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Questioning gender with Florida elctro-punks TOMBOi

Jon Henry | June 20, 2016

Electronica trio Tomboi have made a name for themselves mixing a pulsing synth with candy guitar licks to force your surrender to the groove.

Emotive lyrics swim the effervescent pop stream and further the group’s progressive roots.Stirring wails pick up an urgent gait, gleaming with a wink all the while. These women know how to make you dance.

When members Alex E. (vocal, sequencing, beats, guitar), Paige McMullen (guitar) and Summer Wood (drums) came through Virginia earlier this month, artist Jon Henry caught up with them around their Harrisonburg show.

The group first came together through mutual friends, cementing a deeper bond through music and youth advocacy efforts with local non profits, Girls Rock Jacksonville and JASMYN. They dropped their debut release, Queer Tears EP, March 2014 and another single, Lobos, January 2015. Since then they have shared bills with outfits such as Of Montreal, Big Freedia, Neon Indian, Hunter Valentine, La Femme, The Black Kids, Hunter Valentine, Fit for Rivals, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Boyfriend, Moon Hooch, and Hank & Cupcakes.

Check out our short Q&A with the band below, and keep up with them on Facebook here.

How did TomBoi form?

TOMBOi started as a solo project of Alex E. in 2013. She was invited to perform at an unofficial SXSW Showcase in 2014 and wasn’t planning on making the trip. Paige offered to drive her out to Texas. It only made sense if she was driving, she should play guitar in TOMBOi. After this breakfast conversation, Paige & Alex E. immediately walked over to Summer Wood’s house to recruit her to play drums. We got the band together in a month, and headed to SXSW – and have been TOMBOi-N’ it up ever since.

How did you all meet and get started?

We all met through our heavy involvement in the Jacksonville music scene. Summer & Paige used to be in a band together called RICE. Alex E. was in a band called Wild Life Society at the time, and we all played shows in our hometown under the moniker of Skinny Records & Warehouse Studios.

What subjects really get you all out of the bed in the morning and into the studio?

Our love of music and the drive to increase our musical capabilities really pushes us. But we’re also heavily influenced by the culture around us. All three of us are committed to various social justice organizations within our community. As queer women in the south, there are certain realities and experiences we’ve faced that have undoubtably inspired us. We want our music to reflect that.

For example, in our hometown of Jacksonville, FL, we do not have an inclusive human rights ordinance (HRO) that protects members of the LGBTQiA community from discrimination in the workplace or in public. To combat this, we’ve worked alongside JASMYN (Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network) as well as the local high school G.S.A.s (Gay Straight Alliances) to raise awareness and support for updating our HRO. Where we’re from there is not a lot of queer culture so it’s our intent to cultivate safer spaces for queer and gender non binary individuals.

How do you feel about getting labeled as a queer music group? Do prefer that label or is part of the hustle?

We feel great about it. We labeled ourselves that way as a form of self-empowerment. Being 3 androgynous queer women in the south we knew our sexuality would be brought into the conversation eventually. It was our way to own who we are as individuals, so there is never any misconception of how proud we are to live our truths. We also chose the label as a way to help steer the conversation & questions we are often met with. It was chosen to help more queer people find content that resonated with their experiences.  It was a way to connect with more people who may identify with the word, or may be interested in understanding it more.

So what questions are you often met with?

We often get asked what “queer” means or what we mean by identifying as a queer band. We don’t ever aim to give a finite definition of queer because the term itself is fluid; it has many meanings. Queer falls under a broad spectrum of categories – it can be used as a self identifier in terms of sexuality but can also be used as a communal term for those who do not identify with the overall heteronormative society we are constantly presented with. For us, we identify with it’s usage as a communal term for the LGBTQiA+ community.

How do you all value or measure success?

We see success in how broad our audience has been as well as how accepting both audiences and venues have been to our message. There’s no doubt that the world is still not a safe place for queer and gender non binary people but the fact that we do identify as a queer band and have the opportunity to travel safely is a testament to how far we’ve come as a society.

Queer folks have long used bars and clubs as ad hoc community centers. Yet we are seeing the disappearance of queer night venues, arguably with the rise of the internet. Have you noticed? Or have strong feelings on it?

This is a great question. We’ve talked about this before as a band and with other friends. Within our own community we have seen a decrease in gay/lesbian bars but in response there has been an increase in safe DIY spaces popping up. Maybe it’s hopeful to say this but we believe the culture is becoming more inclusive and wants to get better. Specifically in larger cities, safe(r) spaces are becoming more and more available for everyone, not just queer people.

So you all are headed up to Philly Pride to perform. What’s it like to play at a Pride event versus a more traditional venue?

Yes, we are playing at a fundraiser for LIGHT for Philly Pride. We are also playing at Pittsburgh Pride for Pridefest with Dev. The whole concept and environment that Pride events aim to create are always refreshing, heart-warming & a reminder of all the warriors who have fought/fight for equality for the LGBTQia Community. Truly, we are honored to even be considered for those events. Playing in traditional venues can have its ups & downs, but overall when we book shows we always seek out inclusive safe spaces to perform in.