The ebb and flow of modern hardcore music always finds a reason to stir up something new and exciting: the popularity of other genres that can comfortably merge its way into punk, specific cities that can all of a sudden become almost sentient and explode with giant crest of new bands, and most recently, political climates. However, in the vast proverbial ocean that is hardcore, there is a continuing series of waves that seem to always seem to make their way around — waves of toxic masculinity, waves of unequal representation in a music genre created to let those angry enough to tell about it do so.
In steps Gouge Away, a four-piece outfit from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They put on a powerful live performance showcasing classically constructed hardcore chords that comfortably remind you of the bands that helped you fall in love with this genre, riveted into place by drums that are absolutely punishing. Perhaps most importantly is the message peaking through with a penetrating voice and the narrative lyrics that can only be properly conveyed in one tone — the tone of fury.
These songs make you angry, and rightfully so.
I spoke with vocalist Christina Michelle about the direction of Gouge Away and their own brand of contemporary hardcore which is helping pave the way for a new dawn of future legends.
Free Press Houston: Let’s start at the beginning with Gouge Away’s culmination. What has been the driving force behind the creation of this band and its relentless venture to make hardcore a better place?
Michelle: I had been going to shows for so long. I loved to get involved with booking shows, singing along to bands, and helping the community any way I could, including benefit shows, bake sales, and distributing zines and compilations. I always dreamed of touring, so I would book tours for my friends’ bands and then accompany them as a merch girl. I always dreamed of being in a band, but since it was so extremely rare to see women playing the shows I liked to go to, it just didn’t seem like a real possibility to me at all. Which is so silly to think about now when I consider all the work I put in. There was a period of time where I felt like I didn’t belong at shows anymore and lost interest in participating. And then I happened to see Paint It Black for the first time because a friend got me in. They spoke about everything I cared about and reminded me of what I always wanted to be. I remember sitting in the car ranting to a friend about everything wrong in the world and in the scene and I ended it with “And that’s why I want to start a band!” So I bothered some friends and that’s what we did.
FPH: The newest release, a cassingle (now available as a limited tour 7”) featuring “Swallow” b/w “Sweat,” while not a far cry from the previous releases, sounds like a natural progression sonically. Can you tell me about this direction and these songs specifically?
Michelle: I think the most honest answer is that we have rushed everything in our existence until that point. And it makes total sense. We started the band just for fun and paid for practice and recording time out of pocket so we really had no choice but to do everything in as little time as possible because that’s all we could afford. After touring and playing together more than we ever thought we would, we gained a natural chemistry and a better understanding of what we, surprisingly, always aimed to do. It makes us all so much more excited about writing and recording now. I think instead of just doing it “for fun” we have found more enjoyment in challenging ourselves and each other to try new things, which makes us all stronger as individuals.
FPH: On the forefront of Gouge Away songs are lyrics that help give a voice to those who have been otherwise drowned out. Can you describe in far better terms than I can what inspires your lyrics to those who may be unfamiliar?
Michelle: It’s all pulled from my own experiences or what people are going through around me. A heavy theme is dealing with sexual abuse for sure. When we were writing Dies I was a kindergarten teacher. I looked at everything going on in the world and then would go to school and see all these amazing children who are so open minded and hungry for education. All the issues just seemed so basic: People shouldn’t be treated differently because of their skin color; gender stereotypes don’t make sense; homelessness is inhumane; people with special needs or financial instability shouldn’t be set up to fail. In the classroom, we would discuss a lot about the world — they wanted to — and it was always such simple conversations.
“Why does she have two moms?”
“Some kids have a mom and dad, some have a mom, some have a dad, some have their grandparents, some have two dads, some have two moms.”
It would upset me to think that if the world didn’t get better a lot of these kids who coexisted and wanted to be understanding of everyone would eventually end up having a harder life than others over some bullshit that was out of their control. Some of them were already victims of poverty. One child told the class that there were gunshots in his neighborhood, and he was afraid Santa wasn’t going to come to his apartment. He apologized to me that he didn’t get me a Christmas present like some of the other kids. And I was like, “I’m just so happy you’re here!”
We get distracted and wrapped up in a lot of things that don’t matter and forget what others are going through. I was never someone who cared about politics. I just cared about people. Dies being a political album wasn’t entirely planned; it just felt necessary at time. Organically, our new material is following the theme of mental health because that’s something that’s been consuming me the past few years. There’s a stigma against talking about these issues, and I think that’s so incredibly dangerous because if it weren’t for my friends group being so open and validating, I don’t know where I’d be.
FPH: On that note, over the course of time we have known each other I have paid close attention to the band-related news, photos and videos. Each time I look at a photo or video, I am noticing you, surrounded by a sea of people, yelling your words right back at you. Is it inspiring to see the reaction you invoke, and it is all very emotional? Have there been any particularly moving moments that come to mind during your lifespan as a band?
Michelle: Oh yes. There are so many times I’ve cried or almost cried — so many strangers I’ve hugged. It’s bittersweet that people relate to the music. I don’t want anyone to go through anything terrible, but if we help people at all, that’s really special and surreal. Even though being vulnerable can be extremely emotionally draining at times, it also leads to connections with others on a very deep level.
FPH: This marks Gouge Away’s second stint with Touche Amore on the road. On top of seeming incredibly supportive, you both seem to intertwine when on the road. How have the two bands interacted and bonded with each other over time?
Michelle: Oh my gosh. They are so supportive and kind which means a lot because I have been a huge fan of theirs since they started touring. I met Jeremy when I was on tour with my sister. She was playing a late show in South Carolina. We pulled up and I saw Touché Amoré loading out of a venue next door. I was so upset that I missed them that I ran up to Jeremy — he was surrounded by people talking to him and I kind of barged in and interrupted — saying I was from Florida and I would have been at the show if I knew. He got us into their show the next day in North Carolina, and I gave him a burned CD that was a super terrible Gouge Away demo. I really can’t express how happy I am that he didn’t judge us based off that because we kept up with each other ever since, and now we’ve got a release on his label, Secret Voice. Being able to tour with them is literally a dream come true, and it makes it so much more of an enjoyable experience knowing how cool they are. We learned a lot from them on the last tour and we can’t wait to bother them some more.
FPH: Speaking up for the girls to the front movement — which is soundly needed in this community — is there any advice you would give to anyone wanting to start a band with a similar mission?
Michelle: Don’t stop trying. I attempted to start a band with so many different combinations of people, and it would have been a huge disappointment if I gave up the first time a band didn’t work out. There are people out there for you to make it happen. A problem I have with learning new instruments and with trying new things with vocals is that we have to remember that we’re not going to be good on the first try — nobody is. Be prepared for people to reject what you have to say, but let that be the fuel that reminds you exactly how important your message is. People will try to pit you against and compare you to other women, but we’re all stronger than that and it’s so much more validating working together as opposed to trying to be the “best” in the eyes of some Twitter dude with Cheeto-stained fingers. Most importantly, be honest with yourself. Do only what you feel comfortable with, and write for yourself and nobody else.
FPH: As the word spreads, and the LP continues to make its way onto “Best Of” lists, the future seems bright. Are there any upcoming endeavors people should be on the lookout for?
Michelle: We are writing our butts off and are working super hard on a new full-length. That’s pretty much 100 percent of our focus when we get home from this tour.
Catch Gouge Away at White Oak Music Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 20 as direct support for Touche Amore and Single Mothers. Be sure to pick up their new single, “Swallow,” or their full length LP, “Dies,” while you’re there.