INTERVIEW: Louisa Solomon of The Shondes on Reclaiming Pejoratives, Public Image, and Being Thrown Into the Sun!

Pictured above: The Shondes drink fancy booze in a fancy way.

There is a kind of manic energy in the music of NYC rockers The Shondes, like that flush of punk fury and activism that surrounded so much of the music I came up with in the mid-90’s like Fugazi, Bikini Kill, or Sleater-Kinney. The Shondes create modern anthems for a generation inundated with information and always looking for something new, curators of both style and politic. You can catch them make my dream of a brunch show mostly a reality (there would need to be La Z Boy seating a a breakfast buffet replete w/mimosas for my vision to be truly complete) this Sunday for a special matinee show at The New Vintage with Julie of the Wolves, for what I believe is their first show in a while, and Hailey Wojcik with doors at noon. We sat down and sent words about the band, their thoughts on the world, and immortality to singer/guitarist Louisa Solomon and she was kind enough to respond.

Never Nervous: How did The Shondes start?

Louisa Solomon: Back in the day I was in a punk band and convinced my new friend Eli, who was a violinist, to join us at practice one day. It was news to him that violin could be a punk instrument. When that band dissolved, he and I realized music was what we wanted to do seriously with our lives, and we started The Shondes. It has taken a few lineup rotations, a few record deals, and a few albums to actually feel great about the project — but hey, we’re finally there!​

NN: How do you all write? Does everyone bring something in, or is it entirely collaborative?

LS: ​We have always been a collaboratively-oriented band, though almost every song starts with one person’s solo writing. I’ll write the lyrics and the chord structure, and bring the skeleton of the song to rehearsal, or to one other collaborator (usually Eli, sometimes the guitarist) for a development phase. Eventually everyone makes their mark on each song.​ It’s important to have vision, and to be willing to let it evolve with other people’s ideas.

NN: Do lyrics or lyrical ideas come first, or does the music? What drives each song?

LS: Songs can start either way – words or music — or most often, with both at once. A hook, a refrain, something. The driver can be any of these pieces and I think the “magic” in the creative process is basically about not being over-prescriptive about the order things should happen in, and following a little idea wherever it takes you.​

NN: What does the name of the band mean? Is there an objective truth in your music, or is that for the audience to decide? Is it possible for a member of the audience to be wrong about an interpretation of your work?

LS: The Shondes means “the disgraces” in Yiddish. We liked the idea of reclaiming a pejorative word in a language we love. People should freely interpret our work! I don’t generally think “right” and “wrong” is the way to think about interpretation, though on occasion someone asserts the definitive “meaning” of a song, and they’re wrong, and we tell them so. We read these interpretations aloud in the van to entertain ourselves on long drives.​

“The Shondes means “the disgraces” in Yiddish. We liked the idea of reclaiming a pejorative word in a language we love. People should freely interpret our work! I don’t generally think “right” and “wrong” is the way to think about interpretation, though on occasion someone asserts the definitive “meaning” of a song, and they’re wrong, and we tell them so. We read these interpretations aloud in the van to entertain ourselves on long drives.​”

NN: Relative to that, what, if anything, is the relationship between band and audience like? Does public response in any way dictate the band’s actions?

LS: I think we have been quite close to our audience all along. Early on, our friends, friends of friends, and broader community were most of our listening audience, and even though that has changed, we still approach audience more like community than like “fan base.” ​

NN: What does it mean to be a feminist in 2015?

LS: There’s no singular answer to that. Being a feminist in 2015 for ME means the same thing it did in 1995 — recognizing structural oppression, opposing patriarchy, thinking critically about the intersections of identities, and how people are privileged on the basis of race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, etc. and people are to varying degrees, dehumanized and denied basic freedoms​…. Being a feminist means being committed to ending domination of all forms. It means I think people should all be able to have fulfilling lives and be treated with respect. I could go on.

“Being a feminist means being committed to ending domination of all forms. It means I think people should all be able to have fulfilling lives and be treated with respect.”

NN: In the film “Instrument” about Fugazi, there is a scene where they discuss how their fanbase mythologizes them into something absurd, supposing that the band is monk-like or that they eschew fun because of the intensity of their political discourse. Has The Shondes ever been mis-characterized as something other than how you live your daily life? For that matter, what’s a day in the life like on or off tour?

LS: ​For the most part Shondes fans have embraced our music and our politics. And I think our fans know that we are human beings who are both very serious and totally dorky and goofy. We have a lot of fun on stage and that shows, so any fan who has seen us live knows that. On the other hand, as an individual in the world​ I feel i’ve often been mischaracterized as overly-intense or overly-serious. The band is a place I feel protected from accusations like that! People come to the Shondes for heartfelt intensity and also a good time. At least that’s what they tell me. So in a way I feel more “seen” and “whole” (less mythologized) on stage than I ever have in community.

“On the other hand, as an individual in the world​ I feel i’ve often been mischaracterized as overly-intense or overly-serious. The band is a place I feel protected from accusations like that! People come to the Shondes for heartfelt intensity and also a good time. At least that’s what they tell me. So in a way I feel more “seen” and “whole” (less mythologized) on stage than I ever have in community.”

NN: How effective is activism by way of music? What kind of power is there in that platform –music- over another?

LS: Music is special — it pulls you in and if you’re moved by the sound, it really takes you through an emotional experience.​ I don’t think of it as activism “by way of” music though, I just think some songs help move people politically-emotionally, or compel people to try to be better, or to commit to things.

NN: Is there ever a time where the business or music has to take precedence over activism or vice versa?

LS: No. A music career includes navigating capitalism and trying to participate in justice struggles​, just like the rest of life! I don’t see it as precedence of one thing over another, just a constant effort to do the best you can in a sometimes-awful world.

NN: What constitutes a good show and why? What about a bad one?

LS: ​We consider a “good show” to be one where we can really see that the audience is moved, excited, happy afterwards. It could be 10 people or 500 people, but if they’re moved by our performance, I’m happy.

NN: Would you live forever at your current age? Would that answer change if your life was suspended in perpetuity at a different age?

LS: I believe in change! Don’t get me stuck anywhere. If I could maintain my physical wellbeing, yes, I’d probably want some of that, but aging is amazing. It’s a definitive part of living life! Give it to me.​

NN: If you could throw one person into the sun, who would it be and why?

LS: Being thrown into the sun sounds amazing. Or do you mean, being burned alive? We were just talking the other day — I have this intense justice orientation, which means I sometimes have revenge fantasies, but they’re all about making someone UNDERSTAND how they’ve hurt people and suffering as a result of the realization. I don’t tend to wish violence on people. Maybe a sucker punch to a really bad person — but not a fiery death. What kind of justice would that be?

“Being thrown into the sun sounds amazing. Or do you mean, being burned alive? We were just talking the other day — I have this intense justice orientation, which means I sometimes have revenge fantasies, but they’re all about making someone UNDERSTAND how they’ve hurt people and suffering as a result of the realization. I don’t tend to wish violence on people. Maybe a sucker punch to a really bad person — but not a fiery death. What kind of justice would that be?”

But in a totally unrealistic, cartoony way, I’d like to spend some time in the sun. It sounds warm and bright. I like napping on hot sand and rocks. Would it be like that?​

NN: What non-musical thing have you interested lately? Read, watched, eaten, or drank anything that has you riled up recently?

LS: We ate some excellent food on our way down the West coast and then across the southwest…. green chile always gets me riled up. ​

NN: Last but never least, what is your top five desert island album picks and why?

LS:  Bruce Springsteen’s The River and Nebraska
Otis Redding’s Blue
Bill Withers’ Best of (sorry is that a cop-out?)
Hole’s Live Through This

Let’s hope this doesn’t happen though!