Evelyn Morris is Listening

Originally published in ISSUE ONE.

May 2014: Evelyn Morris chucks a pebble into the restless tides of the internet — there are too many anthologies on the importance of men in music. Jimi Kritzler’s book Noise In My Head: Voices of the Ugly Australian Underground had been picking up heat, chronicling contemporary Aussie bands. Most of them were men. Without even tallying all the tweets, articles and comments elsewhere, the 685 comments over nine days racked up on Evelyn’s Facebook status alone galvanised the idea that Morris and the broader community could sort this problem out themselves. A year later, what began as a book pitch has grown into an organisation involved in local activism, a series of shows, burgeoning publications, a lively forum, panels and industry conferences, and spearheaded changing attitudes in Aussie music. I checked in with Evelyn to see how the riot is churning.

Hey Evelyn, whatcha been working on today?

Today I’m teaching some kids how to play drums at a primary school in coburg. I also did some interviews earlier and started organizing an event for LISTEN.

So LISTEN began from a Facebook status and has become an organisation encompassing volunteers, countless contributors, a series of gigs, an active and vocal community, and is now helping to shape guidelines around responding to sexual harassment in Victorian venues. It’s grown really rapidly, which I reckon points to how necessary something like LISTEN is in Australia, and how eagerly a lotta folks have wanted something like this. How’re you dealing with it alongside managing the rest of yr life?

To be honest it’s quite difficult to find time for things at the moment… I work really hard at my teaching jobs, playing music, booking events and on top of all that running LISTEN! Often time management is difficult. The other impact has been just finding ways to keep my head straight, given that I’m regularly hearing terrible stories from members of the community about things they’ve been through…

I do feel very privileged though, given that despite all these pitfalls I regularly have inspiring and challenging conversations with my collegues at LISTEN and am in a position where incredible people are drawn into my life to have very intense conversations. Which is my favorite kind of conversation.

Negotiating the boundaries of any safe space is tricky and I know the LISTEN Facebook group experiences a lotta strong-willed debate. That seems healthy — I know I’ve learned a lot from hearing from marginalized voices there — but there’ve been a few situations where you’ve had to step in and ask people to take a breath. I can imagine you feel responsible for preserving a respectful attitude there, but how are you hoping to manage that space? Do you figure you’ll always oversee it, or are you hoping it’ll become self-regulating? How would you like it to develop?

LISTEN is constantly developing new methods of dealing with new problems that arise. The forum is only a very small portion of what we do so I’m not too keen on spending heaps of time on it personally, which is why I did a callout for help, and heaps of great moderators have stepped in. We’re interested in preserving the space with some important key core values governing that. We’re very conscious of the fact that feminism is very quickly evolving at the moment, with trans issues becoming a big part of this growth. So one of the ways in which we’ve attempted to communicate our commitment to the growth and full exploration of feminist and gender discourse is to ensure that the space is open to trans people. We’re very grateful that there have been some members of the trans community who have felt comfortable to speak up and educate those of us who had not yet realized this different experience of gender.

I’m very confident in the community that is developing within and around the LISTEN group and feel I can rely on them to take on issues if I don’t have the time or head space. Something that I feel is very important in feminism is preserving your own healthy sense of self… whilst still being committed to creating change and being supportive within your community. With this in mind we are very careful to share the workload.

Can ya tell me about the process of developing the safety guidelines? Who’re you working with, who’re you seeking input from, etc.

The best person to discuss this with us Katie Pearson. She’s been working with various local councils and a couple of supportive venues/lawyers/the SLAM activist group to create some new method of dealing with women’s and LGBTQI people’s safety in public spaces. We’re really committed to creating this change and eventually looking into further policy changes within laws and governmental policies that relate to domestic violence and sexual violence. It’s been very promising that Katie and the policy team have had such great responses from local members of Parliament and we hope to continue to strengthen these connections to create more social change.

How are LISTEN’s other projects coming along? You’ve got a pretty hectic plate between the zine, the site, panels across BIGSOUND, STEP and the Darebin Feast, a record label, and general advocacy.

Like I said, we’re really committed to sustaining our energy and passion for feminism and social change. This is so important given that change often takes time, and certainly takes perseverance. With the support of the LISTEN members I feel very confident that we’ll continue to manage this huge workload and hopefully continue to include more people in shaping and creating these projects.

A lotta the hetero cis dudes I know in the music industry have been really on board with LISTEN but maybe a little stumped for how to play a role in supporting the organization. What’s the best way for allies to help?

Firstly, it is most important that allies take the title of this project very literally and LISTEN. Actively listen. Seek out information, ask questions, and very importantly be open to criticism and humble and willing in your response to criticism.

Feminism seeks to create change that will benefit all people, even straight cis white men. Throughout the creation of LISTEN I’ve had many conversations with guys who feel a level of constant fear for their safety as well… it’s different of course… violence against women is often far more invasive in that it can infiltrate our most intimate relationships more often and it’s hard for women to feel safe anywhere given the culture of fear that’s created in our society. However many men have expressed having horrible experiences at the hands of random violent men, or experiences of not feeling they’ll ever be understood or accepted in the world based on not being the ‘typical man’.

Understand that feminism can help to highlight all the issues that control your life with fear as well. Don’t just listen… listen with GRATITUDE.

On top of that, men are in a unique position to be supportive of women who have been abused in their community. Taking action when you hear about a male being violent or abusive in any way is the biggest thing that can be done by other men. Stop tolerating this behavior, stop contributing to the inaction and silencing around violence against women, and stop being complicit in cultivating a pervasive culture of misogyny. Those ‘harmless jokes’ that make you uncomfortable on some level — don’t let them fly! There’s millions of ways you can be a conscious and willing feminist ally and any women in your life that are feminism-savvy will have conversations with you about it if you ask them smart questions that demonstrate you’ve been inquiring and educating yourself.

Re: Pikelet, I know the full band is on temporary hiatus although you’re still playing shows. Is that to free up some time/emotional space for LISTEN?

Yeah I’ve been investigating improvisation in Pikelet lately for a few reasons:

I always wanted it to just be a solo improv project.. but felt fear and took too many people’s advice. My first few Pikelet shows were improv and they were great fun. But immediately I got swept up in hearing other people’s opinions about what I should do because I didn’t believe that my opinion was worthy.

I’ve also spent my entire journey with Pikelet and my previous musical ventures either trying to force an embrace of ‘feminine sounds’ or otherwise I’ve tried at other times to actively reject my ‘female-ness’. Gender has always been a struggle for me I’ve never felt ‘fully female’ or valid as a successful expression of whatever being a ‘woman’ is supposed to be. So I’m enjoying just embracing whatever this middle space is and attempting to perform from this rather than creating an idea of my gender identity via an adopted sense of what sounds and expressions are ‘male’ or ‘female’.

I saw you at the Northcote last month when you were playing solo and it was mesmerizing. The vibe, with everyone sitting down, was really beautiful. On the improvisational aspects of your performances now, how much is total improv? Is it about fitting old ideas together in new ways, or are you playing on-the-fly? I’m curious ‘cos it was so seamless and really blew me away. I can’t remember the last time I felt like I did then after a show.

Thank you! A lot of thought goes into the improv sets but not much of it is really cerebral thinking or organized planning. I’m attempting to have an investigation in front of people, rather than presenting something that’s been crafted or ‘finished’. I think the idea of the ‘finished piece of music’ is a bit farcical… I’ve always noticed my songs evolving and shifting in their meaning as the context of my life changes them. So I’m dropping those structures and accepting that I am vulnerable and that I don’t know anything for sure. Choices in the moment etc. Being vulnerable and presenting that as a strength is a feminist statement for me.

There was also some stuff during Orlando Furious’s set, I wasn’t in the room but a friend told me there was some back-and-forth about the gender politics of his show. Can you recount what went down?

This is actually something that I’m working on a piece of writing about as it was really interesting indeed. I’m speaking with the two women who were dancing with Ben on stage and we’re putting together something that describes the incident and also pulls apart the many many layers of interesting discourse that were stirred up. So keep your eyes peeled. It’ll be up on the LISTEN site soon.

Finally, whadya foresee for the second half of 2k15? World domination?

No idea! Sooo many things! It’s important to me that the outcomes of this project be very fluid as they need to be governed by what the community asks of us. So we’ll see. But I can say that there’s a LISTEN conference being planned, some more musical events, more writing and no doubt more shit-stirring.

You can check out more on LISTEN at listenlistenlisten.org

This story was published in STRINE WHINE: ISSUE ONE. Buy it here.