Jelena is the frontwoman for Melbourne, Australia hardcore band Outright. She is also the owner and operator of Bake Down The Walls – a cruelty free treats n eats not-for-profit vegan food stall she sets up at hardcore/punk shows to help raise money to give back to the community, bands and causes she thinks are important and passionately cares about. Jelena also works in sex offender management. Her positivity is infectious.
What do you wear on stage?
Literally, simply jeans, a band shirt and sturdy shoes. As long as I’m comfortable enough to move around when we play and not be self-conscious about my appearance then I’m happy. It’s also important to me that the person you see on stage is the same person you see behind the desk, in the crowd, working the door, amongst articles in a zine or before you, shaking your hand.
How important is your stage outfit to you?
The aesthetic is not a concern to me at all. It only has a practical purpose in our culture where music, message and mates are so much more important. If anything, I might choose to wear a shirt that represents a valued cause/idea or a band I’d like to support or promote, but most of the time it’s just whatever I feel comfortable in on the day. Being on stage doesn’t make me any better or more important than anyone who is not, so I prefer to not reinforce that divide. In such a male-dominated scene, I also try my best to do what I can to deflect the male gaze that is on me and other women and focus on our performance and message, as a group, instead.
Make-up-wise what’s your onstage must?
Considering how much I jump, kick and stomp around the place, sweat and probably bash my mouth with the mic, make-up is not a priority or consideration. It doesn’t last and I can’t really be bothered keeping up appearances when I’m just trying to keep my breath haha. In the everyday though, I choose to wear the select MAC products that are vegan. I think they’re good quality and I prefer to support ethical companies.
What’s your biggest beauty indulgence?
I’m afraid I’m not the indulgent type (unless you place a vegan cheesecake in front of me haha)! My biggest indulgence though is probably a gym membership or a tropical holiday full of mountain hikes, invigorating bike rides and sunny days in the surf. I feel most radiant when I’m fit, healthy, strong, relaxed, confident, happy and energised and this encapsulates true beauty to me. However, I have been known to splash out on a gorgeous vintage playsuit or sundress when the opportunity allows!
What are your offstage outfits like?
Much like my onstage ones! Nice weather permits an increase of the before-mentioned vintage dresses, skirts and shorts but what you see is what you get at all times.
Who are your style icons?
If I have a style it is not an “inspired” one, I’m sorry. I love my street wear and tattoos, and appreciate the curves, colours and playfulness of the 1950s-60s when I embrace my feminine side as well, but hope that my personality and mind speak of a style that’s more important in the long run.
What do you do creatively when you’re not creating/playing music?
I often struggle with this question (even when I ask it to myself) because I don’t believe I have a creative bone in my body haha. However, I have some kind and supportive friends who fervently deny this and argue that my baking and written contributions to zines are creative and demonstrate a drive and skill I’m likely to dismiss. With some friendly helpers I designed and stencilled my band’s demo CDs and tried to provide variations of these so as to offer the recipients a sense of their own individual right and reward in owning a special copy for being kind enough to support us.
I also create and run a non-profit homemade vegan food stall at hardcore punk shows to inject a sense of community into our culture, offer my own way of giving back to the scene that’s given me so much, and hopefully motivate others in taking small steps to make significant and positive changes in the world around them. I’ve been doing Bake Down The Walls for almost 6 years now and, with the support of generous and hungry friends, have raised thousands of dollars over the years for domestic violence crisis services, animal rescue groups, environmental initiatives, mental/medical health schemes and our own DIY shows and local or travelling bands. I guess this can be considered creative in the methods I use to accomplish these goals, the different flavours I try to produce in my dishes and the challenge I enjoy in taking mainstream favourites and veganising them for the stall. Because it encourages such an awesome exchange of ideas I hope to compile a zine of recipes and tips in collaboration with local artists and photographers but I am subject to time’s harsh constraints at this stage! While I’m not skilled in any visual arts or any particular instruments I have a keen ear and eye and a true passion that exudes me. I guess my outlet is my expression of this passion in everyday life and, considering what life throws at you, this can be quite creative in itself!
What makes your musical style different?
Musically, Outright is not that different to all the hardcore, punk and metal influences that inspire and energise us. I hope our songs can be seen as an expression simply of what we love to hear ourselves!
Have you ever encountered sexism within the music community?
I find it an anomaly that we still experience sexism in the counter-culture of hardcore punk when it strives to be a refuge from, and fight against, mainstream injustices and norms. While I have experienced the obvious forms of sexism in the jokes, insults, discomfort and sense of rejection women feel in punk as a male-dominated culture, I think the underlying expressions of this sexism can sometimes be more damaging because they are not as obvious and are harder to fight against. It’s easy to talk someone down when they insult you or tell you that you don’t belong or don’t match up but it’s much harder to fight the identity politics that subconsciously try to undermine women, sexualise them and relegate them to stereotypes, genered roles or pure invisibility. I think this is best challenged every day by ensuring that women are thoroughly supported, heard, accepted, encouraged and respected, and that we do not defeat ourselves by subjecting each other to the competition and judgment that degrades us in the first place. Sexist behaviour needs to be confronted and challenged at each opportunity and, in a positive environment of open-minds and compassionate hearts, I hope that this gradually creates the culture both punk men and women speak about and actually deserve.
Despite these negative experiences though, I do still believe in the hardcore punk scene that appeared to me as a beacon of hope and change in the first place. This is why I and other women like me have stuck with it despite the struggles – to not let it defeat us, not let it steal the music and message we live for, and to make sure our presence alone remains as a “fuck you” to the ignorant and weak majority that can’t be bothered striving for more.
How do you deal with the haters?
I speak up and stand up if I sense an injustice to myself or others but, for the most part, I reject the haters and prefer to focus my energy on the positive, encouraging, open-minded and open-hearted few instead. I also think it’s important for us each to embody and represent the change we want to see around us so at each opportunity I try to deal with the complacency and insensitivity of others by demonstrating and celebrating the joys and accomplishments in my alternative.
Tell me about your latest projects.
Outright are touring interstate more in the next few months and writing new songs to hopefully record a 7″ shortly. We have been added to an Australian Hardcore compilation being finalised as we speak, are often contributing to lots of zines, blogs and other interviews, and are looking forward to more local shows as they come up. Bake Down The Walls pushes on whenever time allows and I love my job in sex offender management so I see my goals there as a project in themselves as well. Personally, I’m working through intensive training to rehabilitate my back after experiencing some vertebra out of place and this is a mission every day!
Listen to Outright: