War on Women: An interview with Shawna Potter

 Shawna Potter - war on women
By Alex Teitz
            War On Women is a Baltimore 5 piece band led by Shawna Potter. The other band members are Brooks Harlan on guitar, Nancy Hornburg on guitar, Suzanne Werner on bass and Evan Tanner on drums. In 2015 they released their self-titled debut on Bridge 9 Records.
            A War On Women show is a balls to the wall dive into women’s issues and politics. The songs take on abortion, rape, and more with a brutal honesty that should have most men leaving the show with their tail between their legs. Where many artists may have a song or two on empowerment, War On Women are ready to wage war and not take prisoners.
             FEMMUSIC was honored to speak to Shawna Potter as part of our Vans Warped Tour preview. Look for War On Women at VWT this summer. For info visit https://www.facebook.com/WarOnWomen & http://vanswarpedtour.com/
FEMMUSIC: Your album came out in 2015. Are you working on new material? Have the events of 2016 helped?
SP: Yes, we will be recording a new record this year. Honestly I’m so revolted by our current dictator, on a personal level, I don’t actually want to have anything to do with him, I don’t even want to write songs about him. I guess I’m still in denial on some level that this is happening.
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique? 
SP: It varies, for sure, but usually someone has the bulk of a song written, and we all get together and edit, add, improve, etc. Sometimes I have words worked out and I wait until I have the perfect song to put it to, other times I write lyrics and melody after a song is finished. I try not to hinder my writing process by assuming it should be one way or the other – however this stuff wants to come out, I let it, and then work to make it as good as I can.
FEMMUSIC: Why did you sign with Bridge 9 Records?
SP: They really believed in us and were excited about partnering up with us, and I’m really happy they agreed to sign us! It’s been a great working relationship. If only more people would buy our actual records, then we might deserve the attention Bridge 9 gives to us.
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you change about the music industry?
SP: Dr. Luke? Like for real, fuck that guy. But honestly, one thing, one person won’t change anything. There’s too many little ways to fuck over women and people of color. The best thing that could happen is people that listen to music, who buy music, use their dollars to affect change. In a capitalist system, large corporations only “do what’s right” when it makes financial sense to do so. Which means WE have the power to diversify music, prioritize woman- and black-owned businesses and artists. We have to actually support good music, made by socially conscious people, and then when corporate media sees there is money in it, then they will shift their focus and throw real money at bands like us, Downtown Boys, & GLOSS, so we can survive on our art. When is the last time you bought a feminist band’s record? Or asked your local radio station to play a feminist band? We can make them change, but we have to put in the effort.
FEMMUSIC: If you could collaborate or tour with anybody, whom would it be?
SP: We’re very lucky to have toured with some great bands, but I think I’d love to do a full run with the Refused. (We only played a few shows with them). Also Against Me. But I kinda think us, Priests, and Downtown Boys would be a killer fucking tour, too!
FEMMUSIC:  You’re on Vans Warped Tour this year. What are you most looking forward to with it?
SP: I’m looking forward to bringing our pet project, Safer Scenes 2017, with us. We are literally bringing experts with us, on our little bus, to table for us and teach kids the skills they need to intervene when they see sexism, racism, transphobia, islamaphobia, etc, in their local scenes. We want everyone to go home from Warped with active bystander skills, so all the future shows they attend, play, or book are more fun, more tolerant, and more punk. For anyone interested in that idea, whether you like our band or Warped tour or not, we want these folks to be able to pay rent while they are gone, and be able to eat and all that, so we need your help and donations. Please check out our fundraiser and share it with all your friends! https://www.gofundme.com/SaferScenes2017
FEMMUSIC:  What is is about the punk and hard rock community that has made them embrace your music? Do you think the reaction would change in another genre?
SP: I don’t know, hopefully they think our music is good and they like our message. Ask them! haha.  I know not everyone that likes heavier music likes our band, for various reasons, but I do wish classic hardcore fans would give us a shot, as well as folks that are into softer female-fronted music. I think people that have wanted to listen to music that aligns with their feminist values haven’t been given much of a choice as far as musical styles go, so I’d like to invite all the Ani Difranco fans to come over to the thrash side.
FEMMUSIC:  I was recently at a show that emulated the Girls to the Front movement of the 90’s. I was wondering if you could tell me about your own feminist experiences in music, before the band started?
SP: Well I’ve been playing in bands since I was 14 – in the 90s. Usually with other women, but not always, sometimes I wanted to celebrate or bring attention to being a woman in music, sometimes I wanted people to forget or not make a big deal out of me being a woman playing music. It can be tough, plenty of sexist bands, sound engineers, and even bandmates! I think I always had to stand up for myself, have a feminist perspective, because no one else would let me forget I was female, you know? So instead of shrinking into the background, I went the other way, like “yep, I’m female, and I’m a badass, and by the end of this set you are going to love my band”. 
FEMMUSIC:  What is your view of feminism in 2017? What has it does that is positive? What still needs to be done?
SP: Well this question assumes that feminism is this tangible, conscious being that makes it’s own decisions, but it’s not. It’s a movement, an ethos, a way of looking at the world, all interpreted by individuals, whether they identify as a feminist or not. So, any stereotype or idiotic idea about feminism, any co-option of it, is not “feminism’s fault”, you know? It simply means the equal treatment of all. Full stop. It’s brought us the vote, funding for women’s shelters, a more accurate legal definition of rape, access to education, the ability to plan when and how we have a family if at all, and so much more. But when everyone is still fed this idea that women are less than, that we just aren’t as capable or as smart or we don’t deserve full control over our own bodies, no matter how many legal advancements we might achieve, there are still too many ways to harass, discriminate, or harm us. As a movement, feminism can always be made better by addressing the needs of all femmes, not just white cisgender women.
FEMMUSIC: There has been a resurgence in protest music since the Election. What role does War on Women take or want to take in this? What more do you want to do musically, socially & politically in the future?
SP: Protest music is not new, I just think we have never lived through something in the States this fucked up. It’s hard to say. I mean, I know any bad decision or policy made by this administration effects everyone but the 1%, but damn, this dude has sexually assaulted people, bragged about it on tape, and was still supported by an overwhelming number of people. Looking at him, thinking about him, makes me ill. I certainly use this band and our shows as a cathartic release, and I am always happy if others can, too. And grateful. I really want others who aren’t personally affected by sexism to perk up though, listen to what we’re saying, and stand up for others. This is the time of the bystander to get active and accept the power you have to make things better. I guess, as far as the future goes, as long as there is sexism, there is War On Women.
May 1st, 2017