June 2, 2011
The Ripping Bassist Goes Solo
Amy Klein is better known as Amy Andronicus, guitarist for the much-loved indie punk band Titus Andronicus, but she does plenty of stuff under her own name—like writing essays on her own blog and elsewhere touching on feminism, punk, and the strangeness of being a semi-big-time performer; or founding the group Permanent Wave, which wants “Revolution lady-style, now!”; or releasing her own EP of gorgeous, heartfelt songs and donating the proceeds to relief efforts in Japan. She’s one of the more thoughtful musicians we’ve met, and also—in case it’s not clear—a card-carrying feminist who really cares about the treatment of women in rock. So naturally, we jumped at the chance to sit down with her and discuss the treatment of women musicians. And also, Korean Tacos.
Why do you think women are made less of in rock history?
Amy Klein: Throughout history music critics and music journalists have mostly been male. When I think about how things get written into rock journalism they’re usually associated with a certain historical movement like grunge or punk. A lot of those are basically social groups where a lot of people rise together. Most of the time they were social groups of boys with maybe one or two women who happened to become a part of it. When people see large groups of women doing things together they’re less likely to call that out as a “cool new movement” or “cool new scene.” I think with Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls—where lots of women get together and teach girls how to play instruments—there’s going to be tons of bands in the next 20 years coming out where the girls will have skills that have been honed since childhood.
One weird thing is that a lot of the famous women musicians have been bassists. I guess that’s because there’s this attitude of, “Oh she’s the girl in the band, she can play bass.”
I don’t know how that bass player thing happened. Bass is not that hard to play at a punk level. I think it gets to a point where girls see other girls playing bass and think oh, I could do that. If you just saw a lot more female guitarists other girls would think they could do that. It’s like self identification and you choose what you want to do based on what you think is available to you. It turns out that playing guitar in a punk band isn’t any harder than playing the bass. [Laughs.]
Do you think that women tend to get more sexualized in rock? Women are normally sexualized more than men but in rock there are plenty of men who are sexualized as well.
Definitely. Rock ‘n’ roll, at its heart, is pretty much about sex. You can’t take that away. I think that the difference is that a lot of the time men seem more in control of the sexuality—they’re getting groupies— versus if you’re a girl you’re more likely to be objectified. For men, being sexy and having a lot of talent makes it easier to get that image of “Oh I’m sexy and I’m that sick guitar player” or something like that. That’s easier to pull off than being a super sexy woman in a low-cut dress and playing guitar—people are just going to think “oh boobs, boobs, boobs, boobs,” and maybe not focus as much on the technical skill or the talent of the musician. You can’t deny that it’s about sex and if you’re going into it as a woman you have to know that it’s part of the game, it’s part of the music, and part of the business. There’s all kinds of rock music at this point. There’s indie bands that are super nerdy and you see girls doing that too—there’s nothing sexy about it and that’s the point. That’s awesome. It’s interesting to see musicians who are pulling it off—female musicians who are really sexy and really talented and they are totally in control of their image.
You’ve written about being followed around by photographers who want to take your picture, and you weren’t happy with that.
[Laughs] Yeah, that sucks.
It seems like everyone thinks it would be cool to be famous enough that people want to take your photo but it’s not?
It’s not cool. [Laughs] I have a very analytical, critical sense about me so I think it’s hard for me, in general, to get absorbed in these kinds of rituals. I’m always at a distance like whoa, what’s going on? In general, I feel like I’m learning a lot of lessons about what success is to me. I’m figuring out that it has nothing to do with anyone wanting to take your picture or anything like that. I feel like I’m learning a lot of personal lessons, not just about the music industry but about what’s meaningful in life. I guess everybody learns these lessons in different ways but for me, it’s sort of coming about from seeing a lifestyle that a lot of people think would be super cool.
You also wrote about Korean tacos and how great they are—what are they?
It’s like the best of Korean food meets Mexican food. It’s like barbequed beef that has some sauce in it that’s like soy sauce, a delicious brown sauce. Then it has some toasted sesame seeds on top and some kind of slaw that maybe has cabbage or radishes or cucumbers. Then it’s wrapped up in a little taco sized soft tortilla and you put lime on top.
That sounds delicious.
I had one in Austin, Texas two years ago and it was probably the highlight of my year. I kept trying to find another Korean taco but they’re not easy to find. I found a truck in LA and went there I was excited but it wasn’t any good. I went towards the Korean taco place and there was this huge line, there was no line at any other truck but of course the taco place had one. When I was almost to the front I was like “oh whoops, I lost my cell phone.” It’s dark and there’s like a thousand people. I was almost to the front of the line—I was going to lose my Korean taco and I just said to hell with my cell phone and got a taco.
Did you ever find your phone?
Yeah, by the time I got back to where the artist area was some nice lady had already found it and texted everybody in my phone book. It was lucky but when it came down to it, it was all for a taco. I wanted the taco. [Laughs.]