1. PORCELAIN PUNK ROCKERS
Rachel and Nicole are a salt-and-pepper set. They’re not the kind your mother would buy, though. Unless your mother wants porcelain punk rockers to adorn your dining room.
Rachel Gagliardi, 23, and Nicole Snyder, 22, get along so well together— and it’s almost always just the two of them— they’re practically sisters. They’re best friends, housemates, and band mates in the duo Slutever. They tap into their own twin telepathy to predict the other’s jokes, finish her sentence, or communicate what to play during a live show. They don’t look like sisters and certainly don’t look like twins; Nicole is willowy and unconcerned with posture while Rachel is curvy and carries herself with womanly sass. Yet, with wardrobes of Simpsons T-shirts, Hawaiian button-downs and screen T’s from other bands, they are clearly cut from the same cloth. From style to sound, the girls are a perfectly matched set. Watching them perform, it’s impossible to distinguish where one’s creativity and energy end and the other’s begin.
When Rachel sings, she whips her hair back and forth. The top half of her hair is her natural shade of red. The bottom inches of her hair are bleached. With short bangs and a middle part, her hair frames her round face like a mane. When she meows and purrs in the chorus of the song “Pussycat,” she is catlike—both ferocious and adorable. Rachel is theatrical, goofy. She does voices, quotes movies, worries about parking and picking up beer at the same time. Rachel has a higher voice than Nicole, and when Rachel sings, she exaggerates it, whining like a child and making pouty faces at some points, stomping her feet and head banging at others.
Nicole is lower key. She has a deeper voice, one that borders on sounding bored, except that she is constantly making quips and deadpan jokes, a skill that demonstrates how closely she pays attention, even if it seems like she’s playing Tomagotchee or Tiny Towers on her new iPhone. Nicole has heavily lidded eyes and short, curly hair. It’s naturally light brown and in pictures with her natural hair color, she looks a bit like Jennifer Grey did in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but in ripped shorts and baggy T-shirts, she dresses as if Grey’s character continued to date the jailbird at the end of the movie. Right now, her hair is two shades of blonde. She and Rachel both dyed their hair for the first time before they embarked on their Slutever Do America Tour 2011 last summer. Bleached hair suits them, and it seems to go unquestionably well with their self-described “Brat Punk Shit-fi Philadelphia” aesthetic.
2. BRAT PUNK SHIT-FI
PHILADELPHIA & THIRD-WAVE FEMINISM
There is something about Philadelphia that fosters punk music. Perhaps it is the grey-ness: the fog, the steel, the concrete. Punk music imitates the grungy, overhanging monotony with distortion. Having grown up in the suburbs and attended Drexel’s music program, Rachel and Nicole understand Philadelphia grit. Both girls lived in West Philadelphia and currently live in Fishtown in a two-bedroom house. The duo can accomplish a lot by themselves: load their gear into the car, decorate a living room with items found in the Mummers’ prop dump, and most importantly, make the Philadelphia punk scene proud with just a drum set and a guitar.
The girls have a complicated relationship with the legacy of the riot grrrl movement, the female rockers that changed the national punk scene in the early 90’s. When the riot grrrl movement in punk sprang up, Philadelphia was a natural place for it to thrive. Do It Yourself (DIY) art culture was already thriving in Philadelphia as hand-painted murals began to change the face of the city in the 80’s. Political and social advocacy course through the city’s history from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the Civil Rights Movement.
Riot grrrl fit neatly into both Philadelphia, and specifically into third-wave feminism. Third-wave feminism grew popular in the 80’s and focused less on the careers of middle class white women (as third-wavers accused the second-wavers of the 60’s) and more on sexuality and the politics of assigning gender. Topics such as queer theory, rejection of the gender binary, sexual liberation, consideration of women-of-color, and anti-racism characterized this period in feminist thought. These topics also characterized the concerns of the riot grrrl movement; grrrls sang out against domestic abuse and rape, wrote love songs to other women, and branded their bands to suggest their concerns. Sexually suggestive and often violent band names were typical. Bikini Kill, Hole, Bratmobile, Jack Off Jill, Adickdid, Bangs, The Butchies, and The Frumpies…the list goes on. Of course, riot grrrl wasn’t all an attack against patriarchy. The Encyclopedia of Feminist Theories also credits riot grrrl with making “adolescent girls’ standpoints central.” Riot grrrl was a genre of self-expression.
Yet, it wasn’t only a type of music. Riot grrrl gave women permission to rock, rage, and rant when women weren’t traditionally the center of rock and punk groups. There were festivals where women could play music, discuss feminist issues, get together for DIY projects or hold impromptu jam sessions. Bands sprang out of previous bands that sprang out of the movement. It was a micro culture of mad girl’s love songs and for a time it multiplied like meiosis.
And then riot grrrl faded. The political issues that it dealt with became mainstream concerns. The bands received national recognition and no longer needed close-knit, local support groups. Ten years of rioting was enough for women to be accepted into punk as a permanent part of the scene. Another decade later brings us to Slutever’s generation, women rockers who owe their careers to the riot grrrls, but are too young to have known riot grrrl during the heyday and don’t practice the kind of activism that the riot grrrls did. It’s a tricky legacy.
“We’re not riot grrrl.” Nicole is quick to say. Rachel agrees.
“I’d say in the past few years I got into it,” Nicole explains as she eats a coconut popsicle with a broken stick in the Drexel radio station studio. She had given the one with the proper stick to Rachel. “I think being in a band that plays in basements and punk shows pushed me into it more. It’s like if people are going to compare us to riot grrrl, I better know my shit. Not that it was a chore, but I felt almost obligated to know what I was talking about. Some people are so annoying and elitist like, ‘You didn’t know what riot grrrl was until recently?’ Like, ‘Yeah, but so what?’ It doesn’t make it any less important to me–”
Just then, Nicole is cut off by the station phone ringing, which Rachel hurries to answer, “WKDU!” Nicole laughs, “too many things going at once.”
There had been a lot going on. I was interviewing the girls during Rachel’s radio show. As the show host from the block before them left, he contemplated the three of us. “Now it really is ‘Girls Girls Girls.’” He pointed to each of us as he said the same of Rachel’s radio show. When Girls Girls Girls is on, Rachel is DJ Honeybear. She has a tattoo on her leg that bears her DJ name in a fanciful, cursive script.
“Can you please play ‘Crazy On You’?” Nicole asks.
“I can’t. It’s too popular.” Rachel reconsiders for a moment. “I can’t. It’s too popular.”
The girls are bothered by a phenomenon in music journalism that involves lumping all women musicians together. These women are not compared to men of their genres, and are described in trite, physical terms– “She’s either adorable or hot or fat or stupid. That’s a classic double standard. And ‘they all sound like Vivian Girls…’ Which is so not true,” Nicole scoffs.
Yet, Rachel’s radio show only plays music by bands comprised of or fronted by women.
“I think it just happens that I like to listen to female musicians more. I try to play mostly punk because that’s my genre, but there are so many bands that have girls in them that are just different. There’s not ‘a sound’ just because you’re a girl band. Sometimes people are like, ‘Oh, you’re a girl band? You must be like the Donnas.’”
Girls Girls Girls helps to dispel that misperception.
“I don’t know what to say. We’re just a bunch of childish,” Rachel pauses, thinking of the right way to describe them. “Kids?” offers Nicole. Rachel settles on “chumps.”
“We’re not too serious, very dramatic and sarcastic– dramatic in a teen angst way–”
“We love teen angst. We love teen stuff. I would say teenaged.”
“–The 90’s have really influenced what we’re doing.”
Rachel says that she got into punk once she “had shit to be angry about.” Nicole says that every “punk type ” song they’ve written “happened really organically.” A lyric of hers describes punk rockers well—“We’re just a casualty of growth and we’ve got nowhere else to go.”
Nicole drew their first album cover: an image of a girl sitting in her own vomit, which spells the word “Slutever” in gooey, chunky letters. A friend drew the masthead on their site. “Slutever” is spelled with a snake wrapped around a dagger, a tube of lipstick, a skull, a carton of french fries, a 40 with three cans of PBR and two ornate, thick letters. It makes a great T-shirt. The girls have a strong visual aesthetic, but they are focused on their sound.
“Punk is very generic,” Nicole explains. “For punk to work, you need to have some conviction. You also need to be tight as a band.”
“No, I don’t even care if a band is tight,” Rachel interrupts to cite a band with whom they are friends. “They’ve just got an energy and originality to them, so I want to watch them even if what they’re doing is insane and not good. It’s just so interesting that it’s exciting. That’s what I think you need at least for live punk. For recorded punk–”
“I think it’s personal preference. If you listen to an album and every song sounds exactly the same, I think that’s bad punk. A good drummer and good vocals are really important.”
“I’ve been to so many shows in my life, knowing a band is bad is just so easy now.”
“There are so many shows in Philly and in the country, it’s like if you’re not good, you’re not going to stand out and you’re just dust in the wind.”
“Can you call this piece ‘Dust in the Wind: The Slutever Story?’” asks Rachel.
“I think we actually said ‘Fart in the Wind,’” corrects Nicole. “Fart in the Wind would be a much more appropriate title. Maybe we’ll name our next album that. Don’t put it past us.”
3. A FART IN THE WIND
Nicole grew up around power pop, a lot of the Beatles. She attended concerts with her dad from a young age. In seventh grade, she started playing drums and in high school, she loved Brand New. Her song writing style reflects these seemingly contradictory influences. In fact, Nicole’s power-pop-meets-angst-y-grunge background might be responsible for the earworm-iest song on Slutever’s Pretend to Be Nice EP: “So Prone.” At a typically short length of 2:20, it’s so addictive and brief, that replaying it is instinctual. “So Prone” also maximizes their sparse instrumentation. The opening melody of the track, which could have been a bass line or a guitar melody, is instead a thudding drum line. When the vocals come in, there are enough predictable “Ooohs” to make it an instant sing-a-long. The guitar wails as if it’s singing back up. It’s angry, it’s short, and it’s catchy. It’s instant catharsis.
Nicole’s parents support her pursuing Slutever and have come to shows. Her dad was in a band once and they pretty much get it, but not totally since they’ll still ask, “Why don’t you get a sponsor for your tour?” “That’s not the punk thing,” Nicole rolls her eyes, but she smiles. Nicole has a younger sister who is a senior in high school. She hasn’t seen Nicole play yet. Nicole thinks she’d fare well at a punk show, but the time just hasn’t been right.
Nicole and I stood in the living room at hers and Rachel’s house, surveying the landscape: streamers with cactuses on them, a Bud Light sign of the neon variety often found at bowling alleys, little dolls and figures clustering on surfaces. Nicole describes it as what would happen “if someone gave two kindergarteners a bunch of money and told them to decorate.”
“It’s kind of scary to think, ‘What will you do when you can’t make music?’ But hopefully I’ll always be making music,” Nicole muses, getting serious. Listening to “So Prone,” it’s hard to imagine that she’ll be just another fart in the wind, so to speak.
Both girls, in their harmonious way, accept that “So Prone” is a crowd favorite. Rachel is happy to play drums during Nicole’s songs. She knows that the crowd pleaser from the tracks she’s written is “Teen Mom.” It’s about her ex-boyfriend, who the girls’ friends love to hate. As we discussed a typical Slutever set list and the girls’ individual music histories, Rachel chopped vegetables and occasionally fed some of them to her rabbit, Little Monster. She has played guitar since she was in the sixth grade and did chorus throughout middle and high school. Before Slutever, she had a solo folk project called “Little Flower.”
To understand how Rachel went from Little Flower to Slutever, I spoke with her cousin, Christine. Christine is eleven years older than Rachel and was the first person to show Rachel Nirvana. Her favorite band is Pearl Jam. Rachel remembers listening to Christine’s homemade mix tapes as a kid. When Rachel was in high school, Christine would take her to concerts.
“What are you going to do, have your mom take you to a show? I’d take her.”
Rachel has a brother at Penn State and another brother who is in high school. Her youngest brother recently went to a show in Camden with Christine and her boyfriend. Rachel’s family is clearly into music, but not all of them completely understand Slutever.
“A lot of our family is mystified. Our family looks mainstream—jeans and T-shirts. Rachel has tattoos; she dresses differently. They’re impressed by how much work she puts into it. She worked full time during school and had the band and it’s just her and Nicole.”
Rachel started playing small solo shows in her high school days. Her family was a little surprised when she didn’t go a more traditional rock route, but Christine, the first family member to actually see Slutever play, is amazed to see people singing and dancing along to the music of her “little cousin,” and wasn’t too shocked by Rachel’s sound.
“I always knew she was feisty. She always had an opinion.”
Christine doesn’t think that this is a phase, so much as a natural result of Rachel living in a grungier part of Philadelphia and listening to punk and grunge music. Christine just regrets that most Slutever shows are too late at night for their suburban family.
In a teenaged kind of way, the girls throw around the phrase “best friends.” Rachel and Nicole shared mutual friends in high school, but Rachel was a year ahead of Nicole. It wasn’t until Nicole ended up in the same music program that they became close.
“Nicole and I started playing together when we lived together just because we were bored,” explains Rachel. “I wrote some songs and she wrote some songs are we just jammed together. She taught me how to play drums for the band.”
They’re together almost 24/7, have all the same friends and are similar besides that, says Rachel.
“We’re really in tune with each other,” Nicole adds.
“Yeah, we’re on the same page. She knows what I’m singing about and I know what she’s singing about. She experienced what I experienced just because she’s my best friend. If there was another person, even though we’re still best friends–”
“The chemistry would be off,” Nicole finishes. “I think sometimes people don’t have the same sense of humor or don’t know all the inside jokes and all that stuff. We’re able to thrive on that because there’s an energy we feel around each other.”
The girls decided they wanted to record the music that they were writing, but they needed a band name. “Slutever” came from a photo comment that they saw on Facebook. Now they can’t imagine what else they would have called themselves. Their first album came about during the summer of 2010. They recorded it separately and in pieces while they were in LA and Seattle for internships and edited it online. They posted the album on bandcamp.com for friends, and it took off with little help, a Frankenstein of girl angst, patched together from Rachel and Nicole’s songs. It spread mostly by word-of-mouth and even reached international audiences. “I’ve seen reviews of our album that I can’t understand,” Rachel laughs.
The girls want to pursue Slutever for as long as possible, but they also have side projects. For her senior thesis, Rachel created a band that wrote punk music for kids. She feels that punk music is inherently childish and that children are inherently punks. She’s also starting a small record label, Bratty Records. Mallrat Records, Nicole’s small, self-started label, was her senior thesis project. It released Cousin Brian’s debut album last spring. A Mallrat/Bratty records collaboration is a definite possibility. They are busy ladies.
“Don’t people get it? We don’t want to be a band. We just want to play on our phones!” Rachel whined in mock tantrum as they packed up for a show at PhilaMOCA last spring. The girls don’t stress about shows. The Slutever Do America Tour got that out of their system.
5. SLUTEVER DO AMERICA TOUR
The girls did a national tour across the states two summers ago, which they feel helped them to grow tremendously as live performers. The girls got to see parts of the country they’d only heard about. Nicole spent her birthday at the Mall of America, riding roller coasters.
There were also trying moments. They arrived at a venue that forgot that it booked them. They sometimes wished that they had a guy with them to make them feel safer about traveling so much, but bringing someone along with just the two of them is out of the question. They tried it once with a friend, but when he didn’t want to thrift shop, they decided to be their own roadies. The duo has yet to embark on another major national tour, though last summer they toured with TacocaT and they recently did a stint of shows along the east coast.
The night of their PhilaMOCA show with Eternal Summers and Little Big League, though, I helped the girls load up their car and bring their instruments to the venue. When we pulled up to the venue, Rachel had a half-serious, half-theatrical crisis about parking.
“Calm down, you’re stressing yourself out,” Nicole reminded her, eating macaroni and cheese for dinner en route.
“IT’S JUST PRE-SHOW JITTERS!” Rachel yelled, then laughed. “I’m quoting Scott Pilgrim,” she said cheerfully. It’s a movie based on a comic book series of the same name. The main characters are in a punk band called Sex Bob-omb. Rachel was acting out Steven’s part and Nicole was a dead ringer for the deadpan drummer in the series, Kim.
Once everything was loaded in, the girls had beers and caught up with two friends. As they prepared for their set, they tuned their guitars together, a gesture that seemed as intimate as the small show was. Mid-way through the set, without saying a word, Nicole left the drum set to pick up her left-handed guitar and take the front of the stage while Rachel rested her electric and took a seat behind the bass drum. They didn’t play “So Prone,” but they didn’t need to. The crowd loved them anyway. One fan was so determined to mosh during their set, he jumped on stage and shook the drum set. The girls didn’t mind, though the rest of the audience did. People shoved him back into place, demanding that he “quit ruining the show.” Rapt, they all returned their attention to the punks on stage.