VENUS – RIOT GRRRL SPACE ROCK PUNKS WITH MORE THAN SOMETHING TO SAY

Cover Pic: Dora Maud

The very cool ladies from Venus have joined us to talk about their recently released debut single, “Deranged” and all the latest goings-on in Venus-Land.

What better way to start than to tell us about the single. How did it come together from a writing perspective and what messages are you trying to get across ?

Grace K: Usually as a unit there are a number of strategies that happen when we write, but when we wrote Deranged it started off with a riff that Jess wrote. It was actually very different to the recorded riff, and we struggled with it for a short while. But then as the riff grew to be what it is now, the song started to form structure.

I wrote some loose chords around it to form a verse, and began piecing together some lyrics. Some of which were new and came to me in unique moments, some of which I had scribbled down prior and re-jigged to fit the tempo and phrasing of the song. The line ‘As Girls we mean no harm or cause discomfort or alarm, except we do’ was something I had written a while before the birth of the riff, but it was like it was meant to be as they pair so well together.

The message was very much about the treatment of women in day to day life, and in our own experience, the music industry. However the drive of the song was particularly inspired by the way we are consistently reduced down to our gender, even by people we called our friends! These people would say things behind our back such as ‘you only get gigs because you’re girls’ ‘they just look good’ ‘They’ve barely even released anything’ ‘They don’t deserve the gigs they’re getting’…all while never even attending a gig to judge if they like the music or not! That’s kind of what inspired me to write the song, girls really can never catch a break.

It’s been incredibly well received, has that surprised you at all ?

Grace S: Yes and no. It’s extremely overwhelming with the amount of support we have been given. I remember in July time when we were originally planning on doing our single launch. We were looking at venues with 80 capacity and we were questioning whether we would manage to sell out. We put it on hold for awhile and when it came to booking a venue, the venue that sat well with us was Hyde Park Book Club, when we found out the capacity was 150/160 we were hesitant due to the size but I’m so glad we chose the venue now. When I say no, it’s because of the amount of time we put the single on hold before the release. We were able to build a community and gig a year prior to our debut single so we already had a lovely little following behind us every step of the way. I think Grace K did an amazing job on the socials too, to advertise and create a buzz for the launch.

Jess: It was definitely a surprise for me. I never expected to get the response that we did at our single launch. It was so amazing to see so many people there to support us that I didn’t even know. It was very overwhelming and still to this date the best show I’ve ever played. It still surprises me every time I check our single on Spotify to find the streams have gone up again. I couldn’t be more grateful.

It was good fun watching the number of tickets left for your single launch show on Facebook. When you got to 5 tickets left you must have been buzzing ?

Grace K: Honestly, Grace and I were with each other at the time and we were absolutely losing our minds. We literally couldn’t contain ourselves, as much as I’d want to appear completely chill about it, I really don’t at the same time. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life, I think it was for all of us. A definite mile stone for all of us as individual musicians and as a band, we all just were completely ecstatic.

Grace S: Yes, it was super exciting. Me and Grace were literally sat with my laptop watching each ticket sale. I was frantically texting my family who were travelling down, to see if they had gotten their tickets as we were so close to selling out. Then when we finally reached 0, me and Grace were literally screaming in our kitchen.

Jess: We were losing our shit in the group chat. None of us expected to sell out at all!

Gabby: So buzzing. I wasn’t expecting it to sell out at all. I even took a photo of the crowd before and after the show I was that excited about it. Just something to remember it by.

Pic: Ellie Owen

How was the gig for you lot?

Grace K: Incredible, up until that point we’d only ever played support slots really…it was our first hometown headline show, and it’s something I’ll never forget. Just the thought that people had spent their money and given up their time to see us play is an appreciation I’ll never truly be able to express. Our label, Monomyth Records had been absolutely incredible with helping us not only set up the night but manning the night too, they really got involved from start to finish in the most helpful ways…from lighting to selling at the merch table, they’re our heroes.

Grace S: I really enjoyed the gig, I was so overwhelmed by the turn out and so grateful for my family and friends who travelled to support us. A couple of my friends even flew from Ireland just for the show.

Jess: So much fun. Couldn’t believe the audience response and how engaged with us they were. An absolute highlight for me was raising my hands to clap and the whole crowd following me, this has honestly never happened before and it’s such an amazing feeling.

Gabby: Bloody loved it. I’ve not been that nervous for a show since our very first one just a year ago. I remember saying to people before we played that I was dead nervous and I couldn’t stop talking. I think I had butterflies in my stomach for about 2 weeks prior to the gig. But as soon as Grace started strumming her guitar for our intro I lost all nerves and it was such a good time.

And you’ve just played in Newcastle – I guess you’re not as well known there – did you get any different reactions at that gig ?

Grace S: Well I’m from the North east and a lot of my friends go to University in Newcastle. Some of my family live there too so I was able to get a good group down to come and support us and the Estrons. I find the North East in particular is incredibly supportive of the independent music scene and we all love playing there. So many people chat to us after our gigs there and its elish.

Going back to the beginning, you describe yourselves as a “Punk” band. What does punk mean to you in 2019, 40+ years since The Sex Pistols defined the genre ?

Grace S: I’m not too sure if I would agree that the Sex Pistols defined the genre of punk but we originally described ourselves as punk because of our DIY approach. When we first got together we decided to do covers of the Riot grrrl genre, this was because it defined us from the very beginning of what we stand for.

Grace K: There were many pioneers of punk, pre-dating the Sex Pistols. A lot of which were actually queer, POC or female (eg. Death, influenced by the Stooges). But yeah as Grace said, I think we take on the attitude of Punk more so than the style of music. We try to do everything we can as DIY as possible, by giving local and independent creatives opportunities. You kinda end up getting a little collective going, a community if you will and it’s so wonderful to be a part of. We started off as the intention of being in a Riot Grrrl-esque band, which sonically IS very punk but our music naturally took a turn to a spacey-rock kinda sound, and more melodic properties were intertwined with it.

Pic: Sophie Jouvenaar

You struggled to gel when you first got together but trying out Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill galvanised the band. What do the original Riot Grrrl bands mean to you ?

Grace S: I’ve always looked up to Riot Grrrl bands, I was in a band before VENUS called Armpit and the Glitterbabies and we were very raw, riot grrrl/punky. My parents were punk rockers so I was always brought up to bands such as X Ray Spex, Rudimentary Peni, Stiff Little Fingers, The Stranglers and The Buzzcocks . I’m just so grateful that I can play with talented musicians and help support independent artists and musicians.

Grace K: Riot Grrrl was an absolutely incredible part of musical history, and one that is not spoken about often enough. I love the Riot Grrrl sound, I love how rebellious and unapologetic it is, so raw and in your face. It completely ignored narratives of the music industry, and gave women and the LGBT+ community an opportunity to be recognised for their talent rather than being unappreciated of their credentials due to social injustices. The bottom line is that without Riot Grrrl, Venus wouldn’t be a thing. We owe those creatives everything.

And what about the band name – Venus or Venus Grrrls ? I thought Venus Grrrls was just an Instagram moniker but when I downloaded the single off Amazon it comes up as Venus Grrrls.

Grace K: So officially we are just VENUS, however with it being a common mythological figure etc., it is attached to many different industries, adding the GRRRLS in online makes things a little easier for us to leave our own stamp instead of getting mixed up in other things. We would say it’s still moniker however we are happy to be known as either!

There’s a lot of great Leeds bands who’ve been treading the boards for a good few years without backing. Monomyth Records picked you up quickly. How did that come about ?

Grace S: I actually met Bob (owner of Monomyth) at one of our first shows in April 2018. We did a shirt swap as we were playing alongside his daughter’s band. He was then doing the sound at one of our gigs in November and after we played he took us to one side and literally just said ‘I want to sign you’.

Grace K: I met Bob for the first time at that November show Grace mentioned, although he is a well known industry professional around Leeds. To be honest, what made me say yes was my gut. I instantly had a good feeling about Monomyth, everything about it was organic and true. I saw Venus mirrored in Monomyth and that for me was something I had to get on board with, I truly believe that collaboration and community is one of the most powerful tools you should have not only as an entrepreneur, but more importantly as a human, Monomyth was completely rich with these values. So after a few meetings we decided to go for it, and it was the best decision we ever made as it still allows us to be DIY, and have our own creative direction but with the added support of other creatives to help guide us.

You’re also full of praise for your production team on the single. What did those guys bring to the party ?

Grace S: Synth goodness.

Jess: Our production guys absolutely smashed it. They had such a good understanding of what we sound like as a band and really brought our live sound into the studio which I think is so important within our genre.

Gabby: They just get us. They understand the sound we want coming across in our tracks.

Grace K: I think the most incredible thing about them was that they listened. We all found the perfect balance of everyone achieving their own level of artistic flare on the recording, where VENUS sound like VENUS but it also sounds like something they created from their own artistic stamp. They had also seen us play countless times which definitely aided their mixing process, they knew we wanted it to sound layered but not far removed from the way we play it live. They all worked as a team with Jack Murray manning the process, and Rob Davies and Liam Dickman helping too. All three producers literally bounced off of each other, I remember watching them in a room together all completely engaged in every little detail and it was truly wonderful to witness, constructively adapting things to match the vision we all shared.

Pic: Aidan Wyldbore

You’re quite vocal about women getting a raw deal in the music industry. What do you see as wrong and what would you like changing ?

Grace K: A perfect example of this is Bjork, for her album ‘Vespertine’. She created 80% of the beats, which took 3 years. She hired a male producer within the last few weeks to add some percussion, and somehow he was credited everywhere as the sole producer of the album. Note that this was not his doing, it was the media’s response to women performing in roles such as producers and audio engineers, rather than just as ‘singers’. There are narratives ingrained into society that women belong in certain roles within any given industry, they’re not always conscious choices and assumptions…narratives just are a lot of the time. This is why it is important if and when you feel comfortable, to speak up about these injustices, and highlight them to others.

You’re also not alone in calling out bigotry in all it’s forms. Would it be fair to say that sharing your social conscience is as important as your music ?

Grace K: Absolutely, I would say it was as important. If you have a platform where you can make a difference I think you should use it to the best of your abilities, and ally any oppressed communities who want you to.

Grace S: Sharing your political opinions should be a given in any circumstance and it’s amazing that we can share awareness to a following of people from all over and start a discussion. Also I find it important to help give a voice to people who aren’t usually given a voice especially from minorities.

Jess: For me, the main thing that is wrong within the rock/alternative genre is that there are very few credited female role models and it’s often a surprise to people that women play rock guitar or drums or anything other than vocals. As a band we’re trying to create these role models to show women/girls that they can play rock music just as well as the guys within the industry.

Just a year on from first rehearsing together, does it now feel like you can break out of the Leeds music scene onto a national and maybe international stage ? What are your ambitions ?

Grace S: We all graduate soon and we are all hoping to make this a career. It would be the dream to be able to tour nationally and internationally regularly without having to worry how I’m going to feed myself and pay rent.

Jess: We’re all equally dreaming big when it comes to Venus… watch this space.

Gabby: I dream about playing the big festivals like Glastonbury. I’d love to play Reading and Leeds too, there’s not enough female bands that play that one. But it would be sick to play international gigs.

Pic: Aidan Wyldbore

Early days, but what’s your most rock ‘n’ roll moment as a band ?

Grace S: Probably for me, getting our car smashed into, getting glass stuck in my arm but still playing a show 12am at night in London and having a good crowd!

Jess: The time I sacked off playing guitar in our last tune and jumped into the 3 man mosh pit in the crowd. haha.

Gabby: Probably the single launch to be fair. The crowd was mental, we had that flashing white strobe light going off, we got called for an encore and then took a photo with the crowd after. It was just a great feeling.

Grace K: This definitely won’t be your typical Rock ’n’ Roll thing, but I took my wig off on stage for the first time at a VENUS show in Hartlepool. I suffer with Alopecia Universalis and lost all my hair, and I always dreamt as a kid that I would one day do that. I knew I would do it when the moment felt right, and it was incredibly special as the crowd were so supportive. It felt like my own personal event of true liberation. This was at the same show Jess sacked off playing guitar and moshed, so it was quite a night.

Pic: Sophie Jouvenaar

If you got the nod for a summer festival, which would be your pick ?

Gabby: Glasto

Hannah: Glasto hands down that place is magical

Jess: Primavera Sound in Barcelona! It’s one of the best festivals I’ve been to with the widest range of genres. People definitely go there to discover new music, the vibe is incredible, absolutely no mud and they’ve just started doing a 50/50 male/female line up which I’m all up for.

Grace S: Honestly I’d love to play Green Man!

Grace K: I literally have no idea, is that bad?

And when can we expect a follow up to “Deranged” ?

Grace S: Let’s just say, the wait won’t be as long as it was for Deranged.

Grace K: Yeah it only took us a year to release a single….haha. Definitely not that long this time, we may have already recorded it…maybe.

For now, “Deranged” is a most impressive debut, full of attitude and intent. Venus is a band still in it’s infancy but I sense big things are headed their way. You can’t help but warm to these girls – they are genuinely so excited about what they’re creating and so grateful for the help that has come their way. I’m sure their next single launch will sell out a bigger venue still and hopefully this time I’ll have the opportunity to be there.

Venus are:

Grace Kelly – Vocals + Rhythm Guitar

Jess Ayres – Lead Guitar

Hannah Barraclough – Bass

Gabby Cooke – Drums

Grace Stubbings – Synth

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Graham Geldard

Music first, Photography second, now the two go hand in hand. Travelled the length and breadth of musical genres – 70s glam rock to 77 punk to 80s / 90s mod, post punk, trashy rock ‘n’ roll & metal. Will listen to and shoot anything. Now hooked on the thriving Leeds gig scene – local bands and visiting bands, arenas to toilet venues.

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