Thursday, June 25, 2015

Baker's Dozen: Interview with WASI

I know I've written on this blog, or at least the previous version which was hacked the f*** up back in the spring, about my love of the movie 8 Mile. In one of the last scenes B. Rabbit (Eminem) is in the club getting ready to battle his nemesis Papa Doc. This guy has all the dirt on B. Rabbit and he isn't afraid to use it. So instead of running from his life and trying to hide who he is, B. Rabbit decides to own it. He admitted everything. This left Papa Doc speechless and handed victory over to B. Rabbit. WASI is sort of the female fronted, pop punk version of B. Rabbit. The two founders, Cosmo and Jessie, are lesbians. Jessie has spent a large portion of her life being bullied for her masculinity. When WASI first hit the LA circuit, they were outcasts who couldn't find a niche that they fit with. The band spent years hustling their songs outside of concerts with a pair of headphones. These are all things they own. They don't try to hide who they are or where they've come from. In fact, these are the things that have helped WASI get to where they are today. And where's that? A band with a recently released debut EP that is getting love from, amongst other places, Billboard. Recently I had the chance to ask Cosmo and Jessie some questions as part of our Baker’s Dozen Interview Series. We talked desserts, the LGBTQ scene in LA, Fun. and Pussy Riot. We also spoke about bullying and, of course, their new EP Bleed Pop. So, without further adieu, let's hear from Cosmo & Jessie:

TB: I must start with an apology. I introduced WASI to my blog as I was knee deep in lactation desserts. Are you guys dessert fans? What is your go to sweet treat?
Cosmo - Desserts are my favorite meal. Jessie actually used to work at a frozen yogurt shop when we lived in Buena Park... so I got hooked with basically free yogurt for a lifetime every single day. For a whole summer, I would head over to her shop and she would give me a pint of strawberry yogurt and almonds which I would eat till I passed out. Nowadays we settle for a healthier dose of Yogurtland. Sometimes we splurge on macarons. 
Jessie- If I could eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner I'd be set. And absolutely no need for an apology, It would be a dream come true to swim in a bathtub of ice cream! We can definitely relate to an obsession with desserts.
TB: WASI has an interesting history. You originally started as a duo with the intention of covering some INXS songs under the moniker the Midol Poppers. Somewhere in that process you decided it was easier to just write your own songs. Then you spent a number of years trying to sort of find your place as you didn't seem to fit into any one scene. What are some of the lessons that you learned that have stayed with you from these early struggles? I know it is a different world now, but what suggestions might you offer a musician that is going through similar frustrations?
Cosmo - A big thing we’ve learned is to be who we are on and off stage. I think it took a minute for us to figure that out because we were coming from a place where we were going against the grain from day 1 without any guidance. Everything we’ve done to this point has been trial and error, then getting back on your feet and doing it differently until it is right. You have to be authentic as there’s a respect that comes with authenticity amongst other artists and friends. It can be scary because you’re putting yourself in a position to be vulnerable to rejection - but it also creates room to grow in real relationships and friendships. A suggestion I’d have for someone going through similar frustrations is when it gets really hard, call up a friend or someone that can relate and spend time with them. From collaborating on some new songs to just grabbing a cup of coffee together. Connecting with someone who understands is key. 
Jessie - We were one of those bands that would approach you at shows at the Hollywood Bowl or at Gay Pride and offer a listen of our music. Putting ourselves out there like that was really scary but exhilarating at the same time. People have literally thrown the headphones off and said we were crap while others became friends that we still have today. For me, growing up was really tough because I was bullied a lot so I was incredibly shy and didn't know how to talk to people. Talking to thousands of people gave me the strength and skills I needed to grow tough skin and really grow out of the shell I was hiding in. A suggestion I’d offer to any musician is to do the same. Throw your art out there and be ready for the ups and downs, take it, and keep going. 
TB: You are now a four piece, making some fabulous music. The lactation dessert friendly track I mentioned earlier was your single "And the World", which was one of my top 20 favorite songs from last year. You recently released "And the World", along with four other songs, on an EP entitled Bleed Pop. How would you summarize the EP?
Cosmo - Bleed Pop is a really personal EP for me as it tells our stories of family, childhood, and a frustration towards a lack of opportunities for the marginalized to excel. My favorite thing about it is that the EP is through an optimistic lens of owning yourself and doing what you love - even if it is being the only person dancing your heart out in a room full of stiffness. We also try to cater our songs to the live show. While in the studio coming up with cool ideas, I sometimes find myself dancing out the parts in a corner haha. 
Thank you so much for posting that about the track, by the way! We were so hyped to see that! 
Jessie- First of all, I'm incredibly flattered you dig "And The World" so much! I definitely agree with what Cosmo said. Bleed Pop is a culmination of years we have grown together through all of the good and the difficult times (things get tough sometimes, but we feel like we always get through it somehow). I don’t know what it was but it was always difficult for us to find a space to really feel confident in. Now when we play shows we get the opportunity to really share a space with others who have the same "Don't Give A Fuck" attitude that we have and we get to all have a party together. At the end of the day it's about having fun. 
TB: How does the cover art for Bleed Pop fit with the five tracks that are featured on it?
Cosmo - Our friend Donny with KIHL Studios did an AMAZING job with the artwork for Bleed Pop. The art showcases the energy of the stories in our songs such as an asymmetry of power, gender inequality and the overall imbalanced structure that we are socially molded to grow up in. 
Jessie - I am a pretty physically androgynous and that is something I was afraid to own for years until WASI. We wanted to own that in the vibe of the package in the way it’s owned in our songs. We wanted it to be loud. 
TB: Billboard compared your high energy pop sound to Matt & Kim. I've had the privilege to see them live a number of times and they put on a helluva show. If you aren't sweating at the end, you are doing something wrong. What are your live shows like?
Cosmo - Matt and Kim are a huge influence to us musically and personally. We want our shows to be a space where people can just completely unleash themselves. Growing up influenced by a lot of punk music, I, personally, subconsciously release that kind of energy at our shows. 
Jessie - We really are about the live show. We try to be as crowd interactive as possible because some of the best shows we've been to have been like that. If someone FEELS something after leaving a WASI show, then mission accomplished. We once saw the band FUN. perform at a small local Orange County venue called Chain Reaction (we were selling cds outside the show of course) and FUN. completely blew us away. The way that Nate completely had the crowd of about 200-250 kids in the palm of his hand made you feel like you were part of the band for that moment. We carry that idea with us today. 
Cosmo - That was one of the top 3 best shows I’ve ever seen. We weren’t just watching FUN. We were part of whatever community they were creating for that hour. 
TB: WASI is a pretty prominent group when it comes to the LGBTQ scene in the LA area. Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in the scene and where it has taken you up to this point?
Jessie- As I mentioned earlier, we have always been at the pride festivals promoting our band and have received huge support from the LGBTQ community. There have been a number of people that have reached out and told us our music made a difference for them and it kind of made us realize that our music isn't about us. Its about the struggle that many of us have to face and that we’re all in it together. Throughout my whole life I was incredibly homophobic (and confused about it) until I realized I was gay at 17. During the really difficult years of bullying I would listen to artists like India Arie and Blink 182-  music that saved my life. We play quite a few LGBTQ fundraisers and charity events and it's a way to give back to the community we’re a part of. 
Cosmo - The LGBT scene is our home. Growing up we didn’t have a safe space and community which I feel is a huge issue for LGBTQ youth. Coming out was really hard for me and I can still feel that fear and self-consciousness come up here and there. I started truly getting involved with the scene when I hosted a rally back in 2008 for No-On-Prop 8 campaign. We threw it in Buena Park right next to Knott’s Berry Farm and made a Youtube video for it. We didn’t anticipate anything huge coming out of it, but by the end of the day we had a few hundred people coming with signs. We ended up marching around the perimeter of the theme park and that whole area. It was crazy! There’s a unique empowerment in the LGBT scene that is so hard to find anywhere else. I think that energy carries with us in our music. There’s a celebration and contagious energy in this scene that really keeps us stoked on life. I remember going to my first Gay Pride in Long Beach not knowing what to expect. And then when you’re there, it’s like  “This IS ME and I can be proud about it”. 
TB: You guys also throw your own events. One event you put on is Women Fuck Shit Up Fest an annual feminist/queer event that seeks to empower those communities to share their art and voice. What sparked the idea for this event?
Cosmo - Haha Women Fuck Shit Up Fest was the BEST!  We threw it at this rad feminist art gallery called Heart of Art Gallery. My good friend Mayra Cortez who I met volunteering at the Rock Camp 4 Girls Orange County (which was also another empowering event) and I came up with the idea together.  We wanted to celebrate a space where female fronted musicians, artists, poets, etc. can showcase their art without judgement.  You hear so much “man, why do girl fronted bands all sound the same” or “why aren’t there any GOOD gay bands, and why are they all PUNK”?  Then what happens is it creates a pattern where just “being a girl” means you’re not good/tough/smart/whatever enough because you’re not a boy. We wanted to tear that down and celebrate being a female/queer artist. 
Jessie- I think Cosmo summed that one up quite well. Overall, it was an incredible experience that none of us will ever forget. What happens from events like that are lifelong solid relationships and new connections/communities stemming from it. 
TB: Maybe its because I just watched a documentary on them last night and its fresh in my mind but WASI seems to be reaching out to the same sort of marginalized communities as Russian performance art group/punk band Pussy Riot. Why do you think this idea of providing a "voice for the voiceless" is met with so much resistance all over the globe?
Cosmo - I think people in general are afraid of change. There is so much ignorance and hate because of fear. So many don’t want to blame it on the structure, racism, sexism, whatever - they let things be ok because for that moment their needs may be met. I think the attitude comes because of a lack of connection with others from different backgrounds and beliefs. 
TB: I want to touch a little bit more on Jessie's bullying because, as someone who works with kids, this is a topic that comes up a lot. Jessie has sort of flipped the script and now makes it a point to showcase what she was bullied for. She treats it as a gift. How did this empowerment, this taking back of her body, occur? How is the WASI brand better because of what Jessie went through?
Jessie- I have a hormonal disorder called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and it causes me to overproduce testosterone. I was bullied about my weight, being a lesbian and basically going through a male puberty. I grew up in a very conservative area and women would stare, make comments and even scream when they would see me in the women's restroom. Honestly, it took so many years for me to accept and love myself. Music has completely brought me out of my shell and has made me realize how important it is to really own who you are because you don't know who you can help down the road. It goes back to "Hey, I've been there too and it's ok we'll get through it." If I can help other people through my experience, I am incredibly happy and all the hardship is totally worth it. 
Cosmo - WASI is about being loud. We’re about owning what makes you different and unique and connecting with others on a level that keeps each other moving/dancing/feeling. 
TB: Musically speaking, what does WASI have planned for the rest of the summer?
Cosmo - I know we just released our EP, but we’re writing more music now than ever. On top of that, playing shows here and there while working on ways to make the show better everytime, releasing some videos (one of them a documentary on our show in Tijuana, Baja California), and WRITING. More writing. 
TB: WASI is based in Los Angeles. If you had to sell that area to an East Coaster, what would you say?
Cosmo - In LA you can easily find other artists to exchange ideas and gossip with, decide to try out acting at any moment in time, and do a juice cleanse.  
On a side note, I think it’s hard to find the “cool” spots of Los Angeles on your own. You really have to dive into the community and connect with the people because that collaboration is what brings this city to life.  
Jessie- Weather-wise, you can walk your dog in shorts and a tank top and be totally fine haha. Except my dog wears hiking boots when she goes on a hike, not tank tops! So basically your dog can wear boots without judgement. 
TB: I know that Cosmo is a bit of a food fan. Do you guys do any crazy stuff in the kitchen? Is there a special WASI approved recipe you'd care to share with our readers?
Cosmo - I am down to compete with anyone on being the absolute worst cook in the kitchen. Seriously.  Once I messed up a scrambled egg and another time I messed up boiling water for spaghetti. I don’t know how. 
Jessie- Yes! So true. She did mess up boiled water and it all evaporated! I actually love to cook and am trying to learn new things. One of my favorite things I've made were red, heart shaped pancakes for our friends on valentine's day. That consisted of Bisquick pancake mix, water, and red food coloring. So complex! We're definitely working on learning new stuff. 
Cosmo - But if we had to choose our own WASI recipe, it would be a mix of coffee-nut-cookies & cream-dark chocolate w/a waffle cone sort of ice cream thing with almonds and m&ms on top. We would also make it from scratch. 
TB: Anything else you'd like to say?
Jessie & Cosmo- Super grateful for the opportunity to talk with you guys, We love food! Come to LA and we'd love to show you our favorite spots to eat. Listen to Bleed Pop at www.isawwasi.com. Follows us on twitter @wasimusic.
Check out "Fire", one of the new tracks on Bleed Pop I am completely enamored with:



The video "And the World":