Musicscan: Tell me a little bit about the departure of Nathan from the band. What were the reasons behind that?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Nathan’s wife got pregnant and he had a baby. It was still in the air if he could be in a touring band and be a father. It was a really big decision. Right when his wife first had a baby he took a break from the band. He didn’t quit but said that he needed to be home for a while take care of my daughter, which totally made sense. There were a couple of tours that we did and we had Seth from Les Savy Fav fill in because all of our songs had been written with two guitar parts. When Seth couldn’t make it we sometimes played as a four-piece which limited what we could play, but Jay did a pretty amazing job of combining his and Nathan’s old guitar parts. But Nathan just had to make the decision at some point and as he now had a daughter he couldn’t leave for months at a time. So then he quit. For a while we had to decide if we still wanted to be a band without Nathan and if we wanted to continue as a four-piece or if we would like to replace him. We came to the conclusion that Nathan can’t be replaced. He did what he did. While we were writing for this record, Jay said that he really missed someone to bounce his guitar ideas off of musically, because that is how they would write a lot in the past. Him and Nathan would go back and forth and play off of each other. Seth was never going to join our band, because he has Les Savy Fav going on and he lives in New York. So we decided that we did want to get another member, but we didn’t want another guitar player. We wanted someone who could play many different instruments. We were all interested in broadening the spectrum of what we could do and didn’t want it to be so guitar heavy. So we ended up getting Leona who is a friend of ours and she was in a band in Seattle called Hint Hint. She is a keyboard player and a classically trained pianist. She also plays a lot of different stuff on the record. She did a lot of percussion, she played the accordion, she played melodica. That is exactly what we were looking for. She is awesome.
Musicscan: Does the band constellation feel different now that you are not the only girl in the band?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: It has been an incredible change for everybody, not just me. It is really funny because everyone would assume…I mean I am thrilled that there is another girl in the band because that does change the dynamic even when you are with friends. She breathes a new life into our band. We have been a band for five years now and you grow up a lot together. She has diffused certain tensions in the band. It feels like a new time period for the band.
Musicscan: Was it a conscious decision to add a female band member?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Not necessarily. I was pushing for that. Everyone actually wanted a female band member but that is not what was necessarily going to happen. We had to go with whatever fit. When you are a band together, it is like dating five people. You are living together in a small van. So it was not all about clicking musically, but about who we got along with the most.
Musicscan: Why do you think that there are so few women active in music and in the supposedly more progressive and open minded punk and indie scenes as well?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: I don’t really know. I think it has gotten much better over the years, but I still think that there is a world of difference to go. The ratio is extremely out of balance. It is not just with musicians, it is with everybody involved in the music world: journalists, video makers, etc. I mean things have come a long way and things are getting much better. It is a change that is happening. It is just happening slowly. It sounds really cliché, but as often as I can I tell other women to start a band: Get involved in it, you can play an instrument. There are many reasons that go into that. A lot of them start when you are young and the way you are raised. That sounds kind of ridiculous, too, but there is some deep embedded things about how girls are raised as for women to not be loud and obnoxious for instance. I always wanted to play the drums when I was a teenager, but my mom was like “there is no way in hell I will ever let you beat a drum in my house.” That was more because she didn’t want to hear the noise of anybody playing the drums. But a lot of my male friends had drum sets. That was no problem. I was in the choir. I was allowed to do that musically, but had I had a brother it would have been interesting to see what he would have been allowed to do.
Musicscan: Is that maybe because women are not as much interested in the whole scene dynamics as such or are there rather social and societal restrictions for girls to enter into those scenes and become more involved?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: I think it is both. It is things as little as girls being pushed into playing piano. That is why there are a lot of female keyboardists, just because the ratio of women being pushed into playing piano versus boys playing piano is drastically different. At least in the States it has changed quite a bit. Even in the 90s a lot more girls wanted to learn how to play guitar and guitars became a lot more common. When you are playing music you are putting yourself out there on the line and people are going to judge you a lot different when you are woman regardless, even in the indie or punk scene. It is tough to deal with.
Musicscan: Can you describe a really bad experience as a woman in the music business?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Oh yes, tons of stuff. It is so common place. It is hard for anything to stand out because that is just how it is. The more women get involved in music the more we can change it and the more you can talk about it the more you can change it, even though it is not fun to talk about or expose. Leona joining the band has been great but still nine out of ten times on a tour we might still be the only two women in any of the bands or any of the sound people or any of the entire crew of a club. That is still baffling to me. There is a difference between being in a punk band and being in a band that is totally committed to a DIY scene where they are playing a lot of house or basement shows. It crosses over into all worlds honestly. This band has been more in the public eye than any other band I have ever played in. So in the media they often talk about my body or the way I look, like my weight. I don’t think that would be something they would talk about if they would be talking about a man. And that is just considered normal. It is shitty, but it is normal. Even when they mean it in a positive way - when they try to be complimentary - they are still talking about my body, but with the next band they are not going to say anything about anyone’s body, because it is all guys. It is still fucked up, even when people don’t see that they are being fucked up (laughs).
Musicscan: There are quite a few bands now again that are working on transcending clear gender boundaries in these scenes, the Gossip for instance or Gravy Train. However, these bands are all also involved discussing or questioning the whole gender debate. I hardly see any efforts from bands outside of the gender dynamic, bands who are admittedly white, heterosexual and middle-class.
Pretty Girls Make Graves: I absolutely agree with you. I don’t know if that is because it doesn’t affect them directly. I don’t know if they look at it as not their issue instead of it being everybody’s issue.
Musicscan: Is music able to present avenues for change in this respect, though?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Yes, I think so. Visibility is obviously not something I have cared about in any band I before until now. The more multi-cultured, multi-gendered and the more visible they can be, I feel like that can help change the norm. When you pick up a music magazine, let’s say Rolling Stone for instance, it is still going to be mostly white males. The best thing for anyone who is breaking any racial or gender stereotype is to be as visible in the public eye as possible. That is not always fun and it is absolutely not what people always want. I used to not give a shit about giving interviews, because I always felt like people would skew what I say or twist things around. It is still real jaded from some bad experiences. I ended up not talking a lot in interviews and then I realized that that was one of the worst things I could have done because that made it seem like I was passive instead of having a voice. Imagine you read an interview with The Strokes for example and they aren’t talking and they are described as cool and mysterious but if a girl doesn’t talk she is either going to be perceived as passive or simply considered a bitch. When I realized that I said to myself that I was going to be in every interview I can and talk as much as possible.
Musicscan: Is that the most effective way to transcend the stereotypes that you constantly have to deal with?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Yes, I think so. That is why I think it is so important to be visible. We are about to do a tour with The Gossip. Not only do I think they are a great band, but I think they are a really important band for people to see in this time period. Because I think the act of them being a touring and functioning band is a physical statement. Beth, by being who she is, is a big statement. This girl was born with pipes. She has got this voice, it is unbelievable. It is shocking what a good voice she has, but because of her weight people won’t take them as seriously or don’t even consider them as important. It is something as easy and simple as that. She is working hard at breaking down stereotypes. She embraces it, she goes with it. She will put her weight in your face and she will not hide it and she is definitely not going to change it. In England a couple of years ago I read an article where a person of the press was talking all this shit about her being fat or overweight and the next time she played England she just said: “I hear the people talk about how fat I am. You know what I can say to them? Eat my pussy.” Then she took off all her clothes and played in her underwear. If you didn’t want to see or think about it, she made you think about it. I think that is amazing.
Musicscan: How do you keep from getting frustrated with all the mentioned circumstances?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: It is hard not to. I did get frustrated a long time and that is when I stopped talking in interviews out of frustration. I am ashamed to realize how long that went on for. Once I realized that I knew that I had to change that. I wish I hadn’t got so frustrated. It is really key for me to talk to other women who are artists or not necessarily even musicians. These are struggles that carry on into all different parts of being a woman, not just the music world. So when I am on the road I keep in contact with a lot of friends of mine and people who understand what is going on. Now that Leona is in the band, there is always someone I can talk to about things. I used to try to keep a lot of phone contact going on with people and my band is really supportive, but it is just the little details that are being overlooked and then it is good to call a girlfriend. For example when the sound guy doesn’t give a shit about me once again, when he is not listening to anything I say.
Musicscan: Do you reflect upon that in your lyrics, too?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: I think sometimes I do, because I write off personal experience and there is no way to not come through, but then I also think that it is really boring when lyrics are just like a diary. That is boring for anyone to read. Often times I write lyrics in the same way my band writes the music. I like a lot of layers to it. I like for you to get a couple different meanings out of them.
Musicscan: How does that correspond with the music? What makes for a perfect song in your opinion?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Wow, that is a good question. A perfect song for me is a song that can truly make you feel something. It is the same way I feel about movies. I think a movie is good if it can make you feel something, whether it is anger or disgust or happiness, but if it is something that reaches inside you and doesn’t flow in one year and out the other. That is the perfect song.
Musicscan: What is the best and worst aspect of being in the band for you personally?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: That is a good question, too. The best aspect is that I am doing what I love. I do love to play music and create music and work on music as a big art project. I love creating stuff that doesn’t only go for music, but just creation in itself is really exciting. The idea that something I have created is going to be there 10 or 50 years from now is really cool. The worst aspect is that I miss my friends and I feel like I miss out on things. I friend of mine has a four year old, but when she was pregnant I wasn’t there when her daughter was born, just things like that are difficult. When I am home I try to spend as much time with my friends as possible. One of the other huge downsides is that I like to learn – that is probably inherent to everyone – but it is part of the things that keep me going. There are a thousand classes that I would like to be taking. Drum lessons being a big one, to language, to art classes, cooking classes. I have such a huge list of things that I want to do, but because we tour so much I can never do them. I carry my own Italian lessons with me and all of us have their own language that they are constantly working on for themselves. Everyone has flashcards, but it is still really difficult because you have to be speaking it with somebody else to really learn it. I have some drum sticks and Nick even bought me a little drum pad that I can take in the van for Christmas but I still want to learn things at a quicker level than that. You can do a lot teaching yourself but it can only take you so far.
Musicscan: Have you ever thought about what you would be doing if the whole music/band career wouldn’t have worked out?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Yes, I wonder what my life would be like. Especially because I am 30 now and I look at a lot of other people my age and their lives are so different. I mean I cut hair when I am home, so I still have my day job, but I don’t think I would be doing that for my profession. I imagine I would go to school. Whatever I end up doing in life I am going to have to do something that will end up helping other people. I know that for a fact and I know that sounds kind of cliché, too. That is another bad aspect about not being home enough: we can never do any volunteer work. No matter what the organization or what the cause, no one is going to let you come in for like one day and then not see you again for a couple of months. Previous to being in this band I have always done volunteer work and that keeps me going, too.
Musicscan: It is interesting that you mention that helping other people in some way is of great importance to you. Do you consider music to be a service to the people in some way?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: I do. I don’t know if someone who is going to read that is going to think that that is so over the top, but that is one of the main reasons that I play music and that is what helped me through the hardest years of my life. Music has not been like a religion but something that can almost be spiritual or can save you. That sounds pretty idealistic, but I do believe in that. That is why I always say if my music can reach one person or help him or her in any way than that is all I could hope for. I try to look at music as being therapeutic for people to listen to but also for me to play. This is probably very un-rock’n’roll sounding, but it is true. Honesty is not always the best thing, but whatever (laughs). I don’t want to wear my heart on my sleeves, but that is what I get out of music.