With the various opportunities that came with going to Vans Warped Tour, it was a pleasure to interview Shawna Potter, vocals of War On Women. After their set, we met with Shawna by the War On Women merch tent and talked to a bit before heading off with the Missus to conduct the interview.
Pardo Photography: Alright, it’s recording. So, you were saying on stage it was your first Warped Tour, right?
Shawna Potter: Yeah.
PP: So, what’s it been like so far? Has it been good?
SP: Yeah, yeah, actually. I did a lot of theatre in junior high so, the whole, like, massive production part of it, I really respect how much they do every day. Just getting things set up and ready to rock and making sure everyone knows what’s happening all the time, it’s really amazing. Everyone that we’ve come across with is really nice and they just want the show to go well.
PP: That’s awesome!
SP: Yeah, it’s been really great!
PP: So, what is the craziest thing that’s ever happen to you on tour?
SP: Oh dear! Ok.
SP: So, I will try not to use the word crazy, right? I wanna be cool mitts here. But, I would say one of the most draining things for me, that’s ever happened, was we played in LA and there was, like, one guy in the audience that was basically just beating people up like, no one was in a pit with him. He was alone, literally going around the circle and just punching everyone in the face.
PP: Oh my goodness!
SP: And so, he created a pit by himself. I got in it and just kinda went, y’know, held my arms out, held my legs out, had a wide stance and tried to just prevent him from doing that. So, I just took up a lot of space and I said, “you can dance but you can’t just beat people up so, I’m going to stay here until you guys learn how to dance. I’ll show you how.” And the next song starts and I fuckin’ actually dancing. It’s not, like, fuckin’ beating people up. So, it took, like, two songs for people to get it and to stop fucking around and then I got back on the stage and I kinda still had to watch out for them a little bit and just, like, emotionally, I felt like that was really draining and, y’know, we focus so much on safety of women and girls at shows – and queer folks, especially. That was not just me having to talk about it. I had to step in as an ally, like, even though I am a woman and I am subject to that same kind of violence, I was in a position of power because I had a microphone. So, I had to be an ally to everyone in the audience.
SP: And it was just, really- it was a lot. It was just a lot for me. So, that was intense, I would say.
PP: Ok. Who or what, would you say, is you biggest influence in your music?
SP: Oh, I mean, it’s a lot of stuff, y’know? I like bands that are influenced by a lot of different things because it keeps it from being stale. So, y’know, in the van, we are listening to Murphys and Propagandhi, of course, but we’re also listening to Stevie Wonder and Beyoncé and Katie Perry and, like, John Coltrain and Blondie and Ladyhawk and all kinds of stuff. We all have our likes and dislikes and I think it comes together really nicely.
PP: That’s awesome! Is there anything you’re working on presently that you’d like to talk about?
SP: We are working on a new record. So, when we get back home from Warped Tour, we’re going to work on a new record and it’ll probably be out next calendar year. Our only focuses this year, really, are Warped Tour and this new record. And trying to stay healthy and happy in this political climate.
PP: That has got to be insanely hard on tour, though, staying healthy.
SP: It is very hard, actually. I mean, the one thing about Warped Tour, the scale is so big that you are definitely getting exercise every day. Whether you want to or not. Haha! So, that’s one thing. So, we’re just remembering to hydrate and talk things out; active listening. Like, interpersonal skills are actually extremely necessary and valid.
PP: I feel you. I don’t get normal couples because most normal couples don’t talk to each other and [Torso Boy] and I talk to each other more than anything.
SP: Right, right. Exactly! It’s necessary.
PP: So, how did you and your current band meet?
SP: Me and Brooks [Harlan] were already in a band. He’s the male guitar player. We were in a band before and that’s actually why I moved to Baltimore. I was living in Nashville at the time. I opened up for his band. I was doing acoustic stuff at the time and I was, like, “I need to be in your band!” and he was, like, “Ok.” So, I moved to Baltimore and joined that band and played music. We’ve been playing music since 2002. So, eventually that old band fizzled out so he and I were like, “Let’s change directions a little bit. Let’s get a little heavier. Let’s talk about feminism, like, explicitly. No more emotions or relationships or whatever bullshit. Let’s talk about shit that’s going on! Because it matters to me. So, we just found some other people that were willing to do it and Baltimore has a lot of musicians and there were plenty of people who said, “No, I don’t want to be in a band like this,” and we eventually found people that did. We’ve had some member changes over the past six years but everyone has always been into feminism. Not everyone has an activist background like I do and not everyone knows every single thing about feminism. Which is fine as long as everyone that’s ever in the band is willing to grow with me and always be learning and be open to it and getting better.
PP: I know you obviously have a strong feminism and equality message. What would you say is the one thing you want to accomplish together as a band? The main, core message you want to get out there.
SP: Shit! Hahaha.
SP: I don’t know because, honestly, part of our existence is necessary for me. I need this band. I wanted this band to exist and it didn’t so we had to do it ourselves. I really like showing people that women can play heavy music. I also like showing that women can play heavy music and actually play the instruments in the band. Then I don’t have to sound like someone else, like someone I’m not. I don’t have to yell at people, like, RAWRAWRAWR! That’s not what my voice sounds like. Hahaha!
PP: Haha! Yeah, yeah!
SP: I wanna be able to sing and yell in a way that’s natural for me. That’s ok too. That’s anger too. It’s ok to be angry and for anger to sound like that. If I fake it, I’d sound really fake if I did anything else. I want people to know that women can play heavy music and they need to fucking care about what we’re talking about, especially today.
PP: Here’s an interesting one. Have you ever heard of cripple punk?
SP: I assume it’s like, fuck ableism, right?
PP: Pretty much. The premise is not letting your disability define you.
SP: Yeah, we have a cool band in Baltimore. The singer is this woman named Tyler Vile and she’s a trans woman who, I’m not sure if she’s saying that she’s trans right now. I think she’s into being no labels right now. You never know, it’s like Facebook. We’re friends on Facebook so every little thought she has about gender and her disability, I hear. So, I understand. Sometimes you feel this way or you feel that way. She’s a trans woman and she has, I’m not going to be able the name so I want to say it gently. She has a physical disability that makes it difficult for her to walk [Cerebral Palsy] but she fronts her own band and sits in a chair and yells in a microphone and it’s awesome!
PP: Y’know, one of the coolest experiences I’ve had with a local band was a guy in a wheelchair. They hauled him up on stage to play guitar and sing. It was country music, not my flavor, but hey! He was up there and he owned it.
SP: He represented. That’s cool.
PP: What would you say is the best way for fans to get involved with you, your band, or your cause, and I know you’re running the panel for Safer Spaces.
SP: I would love it if people bought tickets to that workshop if they are coming to Warped Tour because not only will they learn a lot about interrupting violence and how to be a good ally but it also shows Warped Tour how important this issue is for people. If someone is glad that we’re playing and if someone is glad that Safer Scenes exist here or that I’m doing a workshop, they need to tell Warped Tour. We want to make sure they know that this is something necessary and it’s something you can’t turn your back on it. You have to be down with it and they are, but they need to know they’re doing the right thing, that they made the right choice. And it need to come from y’all, it can’t come from me. Hey, you made the right choice! “Of course, you’d say that, Shawna.” When I think of people who wanna get involved, right now, just general bystander intervention skills are probably the most needed skills for anyone. It’s not just women and girls, it’s not just black folks. Everyone that’s not a white man – cis-gendered man – is subject to some bullshittery from the government, from others. Bigots are being emboldened by our current president and so, they’re coming out of the woodworks. For a while, the trajectory was they were learning that you couldn’t say this stuff in public, maybe, and you should just keep it to yourself and just tell your likeminded friends or whatever. That sucks too but there has been a spike in violence and attacks and that’s not ok. So, they are coming out of the woodworks and we as allies need to be able to say, “No! This is not ok in my community,” and what to do about it in the moment. Bystander intervention skills will tell you what to do in the moment, no matter your personality type, no matter what happens, they are actual skills that you need to learn. It’s not just, “Well I’m not racist.” That’s not enough anymore. We have to do stuff when we see it.
PP: I agree with that. Alright, my last question. Is there anything you’d like to add to what we’ve discussed or comments you want to make?
SP: There is still time to donate to Safer Scenes. It’s still up on GoFundMe. We are, luckily, running out of stickers and buttons to hand people. So, we want more. We want to finish the tour and be able to tell everyone who approaches the booth what’s going on. So, donate to that so we can keep buying those dumb stickers. Also, I feel like everything comes down to money and capital. If you actually care about these bands who stand up for something, whatever the issue is, you have to actually pay for it. Those are the bands you should be buying their music, buying tickets to their shows, buying their merch because, otherwise, they’re not going to be able to go anywhere. They can’t sustain. It’s really hard to be in a band. And big fucking bands who don’t give a shit about you, they don’t need your money. If you actually care, voting with your dollar is a real thing. Where you put your money really does matter. If we can show mainstream whatever that there is money in true social justice work then there is going to be more money thrown at it so we can do better things. So, I’d say spend your money wisely. Support artists that aren’t white, cis-gendered men. Unless they are real cool like Anti-Flag or something.
PP: Haha! Yeah, they are awesome. What would be the best way for people to communicate and be in touch with you? Twitter? Facebook?
Shawna and War On Women will be touring with Vans Warped Tour until August 6th, 2017. You can buy tickets here and check them out along with many other bands. Thank you again to Shawna and War On Women for giving us the opportunity to speak with her and I hope to see War On Women in Arizona soon.
All photos are taken by Pardo Photography.