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Feminism, Activism, & Privilege

Interview with Strange Breed

On October 5, The McGill Daily had the chance to sit down and talk to three-fourths of Strange Breed, a queer feminist garage-rock band from Vancouver. Montreal’s Diving Bell Social Club was the last stop on their cross-country tour. Unfortunately, guitarist Terra Chaplin was trying to find a parking spot and we had to start without her, figuring it would take five minutes or so. As a result, the rest of the band (drummer Megan Bell, vocalist Nicole Dupas, and bassist Ally Von Wallis) spent a lot of time bemoaning Montreal’s construction. I’ve cut those parts out of the transcript (you’re welcome). Forty minutes later, the interview was done and Terra was just in time for sound check.

The McGill Daily (MD): You’ve mentioned being a political band. What sorts of political messages do you talk about?

Nicolle Dupas: The biggest theme at the time that we were writing a lot of the songs was the #MeToo movement. [Our single] “Sharks” was very much about a culture of predatory men, or individuals in general, but rather than it just being a dark, scary thing, it was about power in unity. We were inspired by people finding strength in their own vulnerabilities and speaking out about their stories. So the first half of the song is like, watch out, be careful, these are the people that are out there, and here’s what they’re doing. But it’s also like, look what we can accomplish together, and this is why it’s important to talk about these things. And you shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed or scared [of talking about sexual assault] because we’ve got to. But of course, we did it in our style. It’s very metaphorical.

And then on the other side of the same coin, we have “The C-Word,” which is about consent. As heavy as the topic can be at times, we did it in a kind of fun, upbeat way. It got into some Sex and the City references. We just had fun with it. And I think that really comes across in our shows. People, especially in Vancouver, where people really know us, they know that song and they know that it’s a fun call-and- response song. And, that’s what we want, you know?

A lot of the themes on the album are to do with LGBTQ+ issues, gender discrimination, [and] sexual assault. These are the things we deal with every day. We also touch on issues like mental health, which kind of ties into some of those themes, but is also kind of a standalone issue that we all deal with. The first song in the album is called “Twenty Five” and one of the lines that resonates with all of us is “It took me twenty five years to want to stay alive.” I just turned 27, so I wrote that song this year because it said all the things I wish I had been able to say that I was feeling. And the fact that the last two years I’ve been more stable than I’ve ever been. And it just feels really good. It was just something that I finally had the strength to find the words to talk about. I’m really glad that we got it on this album with all these other more political things. But it’s still a stigmatized subject. [We sing about] a lot of fucking things. But also we have some songs or parts of our songs that are just to rock out to, just for fun, you know?

“Lets get more queerness out there, queerness looks like so many different kinds of people, and it sounds like a lot of different styles of music.” — Nicolle Dupas

MD: What is feminism to you personally?

Nicolle Dupas: I think all of us are pretty much on the same page. We really do see it as equality for everybody. And I think in this new wave of feminism there’s no room for TERFs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] or SWERFs [sex worker- exclusionary radical feminists]. There’s room for all genders here. We do make a priority to always play with other female musicians and non- binary musicians. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean we don’t love playing with our dude friends and bands too. Like, we have our reasons for working together as women because we feel like we understand each others’ stories better.

MD: Outside of feminism, what movements are important to you either as a group or as individuals?

Megan Bell: Definitely Black Lives Matter. To me, that counts as feminism as well.

Nicolle Dupas: We’re all struggling. And our struggles are different. And I acknowledge that I am privileged and that privilege blinds me from exactly understanding those struggles, but we try to understand it and help out where we can.

MD: What does “helping out” look like? What sorts of activism do you do?

Ally Von Wallis: I personally work with Indigenous children. That’s my day job, but I also think that it flows into other parts of my life. We all employ our ethics in different ways. So that’s my personal work. And I’ve learned a lot about myself through that and how much privilege I have.

Megan Bell: I used to volunteer for a 24-hour emergency shelter for at- risk homeless youth. They ended up hiring me on. I feel like we chose to kind of dig our teeth into the resources that we saw the necessity for, and then we both happened to find employment there.

Nicolle Dupas: There’s a very high homeless population [in Vancouver], and we sometimes do shows where there’s no cover but we ask people to donate things if they can: coats, socks, hygiene products, all that. While on this tour we actually did a fundraiser in Kingston for a youth arts and film festival. We raised a bit of money for them, but unfortunately it’s not something you can do all the time. Because, honestly, we’re not the most well-off people, but we are very privileged in a lot of ways, too. It’s hard to be a part of everything all the time. You know, we do our best. We’re not perfect, but we do our best.

MD: If you could change one thing about the Vancouver music scene, or the Canadian scene in general, what would it be?

Ally Von Wallis: Community. There is very little sense of genuine community, especially among musicians and other artists. I feel like it’s uncool to care about those things and showing genuine interest is not really something that we see a lot. And it feels weird to be on the opposite end of that because I don’t understand how people can not get excited about their community and music. We could have made so many more connections if other people allowed us to develop more creative projects with them. When I lived [in Montreal], I saw that a lot. Everybody wants to work with everybody else. But [in Vancouver] there is more of a circle of people. And those people are all in other bands together.

Nicolle Dupas: I would say the biggest thing for me is having women in music, and more visibly queer people in music of all different kinds. There’s sort of a type of queer person that’s more [palatable], but there needs to be more diversity. Let’s get more queerness out there, because queerness looks like so many different kinds of people, and it sounds like a lot of different styles of music.

“There’s room for all genders here. We do make a priority to always play with other female musicians and non-binary musicians” — Nicolle Dupas

Megan Bell: I’d make Canada smaller, so [on] our next tour we don’t have to drive so far. Or we can change the concept of touring altogether where the band stays stationary and people from all over come to Vancouver so we don’t have to drive anymore.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.