Shawna Potter of Baltimore’s War on Women is a welcome revelation, a powerful voice equal parts savage, full-bodied and soulful. In an era when the dominant vocal style is a death squall, to hear a vocal and emotional rock and roll range like Potter’s splashing over a palette of energetic American hardcore is joyous. Hitting peak notes hard and striking violently through the real issues that desperately need to be shouted about really means something. Not to say there isn’t value in a guttural growl; merely that we need a full spectrum of voices, in more ways than one.
To say American hardcore and heavy music in general is dominated by white dudes is such a well-known trope it barely needs to be said. I can’t really explain what it means to hear one of my kind speak to the things that you can only understand walking this earth as we do whilst carving out an independent existence in the second decade of the 21st century.
War on Women singer Shawna Potter joins me on The Void with Christina podcast this week to talk about creativity, music and using your voice as a weapon in an hour-long conversation which you can listen to via your preferred podcast platform above.
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Coming to Australia for the first time next month for the Download Festival and a handful of shows with Boston’s incredible Converge, War on Women’s co-ed contribution onstage and across two records (their 2015 self-titled album and 2018’s fiery “Capture The Flag”) makes you want to jump off a speaker stack and do the in-air splits David Lee Roth-style. War on Women features Brooks Harlan and Nancy Hornburg on guitar, Suzanne Werner on bass and Evan Tanner on drums. Together they create music that needs to be heard and ideally, experienced live and sweaty.
There is inherent war in being a woman (whatever body you’re born in). It is unseen and unspoken. Daily silent battles, microscopic moments we couldn’t write down or articulate easily. The inherent disrespect buried in a system that has only started to provide autonomy for us in the last half century is so insidious it can be invisible. Violence so common it hurts. Having to work twice as hard to prove ourselves, especially in male-dominated professions. For far too many women, homes that are a bloody battlefield. As this painful boil is burst open through the shouting out loud of what we have all carried alone, it is vital and fucking awesome to use straight up rock and roll as a vehicle to tell the real truth and spray this message of anguish and raised fists far and wide. Several moments from our hour-long podcast below.
Christina: You said something recently [that I thought was important] – that you can’t be what you can’t see. And I thought that was really cool, talking about role models. To me, feminism is gender not being an issue. I think people can get a bit twisted about that side of things. I think its good to be rational about it. There is a real imbalance where women’s voices aren’t heard.
Shawna: “Speaking about your comment that feminism to you is gender not being an issue anymore: I think that’s a cool idea. I think you’re looking towards the future, really. But right now in the trenches, it does matter. And the flip side to that: for white men their gender isn’t an issue. Their race isn’t an issue. They see themselves everywhere they go. Their options are open to them. There is no constrictions on what they can or can’t do, based on their gender or race. And so, I think you have to recognise that there are inequalities, and you have to recognise that you have to do better about balancing how many [people are heard]. We have to make it an issue until it evens out and then it can not be an issue.”
Christina: Its like the pendulum having to swing back.
Shawna: “Absolutely. I come to that analogy all the time.”
Christina: There is one really good thing that America brought to the world [that is worth remembering] because the world’s pissed at you guys right now. But you did invent hardcore. Good, solid American hardcore. What a gift to the world. You got Henry Rollins, Minor Threat, you guys … so many bands. That’s something we appreciate.
Shawna: “We’ll take it, we’ll take it, thank you [laughs]. On behalf of our country, we accept your thanks.”
Christina: How did you get into music as an outlet?
Shawna: “From the stories my mum tells I was dancing in my crib to MTV in the background [laughs]. I have always wanted to move and bop around and sing and perform. I was in theatre when I was in school; being on a stage under some lights just always seemed like the place I was meant to be. I started playing guitar when I was twelve, and I got a band going when I was in high school at fourteen years old or something. There was something about the freedom of being in a band and its like four or five of you deciding what you want to do and where you can play, and writing your songs. I think I just gravitated towards that because there is a little more control than there is in theatre where you’re relying on more people to make decisions for you.”
Music is not Shawna’s only tool. Her contribution to the cause is vast. She founded Hollaback! – a global organization dedicated to ending harassment. She has worked tirelessly with transgender-focused, art-driven and other groups to initiate real change, inclusivity and decisive action – to make the world a safer space for all of us. Her first book, “Making Spaces Safer” is out this May and is available to pre-order here. While you’re at it – why not do something truly revolutionary and buy some goddamn music from the War on Women Bandcamp page? For the princely sum of ten bucks you can support a killer band and enjoy music safe in the knowledge you just helped a band make more songs and play more shows. Do you have any idea how much the world would change if every one of us bought a record every month? Food for thought.
Australian tour dates:
Saturday March 9 – Download, Sydney
Monday March 11 – Download, Melbourne
Tuesday March 12 – Crowbar, Brisbane (with Converge)
Wednesday March 13 – Lion Arts Factory, Adelaide (with Converge)
Thursday March 14 – Rosemount, Perth (with Converge)
Host of The Void with Christina podcast Christina Rowatt also creates an interview-based YouTube channel featuring Australian and international rock artists and documentary-style features, with more than 100 episodes to date. Watch: youtube.com/thevoidwithchristina