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Interview: Pikelet

Interview: Pikelet

Tuesday 31st May, 2016 1:00PM

Melbourne solo artist Pikelet (aka Evelyn Morris) is heading to New Zealand this weekend to appear at Borderline Music Festival, and while on these shores Morris will be taking part in a special Q&A session with the newly formed Second Skin Collective. The core of the session will focus around LISTEN - an entity founded by Morris that cultivates a conversation from a feminist perspective around the experiences of marginalised people in Australian music.

It is on the LISTEN website that Morris recently published an interview with Shellac frontman Steve Albini. The hugely insightful piece came from a very personal perspective from Morris, but also invited Albini into a conversation about masculine music and feminism. We contacted Evelyn to find out her thoughts about her interview with Albini, discover more about LISTEN, and her recently release EP, TRONC...

UTR: Hi Evelyn! Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions! We were sorry to heat that all you gear recently got stolen. Have you been able to recover any of your equipment?

EM: Nope unfortunately I have had to run around like crazy getting suitable replacements and learning how they work. It was really super affirming that everyone crowd funded me to replace my gear though. No idea what I would have done if everyone hadn't been so generous!

I read your recent interview with Steve Albini, how did you feel bringing this conversation to someone who was a teen idol of yours and, as you noted, who is musically much in the masculine domain?

I was quite concerned about the fact that often feminism is a conversation that is best had with women and gender queer folks rather than cis white men...

And, once you had your answers from him - how did you feel then?

I felt slightly worried that I was drinking the Kool-Aid a bit because of my teen fan status. But I did have good intentions and I think it served its purpose well. It can be very difficult to communicate to male dominated communities and I think interrogating the culture we enjoy is a good practice also. I wanted to show folks that someone as seemingly interested in 'masculine culture' was actually very interested in ensuring that he was being accountable for that categorising of his work. That everyone needs to think about where their work is placed in the world and be responsible for it.

The interview was really timely, in that here in NZ we had a prominent music blogger revealed as an alleged sexual predator in a lengthy expose piece. It was really heavy stuff and opened up a huge conversation within the industry. Have you experienced anything similar within your scene in Melbourne?

Yes unfortunately there are always stories within every community that are painfully similar. It's amazing how the overarching structure of patriarchy can do its work in every little nook and cranny of subculture as well. I have had a very hard time interacting with some of those narratives because there usually isn't a simple answer. At least not one that overlooks or disregards a whole bunch of factors. I am hoping to discuss these things a little at the talk I'm doing in Auckland.

It was interesting to me, reading about how you felt supported by Shellac when taken on tour with them and Albini saying they “have cultivated an audience that would appreciate seeing interesting bands with different voices playing alongside us.” When they visited New Zealand and chose Miss June, a young band with an openly feminist front woman, I feel like the support act was on the receiving end of some disparagement from some in the music industry. Did you experience any criticism from others?

No I didn't receive any criticism directly, but I was aware that it was probably going on behind the scenes. I think that is partly what I mean by simple responses to things being problematic to me. The urge to write-off entire segments of culture or people within communities as 'just bad guys' is a fine line to walk. There are often things that are missed in translation. However often people do write off people or culture because they find it too difficult to deal with and are preserving their personal wellbeing by avoiding it/them. That attitude that public feminists have to somehow 'toe the party line' and not interact with anyone that other feminists have deemed to be terrible people or not feminist enough seems very counter-intuitive to me. Feminisms appear in many different shapes and sizes so I like to assume that feminists I know are doing what is right for them, and always assume I have the freedom to do the same. If we don't have more freedom because of feminism, but instead have a new set of rules to follow, that seems like something has gone awry to me.

When asked about how his music may stir up trauma for people, Albini gave a lengthy answer with the guts being that: ”It is imperative for an artist to be honest, to respect the creative impulse, wherever that may go.” Do you agree with that?

No I actually don't agree with that. I would never suggest that another artist should censor their work, but I do believe in rigorous conversations in which works are challenged and questioned. Especially if the works have overlooked or intentionally stirred up trauma for a marginalised group of people. There are several functions art and music can embody, and I do agree that the functions should not always be happy and pleasant because it often needs to be utilised as a tool for change or challenging thought patterns and structures. However personally I would never make work that was at the expense of people who are not as privileged as myself. Even though I can appreciate work that Steve has done that I myself find slightly triggering, I don't have the same motivation towards stirring up conflict in my work.

Has your own art stirred emotions in someone that was different from what you expected when you created it?

Not that I know of... like I said I am not really keen on upsetting people. I think within my own music work I look for a point of resonance or empathy for my own feelings and try to communicate them with people such that maybe they might have a moment of connection or reflection about their own internal world. As for my feminist writing - I haven't yet found out about anyone being really cut up about it but I do often worry about whether I'm saying something ignorant or potentially hurtful as a white person who is perceived as cis. I try very hard to be aware of my position in the world when I write.

You said that being on the Shellac tour contributed to the strength you needed to start LISTEN. Can you please explain what LISTEN is for people who might not be aware of it?

LISTEN is an organisation I started in Melbourne that is now run as a large collective. We create space for women and gender queer folks to exist within male dominated structures, and we aim towards ensuring that with documentation those spaces will be available for future generations also. We put on events- talking ones and music ones, we have done some policy change work, collected writing from all kinds of people in the community, and various other activities.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start up their own localised project similar to LISTEN?

It is a great idea and everyone should! I think what's worked well with LISTEN is that we've tried really hard to have it be open in the way it is run. So always taking everyone's ideas from within the community and allowing them to run with them and bringing our support to what they think needs to happen within their micro-community. Rather than just telling everyone how we think feminism should work within our community we try to be a conduit for whatever people want to express. It is really important when doing that also to look for the voices that aren't as loud or are generally overlooked.

You have recently released TRONC, what was your aim or intention with this work as opposed to other releases you have made?

I wanted to put out something quickly that I worked on by myself so that I could pull my focus and other people's focus back to my music work and let LISTEN become an entity separate from me entirely. Because I started it, I've been 'the face if it' for a while and it was always part of my plan to move away from the organisation and let it be run by different people. Community structure should be fluid like that. So this record was a bunch of work that has been stewing underneath all that work and I've really enjoyed stepping back into a creative world and being a bit more focused on my own feelings rather than trying to reach out on broader issues.

You have talked about some of the music you made been a way of expressing your anger. What does TRONC express?

Definitely still plenty of anger, haha. It also touches upon feelings I have about my own gender and my body... I guess just more personal, reflective moods that come along with feminism. Rather than the more cerebral response to feminist work that involves writing heaps of words and articulating ideas coherently... I just wanted to be able to swim in the soupy mess of feelings for a while, which making music is perfect for doing.

I understand that you identify as “gender non-binary“, is that correct? How does this effect your musical identity, if at all?

I generally don't speak about it publicly because it is such a personal thing for me. So it doesn't tend to come into my public narrative all that often. It has effected the music I've made for a very long time though. And I think lately my pull towards a more introspective practice is related to wanting to enjoy my own gender how I want to without thinking about where it places me within feminism or my community etc. It can be very difficult to articulate my feelings about my gender in words though so I don't often try.

While women seem to be gaining stronger ground in the music industry, how do you think people outside of cis-norms make headway in the current climate and discussions?

This is also something I am still figuring out. It certainly seems as though some groups of people within gender queer and trans worlds are more capable of speaking up about things because perhaps there are certain narratives that are more easily communicated. It is really great to hear people talking about trans issues so much but I still think there's a really long way to go. Which is why I am choosing to spend some time in my own world figuring it out for myself rather than trying to see where I fit within feminism. I often feel as though my being gender queer makes it hard to feel confident or hard to imagine that people will 'get me'. Just based on the many years of evidence gathered from covert observation before I came out. So sometimes shows and talks etc are quite scary. So even though the climate seems to be shifting, I think it will still take a lot of gender queer and trans folks a long time to feel really safe in the world. We've had a whole lifetime of feeling misunderstood so it may take longer than our lives to unravel that. I can't speak for everyone though, everyone's experiences are totally different.

What is a practical way that people can become allies to marginalised people in the music industry?

Listen! Ensure that you're developing your listening skills with every conversation you have. Then when you hear something that doesn't sit well, don't just accept it. Question it and find out if there's a way you can be responsible. This is especially true for cis white men, who have not had as much encouragement towards empathy because they haven't had to within patriarchy. LISTEN is called Listen for a reason.

Pikelet performing at Borderline Festival in Auckland this weekend, head over here for more information and to buy tickets. And while in the country they will also be taking part in a Q & A session at the Audio Foundation which is being hosted by the newly formed Second Skin Collective, head here for more information on that.

Interview by Danielle Street


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