Leon casino, War On Women. Photo: Bridge9 Records
In punk rock, the tide has been turning towards the positive over the last decade. Gone is the attitude of bro-ism that once plagued the crowds and fan bases of the pop punk world and has since been replaced with more legitimate punk music and a very aware crowd. Being misogynist, racist, sexist, and abusive is not allowed in punk anymore, and those who lead the charge are doing so with more vigor and awareness than most who came before them. Baltimore’s War On Women is definitely one of the bands that’s leading that movement. Aside from a fiery live show, their message of feminism within their co-ed lineup has become a calling card worth listening and paying attention to. This summer, they’re taking that message to a broader audience when they perform on the Vans Warped Tour. Free Press Houston was more than thrilled to speak with lead singer Shawna Potter about where the band has been, where they’re going, and what they have planned for their Warped Tour appearance here in late July.
Free Press Houston: The band has been around since 2011 and you’ve received all sorts of critical praise. Has anything changed since you started?
War On Women: Nothing about our message or priorities has changed. Maybe a few more people know about our band, and as we all know, critical praise does not equal fame and fortune, [laughs] but we’re still doing our thing: playing shows, writing songs, and putting an inclusive feminist ethos front and center. Hopefully we’re always growing and becoming better feminists and musicians.
FPH: You’re known for your stances on feminist messages, but you also cover political topics like mass shootings and overall rights. Did you ever think the message of the band would get as much press and as much traction as it has when you started?
War On Women: We weren’t thinking about it like that, honestly. The stuff we’re talking about is important to us and we felt it necessary to get this message out, for ourselves really, knowing — hoping? — that others might find something valuable in it as well. And to be clear, mass shootings and overall rights, as you say, are feminist issues. That’s the thing. Basically any issue will affect women and the LGBTQ communities in a unique way, and that is why it’s imperative that everyone have a say in government and media through representation. Mass shootings are often performed by white men experiencing a kind of toxic masculinity that is rooted in the idea that to be a man is to be as different from a woman as possible, while desiring them — or being confused about not desiring them — and hating them at the same time. If we were to allow men in our culture to experience a full spectrum of human emotion without shame, while emphasizing that women are autonomous human beings who don’t owe you anything, then frankly we’d all be better off.
FPH: After this last election, it feels like the country went backwards, and now we’re in a more unsafe and draconian era. Does the message of the band change at all under this administration, or is the goal to just get it out to more and more people?
War On Women: It’s been very difficult for me to think of a “plan” for this band in this new era. I am still waiting for a time when looking at 45’s face doesn’t physically sicken me or remind me of his admitted and alleged sexual assaults. I am certainly not giving up, and one reason we are playing Vans Warped Tour all summer is to get our message out to more people who might not hear it otherwise. While feminism has an actual definition despite pervasive misunderstandings, there are certainly different tactics in getting the message across. I’m happy to play heavier music in front of folks who didn’t show up to see us and maybe try to convert some of the uninitiated.
FPH: The last time you played Houston, you played at Walter’s, the city’s most progressive and feminist leaning venue. Did it shock you that the crowd reception was so positive down here in the South?
War On Women: Well, I came from somewhere, right?! I was born in Houston and I’ve spent a bit of my life there, and I know if riot grrl found me in junior high before the internet was in every home, then of course it’s possible for people to find progressive, female- and queer-friendly music now. I was super excited to meet all the young women in bands or who want to start bands, and to see everyone singing along, it was a beautiful thing!
FPH: Your last album came out well before all of the negativity that the last election has brought upon the country. For your next release, what do you have planned and will you focus it more towards this currently tone deaf administration and those who voted for them?
War On Women: Again, I can’t even look at 45 and I don’t wanna even talk about him. I don’t know if I’m looking more forward or still in a weird state of shock or denial or what. I’m still processing it personally. So that is certainly affecting me. It’s also not very easy for our band to create and respond to events in “real time,” it’s just not something we can handle logistically or financially, so that leaves us with either writing a record that is immediately dated upon it’s release, or trying to touch upon themes at least that are bigger in scope than specific current events. Or a healthy mix of both, but the shit hits the fan too fast and in too great a quantity to keep up these days, you know!? I’m trying to just let my creative process do it’s thing at the moment.
FPH: I caught your Houston and Sound On Sound dates last year, and I found your show to be a mix of sonic assault, fevered energy, and community based message. For those who’ve never seen the band before, what should they come to expect from you at your Vans Warped Tour appearance?
War On Women: That’s high praise, thank you. I mean, if everyone felt that way we’d all be in good shape, I think! You know I try to put myself in the shoes of everyone attending, and at the core I would really love people to truly understand that there is no one way to be a woman. And if women can be different, can be individuals, then that implies that we are human and deserve respect; we’re not just play things to be ogled at or abused. And if me and Sue feel free to be ourselves on stage, maybe those watching can feel free to be themselves as well. We’re not rail thin, we have cellulite, I have bacne and bad teeth and stuff, you know? We are middle class and white, so we have plenty of privilege in life, but as far as getting on a stage and asserting that we have a voice that deserves to be heard, and we’re not asking nicely, and we don’t look like models? I think that is something every girl, queer, and trans kid should see, so they know their voice deserves to be heard, too. Just as important, boys need see that every girl, queer, and trans kid’s voice deserves to be heard, so I guess it’s good that Warped is letting them in this year [laughs].
There’s nothing tame about a set from War On Women, and as a guy who’s seen them more than once, they definitely will make sure that their voices will get heard when they perform. You can see War On Women at this year’s Vans Warped Tour. The all ages event will be in Houston on July 30 at NRG Park. With gates at 11 am and tickets between $41.50 and $51.50, the tour has plenty of depth this year with sets from Candiria, Bowling For Soup, I Prevail, Riverboat Gamblers and many many more. Discounted tickets are available from these Journey’s locations while they last as well.