Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lusting after Norwich: Interview with The Brownies and Bearsuit

I've been fantasizing for some time now about running away to Norwich. I've even done a little research into visas and if I would be considered a "highly skilled migrant." I wonder if there is a need for expressive arts therapists in Norwich? You are probably wondering why I have such a fascination with a place I've never been to, so many thousands of miles away from Boston, right? Well, because they have an amazing girl-friendly music scene happening right now, and it's really exciting to me. The funny thing is, most of the people I've talked to in Norwich seem to consider it a total norm to have so many girls in bands, so they've never even spent much time thinking about it.

I wish that were the case in Boston. Here, it is a common occurrence if you are in one of the rare girl bands to be forced to play first at shows (even if you've been around for several years are are tight/really good) and the all-boy punk band who has been around for 2 months gets to play later, when more people show up to the gig. Ugh.

I'm really interested in how this Norwich scene was created and nurtured, so I asked Maxie from The Brownies and Lisa from Bearsuit to answer some questions for me. And I'm going to spend some time in the upcoming weeks to explore some of the other awesome Norwich bands with you.

The Brownies

I'm looking at this from an outside perspective, but I'm curious what do you think the scene is like in Norwich?

Maxie Brownie: It's brilliant. We are so lucky to have so many good bands to go and see and play with every week. We thought it was normal, and all scenes were like it, but when we got out of Norwich and started touring, we realised how rare it is. Most of us are friends too, so it's nice to just be involved and be part of something that really excites us all.

Lisa Bearsuit: I think we do have a strong scene here and have had for a number of years. The thing with Norwich is that it’s quite small and insular, and surrounded by just miles and miles of farmland, which I think breeds a lot of creativity because there‘s not a whole lot else to do. You just get more and more people starting up bands, and the more bands there are, the more gigs and promoters and rehearsal studios and zines there are, and all of that going on inspires more people to jump onboard and start making music themselves. It’s a sort of snowball effect. We all know each other and in general everybody is supportive of each other’s bands.

And specifically, what is the scene in Norwich like for females?

Maxie Brownie: It's easy really. People don't even think twice about it. Most of the best Norwich bands have females in them - but it's not a novelty or a gimmick, they're just brilliant bands playing gggreat music. It's easier for girls (and guys) to develop their style in a scene where you don't feel like your gender will hold you back. I took this for granted until we went up North.

Lisa Bearsuit: I don’t tend to think about how the scene is different for females really, except that perhaps there are so many girls in bands here that that in itself will encourage more girls to learn to play guitar or drums or whatever. The entire scene is supportive and encouraging, whether you're male or female.


In your opinion, how was this culture created (and nurtured) -- to have so many great bands, with so many female musicians?

Maxie Brownie: I think it started with bands like Kaito, Bearsuit, and probably even with bands in the 80's like Vital Disorders. Girls have always played an important role in the Norwich scene. When you have those kind of role models, for us it was Le Tetsuo, Pistolas, and Bearsuit, you have something to aspire to. Although there are female bands in the mainstream, there's usually a gimmick with them, or some kind of selling point that makes them so removed from what we're doing. When you're going out every week watching your favourite bands playing amazing shows in local venues, you just want to be a part of it. The other bands embrace you, which I think is important. Especially for us, because we formed in high school, which was dominated by male wankery bands who just laughed at us, it was so important to come out of that and be accepted into a scene that encouraged female activity.

Lisa Bearsuit: I would definitely cite Kaito as a massive inspiration. I remember going to see them, probably in the late 1990s and being completely blown away, but also thinking that I could probably do that if I put my mind to it. I think there are actually a lot of women in bands in every city, but perhaps the difference in Norwich is that the scene is so healthy and inventive in general that the bar is already set very high, making our ladies really stand out right now. Also we put a lot of work and effort in and try really hard. It’s easy for a girl band to play the same kind of boring, poorly written, and dismally performed songs as your average all-male pub band but somehow get more of an audience and a presence just because they’re women. Like, swap the line up for men, and would you really be so interested? Would they really stand out? I think we’re all trying to aim a bit higher than that.

What role does feminism have in this scene?

Maxie Brownie:: I can only really speak on behalf of my band here, because everyone has different views on it. But I think that feminism plays a big part in the scene. A lot of our lyrics have feminist subjects. I think the category of "feminism" scares people these days. But I don't think we're scared of it in Norwich, because we've got the backdrop of this supportive scene that gives girls the platform and opportunity to say what they really think. Because of this, anything less will not do.

Lisa Bearsuit:: I’m not sure it’s particularly feminist, or at least not in the traditional sense. We’re not all burning our bras or anything, but on the whole there’s a lot of good solid female friendships which is really important. Also with most bands there’s no bitching and we’re all really supportive of each other so there’s a definite riot grrrl attitude! I guess we’re making headway in an industry that’s traditionally male oriented so big thumbs up there too! Booooom!

How did your band start/evolve?

Maxie Brownie: We (The Brownies) started in GCSE music in high school. Then we just progressed from there really. We got new members to get better as a band, and have just been working hard for about 4 years now. We're all close friends, and I think that's important in the successful evolution of a band.

Lisa Bearsuit: Me and Iain Ross met at school and were childhood sweethearts. We met Jan at university, all bought electric guitars and decided to start a band (Bearsuit) after seeing Kaito play at the Arts Centre. We recruited further band mates Matt, Richard and Cerian, who have since left and been replaced by Joe and Charlene who we’ve been friends with for a long while.

What is your relationship like with these other bands?

Maxie Brownie: Grreat! We love most of the bands in Norwich on a personal level. I live and sleep with Ellie from Fever Fever, and Sophie, our singer, gets all satisfied with Lee from Uh Ohs (RIP). We speak to and drink with lots of bands - most of our friends are in bands. Other than that, we like to help anyone out that we can, as others have done for us. I make a zine all about Norwich music called Gravy, which documents all the exciting things happening in Norwich, so all round, we heart Norwich.

Lisa Bearsuit: Really good. I forgot to mention the scene here is really incestuous so everyone’s in other bands, and going out with each other, and all that stuff. So yeah, we’re like one big weird sexy family.

What advice do you have for people in other cities/towns who would like to create a similar girl-friendly (or just gender balanced for that matter!) music scene?

Maxie Brownie: Just keep going, and don't get put off by other people's opinions. As long as it feels good, then it's right. To create this type of scene, you just need to get the ball rolling, and people will follow.

Lisa Bearsuit: Well, anyone can be in a band, it doesn't even matter if you can’t play too good. Just go for it, and be strict, and practice, and be confident, and inventive, and really push yourself to be as good as you can be. That kinda goes for boys and girls.


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