Beyond the Boys’ Club is a monthly column from journalist and radio host Anne Erickson, focusing on women in the heavy music genres, as they offer their perspectives on the music industry and discuss their personal experiences. This month’s piece features an interview with Robin Wattie of Big|Brave.
Montreal metal trio Big|Brave tackle the weighty issues of gender, race and feeling like one doesn’t belong on their new album, Vital, out April 23 via Southern Lord.
The album’s lead single, “Half Breed,” finds singer-guitarist Robin Wattie sharing the experience of being of mixed race and the confusion and insecurity that can come with it.
Wattie checked in with Heavy Consequence for the latest “Beyond the Boys’ Club” column to discuss how she and the members of Big|Brave quarantined together to create Vital, her experience in the metal world, and her advice to those looking to pursue a career in music.
Read our full interview with Robin Wattie below, and pre-order Big|Brave’s new album, Vital, via Bandcamp or Amazon.
On the meaning behind the first Vital single “Half Breed”
It’s really directly to do with being of mixed race. Regardless of the mix, it’s a silent, private issue, and it’s not easy, because you don’t belong to either or aren’t accepted by either side. You have to navigate the world, and you’re very much shaped and formed by how people perceive you and how they react to you. The lyrics are actually taken out of Alexander Chee’s book, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. I have never come across anyone who so eloquently, perfectly and precisely described what it is like to be mixed race and growing up in this type of body.
On the importance of Big|Brave’s music having a message and meaning
It’s always been very important for me. In the beginning, for example, with our first album, I was very shy about being explicit with my lyrics. So, I tended to speak in metaphors and use abstract wording to convey a message or convey an idea and let people decide for themselves. That’s also a fun way to start a conversation where you can loosely talk about something and then someone’s like, “Oh, this reminds me of that.” But, now that I do have this small platform where people are listening and taking things into consideration, I decided to become more explicit in my wording.
We’ve always been vocal, but even more so now, because we feel very strongly about what we’re speaking about, and it’s also a way to a way to reach out to someone. Even if one person messages me saying, “Your lyrics gave me hope, and thank you for this,” it’s worth it.
On whether the writing of Vital was influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic
Actually, none of the writing on this album was influenced by COVID-19. Maybe indirectly the making of the album was influenced by COVID-19, because everything was shut down, and the whole band decided to quarantine together. In that sense, if it weren’t for everything shutting down, the album would have come out later, and we wouldn’t have written it in our inner circle bubble, but musically and lyrically, it wasn’t really influenced.
On what she hopes listeners and fans take away from Vital
The full spectrum of emotion response is totally welcome to me, and I’m including absolute hate for it! (Laughs) At least they are feeling and thinking something. That’s what art is. It’s to help people think and feel whatever it is that they think and feel. If they have no thought or opinions, then I feel like the work has fallen short. But, I’m hoping they can get anything out of it. Ideally, of course, it would be amazing if folks can find some catharsis, or identify with something within the album, or if they can find something remotely interesting. Whatever they get or didn’t get, I would be happy that it was something rather than nothing at all.
On the difference in the number of women making rock and metal music today versus when Big|Brave first started out
There’s a huge difference. A huge difference! The first two years of Big|Brave touring and playing shows, I shared the stage with less than a handful of women. That was 2015, 2016, so it wasn’t that long ago. This is specifically the heavy music scene, and we got lumped into post-rock, too. So, we played a lot of post-rock shows, too, but overall, there were barely any women. There still aren’t nearly enough, but there are more women sharing the stage, and I’ve also noticed that there are more women in the crowd, too.
I remember years ago, we were playing this one show in the States, and this one girl came up to me to say that it was so refreshing and inspiring to see me onstage. I wanted to hug her because she was quite shy and being that it was a heavy music show, it was especially important to me because she was the only one of a handful of women there. And being that she wasn’t white either, was especially cool. But, the ratio between men and women is still very, very high to low. It’s progressing, though.
On if there was a turning point when fans or other musicians were taking Big|Brave more seriously as a band
I do think there was, I can’t really mark it exactly, but I know that there was a turning point, and I think it had to do with the amount of respect we were being given by other heavyweights in the music scene. Having been invited on tours and to play open for these heavyweights, this sort of christened us into the band being more easily accepted at first glance. Whether or not listeners liked us is a different story! (laughs) But because of this, if not given respect by others, we were at least being considered.
On how Big|Brave broke through the female rocker stereotypes
I think it was that we just kept going and putting albums out. We kept our integrity and our roots in what we wanted to do musically. We didn’t get caught up in what we thought would be cool — we got caught up in what we wanted to do.
On if there’s more pressure on women in rock and metal to look a certain way
Yeah! If you’re down for that, then that’s cool. I actually really don’t care what people look like, but I do notice that there is a certain attitude and a certain look that is put on. You can tell when someone’s being genuine and when someone is playing a role. There’s definitely pressure for that. I don’t feel that pressure, because I never paid attention to that kind of thing.
On what advice she would give young women who want to pursue rock and metal music
Just do it! Absolutely, just do it. It’s such a normal thing to second guess yourself and to question and have those insecurities. It’s is so hard to not to be influenced by the outside world. Do what feels right for you, as long as you feel good about it. Also, reach out to other people, regardless of their gender, and talk to them to get advice. Make those mistakes that you think you’re afraid to make, because that helps you to build up your confidence and experience in what to do and what not to do.
01. Abating the Incarnation of Matter
02. Half Breed
03. Wited. Still and All…
04. Of This Ilk