On Riot Grrrl, Punk Concerts, and Femininity in Punk: A Conversation with Dish Pit’s Nora Kelly

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Photo courtesy of Public Pressure

Sofia Lyon

Arts & Entertainment Editor

I had the opportunity to virtually sit down with up-and-coming, post-punk group Dish Pit’s lead vocalist and guitarist, Nora Kelly —with, of course, the adorable pup Squid seated nearby. 

After exchanging pleasantries concerning the weather in our respective environments — my sunny southern California setting against Kelly’s Canadian landscape — I wanted to hear about how Dish Pit came to be. 

Kelly admitted, “it’s not very punk,” going on to explain how she met the individuals who would become Dish Pit’s drummer, Ethan Soil, and bassist, Jed Stein, in her residential hall at university. “In second year, I moved into this crazy circus loft kind of place, where there’s no internet, but everyone did trapeze or DJ’d or robotics — just really eccentric people,” she explained.

The creative environment was enough to inspire Kelly to pick up music again, quickly recruiting the musical talents of her aforementioned bandmates. 

Their organic origin story is telling of their unique musical sensibilities. In describing their style, Kelly remarked, “I remember right when we started playing, I [wanted] to sound like Ty Segall, and that’s not what we sound like.”

“Now I think we’re more like grunge meets post-punk, but there’s a real push to make the songs experimental,” she said. “And not necessarily in a classic prog-rock way, just in our own way where every song is an opportunity to try something out.”

She went on to describe what their experimentation often looks like: “So maybe we’ll just slow down as a whole band with no set tempo, like at this point in the song we all have to feel each other’s vibe … or a song will be in seven … or in a weird time signature. That’s kept it really fun, and then that ended up being our sound too.” 

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In our conversation, I couldn’t help but bring up the subject matter of their music, which felt reminiscent of original Riot Grrrl bands upon my listen of the album. I was curious to know if Dish Pit, as a distinctly femme punk band, felt they faced similar or more nuanced challenges than earlier women in the punk scene. Kelly quickly stated the issues felt more nuanced. 

“It’s up to people to either say, let’s go deeper and make this actually an equal playing field, or to just say, oh, we’ve done enough,” she explained. 

She elaborated that the music industry as a whole still has ways to go in terms of inclusivity. 

“For example, in the recording process, we’ve never worked with a woman, and it’s pretty hard to find women who are recording engineers.” 

Being told one has no idea what they’re doing is a common occurrence as a woman in music, according to Kelly. “I chose to use pedals at a certain point, and as soon as I was like, I might be interested in pedals, all of these guys are like, ‘You have to do this one, you need to buy this one,’ … and it’s just like, I’ll just figure it out myself.”

She concluded with the astute observation that “there is a more technical ownership over music that men still hold in some way.”

Hearing about Dish Pit’s own encounter with misogyny in the industry, I was curious to hear about Kelly’s thoughts on this almost post-punk revival taking place amongst Gen Z. 

“It seems like Riot Grrrl, or that kind of whole spirit of punk almost went away in the maybe mid-2000s to the 2010s. I feel like a lot of the younger part of Gen Z is starting to connect with it again,” I elaborated. “I’m just interested if you have thoughts about why the kind of younger end of Gen Z, who are now in their teens, are rediscovering the bands of Riot Grrrl and connecting with newer post-punk bands like Dish Pit.”

“There’s a lot of bullshit going on, and it seems like it sometimes skips generations, but a great way to handle that is to just kind of have an absurdist humor about everything. It’s a way of not pretending like things aren’t happening, but you can still get through things and not be so heavy,” she emphasized. “Riot Grrrl has that, and I think various movements in punk, but not every movement in punk has had a good sense of humor. And Gen Z has a really good sense of humor, you know? There’s just a lot of funny content coming out, and it’s really fun to see that happening. Maybe there’s an extra connection with that kind of mischievous spunkiness of Riot Grrrl and Gen Z.”

“There’s a lot of bullshit going on, and it seems like it sometimes skips generations, but a great way to handle that is to just kind of have an absurdist humor about everything. It’s a way of not pretending like things aren’t happening, but you can still get through things and not be so heavy.”

Abandoning social commentary and analysis, Kelly and I reminisced on what feels like a distant memory of attending (in Kelly’s case, playing) live and in-person concerts. She tells me a story of an old show gimmick, giggling throughout: “There was one time where we made Ethan” — who here interjected with an off-screen, “Hi!” — “dress in a diaper on Halloween, and then we wore [dominatrix] outfits and whipped him through the crowd. He had to crawl through the crowd with crazy circus music playing.” 

“I’d be so excited if that happened at a concert. I crave that kind of chaos right now,” I said. We laugh for a moment together before Kelly agreed, “We need so much more of that right now.” 

I then asked Kelly about Dish Pit’s creative process, eager to hear about how they achieve their heavy musical catharsis. 

“I do the lyric writing, and a lot of the time it will be the moments where I choose to not listen to music and walk around. I’ll think about something funny, I guess. A lot of the songs are a facet of my personality, like ‘Trash Queen.’ I’m not that trashy, but I definitely have had my moments. And then you just kind of extrapolate on that.” She goes on to explain the catharsis achieved through writing, heavier, more emotional songs. “There’s something about writing a song for me where it feels like you’re kind of solidifying this part of yourself and your identity forever, and whenever you play that song, you’re paying homage to that moment that it happened. It kind of makes me feel like I’m writing my story or something. I think that’s kind of lyrically where the inspiration comes from.”

“There’s something about writing a song for me where it feels like you’re kind of solidifying this part of yourself and your identity forever, and whenever you play that song, you’re paying homage to that moment that it happened.”

Kelly describes the diversity in skillsets offered by each member, allowing everyone to contribute uniquely and differently. “Musically, Ethan has a pretty substantial university training in music, and Jed is a professional dancer. So they both bring really important things to the band. Maybe I’ll have a sketch of a song on the acoustic guitar, and Jed has a cool mind for time signatures and really creepy bass riffs and stuff.”

Their individual knowledge and skills likely add to the band’s eclectic stylings. “Ethan is really good at helping us understand what’s going on structurally and being like, ‘Oh, maybe if you pause here then you could have all of the things land on a one instead of a three.’ … a lot of the thesis statement comes from me, and then we’ll just workshop it.”

We wrapped up our conversation by talking about their latest music video (which can be viewed on their YouTube channel), the possibility of a West Coast tour, and the drudgery of online education. 

It was clear from my discussion that what Dish Pit offers is a breath of creative fresh air. Not only are they interested in the pure craftsmanship of music, but they are committed to producing authentic work. They are truly auteurs in the aesthetic they construct within and surrounding their music, and certainly deliver a modern voice to a profound punk history in the process.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Dish Pit’s latest album DIPSHIT on Spotify and Soundcloud. To keep up with Dish Pit, check out their Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and official website.

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