ART SCHOOL JOCKS DISCUSS NEW MUSIC, ACTIVISM, AND ATLANTA
Written by Alex Kemp
Art School Jocks, the “existential basement pop,” all women band from Atlanta, recently released their first self-titled EP on June 2. Band members, Ali Bragg, Camille Lindsley, Deborah Hudson, and Diana Settles come together to create a moving EP that is frank and thoughtful. The group signed to Father/Daughter this past spring, joining a label that represents the likes of Diet Cig, Hiccup, and Loose Tooth among other indie bands. The EP discusses the problems of patriarchy and rape culture, dualities within body language, and notable mentions of Black Lives Matter and other movements that hit home for most, especially in 2017. The new EP has received much deserved attention and hype over these past few weeks, with each song on the album having a distinct sound and message. The cohesiveness of the album can be felt throughout the lo-fi, melodic, and distinctively catchy hooks of each song.
The song “Just A Gwen” has received extensive praise for it’s commentary on rape culture, with the repetitive lyrics that most women are all too familiar with hearing more often than not:
Lock your doors/ Always have someone walk you to your car/ Cover your legs up/ Watch your drink/
What makes Art School Jocks even more noteworthy, beyond their new music, is their commitment to social justice within the Atlanta area. At their most recent show at local venue 529, they led an impassioned discussion on the current fight for a Community Benefits Agreement for the residents of the area surrounding the recently shut down Turner Field –an action now known as #TentCityAtl, where residents held 50+ days of camping in front of the field, until this issue is resolved amongst residents, developers, and Georgia State University’s president, Mark Becker.
I recently caught up with the women of Art School Jocks to discuss their new album, Atlanta’s activism, and being women in such a heavily male-dominated scene:
Tell me a little bit about how you all ended up forming this band? Did you all know each other beforehand?
Crisscrossing roads that eventually all met! Ali and Deborah used to work at the same coffee shop together. Dianna and Camille knew each other through punk music circuits in Atlanta. Same goes for Deborah and Dianna, though separately from Camille. Art School Jocks came to be after a few months of playing music here and there with each other, in pairs, threes, and eventually all together in the summer of 2015.
The label you’re signed with, Father/Daughter, describes your music as “existential basement pop”, can you explain a little bit about what that means?
Heh, well “basement pop” can be explained simply. Our practice space is a basement (adorned with colored lights and Dianna’s art), and we write pop songs. For us, pop means… melodic and simply structured (verse + chorus style) and hooky. Under that broad umbrella, we lean towards punk, post-punk, and rock.
As for the “existential” tag, pretty sure that was proposed humorously and, upon reflection, felt right as a way to communicate our attitude toward writing music – that is, sort of philosophical and self aware. In writing, we consider our musical precedents, our artistic goals, our roles as performers, and our perceived listener.
Do you think being an all-female group has been a different or more challenging experience versus being in a band with more (or all) males?
There’s a lot to be said here, and probably still a lot that we haven’t considered. As a group of women in a patriarchal society, our experience of making music together is bound to be very different from that of bands made up of cis-men. The challenges we’ve encountered as an all-woman act are arguably pretty standard experiences for women and femmes in this society – being tokenized, being dismissed, being objectified. Fortunately, this hasn’t yet been terribly common for us in Atlanta. We’ve been met by pretty overwhelming support and understanding in our music scene, which seems to become increasingly preoccupied with social activism and intersectional feminism with the help of acts like Mutual Jerk, Bitter, Femignome, Sequoyah, Phishmonger, Shepherds, and Blammo.
What, or who, influences your music?
Ah yes, the proverbial influences question! We love this question but it’s sort of an ongoing joke that we never know how to answer it because our music backgrounds are so varied. Each band member will speak for theirself:
Ali: Oasis, Credence Clearwater Revival, David Bowie, Al Green, Spoon, Gorillaz, The killers, Hank Williams,
and The Kinks.
Dianna: The Shangri Las, Sonic Youth, Ronnie Spector, Cibo Matto, X, Neu!, Lush, Frank Ocean, Aaliyah, Belle and Sebastian, Shinobu, Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Camille: Alice in Chains, Rose McDowall, The Prodigy
Deborah: Green Day, The Beach Boys, Chicano Batman, Stevie Wonder, The Doors, SZA, Third Eye Blind, The Cardigans, The Promise Ring, Rihanna, Rob Gal.
I know you all recently finished a tour in the southeast, how
A little rough around the edges but serene! We dealt with sound difficulties the nights we played, but we couldn’t have been in more generous company. Just as one example, our friend Max made us coffee and from-scratch biscuits the morning after we played Greensboro! We sadly didn’t make it to our Athens show because we got a flat tire on a Saturday evening after all the tire repair stores had closed (ALWAYS BRING A SPARE!). We were towed to the parking lot of a Super Walmart to wait for their tire center to open, and we really managed to make the best of it. We had a family dinner at the nearest Pizza Hut and played travel-sized Clue and ate ice cream in the van until we went to sleep. This answer is very food-focused.
Your new album was released on June 2, can you tell us a little bit about the structure of the album, and what you want your fans the get out of this album?
The album that was just recently released is our self-titled EP. These are songs we wrote leading up to fall of last year. Structure-wise we went with what was intuitive, trying to keep things dynamic for the listener. On our Father/Daughter tapes, the songs are framed by sound clips of laundry tossing in the dryer in the basement where we practice, and incidentally where we recorded the EP. If there’s any desired takeaway for folks who listen to our music, it’s that artistic collaboration in a supportive environment yields cool things. Also, you don’t have to be super proficient at an instrument to write music you love. Pay attention to the sounds you’re already drawn to, give them a respectful nod in your music. Don’t be afraid to mess up or improvise because accidents can be fruitful. Also, don’t be scared to get lost in the details. You can always come back up for air.
Your song "Just A Gwen" has what I think is a really important discussion about rape culture. Can you explain some of that song, and why you think it’s important to be discussing these issues within your music?
Just a Gwen is written on behalf of anyone who has endured any sort of street/sexual harassment. As a woman/femme person there is an entire lifetime reminding you that not only is the burden of proof on you but the responsibility to prevent sexual assault is seen by society as your own personal undertaking. There are the constant reminders that you should dress down, keep a curfew, carry some sort of weapon, and maintain politeness all the while... it's infuriating! Being able to work through some of the frustrations that have become so engrained in daily experience through songwriting is a release and it's natural to want to use it as a way to open dialogue with others who have shared those frequencies that we are told not to “ask” for the wrong attention (as if that were ever such a thing) and constantly be on the lookout. In Dianna’s mind, the openness with which these occurrences are discussed will hopefully lead to more men and allies who are not confronted with these realities gleaning a better understanding and feeling more inclined to intervene amongst friends and socialization leading to women feeling safer.
On another song you’ve released, "Nina," you say a line “Black Lives Matter to me/ remember all that came before thee.”
What inspired this song?
Without being wholly aware of it at the time the song was written, the lyrics to “Nina” mark a shift in Deborah’s take on the possibilities afforded by songwriting and art. Songs can be intimate reflections upon deeply personal experiences while simultaneously making brazen and critical statements about larger forces of abuse and injustice. These two lines are meant to be somewhat anthemic and plainly state support for our Black family in a nation sprung forth from white supremacy. These beginnings persist in violent ways. This song asks of the listener: Remember all that came before you. Don’t suppress or forget the history of land-grabs, lives, deaths, experiences, and resistance movements that have preceded you and brought us to where we are now.
I think one of the things that I, along with others, really love about your music is that you take stances in your songs. At your most recent show in Atlanta, you all discussed something that is happening here in Atlanta called #TentCityATL. Can you tell me some about Tent City and why it was important to you? If other people want to get involved with Tent City and what it represents, what would be your suggestions for them?
Tent City ATL is a protest against unsustainable development practices by Georgia State University and Carter Development. The latter two entities have purchased Turner Field and some of the surrounding land with the intention of repurposing the park for GSU
sports and building a mixed-use development that would include housing and retail. In response to this purchase, residents from the Peoplestown, Summerhill, Pittsburgh, and Mechanicsville neighborhoods surrounding Turner Field drew up a Community Benefits Agreement for GSU and Carter to sign, ensuring that these residents would not be displaced by this project and that their safety, economic welfare, and general livelihood would be a continued priority by those introducing new business and people to their blocks. When GSU and Carter refused to sign this contract, residents, other organizers, and allies erected a tent city at the gates of Turner Field to protest the profit-over-people mentality that has time and again ejected Black residents from their homes in this city. On the morning of June 2nd, the day our EP was released, a team of GSU Police raided and leveled Tent City, effectively terminating what had become a community base, congregation space, and resource hub.
This is important to us because we’re baseline empathetic people who don’t want to ignore people’s pleas to keep their homes and security. Gentrification is a capitalist weapon wielded against Black communities, and f*ck that shit. GSU and Carter need to the sign the CBA. For now, if you want to support Tent City ATL, follow the hashtag #tentcityatl on social media and donate to their page here. Keep your eyes peeled, this isn’t over.
Now that the album is about to be released, what are your plans?
Write, write, write, hang out, play the occasional show, tour again, cheerlead for other Atlanta artists... maybe eventually put out a full length. ;)