There are so many ways that The Shondes have been described, with sexy, queer, transgender, feminist, radical, steampunky, Jewish rock band chief among the adjectives that separate the band from their contemporaries (the latter of whom are sometimes called “Sleater-come-latelys”). But The Village Voice in all its wisdom seems to have nailed why it is that this Brooklyn-based indie band is beloved by LGBT audiences around the globe: “Riot grrrl radicalism wed to classically structured songs, distortion pedals, clashing vocals, and powerful lyrics.”
Now The Shondes are hitting SXSW this week and then following it up with an American tour this spring and then their first European tour. Armed with their latest album, Searchlights, and a brand new music video released today for the second single off it, “Give Me What You've Got,” the band is ready to rock.
That means quite the show from the band that was founded in 2006 by queer lead singer and bassist Louisa Rachel Solomon and transgender violinist Elijah Oberman and — along with genderqueer drummer Temim Fruchter, 33, and guitarist Fureigh, 28 — has been perfecting their sound ever since. Solomon, now 30, and Oberman, 28, were in a band in their late teens called the Syndicate and “have really been through everything together,” she says. That includes Oberman’s battle with breast cancer in 2010 and some early band member drama (a guitarist that bailed in the middle of a national tour, “but that’s old news,” says Solomon. “And we're so much better for it in the end because Fureigh has been such a vital addition to our songwriting. Talk about a clutch player.”). A self-taught badass drummer, Fruchter herself has become something of a sexy queer icon, our own John Bonham if you will.
We caught up with Fruchter and Solomon — this week at SXSW and opening for Leisha Hailey’s band Uh Huh Her in Gainesville, Fla. on March 26 — to talk about touring Europe as Jews, transforming SXSW, and why Conway, Arkansas might rock even more than your hometown.
The tour sounds exciting. You’re going to some spots we don’t always think of as being progressive towns like Conway, Arkansas and Lexington, Kentucky. What was the draw to those cities?
Fruchter: We're super excited about the tour, yes. We like to play all kinds of cities — we try to make stops in any city we can where we have at least a couple of fans, sometimes cities where bands don't tour all that often. I definitely think it's important to remember that there are all kinds of communities all over the country; there's plenty of awesome progressive stuff — and all kinds of stuff — happening all over the country, and not just in major urban centers. Actually sometimes it's the small towns and cities and places we haven't been before where we get some of the warmest welcomes and encounter some of the awesomest activism and art. Though obviously we're excited about the big cities too. There's plenty of excitement to go around.
How often have you toured before as a band?
Fruchter: We actually tour a lot. We started the band in 2006 and within two months of our existence we'd booked ourselves a massive eight-week tour. We have this spring tour coming up and then we're touring Europe this fall, which I'm beside myself excited about. But touring is great, and really important to us in terms of keeping up momentum, connecting with fans and other artists and musicians, and just getting to try out material — old and new — in all kinds of contexts.
You make it sound rather poetic.
Fruchter: Touring can definitely be kind of grueling sometimes. You sit in a van for 10 hours on end and you feel like you've morphed into the upholstery sometimes. And personal space and exercise and things like that can be a little harder to find than usual. But I certainly love it, and I think we as a band really enjoy it. Part of that has been about making sure that we have some of the things we love and that sustain us — good meals, ways to get exercise, time to explore new places and get some sunshine, hydration, excellent mixtapes — even when we're not in New York. Quality of life on tour can be pretty important, and we're pretty lucky to get to travel so much, so we like to make it kind of an adventure. And we've definitely gotten better at that over the years.
How do you describe The Shondes to LGBT audiences?
Solomon: I don't think I would describe us any differently to LGBT audiences than to any other audiences. We are a band that's bent on making music that speaks to people's hearts, cheesy as it sounds, and hopefully inspires people to keep fighting for justice. Lofty goal, I know. But truly, it's been my experience that music can help motivate action, and provide comfort in bad times. So I always hope our music can be a soundtrack for all the hard work people are doing, like Bikini Kill or Bruce Springsteen have been for me. We bring together all the influences that have most affected us over the years and try to make music that heals us, and offers real, emotional connection to listeners — empathy, hope, rage.
It’s kind of exciting to hear that there are a number of queer and feminist shows at SXSW this year; that’s different than even a decade ago.
Fruchter: Yes we're pretty psyched about that. We've played at SXSW for the past several years, yeah, and it's been cool to watch as, over time, all kinds of cool unofficial shows and day parties have cropped up. I always go check out the Girls Rock Camp Austin show, for example, and we often play GayBiGayGay, which is a huge queer festival that happens at the tail end of SXSW. But this year, I think more than ever, there are a bunch of these sorts of shows.
What are your hopes for SXSW?
Fruchter: I think we just hope to play some stellar shows, connect with some new fans, and maybe if a miracle happens, run into Bruce Springsteen.
After this you’ll be on your first European tour? Are you excited or nervous?
Solomon: Both in spades. Since we're all Jewish and descend, in part, from Eastern Europe, it's going to be really exciting to visit that part of the world for the first time. Always looking for maximum emotional intensity, even unintentionally. I seem to have booked us to be in Germany and Poland for the Jewish high holidays, which is going to be really interesting and painful, I think. We have the holidays off, of course, and are going to get to go to synagogue in Berlin and Warsaw. I'm sure there will be a lot of blogging about the experience. But for the band, this is a huge opportunity and we're lucky to have European bookers so generously helping us plan carefully so it can be a big success. We've had fans all over the world begging us to tour internationally for years now, and I'm glad we're finally getting started. The details of our European tour are top secret for the moment, but I will say we are going to try to do our best to cover as much ground as possible.
The Shondes' 2012 Spring Tour Dates
3/10/2012 Lexington, KY @ Al's Bar w/ The Spooky Qs
3/11/2012 Conway, AR @ University of Central Arkansas - McCastlain East
3/14/2012 Austin, TX @ Cheer Up Charlie's: Get Off the Internet: Sponsored by Feminist Music Geek, Homoground, International Girl Gang Underground and Young Creature w/ Katastrophe, Christeene, MicaTron, Agent Ribbons, Forever, Chainbow, No Mas Bodas, The Back Pockets, Holy Boats
3/16/2012 Austin, TX @ Bernadette's w/ Bitterheart Society, Chainbow, Seashell Radio, Spooky Qs, Agent Ribbons
3/17/2012 Austin, TX @ Oil Can Harry’s: OUTlander Spring Festival Day 4 w/ Sick of Sarah, God-des and She and more
3/18/2012 Austin, TX @ GayBiGayGay
3/20/2012 San Antonio, TX @ University of Texas San Antonio
3/21/2012 Baton Rouge, LA @ Louisiana State University
3/23/2012 New Orleans, LA @ Allways Lounge
3/25/2012 Pensacola, FL @ Handlebar
3/26/2012 Gainesville, FL @ TBA w/ Uh Huh Her
3/28/2012 Tallahassee, FL
3/30/2012 Atlanta, GA @ The Highland Inn Ballroom w/ Superpill, Sonia Tetlow Band, and Flat Cat
3/31/2012 Durham, NC @ The Pinhook w/ Beloved Binge + Brainbows
4/2/2012 Fairfax, VA @ George Mason University
4/4/2012 Baltimore, MD @ TBA
4/5/2012 Washington, DC @ The Rock N Roll Hotel w/ Troll Tax and Fell Types
4/9/2012 Wellesley, MA @ Wellesley College
4/19/2012 Cleveland, OH @ The Beachland Ballroom and Tavern w/ How to Breathe Underwater and Crave
4/20/2012 Columbus, OH @ Ohio State University
4/21/2012 Chicago, IL @ The Hideout w/ Cobalt and the Hired Guns, The Cathy Santonies
4/22/2012 Chicago, IL @ Loyola University
4/26/2012 Milwaukee, WI @ TBA
4/27/2012 Madison, WI @ The Frequency w/ Venus in Furs and Dr. Dolphin
4/28/2012 Minneapolis, MN @ The Triple Rock w/ Scattered Birdz, Jettison Juliet and DJ Shannon Blowtorch
5/3/2012 Seattle, WA @ The Sunset Tavern w/ Led To Sea, Lesli Wood
5/4/2012 Portland, OR @ Reed College
5/5/2012 Portland, OR @ The Doug Fir Lounge
5/6/2012 Arcata, CA @ The Alibi w/ DJ Anya
5/10/2012 Davis, CA @ KDVS
5/11/2012 SF, CA @Thee Parkside w/ Night Call, Dark Beach
5/12/2012 LA, CA @ The Smell w/ The Electra, Ingenue, Potential Lunatics
5/13/2012 Riverside, CA @ BloodOrange: Ladyfest Inland Empire Benefit Show
5/17/2012 Phoenix, AZ @ TBA
5/18/2012 Tucson, AZ @ Plush w/ Seashell Radio
5/19/2012 Albuquerque, NM @ TBA w/ As In We, Sputniq
5/21/2012 Lawrence, Kansas @ TBA