Four from the Core
Movement Outside the Windows of Wishbeard
An upswept city in fog passes by quickly outside the windows of Wishbeard's songs. Bryn Santillan's taut, glinting guitar patterns move the vehicle out onto rails from a centered station toward the end of a line. Dream-pop varietals of gazing—both shoe and math—factor in. There's a shock-absorbed velocity to their music. Jude Miqueli's drums and Brighton Kenoyer's bass evenly drive the impetus of their equation. Santillan's vocals are far ahead, shrouded in reverb as a higher-register Chan Marshall. Lighting the tracks, showing the way through the night, are Stranger IT genius Erin Resso's '80s-lit headlamp synths. This past September, the Seattle quartet recorded an EP, It's All Gonna Break, with Aaron Schroeder at BLDGs. The songs were mixed by audio archon Erik Blood and mastered by Adam Straney. With it, Wishbeard continue their movement out and up. Their sound is forlorn at times, bleak even, but it's a scenic, symmetrical, and cogitative bleakness that picks up speed in the straightaways. It's pop heading toward Joy Division if Joy Division had teamed with Vangelis to score the Blade Runner soundtrack. Wishbeard spoke. We were stationary.
Where does the driving, high-velocity element of your sound come from? I hear Blade Runner. Joy Division did the music to Blade Runner, and y'all came out.
Jude Miqueli: When I'm drumming, I feel like I'm driving a spaceship. The turns, the ramping up, easing in, and putting on the brakes. It's all a series of visions I have. I listen to each bandmate, look at them, and keep driving. I make sure we all land safely.
Erin Resso: When we're creating a song, it's almost like we're trying to catch up to it. The idea is there, then one of us will tap into it with a riff, and then we chase what we hear in our gut brains. It's part instinctual, it's part being open, and yeah, it's part driving into the future on our spaceship, zooming between skyscrapers and whatnot.
What are your Blade Runner thoughts?
ER: I love Blade Runner, but I think I'm more of a WALL-E type when it comes to megacorporation dystopian futures. A little less noir-ish, a little more hope-y [laughs]. One thing I love to do is listen to extremely electronic music while being out in nature. There's something about experiencing the two seemingly disparate things at the same time—it makes me feel really peaceful. I think that touches on some of the same questions raised in Blade Runner—questions of humanity and what it means to be an organism in a Venn diagram with the purely mechanical and systematic.
Is the guitar sound on "Adeline Street" slide? Or EBow?
Bryn Santillan: EBow. I saw Jace Lasek of the Besnard Lakes play one a few years ago and was completely fascinated. Had to have one.
ER: Aka the guitar laser.
Break down "Adeline Street." What ran through your head when you wrote the music and the lyrics?
Brighton Kenoyer: I remember we all got really high at band practice one day, which doesn't happen very often, and we just started jamming on something spontaneously, and it came out all dreamy and droney. I remember trying specifically to keep my bass part as simple as possible.
JM: I was channeling Built to Spill with the drumbeat. It is a calming song for me. When I play it, I know that everything is going to be okay.
BS: It makes me feel peaceful, though it's not about a peaceful time in my life. Adeline Street was the name of the street I lived on during my senior year of college. A lot of dark shit happened in that house, but you know what? I lived through all of that dark shit. And I don't ever have to do that again. I get to play this song and release all of that fucked up shit out into the world in a beautiful, creative way, with some of my best dudes. I love playing it live. It's empowering.
ER: I remember Brighton lying on the ground when we came up with it. I love that. I was channeling one of my favorite songs of all time, "La Ritournelle" by Sebastien Tellier. In the way, it sort of quietly and subtly builds tension and then spills over into this catharsis at the end.
Bryn, your grandmother was a famous mariachi singer in Acuña, Mexico, and Southern Texas who made records and toured while raising nine kids? Whoa. What do you remember about her?
BS: I remember how fashionable she was and the smell of her perfume. I remember she would tell my younger sister and me, "Oooh, mija, I love you so much! Grandma's going to send you some presents, okay?" And she'd blow us a kiss through the phone. I remember watching her perform. I was completely mesmerized by her hot-pink, sparkly mariachi outfit and how she commanded so much presence in a room. She was incredible. I have no idea how she had a music career with nine babies. Sometimes when I'm tired, I have no money, I'm struggling to put kitty food in the bowl, and then we play a late-night show, and I have to be at work the next day at 8:30 a.m., I think, "Wow. My SINGLE PARENT abuelita did this with nine kids!?" I have no excuse. She is my warrior. I look up to her so much. She didn't let anything stop her from living her dream. And I won't either.
Does your song "I.H.Y.P." stand for "I hate young people"?
BK: No! It doesn't stand for I Heart You, Pancakes, either.
BS: We have a song called I.H.Y.P.?
JM: Sworn to secrecy.
ER: Get off my lawn!
I hear some of you might possibly be really into boy bands. Who are your favorites? What sort of scenarios have you fantasized about them? You know, just for kicks. Like hog-tying them and covering them with sex butter and whipped cream?
BK: Well, I sort of keep a running Top Five in my head at all times. This scientific ranking is based on a few criteria: number of albums I love/hate, production quality, the amount of palpable homoeroticism within the group, number of members with good hair. My current Top Five is One Direction, New Kids on the Block, New Edition, Boyz II Men, and the Moffatts. No sex butter scenarios, yet.
BS: Brighton is really good at this question.
BK: I've been waiting all my life for this question.
ER: I'm just happy I finally get to be in a boi band!
Tell me about your street hockey team. Res, talk about your hockey dominance—you were captain of your team, and you played in college and shit?
JM: When I was a youth growing up in New York, I played street hockey every night of the summer. I was the only girl. I still remember the triumphant day I got that hat trick. I blasted all those dudes, and they were astounded. I think I pretty much threw down my stick after that and was done. I wish I knew Res when I was nine so we could have dominated together.
ER: Next summer—you heard it here first. Meet us at the tennis courts at Cal. We'll call ourselves the Love Catz or something. I grew up in Florida playing ice hockey, and we got our asses completely handed to us every single tournament. I went off to college, and we nearly went to the national championships in Alaska, were it not for the Washington Little C(r)apitals. I shake my fist at thee, Little Caps.
How do you all feel about being called "ladies"? Res was saying this is a fine line. What do you say back to people when they call you that?
JM: When it happens, I feel like a deer in headlights, so I don't say anything back, but I'm working on that. In general, when addressing people you don't personally know, I feel that it's always best not to put a gender identity on them. Using the term "folks" is always a good choice.
BK: I would even take "dudes" or "guys." We're not offended if you notice our masculine appearance. It's okay. I want to say: "Look, I get it. We have vaginas, and you noticed, and that's great. But we're not 'ladies.'" It just feels a little condescending. And it happens all the time. It's hard to exist in this gender gray area sometimes, and I'm sure it's hard for people on the outside to figure out also. That's why, like Jude said, it would be best to just stick to more gender-neutral language if you're not sure.
ER: Yeah, it's awkward sometimes, but I think what really bothers me when people say it is that it really feels like we're being treated differently, in a way we don't feel comfortable with. It carries with it a history of women being treated like shit in the music industry, not to mention most every other facet of society. We just want to be musicians, we just want to be people, and not have the weight of this perceived novelty of being an all- female band on our shoulders. Just the fact that people feel the need to point it out, and that it has that novelty factor, is annoying.
What kind of gender/lesbian issues inspire you all as individuals, and as a band? What parts of the topic make you happy? What parts piss you off?
BK: Personally, I know this might come as a shock, but I have never identified as a lesbian. People see me and automatically think "butch lesbian." But that's a very incomplete reading. Gender identities and sexuality are very personal and complicated. That's why the term queer feels better. It sort of allows you the freedom to just be who you are, do what you want, and not give a fuck. Which is the goal as far as I'm concerned.
JM: The queer artists in hiphop right now like Mykki Blanco and Le1f are inspiring to me. It's awesome to see them succeeding in a music scene that has a bad habit of spewing out homophobia to the masses. I look at them and am proud because they embody gender fluidity, style, queer culture, and legit rhymes. As a band, I hope that we can inspire genderqueer people in the world. I hope that somewhere out there, a young person isn't as afraid of being who they are because we are putting ourselves out here like this.
ER: All four of us definitely have our own thoughts on this matter, and hell, there's even entire degree programs devoted to this topic. I definitely agree with Jude regarding Mykki Blanco and Le1f, and they inspire me in a big way, too. I find it powerful that they subvert gender roles, and I feel connected to that idea as well. I've been a huge tomboy my whole life, but I also like to paint my toenails and squeal at pictures of cute kittens. It's so weird to me that there is this idea of a right and wrong way to be a girl or to be a boy. It seems so much easier to just be a person.
Where do you all see gender equality now? Where do you see yourselves in that equation? Where do you see it going in the future? Are you in agreement with this future? What do we need to change?
JM: I feel that women are treated differently or straight-up disregarded in many arenas. Heart JUST got added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. There's a handful of women on that list, but that's it. Also, if you open any music magazine for gear, it's all men. Thank god Tom Tom Magazine exists. It is the only magazine in the entire world dedicated to female drummers. THE WORLD. It was started in 2009 in New York. As a genderqueer person, I get to exist within both sides of the gender spectrum. When a person reads me as female, I am treated very differently than when a person reads me as male, so ideally there will be a time when a person is treated like a person. I don't know how this can be done or when. All I know is that my visibility and existence outside the societally imposed gender norm is helping along the way.
BK: I'm excited to see parents being more aware of gender issues and raising their children in positive, open environments. Just because you are born with a vagina doesn't mean you can't play sports and guitar and love the color blue. I want everyone, but kids especially, to be free to be who they are and like what they like from the beginning.
ER: Girls are discouraged, at a fundamental, systemic level, from pursuing anything that is traditionally viewed as a more masculine venture, and really, what isn't a more masculine arena at this point? Rock 'n' roll? Oh, that's for boys. Science and technology? Yup, overwhelmingly male. Medicine? Law? Politics? All dominated by men. This is what society is telling women and girls, that there's no place for us. It's all such bullshit. My wish is for girls to be empowered to do whatever they hell they want. I think that programs like Rock Camp for Girls and Reel Grrls are indispensable and amazing. While I may not look like a traditionally feminine girl—and may take umbrage to being called a lady—my hope is that, like Jude said earlier, maybe there are kids out there that don't quite fit in who can look to us and see us kicking ass and being ourselves and maybe find inspiration in that.
Brighton, you almost went on a Mormon mission? Holy fucking shit. Please explain and describe.
BK: [Laughs] Oh, man. Well, I was born into an active Mormon family. When girls turn 21, they are encouraged to go on a mission if they're not already married, and I sure as fuck was not getting married. So I was 20 and getting pressure to start preparing for a mission. I went out with missionaries and knocked on doors and all that, but I had known I was gay since I was 5. So the internal struggle had been present for a long time, but I finally came out to myself completely around that time, and I realized that I couldn't go out into the world and tell people that something was true when I wasn't sure about it anymore. I didn't want to half-ass either thing—being gay or being a Mormon. So I made my choice. I would be gay! That was, of course, the best choice I could have made. It seemed like a very sudden 180 to my family, but it clicked for me, and I'm no longer a member of that church. I had myself officially removed from their records last year. Weight lifted. No more strapping young men knocking on my door, thank god.
I wanted to ask about bandannas. A friend of mine who is a lesbian was fucking with me about bandannas—how certain colors mean certain things, like what you're into and who you're into. She explained this whole complicated system. You have this color if you want S&M, or if you're a top, or if you like to be tortured, or if you like multiple partners, et cetera. She talked about this one girl who would wear, like, seven bandannas, and it sounded like she was a ship signaling other ships with all the flags. If I were another ship, I would crash into rocks, because I'd be so busy trying to read and understand all her flags. But I think my friend was just fucking with me. Teach me, oh great Wishbeard. Maybe I'm just being a dumbass naive straight guy, but I was wearing a blue and yellow hat the other day getting coffee, and I was like, damn, maybe this color combo means something. Maybe I'm gonna get chloroformed and wake up in a secret torture chamber room under Cuffs with a cattle prod skewered with potatoes jammed up my ass.
BK: My first girlfriend told me about this! It's not a lesbian thing though. Lesbians don't have sex. They just cuddle aggressively.
JM: Queer people have always used a system of symbols and signs to communicate with each other in a world where it is a risk to be who you are. The history of the hanky code is a real thing.
BS: I'm really into baseball caps right now, but I guess I should use this platform to say if I ever have a bandanna around my neck or head I am not trying to communicate what I'm into. I'm already developing a bandanna complex.
BK: But then how are we supposed to know?!
ER: They go in your pockets, or tied around your arm. Left signals that you're a top, right is bottom, color is activity. It's not as widely used today, but like Jude said, it's a subversive code that allowed queer people to signal to each other at a time when it was far more difficult to be out.
BK: Apparently, orange will keep you covered for just about anything. Maybe stay away from wearing a brown one, unless you're into that.
ER: There is also femme flagging, where the secrets lie in which fingernails you have painted and what color.
BK: Say what?!
Glad we cleared that up. So what's next for you? Recording? Shows?
JM: I'd like to record another group of songs, something different than our first conglomeration. I'm also itchy to get on the road.
BK: Yeah, we love playing around town, but we're itching to get a little further from home soon. We'd like to at least do a West Coast jaunt this spring. Definitely interested in getting another batch of songs out into the world in the next six to nine months.
BS: We have some really cool shows coming up early next year—Katie Kate on January 14, and Chastity Belt on February 2—so it'll be nice to have some new material to play and share.