The Raleigh trio is taking on their state's transphobic policies and much more
Photo by Julia Kesselman
Equal parts garage punk and political theater, Pie Face Girls are a three piece from Raleigh, NC made up of DD (guitar, vocals) , Klay (drums) and Fifi (bass, vocals). They formed in 2014 and have since released a demo EP and just put out their first LP Formative Years this May. Their songs and live show directly confront the dire political situation in their home state of North Carolina, where former Governor Pat McCrory was hellbent on setting a terrible new precedent for transphobic discrimination, and where his replacement Roy Cooper has failed to live up to promises for change.
Pat McCrory is of course most infamous for his transphobic HB2 Bathroom Bill, which among other rollbacks of LGBTQ rights requires under law that people use bathrooms that coincide with their assigned gender at birth. The bill sparked widespread protest and even a full-on boycott of the state. Pie Face Girls took their anger toward McCrory directly to their performances. They spoke out during sets, wrote songs, and would print and paste photos of McCrory onto boxes which audience members would destroy over the course of the night.
Newly elected governor Roy Cooper has since repealed HB2, but only replaced it with HB142 which still allows for discrimination against trans people – some groups call it HB2.0 – and so the fight continues. As the Pie Face Girls said on their Facebook page, “Fuck HB142.” The band’s new LP tackles both governors head on. Album closer “Fuck You I’m Pretty,” for example, is accompanied by a music video of the band taking over bathrooms in North Carolina, applying makeup, and shouting “Fuck You, I’m Pretty.” The video reminds viewers with text that “You Belong Here.” As they told The Le Sigh, “[the video is an] F-U to a government that thought they could discriminate against our trans brothers and sisters and get away with it. It is our anthem of rebellion.”
The performance elements help send a clear message, but also come out of practical necessity for a band that was prioritizing their message from the beginning: “A huge reason why performance props/theatrics has been practical in our shows is we didn’t know how to play our instruments at the time and needed something else to do on stage,” explains DD.
These days the Pie Face Girls has upped their musicianship while still maintaining their explicitly political bent. In one of their biggest shows to date, they performed this May at MOOGfest and brought their political theater center stage. The band created a visual backdrop of a series of three minute films featuring women, queer, and POC Raleigh residents, providing powerful visual representation of the NC communitiies McCrory and his ilk want to disappear from public life. They also constructed life-sized cakes that were decorated with the words “Revenge Is Sweet” that local drag queens Stormie Daie and Dere Lict helped them hoist onstage. This a band that takes advantage of a bigger stage to amplify their beliefs.
I chatted with the band about being a politically active punk band in the South, becoming a more serious group, and what it means to be an agent of change in the world.
SHELLY SIMON: You’ve grown a lot in the past few years. How did the band go from playing local bookstores in 2014 to MOOGfest 2017?
DD: I really like that you found a video of us playing a bookstore in 2014.
KLAY: You found that one video of us…
K: Yes! Viva la Persistence!
D: Not changing our morals or values – no matter what. Doesn’t matter if it makes us cool or popular or the opposite. We’re not here to appease people or make friends. We’re here to make a difference. We have friends, we have each other.
F: Taking ourselves more seriously – by means of practicing more, penciling in time to practice and making practicing a priority – not just something we will do when we feel like it. Taking the initiative to make it happen. MOOGfest would have never contacted us to play if we were acting the same way we acted three years ago.
Was more practice time possible because you had more free time, or did you make more free time?
D: Oh no, we have “no” free time.
K: I think we started practicing more the less free time we had.
F: We just started prioritizing practice more so than anything.
D: The more we started practicing, the more people started noticing us. Then we started to take ourselves more seriously because other people were taking us seriously. Our values, the things we want to do, the differences we want to make were always there, we just weren’t sure how to convey them.
F: We were younger and we didn’t know how to “be a band.” By means of figuring it out as we went. The more we met other bands, older bands, more experienced bands, we got insight into how to do this thing! Everyone’s experience is different, especially in bands.
You named your LP Formative Years. What do your formative years look like to you? How has forming a band contributed to that – both as a group and individually.
F: Being in a band pushed me to become a more committed person and less of a quitting person – aka not trying to quit the band every few months. This band has helped to make us more disciplined and in turn, making us more well-rounded.
K: It created a new wave of confidence for myself. I understand I’m not in the best shape physically but that doesn’t stop me getting on stage, playing with my shirt off and taping black Xs on my tits. I’m not afraid of what people think about me because I’m up there making a difference. By being that person who is up there setting the example of having a lot of fun.
D: I had just moved from Louisiana and was moving out of a very intense religious upbringing mindset so I had to learn to be comfortable with who I really was, and that my real self wasn’t going to hell for x, y & z. The band did bring up my level of confidence in many ways, especially when I’m onstage and able to talk about political matters. My southern accent doesn’t always make me sound the most eloquent but people expect you to say things when you have a mic.
People look to me for words. They would tell me what I said actually meant something to them. Yet it does make me aware of what I’m saying and how I need to make sure I’m mindful of these messages from myself and the band. There’s someone out there that needs to hear these things and we are fortunate we have the platform to use to talk about it. Yet there is a serious responsibility with using this platform and talking about things that may not directly affect me but affect my community, those I love and those out there who may not have the access to say such.
The Protest Stage at MOOGfest this year was all about highlighting the crossroads of music and justice. How does Pie Face Girls fit into that with the community in North Carolina and beyond?
D: By tricking the patriarchy into talking about feminist issues through catchy songs, highlighting uncomfortable truths, working hard to provide empowering and revitalizing spaces for historically silenced communities, connecting and involving. Usually through performance art, whether that’s peeing on the North Carolina flag (In response to NC’s outrageous HB2) or beating cardboard boxes with our former bigoted Governor’s face plastered all over them with baseball bats…it’s not my stage, it’s ours.
F: As a band, as well as personally, I think we all fight injustice in one big way: by speaking up. Sometimes that “speaking up” is through a song we write. Other times it is through us standing up to society’s bullies and literally calling people out when they say or do something that is fucked up. We also recognize that there is power in numbers, and we always try to team up with other artists who are fighting the same fight. On the other side of that, we’re quick to say, “we will not play that show or with that band because they do not represent our interests.” We’re not afraid to rock the boat. We’re not afraid to speak our mind. We’re not afraid of losing fans, we didn’t want those fans anyway. What we’re fighting for is bigger than us as individuals, and bigger than us as a band. We’re just fortunate to have this platform that we can use for some good. It’s an honor, really.
K: We love getting in front of a crowed of people and getting everyone hyped up, sweaty, laughing, or pissed off together. Just get everyone to break down their barriers and have as much fun as we’re having by being unapologetically ourselves. We’ve continued to grow as people and musicians by surrounding ourselves with others who have similar goals and an array of backgrounds and stories. To be able to get those people in one room and feel all of that energy is an incredible and addictive experience. Hopefully as we keep growing, learning and having fun together we can invite more and more people and show any asshole who threatens the safety and rights of us or any of our friends that we’re a force. So fuck off.
To finish up, any influential names, groups, art pieces, etc that contribute to your creative production?
D: Lydia Lunch, L7, Parliment, Blondie, Peaches, Grace Jones, Wendy O. Williams, Ana Medieta, Betty Davis, Kathleen Hanna, Joan Jett, Gravy Train!!!!, The Cramps, Frida Kahlo, Pussy Riot, Billie Holiday, Audre Lorde.
F: James Baldwin, Vivienne Westwood, Angela Davis, Throbbing Gristle, Shirley Jackson, Patti Smith, Pussy Riot, Nikki Giovanni, Chloë Sevigny, Sleater-Kinney, Babes in Toyland, Annie Clark, Nina Simone, Kim Deal, Bikini Kill.
K: Jobriath, Nina Simone, Jayne County, Patti Smith, Diana Ross, Kate Bush, Genesis P-Orridge, Erykah Badu, John Prine, Leigh Bowery, Ru Paul, Klaus Nomi, Los Bros Hernandez, the Germs, Kate Pierson, John Waters, Grant Morrison, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson.