Collage 2022 05 20 11 13 11

IN CONVERSATION: Big Joanie – “Having this band together, it’s a safe place for us where we can just be ourselves and do what we want to do”

I meet Big Joanie aka singer/guitarist Stephanie Phillips, drummer Chardine Taylor-Stone, and bassist Estella Adeyeri, backstage before their set at the BBC 6 Music festival in Cardiff’s Y Plas venue which is part of the Student’s Union. The surreal feeling of interviewing a band in front of the BBC 6 Music Festival logo made me for a very brief moment feel like a BBC presenter, then I came round. The band are charming, funny and insightful company.

It’s an exciting moment for this black feminist punk trio, too; they recently returned from another stint at SXSW, they’re about to head off on a tour including dates supporting their heroes Bikini Kill and they also have a second album in the works. So it’s an opportune moment to talk to them. “We played with Bikini Kill before at Brixton academy so it will be cool to play with them. They are a big influence. I grew up with Bikini Kill and trying to play ‘Rebel Girl’ like everyone else. I was playing it on an acoustic guitar. It didn’t sound folky. It just sounded weird and a bit, like, jarring!” Philips explains.

BBC 6 Music have clearly been a big champion of the group, they seem thrilled to have been invited to play this year’s festival in Cardiff: “I enjoyed it (6 music) when it started and now its really evolved with music from so many genres, they have really supported us. We have been played by Iggy Pop, Mark Riley, Mary Anne Hobbs, and Amy Lame who is really cool too! So it’s great to be part of this festival, it’s nice to be asked to the party.”

The band formed in the heart of London’s DIY punk scene in 2013 to play at First Timers and is a space where its members can be completely themselves. Their sound – that fuses distorted Raincoats’ inspired post-punk and ‘60s girl-group pop melodies – earned the band some big champions, including Thurston Moore and Eva Prinz who signed the group to their label Daydream Library after spotting them at a gig.

I wonder what their experiences are as black women in a very white scene. “Particularly in the UK, obviously, the punk and indie scenes are very white, and I think for us growing up and loving that music and in that scene sometimes you do experience racism in those spaces or just people say silly things and even there’s a kind of erasure of people of colour that play that music. How many times have people forgotten that Poly Styrene was actually a woman of colour and that informs her music and her experience?” Taylor-Stone expands “So, I mean, for us having this band together, it’s like a safe place for us where we can just be ourselves and do what we want to do, we still get asked silly questions and on the road, it gets quite interesting.

I mean, we had an incident last night where some man was trying to run over our instruments and some bloke put his pint glass on my drum, which didn’t bode well for him, really. But you have to be a little bit tough as well. But I think that goes for any woman in a band. But I think the conversations changed. And so in general, all the fans that we have and the people that have supported us have been from all different types of backgrounds. So it’s actually really like a positive thing”.

The band have continued to tour the UK and Europe on their own headline tours and in support of acts including Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Gossip, Skunk Anansie, The Raincoats, and most recently Idles. But I wonder what was their favourite support experience? “I always really enjoyed our first show with Bikini Kill when they came back a couple of years ago just because again there was a band that I listened to so much as a teenager and it really formed not just my musical identity but like political identity, it was my first introduction to feminism when I was just 15. That was really amazing just to see them play, to have that access and then bumping into the Raincoats randomly backstage as well. A lot of people, a lot of legends in one room!” Philips enthuses.

“I think the Skunk Anansie gig was definitely mine. The crowd were just amazing.”
Taylor-Stone remembers “I’m also going to be difficult, I’m going to say when we did the Idles tour too because we were quite nervous about it, with it not being our usual scene or crowd. But then winning over a crowd like that, when you’re not sure how they’re going to approach you with your politics and what you are. I think that’s something that I’m really quite proud of in terms of what we achieved there. Everyone was super lovely on tour, so it’s nice to pick up some new fans from there and a couple came to our show last night. There’s always that moment where you support, where there is someone in the crowd who is like ‘who is this?’ and then their phone comes out and then by the end of it they are going to their mates “yeah yeah yeah”. And I’m like ‘Okay, that’s another one we’ve got there!’ That’s always a good feeling”

“Yeah. I’ve definitely enjoyed both those experiences on stage. I think a memorable gig was maybe the Sleater Kinney support and knowing that they influence your guitar playing and stuff like that.” Adeyeri notes “It was also one of the last gigs for all of us before lockdown. They ended up kind of writing a song about that night, it was like a really memorable moment.”

The band released their debut album Sistahs in 2018 to much acclaim, I wonder if they are working on a follow-up and if it will be with Kill Rock Stars label again? “We are just finalising the last details for our second album which should be finished this year. We are working with Daydream Library in the UK, which is Thurston Moore’s label and Kill Rock Stars in the States, it will be cool to link up with those labels because Bikini Kill are such an inspiration.” Philips notes “Kill Rock Stars is about punk and now its also about women of colour. So like, the Riot Grrrl thing was about women in those scenes, and now it’s about the experiences of women of colour in the scene. So it makes sense to them. So then it also makes sense to put out our records with them.”

“We had a handful of songs written before the lockdown and then during the lockdown, we were trying to write some more stuff and we brought it to our producer Margot Broom and she was like ‘oh, this is cool, but write some more, so we would write a couple more songs. So we had like about 20 songs altogether, but they’re not all on the record. It’s like a good collection, it’s a proper album-length.” Philips explains.

“I think in the beginning the first album was a collection of songs that I’d written, the first song when I was about 19, one of the earliest songs, so they were all about trying to kind of figure ourselves out.” she continues “Whereas now I am a bit more at peace with what I want to be as a songwriter, and what we want to do and the sounds we want to have and the impact we want to have, it sounds a lot more cohesive and a lot more grown-up.”

“It’s our Christina Aguilera 2.0 Dirty album!” Taylor-Stone adds with a laugh.

Yeah! It’s Christina Aguilera, just think of that. That’s the next Big Joanie album” Philips joins in! “We could wear chaps!”

I ain’t wearing chaps, you can wear chaps !” Taylor- Stone responds.

I think with the first album we’d never really been in a proper studio. Now we work with Margot Broom in her amazing studio and she’s like a genius. She can just build things and so we had that experience.” Taylor-Stone explains. “Now it’s more like we understand how the studio works and what it’s capable of which means we can think more expansively about what an album is rather than just thinking of like songs that you play live and then putting it on a record. That’s really exciting once you start being able to do that and think about the ways that you can sort of play around with an album as a piece of work.”

She continues: “But I think the sound that we have now is because we have grown musically. We started in this DIY culture and then we’ve been on these tours, been on stages with Idles and then we play with Bikini Kill or the Gossip. So it’s like you learn how to fill up space and you see those other bands and how they do that and then it’s just like picking up and learning and I feel like this new album sort of represents that journey that we’ve been on.”  

The trio just returned home from SXSW, it’s not the first time they’ve been to the Austin showcase, they first went in 2019! “Yeah, we just came back this year. It was really good. I think we played really well and we were doing bigger slots and bigger stages.” Explains Philips.“It was very DIY. The first time we were like running around in Ubers carrying all our gear. This time we had a lot more showcases and shows, again it’s just like a progression from where we were then to where we are now.”

With an eclectic playlist of influences, I wonder what new music is exciting each member.  “I’m always listening to a lot of Aldous Harding. The new album is really interesting. I love the way that she thinks about songs and music, it’s not the usual way that you just like think, I want to write about this today and it’s just very kind of poetic and it always sounds really beautiful.” Philips tells me.

“I’ve been listening to Bambara they’re in the UK at the moment. They’re amazing, I really love them. An America band called Advertisement
, they’re really fun kind of ’70s kind of slacker rock!” Taylor adds.

“Yeah, I’ve been listening to Surfbort from the same SXSW showcase, really fun kind of punk. “
Adeyeri enthuses. “Also that band I talked about, M(h)oal from Ireland. So I got their album in the post a couple of weeks ago and I saw them on Tuesday evening with Bodega, who are also amazing!”

Big Joanie have plenty of future plans so keep your eyes and ears open, for their next moves. “We’re doing quite a few dates in June, going to Europe with Bikini Kill but also doing some festivals and our own shows, like headline shows. ” Adeyeri informs me “Actually we are playing a new festival in Berlin called Decolonise and a couple of other things that are going to be announced. We are also playing Grace Jones‘ Meltdown, the lineup looks amazing!”

For full dates check Big Joanie’s website: https://bigjoanie.com/pages/tour

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.