Queer Rocket Talks Punk, Politics, and Being Out in the Richmond Music Scene
A couple years ago, I wondered where the queer punk bands were in Richmond. There were vestiges of queer punk bands of Richmond’s past still cached on Google, but I couldn’t find a current local outfit anywhere to see live. That changed in 2013 with the formation of Queer Rocket and Leatherdaddy who are actually very different but who both arrive at an anti-establishment pro-queer political destination.
I met up with Anton and Jasper of Queer Rocket to talk about their experiences so far in the Richmond scene. Queer Rocket’s full lineup includes Anton (they, them) on guitar and vox, Jasper (they, them) on guitar and vox, Claire (she, her) on bass, and Cal (he, him) on drums.
How do you identify?
Anton: My name’s Anton, I identify as agender and genderqueer… I’m thinking about using “trans lady” but… I’m not really sure about that. And I’m a Russian immigrant, naturalized American citizen.
Jasper: I’m Jasper, I’m genderqueer, gender fluid, transgender… there’s a lot more words, I don’t know how many you want? Pansexual, polyamorous, I’m a Southerner but I’ve lived in places that aren’t in the South some… white, with a usually-invisible disability. As a band? Oh, queer! I forgot to say “queer.”
Anton and Jasper simultaneously: We’re both queer.
So, how did you choose the name “Queer Rocket”?
Jasper: At the University of Richmond, where I went to college, I was hanging out with some of my friends, and one of them, Lydia, had these foam letters that were leftover from some event. She was just arranging them on the table, and spelled out “QUEER ROCKET,” and my friend Yaz was like “That would be a great band name” and kind of did this little Bikini Kill-inspired “We’re Queer Rocket – 1,2,3,4!” and I was like “Yeah that is a great band name… we should make a band.” I was living with Anton at the time, and I came home and was like “Yaz and I are gonna make this band, Queer Rocket” and Anton was for it.
So how did everyone get together?
Anton: Our drummer Cal is a friend of a friend that was recommended to us as a cool drummer, and I knew Claire, our bassist, from before back when I lived in DC, we used to be volunteers for this organization called Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, or HIPS. I knew that she played guitar, I didn’t know that she played bass and drums, so we invited her over, and she stuck.
Jasper: We formed with Cal a little earlier, when we were having some trouble finding a bassist –
So what genre do you think best describes your band?
Anton: We’re trying to pioneer the genre of “riot qurrr,” which is like riot grrrl but for queers… I feel like “queercore” isn’t that fun of a word to describe our music.
Jasper: I’m not really into the word “queercore” for reasons I can’t really place.
Anton: I guess if we’re gonna be more general, we’re punk, I’d say.
Jasper: We’re punk, we have influences from riot grrrl, some 80s hardcore, 90s grunge, some math rock, from Screaming Females.
Anton: I’m not sure how much the rest of the band draws from this, but there was this one obscure keyboard punk band in DC called Babykiller Estelle, like the Sartre play? The character from the Sartre play No Exit. That was a sure huge influence for me.
Jasper: I definitely pull from some… I guess indie rock, if you wanna call it that, I don’t know if that even means anything… from like Modest Mouse… sometimes I can only tell after I’ve written a song I think “oh it sounds like this.” And I have a lot of history in bluegrass music, and folk music, and I’m sure that creeps in, but I’m not sure how much.
Do you feel like your experience as an out queer band in the Richmond music scene has been any different than a non-out, or non-queer, or non-out queer band in the Richmond music scene?
Jasper: I feel like I don’t really know the Richmond music scene, I wonder if being so clearly out helps other musicians that are queer but maybe not completely out, maybe not everyone in the band is queer, I feel like there are some members of bands that are really excited about playing with us… maybe before they’ve heard our music? (laughing) And I wonder if that has to do with building queer musician connections or what.
Anton: I’ve never really been in a non-queer non-out band in Richmond, this is my first band in Richmond.
Jasper: Yeah, it’s my first band. It feels good to not have to always be coming out, a lot of people experience an ongoing process of having to say “Hey, by the way, you assume my pronouns and you assume the wrong pronouns.” Or “Hey, you assumed I was partnered with this type of person and actually it’s more complicated than that.” So with “Queer Rocket,” it’s out there, you don’t have to put forth the extra energy to say “By the way, we’re a queer band.” People kind of get that.
Anton: I didn’t realize this but we also probably have some weird “sex sells” factor to it because a lot of people are like “Queer Rocket? You mean like a DILDO?” and I’m like “Noooo… I never thought of it like that”
When I’ve spoken to a couple other queer musicians, they’ve said that they feel like there isn’t really a queer music scene in Richmond, but that there are just a bunch of different bands with queer members. By having “queer” in your band name, would you say that it’s a priority as a band to bring out more queer visibility in the Richmond or Virginia music scene?
Jasper: I wanted more queer punk in my life, and the best way to get that is to make it yourself, so that was part of my inspiration “I really wish there was a band like this… Oh, let’s make it and then there will be a band like this.” I feel like the Richmond queer scene is really awesome. I’m a big fan. And a lot of us are musicians so it only makes sense that music would be part of that.
Anton: I guess I have a different answer… so, before there was Queer Rocket, I was doing this solo project called Genderqueer Deathsquad, where my explicit purpose was to travel from town to town and recruit people Nicaraguan-rebel style into a giant deathsquad of genderqueer people that could revolt at a moment’s notice because they’re all part of this large cooperative that has no leadership. So that was my little cutesy idea of being an acoustic folk punk thing. Right now, we have a super long list of queer people of color bands on our website that Susie X made, and I just feel like that history took me 8 years of being a punk fan to find, so now I’d rather just be super visible and super out there like “Hey, we’re a fucking queer band, we’re here, and if you go to our website you can see more queer bands,” or hopefully kids will start their own. Because I’ve definitely heard people are really sad that there aren’t queer bands or musicians like that making music that they want.
Jasper: I feel like sometimes it’s just hard to find. Especially if you’re like me and you don’t actually know how to look for new music, it just comes to me when it does, and then I enjoy that experience.
Anton: Punk is kinda hella whitewashed and heteronormative in terms of its official histories, because they’re like “Punk: first there was the Stooges, then it went over to England and there were 3 bands, and then it came to America, and there were 10 bands.” As opposed to, “Holy fucking shit, there’s a bunch of people randomly making music together, and there’s queer people of color in San Francisco making music together and there’s queer people in New York making music together,” that history’s not really ever told.
Jasper: And then sometimes people get the feeling that since the history they’re used to hearing about punk is so male-dominated, and white, that if they don’t fit that then they won’t make it, it’s gonna be too hard as a punk band.
What does “queer” mean to you personally?
Anton: So the Wikipedia definition for queer is “people who are gender non-conforming, outside the gender binary, or not heterosexual” which I’m not sure if that’s how every queer person defines it, but for me, queer is just like… I don’t even know if I should be talking about this for this interview, but there’s this weird binary between normal and queer and queers are like “We need to crush the binary” but then they set up this other weird binary, so to me, “queer” is like this huge affinity group and no one really knows what it means but we all feel good being part of it because we’re all kind of weird.
Jasper: I’m okay with that being how it is, I feel like “queer” to me kind of means like “Fuck you for trying to define my sexuality so rigidly or my gender so rigidly that like, we can like connect about being different than “the norm,” but that doesn’t mean that my experience of my queer identity is the same as someone else’s experience of their queer identity, or it could be like sexuality is really fucking complicated and that’s beautiful and I love learning more about my own sexuality and my own gender identity and expression, every day, and that might be fluid, for some people it might not be fluid, and I kind of just think it’s like this beautiful vomit of color.
How have members of your own communities responded to you, and how does it compare to Richmond or Virginia at large?
Anton: There’s a lot of people who are really stoked about playing with us, so we weren’t really sure how people were responding to us… within our communities there’s been really positive super awesome support, and it seems like that positive support’s also outside of them which is really nice.
Jasper: I feel like I’m not in touch with non-queer Richmond, so I don’t know how they respond to us, they probably – I don’t know if the know about – I don’t know. I wanted to give a shout-out to Paisley who asked for all of our autographs at our first show and said they wanted to be our biggest fan.
My mom was like “You’re putting out an album? I wanna buy copies and give them to all the family members for Christmas” and I was like “Um, oh, really? (laughing) I don’t think they would like it” and she said “Oh well, they don’t have to like it, but they would like to have it, because it’s yours, you made it” and I said “Okay, that’s really sweet, but you might wanna listen to it online first” and then I’m like “Um, I swear a lot, is that gonna be a problem?” and she’s like “Oh,” and she listened to it and called me back another time and said “I didn’t realize you were gonna use so much profanity, maybe we shouldn’t share it with the family” and I agreed. But I played it for my brother and sister and they were so excited. They really loved it.
Anton: My mom turned on the garbage disposal once and said “See, it’s like your music.”
Wes McWillen is a videographer, photographer, writer, and community volunteer and advocate who supports the Neighborhood Resource Center of Greater Fulton, RVA Transformers, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and other progressive organizations around Richmond. He’s an out gay trans guy who loves Vietnamese food, dance parties, and summers at the river. You can reach him at wesmnewmedia.tumblr.com
Hercules and Love Affair, the music project of NYC based Andy Butler, has made waves in the queer dance scene since their first self-titled release in 2008. The first album, featuring the writing talent and vocal stylings of Antony Hegarty (Antony and the Johnsons) helped launch H&LA with it’s disco beats and beautiful vocal tracks. Still, the [...]May 20, 2014
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