Cafe Kino

I’m currently preparing to leave bristol which is something I’ve done before but it feels a lot more final this time. One of the main reasons is that although I’ve made a lot of connections in bristol in my roughly 20 years of living here (on and off) this time I am leaving the biggest and most immovable one which is Café Kino. All my other connections are friends and bands and family members who will visit and tour and send me facebook messages. But Café Kino is so much more than a person or a place.

I became involved with Kino when it first opened on ninetree hill in 2006. I volunteered as a front of house assistant for a few shifts before I left for university. I remember sitting at the window, reading middlemarch and hoping no one would come in because honestly I didn’t know what I was doing. I was so shy then; I was scared of everyone there, but the founders of Cafe Kino were a group of extremely welcoming, caring, thoughtful people. They taught me how to make coffee on the beautiful machine (which lasted until 2015) and over the years everyone involved have taught me thousands of other things. How to listen, how to express your ideas, how to run a venue, how to make a kino burger, how to make a rota, how to do sound, what to listen to, what to read.
I visited Kino a lot when I was away at university, watching it grow, watching it move across the road. I remember helping to prise up the concrete covering the beautiful tile floor and refurbishing chairs in my holidays. When I returned to Bristol in 2012 I started working there full time. My time at Kino has completely changed me as a feminist and a musician which are probably the two things I identify as most strongly. The people I have worked with there have inspired me in countless ways. It is the only place I have ever worked where I always felt good about my abilities and how I looked, where I felt emotionally supported and understood. I’ve done customer service in so many environments and it’s the only place where, despite it often being insanely busy, I’ve felt confident and sure that my colleagues are there to help. I have listened to/watched/performed more music there than in any other place in the world. I have been there at cleaning 7am and at 1am. I have been there with boyfriends, family members, new friends, old friends and touring bands and its always been a friendly, happy, exciting place to be.
I urge all of you to support the places like this in your cities, which are not only important because of the art they foster but also because they are amazing places to work, nurturing skills and ideas. Most of all I want to tell you that co-operatives are an incredibly powerful and radical thing. I try to use the principals of respect and responsibility I’ve learned from working in a co-operative in all areas of my life; in my other jobs and my bands and in my relationships with other people.
Anyway to finish my love letter to Kino I just want to list some of the musical and culinary experiences I’ve had there that have affected me the most.

Top 5 shows:
(I can’t remember the dates or even years of any of these shows sorry)
Harry and the Potters + Martha + Frozy – Grace Denton put this show on in the summer and it was the most packed I’ve ever seen the basement. There were loads of young people, everyone was jumping around. This was the first time I ever saw Martha and I also spent the rest of the evening hitting on harry potter so it was honestly the best night of my life.
Glenn Jones + Headfall – Headfall are some of the most important people in Café Kino’s history. They also happen to be the best band in Bristol. Glenn Jones made one of my favourite albums to play on Sunday morning shift. So yeah this gig was pretty perfect.

Ichi + The Middle Ones – This was part of the incredible year with the middle ones. Anna and Grace did one show a month for 12 months with a whole loads of amazing supports. This one was fun because the basement was being redeveloped and the show was upstairs. Ichi was incredible as ever and The Middle Ones played on ninetree hill and I sang with them.

Tenniscoats + I Know I have no collar + secret Rachel Dadd – This show was super magical. The tenniscoats played totally un amplified and they were just incredible. Everything about it was awesome.
Los Cripis + Bellies + The Sorry People – Los cripis are an amazing garage band from. We took them to the hillgrove afterwards and made them eat pickled eggs. Bellies really nailed it too.

Honourable mentions: Every Hallie & the Annies set, The Nervy Betters, Jeffrey Lewis, MXLX, Pete Shadbolt talking about physics.

Top 5 food/drink:
Spicy Burger with a hash brown and peanut butter – The spicy kino burger is one of the human races greatest inventions. The burgers take fucking ages to make but it’s totally worth it. Also the mayo that we make at Kino is better than any other vegan mayo you can buy and I know because I’ve tried them all. You can only add fun extras like peanut butter if you’re friends with the chefs which I am.
Bacon sandwich with vegan cheese – The day we got vegan cheese at café kino was really a day to remember. If you add it to the bacon sandwich then you’ve got a guaranteed party.

Black Americano –drinking a black Americano in Kino on a quiet morning is an incomparable pleasure.

Any soup Jenny has ever made – Every chef at Kino is incredible and they all have their own talents. Jenny is really a flavour machine and her soups really make me happy in a way I didn’t know soup could.
Every cake ever – cake at kino is so much more than cake.

Honourable mentions: Dave’s cold brew, fizzy espressos, Jen’s ice teas, the coleslaw, curly fries.

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tour

I have been on tour in America with Joanna Gruesome for the past few weeks, playing shows and venues that are a bit bigger and a lot less welcoming than I have been used to. It has been a relentless and tiring experience, playing more shows and travelling further and for longer than I ever have before. Its been amazing but its also coincided with my feelings towards my body, my clothes and my gender shifting hugely.

This has happened for a few reasons I think, some of them really positive. This past year I’ve been surrounded by incredibly inspiring, thoughtful people who have shared their own experiences of their gender with me and this has changed the way I think about it forever and I am so grateful for it. There are also loads of incredible bands who are using their music and performances to express ways of approaching gender that have helped me to think about my own. The new Spook School album is probably one of the main reasons I’ve been thinking about this stuff loads on this tour and I recommend you all go and listen to it now.

This week I read this article by Katie from Priests and it totally helped me to align some of these thoughts that have been flying round my head all tour; both the positive ones and the negative. This quote particularly expresses something that feels close to my experience although I have never expressed before to myself

I’m not sure I am a woman. I am pretty sure I am not a man. I’m not sure I know what it means to be a woman beyond being read as “woman” in others’ eyes, and the experience of being perceived does not an identification make. Being a woman is not something I consciously “do” on a regular basis.”

Its may be inevitable that my thoughts about the fluidity of my own gender, the excitement of all those possibilities and the rejecting of a binary that has been hindering my relationship with myself and my body for years, has coincided with this period of intense performance and scrutiny (both self scrutiny and laying myself open to scrutiny from outward eyes). My bandmate Kate and I are in a slightly unusual position of having replaced Alanna in Joanna Gruesome this year and our genders played a role in us being chosen. Politically and sonically it was important to have non male identifying bodies and voices in the band. And even though I understand this and believe in the importance of this in terms of increasing the visibility of non male genders in music, I guess until recently I didn’t think about the ramifications for me of being in a band because of my gender.

I have been a performing musician for 10 years and that whole time I have identified and performed as a woman and have on the whole been comfortable with that in the spaces I’ve played in and have often felt proud of being a woman and inspiring other women to start playing music. However I’ve always aligned that position as a woman with the need for a level of attractiveness which I have also never felt I possessed. This is an anxiety that has come and gone in the different bands I’ve played in – sometimes seeming more relevant, sometimes less. Reading Katie’s writing this morning for maybe the first time in my life expressed to me concisely and in a way that made sense where that anxiety comes from.

My relationship to femme practices has always been an uncomfortable one. When I was a preteen I started to reject what I saw as femme clothing and outfits – I never learnt how to wear make up, I stopped wearing skirts, I never really knew what to do with my hair apart from dye it bright colours. I don’t wanna be simplistic in what femininity is, because a lot of what I did as a teenager was perform a femininity that I found in music and other cultural influences. But it was never overtly femme. I have for a long time, and still do, reject being femme, sometimes in the name of a sort of feminism that sometimes makes sense to me but always out of fear. The fear that if I attempt to appear femme to the world and fail then I will be failing at some crucial aspect of my gender. I have instead turned to some concept of my “natural” gender. But what are the signs of my natural gender? My body shape? My voice? Relying on these has always left me feeling anxious that they also fail to conform to gender as I think it should be. On this tour more than ever I feel that my performance of my gender is failing – its not representing how I feel inside and its not fulfilling the political possibilities of my gender either, as a woman in music. I’m realising now that idea of femme is also my idea of attractiveness and in my mind I am failing at both.

Performing every night is definitely contributing to these anxieties because every night I worry that the clothes I’m wearing don’t express what they should. I worry that my body shape doesn’t fit with the guitar I’m playing and that everything about me doesn’t fit with this band that I have joined. And I worry that my failure to be femme or feminine correlate with my failure to be attractive. And that if I am a woman on stage but I am not attractive then I am worthless. These beliefs are deep rooted and hard to shake, especially in cities so far away from home where the audience is compiled of strangers.

I guess I want my performance on stage to become less connected to any gender. I want to be femme or not femme or femme and not femme all at once during any given performance but for that decision to be motivated not by fear but by excitement at the possibilities. And I wanna get more used to and more comfortable with the idea of how little that femmeness has to do with my gender. And how little femmeness and attractiveness are connected and how little attractiveness has to do with performance. These are all things I know and believe in logically but which are firmly seated inside me and which are hard to control when I am tired and vulnerable.

I don’t think I have a conclusion to these thoughts but I think I have found it so helpful to listen to other people’s experiences of gender and it seems important to talk about them. So often gender is reduced to an outward appearance – the power is given to the audience who read your gender and define it. I want the power to lie within me, I want the ability to define my gender with words and ultimately I want that definition to be as complex and endless as my experiences. It is not one thing or another thing. It is a continuing relationship between me and myself.

The stage is such an exciting opportunity to perform and be what you can’t be everyday, outside on the streets because its too dangerous or too tiring. But its still a space where the audience is reading you and defining you. Ideally I would want this to change. I would want all of us to change the way we interact with performers. Not defining them and gendering them and scrutinising them. But listening to them and watching them in a much more open way. I feels like performers have always been playing with ideas of gender, provoking audiences to challenge these binaries. And that’s amazing. But it isn’t just the performers job. One of my favorite things about DIY is the idea that everyone, performer, promoter, audience is responsible for the space, both physical and cultural, that you are in. Audiences are just as responsible for changing the cultural reliance on gender binaries in performance.

But I suppose if I want to keep performing music in bigger spaces, in bigger bands, which I definitely do, I want to find a way to reconcile how I feel about my self and my body in these spaces which I feel I have little control over. I guess I want to feel comfortable presenting my body to the world and probably just not give a fuck what they read in to it or take from it.

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Adler

https://twowhitecranes.bandcamp.com/track/adler

“Sometimes the point is a momentum, a fact, a quality, a voice, an imitation, a thing that is said or unsaid.”
Renata Adler, Speedboat

The song is named after Renata Adler, an incredible journalist and writer, more prolific in the seventies although she is writing a new book at the moment I believe. She wrote two novels – Speedboat and Pitch Dark which my friend Dan leant me and they are both incredible.

The song is not about her particularly except in the sense that after I read her novels I was pretty influenced by the disjointed style and I feel like I can hear that influence in this song (but I might be full of shit). Her narratives are non-linear but they still feel very concrete, very much grounded in reality, and not obtuse or inaccessible like other disjointed narratives I’ve read. So in this song I tried to replicate that in the way the lyrics are disjointed and not really particularly about one thing but there are specific terms which for me ground the lyrics in a reality, hopefully stopping them from being meaningless or trite.

But mostly this song is exciting for me because of the arrangement; this is probably the first time I’ve felt happy with how a song has come out beyond the lyrics/singing. I hope you like it anyway.

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So Much Water, So Close to Home

 

 

https://twowhitecranes.bandcamp.com/track/so-much-water-so-close-to-home

“So much water so close to home” is the title of a very distressing short story by Raymond Carver. I liked the phrase a lot so I decided to use it in a song and then I reread the short story last night and remembered how upsetting it was. Its about the wife of a man who goes on a fishing trip with a group of friends. They find the body of a young woman in the river and don’t report it straight away but continue drinking and fishing for two days and then report it. In the story the woman finds out and is increasingly afraid of her husband and other men. So I guess the story is about male violence and trust (or lack of it).

So in many ways the story doesn’t relate to my song all that much, because my song is not about male violence. It is mostly about a conversation I had with my friend Dan about the similarities and differences between short stories and songs. I guess I forget the bulk of the conversation now but what I remember and what the song is about is the way short stories include very concrete details and objects which are often crucial to their effectiveness when you read them. So in the short story  “So much water so close to home” objects like plates and cups, bottles of whiskey and bedding are all anchors that make the people in the story seem more real and make the emotions in it more effecting.

In my song I was trying to talk about how we only sometimes do this in songwriting but how it can be so effective. Because in a story it is crucial but you sweep past it because you are thinking about the plot. But in a song any element of a lyric can jump out at you at any point and if that element is an object I think that can be really powerful. It is maybe my favourite kind of songwriting and I think lots of my friends are good at it.  Oh Peas in “Year of the horse” https://ohpeas.bandcamp.com/track/year-of-the-horse only mentions weetabix once but it is always my main memory of the song and the weetabix, in my head, embody all of the physical and emotional stress that the song evokes, which is pretty incredible for such a well established cereal brand. King of Cats, in the song “naked fucking bodies flying high” https://artreeks.bandcamp.com/track/naked-fucking-bodies-flying-high, uses all kinds of words in awkward places so that they jump out at you and you have all these concrete objects to latch on to in your head. The “News reporters” and “Old People” and “Brightly coloured paper” in the song are very vivid in my mind.  Actually that song has a lot more in common with the Raymond Carver story than mine.

Anyway, as well as the short story the song is also very much inspired by a really really beautiful poem by Raymond Carver. Here is the full poem:

Morning, Thinking of Empire

We press our lips to the enameled rim of the cups
and know this grease that floats
over the coffee will one day stop our hearts.
Eyes and fingers drop onto silverware
that is not silverware. Outside the window, waves
beat against the chipped walls of the old city.
Your hands rise from the rough tablecloth
as if to prophesy. Your lips tremble …
I want to say to hell with the future.
Our future lies deep in the afternoon.
It is a narrow street with a cart and driver,
a driver who looks at us and hesitates,
then shakes his head. Meanwhile,
I coolly crack the egg of a fine Leghorn chicken.
Your eyes film. You turn from me and look across
the rooftops at the sea. Even the flies are still.
I crack the other egg.
Surely we have diminished one another.

Again the objects in the poem take up the main focus and act as a conduit for the emotion. But also it is just a painfully accurate depiction of what happens when two people who shouldn’t really be in each others lives anymore are still eating breakfast together on a regular basis, which I guess is the other thing the song is about.

Overall the thing I liked about Raymond Carver’s title, and the reason I used it in my song is that it seems to carry such a multiplicity of meanings. It could mean that going off to find water elsewhere is pointless, or bound to lead to trouble, or that you feel rich in how much water you have, or that you feel scared by all the water right there surrounding you, that all your fears are closer than you think. And the water in that phrase can mean anything really. Water is one of those slightly empty words, ripe for everyone to have their own idea about. Which contrasts the coffee in the song because coffee is only ever coffee.

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On loud and quiet – “Oh, I didn’t realize I could be this loud, and heard so far away” (Carrie Brownstein)

I have been a performing songwriter and a musician for over ten years. For 8 of those 10 years I played the acoustic guitar and played mostly quietly. Then two years ago I bought my electric guitar and also started playing bass in some bands. Now I play quietly sometimes and loud some other times. Some times I sing really really softly and occasionally I screetch and holler. And I feel so much happier and more confident in what I do now than I did for those first 8 years. There are lots of reasons for that, with experience being the main one, but being loud has been huge in making me feel like a worthwhile musician.

I don’t for a minute think that loud music is better than quiet music. Everyone wants different music at different times and all kinds of music have the ability to make you feel and forget. But the important thing for me about loud music is that I thought I couldn’t make it, and now I know not only that I can, but anyone can. When you are young and inexperienced and most importantly a girl, it can be easy to feel intimidated. I actually started learning the electric guitar when I was 11. But I had lessons with a man, at school, who taught me Radiohead songs and ‘ob la di ob la da’ and was obviously a bell end. I also had a best friend, who was a boy, who obsessed over his electric guitar, in learning guitar solos and listening to pink floyd. I instantly felt unable to connect, because I didn’t want to do guitar solos then, or listen to Pink Floyd and I didn’t want to learn how amps worked because I was scared I would break them. I wanted to keep everything as simple as possible so that I would feel confident enough to do it. To me the important thing seemed to be doing it, which in retrospect was true, so well done me. So I learned Mr Tambourine man on my acoustic guitar and started writing songs.

It was such a long time before I felt brave enough to use an electric guitar But once I did I realised it was nowhere near as scary as I thought. No one cares when you play a wrong note, even if the note is very loud. It also turns out almost no one understands amps. Things go wrong and break all the time and mostly no one knows why and everyone laughs. The main thing is its an extremely rewarding feeling to play in a band, with bass and drums and guitars. And it is complicated – because you can’t just sit anywhere and do it. You have to have space and you have to be allowed to make noise and you have to co-ordinate. But that is what makes it important. Because it takes effort and negotiation, so what you do is worthwhile. They way you feel afterwards is that you’ve achieved something. Even if the songs are shit.

But there are a number of really important reasons that I love being loud and that have inspired me to be loud and I’d like to list them now. (There are actually way more people who have inspired me than this, but for brevity’s sake these are three big ones) 

The Middle Ones: I started playing shows with The Middle Ones in 2008. At some point, after maybe 2 years of playing together (?) they transformed from being two really incredible writers, singers and artists performing together into like the most powerful stage show of all time. I personally (in my role as a middle ones super fan) site this moment as when I first saw them perform the song Drops with Grace shouting. We had all been playing acoustic twee pop shows together and all of a sudden grace was shouting at the top of her lungs and throwing her shaky eggs on the ground. It was super inspiring and empowering and a lot like when dylan went electric I guess.

T-shirt Weather: When I met T-shirt weather I was touring the UK with Ellis and an acoustic guitar and we were playing songs and being really really super shy about it. It was a really nice tour but it was strange, looking back, to go all that way and play to those people when we had such faltering belief in ourselves. But meeting T-shirt weather was a huge turning point for me. They make music that is half indie-pop and half pop-punk and I remember Tom Sharpe telling me he believed they were the same thing. I guess I’d been essentially playing indie-pop for a few years then but its a really unrewarding genre I think because a lot of it is about self-deprecation and being shy, whereas pop punk is about being a bratty teenage boy. I would say in the last 2 and a half years I have become much more like a bratty teenage boy because of T-Shirt Weather.

Joanna Gruesome: Playing shows with and getting to know Joanna Gruesome has also been a super inspiring process. I definitely never ever would have started shouting on stage if I hadn’t seen Alanna do it. It is such a scary thing to do. But once you start you can’t stop because it feels AMAZING. I also now play in a band with Owen and that has also been very incredible. Playing music with other people is hard and scary and lots of people deal with this by focusing on themselves, and doing their thing right at the expense of other people, or even by focusing on what other people are doing wrong. Owen and Jake our drummer are very very good musicians to play with cos they make you feel like you can do anything. This is such an important quality. I am trying to develop it myself.

The quote in the title is from a Rookie interview with Carrie Brownstein and it is what got me thinking about this stuff recently. When I was young I didn’t think I could or should be loud. And even though I have been writing songs for so long, I don’t think I ever really thought I could be heard. I thought people were listening to the melodies or just weren’t really listening at all. But I have realised that when I play songs, any kind of song, loud or quiet, people will listen, and I can say all kinds of things, which is a really powerful position to be in. That is why its important for people, anyone, to feel that they can be loud when they want to be loud. Because raising you voice and making a noise reminds you of how important your own voice and your own body is. Its a direct example of how you have an impact on the world around you and its good to use it.

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more meaningless words

3 weeks ago I put my album onto the internet bit of the world. It made me really happy when lots of people listened to it. It also made me really happy that lots of really nice people paid money to have it even though I let them have it for free. What is more astounding is that people have bought it that aren’t even my friends but are people I have never met. Bandcamp helpfully sends you an e-mail every time someone buys it, and then you know who has got the thing you made. Its pretty amazing.

Ok so its great. But it is also weird. Making a thing that I feel completely happy with and that some other people like should be just great. But I feel maybe less confident than I did before about myself as a musician and a singer and songwriter as well as just generally a person. It is very easy to detach any meaning from nice words people say about you or your music. And that is what I have been thinking about a lot recently. What does it mean? What does it mean that I made something and people liked it. Is that any reflection on me as a person. Or is it more just a thing that has happened.

To help me think about this I did perhaps the most self-indulgent thing possible and went back and read some things I wrote about songwriting 2 and a half years ago. I like the thing I wrote about the tension between meaning and nonsense being crucial to songwriting. I think the same is true for the whole process of making music. It is both an incredibly meaningful experience and just complete and utter nonsense. The idea of people paying money to download music is nonsense, the idea that it could make me a confident, happy, functional person if enough people like the record is nonsense. But the fact that anyone would make time and effort and pay money to listen to what I have to done is meaningful. But the meaning isn’t located in me, it is in them.

2 and half years ago I wrote about a gap in my songs between the emotion that made them and the song that comes out of it. The gap is where I forget how I got from one bit to another and its what makes songwriting scary – because if you could remember how it worked then it would be easy. But it also wouldn’t be as good because that gap is there for everyone else. That’s where they put their meaning and their nonsense into the song and that’s what makes the song theirs.

Really what I am saying here is, to anyone reading this who has listened to me sing my songs ever, thank you so much. You have done something really ridiculous but really important to me. And I suppose the same is true for all of us whenever we take time to listen to or read or look at anything that someone has made. I really dislike the idea of art being a mystical hierarchical thing. I hate the idea that someone has “something special” or “a gift” which makes them a better person than anyone else. Those ideas are really pervasive and they seep into everything. Even into DIY culture which should be the last place you find any of that bullshit. Its those ideas that make me think making an album could make me a better person. Whereas what making an album does is make a document of the person I am at the time I am making it. And sure that can be useful and satisfying and maybe a little therapeutic. But its not going to fix things. But listening to other people’s music can certainly make you a better person. So can playing shows and putting on bands and eating salad and drinking less beer or drinking more beer and exercising and throwing a dinner party and moving your furniture around and getting a job at a charity and volunteering somewhere and reading books so that you are more politically aware and knitting. These are important and difficult things to remember for me. But I will try.

 

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two white cranes

I have made an album and now you can listen to it. It is difficult to say exactly why I have done this. I wrote the first song (skeleton) in 2011 in the living room of my mum’s house which is where I live again now. In between those two points in time – writing skeleton and writing this – I have lived in lots of different houses in Bristol and one in Oxford. Lots of things happened and these songs came out and I don’t feel like the same person any more.

I made these songs into an album because they were the songs I had and they all seem to be about loving someone or something so they fit quite well together. It seems like everyone I know is writing songs or making records or drawing things, which is amazing and inspiring but it certainly puts the pressure on. So I did this.

I was intending to make these into a vinyl record. I thought this would make me feel good and powerful. A way of saying HEY EVERYONE THIS IS ME AND THE THING I MADE. But it would have cost a lot of money and then I would have had to have sold those records to people for money and it feels strange equating being in love and writing about it to paying for an object. I thought it might be nice to have objects to take on tour with me, but I would have had to have booked the tour and felt confident enough about myself to make it all happen and eventually it felt like I was putting more pressure on myself than was necessary. So here are the songs free and easy from me to you. Sometimes these songs make me feel good and powerful and sometimes they make me feel small and weak and I have no explanation for that. But I hope they make you feel good. They are all about how very very good it is to be in love.

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