2017 Artist Survey: The Blow

Melissa Dyne and Khaela Maricich on #MeToo and Sexual Harassment, Louis C.K., Racism in America, Tom Petty, and The Breakfast Club

Feb 06, 2018 Web Exclusive
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For Under the Radar's 15th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to the last year. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2017 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Melissa Dyne and Khaela Maricich of The Blow. The duo self-released their latest album, Brand New Abyss, in 2017.

For our annual Artist Surveys we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about the various sexual harassment and assault allegations, the "Me Too" movement, the chaotic first year of Donald Trump's presidency, the Charlottesville alt-right rally and racism in America, embarrassing moments, professional regrets, which Breakfast Club character they are most like, the end of the world, and much more.

What was the highlight of 2017 for either you personally or for the band? What was the low point? 

Khaela Maricich: The highlight was positively releasing our album Brand New Abyss, especially against the backdrop of the world feeling so messed up. The album happens to contain a song about being fed up with late capitalism and one about the ways women get bullied into making themselves smaller in order to survive in the world; being able to perform those songs on tour felt like yelling the best comebacks at all the B.S. going on.

Melissa Dyne: We worked for a really long time to put together our system for playing electro-acoustic sounds together, and it feels like a great tool for responding, emotionally and electrically, to the current moment. This year was such an onslaught of bad news that everyone kind of turned into ninjas in response to the outrageousness of it all, and ninja's just leap over the low points and keep on going.

Khaela: Yeah, we didn't have time to get low. Like in January [2017] when the Muslim ban was issued and thousands of people immediately went to JFK airport in New York to protest it. Nobody goes to JFK for anyone, not even loved ones. It's like we all just took each new piece of bad news and climbed on top of it, seeing how we could stretch our definition of what is possible, and how to be a good person in a bad world.  

2017 saw sexual harassment and assault allegations against many men in the music industry, film industry, journalism, politics, and elsewhere (including Harvey Weinstein, Matt Mondanile of Ducktails and Real Estate, Brand New's Jesse Lacey, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, Democratic Senator Al Franken, and others). Why do you think the floodgates opened in 2017 and do you think any meaningful change will come from it or will sexual harassment and assaults continue to be prevalent in certain industries?

Melissa: The fact that these men are going down is already a meaningful change. Women have been calling out Louis C.K. for jerking off in front of them for years, and nobody listened, because he kept telling everyone it wasn't true. The fact that people finally believed the women is a huge change.

Khaela: The floodgates opened because having a man who admits to sexual assault get elected president of the United States is traumatizing; women were disgusted and fed up and that kind of anger is a bomb that can't help but go off.

In 2017 the "Me Too" and "It Was Me" social media hashtags further brought sexual assault and harassment to light. Have you ever been the victim of harassment or assault, or witnessed such behavior, or been the perpetrator? And what concrete steps can be taken to combat sexual harassment and assault in the music industry and make it a more welcoming place for women?

Khaela: I've never been assaulted, luckily. But I couldn't begin to count the times I've subtly altered my behavior in order to get through an uncomfortable situation, or to just fit in, in ways that I'm absolutely not proud of. Like laughing at jokes made by guys, that I actually find offensive or just not worth laughing at, just so that I can slip through the interaction and either be liked and accepted or just left alone.

Melissa: The imbalance of power between men and women in the music industry is finally coming to light, which is good, but it's messed up that it's so imbalanced because music shouldn't be gendered. As a woman you have to work twice hard and be twice as good, and maybe that makes for great female artists, but it's not fair. This is why we started the WOMANPRODUCER project, highlighting female/trans sonic innovators and technologists. There are so many great women artists who just never get the credit for what they do. The playing field isn't level, in so many ways.

Khaela: Don't even get me started on the ways women are required to be sexualized in order to get through the door in the music industry. Look at any Rolling Stone cover with a woman on it versus how they style the men. It's so boring. 

It has been said that 2016 was the year your favorite artist died, and, because of the litany of sex scandals, 2017 is the year that your favorite artist became dead to you. Which artist did you stop being a fan of this year? Which public person would you be most devastated to learn had a history of abusive or predatory behavior? 

Khaela: Louis C.K. For me, it's the fact that he gaslighted the women who called him out, for years. He basically told everyone they were crazy, and everyone believed him (even me) because we loved him and wanted to keep loving him. It makes me so angry.

Melissa: I'm having some issues with Dave Chappelle right now. He got so much attention recently for bashing transpeople and ridiculing the women who called out Louis C. K., and in a way it kind of feels like how Trump gets attention for being stupidly outrageous. The jokes weren't even that funny or subtly incisive, like the things he has said about race or the entertainment industry. It sort of just looked like a ploy to get press, it felt hollow. And it's disappointing because he's always seemed like someone who saw through the bullshit, and there he was perpetuating the bullshit. He's not dead to me or anything, but it was just a bummer.

Should we be able to separate an artist's work from his or her actions? Or should an artist's negative behaviors completely negate the quality of his or her work?

Melissa: We live in a world where an artist's image is part of the product, and in some cases (Kardashians) their image is the whole product. It's a huge part of what sells whatever an artist is selling, so no, you don't get to separate the persona from the art.

Khaela: Good work can be made by terrible people, and I can have some fond memories of liking Woody Allen, but I can't enjoy his movies anymore. His time is over. There is only so much bandwidth for famous people, only certain people get to be the big stars, so if someone is an abuser why not just scoot them out of the picture and give someone else the resources and support to realize their big visions and make their art. 

The first year of the Trump administration has been chaotic to say the least. What has President Donald Trump done so far that most concerns or angers you? Is there anything President Trump has done, proposed, or said that you actually agree with? Why do you think his base continues to support him?

Melissa: From all signs this president is setting up an authoritarian regime, with no respect for the rule of law. This should trouble everyone.

Khaela: I think there are a lot of people who are terrified by the social progress of the past century. Even though we have a long way to go, so many groups that have been historically marginalized (women, queer and trans people, people of color, people with disabilities) have way more rights than they did a hundred years ago. You couldn't even really be out and gay when I was a kid.  Women couldn't vote a hundred years ago. I think people who were used to seeing themselves on top, for no other reason than the happenstance of the body they were born into, are easy targets for a leader who suggests they still deserve more than everyone else. 

Many predicted President Donald Trump wouldn't last long in the White House and yet he's still there. At this point how hopeful are you that he'll be impeached? Barring that, how optimistic are you that he won't win reelection? And although it's still very early, is there already a potential candidate you would most like to see run for president in 2020?

Melissa: Trump won't be impeached unless we gain a majority in congress in the 2018 elections. This is possible, but it will take some work.

Khaela: I don't know who I want to see in 2020, but it's not anyone we've seen as a candidate already. Joe Biden can be funny and all, but no.

The alt-right/neo-Nazi/KKK rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the ensuing violence, and President Trump's reluctance to condemn such hate groups further showed that racism is alive and well in America. What concrete steps can we take to improve race relations in America and the world at large?

Khaela: Admitting that our country is a white supremacy is a good first step to dealing with racism in the U.S. People of color are not on equal footing, and white folks (myself included) continue to benefit from this system. It's hard to look at but it's time.

Melissa: Our country's economy being founded on slavery left some pretty significant wounds.

2017 saw several music festivals cancelled due to low ticket sales (not to mention the Fyre Festival debacle in the Bahamas). Are there too many music festivals right now?

Khaela: Who even understands what's going on with the music industry right now?

Melissa: I recently read in a Tape Op interview the producer Joe Boyd (discovered Pink Floyd, produced Nick Drake, R.E.M., etc) talking about how the music industry is a bunch of dinosaurs, and how they're all going to "slowly sink into the tar pits and some of their cousins will turn into birds."

Which Breakfast Club character are you most like and why?

Khaela and Melissa: In unison: Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us: In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain...and an athlete....and a basket case....a princess...and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.

Tell us about the best and worst dates you've ever been on.

Khaela: My best date is our first date, which I didn't know was a date. We were new friends and we went to the beach, and suddenly realized we had both fallen asleep on the sand without even noticing it. I woke up and looked at you and thought, "Wow, I guess I'm comfortable."

Melissa: Once you've found your good date who cares about the bad ones.

What's the most embarrassing (or funniest) thing that's happened to you in front of your bandmates (or on stage)?

Khaela: Embarrassment is kind of one of our biggest themes, so whenever it arises on stage we kind of welcome it as new material to play with.

Melissa: We always try to surprise each other on stage, like to keep each other and the audience entertained. When Khaela smiles in a certain way I know that I've done something that she didn't expect.

What's your biggest professional regret?

Melissa: Each choice that you make creatively leads to the next thing that you do, and you can't work backwards in art, you have to build on what you've already done. Regret is kind of useless in the creative process.

Khaela: Yeah I agree with that. I sometimes have a problem with wanting to rewind the footage of life and go back and change what I said or what I did, mostly really stupid things like, "If I had gotten us on the road an hour earlier we'd be driving with the sunset right now!" Melissa is always reminding me, "Forward. You can't go back." But with the big things, I agree, I don't have regrets, because life is weird and I'm just going with it. 

If you heard that the world was ending in one week who would be the first person you'd call and what are some of the things you'd do in that week?

Khaela: We call all our friends and family and book tickets to a place where we could all snorkel together in a coral reef.

Melissa: I'd go buy a new snorkel.

Would you be open to having your phone and other technology implanted into your body in the future?

Khaela: No.

Melissa: I don't think so.

If you could time travel what advice would you give to your childhood or teenage self?

Khaela: Everything you think is the worst about you right now (liking girls, being a scorpio, not fitting in with the normal people) is the best.

Melissa: We once saw Yoko Ono at BAM, performing the night before her 77th birthday, and she told everyone in the audience, "I know you're all in your 30s, worrying about turning 40, thinking you're so old, I want to tell you, 'EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE okay.'" I'd just translate that to whatever age little me was.

Many of us have had Tom Petty songs soundtrack key moments in our lives, or they at least invoke memories powerful memories (likely because of the well crafted melodies and relatable lyrics). Which of his songs, and which corresponding memory, came to mind upon hearing that he passed away? 

Khaela: We were in Tucson, Arizona in a rented minivan that was able to tune into a channel that was all Tom Petty, all day, for days, so we were just driving around dusty roads listening to his catalogue for hours. His music has always sounded like the western landscape to me and hearing so many of his songs that I'd never really gotten into was a deep experience. I found myself really feeling the one that goes, "She grew up in a dead end town with a good lookin' mother who never was around."

Melissa: Then we drove through western Oregon and listened to Tom Petty's interview on Fresh Air and it was pretty heartbreaking. He talked about how an arsonist set fire to his family's house and how they barely escaped and he seemed like such a nice guy. He's still hanging in the hills for us. 

How different do you think America would look now if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election? What issues might be on the agenda in that scenario, and how many of the same problems (gun control/race relations etc) would we still be grappling with?

Khaela: Trump's election was an ice bath. We were forced to see the reality of our country, which many people who were subject to its cruelty were already seeing: the racism, the Islamophobia and transphobia, etc. etc. etc. And it's true, Obama's policies of deportation of undocumented people and their treatment at the detention centers was really bad, and I just wasn't paying attention. It's been violent and painful, but in a way I'm glad I'm off the happy train. But I'm ready now for a reasonable president who respects the rule of law.

Melissa: I would have liked having Hillary be our president. She knows her shit.

If you had to rename your band or stage name due to a legal dispute, which new name would you pick?

Khaela: Khaela and Melissa's Good Time Jug Band.

CHVRCHES and Tegan and Sara are appearing in the new The Archies comic book series as themselves, interacting with Archie and his friends. Which comic book would you like to guest star in?

Khaela: Melissa, I'm guessing you'd want to be in Silver Surfer? Melissa had cool comic book taste as a kid. I liked The Archies and Katy Keene, like I'd go to the drugstore on Thursdays to see if the new one had arrived. But nowadays I think I'd want to be in some awesome sci-fi comic written by like a 10-year-old trans kid or something. 

Melissa: Silver Surfer.

Who most influenced your musical tastes as a child and teenager (be it a family member, friend, teacher, etc.) and what do they think of the music you make now?

Melissa: I grew up studying the cello classically, and I remember asking my teacher, Mrs. Work, if there were other ways to play the cello besides classical music, and she was like, "No." She used to hit your hand with a bow if you made a mistake. I don't know what she would think of my music now, but I definitely use a lot of what I learned classically in playing the electro-acoustic music we're making now.

Khaela: My best friend's big brother copied one of his mixtapes of New Wave for me when I was about 13. It had like The English Beat, OMD, XTC, Erasure, and that music became a big influence on me. He came to our show in Seattle on this last tour, but I didn't ask him precisely what he thought of what we did!

Besides the environment and global warming, what most worries you about the future of this planet and the world we're leaving to our kids and grandkids?

Khaela: This question is too big and scary to think about right now. :/

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