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An interview with gSp / by Kerry Cardoza

Photo by Adrian Saenz.

It’s 2017, and, like Fannie Lou Hamer before us, we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. What do we want? In the words of gSp: TOTAL LIBERATION. gSp (short for girlSperm, a name they’ve previously discussed) is an idea as much as it’s a band. It’s about hanging out with your friends, watching movies, skating for fun, and talking about the radical possibilities of change. Composed of punk stalwarts Marissa Magic, Layla Gibbon, and Tobi Vail, gSp laments life under late capitalism with catchy, dual guitar riffs, chanted gang vocals, and drumming that drives the beat ever forward. Towards what? Hopefully a brighter future where this feminist punk supergroup can be the soundtrack we play in the streets. The debut gSp self-titled 12-inch is out now on Thrilling Living Records.

How did you all meet? How did gSp start?

Marissa Magic: I've known Tobi for 15 years and for least the last ten she has been bugging me to start a band. We had a brief, ill-fated band before gSp. Tobi still wanted a band with me and then she roped in Layla.

Tobi Vail: Yes, we were playing in a group where Marissa was the singer and I was the drummer and at some point I realized that I would prefer to be writing songs with Marissa in a more direct way than those roles normally allow. I think I met Layla in England in 1993 when Bikini Kill toured with Huggy Bear. She is in a movie about that tour called “It Changed My Life” directed by Lucy Thane.

Layla Gibbon: The Bikini Kill/Huggy Bear tour of the UK directly inspired my teenage band to exist. We told them we were in a band even though we weren't and had never really played music. They offered us a show with Bikini Kill and Blood Sausage - I think? - which we couldn't do, but our first show ended up being shortly after with a Huggy Bear side project called The Furbelows. We exchanged fanzines. [Tobi’s zine] Jigsaw also changed my life and made me want to be a writer! I starting making zines when I was 13 and they were pretty goofy, but Jigsaw and the Huggy Bear zines made me see what was possible, how to write about music and life and ideas in a powerful manner that put across an aesthetic and musical world of possibilities.

I am pretty sure I met Marissa at a fest in Olympia? Probably when Shady Ladies played Ladyfest. I remember seeing the Punks play around that era but I could be wrong??? I have a really clear vision of the room and the people though but the era could be off. I remember actually hanging out with her at Yeah Fest which was really crazy and fun. We wanted to play music together as we have similar ideas of deforming the form, and I think we just wanted to HANG OUT which is a really important part of being in a band.

Sometimes you are in a band with people you don't have friend chemistry with, but musically it works. This band is sort of about skating in parking lots and eating crazy county fair food and making songs about our ideas and experiences. For me it's really inspiring to play with two total rippers. I have always played music with people around the same musical ability as me. (Well, maybe in Modern Reveries the other two were a class above me.) But in this band it's really fun to figure out how to make our styles of music coagulate into the gSp reality.

What is your songwriting process like? Do you explicitly choose to write about certain topics (i.e. corporate sponsorship of bands, experiencing sexism at work) or does it happen more naturally?

TV: The first time we played music together was memorable. It was mostly just improvisation. I wanted us to all sing and be empowered to be equal songwriters so I had to make my beats super minimal. As far as lyrics go, they just happen when we hang out, I think.

MM: All of our songs come about from us hanging out, ranging from riffs to beats to lyrics. We never really bring anything completely independently. The lyrics are mostly one liners from movies we’ve watched or songs we’ve heard or discussions we’ve had.

LG: I think our early band style was just to hang out and make insane jams and then parts of the jam would make up a song. We had a few epic ones from this era that no longer exist… Now usually one of us will start playing something, then everyone else just sort of figures out their way through the song. I tend to write songs that are stuck in my teenage years of listening to Flipper and Huggy Bear and going to see Thee Headcoatees every month at the St. John's Tavern. Then Marissa is a true SHREDDER and just rips up cool, wild, no wave guitar insanity over it, which detracts from my trad-dad surf tendencies in a cool manner. And Tobi often wants to deconstruct her previous ideas of drumming so they make sense for this band, and that's sort of how it works from my perspective. The songs stem from hanging out and making jokes and reading books and watching movies, a sort of collective idea board aiming at that politically radical but also Kleenex Dada vision.

Where are you located and what are the punk scenes like there?

MM: I currently live in Oakland. I’m not super tapped into hardcore here. I kind of tend towards the noise and freak scenes. I will always love Daisy World and I will always love SBSM. The drummers of those two bands have been working on a drums-only band and I can’t wait.

TV: I live in Olympia. The scene seems to go through a hardcore phase every 4-5 years or so, and sometimes there are noise /industrial/experimental artists working in the DIY/punk realm but it changes a lot. I am pretty sick of hardcore. I think I got sick of it around 1985 but it’s interesting to watch it evolve ideologically and I like that it exists as an accessible folk form that empowers kids to start bands.

LG: I live in SF out by the beach. There is an all-ages space by me that has a lot of hardcore shows, and also a sea cave down by the ocean that has infrequent noise and punk shows. (I have seen Wolf Eyes and HOAX there.) When I first moved here, there were shows almost every night at bars and weird warehouse spaces, at abandoned lots and in former decaying baseball stadiums. Since SF has become chiefly a bedroom community for rich yuppie jerk offs who work in tech in Silicon Valley, it is clear that the old reality of having cool and secret underground show spaces that enable a scene to exist has been jeopardized so totally. Thrillhouse Records has a show about once a month and there are a couple of houses that have shows in different parts of the city, but I would say the SF scene has been radically damaged by the new tech reality of worker bee drones that don't care about anything but eating artisanal bacon and riding the Google bus. There are cool bands that play in the Bay of course. I love SBSM, the World, Mozart… Oakland has an exciting ever-changing musical landscape, but honestly I am struggling to think of a single actual SF band?! Like Cold Beat and half of Mozart lived in SF but I don't think Mozart live in SF anymore.

You have all been playing music for a long time, and have been in some of the most iconic bands of the past few decades. How has the feminist punk subculture changed over time? How is playing music different now from when you first started performing?

TV: Feminism and punk have both been gentrified but feminist punk is a moving target… like you might see some terms getting co-opted and sold in a chain store on a t-shirt but there will still be groups playing basements that have nothing to do with the kind of commodification that happens in the marketplace without our consent or cooperation.

MM: It doesn’t really feel much different to me. The people I like and admire rule, and authority figures and so many sound guys can eat shit. More and more in the Bay Area freak scene it feels like queers and women of color dominate and it’s really fucking cool.

LG: I feel like things are way cooler now, like it's not a thing for a "girl band" to exist. The "women in rock" tiredness has sort of worn down a bit? There are so many cool bands with women identified people playing in the punk scene now. Even the more mainstream Burger Records crowd had a fest that was all bands with women in them. It feels like it's more casual and less politically charged. Women can just make music without having to feel like they have to represent for every woman? I don’t know if that’s true but that's just the feeling I get, particularly from editing MRR for five years. It feels like it's more common for women to be in bands than it was in the early 00s?

I think it's frustrating for a lot of women because every band gets put in the context of riot grrrl. Bands that sound like early ESG or the Electric Eels get described as "riot grrrl" which I obviously don’t see as an insult but it's sort of limiting and strange. Maybe it's like being a female singer-songwriter and everyone comparing your work to Joni? I don't know. I think it's cool that a million subcultures exist that are explicitly feminist, radical, and queer, across different genres of punk.

Everyday brings another bleak news story. There are always horrible things going on in the world for sure, but with the 24-hour news cycle and the immediacy of social media, bad news seems particularly incessant these days. How do you maintain the energy for creative projects? Do you have hope that things will get better?

TV: Creative projects are energy giving...Hope is a concept that has less and less traction as we move closer to nuclear war and economic disaster and total environmental destruction. I don’t believe in progress but capitalism and patriarchy are failing systems.

MM: Incessant focus and work and push towards various projects and self growth. I try to help people when I can. I try to not think about the future really. I try to stay alert and informed and off of social media for the most part. I realize I can spend time worrying about things I have no control over (specifically nuclear war) or I can concentrate on being the best person I can be to the people within my reach.

LG: It feels like a truly regressive toxic time. It's hard to know how to exist in such an era, but hanging out with your friends and making things together is one way forward. Taking the terrible feelings and trying to make them into something else. I have no clue. It feels like the end of the world.

In an earlier interview, Marissa called gSp an "explicitly feminist band." You have all had previous musical projects that were perhaps less widely known: Shady Ladies, Awesomes, etc. What does gSp hope to achieve by choosing to be more public facing and accessible (via interviews and promo)?

TV: We can’t predict the future. So far we have played three shows, made a 10 song record, and had our photograph taken a few times. I think we’ve been a band for about two weeks but over the period of a few years. It would be great to do more stuff!

MM: I’ve treated this band like any other project I’ve been involved in, which is to say they’ve all been theoretically public facing and feminist, whether or not they’ve been successful at it or actually come across as such. This band may seem more so than the others because Tobi Vail of Bikini Kill is playing drums. I think we’ll get a lot of things done but I don’t think we really have a plan or goals set.

LG: I think the last band I was in that had any sort of press interest was Skinned Teen. That was because we were 13 year old girls inspired by Bratmobile/The Shaggs/etc i.e. seen as a freak show. Most of the bands I have played in since then have been short-lived or not been of interest to the press or not interested in press (Petty Crime, Frigidaires, Elle Touer, Modern Reveries, Shady Ladies, Dilettos, Sunday Drivers). I think this one probably is getting more attention because of the combination of people?

What are your astrological signs?

MM: Gemini

TV: Cancer

LG: Scorpio

What are your current top 10s?

Laurie Spiegel - The Expanding Universe
Chain and the Gang - Experimental Music
Gary Lee Conner - Ether Trippers
Lemon Twigs - Brothers of Destruction
Sleaford Mods - English Tapas
Earth - live
The Raincoats - first LP & Jenn Pelly’s 33 1/3 book
Mecca Normal - Anguish / Misogyny
Lana Del Rey - Lust for Life
Cath Carroll - England Made Me

Safiya Umoja Noble
Osa Atoes Pottery
The Blues
Nothing Band
Alice Coltrane
Free Kitten
Sediment Club
The B-52s

The Milkshakes, “Love Can Lose”
Maraudeur, LP
The Tone Benders, “Little Black Egg”
Beach Boys, “4th of July”
Norma Tenega, “You’re Dead”
John Cale, “Hanky Panky Nohow”
Dolly Mixture, “Whistling in the Dark”
Lithics, live and cassette
Brenda Holloway, “Land of a Thousand Boys”
Mod 4, “Open Up Your Mind”

What is in gSp's future? Will you be touring?

TV: Who knows. I hope so!

MM: We are busy people who live in different places but are all devoted to gSp.

LG: Yes! we will play your all-ages autonomous zone.

Kerry Cardoza is a writer and journalist based in Chicago who focuses on the intersections of art, gender, and social justice. She sings in Espejos and co-runs Amigos, an independent art press. Sagittarius. Her favorite artist is Daniella Ben-Bassat. Follow her on Twitter @booksnotboys.

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