I am so incredibly EXCITED about the Portland and Washington DC-based band Wild Flag!—four independent thinking, strong musicians that work very, very hard at their craft. They make me want to pick up my guitar and start a new band! Drummer Janet Weiss was lovely enough to chat with me recently about female musicians that inspired her growing up, the journey so far for Wild Flag, Coachella and more.
JANET WEISS: I’m in Seattle and it’s snowing, so it’s really beautiful.
I read on your Twitter feed that you did your very first Open Mic Night last night.
JW: [Laughs] Yeah that’s funny. Wow! Twitter!
Your tweet mentioned that going into it was ‘scary.’ I thought that interesting considering you’ve played live for so long!
JW: I know, it’s hilarious. I’ve played Madison Square Garden twice but an open mic night is scarier! There’s a lot of characters at open mics I’ve learned. It ended up being fun tough. It was nothing to be scared of after all. It all turned out.
I read a recent Wild Flag interview with Carrie [Brownstein] and she spoke about the very first Wild Flag show (featured below) saying that she realised it was her first show in four years. She commented that she almost fainted from the fear; how did you feel playing that first Wild Flag show in Olympia?
JW: I haven’t stopped playing music so I wasn’t scared at all, I’ve been playing in numerous bands. I was just so excited to unveil this thing! Even though it was only a teeny tiny club, I was so excited to see people’s reactions and to see the look on people’s faces when we played. It was good to see how the songs that we had wrote affected people. I was very eager and excited. There’s very few times that I am afraid to play, that’s why this open mic thing was pretty funny.
I read a previous interview with you where you were talking about how your favourite first albums were very straight-forward and not self-conscious and how you felt you’ve achieved that with the Wild Flag record; have there been times where you’ve felt self-conscious as a musician?
JW: I’m sure there have been sometimes but that’s not something I really want to embrace with my music. I think part of the reason I play music is to show myself and prove to the world, prove to myself and prove to other people that you don’t need to be self-conscious. Self-consciousness can inhibit you and cause you to not act. I want my music to show people that it’s not so difficult to steer your ship and to express yourself creatively and decide who you want to be and how you want to play, to go after that and to make that happen. To me it’s much more about not being self-conscious than being self-conscious. If I felt self-conscious I would try to figure out a way to not feel that way. I would figure out why do I feel this way? And what can I do to make myself feel comfortable and strong in my skin, to feel like I can be myself and for that to be ok.
You grew up in Hollywood and started playing guitar when you were 16-years-old; when did you transition to playing drums?
JW: I started playing drums when I was 22. I got offered to be in a band and play drums so it was a very spur of the moment decision. I thought I’d just go on a tour and see what it was like, teach myself to play the drums. I was pretty painfully awful for the first six months or so. I got thrown into the fire so I probably learned a lot quicker than most because I had to get up on stage and play with people. The drums found me I didn’t find them.
I’ve been watching a lot of Wild Flag live clips and I’ve noticed that when you perform you usually wear long pants and blouses, which was refreshing to see watching female performers; do you feel like there is too much emphasis placed on the way female musicians look?
JW: I think how you present yourself matters. We’re four independent thinking, strong women who have worked really hard at our instruments, our music and all of our other endeavours, we make all of our decisions for ourselves—those are the important things to focus on, for me. The choices that you make and who you are as a person, what you are trying to say with your music, art, writing or whatever you do, the intent that you have is what matters.
Have you ever experienced sexism in the music industry?
JW: Oh of course! There’s sexism everywhere [laughs]. Hopefully it’s getting better and people are becoming more used to female musicians. There are not that many all-female bands, there just aren’t. People call as soccer moms sometimes. That’s why it’s important for our music to not be timid. We’re showing people that women can be strong, women can be aggressive, women can be many things all at once. There’s a complexity that we’re working towards.
You’ve also commented in the past that you feel it’s hard for women to be heroes, and how in our culture when people think of heroes they mostly think of men. Growing up who were your heroes?
JW: When I started to see bands in person that’s when I saw people like Exene [Cervenka, X frontwoman] or girls like Tobi Vail. These musicians for me, that were playing things that exposed their personalities, those were the people that were heroes to me. All these people were really out on a ledge expressing themselves in ways that I hadn’t seen women in person, right in front of me, do before. A lot of the bands I listened to were men. Until I started going to shows in Los Angeles, Exene just really blew my mind – the way she looked and what she sang about, her raunchy… she was feminine but she also had this aggressiveness to her as well and the way that she sang was so unique. Someone like that really opened the doors for me to realise that this is really possible. I didn’t relate to actresses or people or TV. I was just into music more.
Is there anyone that you look up to musically now?
JW: Oh yeah there’s lots of people.
Do you find yourself being inspired by the people you work closely with?
JW: Yeah I find I get really inspired with the people I play with. It’s definitely the most revealing relationship in music, the one that you have with your band mates. You go through a lot of things together. It can be difficult and it can be incredible, you learn a lot about yourself. You learn a lot about how to handle life [laughs]. I really appreciate the people that I am lucky enough to play with.
Since Wild Flag got together has it all been smooth sailing?
JW: There have been many, many difficulties and many, many challenges. It’s hard to be in a band. It’s challenging but it is also very incredibly rewarding. Four different people with four different lives, to try and make that exist side by side and coalesce and come together is challenging. If you’re 20 and you start a band it’s different, you’re just happy to play a party, get some free beer and hang out. We’ve all made a lot of records now and played a lot of shows and been around the world and it has to mean something now, it has to feel important, like matters, or we wouldn’t do it.
Wild Flag were recently on both the Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman shows, what were those experiences like?
JW: They were fun, they are what they are. You show up, you play a song and hope it turns out ok. The Fallon show was especially fun, to be around the set and the people were so vibrant, enthusiastic and into their jobs.
You recently met Charles Barkley (pictured below) too?
JW: That’s true! When we were filming the Fallon show he was hosting Saturday Night Live, it’s two floors that separate the shows. A friend of mine took me up stairs to meet Charles Barkley which was really, really cool because I’m a big fan of the NBA. He was a very, very kind a gracious man. He’s a living legend in my book. I was really happy to meet him.
Wild Flag are playing Coachella this year, are you excited about it?
JW: I don’t know, not really. I’m happy we’re playing. It’ll be fun. There’s some really good bands playing. I don’t love festivals. I love shows that are small and sweaty. I’m happy we have the chance and to hang out with friends in the desert but, I’m not going to be proud of it like an accomplishment like writing a good song. I’m more proud of things like that.
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