, without a regular job, had just started working on an “actual music” project, and reluctant to say yes. I had been booked with Ew at a house show in Savannah several months before where we bonded over being the gayest people there and the shitty attempts from local allies to make up for their overall lack of understanding about facilitating events that catered specifically to queer folx. They were nasty, loud, visible femmes — something that I’d only been familiar with in Savannah via my involvement with House of Gunt — and, despite my lack of confidence about getting my shit together in time to tour, I said yes.
Fast forward two months and I’m sitting on the floor at QuoLab, playing six songs from Oppressive Heat, the EP I recorded with the help of Jeff Zagers, one of my only masc allies in town (besides, of course, C Powers, HoG’s resident DJ and the person who taught me how to use mixing decks). Between myself, Zo, Brooke (Ew drummer and vocalist), and Sam, a.k.a. Three Brained Robot, another compatriot playing a couple shows on our Northeast route, we’d set up gigs in thirteen cities, including time for a stop in The Middle of Nowhere North Carolina (the quiet place from which I’m writing this).
Now, with two shows left on tour and some time to sit back outside of the privacy of Zo’s wig-laden van and think about what we’ve done so far, I can’t help but be grateful for exposure. Don’t get me wrong, though — my version of exposure looks way more like playing for an audience of twenty in someone’s basement, connecting with one or two people over being super gay, and way less like whatever a straight capitalist perspective on exposure looks like, getting laid and playing big rowdy shows with a hefty guarantee. As a queer person, as a trans person, and as a femme, the possibility of comfort is less reliant on the status of someone’s pullout couch and way more dependent on the status of a host’s/local act’s/audiences’/spaces’ politic, which makes the unknowns of touring an entirely different socio-political animal.
So, from the privacy of an undisclosed hot tub in the mountains of Chimney Rock, North Carolina, here’s a brief discussion between Zo, Brooke, and myself over a massively delicious dinner (yes, we’re eating dinner in the hot tub) of our tour so far, with our anticipatory remarks on returning to the South for our last two shows in Atlanta and Athens:
Why were you most excited to go to the Northeast?
Brooke: Last time we toured we went West [for a week]. I have a lot more friends up North and I feel like more people were asking us to come up there, and duh, you wanna play New York City! And I’d never been to Richmond, Providence or Philly. I wanted to travel more into the unknown in places where I had friends.
Zo: To see my friends! A change of pace. Everything’s different [up North]. I needed an actual city and a place with all strangers. What I’ve experienced in Gainesville is that its easier to become a stranger to yourself because you’re surrounded by people you know too much. When I’m surrounded by strangers I know myself.
Raine: I was most excited to go to the Northeast because queer communities there are bigger and more visible and have more resources! And seeing all my Northeasternly sweethearts and making new ones.
What caught you the most off-guard about tour so far?
Zo: That all the shows had an excellent turnout.
Brooke: I was really caught off-guard because I’ve been really jaded to everything and haven’t had many real feelings unless they were bad ones. For a long time I haven’t even been able to cry. When we drove into New York, I started crying. I was also caught off-guard when we showed up at this fucking hippie festival on the side of some hill in Pittsburgh. I feel like we had to win them over by making fun of ourselves and insulting them at the same time.
Raine: For Zo to sit down during this interview, halfway through dinner, in a suspender thong.
Zo: That caught you off-guard? I thought you’d be used to it by now.
Do you have a particular opening act we played with you’d like to shout out to right now?
Brooke: Shout out to Mariah from Woven In for being the most charismatic, relatable and talented performer we’ve seen in a very long time.
Raine: Shout out to Nora of Visibilities for being witty as all hell both on the keyboard and vocally AND for taking us out (with Sam from Flowers and the Ghosts of Insects) to taste some of Providence’s finest diner food AND being such a kind hostess!
Brooke: Wait, are you going to ask me what my FAVORITE act was? Cause Nora was definitely my favorite.
Do you feel like your identities change when you travel or people are just seeing a different part of you?
Brooke: How I’m being perceived can sometimes change my identity. If I feel like I’m being ignored somewhere, I’ll be quiet. If I’m safe around the people I’m with, I can get really silly and crazy and weird. When we were in that basement in Providence, I felt welcome there. I wanted to do more for them cause I felt like they wanted it. When we went to that hippy festival, I wanted to give them more because they DIDN’T want it. I wanted to be as weird as possible because there were no stakes. I felt more free to do or say whatever because it couldn’t have gotten any worse!
Zo: Both of ya’ll went so far out [in Pittsburgh] that I peed myself. Sometimes when you [Brooke] are in your element I just want to watch. I was very quiet that show. I feel like my identity in relationship to Ew, when we’re onstage, I have a specific identity for that part of me. But my own identity is always changing environmentally.
Raine: This is my first time touring as a musician primarily instead of a drag queen or “performance artist,” so I feel like my identity is more transparent this time around. Playing with just a loop pedal, my voice, and a couple small props means there’s less obfuscation of my “real identity,” whatever that means. But I still feel like every place and person I interact with brings out some other side of myself, and I’m grateful for that, even when it makes me uncomfortable or unsure of myself.
Do you feel a difference between queers in the North and the South?
Brooke: For awhile, I thought people in the South were nice. And now I’m like, no! People in the North are nice. To freaks.
Zo: I love the queers I know who are from up North and it seems safer to be visible there because of people’s open-mindedness. But I feel more connected to queers in the South because I am a queer from the South.
Brooke: Cause it’s like, “You’re from Hell too!” There’s just more hatred towards people who aren’t white straight and cisgendered.
Raine: Absolutely! As a queer from the South, you really don’t know how weird it is down here till you realize living in a city where people get up-in-arms about the phrase “queer safer space” with one free clinic and no LGBTQ center is bizarre.
Now that we’re on break for a couple days [in the woods of North Carolina] are you looking forward to going back to the South for our last two shows?
Brooke: TBH, I feel so relaxed and kind of lazy and tired, I can’t even imagine picking up and going back on the road. Maybe its because I’m old or something, or because we’re at the cabin and I wanna hide here in the woods for an entire month and like, regain some kind of humanity or composure from humanity… But I’ll be excited to see my friends in Atlanta and I’m excited to perform there.
Zo: I’m always kind of excited to play a show outside of where I live cause it gives us an opportunity to show people our art and music. And I think that like, I have a lot of social anxiety but when I’m playing I have more of a purpose and can talk to people I don’t easier. I’ve never been to Athens and I’m excited to go back to Atlanta.
Raine: I’m honestly a little nervous because Athens and Atlanta feel closer to home than everywhere else we’ve played and for some reason that puts me on edge, even though I know plenty of folks in both cities and have played at both venues before. I’m definitely stoked to play with Pamela_and her sons in ATL - we’ve been friends for awhile and I’ve seen them play a bunch, but this will be our first show together. Contrarily, I’m excited to play with .ESC. cause we’ve never met but their music is groovy!
*Zo reaches for the mashed potatoes, Brooke tries to close the lid on Zo’s hand.*
Zo: Don’t block me from the feed. Ever.
Raine is an agender trans drag princex with The House of Gunt and co-facilitates Savannah’s only queer safe(r) DIY space, QuoLab. Check out more of their multimedia work at raineblunk.com or on Instagram at raine__raine.