Tag Archives: feminism

Out in force: Massive women’s marches protest Trump

Women turned out in large numbers in cities worldwide on Jan. 21 to stage mass protests against U.S. President Donald Trump.

Hundreds of thousands of women —  many wearing pink knit “pussy”  hats — marched through downtown Washington, and also thronged the streets of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston to rebuke Trump on his first full day in the White House. People — about 75,000 — also marched in Madison.

The Women’s March on Washington appeared to be larger than the crowds that turned out the previous day to witness Trump’s inauguration on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Organizers of the protest had told police they expected 200,000 people to attend but the crowd looked substantially bigger than that, stretching for about a mile and estimated at 500,000.

Thousands filed past the White House and were ushered back by Secret Service officers on horseback.

A planned march in Chicago grew so large organizers did not attempt to parade through the streets but instead staged a rally. Chicago police said more than 125,000 people attended.

The protests illustrated the depth of the division in the country which is still recovering from the 2016 campaign season. Trump stunned the political establishment by defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominated for president by a major U.S. party.

“We’re just disturbed by everything Trump wants to do,” said Bonnie Norton, 35. She and Jefferson Cole, 36, brought their 19-month-old daughter Maren to the Washington march.

Although his party now controls both the White House and Congress, Trump faces entrenched opposition from segments of the public as he takes office, a period that is typically more of a honeymoon for a new president.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found Trump had the lowest favorability rating of any incoming U.S. president since the 1970s.

Thousands of women also took to the streets of Sydney, London, Tokyo and other cities in Europe and Asia in “sister marches” against Trump.

Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday that “I am honored to serve you, the great American People, as your 45th President of the United States!” but made no mention of the protests. He attended an interfaith service at Washington National Cathedral.

SUBWAY OVERWHELMED

The Washington march stressed the city’s Metro subway system, with riders reporting enormous crowds and some end-of-line stations temporarily turning away riders when parking lots filled and platforms became too crowded.

The Metro reported 275,000 rides as of 11 a.m. Saturday, 82,000 more than the 193,000 reported at the same time on Jan. 20, the day of Trump’s inauguration and eight times normal Saturday volume.

By afternoon, the protest rally had been peaceful, a contrast to the day before when black-clad activists smashed windows, set vehicles on fire and fought with riot police who responded with stun grenades.

Many protesters on Jan. 21 wore knitted pink cat-eared “pussy hats,” a reference to Trump’s claim in the 2005 video that was made public weeks before the election that he grabbed women by the genitals.

The Washington march featured speakers, celebrity appearances and a protest walk along the National Mall.

Crowds filled more than ten city blocks of Independence Avenue in downtown Washington, with more people spilling into side streets and onto the adjoining National Mall.

In the crowd were well-known figures including Madonna and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who waved to supporters as his walked his yellow Labrador dog, Ben.

WOMEN’S VOTES

Clinton won the popular vote in the Nov. 8 presidential election by around 2.9 million votes and had an advantage among women of more than 10 percentage points. Trump, however, won the state-by-state Electoral College vote which determines the winner.

Trump offered no olive branches to his opponents in his inauguration speech in which he promised to put “America First.”

“He has never seemed particularly concerned about people who oppose him, he almost fights against them instinctively,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

The lawmakers who Trump will rely on to achieve his policy goals including building a wall on the Mexican border and replacing the 2010 healthcare reform law known as “Obamacare” may be more susceptible to the negative public opinion the march illustrates, Levesque said.

“Members of Congress are very sensitive to the public mood and many of them are down here this week to see him,” Levesque said.

At the New York march, 42-year-old Megan Schulz, who works in communications said she worried that Trump was changing the standards of public discourse.

“The scary thing about Donald Trump is that now all the Republicans are acquiescing to him and things are starting to become normalized,” Schulz said. “We can’t have our president talking about women the way he does.”

Many motivations driving women to DC for inauguration protest

Call them rebels with a cause. Women from around the nation will converge on Washington for a march on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. They will arrive driven by a multitude of motivations.

Gay rights, gun control, immigrant rights, equal pay, reproductive freedom, racial justice, worker rights, climate change, support for vaccinations: They all make the list of progressive causes that are attracting people to the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches across the country and the world this coming Saturday.

“We are not going to give the next president that much focus,” says Linda Sarsour, a national march organizer and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. “What we want from him is to see us in focus.”

But while Trump’s name may not literally appear in the march’s “mission and vision” statement, the common denominator uniting the marchers appears to be a loathing for the president-elect and dismay that so much of the country voted for him.

“This march feels like a chance to be part of something that isn’t pity, isn’t powerlessness,” says Leslie Rutkowski, an American living in Norway who plans to fly back for the march. “I hope it is unifying. I hope it flies in the face of Trump’s platform of hate and divisiveness.”

Adds Kelsey Wadman, a new mom in California who’s helping to organize a parallel march in San Diego: “It’s not just about Donald Trump the person. It’s about what he evoked out of the country.”

The march in Washington is set to start with a program near the Capitol and then move toward the White House. It probably will be the largest of a number of inauguration-related protests.

Christopher Geldart, the District of Columbia’s homeland security director, said he expected the march to draw more than the 200,000 people organizers are planning for, based on bus registrations and train bookings.

The focus of the march has been a work in progress since the idea of a Washington mobilization first bubbled up from a number of women’s social media posts in the hours after Trump’s election.

The group’s November application for a march permit summed up its purpose as to “come together in solidarity to express to the new administration & Congress that women’s rights are human rights and our power cannot be ignored.”

That phrasing rankled some who thought it was tied too closely to Hillary Clinton, the defeated Democratic nominee, whose famous Beijing speech as first lady declared that “women’s rights are human rights.” The fact that the initial march organizers were mostly white women also generated grumbling, this time from minorities. Gradually, the march’s leadership and its mission statements have become more all-inclusive.

Recent releases from march organizers state the event “intends to send a bold message to the incoming presidential administration on their first day in office, to leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, and to the world, that we stand together in solidarity and expect elected leaders to act to protect the rights of women, their families and their communities.”

America Ferrera, leading the celebrity contingent for the march, rolled out a long list of concerns in a statement announcing her role.

“Immigrant rights, worker rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, racial justice and environmental rights are not special interests, they affect us all and should be every American’s concerns,” she wrote.

Other prominent names involved with the march have put a spotlight on one concern — or another.

Actress Scarlett Johansson, who plans to participate, put her focus on the incoming administration’s intentions of “reducing the availability of women’s health care and attacking her reproductive rights.'”

Actress Debra Messing, listed as a supporter of the march, wrote of the need to protect Planned Parenthood.

Expect thousands of the marchers to turn up wearing hand-knitted pink “pussyhats” — sending a message of female empowerment and pushing back against Trump’s demeaning comments about women.

Scan #WhyIMarch posts on social media, and you’ll find a wide-ranging list of reasons. A sampling: equal pay for women veterans, fighting chauvinism, empowering daughters, renouncing racism, higher pay for women who are college presidents.

Wadman, the California mom, tweeted a (hash)WhyIMarch photo with her 4-month-old son and this note: “Because when my son asks me about this era of American history I don’t want to tell him that I did nothing.”

Rutkowski, the American living in Norway, emailed that she’s “not completely satisfied” with the mixed messages attached to the march.

“I also don’t like — from what I’ve seen in the news and on Facebook _ the proclivity for infighting,” she wrote. “But I believe that a quarter of a million female bodies — hopefully more, hopefully men, as well — will make the incoming administration and new Congress aware that we are watching, we are listening and we will resist.”

Carmen Perez, one of the march’s national organizers, sees beauty in the many messages attached to the march: “Women don’t live single-issue lives and we are thrilled to be joined by women who understand and reflect the intersecting issues for which we stand.”

Associated Press reporters Krysta Fauria and Ben Nuckols contributed to this report.

Never Mind the Patriarchy, Here’s New Boyz Club

The day Johanna Rose and Katie Lyne met outside of Bremen Cafe they began singing together — even before learning each other’s name.  Shortly thereafter they went on an adventure, biking to an abandoned building in the rain with a bottle of whiskey and ending up at a gay bar, singing all the while. Their friendship blossomed and it wasn’t long before Rose and Lyne were developing the songs Rose had written.

“We’d just be playing and our friends would come over and be like, ‘Can I sit in?’,” says Lyne of New Boyz Club’s genesis.

“I wanted New Boyz Club to be like a punkier Arcade Fire. We just turned everything up as loud as we could for our first shows, because we had no idea what we were doing,” says Rose.

New Boyz Club received press coverage even before their debut. The band quickly gained traction. “There was an appreciation for the songs I did with the Janes and then to have all us folk kids playing super loud instruments was a thrill in itself,” says Rose.

“I’ll never forget what you said when I asked you how we should describe ourselves,” says singer/keyboardist Katie Lyne to her “musical soulmate” and fellow New Boyz Club singer/upright bassist Johanna Rose.

img_5530
Katie Lyne and Johanna Rose (PHOTO – Amanda Mills)

“You told me, ‘Just say we’re a nudge at the patriarchy.’ And in the beginning that’s what we were. We had to be gentle. Now it’s a ‘Fuck you!’ to the patriarchy. Middle fingers up,” adds Lyne.

“We were sick of being called ‘cute,’ which is what happens to girls in the folk scene. When I started writing my own songs I knew I wanted to rebel against my folk roots and play really loud music,” says Rose.

I sat down with Rose and Lyne over drinks on the Company Brewing patio on the eve of their first official release, G l O r Y g L o R y, the initial “Trilogy of Trilogies” and one of the most highly anticipated Milwaukee music projects in recent memory.  

BASEMENTS AND CHURCH CHOIRS

Johanna Rose was a classically-trained, punk-rock inclined child. Her parents house was part of a “bizarre Shorewood basement scene” that saw the likes of Juiceboxxx and Doom Buggy (members of Dogs in Ecstasy).

Rose’s ancestors are Jews from Ukraine who joined the Communist worker’s struggle upon arriving in the United States. Subsequent generations took up the civil rights cause. Her parents instilled a strong sense of social justice in both Rose, her sisters and their brother Will.

Johanna and Will were influenced by two uncles who started playing in ‘80s bands and touring at the age of 15. In high school Will was drumming in punk bands and began a hip-hop project while in college in Madison. When Will moved back to Milwaukee his sister accompanied him on bass. It was her first taste of playing loud.

22515_10206441234011419_3959113581442275006_n
Airo Kwil

Rose first gained recognition in Milwaukee playing with indie-folk group the Calamity Janes and the Fratney Street Band and Will’s hip-hop project Airo Kwil. In November 2014 she was asked to play a solo show based on songs she had written and recorded herself and put online. Rose showed up with an 8-piece genre-defying band called New Boyz Club, who have quickly become one of the most electrifying forces in Wisconsin music.

Katie Lyne grew up in Green Bay, but her appreciation for music comes from her French-Canadian family in Montreal. She learned how to play piano from a “really angry Polish woman.” Before performing in dive bars and clubs around Milwaukee the young Lyne was singing in front of thousands in church choirs. A lapsed Catholic school girl, Lyne studied jazz and opera vocal performance in college, which is when she met Rose.

TEMPO CHANGE

New Boyz Club’s music is characterized by multiple tempo and genre changes. For example, the first song on G l O r Y g L o R y, “The Police State,” goes from a choral piece to a blues walk to a punk jam. It is anthemic, cathartic music well-suited for shouting at the heavens. For Rose, there is someone in particular she is singing to; her late father — David William Rose.

David Rose.
William David Rose

“The project might have ended completely after my father passed in May 2015. But I found it so ironic that our next show was in support of Hello Death’s album release. So I said ‘Fuck it,’ and we carried on,” says Rose.

“First thing I did was go nuts and not sleep for a week. I was skateboarding around and spray painting messages to my father on surfaces that were open to the sky. I think the only way me and Will could have gotten through that was by spending shit tons of time playing music together. That’s all we did. We just jammed it out. We just played music, constantly. And we’re still going,” says Rose.

Five months after the patriarch of the Rose family passed, Lyne and Marcus Doucette were blessed with a baby boy, Django, who Rose calls her “new best friend.”

“Pre-pregnancy performing was really emotion oriented and I almost left my body during those shows,” says Lyne.

Katie Lyne and Django

“During my pregnancy I was so focused inwards because I was creating a life. I remember feeling this beautiful cycle of energy flowing out through the audience and then back in. After having a baby, I don’t have the same energy that I did when I was partying and going crazy. There’s a balance of inward and outward energy that I can give to the audience.”

Like the ups and downs in their music, the New Boyz Club family has gone through major life changes throughout their two years as a band and as friends. Guitarist Joshua Backes was recently married and Rose and violinist Ernest Brusabardis IV played the wedding. Lyne, Brusabardis and Backes played Rose’s father’s funeral.

The first time I saw New Boyz Club was at the Jazz Estate in June 2015. Rose wrote a song for her father that was only performed at that show. After their set Rose folded up the paper and tossed it inside her bass, where it is to this day.

THE CHARM

When I arrived at Company Brewing for our interview the first thing Rose and I discussed was how both of us were in a negative head space.

“That’s perfect. The New Boyz Club trilogies are not about being in a good head space. Cheers!” says Rose as we clink our glasses.

In fact, when she first wrote the songs that would become New Boyz Club’s material Rose was bedridden for two months. In the winter of 2013 she tore her ACL and got a blood clot from the surgery. Later while performing onstage her leg began internally bleeding and she was forced to start her recovery process over again. With a piano at her bedside she created some of the songs that will finally see the light of day in a form that she is proud of.

G l O r Y g L o R y is the result of a tedious recording process marked by Rose’s neuroses. It is actually the third attempt at recording her songs. The second attempt was nearly finished, but Rose scrapped it because she wasn’t satisfied with the energy. This time around she enlisted the help of Ian Olvera and Liam O’Brien.

“The Police State” was recorded above Company Brewing with a 24-person choir that included members of Gauss, Foreign Goods, Ladders, Zed Kenzo, D’Amato,Wavy V, and Sista Strings, conducted by Lyne with Django strapped to the front of her body. “Taxes” was written in the midst of a manic episode. In trying to capture that spirit Rose recorded her vocals drunk and naked.

Rose has a visual art background and has created lyric zines for her songs. She is working on a large booklet that will be available at the G l O r Y g L o R y release on September 30 at Company Brewing.

“There’s a storyline that will build across all three trilogies. It’s talking about how systematic oppression plays out in interpersonal relationships. The trilogies will touch on racism in America, economic struggle in America, but at the end of the day I can only really speak as a woman in America,” says Rose.

“And it’s not just being called ‘cute’ at folk shows. I’m talking about being pushed around or facing domestic abuse or rape. The kinds of things that women face on a daily basis that are not commonly addressed because people don’t feel comfortable talking about them. This music is talking about that. And the intimate details of it will have to be up to the listener,” adds Rose.

“I remember being afraid to tell people I was in this band,” says Lyne. “Because it’s kind of radical.”

“Now we do whatever we want happily,” says Rose.

A version of this story appeared in the September 22, 2016, print edition of the Wisconsin Gazette.

New Boyz Club will play the G l O r Y g L o R y release show on September 30 at Company Brewing with Hello Death, Fox Face, and Sista Strings.

Watch below for a taste of their live performance, courtesy of Hear Here Presents.

Below is my full-interview with Johanna and Katie.

(When I sat down on the Company Brewing patio a couple weeks ago to talk with Johanna the first thing we discussed was how both of us were in a negative head space at that moment. I had a dark beer and she had a whiskey on the rocks.)

JOHANNA

That’s perfect. The New Boyz Club trilogies are not about being in a good head space. Cheers!

(We clink glasses.)

WiG

Granted I’ve only been back in Milwaukee for about three years now. But as far as New Boyz Club goes, there’s not another band that I’ve seen out as much, that has impressed me as much, and that still hasn’t put out a proper project. It feels like it’s been quite the incubation period.

JOHANNA

Right now in Milwaukee it seems like every weekend someone’s having a release show. Oh! (Johanna looks at her phone.) Katie Lyne’s on her way! She’s hard to get ahold of right now because she lost her phone in Ecuador. And I was recording earlier so I forgot that there was a world outside.

But shit, it took a lot of work just to do those three songs. I wanted to do them right. And that was the third time I attempted to record them. Technically, we started as a band in November 2014.

WiG

How did you all get together? I mean you and your brother Will have obviously been playing music forever…

JOHANNA

We were playing together in a band called Calamity Janes and the Fratney Street Band. Will was drumming in that. It was a collaborative project between Lizzy Altman, Krystal Kuehl, myself, Allison Darbo, Ernest Brusabardis IV, and William.

1538889_10202738752811703_2103871961_n
Calamity Janes and the Fratney Street Band

Me, Krystal and Lizzie were the songwriters. It was very folk and I love that project. I still play with Krystal in Thistledown [Thunders]. But the Janes went on hiatus for a little while. Lizzy went to New York, Krystal went to Central or South America. And then Myles Coyne asked me to play a solo show because I had these songs that I had put up on SoundCloud that were too rock-y or weird to play with the Janes. They weren’t Janes songs really.

WiG

Were you playing upright bass with them?

JOHANNA

Yeah. I felt like I was always playing folk music. As I started writing more myself, which didn’t really happen until 2013, but I knew that I kind of wanted to rebel against my folk roots and play really loud music. New Boyz Club was my version of a punk band, that’s what it is. I was asked to play solo and I showed up with an 8-piece band, that’s basically what happened.

WiG

Where was that?

JOHANNA

At Public House. November 2014. I guess it’s been two years, just about. It was really fun. The lineup for that first show had Jack Tell on banjo. Ernie played violin and Josh played acoustic and electric guitar. Palmer was on electric guitar too. Katie Lynn was on piano and Will was playing really hard drums and that was a big thing, that Will was getting to rock out.

WiG

Is he doing his rap project by that point? I know Airo Kwil had a different name before…

JOHANNA

Airythmatic. But that was more when he was living in Madison. When I started playing upright in Airo Kwil that kind of led the way to New Boyz Club in that it showed me I could play the bass loud. It was part of the exploration of playing bass in different genres. And I have to be really, really loud to play with Airo Kwil.

WiG

So that was your first step outside of the folk trajectory?

JOHANNA

Right. And I realized how loud I could get the upright and that was killer. Then we kind of stepped back and said, “Okay, we got this together for this one show but who wants to make this a project? Who wants to commit to practicing and developing these songs?”

newboyzclub_garibaldi_ccandrewfeller_00024
Aytan Luck (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

We broke it down to a cast of Aytan [on trumpet], because I also knew I wanted strings and horns. Ernie was really busy with school so he stepped out for a minute but eventually he ended up in New Boyz Club. Aytan, Palmer, Josh, me, Katie and Will. I had string aspects by being on the bass and having the horns but then we kind of grew with a small horn section adding Jay and the small string section with me and Ernie.

Originally I intended to stick more to the basement scene. I feel like the emergence of folk, hip-hop, punk and rock, like how we have such eclectic bills now, that hadn’t quite happened yet. So I would go to punk shows and I really wanted to have a band that I could play with at those shows.

WiG

So you were going to punk basement shows?

JOHANNA

Yeah and I feel like that has dwindled down a little bit. There was this band Brat Sounds, they were part of the first FemFest, which was really punky. That was one of our first few shows too actually.

JOHANNA

You said this is going to be out like next week sometime? The flyer is almost done.

WiG

Did you make it?

JOHANNA

No my friend Alyssa did the flyer but it’s my concept. (Shows me the in-progress flyer on her phone.) Those are police officers parachuting on sunflowers.

14324179_1789216894669584_1831311025861165368_o
Poster by Alyssa Wiener

WiG

It’ll be next week Thursday in print.

JOHANNA

Cool. I’m really excited. With all the other art that I’m doing I needed help. And she’s an old high school friend so we know each other from advanced art class at Shorewood.

WiG

What other art projects are you working on?

(She picks up one of the song zines I asked her to bring.)  

JOHANNA

These are the original versions of the zines, but I’m working on a big, thicker one for the release. I haven’t printed it yet so I can’t show it to you. I’m probably not going to  give it to anyone before the release show. “What if I?” is on this trilogy and “I Don’t Believe in God” will be on the next one.

WiG

Did you make one for “We All Go to Heaven on a Sinking Ship”?

JOHANNA

I did. But I couldn’t find a copy of it today.

WiG

I remember looking through it the first time I saw you at the Jazz Estate.

JOHANNA

Oh yeah! That was a great summer.

WiG

So the first FemFest was 2015?

JOHANNA

Yeah.

New Boyz Club on 88Nine's "414 Live"
New Boyz Club on 88Nine’s “414 Live”

WiG

First FemFest and first Arte [Para Todos]. Kristina heard you on 88Nine doing a 414 Live before I saw you live.

JOHANNA

Yeah we did that really quick after we started playing as a band.

WiG

But most of you had notoriety from being in other projects.

JOHANNA

Yeah I mean Milwaukee Record ran an article about our first show. Something like, “Johanna Rose let’s New Boyz Club out of the room or closet,” or something like that.

WiG

So there was a bit of anticipation?

JOHANNA

I think that there was an appreciation for the songs that I did for the Janes and then to have all of us folk kids playing these super loud instruments was a thrill in itself.  Now we’ve toned it down a little bit. I think we just turned everything up as loud as we could for our first shows, because we had no idea what we were doing.

WiG

But that’s the vibe you get at a New Boyz Club show. It’s anthemic. It’s music you scream at the heavens.

JOHANNA

That’s nice. It’s a passion project to the T. Recording it was a headache though.

WiG

To try and reign it all in and make it sound just right?

JOHANNA

Yeah and I was just a mess the whole time.

WiG

Where you were in your life or dealing with the process?

JOHANNA

John Larkin and Ernest Brusabardis IV (PHOTO - Andrew Feller)
John Larkin and Ernest Brusabardis IV (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

Dealing with the process mostly. Like I said, it was the third time I attempted to record these songs. The second time I had a lot of it done but I didn’t like the energy so I started all over. I’m very neurotic. Recording is hard. So I got a team and the third time was the charm. Besides thinking about trying to record it myself, which would have been even worse, I got Ian Olvera and Liam O’Brien and they worked together to record it. We worked out of Ian Olvera’s studio. The ladybug studios, that’s what I call it.

WiG

Oh yeah on Water Street.

JOHANNA

And we also recorded at lots of different places all over.

(Katie Lyne shows up.)

JOHANNA

Oh my God, you’re home! (Turns to me.) I haven’t seen her yet.

(Johanna gets up and gives Katie a big hug.)

KATIE

So my wallet was taken in a mosh pit. It was called Fiesta de Guapulo and there were these fireworks. It looked like Burning Man. There was this huge wooden structure spitting fireworks. Literally you had to duck and cover. People were running around in a circle around this huge fireworks structure and someone just jacked it.

JOHANNA

That sounds worth it.

KATIE

It was worth it. It was dope.

WiG

I’d like to take it back for a second. I’m curious about what you were listening to in high school and what you were getting up to while in high school here in Milwaukee.

JOHANNA

I’m actually going to do an ode to one of my favorite high school bands at the [release] show, but that’s a surprise. I played classical music and Will was always drumming in punk bands and we had shows in my parents basement. There was kind of a bizarre Shorewood basement scene were like Juicebox played in my parents basement. And Doom Buggy. A couple of the members of that band, if not all, are now in Dogs in Ecstasy. So I was connected and exposed to that music scene and I hung around here a lot when I was a teenager. Because there was a great basement scene here. I don’t know what kids do these days.

KATIE

Go to The Rave and take Molly.

JOHANNA

I guess.

WiG

I grew up in the city but I wasn’t like a hip East Side-Riverwest kid. I was just going to The Rave to see hip-hop shows pretty much.

JOHANNA

I was doing that too. I went to like five Atmosphere concerts in a period of like two years or something like that.

KATIE

Same here. And then I had a Phish period.

JOHANNA

I skipped that.

WiG

Alpine Valley?

KATIE

Yeah and then I went on tour, like five shows in a row. It was so stupid. I was in love. It was my first.

JOHANNA

Naturally. But yeah I loved At the Drive-In and Fugazi and that kind of stuff. And then I loved Atmosphere and the whole slew of Minneapolis rappers.

WiG

Did you go to that Turner Hall show during the God Loves Ugly tour?

JOHANNA

Oh yes. That was amazing!

KATIE

I was there too.

WiG

Really? You would have been a baby. Because I’m like six years older than you and I was about 15. This was 2002.

KATIE

Oh no. I guess I went to a different one at Turner Hall.

JOHANNA

I went to that one and there were still holes in the ceiling, weren’t there?

WiG

Oh yeah. It was wild. That was my first time in Turner Hall.  

Will Rose (PHOTO - Andrew Feller)
Will Rose (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

WiG

Was Will with you?

JOHANNA

No he was too young. He’s two years younger. He was at home, probably playing video games.

WiG

So Katie, I’m interested to hear about your musical background. How’d you get on the keys?

KATIE

It started when I was really young.  My whole family on my mom’s side, my French Canadian side, they are almost all musicians in Montreal. my godmother and my aunt are music teachers at McGill. My grandmother is a classical music lover. So my mom introduced me to piano first.

I was five and I started taking lessons with this really angry polish woman name Dorota Zak. She straddled a fine line between being really aggressive and being really encouraging. She saw that I had talent. I kind of hated it and I loved it at the same time. So piano first, then I started singing in the church choir. Like hardcore, because I went to Catholic school. there was a phase in my life when I was going to church every day. I was super into God.

WiG

Your family was all about that too?

KATIE

No, just my school. It was brainwashing basically.

WiG

What school?

KATIE

I’m from Green Bay, so it was Notre Dame Academy. It was very strange. And then I had one teacher who was like, “You need to question your faith. Is this really what you think?”

WiG

This was at Catholic school?

KATIE

Yeah. He was like the hippie world religions teacher who taught Buddhism and Hinduism and Native religions. And I became pretty close with him and he was like, “You should explore other things.” And then I stopped singing in church choir because I was like, “Fuck it. I’m an atheist.” Then I was super into musicals.

I still continued with piano, so I was doing classical, playing Beethoven’s sonatas, just super into it. When I realized that singing was more my passion after high school I went to Columbia College in Chicago and studied jazz there. And then I was like, “Fuck it, I want to sing opera.” So I went to UWM and I graduated with my music BA in vocal performance.

WiG

So you transferred?

KATIE

Yeah. I transferred because it was too expensive and Chicago was weird.

JOHANNA

You’re going to be doing a lot more opera on the next trilogy…

KATIE

That’s my thing. So I was a junior in college and I met Josh Backes and I met Johanna…

JOHANNA

Well, what happened was…

KATIE

I don’t really remember, I may have been drunk some of that time.

JOHANNA

We went on an adventure.

KATIE

Oh yeah!

JOHANNA

We went on a bike ride to…what is it? The building that was torn down recently for the new water research school site. We rode our bikes there…

KATIE

In the pouring rain.

JOHANNA

…and there’s crazy graffiti on these torn down buildings.

KATIE

Had a bottle of Jack.

JOHANNA

Also singing.

KATIE

Definitely singing.

JOHANNA

And then we just started singing…

KATIE

And we never stopped.

Katie and Johanna.
Katie and Johanna (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

JOHANNA

That was the first time we hung out. We met each other singing outside of Bremen beforehand…

KATIE

Didn’t even know her name.

WiG

You started harmonizing together randomly?

JOHANNA

Yeah.

KATIE

And I was already into the Grasping At Straws, which is like a folk band. So that was my first introduction to the Riverwest scene and that’s why I went to Bremen, because of that band. Then I met you. And you were in the Calamity Janes then…

JOHANNA

So our bands played some shows together.

KATIE

And basically I was still studying opera and voice and I was like, “Wait, this is really amazing. The energy in this music scene is more me.” So I kind of put that on hold and jumped into this scene.

JOHANNA

It wasn’t so unfamiliar now that I think about it…

KATIE

Right.

Young Johanna and Will Rose
Young Johanna and Will Rose

JOHANNA

…when you said your family was into music. Me and Will come from an ‘80s hair band rock family. Our uncles started bands together. One of my uncles is a keyboard player and singer and his brother plays drums. And they started going on tour when they were 15 and just did that for like 20 years. They played throughout all the genres of the ‘80s. They did them all. Even a little bit into the ‘90s, they even did some rap rock. Remember when rap rock happened?

KATIE

Oh yeah. Jesus Christ.

WiG

For my middle school talent show me and my friends did Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie.” I was the DJ pretending to scratch on one lone turntable.

JOHANNA

Exactly.

KATIE

Adorable. In 7th grade my friend and I sang “Stairway to Heaven.” We had a foreign exchange student from Korea…

JOHANNA

You know they ripped that song off?

KATIE

No. But it was him on electric violin and some little kid, 12-year-old on drums, and me singing. No guitar, nothing else. The foreign exchange kid was like a savant, so it was awesome. That was strange…Catholic school talent show.

WiG

Was that your first time on stage?

KATIE

No. The church choir I came from, you’d sing in front of thousands of people. And they had little concerts they’d put on. Our school had about 30 people in each class so I was like the only one who could sing. I was always the soloist. I was kind of pushed by everyone: my teachers, my parents, my parents friends. It’s kind of annoying. When I’m at family gatherings people always want me to sing. I get so embarrassed when people ask me that. Did you ever have your family do that?

JOHANNA

Are you kidding? I didn’t sing until I met you. I sang on my bedroom recordings and then I kind of sang with the Janes, but I was always told my voice was so weird.

KATIE

People said that?

JOHANNA

Especially that I didn’t have a country or folk voice.

KATIE

No, no, no. Well yeah, now you do.

JOHANNA

Maybe.

KATIE

When you sing bluegrass now you do.

JOHANNA

Yeah cuz you practice and you pick it up. But I was always really embarrassed of singing. I think the first time I sang on stage it was right before I got my knee operation. I was bedridden for two months basically.

WiG

When was that?

JOHANNA

It was in the middle of the Janes. And this is how I started playing my songs with the Janes. It would be January 2013. I tore my ACL and then I got a blood clot from surgery. Then one day during a show, because I still played of course, just on one leg. So during the show my leg started internally bleeding and I had to go to the ER at three in the morning and they were like, “If you hadn’t come in you would’ve lost your leg.” I had to restart my whole rehab of my leg and I was literally in my bed for a month.  That was when I really started writing most of these [New Boyz Club] songs.

KATIE

Bedridden. On pain killers.

JOHANNA

On pain killers. I had a piano on my bed. I had a double bed and I slept next to the piano and just started writing songs.

KATIE

That’s how you do it.

newboyzclub_garibaldi_ccandrewfeller_00007-1
Johanna (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

WiG

And when was that bike ride adventure?

KATIE

2014.

JOHANNA

During the Janes hiatus.

KATIE

We went to this gay bar after the weird abandoned warehouse. There was like shirtless men there.

JOHANNA

It was the perfect welcoming environment for us actually.

KATIE

Then we just bar hopped and road home in the pouring rain.

JOHANNA

Then we hung out forever.

KATIE

And now I have a baby.

JOHANNA

Now you have a baby! And I’m going to Germany. And that’s how life happens.

WiG

So Katie, do you know the French-Canadian curse words? Like “Tabarnak?” “Câlisse?”

KATIE

Tabarnak!

WiG

Nice. I lived in Montreal for about three years.

KATIE

Oh my God!

JOHANNA

I love Montreal!

KATIE

Where?

WiG

My ex is French-Canadian. We lived in the West End. I went to Concordia. Got my graduate degree in journalism.

JOHANNA

Me and William spent the best 24 hours of our lives in Montreal.

KATIE

What did you do?

JOHANNA

We went and we saw this crazy band that…

KATIE

There’s a beautiful music scene there.

JOHANNA

Such a great music scene, that’s like really horn-centric. Or at least it was 10 years ago when we went on this crazy adventure. And I always kept that in my mind for later. We saw the trumpet player for Arcade Fire’s other project, Bell Orchestre or something.

KATIE

Yep.

WiG

There’s a lot of Arcade Fire side projects.

JOHANNA

I bet. I bet they’re brilliant too.

WiG

My friend and I went to a loft party and saw The Luyas, which Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire plays in that band. There were a few other Arcade Fire members at that crowded, hot, sweaty, fantastic show.

JOHANNA

I wanted New Boyz Club to be like Arcade Fire. Like a punkier Arcade Fire.

KATIE

That’s what I imagined when we started writing these songs.

JOHANNA

And we were just so sick of being cute.

KATIE

Yeah!

JOHANNA

We were so sick of like being called “cute.” Because there’s something about playing folk music as a girl that people kept saying, “Oh you’re so cute.” And you get that a lot as a woman musician, that you’re supposed to be pleasing and adorable.

KATIE

Still to this day I hear people, grown men usually, that come up to you and are like, “Oh my God. A woman on upright bass, that’s so fucking hot.” Okay, sure.

JOHANNA

Actually what they say is, “Oh my God. A woman on the cello.”

(Both laugh)

KATIE

And you’re like, “Go fuck yourself.” It’s just so bizarre, but also not surprising.

JOHANNA

We felt very unwelcomed from doing what we wanted to do with New Boyz Club in the beginning. I don’t know if Tigernite was happening yet. We wanted to be really loud. That’s why we called ourselves New Boyz Club. And there’s no way this would have happened if Katie Lyne hadn’t like sat next to me the whole time and been like, “You sound good! You can sing. No, just be loud…”

KATIE

Just do it!

JOHANNA

Totally.

KATIE

Like semi-vocal coaching her in this subtle way.

JOHANNA

One hundred percent vocal coaching me, the whole time.

KATIE

I was like, “Nope, you can do it better.” So yeah, it was really interesting to use the skills I learned in these collegiate formal settings, but in a very natural, real place.

Joshua Backes (PHOTO - Andrew Feller)
Joshua Backes (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

JOHANNA

All the music we had been playing, you with Grasping at Straws, me with the Janes or Thistledown, and then our duo exploration in jazz, because we would just spend hours and hours on one jazz tune, the two of us dissecting it and figuring out how to play this music, we used all of those influences for New Boyz Club.

We would insert little parts of each into our songs. Like “The Police State Will Fall” will go from a choral piece to a blues walk to a punk jam. We didn’t even try to do that. It was a result of incorporating all the things that we’ve learned on our different musical journeys to come up with the shit show that is New Boyz Club.

KATIE

Because how it happened was it was just us two and we’d be playing and our friends would come over and be like, “Can I sit in?”

JOHANNA

Is that how it happened?

KATIE

Yes.

(Both laugh)

KATIE

Palmer was living at your house so he was just sitting there like, “Um, can I play?” And then Jack Tell…

JOHANNA

So we didn’t like invite eight people…

KATIE

No! They just came to the house when we were playing.

JOHANNA

I have no proper recollection. Okay, Katie Lyne has a much better grasp on reality than I do.

KATIE

On some things.

JOHANNA

I was busy like drawing pictures of what we were playing. So Katie Lyne probably knows what actually was going on.

KATIE

Maybe.

JOHANNA

And then we toured and you were seven months pregnant.

WiG

I remember seeing dispatches from that tour.

KATIE

Yeah that was fun.

WiG

Busking in Pittsburgh…

KATIE

That was the best part of it!

Busking in Pittsburgh (PHOTO – Maggie Iken)

JOHANNA

Busking was the best part.

KATIE

Yeah, because all the shows we booked were very strange. Some of them were good, but some of them were…

JOHANNA

The one in Pittsburgh was cool.

KATIE

Cuz those were our people. They were like crusty little…

JOHANNA

Gremlins.

KATIE

I think it was a commune though.

JOHANNA

It was like a punk commune…

KATIE

There was a leader. That really attractive guy with the long hair and the beard.

JOHANNA

I saw no attractive guys there.

KATIE

I did. But it was just like this weird vibe when I walked into the house. It seemed like he had this harem of girls just fawning over him. If we were in Roman times they would all be fanning him and feeding him grapes.

JOHANNA

I didn’t catch on to that!

KATIE

I did. I was sober the whole time.

WiG

Pregnancy sober, naturally.

KATIE

And the rest of you were all over the place. And he was like, “You’re a goddess, pregnancy!” I mean, thank you. But that was so weird. It was the best show though.

JOHANNA

That was the best show. Madison was cool too. It was just fun being on the road with our best friends. Ernie and Stephanie came so it was like…

KATIE

Family.

JOHANNA

…and my brother and Josh and Aytan and Palmer. That was fun as hell.

WiG

So you went out East and then back through the Midwest?

KATIE

What did we do? Chicago, Ohio…

JOHANNA

Again, I never really know what’s going on.

KATIE

…Pittsburgh, Madison, Milwaukee.

JOHANNA

Green Bay.

KATIE

Oh yeah. (Laughs)

JOHANNA

And then some shit town. Like Whitewater, but it wasn’t Whitewater.

KATIE

Appleton too.

JOHANNA

It was an experience.

KATIE

Cleveland? No! Columbus.

JOHANNA

Illustration by Stephanie Brusabardis.
Illustration by Stephanie Brusabardis.

It was kind of like learning how to survive with our busking. Because we were playing mostly house, punk DIY shows so we weren’t really making mad cash. But those shows tend to try and take care of touring bands more so. The punk scene is really good at that, taking care of touring bands. That’s why you have shows, because people are traveling and playing music. So you center all your shows around touring bands. I love that about punk bands and the punk scene and I think that’s how it should be with club shows too.

The shows that I have lined up before I leave outside of the release, and Cree Myles birthday party, and a fundraiser to end gun violence, everything else is centered around sweet touring bands that are coming through and just trying to make sure they have a good time. I think every show I’m playing is at Company Brewing almost. Pretty much.

KATIE

Yeah, now I work here.

WiG

Company is quite the…

KATIE

I rehearse upstairs…

JOHANNA

It’s the mothership.

KATIE

Now it is, yeah. Because George is the shit.

JOHANNA

Yeah because Katie is in Ruth B8r Ginsburg now too. That happened early summer. So…musical soulmates.

WiG

What you were saying before about the genre-bending that happens on New Boyz Club songs is interesting because the first time I saw you was at the Jazz Estate. You totally fit at the Jazz Estate, because you have these jazz elements. But you could also fit at a punk basement show, or on an indie rock show at Public House, or at an Alverno Presents Prince Uncovered show. It all works.

KATIE

I didn’t get to do that show.

JOHANNA

She was having a baby.

KATIE

I gave birth a week later. I opted out because I knew the baby was going to be on time. He was born on his due date.

JOHANNA

And the rehearsals for that were brutal.

KATIE

And I knew it. Because I knew exactly what the rehearsal process would be.

JOHANNA

We talked about it.

KATIE

And there was no time. I had to just fucking sit on my ass on the couch.

Django and Johanna
Django and Johanna

JOHANNA

You had the most beautiful wonderful life to create. Katie Lyne is my best friend. But then she had Django. And now I think Django might be my best friend.

KATIE

I think so too, especially in how they interact. He took his first steps in her arms.

JOHANNA

I love that baby! He’s the best. I think he’s a drummer.

KATIE

Oh yeah. He claps now.

JOHANNA

See, that’s the thing. You miss two weeks of a child’s life and they’re clapping suddenly.

KATIE

I go, “Dance Django!”

(Katie acts out how Django bobs up and down while clapping.)

JOHANNA

No!

KATIE

And he twerks his little butt.

JOHANNA

We’re hanging out tomorrow.

KATIE

Of course.

JOHANNA

I’m coming over.

KATIE

I have leftovers in my fridge already.

JOHANNA

Haha…on it!

(Both laugh)

WiG

Do you think your playing changed at all pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy and post-pregnancy?

KATIE

Yes. Pre-pregnancy it was really emotion oriented and I almost left my body during the shows. During my pregnancy I was so focused inwards because I was creating a life. I just remember feeling this beautiful cycle of energy flowing out through the audience and then back in. It was just like some other worldly shit.

JOHANNA

Django went on tour with us. He practically wrote the whole album.

KATIE

But now after having a baby, I don’t have the same energy that I did when I was just partying and going crazy. So now it’s a balance of inward and outward energy that I can give to the audience. It’s really cool seeing the spectrum of it.

WiG

I think with your music and the lyrics, songs like “The Police State Will Fall,” they seem to be very aware of and concerned for the future and like what the world will be and could be for Django and everyone else.

KATIE

Yeah!

JOHANNA

There’s a storyline that will build across all three trilogies. It’s talking about how systematic oppression plays out in interpersonal relationships. So “The Police State Will Fall” was a direct reaction to Ferguson. I was in Portland, Oregon when that happened and it was an acapella effort at first.

When Katie and I got together she pointed out it was a blues walk, the vocal line when it does the switch. (Johanna starts singing “the police sta-aaate.”) Then I knew that I wanted to have this punch at the end. And we recorded it with a choir of 24 people. Gauss was there. All of Ladders was there. Zed Kenzo was there. George was there.

WiG

George sings on it?

JOHANNA

Oh yeah. Django was there.

KATIE

I was conducting…

JOHANNA

Yeah, she was conducting with Django strapped…

KATIE

He was in a woven wrap strapped to my body.

JOHANNA

And she conducted the whole thing.

KATIE

That’s where I put my degree to use.

JOHANNA

It was really tricky. There was only a few headphones so there were only so many people within the choir who had headphones who were helping keep the tempo, because it speeds up.

KATIE

And it’s like a reverb chamber up there.

JOHANNA

The minute I walked up in that room I was like, “This is going to happen here.” And I can’t believe it actually happened, but it did.

WiG

Was it in the front room upstairs?

KATIE

Yeah. In that big open space.

Jay Anderson (PHOTO - Andrew Feller)
Jay Anderson (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

JOHANNA

There were so many awesome people there. Klassik was there. D’Amato was there. Great artists that we work with. Jay Anderson. Ernest Brusabardis. Aytan is in this other band called Wavy V and they were there. Sista Strings of course. It was so gorgeous. We had this half barrel of beer and just got the drunken ruckus choir that we needed for that track.

KATIE

We sang it for about an hour or two and it was so affirming. Saying it over and over and over again like, “Glory fucking glory!” It’s really uplifting.

JOHANNA

We were so pumped.

KATIE

We had hope. We left that recording with so much hope.

JOHANNA

I felt something in the air. It was right at the beginning of this summer that we just had with police brutality being what it is. So afterwards, I think it was Klassik, Trecy from Ruth B8r Ginsburg, Yasmine, Chauntee, D’Amato, I don’t know if anyone else did…mainly those people. But so we had an open session where we played it back, they listened to the choir, what they had just did, and then we asked them to shout out what the police state means to them.  

If you listen closely to “The Police State Will Fall” you’ll hear little intermittents of like, “Shut it down!” “We want justice!” Those clips are from people reacting to the choir they just recorded. They are just letting out what the police state means to them. There’s some really intense stuff. Chauntee shouted “I can’t breathe,” which we put through a delayed fuzzed out amp and then laid it under the whole thing to capture the energy of her amazingness. So there’s a little bit of witchcraft in the whole thing. A lot of superstition.

KATIE

Questioning.

JOHANNA

We weren’t just recording these sounds. We were recording these moments. It’s not all clear what we’re doing but there’s different ways that things had to be recorded in order for it to be right. But maybe I’m just crazy.

KATIE

No.

JOHANNA

Like I did all of “Taxes” naked.

WiG

The recording of it?

JOHANNA

Yeah.

KATIE

The vocal recording.

JOHANNA

The vocal recording, not the bass. That would be weird…but it’s such a vulnerable song, “Taxes.” I wrote it in the midst of a manic episode where I was freaking out about financial struggle. I was supposed to do my taxes but I got screwed so I owed all this money. I was like, “How is the proletariat supposed to survive and exist in this universe? There’s no place for us.” That song came out and it mixes with all these other things that were happening in life and this idea at the end where it’s like, “Don’t look at me, I don’t feel right.”

In a way, that’s how you feel whenever you go on stage. Or maybe just being a woman. So I guess in order to do that vocal take correctly, to capture the original intent and feeling of the song, I got naked and drank a lot of whiskey before the last part, the “Don’t look at me” part. It was all recorded with me laying on the floor at the end of my literal wits for the night. It was like two in the morning and there was nothing else that could have happened besides me trying to finish that song. And we did.

KATIE

And it’s very beautiful.

WiG

It’s so beautiful. You sent me those songs and I couldn’t believe it. There’s so much power. And it’s like I was telling Johanna before you came Katie, I don’t know if there’s another band in Milwaukee that I’ve loved as much before hearing a recorded project from. And now for this to be the project…it just fucking nails it in so many ways.

KATIE

Thank you. That’s why we didn’t rush it.

JOHANNA

It was super tedious. I was super nit picky.

KATIE

And when it comes down to it, recording depends on our emotional state. Recording was hard.

JOHANNA

We’re such moody assholes.

KATIE

It was in the middle of a really hard time for you.

WiG

Was it mostly recorded this summer?

JOHANNA

Heidi and David Rose
Heidi and David Rose

I mean, New Boyz Club might have ended as a project completely when my father passed away a year-and-a-half ago. The next show we had scheduled after my father passed was with Hello Death, who is playing our release as well. If I hadn’t found it so ironic that we were going to play a show with a band called “Hello Death,” I wouldn’t have done it. I really love them and we hadn’t done the Prince Uncovered show yet, which only bonded us even more with that band. But it just seemed right. So I said, “Fuck it, let’s carry on.”

KATIE

It’s real and it’s truth.

JOHANNA

I mean Josh from New Boyz Club and Ernie and Katie Lyne all played my father’s funeral. We’re not just connected as musicians, we’re all really good friends. We’ve triumphed and celebrated the different things that have happened in our lives. Like Josh just got married, me and Ernie played his wedding, and Katie Lynn having Django, all these giant life events we have gone through not just as musicians and as a band, but also his friends. It’s been incredible.

KATIE

It’s pretty cool. We’re pretty lucky.

JOHANNA

Yeah we are.

WiG

I was going to ask you about your dad…

JOHANNA

Yeah, I’m trying to think of where in all of this that happened because it was May 2015…it just happened so quickly. Because he was sick and then he was really sick and then he was okay and then he got really sick all of a sudden again. We had just gone through FemFest and Arte Para Todos and then I was on my way to take my ridiculous dollhouse to an art show and I got the call that my father had had a stroke. I think I just spent the next month or so of my life in the hospital until May 18th when he passed.

I think that the only way me and Will could have gotten through that was by spending shit tons of time playing music together. That’s all we did. We just jammed it out. We just played music, constantly. And we’re still going.

KATIE

Well you never stopped. With grief, that’s how some people cope.

13495107_10208630981684502_4098821722165669244_n
David, Will, and Heidi Rose

JOHANNA

It’s also a point for our family to rally around. My mother comes to all of our shows and our cousins and sisters and aunts and uncles, it’s a reason to get together for us as a family. It does that for us in a way. After someone passes sometimes you see families drift apart, especially such a key member of the family.

KATIE

And your dad was always so supportive. He was so cool. Like he came to Quarters.

JOHANNA

My father, with stage four cancer, came to Quarters for Arte Para Todos.

KATIE

He always had this look of approval and he was so happy. Seeing him watch his children was amazing.

JOHANNA

He liked seeing us play together.

KATIE

And he’s not going to bullshit you either.

JOHANNA

He especially loved the bluegrass-y, folk-y stuff.

WiG

Was that his jam?

Young Johanna and her father
Young Johanna and her father

JOHANNA

He loved Johnny Cash, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, “The Boss” of course. But he also loved Van Morrison & the Chieftains. He loved really old music too. Some of the stuff that me and Carl have been working on we have picked a little bit from the jams he liked. I try to think about the songs that he likes.

KATIE

That’s the beauty of being a musician though. You get to have that outlet.

JOHANNA

The first thing I did was go nuts and not sleep for a week. I was skateboarding around and spray painting messages to my father on surfaces that were open to the sky and my bedroom wall. Naturally, I am not perfect at handling grief. But I wrote a song which we played at the Jazz Estate and that was the only time we ever played it. I wrote that song three days after my dad passed away. After we played it I folded it up and I put it inside of my bass and it’s still inside there.

I won’t take it out. There was one day that I thought maybe I should take it out and Ernie was like, “Why?” And Ernie takes really good care of his instruments and probably would never do something like that. So if Ernie thinks I shouldn’t take it out then it’s staying in there for life. Just rattling around. Sometimes I have to shake it around so it doesn’t rattle during recordings. Totally worth it. Who knows? Basses  have a lot of space and things just collect in there.  

WiG

You might have some other things in there.

KATIE

Food from the co-op.

JOHANNA

Cigarette butts. But actually I’ve taken an iPhone flashlight to it and I’m pretty sure it’s just the song in there. Maybe a guitar pick from the one time I tried to play my bass like a guitar.

(Johanna goes to order another round of drinks while Katie tells me about her time in Ecuador.)

JOHANNA

I had to teach Mike Swan and Rosco how to do shots in Ukraine. I’ve been practicing.

KATIE

Oh yeah?

JOHANNA

I think I should switch to vodka. All they drink over there is vodka.

WiG

It’s a lot of clear liquors in Eastern Europe.

JOHANNA

I know and I’m such a whiskey girl…because of the folk scene!

KATIE

They’re not going to have that there for you.

JOHANNA

It’s okay, I’ll adjust.

KATIE

I can’t drink vodka, oh my God.

WiG

Only in bloodies.

KATIE

Right!

(We share stories about our first time becoming sick from alcohol and more about Katie’s trip to Ecuador.)

KATIE

The family we stayed with was so close knit and amazing but in general they weren’t very warm to tourists, they spot you right away.

JOHANNA

I’m hoping that dragging an upright bass behind me helps with that in Romania. It’s a real ice breaker.

WiG

There’s so much music in Eastern Europe, especially folk-y gypsy busking and classical music. There’s such an appreciation for it. When I was in Prague and Vienna there were concerts and buskers everywhere.

KATIE

It’s my dream to go to Prague. I want to sing classical music in some beautiful hall there.

WiG

You know how in New York City there are aspiring comedians walking around Times Square handing out little flyers for what’s called “bringer” shows? It’s like that in Prague but with classical music concerts.

KATIE

I’ve never been to Europe, but it’s so alluring to me.

JOHANNA

You gotta come visit me is what you have to do.

(Johanna plays us a recording she and her lover Carl made earlier that day. They are called “Nickels & Rose.” It’s a preview of the music they will be playing on the streets of Europe. Carl, who I’ve only seen play guitar with New Age Narcissism, is singing and sounds terrific.)

KATIE

Is this original?

JOHANNA

Yeah.

KATIE

Oh shit.

WiG

I can already picture it on the streets of Berlin.

(When Johanna’s voice comes in and they sing together it’s devastatingly beautiful.)

JOHANNA

So I’m going back to folk.

KATIE

Gypsy folk.

JOHANNA

I didn’t know that Carl existed. But I really hoped for a long time that Carl existed. That I would find someone that I could play music with as like a duet and we would also be in love.

KATIE

Love fuels it.

JOHANNA

I’ve dated enough of my band mates and ruined bands over my lifetime…

KATIE

This girl…

JOHANNA

It just happens, you only want to date people who play music because…

KATIE

Because it’s hot and it’s beautiful.

JOHANNA

Also it’s the only thing I can talk about.

KATIE

Me too!

(Both laugh)

JOHANNA

I dated one person who didn’t play music, but they were a big music lover so still we talked about music.

KATIE

Me too, but still we argued all the time. That was the Phish head. He tried to explain to me that Phish was the greatest and I was like, “I don’t think so.” He told me I was “an entitled classical bitch.”

JOHANNA

The minute he called you a “bitch” is the minute he was out.

KATIE

Yeah, that’s when I said goodbye.

(The song ends.)

WiG

That is fantastic.

KATIE

What?!

JOHANNA

Yeah and I still have to fix it tomorrow.

KATIE

I like how Carl always sings about the devil.

JOHANNA

He does! About a woman who’s taking him to the devil…

KATIE

Is that you?

JOHANNA

I wonder who the fuck that is..

(Both laugh)

JOHANNA

We’ll get into arguments and then write a song about it.

KATIE

Jesus Christ.

JOHANNA

I know, it’s so cheesy.

KATIE

You guys are a fucking movie.

JOHANNA

We’ll have verses where we’re playing out our argument through song, but then we resolve it in the end and then we’re on a high and we’re happy because we wrote a song.

KATIE

It’s perfect. Then you forgot about what you did.

JOHANNA

Like, “Do we need to song this out?!”

WiG

Oh, the mechanisms for managing arguments…

JOHANNA

And he doesn’t sing in Milwaukee.

KATIE

He’s very humble.

WiG

Is he from Milwaukee?

JOHANNA

Yeah. He’s from the North Side. The night of Sherman Park we had been jamming when we heard about it. Then we got in the car and drove down there. We drove through all the neighborhoods that were burning. I have no conclusions from it or I do or maybe I don’t. I guess we went and drove there because we wanted to see exactly what was happening with our own eyes instead of whatever the media was reporting.

My family lives on the East Side, yet so many of them, including myself, were getting text messages from people who know us around the country asking if we’re okay. But Sherman Park is such an isolated neighborhood.

WiG

It’s so crazy to me that that happens, as if this one neighborhood touches all of the city.

JOHANNA

Right and that was the night that the Strange Fruit festival was happening. To have all these people throughout the nation texting their East Side white relatives, they just have no concept of how segregated Milwaukee is. Whereas it was so relevant for Carl’s sister to text him and ask if he was okay. There’s a lot of Milwaukees.

WiG

No doubt. It’s even crazier because my parents live seven blocks from that gas station. I grew up there, yet their house is on this informal border between the Hasidic Jewish neighborhood to the west and the black neighborhood to the east.

JOHANNA

And that’s what Carl was saying when we were driving around and he was like, “Now we’re in the Jewish neighborhood.” And I was like, “How do you know they’re Jewish?” And he’s like, “Because they wear the hats and how they dress.” And I was like, “Oh, they’re like super Jewish! I got you.”

WiG

My friends used to call them “Amish zombies.”

KATIE

Oh!

JOHANNA

Don’t put that in your article.

WiG

I mean, we were kids and they didn’t know better. My friends came over for sleepovers on the weekend during the Sabbath when they can’t drive or use any electrical things and so they’d be walking all around late at night.

JOHANNA

Yeah, you can’t do shit on the Sabbath. You light your candles, you eat your food and you chill. I grew up across from a synagogue and my Jewish family were super liberal Jewish. But it’s kind of been honed in because my sister and her wife are moving to Tel Aviv in 15 days. She’s really connected to her Jewish faith in a way. Our family came to America around 1901 and moved to New York because they were persecuted.

WiG

From where?

JOHANNA

Ukraine. Which is why Carl and I are going to Ukraine on this journey. I’m going to try and find some kind of roots. There’s no roots because World War II pretty much wiped out all the roots. But I want to and Carl’s been awesome and supportive in trying to go to the neighborhoods where we can try to kind of pinpoint where they were. And so we’re going to Ukraine to chill there. There’s a great art scene there too. DakhaBrakha is there, they’re an amazing band. Dakh Daughters are there. The Dakh underground is amazing.

Then there’s like parts of Lithuania, because Ukraine has such a crazy history of being a part of Russia and then not and then Lithuania. It was constantly being conquered and redefined. My mother pulled out a map last night and tried to trace our journey and I was like,  “Mom, this map has Ukraine being a part of Russia. Get the Internet out!”  

commiegrandma
Johanna’s great-grandmother being hauled off by the police.

But I want to see these things. I can feel it in my family and I see it in my family where if they hadn’t left when they left they would have been totally screwed and probably murdered for their faith or for what they were born into. Then they came here and they joined the worker’s struggle. They became Communist union organizers and then the next generation joined the Civil Rights struggle. They identified with that because of the struggle they came from. They saw themselves in the struggle of Black America fighting for their rights and their freedom in this country. They saw the similarities from where they came from and then kind of saw religion as a crutch in that fight. Religion can separate you from people and that’s why I think Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” My family made a clear point to say that religion doesn’t fucking matter when we’re talking about human rights. It’s too messy.

KATIE

It’s too emotional.

JOHANNA

Because then you’re getting into the rights of the Holy and the Unholy. You have to understand that all people are worth something because they’re human. And so they became civil rights activists. My grandfather was actually blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

Johanna's grandfather (holding the "CHOICE" sign).
Johanna’s grandfather (holding the “CHOICE” sign).

My original ancestors that got here were like the people who kicked people’s asses for not joining the union. They were like union thugs. And then the next generation were speakers. Like [my great-grandfather] William Winestone is in textbooks for his union activism. So is my grandfather. But it took a lot of ass kicking to make things happen. And shit, they have been torn to pieces, the unions. And factory jobs are horrible.

KATIE

And the chemicals they’re inhaling.

JOHANNA

Right.

KATIE

I used to live across from a factory and I could smell it in my house sometimes. It was a tannery across the street.

JOHANNA

They have to do something about it. Unions…there needs to be a revolution. There needs to be something. The state of America is ridiculous right now.

KATIE

Especially Wisconsin.

WiG

I agree and I don’t meant to play devil’s advocate, but you look at the abuse within unions, the gangsterism…

JOHANNA

Of course, it can be completely corrupt.

WiG

But it’s like any institution that becomes an institution is liable to become corrupt.

KATIE

Yeah, that’s power.

JOHANNA

We have never realized a perfect state of being. However, we have been on a constant cycle of exploitation since the beginning of time. And that needs to change.

KATIE

I remember in high school my French teacher was from Ukraine. I was raised in a conservative family so we were taught to hate Communism and Russia. But hearing her side of it, she was like, “You know, it is utopia. It is perfect. If everyone is equal.” And I was just like, “Whoa. What?” It was just these opposite views that I grew up with.

JOHANNA

Ukraine is not a utopia.

WiG

Berlin now is pretty great.

JOHANNA

Berlin is not perfect. Western Europe has all this money and these societies that seem perfect…

KATIE

But they’re not.

JOHANNA

But where did they make this money? They made this money from colonization. They colonized the shit out of Africa and South America. When people have such a free society it’s usually at the expense of a whole other people. And like NGO’s are the new colonialism. There are a couple good intro films on Netflix like Poverty, Inc. That’s a good one.

It’s just like Europe arranges a really good deal for themselves and flood poor markets with free rice and totally fuck all the farmers in these Third World countries. And who’s benefiting from this? And that term “Third World” is so gross because it was made up by the exploiters. So is anyone benefiting? Are you going to be happy in your so-called perfect society knowing it was at the expense of another nation?

WiG

I remember being super stoned in Amsterdam and taking a light rail train to the end of its line. It dropped me off by this inlet of water. I sat down on the dock and rested my feet on this boat and let my body sway and I was like meditating. Then it hit me; that was where slaves first came like 500 years ago.

That was the spot where the Transatlantic Slave Trade began. That was so heavy. Because I realized that the society I had been enjoying those few days—eating great food, drinking great beer, smoking great weed, riding bikes along the canals, seeing great art—it was so great, but it was at the expense of millions of slaves.

JOHANNA

There are good and bad points in these communities where like how Germany has put up constant reminders of the Holocaust and the genocide of these people. Whereas America has nothing like that.

WiG

We used to have that [Black Holocaust] museum here.

JOHANNA

But there should be so much more.

WiG

American hates to admit its original sin.

JOHANNA

Yeah, America hates to admit it. And that’s why you get tons of Facebook posts like, “Why are black people still upset? Slavery is over.”

KATIE

Did you see that article Cree posted?

JOHANNA

Yes! This black woman wrote an article that basically said, “I’m not going to tip white servers anymore,” and the Internet exploded and it went viral and people said all sorts of terrible things about her. And what she was doing was showing exactly the context of what white privilege is.

KATIE

Because she wasn’t actually making that claim. She was proving a point about how white people would react.

JOHANNA

It was so clever of her. But even if she was dead serious I wouldn’t care. My first reaction was, “Yeah, redistribution of wealth.” That’s what America needs. There really needs to be some major change otherwise we’re going to stay on the slow train to hell.

WiG

Well, we started this interview on a such an upbeat tone and now we’re ending it on another positive tone. I’m being sarcastic obviously.

JOHANNA

Well, I mean, there is hope in songs like “The Police State Will Fall. This trilogies will touch on racism in America, economic struggle in America, but at the end of the day I can only really speak as a woman in America. So when I say it talks about systematic oppression and how it plays out in interpersonal relationships I’m talking about being a woman and how those things affect you.

Not just being called “cute” at folk shows, I’m talking about being pushed around or facing domestic abuse or rape. The kinds of things that women face on a daily basis that are not commonly addressed because people don’t feel comfortable talking about them. This music is talking about it. It will talk about it more.

I would say the first trilogy is somewhat light compared to the next one. Then the third one has a resolve that certainly doesn’t resolve domestic violence or rape culture in America, but those are the things I can focus on the most because that’s the point of view I’m speaking from. The intimate details of it will have to be up to the listener. There will be solid messages throughout the trilogies that you know, “This isn’t okay. We have to learn how to respect women. We have to learn how to treat women like people.”

KATIE

I remember being afraid to tell people I was in this band. Because it’s kind of radical. And I was like, “How should we describe ourselves?” And you said, “Just say we’re a nudge at the patriarchy.” The fact that I felt fear in being in a band that was against…

JOHANNA

The harassment of women.

KATIE

Patriarchy, right! It’s like we feel fear all the time.

JOHANNA

Constantly.

KATIE

There’s no way around it. And we have to be gentle about it. It’s a nudge to the patriarchy…no, it’s a “Fuck you!” to the fucking patriarchy.

JOHANNA

Thank you.

KATIE

It’s not just a nudge. That’s how we were at the beginning. It was a nudge. Now it’s middle fingers up.

JOHANNA

It was scary. And maybe it’s not scary for other people initially, but it was scary for us at first.

KATIE

It was for me. I’ve never done that before. I’ve never questioned my existence as a woman.

JOHANNA

We felt like we had to fit our gender roles and we were so compelled. We were successfully fitting our gender roles, but we felt so uncomfortable with it to a degree that we rebelled against it and it came out as this.

KATIE

And culturally, women or “womyn,” however you want to spell it, it’s being redefined to be very inclusive and welcoming.

JOHANNA

And this was before the first FemFest when we came about this. After FemFest was when we realized there was a whole bunch of people who felt the same way. But we had no idea before. We were just kind of in the dark about everything. Things have blossomed and there’s much more support for women in music here these days. But a couple years ago it was kind of nuts.

KATIE

It was weird. It was uncomfortable. Like, “Am I a sex symbol? Am I just a cute girl?” I remember feeling so satisfied when someone would come up to me, and this is when I was single, and say, “You’re so beautiful up there.” And I would think, “Yes!” But then I was like, “Wait, is that my goal?” And I started questioning why I was on stage. Am I on stage just to be this object? What? Now I don’t give a fuck.

JOHANNA

Now we do whatever we want happily.

13147643_10208262698877662_1854216394230813014_o
Johanna Rose (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

50 years of feminism: from ‘gal wanted’ to Hillary Clinton

Fifty years ago, when a small group of activists founded the National Organization for Women, the immediate issue that motivated them was sex discrimination in employment. They were irate that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was refusing to ban “Help Wanted Male” and “Help Wanted Female” job advertising.

Typical were ads seeking a “well-groomed gal” for a job as a receptionist.

Flash forward to today: Women comprise close to 50 percent of enrollment in U.S. medical schools and law schools. One-third of federal judges are women, compared to just a handful in the 1960s. The U.S military is opening all combat jobs to women.

At NOW and elsewhere in the diverse ranks of the feminist movement, there’s deep pride in these changes, but also a consensus that the 50th anniversary — to be celebrated June 23 — is not an occasion to declare victory.

“The battle goes on,” said Eleanor Smeal, a former president of NOW who heads the Feminist Majority Foundation. “So many of the things we fought for have been achieved, but we still do not have full equality.”

Among the issues viewed as unfinished business: a wage gap that favors men over women, the persistent scourge of sexual assault and domestic violence, and the push in many states to reduce access to legal abortion.

Once virtually alone as a national, multi-issue feminist group, NOW shares the activist stage today with a multitude of other players — ranging from youthful online organizers to groups focused on specific issues such as abortion rights, campus rape and workplace equity. NOW’s membership and revenues are down from its peak years, and some younger feminists wonder if it is losing some relevance.

The situation was very different back in 1966. NOW’s founding was a pivotal moment in the rebuilding of a vibrant feminist movement in the U.S. after a period of relative dormancy in the 1940s and ‘50s.

“The momentum of the feminist movement that won suffrage and expanded women’s rights in the early 20th century had waned,” says NOW in its own history. “A negative media blitz proclaimed the death of feminism and celebrated the happy, suburban housewife.”

The so-called “second wave” of U.S. feminism gained momentum in part because of “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan’s 1963 book that gave a voice to women frustrated by the gender inequities of the status quo. Friedan was among the co-founders of NOW and was chosen as its first president at an organizing conference in October 1966.

She also wrote the Statement of Purpose adopted by NOW at that conference.

“The time has come for a new movement toward true equality for all women in America, and toward a fully equal partnership of the sexes,” the statement says. It vowed “to break through the silken curtain of prejudice and discrimination against women in government, industry, the professions, the churches, the political parties, the judiciary, the labor unions, in education, science, medicine, law, religion and every other field of importance in American society.”

Fifty years later, only patches of that silken curtain remain, and Hillary Clinton will have a chance this fall to add the ultimate breakthrough by becoming the first woman elected president. NOW has eagerly endorsed her, while depicting her Republican rival, Donald Trump, as “a boorish, babbling bigot who disrespects women.”

Trump prides himself on an ability to draw large crowds to his rallies; for many years, that was a hallmark for NOW as well. An estimated 100,000 people turned out for a 1977 march in Washington in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which ultimately failed to garner support from enough states to win ratification. Far larger crowds assembled for abortion-rights marches in 1989 and 1992.

In subsequent years, there have been only a few mass mobilizations of feminists. NOW’s president, Terry O’Neill, says the drop-off in revenues and dues-paying membership resulted in part from a drop in engagement by activists who, after a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, perceived less of a threat to abortion rights.

O’Neill declined to provide financial details, but said NOW’s national headquarters in Washington is down to a staff of 11, about a third of the size 25 years ago.

Another iconic feminist institution, Ms. magazine, also faces financial challenges.

“It’s nip and tuck, but we manage to always find the resources,” said Kathy Spillar, executive editor of Ms. since 2006. She said the magazine, a nonprofit, gets by with revenue from donors, special events and advertisements.

Ms. is only slightly younger than NOW, first appearing in 1971 as an insert in New York magazine, and publishing its first stand-alone issue in January 1972. Today it publishes quarterly but has a Facebook site and online blog that have attracted millions.

In their early years, NOW and Ms. were among a small handful of national entities with a broad mission of empowering women and girls.

“Now there are so many organizations, you can’t count them,” Spillar observed, saying they work well together.

While younger feminists appreciate NOW’s legacy, some also question its tactical skills and its demographics.

O’Neill, a 63-year-old white woman, says NOW would like to further diversify its membership, but acknowledged that its activist base is largely middle class or upper middle class. Racial diversity “is a continuing issue,” O’Neill said, citing NOW’s outreach to black sororities at U.S. colleges and its calls to tackle the racial wage gap as well as the gender wage gap.

Jamia Wilson, an African-American feminist writer in New York, said NOW and other long-established women’s groups “paved the way for many of us to be able to realize our visions and do our activist work.”

However, Wilson, 35, said these groups should make “bold moves” to recruit more women of color into leadership positions and work more closely with marginalized communities, such as transgender women and women who served time behind bars.

Generational rifts have surfaced in the presidential campaign, as many young women backed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic race rather than Clinton. When renowned feminist Gloria Steinem suggested that Sanders’ young female supporters were doing so in order to meet young men, there was enough outrage to prompt an apology from Steinem.

Jessica Valenti, a New York-based author who founded the popular blog Feministing in 2004, said younger feminists, acting individually or in small groups, have become adept on online organizing and activism.

“That doesn’t mean the big national organizations are unnecessary,” said Valenti, 37. “I would love to see them continue to get funding and do work, but my hope is that they take cues from younger organizers and that their work evolves with us.”

One example of online activism is UltraViolet, an advocacy group that uses the internet to mobilize rapid responses to public comments or actions that it views as sexist. Since its founding in 2012, its campaigns have helped build public pressure that contributed to the resignation of an Alabama-based federal judge accused of beating his wife, pressured Netflix to expand paid parental leave, and recently mounted a petition drive seeking the ouster of a judge who sentenced a former Stanford University swimmer to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.

“We want to change the calculus that it pays to ignore or harm women,” said UltraViolet’s co-founder, Nita Chaudhary. “We exist to create a cost for sexism.”

Chaudhary doesn’t view UltraViolet as a rival to larger, older groups such as NOW.

“We create space for other groups that are better resourced to step into the cause,” she said.

It’s never been easy to quantify America’s feminist movement — many women consider themselves feminists to a degree yet don’t share some core beliefs of militant activists.

According to a recent national survey by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, six in 10 women and one-third of men in the U.S. depict themselves as feminists _ higher figures than in some polls a few years earlier. However, four in 10 respondents in the new poll viewed the feminist movement as “angry,” and a similar portion said it unfairly blames men for women’s challenges.

Among the critics of contemporary feminism is Christina Hoff Sommers, a former philosophy professor who is a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

In an interview, Sommers hailed NOW’s original mission statement as “an inspiring document” with goals that have mostly been achieved.

“It seems the more things improve for women, the more aggrieved many feminists become,” Sommer said. “There’s never a time when they say, ‘We’ve done it. It’s time to celebrate.””

Sommers said there’s still a pressing need for women’s-rights activism in many foreign countries, a need that American feminists could help address.

Spillar, who has expanded Ms. magazine’s international coverage, said U.S. women would have more influence abroad if they gained more clout at home.

“If we had half the seats in Congress, think how much more of a voice we could be,” she said.

In some respects, the United States lags behind many nations on women’s issues. According to a U.N. report, it is one of only three countries worldwide _along with Oman and Papua New Guinea — without a nationwide policy of paid maternity leave. Only a handful of U.S. states have mandated paid family leave.

Ellen Bravo, a Milwaukee-based activist who advocates on behalf of working women, contends that the dearth of family-friendly policies in the U.S. is rooted in the undervaluation of women and the work that they perform.

“In the past, the mindset was that there were always women ready to take up the caregiving tasks at home — and they would continue to do it for free,” Bravo said. “The mindset is still there, even though the facts on the ground have changed.”

Now, she says, many activist groups are campaigning simultaneously to curtail workplace inequality for women and expand the potential for men to handle more caregiving duties at home.

One workplace advocacy group, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, has found that raising gender-related issues bolstered its efforts to get a higher minimum wage for restaurant workers who rely primarily on tips.

Though the group’s 18,000 members include men, about two-thirds of them are women. Saru Jayaraman, the group’s co-founder and co-director, said the wage campaign gained momentum after activists sought to demonstrate that workers dependent on tips were subjected to disproportionately high levels of sexual harassment.

“Suddenly we were the new wave of feminism and gender justice,” said Jayaraman. “It allowed us to get more support.”

While efforts proceed to support women in unglamorous workplaces, there’s also been a popularization of feminism at the other end of the social spectrum. Among the pop culture icons embracing the term are Beyonce, Taylor Swift and even the Muppets’ Miss Piggy.

Andi Zeisler, co-founder and editorial director of Bitch Media, warily analyzes this phenomenon — which she calls “marketplace feminism” — in a new book, We Were Feminists Once.

She worries that feminism is becoming a feel-good buzzword as the struggle for gender equality shifts “from a collective goal to a consumer brand.”

“The problem is — the problem has always been — that feminism is not fun,” Zeisler writes. “It’s complex and hard and it pisses people off. It’s serious because it is about people demanding that their humanity be recognized as valuable.”

 

Lauryl Sulfate sets her sights on the patriarchy

Artist. Activist. Feminist.

These are just three titles that would aptly fit Lauryl Sulfate, a Milwaukee-based musician who has been performing music that’s been described anywhere from electronic new wave and dance rap to so-called “freak nasty” nerd punk for the last few years.

She wasn’t born an artist, but rather soaked up the inclination like a sponge. As a child, she sat on the floor and absorbed her mother’s record collection, then turned to her older sister’s, sneaking listens while hiding in the basement bedroom. From 1980s pop legends like Prince and Madonna to edgier punk like The Cure, The Violent Femmes, and The Sex Pistols, she listened to it all.

That musical foundation would lay dormant for many years. In high school, she was too shy to sing in front of audiences, while knowing she had the talent to do so. It wasn’t until she was a student at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design that she was drawn to the idea of being a musician, via the ideals of performance art.

“I sort of realized that I could take a punk-like attitude towards it, which was, ‘I don’t have to be trained to do this,” Sulfate says. “’I can just do this because it’s fun to do and if someone wants to listen to it, that’s great, and if they don’t, that’s fine because I’m just going to keep making a lot of loud noise.’”

images - pride - LaurylSulfateEPAnd so she did — fusing elements of hip-hop and dance music to create her own self-taught style. Her first EP, simply titled Three Songs, features the first three recordings she’s created: “A Fake Performance,” “Another Beat” and “How U Livin,” but there’s much more where that came from in her live act.

This June, Lauryl and her Ladies of Leisure will be going on a small summer tour, with a planned stop at Milwaukee’s PrideFest on June 10. Before the show, WiG caught up with Lauryl to talk about PrideFest, her activism, her plans to destroy heteronormativity, and what it means to be a bedroom musician.

For those who don’t know, who exactly are the Ladies of Leisure?

For a while, I didn’t have a band and it was hard to find people to work with and click with who enjoy all the same things and the commitment level to want to do the same thing every week to practice. The band, “Ladies of Leisure,” was actually just me … I didn’t have anyone but myself. My first thought was, “I’ll just record everything and I’ll record all of the parts and when I play, I’ll always make some excuse of where the Ladies of Leisure are today and why they can’t make it to the show and it’ll be like a gag.”

A friend of mine (“Bonica Magnett”), who’s a really good singer, came in and did guest backing vocals a couple of times and we enjoyed working together so much that I was like, “Would you like to be my Lady of Leisure?” So I ended up having one backing singer for quite a while and she became a member of the band. I have been working with another friend of mine (“Lonely Son”) doing recording things for awhile and finally convinced him to be on stage to be the keyboardist for me so now I have two Ladies of Leisure (laughs).

According to your bio on social media, you’re a self-described “bedroom musician.” What exactly is a bedroom musician?

I have technology on my MacBook to make songs. I have it on my iPad. I actually have it on my phone. But also one of my band mates, he actually has a whole studio set up in his house. He has a studio space and has a lot more gear than I do so now we’ve been upped our game as far as being able to record and test things out.

Computer technology has opened up things amazingly because now there’s GarageBand and all sorts of ways for people to make noise and give it to people without having to be trained (or) having a lot of money or equipment. I actually started doing a fashion show with a friend and we always had a band play for us. For one show we couldn’t get a band so we decided to start our own band in order to have music for the fashion show (laughs). We liked that so much that we forgot about the fashion show and kept doing the band.

Your music is described as electronic, New Wave, dance rap, and so-called “freak-nasty” nerd punk. For those who aren’t familiar with your music, how would you best describe it?

Basically it’s fun music. I want to make it accessible to people and music that I’d want to listen to. I listen to a lot of dance music and I like pop music and I like hip-hop so it’s a fusion of all these things.

I was a kid in the ‘80s so a lot of ‘80s music and those records that my sister had and those things that dug really deep in me and that’s where my heart kind of lies musically. It’s kind of all swirled together. We’ve been compared to Le Tigre. It’s an apt comparison I think. There’s a feminist edge to our music and it’s dancey and punky and has a DIY sound to it.

You’ve been described as an activist and feminist. What are you most passionate about?

I’m most passionate about speaking out for women and queer people, people of color, and people who are traditionally not heard as much. Especially in the larger pop world. We’re only shown a few kinds of faces and we’re shown only certain viewpoints in the world. A lot of it is really heterocentric and a lot of it is from a patriarchal point-of-view. I think there are so many voices in the world and I’m really interested in making music by women and for women a lot of the time and for queer people and the people who aren’t thought of as the target audience.

The music world is very masculine. I think there’s a lot of derision towards female pop aficionados and female pop stars in general. Look at Beyoncé and how hard she’s had to work to get recognition for her work. She does amazing work and she’s really an artist now that Lemonade is out and people can see what a great artist she is.

There are still people who want to take the music that appeals to women and the music that women make and say, “This music doesn’t mean as much because it’s not, you know, Neil Young.” I think if a musician makes a song that’s on the radio so frequently because everybody loves it so much, then it’s obviously a song that’s important to people. To sort of dismiss it as being worthless because girls like it is really doing everybody a disservice.

I read on social media that one of the band’s interests, among twerking and fun, is “destroying heteronormativity,” the pressure to adhere to traditional gender norms and roles. Could you elaborate on that idea, and talk about how you implement this activism in your music?

I feel strongly about it. I feel like heteronormativity is this myth that we’ve been taught to live with and the gender binary is a myth that we’ve been taught to live with. … In some ways I’m coming from a heteronormative position because I’m a cisgendered female and I have that level of privilege. But really, I think we’ll eventually look at history and we’ll be like, “Why did we try so hard to put people in boxes on who they are and who they want to be?” There’s no risk to it. There’s no threat to anybody else in letting someone be who they are and that includes gender. I think we will look at history and see how damaging those gender boxes are to men and women and everybody between.

I think we’re getting to a point where we’re starting to understand how damaging the patriarchy is not just to women because women have been pushing really hard to have a voice for themselves for a long time and that’s when feminism has been, but I think we’re realizing that feminism can help men and male-identified people push out of those boxes as well. You don’t have to be a certain way. You don’t have to be macho, you don’t have to be tough, or anything else that we tell ourselves are male characteristics when they’re not necessarily male characteristics.

The most recent public debate over heteronormativity has been in relation to anti-trans bathroom laws, which require people to use the restroom of their birth-assigned gender rather than the one they identify with. How do you feel about those laws?

I really feel the anti-trans backlash is not surprising at all. Queer people have been pushing really hard for acceptance for a long time and we finally have it now where marriage equality is a thing. We no longer have to push for that. Gay men and lesbian women have a lot more acceptance now than they did 10 years ago. Now, suddenly, it’s not okay to be homophobic. It’s not okay socially. If you exhibit homophobia, people around you are going to be like, “That’s not cool.”

The most vulnerable population that people can kind of turn their homophobia on is trans people. It’s not surprising to me at all that there are these laws that are trying to limit transness are coming around because they’re trying to step up their game because now it’s no longer okay to make fun of “regular” queer people. It’s all out of fear.

It’s like homophobia is shifting itself.

Yeah. It’s shifting further and further and deeper and deeper in order to try to hold its ground against the tide of social change.

Let’s talk about PrideFest for a little bit. How important do you think it is for Milwaukee to have an LGBT-focused festival?

I think it’s very important for Milwaukee. Every time I go, it’s been a beautiful place to be for a few days where you’re surrounded by people who are like family I think. People who are being themselves in a space where those gender norms we were talking about have been exploded more. Last year when we performed at PrideFest, it was the first year that they had gender-neutral bathrooms. I think that was a really great step forward and I’d love to see more things like that.

You’ll be starting a new tour this June with your Ladies of Leisure with a stop at PrideFest. What are you most looking forward to with this show and the tour in general?

I’m looking forward to playing. I love being on stage and I love connecting with people in the audience. It’s really fun to me. It’s where I feel the most comfortable, the most happy, and the most when I feel myself. So, really, the thing I’m looking forward to the most is actually just getting up on stage and playing songs for people. It’s a little corny, but it’s true.

How would you describe one of your shows?

They’re fun! I think they’re a little surprising. I don’t think people don’t know what quite to expect from us because we’re an unusual band in Milwaukee in particular. I don’t think a lot of bands in Milwaukee gear towards electronic dance music. I do rap and I don’t think people expect me to rap unless they know what they’re coming for (laughs).

Do you have any new music planned for release?

We’re going to be releasing a second EP, probably three more songs, before we go on tour. We’re working on a single that won’t be on either of the EPs. We’re hoping to make a video for it and release it on YouTube or Vimeo. The goal over the next year when we get back from the tour is starting to work on an actual album. The range of music that we’ll be putting out on the EP will be a little bit broader. A lot of what’s going out on the EP is songs that we’ve been playing out for a while now. When we do an album, it’s going to be more narrowly focused. It’s going to have a theme that rides through it.

MMOCA explores Claire Stigliani’s complexities

Look behind Claire Stigliani’s colored pencil drawings and you’ll find a most complex process at work.

More of those complexities than ever before can be seen at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, where the new exhibition Half-Sick of Shadows will present new drawings and paintings by Stigliani alongside video and miniaturized sets used to help create those works. The show opens May 28.

Stigliani’s colored pencil sketches depict images and characteristics of the artist herself and elements of her world, with fantastical embellishments.

“My drawings, paintings, puppet theatres and videos tell stories about wide-eyed women who transgress and draw parallels between these fictional women and the artist’s own experience of indulging in fantasy,” says Stigliani, who received her MFA from UW-Madison in 2010 and has exhibited work in the state frequently since. “Like the fictional women, the artist begins her journey alone, unashamed and full of wonder.”

Stigliani began her own artistic journey while still a youth, thanks largely to the failure of two Eastern European countries’ currencies to cooperate.

Stigliani was born in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1983, but spent many of her early childhood years in Vienna with her parents. Her father’s business travels back and forth to what is now the Czech Republic went smoothly with one small exception. Her father was required to convert his Austrian currency for Czech korunas when he crossed the border, but was unable to convert the Czech currency back upon return, which meant he had to spend all his converted cash before he came home.

“He once brought this beautiful Czech puppet theater with painted backdrops and puppets to tell the stories,” Stigliani says. The miniature theater became integral to staging the scenes and telling the stories that eventually comprised her paintings.

Today, Stigliani creates her own puppet theater “sets” from which her subsequent art evolves. In order to focus her thoughts for a sketch or series of sketches, Stigliani first makes a miniature set of whatever the context is for her work, along with puppets to populate that set. The set could represent a fantasy setting, or even her own cluttered apartment depending on the images she wants to create.

Stigliani then acts out the story behind the prospective painting on the set with her puppets, taking videos of the impromptu play. It is from the frames of the video that the artist then begins to create her drawings, careful to capture the action as much as possible in the drawings while recreating the complex details of the sets themselves.

The European fairy tales Stigliani learned in Austria also became a profound influence on the artist’s life. In addition to the often brutal narratives, the role of women in these tales tended toward the damsel-in-distress model. As she grew older, Stigliani began questioning the docility and subservience of the women in these tales and started to see a sort cultural “bondage” under which the characters existed.

This imagery, too, crept into Stigliani’s art, and not necessarily in a good way. In fact, she compares herself to a visual Angela Carter, the English writer who exposed the violence inherent in fairy tales and their objectification of women.

“Women in fairy tales are pretty submissive, and the biggest problem seems to be the happily-ever-after aspect in which the princess is saved by the prince,” Stigliani says. “It teaches women to be competitive with each other because we all know there can only one be one princess and the rest of us are mere subjects.”

The very name of her exhibit, Half-Sick of Shadows, is a verse taken from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shallot,” which tells the story of a young woman trapped in a tower who can only weave and wait for Lancelot to rescue her. Unfortunately, the noble knight doesn’t show and the woman dies.

Such fantasies inform much of Stigliani’s work, which reinterprets society’s views of women, both past and present.

Stigliani does some work with paint and canvases, but always feels she needs to produce something “important” when she invests in those more expensive supplies. The paper-and-pencil drawings, she says, give her the freedom to fail.

“I am an artist that has a lot of failures,” she explains. “I make about 300 drawings per year and I had to figure out how not to be afraid while I was working.”

The MMOCA exhibit will include 15 paintings, 5 drawings, 5 miniature theater sets and 5 videos, giving viewers a broad spectrum of her artistic process.

Stigliani says all the imagery used refers back to her life, acting almost as a sort of personal therapy. The fact that she has constructed tiny sets modeled after her cluttered apartment indicates an ongoing effort to find ways to better handle her own challenges.

“All of my work is a way to better understand myself,” Stigliani says. “I know that my work has really helped shape me as a person, and I think it always has been that way.”

Half-Sick of Shadows, an exhibit of Claire Stigliani’s work, runs from May 28 through September 4 at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Arts, 227 State St., Madison. Stigliani herself will be on hand to discuss her art on June 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. as part of the exhibit’s opening festivities. Visit mmoca.org for more details.

UW-Madison professor pens a new opera about a neglected female painter

images - wigout - 051916 - Schwendinger“Official” artistic canons have historically recorded a greater number of men than women among their ranks. But that discrepancy is shifting in both the present and the past, as female artists in the modern era stake their claims and female artists from the past are honored by research and scholarship.

One recent project with Wisconsin ties will bring two such women forward, one from the 21st century and one from the 17th. UW-Madison music professor Laura Elise Schwendigner has been awarded more than $75,000 in grants in order to finish her first full-length opera Artemisia, a chamber opera based on the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian Baroque painter.

“The story of Artemisia hit me when I was an artist-in-residence in Rome (in 2009),” says Schwendinger, who herself paints. “I visited a lot of galleries and was struck by her works like “Judith Slaying Holofernes.” There weren’t very many women painters at the time.”

Schwendinger says she hopes Artemisia, which she is developing with librettist Ginger Strand, will change the historical perception of Gentileschi (1593–1656). While the artist holds the high honor of being the first female member of Florence’s prestigious Accademia di Arte del Disegno and was a respected artist in her time, history books remembered her for centuries merely as a teenage victim of rape by her tutor, fellow artist Agostino Tassi.

Following the assault and the older Tassi’s ultimate failure to marry the 16-year-old girl as promised, Artemisia’s father, the Tuscan painter Orazio Gentileschi, pressed charges against Tassi for taking his daughter’s virginity. The lawsuit, highly unusual for the time, resulted in long, protracted proceedings, during which Artemisia was subject to gynecological exams and torture to verify her testimony. The proceedings also revealed a plot by Tassi to murder his wife, adding to the sensationalism of the lawsuit. Tassi eventually was sentenced to one year in prison, but never served any time.

Gentileschi would go on to have a long and successful career, rare for a female painter in her time. But later generations would obscure her contributions to the Baroque period, some of her work even attributed to other artists.

In recent years, that perception has begun to shift back, with Gentileschi again credited as one of the period’s greatest painters. Schwendinger hopes her opera can spread Gentileschi’s story, further righting the wrong done to her by historians.

Schwendinger’s opera, a co-commission of Trinity Wall Street Novus in New York City and San Francisco’s Left Coast Chamber Ensemble that will premiere on the East Coast in early 2017, will take an unusual approach to Artemisia’s story, emphasizing the artist’s work as it goes. The painter’s most important canvases, including her self-portrait, will be seen as onstage projections to introduce various sections of the opera. The performers will emerge from the projected tableaux to tell the opera within the visual context.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that in opera before,” Schwendinger says. “The visual elements will be the thing that audiences will talk about after the performances, but I hope they talk about the music, too.”

While this is Schwendinger’s first full-length opera, it is by no means her first composition. Born in Mexico City to a pair of U.S. foreign exchange students and raised in Berkeley, California, Schwedinger began making up melodies at age 4 and playing the flute at age 8. Her debut with the Berkeley Youth Orchestra at age 13 included a performance of “Between Two Continents,” her first orchestral composition.

When Schwendinger applied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to study flute, her application included several compositions as well, which caught the eye of composer John Adams, best known for his operas Doctor Atomic and Nixon in China. He invited her to study composition with him, and she afterward went on to receive both her master’s degree and Ph.D. in music from the University of California-Berkeley.

Her career has since taken her to multiple locations, though she has been a professor at UW-Madison for more than a decade. That university recently awarded her a $60,000 Kellett Mid-Career Award, a grant sponsored by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and awarded to nine other faculty members for the 2016–17 academic year.

Schwendinger also received $16,500 as part of OPERA America’s $200,000 Opera Grant for Female Composers, awarded to seven women and seven opera companies, which she will use in addition to the Kellett Award to finish and mount the upcoming productions of Artemisia.

Gloria Steinem turns to TV to fight gender-based injustice

For her latest project in pursuit of equality, Gloria Steinem is turning to television.

The feminist activist and author makes her debut Tuesday as producer and host of Woman, a documentary series on the Viceland network about gender-based violence and injustice around the world.

The series came out of a discussion with Vice Media chief Shane Smith, Steinem said. They met at a Google camp in Sicily, Italy, two years ago, and when she told him how violence against women predicts and normalizes violence at all levels of society, he “responded in a very heartfelt way.”

The result is eight short documentaries, all by young female journalists, each focused on an issue threatening women in a particular region of the world. The first episode looks at the epidemic of rape as a tool and symptom of war in Congo, with more than 1.8 million victims over the last 20 years. Future installments explore female guerrilla fighters in Colombia, child brides in Zambia, the murder of indigenous women in Canada and mothers behind bars in the United States.

Steinem, 82, talked with The Associated Press about the show and how she stays hopeful after six decades of activism. The interview has been edited and condensed.

What did you say to Shane Smith that made him insist you do a show?

I was talking about violence against females in the world and the degree to which, first of all, it normalizes other violence. It tends to be what we see first in our families or in the streets. If not violence, then control or aggression, and it makes us feel that it’s inevitable that one group will be born to be dominant over another. … So it normalizes the idea of dominance. … And it turns out to be the biggest indicator — more than poverty, more than degree of education, religion, access to natural resources, even degree of democracy — violence against females is the biggest indicator of whether a country will be violent in itself or be willing to use military violence against another country.

How did you decide what to focus on for these eight episodes?

We were clear that we wanted to include every continent. We didn’t want to make it seem as though problems of violence were limited to one part of the world. They take different forms in different parts of the world. We looked at what was most prevalent or important to the women’s movements in that country.

Will you make more?

Yes.

The challenges facing some of the women you show are upsetting, but you’ve said the series makes you feel less helpless. Why?

We have to know before we can act, and the very fact that this is allowing millions of people to have the experience of walking around and talking to people and listening is a step forward in itself. We know from many forms of suffering that what is important first is a witness — people want to know that someone else knows what’s happening, that they’re not alone — and someone who listens to what is needed and tries to help. So this is a chance for all of us — me, too — to be a witness, and we will put enough different ways of helping so we hope viewers will be able to find a way to help that fits into their lives.

What real, concrete changes have you seen in your fight for feminism?

We now know, deeply and in the majority, that the old discriminatory systems are crazy, we are not crazy. We now know that racism is not real, it’s made up, it’s cruel, it can be stopped. We know sexism is not inevitable. It’s only about controlling reproduction and therefore controlling women. If we have reproductive freedom, that is the ability to decide for ourselves when and whether to have children and what happens to our bodies, it can be reversed. It’s the understanding that it’s not inevitable. I think that is crucial.

Woman premieres Tuesday, May 10, at 9 p.m. CT on Viceland, with selected episodes available at viceland.com.

The case for Rebecca Bradley’s conversion is weak

The wages of Rebecca Bradley’s “sins” have caught up with her in a big way. But will they lead to the death of her career — and will they further corrode the reputation of her political handler, Gov. Scott Walker?

Wisconsinites will get part of the answer on April 5, when Bradley, currently serving as an interim Supreme Court justice, faces her infinitely more qualified challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg at the polls for a full 10-year term on the bench.

Foremost among Bradley’s “sins” are the viscerally hateful anti-gay columns she penned as a student at Marquette University about gays, people with AIDS, Democrats, feminists and every other group singled out by the extreme right during the “culture wars” of the early 1990s.

She claims to have changed her views about gays in the ensuing 20-plus years. Supporting that claim, Bradley sought out WiG’s endorsement for her first and only judicial election. During our interview with her, she seemed at ease, quite likeable and sincere in her support for LGBT rights.

But on every other far-right issue, Bradley has remained immovable, which suggests that her support for LGBT individuals comes with unspoken qualifiers. In light of our interview, for instance, we were surprised to learn recently that she sits on the governing board of the St. Thomas Moore Lawyers Society. That organization pushes for “religious rights” of the kind that involve trampling on other people’s rights in the name of religion, such as allowing people who own public accommodations to deny services to gays and lesbians if they feel to do so would violate their beliefs.

The only evidence Bradley has offered of her more inclusive adult sensibilities seems either self-serving or scandalous. She appeared at a Fair Wisconsin fundraiser, which proves she’s willing to rub elbows with LGBT people to further her electoral career. She says she’d perform a same-sex wedding, if asked; but after four years on the bench she’s never been asked, which indicates she doesn’t know many gay and lesbian people very well, at least not the marrying kind.

Ironically, the most convincing evidence that Bradley’s strict Roman Catholic code of sexual morality has evolved comes from her personal life: She was divorced after eight years of marriage, had an extramarital affair and had what sounds like a “friend with benefits” relationship with her former boss after they stopped dating “exclusively.” She’s been accused of breaching ethical legal standards by representing that boss in a custody battle with his ex-wife, despite the objection of the ex-wife and her lawyer. Her description of that episode suggests a measure of petty vindictiveness between the two women — a scenario that’s troubling because she took the personal soap opera into a court of law.

Otherwise, Bradley has maintained her fundamentalist Catholic view on choice — and even contraception. In 2002, she equated abortion with murder and compared it to slavery and the Holocaust. In 2006, she penned a column defending a pharmacist’s right to deny contraception as an act of religious conscience. Defying scientific consensus, she described certain contraceptives as abortifacients, meaning they cause miscarriages. That’s a view that elevates Catholic doctrine above science.

Friends and allies

The most telling indicator of Bradley’s current state of mind is the company she keeps, and that should trouble voters for a variety of reasons. Her life is peopled with the same kinds of organizations and individuals with whom she was linked in the early 1990s.

Bradley has not earned her judicial career through her stellar educational background, legal writings, major cases or her legal career — which in part has consisted of defending doctors from malpractice claims and corporations from liability suits. She’s won the kind of honors that glossy magazines sell to advertisers, and she received the 2010 Women in Law Award from the Wisconsin Law Journal. But she did not have a Supreme Court-level legal profile outside of religious- and corporate-right circles.

Since 2012 Bradley has been hand-groomed for the bench by Walker, who’s appointed her to every judicial position she’s held during the ensuing four-year period. It’s easy to imagine that Walker was mentoring Bradley expressly for the state’s highest court.

If that’s true, it must have felt like a windfall for Walker when Supreme Court Justice Patrick Crooks dropped dead just months after Walker had elevated Bradley to an appeals court position. The tragedy gave Walker the chance to anoint his disciple as an interim justice on the high court.

Now, just a few months later, she can run as an incumbent for Crooks’ expired 10-year term.

During Crooks’ tenure, the Wisconsin Supreme Court leaned conservative by a 5–2 margin. But while Crooks ruled with his right-wing judicial colleagues 80 percent of the time, Bradley likely can be counted on as reliably as Walker’s other slavish supporters on the bench. She certainly feels as if she can count on him: She registered the domain name justicebradley.com before she’d even applied for the interim position — possibly before Crooks’ body was interned.

Bradley’s fierce partisanship and lack of political independence should concern voters. The Republican Party is virtually handling her campaign, which is being heavily funded by special-interest corporate groups. It’s safe to say that she’s deeply in the pocket of those corporations, which are bent on rolling back clean air and water regulations, getting rid of unions and allowing for endless political spending. She’s also served as president of the Milwaukee Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, a group whose mission could have been lifted from Charles and David Koch’s greediest dreams.

The combination of Bradley’s over-the-top anti-gay writings and her fierce loyalty to the Republican Party and its moneyed special interests have prompted protests against her during the final weeks of the campaign.

We Are Wisconsin has either staged or planned demonstrations outside of every Supreme Court candidate debate. Protesters have carried signs printed with some of Bradley’s most offensive writings. But group member Saul Owen said it’s the totality of Bradley’s record — the unseemly partisanship, the big-money support and the political opportunism as well as the hate rhetoric — that has local leaders and advocates alarmed, not only by Bradley’s candidacy but about the degradation of justice in Wisconsin that it embodies.

Wisconsin Justice Rebecca Bradley. — PHOTO: Courtesy
Wisconsin Justice Rebecca Bradley. — PHOTO: Courtesy

“She can’t be trusted to hold everyone equally under the eyes of the law,” Newton said.

We Are Wisconsin has called upon Bradley to pull out of the race, charging that her campaign has tainted even further the Supreme Court’s already heavily strained credibility.

We Are Wisconsin plans to hold its next demonstration on Friday, March 18, outside a debate hosted by Wisconsin Public Television.

Closed loop

Bradley and Kloppenburg were virtually tied in the most recent poll, which was taken in February. That was before the indefatigable Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, uncovered and shared Bradley’s explosive hate writings from the Marquette Tribune. It also was before a misleading but effective anti-Kloppenburg television ad hit the airwaves, along with other contorted and inflammatory advertising.

The ads were paid for by an astroturf group misleadingly named Wisconsin Alliance for Reform. The group formed last October to run ads attacking former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold. The group’s Web domain reportedly was purchased by Lorri Pickens, whose husband has connections to Bemis, a company owned by the family that Ron Johnson married into. The company remains one of Johnson’s company’s best customers.
For a long time, Pickens has been associated, either directly or indirectly, with right-wing corporate PACs such as the Koch-brothers-backed Wisconsin Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity. She has also worked with Julaine Appling’s anti-gay Wisconsin Family Action, and she managed Vote Yes for Marriage, the group that supported the 2006 state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage and later sought to overturn the state’s domestic partnership registry. (WFA is not making an endorsement in the Supreme Court race.)

That connection alone argues against Bradley’s self-proclaimed new worldview. And, on close inspection, her professional life has been lived in a closed loop with some of the same right-wing evangelicals and corporate-owned political hacks with whom she bonded during her years as a shock columnist at the Marquette Tribune, writing about how women play a role in their own rape.

Walker claims he had no knowledge of Rebecca Bradley’s writings when he appointed her as an interim justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Bradley didn’t disclose the college columns in her applications for judicial appointments. Where the forms asked for academic and extracurricular activities, she listed her time as a Marquette University student senator and as editor of the student newspaper at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School.

But Walker’s disavowal is hard for anyone informed about his history with Bradley to believe.

Both were student Republicans whose time at Marquette overlapped, and both wrote conservative commentaries for the Marquette Tribune. Today, the two travel in the same corporate-right Republican circles, and they’re practically neighbors. Their Wauwatosa homes sit around the corner from each other, less than half a mile apart.

JoAnne Kloppenburg
JoAnne Kloppenburg

Bradley’s most controversial writings, including the column in which she called gay people “queers” and “degenerates” who deserved to die of AIDS, were published two years after Walker dropped out of college. But they had a common acquaintance — Jim Villa, one of Walker’s longest and most trusted advisers. Villa served as Walker’s chief of staff for five years when the governor was Milwaukee County executive, and he also served as an informal adviser during Walker’s brief presidential run last year.

Villa was a target during the John Doe investigation into possible illegal political activities among Walker’s Milwaukee County staff. Investigators, who suspected Villa of misconduct in public office and solicitation of public employees to commit misconduct, applied for a search warrant of Villa’s home and office.

Villa was not charged and went on to receive a cushy appointment from Walker in 2014 as the UW System’s vice president of university relations. Villa, who was president of the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin at the time, had no discernible qualifications for the job, which came with a salary of $178,000. Critics of Walker’s civil service overhaul have cited Villa’s hiring as a blatant example of the cronyism they say will become the new norm in state hiring decisions under the revamped law.

Ross contends that it’s inconceivable Villa wouldn’t have mentioned the columns to Walker, given their inflammatory nature and the pair’s decades-long relationship.

But Villa denied that allegation to The Associated Press, saying, “Not only did I not speak to him about it, I didn’t remember those writings.”

That statement rings especially false because Villa’s gay sexual orientation, a well-known secret in GOP political circles, would make Bradley’s diatribes against “homosexuals” hard to forget — especially given their shocking level of malice: “The homosexuals and drug addicts who do essentially kill themselves and others through their own behavior deservedly receive none of my sympathy,” Bradley wrote on Feb. 28, 1992, in a statement that typifies the aggressive style of her writings at the time.

For all the public knows, it might have been Villa’s coming out to his friend Bradley that led to her changing attitude toward LGBT people. But Villa declined to return a phone message left by WiG seeking clarification.

A lose-lose situation?

There’s a reason Walker has refused to say whether he would have appointed Bradley if he’d known of her public writing in advance: If he replied in the affirmative, he’d run the risk of alienating all but the right-wing evangelists who form the hard core of Republican loyalists. On the other hand, if Walker condemned Bradley’s unseemly written tirades, then he might suffer a backlash from the same voters.

Perhaps that’s why Bradley’s apologies for her past writings and her insistence that she has changed have struck so many people as hollow. If she backtracks on the vitriol that would inspire homophobes to the polls to support her in droves, she’s undermining her own election effort.

Bradley’s attempts to temper her past writings already have some of her most bigoted supporters up in arms.

On Charlie Sykes’ online blog Right Wisconsin, one anti-gay follower wrote: “If Bradley backs down here, she loses my vote. She needs to show some spine. The majority of voters in April will be older and whiter. That demographic does not thing (sic) gays are equal to straights.

Another wrote (quoted verbatim): “If they stay within their sex preference and not frakkin cheat, that gene goes away. Benefit for marriage is for those who can reproduce within their sex preference. BY the way, she was correct back then, gays, bisexuals and drug users spread HIV and cost millions in healthcare costs. Go ride a seatless bike.”

Bradley surely does not want to be associated with that kind of ignorance, but without such supporters she might very well lose the race, despite the millions that corporate special interests will likely spend on her.

The same holds true for Walker. His political fate might now be intertwined with his Frankenstein’s monster. With approval numbers that are under water, Walker cannot afford to be associated with either the bigoted rage surrounding his surrogate’s image or a repudiation of that rage.

This time, whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court race, Walker seems to have manipulated himself into a corner. After all the failed attempts he’s made to keep his strategic moves in the dark, he still hasn’t learned that he’s being watched by people like Ross and reported on by all of the state’s responsible media.