A Q&A w/ Chelsea Bleach

by Jake Cleland

These Melbournites just released a new single, ‘Public Safety’, a raw-cut slab of righteous rock. Ahead of their launch on May 20, Em answers the big questions.

What gets you outta bed in the morning?

Friends, music and puppies are my trifecta I’d say. I think for me they are representative of things that keep me inspired and remind me that there are things in this world that are good. Also, people who are unapologetic artists and creators are so inspiring to me as well and make me feel represented and inspired to do my own thing too. I’m thinking specifically of a number of Melbourne’s queer artists like HABITS, Two Steps on the Water, Callan and Simona Castricum among many others. These people are carving out a space for the queer community in Melbourne and it’s people like these who make space for other people to do things too. That’s inspiring enough to get me out of bed.

What makes you feel good and normal?

As boring as this sounds, routine is what keeps me feeling ok. I’ve recently become unemployed and am not studying, so setting myself a schedule has become really important for making sure I get what I need from the day. Stuff like waking up before 9 and having proper meals make all the difference for me in making sure I have enough time to take care of myself as well as have time for important stuff like hanging out with friends and working on creative projects. I’ve also been swimming quite a lot at the moment, which I find to be really relaxing and a good way to clear my head.

In the early 2000s, The Strokes were described as the saviours of rock and roll. In 2012, the Atlantic called Kesha the last great rock star. In spite of these grandiose claims, rock music persists as it ever has in the underground. Ultimately, what will really kill rock music, and who, in fact, will save it?

If you ask me, boring white men who are stuck on the same idea of what rock music should look and sound like will be death of rock music. Rock and punk in general need to be fluid and reflect counter cultural movements. Right now, queer and trans people, women and people of colour are leading radical changes in society and pushing boundaries in the music scene. These are the people who bring life and energy to underground music movements. The fact that often the way this is expressed is not through traditional rock song structure is exactly what makes it so powerful and important. White men who are stuck on rock and punk looking and sounding a certain way will get left behind as the rest of us write about how we experience the world outside of them.

You mentioned on Facebook that a few weeks ago at a gig, a man came up after the set to offer “some much needed song writing tips.” What sort of unsolicited advice did this charming individual offer?

Basically right after we finished our set, this guy came on stage and approached our bass player Emma, telling her that she looked pretty shy. He offered his own advice around overcoming stage fright and then gave her his card and told us how he came about writing songs in the way that he writes them — essentially telling us that we should write this way too. It was an overall pretty boring experience, but unfortunately not one that is uncommon for many women and non-men in music. Our friend Georgi from Shrimpwitch has a poem titled “Unsolicited Advice” which basically sums up the feelings around men at gigs offering their opinions on our music at all times when it is not asked for or wanted.

Lately a buncha great songs about body politics have come out, ‘Public Safety’ being the latest. In 2016, particularly thanks to the work of pioneering women and queer folx, Melbourne finally seems ready to address stuff like this which has been endemic to its music scene (and every music scene, and every aspect of the world) for so long. Who’s making things better? Who’s making them worse?

I think in the Melbourne music scene, particularly in the queer pockets, there are people who are comfortable sharing their personal experiences on a number of topics, from sexual assault to gender dysphoria, and that really opens up the space for more dialogue. As a band that is made up of white people, we need to make sure we recognize the space we’re taking up and acknowledge when we need to listen to others who have a different experience to ours and that we have a lot to learn. I think organisations like Alterity Collective and LISTEN are great platforms for QTPOC and other members of the LGBTQIA+/women to share their experiences. There is definitely more of a space being cultivated right now for people to have been marginalized to share their experiences and for this to be heard, validated and appreciated.

Whilst within these queer safe spaces there’s a lot of really good dialogue happening and I think people are trying to curate diverse, inclusive events, that’s not necessarily that same for the Australian music scene at large, however, where many scenes are dominated by white men holding guitars. As I expressed in Public Safety, I still often feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in many spaces due to intimidating white men who hold a lot of power, and this is also present in areas of the music scene. We need to make sure that the music industry as a whole is working towards hearing trans and GNC people’s voices, and not leaving those people behind whilst profiting off their creative ingenuity. I think it’s important to note the element of violence that a lot of trans femme people face for simply existing, and that toxic masculinity in music culture has caused a lot of trans femme people to feel incredibly unsafe or threatened, and therefore unwelcome in music. If trans femmes and trans women are not safe within the music scene, we are not doing enough. Something as simple as having gender neutral toilets at a venue can do a lot for making people feel more welcome at a venue, however isn’t a top priority for a lot of places.

After yr launch on May 20, you’ll be playing on one of the stackedest lineups the Tote’s ever seen w/ Pink Tiles, Palm Springs, Swim Team, Shiny Coin, Hi-Tec Emotions, Pappy, Thug Mills, and the luminous DJ Emoceans. How well dya know these folks, and how long is it ’til some major label creep realizes the obvious commercial potential in said lineup and offers to buy you all out with nine-figure deals?

We’ve been kicking around in Melbourne for nearly a year now, and in that time we’ve met heaps of great people and seen so many cool bands. One of the best things about playing here is that we’ve found it really easy to make friends with people in other bands and that everyone is really keen to play with each other and support one another in their own pursuits. So we have played with Hi-Tec Emotions and Shiny Coin before but have definitely seen a number of the other bands on the lineup and know people from around the traps.

I think one of the things that makes events like this so good is that they aren’t commercial — it’s a community event where people are all just really stoked to be there supporting one another. So maybe the fact that no one is getting paid a nine-figure sum is precisely what makes it so good. I see this really stark divide in the music world between grassroots community scenes and the commercial world, and really, there’s no bridge that fits the two smoothly together. There’s something so unique and special about people coming together regardless of how much you’re getting paid but just because you love it and you care about each other. And I’m not sure that’s something you can replicate when you bring big commercial interests into the equation (although I would love it if every talented, deserving artist I knew could get paid a nine-figure sum!)

Finally, when pessimism reaches out and poisons everything like the slime tendrils of an eldritch horror, what can one do to throw back the darkness and envelope oneself in light?

Surround yourself with beautiful people who remind you that even though there is so much evil darkness in this world, the human spirit prevails. Seriously, in the last few months I’ve been having a really shit time, and realising that you can reach out and people will stand by you and ask you what they can do to help is such an amazing beautiful experience. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and if all else fails, hug a puppy and listen to Lemonade.

Originally published in STRINE WHINE: ISSUE TEN