June 16, 2016

Interview: T-Rextasy

T-Rextasy will make you wanna be a punk rocker.

In the T-Rextasy song “Chik’N”, vocalist Lyris Faron roars, “Each time that you call me pastry, you chip away at my agency.” This sentiment sums up a lot of what T-Rextasy’s music means, as the band crafts humorous and empowering anthems fueled with quick wit and feminist punk ethos. The band’s full-length debut Jurassic Punk is well-grounded in the rawness of punk with songs that are addictive, lively, and above all, fun. The LP plays with a dose of levity and catchy pop-punk melodies that feel like an accelerated sugar rush. T-Rextasy writes from a place of personal experiences – from gap-year heartbreakers to condescending pet names like “cupcake” or “honey pie.” Faron’s loose conversational lyrics are full of images you can’t shake and quippy one-liners that are powerful enough to crush anyone that bullied you as a teen.  

In my senior year of high school, I witnessed T-Rextasy perform for the first time ever at a house party in Tribeca. The Breeders blasted from the stereo as girls chatted, danced, and applied temporary dinosaur tattoos. Punk kids from around the city piled into the living room while pizza was passed freely among friends. A swinging, propulsive kick silenced teenage chatter and set off “I Wanna Be A Punk Rocker” with immediate fervor. Faron swayed across the living room with moves akin to a female Mick Jagger as she delivered each word vigorously: “I know I didn’t select a very lucrative art / but I gotta listen to the beating of my moshing heart.” The party broke into a frenzy with the exuberance of T-Rextasy that invited everyone on to the dance floor. Loud, animated shrieks fill the room as the band joins in unison,“I do love you / I do father / but I wanna be a punk rocker.”

T-Rextasy’s songs gleam with bright, well-tuned hooks and insightful lyrics that tackle young women’s daily struggles and inspire them to break free from expectations to pursue the identities they desire. Over the past year T-Rextasy have been transforming the punk-pop cosmos and captivating hearts from living rooms to DIY venues around the city. In anticipation for their first ever “Jurassic Punk” tour I was able to catch up with T-Rextasy to discuss their debut release, dream collaborations, and opinions on sexism in music.  

The Le Sigh: When did you each first start getting into music and what inspired you to start a band?

Lena Abraham: I started playing guitar when I was nine. I think the main reason was because of Avril Lavigne. I started playing in bands in high school with my friends because I felt most comfortable.

Ebun Nazon-Power: I tried out a bunch of instruments at a very young age, but it was not until I was around the ripe age of twelve where I found my calling to be a percussionist at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. It just made sense to me, even though I couldn’t really read music.

Lyris Faron: I have always been really into music, especially the '60s British invasion bands and the '70s New York punk bands. I have always composed songs but got serious about it my freshman year of high school when I started to play guitar. Senior year, I decided to expand my musical endeavors into a band. I intentionally recruited all female musicians. However, at the start of the project, I had only (narrowly) thought about having more cis-female representation in our New York high schools and the greater grown-up Brooklyn DIY scene. Since then I have realized that music scenes need to be accessible, to people of color, trans and non-binary people, queer people, disabled people and all kinds of folks that aren’t white heterosexual cis men.

TLS: Do you have an idea of how you like communicating with each other on stage and with the audience, or does it change from show to show?

I love to communicate with the audience. They are absolutely part of the show and the whole experience. It’s not just the musicians who make it happen!

LA: There are a lot of times when I will just be watching Lyris to know what to do next, because her way of performing makes it easy to tell what’s coming. I also watch Ebun a lot to make sure we are in sync during transitions in the songs.

ENP: Yeah, Lena’s always checking me out! I also watch Lyris a lot to make sure that I know where I am supposed to be in certain songs, and also because she’s amazing and hilarious to watch when we perform.

Annie Fidoten: I think I’m always making eyes with Vera from across the stage. We always try to fill Lyris’ water breaks with good banter, but most of the time we just end up making jokes and also drinking water.

Vera Kahn: It’s funny. The other day, we were talking about banter, and Lyris was like, “Maybe we banter too much?” And we’re just like, “We’re just trying to fill the time up during your water breaks!” Which is totally cool, too. Sometimes it feels a little weird, just taking up people’s time, but then I remember that that’s literally what people come to see. Us on stage, making noise and taking up their time.

TLS: The song “Chik’N” rips apart cutesy nicknames with humor and vigor on lines like “Each time that you call me pastry / You chip away at my agency.” What was the inspiration for this song and  do you feel like you have political goals when approaching songwriting?  

AF: I have been thinking about this a lot, it’s still exciting for me every time we perform the song and we all scream the line you quoted because it feels so powerful. But I think when I wrote the song it was responding to an immediate disparity that I felt around me in high school. Everyone kept acting like we were in this “post-feminism” world and that complaints about cat-calling and sexism in our high school halls were somehow passé and irrelevant. But it was still so important! I think the silliness of the song and the simplicity were meant to draw attention to the absurdity of treating anyone’s body as “food” or “meat."

TLS: The video for “I Wanna Be A Punk Rocker” is so fantastic and really captures the momentum of rebellious teenage years. What was your creative vision for this video and inspiration for the song?

AF: Well, the video was directed by our good friend Claudia Ross, who came up with the concept of the video. I had this very complicated idea for the video originally, and then Claudia came up with something much simpler and better. You see all five of us centered around the dinner table where the unnamed “father” is sitting disapprovingly on the other side.

Claudia Ross: The video is about putting on different personas until one works, but punk is ultimately a persona too. There is something both freeing and uniform about the punk movement now – there’s a dress code. Punk is just as much of a performance as “Upper East Side Bitch”, but one of those personas is imposed while the other is chosen.

TLS: I saw a recent tweet you made over the term “all-female band” and its tendency to normalize cis-dude bands. Whenever I hear someone depict “girl band” as genre or give a compliment like, “You’re a really great drummer for a girl,” it feels patronizing to women and belittles their musicianship instead of applauding them. I was curious of your opinions on this subject and if you ever felt like people have categorized the band in ways you don’t agree with?

ENP: I am slightly torn about the term “all-female band” because on one hand, most dude bands are just called “bands” while bands with mostly females are “girl bands.” However, in my opinion I find something kind of empowering or affirming about being called an all-female band, because essentially that is what we are: females in a band, but that is not all we are. In some ways I do appreciate that term because even when I tell people that I am in a band I am positive that they wouldn’t expect me to be in a band with all females, so I usually end up stating, proudly I might add, that I am in an all-girl band. And then they usually go, “Ooooh that’s so cool!” I think that because the music scene is lacking in gender and racial diversity, to throw a label such as “female band” onto a group of musicians they are attempting to celebrate that as their defining attribute, whereas in reality it is actually “othering” or exotifying them.

VK: I think my least favorite category we get is twee. People see dinosaurs and puns and jokey songs and think, ah I know, twee. It seems like female bands are expected to play simplistic, easy to categorize music, such as “twee” or “riot grrl.” Not that there is anything wrong with either of those, we just don’t play that. I don’t mind being called a girl band. What I mind more is getting asked to be on “lady bills.” While it is important to actively include people with marginalized identities, putting a bunch of female bands on one bill is just tokenization. More than that, it’s isolating. Instead of putting together lady bills, with one night of female artists, try including people besides white guys, like every night.

THE LE SIGH: What was your experience recording your full-length Jurassic Punk in comparison to earlier EPs and demos?

ENP: Well for one, we got our album professionally mixed and mastered by people who have worked with bands that we love, so that was really exciting.

VK: We banged out all of those songs in one day, which was different from our previous recording experience. It was a lot, recording for that long, basically in one teeny tiny room for like eight hours.

AF: We got to spend three days in New Paltz, just sleeping and breathing the album. It was so exciting and felt really collaborative. Before that, no one who had mixed for us had really asked our opinions on the output and suddenly we got to contribute so many ideas!

LF: Working with Chris in New Paltz was really special. He listens deeply to every note and gets the best performance out of you. It was also cool to travel somewhere solely to make this album, and sleep in the same building where we made it. And we worked all throughout the days until like three or four am. We really lived and breathed that album.

TLS: In a perfect world where you could collaborate or jam with anyone, who would it be?

LA: There are just so many! But I think PJ Harvey and Cat Power are my go-tos.

ENP: Working with Slutever would be super rad.

LF: Patti Smith and Blondie.

VK: Johnny Cash and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

TLS: What are the future plans for T-Rextasy? What are you guys most looking forward to on your Jurassic Punk tour this summer?

ENP: I know that Lyris is excited about the free food we will get from venues. But I am excited to play the Midwest and see what the scene is like out there.

LF: We’d like to record more music and keep touring. Personally, I’d love to play shows in the West Coast and particularly check out the music scenes in Seattle and LA. Bands over there seem super goofy and fun, like Tacocat, Shannon and the Clams and other Hardly Art and Burger Records bands. I think the New York scene can take itself too seriously sometimes.

VK: I’m too excited to see our fans from outside of New York! Like people that we’re not even friends with who want to see us! I mean, thanks to everyone we know who has supported us, NO WAY could we have done it without y’all, but there’s people who have never even met us who like our music! It’s awesome that we have great friends and family that have fallen for our charms and good looks, but we’re also kickass musicians and we’ve garnered fans all over the country!

Listen to T-Rextasy on bandcamp.

Abbie Jones, who will sing along to every Liz Phair song at karaoke by heart and is always down to get milkshakes past midnight. When she isn't writing about music, she is playing drums in her band or hosting shows in her backyard.