I first met the artist Carolyn “Honeychild” Coleman in the early 90’s. I was a stylist assistant on a Vibe Magazine shoot where all the models were a cast of real skaters, including Harold Hunter and Toby Morse of the band H2O. When Honeychild came in on her board, her presence was instantly fascinating to me. She had an extraordinarily unique style, a quiet understated confidence and strength, the biggest smile I’d ever seen, AND she could skate? I had to be friends with her. Soon after, I invited her to my vegetarian potluck acid-Twin-Peaks-binge-watch Xmas Party. Did I mention it was the 90’s? Soon after she invited me to one of her shows: there she was, just an artist and an electric guitar surrounded by amps and pedals. I heard that indefinable voice and I instantly became a fan for life.
You’ve continuously made a lot of music as a solo artist yet you seem to also be the queen of collaboration, currently a member of the bands The 1865, Bachslider, GKA and Heavensbee . Additionally you’ve collaborated with artists including Mad Professor, Death Comet Crew, The Slits and Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins. Which dynamic do you enjoy the most? Solo, bands or collaborations?
I feel like I enjoy them all equally but, as an artist, I really enjoy songwriting. Each project is a different outlet and because I love to write, a lot of songs that I write may not be perfect for every band. For me it’s more about “I need to write this song and then figure out afterwards where it actually goes..”
At the height of the 90’s Riot Grrrl movement, in NYC you and 3 other local artists, Tamar Kali, Simi Stone and Maya Sokora found each other and together started the Sista Grrrls Riots, a yearly show at legendary rock venues including Brownies and CBGB’s . Can you talk about where that originated?
When we all met each other, it felt like we were all operating solo and alone in a really white rock world – a really male world – so when we found each other it seemed inevitable to combine our forces because the Riot Grrrl movement wasn’t really repping for us.
Those Sista Grrrl’s Riots started forming what became an impactful new music community that had been overlooked. I think what you 4 did together as artists really paved the way for festivals like Afropunk. Many people don’t know that before it was a festival, Afropunk was actually a documentary film that came out in 2003, directed by James Spooner, which all of you were in. What you all started, at the time it felt so underground and niche – yet it in retrospect was culturally groundbreaking and was the seed for so many changes… Before that, you never saw a line up with an entire night dedicated entirely to women of color playing CBGB’s or any rock venues for that matter. What made those shows so impactful?
We were all rock artists but our sounds were very different and in my experiences as a woman – and a black woman – trying to get into rock, even the punk scene or any scene, i just felt like it was all too regimented… that you could only be one thing. And with the Sista Grrrl’s Riots, it was cool that we were all different because we all brought some other flavor to the table. There’s not one way to be black. There’s not one way to be a black female rock artist. When we met James, and he started filming us all, he also liked the fact that we weren’t all exactly the same and that’s not celebrated enough to be honest. Everyone thinks it’s a scene so everyone has to be formulated the same way and that’s not art. If you weren’t in New York at that time it’s hard to understand what an impact it made. The beauty of what’s happening now is that people are starting to find us. And it’s shocking to me every time I see someone write about us or post something, because it’s not like we have social media for Sista Grrrls, we haven’t done anything since CBGB’s closed. It feels like the right time to shine a light on that moment and it feels like there’s a new generation of women who are really hungry for it.
Would you ever consider resurrecting the Sista Grrrls Riots, even adding newer talent, taking it on the road as a festival?
I wish! Almost twenty years later, I would love to do that, I would love to put something together and it would definitely be great to take it to other cities and abroad
In 2010 you were asked to tour as a guitarist with The Slits. What was your biggest takeaway from that experience and what did you learn from Ari and Tessa?
I think about that so much…. It’s really rare to join an all woman band with a history and legacy like that, also the fact they still had two amazing original members as well as the loyalty of the fans. Sometimes I felt guilty because I’m not a full-time member – I didn’t want to give an autograph, I didn’t think that’s right. People were so passionate about them. Also, the doors they broke down for any girl band that came after them, the abuse they suffered, and they still made the music that they wanted…just so much respect for them. As a musician, it really pushed me because I hadn’t even played guitar for 3 years before they asked me to tour, I felt like I was starting from scratch. I definitely never had played reggae guitar in my life! I had two weeks to learn as many songs as I could and I don’t even read music. It was such a challenge to step up to but I just thought – when will I get a chance like this again?! I’ll just do the best job I can and try and rep for them. The two of them, Ari and Tessa, are just so wise, so giving of the history of what needed to be done when it came to representing women in music and demanding respect. That was just amazing. Seeing their camaraderie and how they were really just like sisters…it’s not a perspective many people have had access to, so to be part of it was really an honor.
You joined The 1865 in 2017, a band formed by writer/director/musician Sacha Jenkins. How did that come about?
I had known Sasha for years and would often run into him randomly on 14th street. We hadn’t seen each for years though, until we saw each other at a secret Bad Brains show and a few months after that he reached out about the band.
When listening to The 1865’s album, Don’t Tread on We, it’s clear the band has goals politically and socially beyond just making awesome music. What do you hope people take away when they hear the songs?
It’s multi layered. I feel like in a way we’re reclaiming the ownership, because so much rock was pioneered by black Americans. We are reclaiming that. To write about specific characters in history was really thrilling and really fun and definitely pushed me as a writer, finding those parallels to what is going on now… We hope to start dialogues with people, to get them thinking – that was really the mission…
And will we see a new release soon?
We’ve started recording again, at Applehead Studios in Woodstock, NY. We recorded 3 new songs and also invited Simi Stone back to play violin which was amazing. We are always writing, we hope to get something out in 2021.
Even throughout this strange year, you’ve been doing some really cool things as a solo artist and as a band. Tell us some of the highlights you’ve managed to experience during the pandemic?
I got invited to play at this place called The Fringe Salon in Soho (NYC). They were doing sort of street activist shows, with live paintings by my friend Konstance Patton. That was my first time really going into Manhattan in months. I also hadn’t played outside since the Howl Festival 20 years ago in Tompkins Square Park and playing on the street was really soul affirming. So many people were making comments -“oh my God, I miss live music” – and it made me realize, wow I really miss playing. The band then got invited to Mass MOCA for their reopening weekend, unfortunately the whole band couldn’t travel so just myself and Biz our drummer played. It was very stripped down but so powerful. That opened the door to us being invited to play New Stages at Lincoln Center outdoors, a socially distanced event, amazing sound and of course, again the entire event was outside. I also have been playing recently at these really fun outdoor shows with my bands Bachslider and The 1865 at a weekly punk pop up show In Bushwick curated by the hardcore band Rebelmatic
What events or shows did you and the bands miss due to covid restrictions?
The 1865 was supposed to open for Metallica at the Aftershock Fest. I’m also in this two tone band called Heavensbee and we were supposed to play the Specialized Festival in England and also got an offer for tentative dates to tour with The Untouchables. And I was planning to do solo gigs in France and the U.K. after.
If there was a soundtrack to your life what songs would have to be on there?
Definitely Eric’s Trip by Sonic Youth, At The Marble Bar by Death Comet Crew, and Rock Box by Run DMC, Who Do You Love by Bo Diddley, and Tuesday Afternoon by The Moody Blues
What musician makes you feel like a geeked out fan?
When I was younger, even before I knew I wanted to be an artist or play guitar, I was just really drawn to Chrissie Hynde, I still am. I’m also super fixated with Sonic Youth, like obsessed! I love everything that Kim Gordon does…I read her book, I love her paintings, I love her presence. And then I’m a total nerd for Bo Diddley because he’s the first person I saw playing guitar as a kid and also his fashion sense is so sick! His style, the way he would dance, his humor, his lyrics.. And his guitar playing influenced the group Bow Wow Wow, who were one of my favorite artists as well.
What would you change about the music industry OR what would you like to see happening within the music industry that isn’t happening now.
I would like to see more flexibility with genres and categories. When you talk to a real music lover, they know: there’s just so much more out there then what is presented to people. And I know that’s coming from the music industry just not trusting the audience enough. It’s like a paint box – there are more than just 4 colors
Since President Elect Joe Biden won the election and there is now an actual start to a transfer of power, I keep hearing The Specials song in my head “It’s The Dawning of a New Era”. If it is the dawning of a new era, What would you like to see happen in this new era?
Since this year has been so heavy and so dark, this accountability seems to be a highlight and it feels like different communities are stepping up to be more accountable for how unfair things have been. So with this new era I’m hoping that our new president and vice president will stand up and not play it safe, because there’s too much at risk.
What is something you believe everyone can do in their daily lives, that can help save the planet?
It’s so boring but I have to say recycling and not littering. That’s just such an easy thing to do. When people think it’s too expensive to be eco-friendly and are not sure how to do it right… Buy less things that come in single use plastic, and that’s something I’m working on also. Also, just buy less in general. Be really selective about what you purchase, buy second hand if you can, trade, just to cut down on the footprint.
How would you define beauty in one word?
I believe beauty and joy are parallel – because when someone feels joy they radiate.
If anyone reading this wanted to make a donation to any cause of your choice, who would you want them to donate to and why?
Black Lives Matter Louisville https://blackliveslouisville.org/
My hometown of Louisville, Kentucky has been a hotbed of civil unrest and social justice uprisings post the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. I would like to direct more funding and support to these organizations who are exposing the reality of life there, as well as fighting for justice.
ACLU Bail Out Fund https://www.aclu.org/issues/smart-justice/bail-reform
The ACLU Bail Out Fund has gone above and beyond to stand up for activists putting their lives on the line during Covid-19 (as we know the virus is rampant inside the jail and prison systems nationwide).
Girls Rock Louisville https://www.girlsrocklouisville.org/
To give other girls and femme identified women / womxn hope and inspiration.
Black Rock Coalition http://blackrockcoalition.org/
The Black Rock Coalition is celebrating 35 years of equity and advocacy for black rock musicians. They have been a source of inspiration, mentorship and support and with everything shut down, not able to garner the same level of membership that was possible before Covid-19. Despite it all they keep going strong and are producing virtual events with guests from around the world. We all need hope and music to get us through this and the BRC needs our help.