Interview: Slutever’s Rachel Gagliardi discusses her children’s punk band (and senior project), The Weenies
The local punk band Slutever is many things: For starters, it’s an all-female duo that writes riff-heavy rock more powerful than most four- or five-piece acts. It’s also one of The Key’s favorite bands in Philadelphia (which is why we brought them into the XPN studio for a recent Key Studio Session). But one thing Slutever clearly is not is a band for children. So, when guitarist/drummer Rachel Gagliardi—a student in Drexel University’s Music Industry Program—decided to make her senior project a children’s-music-oriented endeavor, her side project The Weenies was born. Saturday night’s show featuring The Weenies is a benefit for VH1’s “Save The Music” Foundation, “a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring instrumental music education in America’s public schools, and raising awareness about the importance of music as part of each child’s complete education.” (To date, the Foundation has provided more than $47 million in new musical instruments to 1,750 public schools in more than 100 cities around the country, impacting the lives of over 1.6 million children.) Prior to the show, we spoke to Gagliardi about pursuing a career in the music industry, why children are inherently punk rock, and what “selling out” actually means anymore—if it still means anything at all.
The Key: In your senior project proposal for The Weenies, you said that you were lucky enough to have influential music teachers throughout your life that shaped you into the music lover you are today. Who were those music teachers, and how did they shape your perspective of music?
Rachel Gagliardi: The high school that I went to was just a public high school in the suburbs, but it had a really good music program. Our chorus program went to Europe when I was in the 10th grade. So I got to go to Europe, which was awesome. We had a music theory program that was amazing—it was, like, four different years that you could take. I took three years of that. And we had a music mentors’ program, which is probably why I got interested in teaching kids. But yeah, my music theory teacher’s name was Ms. Schmidt, and she was awesome. In that program, we actually got to create our own musical. They do it every year, and my year we did Hey Arnold!. We wrote all the songs ourselves and wrote the play. Nicole [Snyder, of Slutever] was in it, too—that’s kind of where we became friends. It was cool, and she was pretty much the teacher who got me really into music. She went to college for music, and when I told her I thought that I wanted to do that, too, she was really encouraging. I guess if it wasn’t for my music program in high school I probably never would have gone to college for music. I definitely owe her.
TK: You also mentioned that, through your high school’s music program, you were “able to realize that music can be more than a hobby—it can be a sustainable career.” Are you interested in pursuing a career in music, given the state of the industry?
RG: Absolutely. Even though it’s kind of crappy, yeah. I don’t really have anything else that I’m this passionate about. And going to college for music taught me about a lot of careers that I would never have thought about, like publishing, or teaching. I never really thought I would go to school and want to be a teacher. But all of my teachers are full-time music professionals as well. They have stuff outside of school. In a way, they kind of do school on the side. I think I could really do well with that. Obviously for now I just want to be in a band and see where that takes me, and just do something else on the side for money.
TK: As far as potential future careers in music go, are you more interested in the performing and writing side, or the industry side?
RG: Oh, definitely performing. If I could just be in a band, that’s all I would do for the rest of my life. But it doesn’t really pay the bills, yet. I don’t think I’ll ever want to be an actual industry person, unless I had already tried to be a performer and gotten burned out on it. So probably not for…a few years?
TK: Some people might tell you that few things will burn you out on music more than pursuing a career in the industry.
RG: [Laughs.] Yeah.
TK: As far as a career as a performer goes, though,how does one make such a career sustainable?
RG: You kind of have to think about performance as not your only outlet. You have to think about merchandising, and definitely publishing. More opportunities are coming up in strange revenue streams. It’s not the traditional, “you go out, you play shows, you sell CDs” thing anymore. So I think you have to have really innovative ideas based on marketing your music besides just playing shows. You know, like, movie soundtracks and television licensing opportunities.
TK: You definitely hear more “big indie” bands—and, in some cases, smaller indie bands, the kind of stuff that would have been way under the radar a few years ago—in television commercials lately. That seems to be an approach more bands are taking now.
RG: Yeah, I definitely think that licensing is the number one way for small bands to make money. Because you can do one licensing deal and make $50,000, and that’s more money than you’re going to make on tour. Sometimes if it’s a big company, you can make enough where you don’t have to play shows for a year. You’re set for an entire year. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does happen, you’re set. Or you do smaller stuff and get a few thousand dollars, and you tour in addition to all that. You do merchandising, you do whatever you can. But licensing is definitely where the money is. So hopefully we can get some licensing deals, I guess.
TK: A lot of this relates to one of the most cliched punk conversations of yesteryear, which was about the notion of selling out. Going commercial versus staying independent, all of that stuff. That conversation has changed pretty dramatically in the last decade, as the process of recording, releasing, and distributing music has shifted for everyone. What is your opinion on then versus now?
RG: Obviously, actual music sales are dwindling, so you can’t rely on music sales alone any more. Meanwhile, to do one licensing opportunity could pay your bills for so long that you can can afford to go out on tour. Whereas if you don’t, if you ignore those licensing opportunities—because you don’t want to be selling out, or you don’t want to be associated with a certain brand—you might not have enough money to go on tour. Then you’re just kind of stuck in your world. And it’s like, “Yeah you’re really punk rock, but you can’t even play shows because you don’t have any money.”…I also think that, lately, people don’t view small bands being in commercials as selling out as much as they see it is awesome. Like The Black Keys. I really like The Black Keys, and I think they were in the most commercials of 2010. At one point they were still really small and underground. I think that those commercials helped them, and I don’t think that means they sold out or anything. I think they were just smart. They know that their careers aren’t going to last forever, so they need to do as much as they can now.
TK: One of the strongest remaining gripes about licensing seems to be that, once you sell that song to whatever company, it’s no longer your song. You turn on the TV, and there it is. But it’s not yours anymore. It’s a ubiquitous part of commercialized pop culture, a 30-second clip designed to sell someone…whatever.
RG: I definitely agree. I think it’s hard, because some bands aren’t associated with whatever company. Like Apple. People think, “Oh, that’s the band from the Apple commercial.” It’s a company profiting off of your brand, your image, the music you’ve created. And yeah, you get compensated—but sometimes you don’t get compensated a lot. [Laughs.] Then, maybe it explodes and it’s everywhere and you’re like, “Wait, we didn’t get paid that much for it!” And they’re like, “Well, that’s not our problem.” The downside, I don’t really see a way around it. I guess more exposure is better than no exposure? But it does have its dark aspects.
TK: A lot of it might depend on the relationship between the band and its music. How personal is your relationship with your own own music?
RG: With Slutever it’s definitely completely personal. I wrote all of those songs when my boyfriend broke up with me. Sometimes when I play, if he comes to the show he leaves two minutes in. Because my lyrics are really mean to him. [Laughs.] So if one of my songs was ever in an Apple commercial, it would be really ridiculous. I mean, besides the fact that the songs would be super inappropriate, it’d be weird because they are extremely personal. I’ve never been able to write songs that aren’t extremely personal. I only write when I’m very upset or very happy. Usually only when I’m very upset…Maybe our music just isn’t very good for licensing. But we are super into writing jingles, so we might try to get into that game. That would be cool.
TK: Your project proposal did mention that your regular band, Slutever, “Isn’t necessarily appropriate for children,” and that The Weenies would be a completely separate project. How concerned were you that your work with Slutever would have a negative impact on your proposal?
RG: I knew that I wanted to work with Nicole, so I wasn’t sure how we would go about doing it. I wasn’t sure if it would just be a Slutever thing that we did on the side or what. So when I talked to my advisor, she was like “You really need to do something that is completely separate from what you do now, because it’s obviously not appropriate.” So we got other people involved and took a new approach. People that like our music will probably like this music.
TK: The music obviously comes to from the same source.
RG: Yeah, it’s not like it’s this new Barney music that’s like could be on Sesame Street. It’s definitely still pretty punk. I think if people listened to it and didn’t know it was a children’s band, and didn’t listen to the words, they would maybe like it…But I don’t think they would listen to it and be like, “Oh my God, this is kids music, turn it off!” I didn’t want to go in a new direction, because the whole point is that I think most of the music out there for kids right now is really lame. Like kids bop and like Disney and stuff.
TK: You’ve described The Weenies as “a children’s punk band that is written from the perspective a preschooler.” What makes punk such an appropriate musical genre for the project?
RG: I play all of the songs for my cousin, and she jokes, like, “You could just have wrote these songs for yourself because you don’t like to take a shower and you don’t like to eat vegetables.” I’m really picky and a little kid, basically. So I feel like when I was little, I would have totally related to punk music. You know, all little kids aren’t trying to dance around to music about rainbows and sunshine. When I was little I used to throw fits and I’d roll myself out of my crib and scream all night. I was this terrible child. I think if my parents had been like, “Go into your room, and you can listen to this crazy music, and then when you get out you have to relax,” it would have been nice. Because it would have been a way to express myself that isn’t your typical way of acting out.
TK: Based on the show The Weenies performed at a Bucks County preschool a couple of weeks ago, how would you describe the average preschooler’s reaction to punk music?
RG: Well there were definitely kids that were not into it. They had their ears covered and they were like This is soooo loud!” And I was like, “I’m sorry for your little baby ears!” It’s not for all little kids. But some of them loved it. They came up to me and said, “This is my first rock concert!,” and thought they were really cool for watching music.
TK: Did you get a chance to talk to the kids after the show?
RG: After the performance we let them come up and we gave them the microphone and the drums and they stood in line and got to play a little. It was once girl’s birthday, and she was wearing her birthday hat, so I went up to her and said, “happy birthday!” I gave her the mic and she sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” which was adorable. I was like “Is that the only song you know? You’re so cute.” But yeah, I think the majority of them liked it. We gave them each a bag with a CD, a pin, and a zine I created. The next day, two of the girls wore the buttons to school. I thought that was really awesome.
The Weenies perform with Cousin Brian, The Sniffles, and Gaston at at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 21st, at 403 N. 40th Street; the show costs $5, and is a benefit for VH1’s “Save The Music” Foundation. —Matthew Borlik