Art School Jocks are not a damn girl band
The bedroom pop outfit eclipses musical and gender stereotypes
During a recent Art Schools Jocks show at 529, a conversation was overheard on the crowded outdoor patio: One concertgoer turned to a friend to ask if he'd heard the band's music before.
Art School Jocks play a blend of lo-fi pop and post-punk that's danceable and often politically-charged. The friend shrugged. "They're kind of like the Coathangers, right?" he said, referring to the Atlanta garage rock act.
Nope. The two acts don't have many musical qualities in common at all, except for one thing: they're all women.
Art School Jocks' warped pop caught the ears of Miami/San Francisco-based indie label Father/Daughter Records in March. Signing with the label placed them on a roster alongside left-of-pop artists like Diet Cig, Leapling, and Sports (as well as the recently excised PWR BTTM).
The group's members, Dianna Settles (guitar, vocals), Deborah Hudson (guitar, vocals), Camille Lindsley (bass, vocals) and Ali Bragg (drums, vocals), have played together since 2015, but received exponential hype in recent months. In March, their debut single "Just a Gwen" premiered on NPR's "All Songs Considered,? garnering national attention leading up to the June 3 release of Art School Jocks' self-titled EP. Last year, NYLON magazine featured the band on a list of "5 Women-Fronted Punk Bands We're Obsessed With,? and the much-hyped "Just a Gwen" was recently featured on a Spotify playlist titled "Badass Women.?
No value assignedSuch promotional pressure is both a blessing and a curse. In an industry that still trivializes women artists, it's too easy for an all-woman project to get stuck in simple "girl band" categories, even though the women within these categories differ wildly in style, aesthetic and experiences. Would Led Zeppelin be lumped into the same musical genre as the Beatles?
These separate, women-only categories ostensibly fight a lack of representation, but isolating artists like Art School Jocks on the basis of gender assumes they wouldn't be able to stand out otherwise and can result in a disparity of critical response. This pigeonholing raises a few questions: Does Art School Jocks garner attention because it's a noteworthy and innovative band, or because it's an all-woman band?
The band's members themselves question the hype they're receiving, but not because they think it's undeserved.
Settles wonders if their gender plays a part in the attention, but laughs when recounting a conversation with a friend about the attention. "He started cracking up and said, 'I'm just thinking of how many friends in bands that I know that are all dudes who would never question the amount of hype that they were getting.'?
Mostly, they try not to worry about it.
"As long as it doesn't keep us from what we're doing, I personally don't give a shit," Bragg says.
No value assigned
The band members have drastically far-flung musical backgrounds: Hudson strummed Pavement-inspired guitar in indie band Places to Hide; Lindsley raised hell in noise rock group Savant; and Settles, who also owns Hi-Lo Press, grew her activist voice in folk-punk outfit the Wild. This is the first project for Bragg, who grew up in Mexico and played in school drumlines from a young age.
It's also the first time each band member has played with such a diverse mix of influences, and with only women. Hudson notes the differences from playing in a scene dominated by men.
"Previously, my creative voice was a little bit submissive because it felt like it had to be," Hudson says. "But playing music with these folks, I just feel super comfortable knowing that we have that particular intersection of experience.?
Settles agrees, explaining how each band members has more room to explore. "There's a lot of checking in with each other, airing suggestions," she says. "Allowing for those ideas to take place in the first place, and be given their own moment to reflect on it.?
That comfort and exploration culminates on the band's eponymous EP, a steady effort full of dissonant pop hooks over angular grooves. The catchy "Suffering Prom? gives whiplash over the song's various tempo changes, oscillating between an upbeat post-punk rhythm and a drawling segment complete with slightly-sarcastic '60s girl-group "oohs" and "aahs." Social politics are central to their material as well: "Catdog" explores the tensions of social behavior, reflected in simultaneously rising and falling melodic lines, while the perplexing "Nina? calls attention to the Black Lives Matter movement. But the members aren't just talk: Hudson recently helped organize a concert to raise awareness about Tent City, a now defunct protest camp near Turner Field concerned with housing rights issues and gentrification in the area. The band has raised that issue frequently at recent shows as well as on its social media pages.
"Just a Gwen" is perhaps Art School Jocks' most artistically successful track so far, with its addictive, purposefully monotonous melody that chronicles the regular checklist women follow to avoid violence and harassment. "Cover your legs up/Watch your drink/In fact just never let them buy you a drink," Settles drones, dispassionately. "Smile back and/Say you're sorry/You shouldn't be out this late alone."
The song is deceptively simple. Guitars are heavy with distortion, echoing a twisted culture that places the onus on women to protect themselves by dressing less provocatively or not walking home alone instead of changing the offenders or the culture itself.
Settles drew inspiration from her daily life to write the lyrics. She used to work at a restaurant and remembers constantly asking male employees to walk outside with her to take out the trash or go to her car.
"These are just nightly reminders that stack up on being raised with those incessant 'safety tips,'" she says. "It's frustrating to realize how much of that is all put on the shoulders of the person that's likely to face some sort of attack, rather than on those who would perpetrate it.?
The song's title, a reference to No Doubt's 1995 pop anthem "Just a Girl," doubles down on the idea.
"That song is now 20 years old, somehow, and it's just God, how long do we have to fucking say this shit?" Settles laughs mirthlessly.
In the 22 years since "Just a Girl" was released, critical responses to all-women groups seemingly haven't changed much either. Women artists like Art School Jocks are still too-often only being compared to each other. This promising group of musicians is already being unfairly shoved into "Badass Women" boxes, but their raw talent is what might take them to a wider audience not just their genders.
The band members would rather focus on producing something that's true to their vision than on what does or doesn't happen with the hype machine.
"As long as we feel that our voice is authentic, I think it doesn't matter what the response is," Lindsley says.