Today, our favorite Bay Area care-punks, Pity Party, are releasing their second full-length record, Concrete! Ty and Kendra sat down with Sarah and Dustin to discuss EVERYTHING. This interview was challenging, but so rewarding for all and we’re proud to share it with you in the hopes that it will ease your hearts and treat all with the tenderness and respect they deserve.
You can purchase Concrete on the band’s Bandcamp page now!
(CW beyond this point: mentions of abuse including sexual assault)
Hello again friends! Please introduce yourselves, your roles in the band, and your newest project.
Hey Ty and Kendra!! I’m Sarah and I play guitar and do lead vocals, Dustin plays guitar, Bob plays guitar and does backing vocals, Kayla plays bass (and is perfect), and we recorded this record with Michael on drums. Our newest project is our sophomore full-length album, Concrete, out May 29th, 2020.
Can you speak a bit to what the album is about?
S: This record is about my experiences coping through sexual trauma and experiencing prolonged sexual violence.
How did you come to the choice to write about something so personal and challenging to address?
S: It wasn’t a choice to write about it. All of these thoughts were SCREAMING around in my head, they had to go somewhere and they found a home in this record. I wrote the intro track the day I left my abuser, and everything else was somewhere before or after. I didn’t know what to do with everything I was sitting with but write. My hope is that if we release a record about this, along with connecting people to organizations that can help aid them in their healing process, that people going through trauma might feel less alone, and better supported.
Can you tell us about the writing and recording process and how it differed from the prior releases?
Dustin: The writing process has become a lot more collaborative now I would say. I’d like to think we all have equal input and everyone’s ideas are considered in the band. I also feel like every instrument should get a chance to shine. I could be wrong, but with a lot of guitar players it feels like it’s always “me me me, I need a guitar solo here, I need to be louder here, etc.” I do love guitar solos, but I also don’t mind taking a step back and thinking a lil’ bass lick would be cool here instead, or a nice drum fill.
S: I loved writing this record with my best friends, not being told what to do, not being told I play guitar like a girl – being able to be comfortable taking a song to my bandmates and having it received with love and collaboration. It’s freaking cool to feel respected and give respect to others.
You’re very active in the Bay Area community. Could you speak to some of the things you’re involved in?
S: I’m involved with a few organizations doing work around empowerment and safety of young people, volunteering time as an instructor for Bay Area Girls Rock Camp and with a number of in-school, after school and summer programs I run at the high school I work at. I also have the privilege to be able to volunteer my time with the Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals as an ally doing phone advocacy work for low income individuals being taken advantage of by profit-driven health insurance companies, and by helping get access to affordable or free health care, preventative care, food, hygiene products and more.
How is the band dealing with the pandemic (ie. FB live streams, etc) and what are your plans for moving forward during these unprecedented times?
S: Many of us work essential jobs – myself in education, Dustin in healthcare and Kayla. Our work is changing and every day is different and filled with challenges and is leaving less space to focus on music, which is hard while releasing a record. One of the most difficult aspects is spending so much time alone, but the livestreams are a good way to stay connected and a good way to get us to practice and play together because even though Kayla and I (Sarah) live together, we’re both always working.
Our plans moving forward are to keep working and volunteering our time and efforts within our community, until it is safe for everyone to tour, and possibly beyond that. The most important thing for us is to advocate for others in this time. We have so much privilege to have our jobs, our homes and our livelihood. We will use our actions to support others through COVID-relief advocacy.
(This is the part where I ask the first thing that comes to my mind as I listen to each track of your new album. The questions may or may not relate to the content of the songs at all, but are merely my first thoughts. Please answer any/all you feel comfortable with in as much or little detail as you wish.)
“Respite”: What is something that makes you feel both strong and at peace for yourself and the ones you love?
S: The kindness that I see others give each other. Working at a high school can be exhausting, overwhelming, miserable (you never get to take a break to go pee), but the moments that I see one student catch the eye of a bothered student, ask what’s wrong, connect with them and offer help and caring, makes everything in the world okay. Empathy and support, both being able to extend them in my actions and be a witness to them is what drives me.
“Empathy”: One of my favorite things about Pity Party is that the band continues to teeter more toward the advocacy end of the scale beyond music. You’re truly the most caring, empathetic, hands-on band I know. When did you realize that you wanted to use this project as a vessel to take direct action to help others as opposed to just letting the music speak for itself? And why and how have you done so?
S: I realized that I wanted to use this project as a vessel to take action to help others when I was trying to make sense of what I had experienced. After years of sexual abuse I felt FUCKED UP in my head. I felt wrong. I felt unlike myself. I felt disgusting. I felt overwhelmed and on edge at all times. The fact that I knew so many other survivors of assault, and knew there were so many others who didn’t speak out, and realizing how many people in the world have been hurt (that word doesn’t begin to encompass the actual experience) by others, I wanted to do something.
Admittedly, resources and advocacy are small efforts. At first, I couldn’t do anything more than make zines. It was fresh and hard to talk about, and I didn’t understand what I was feeling and thinking – so I wasn’t going to be much help to others, but I wanted to do something. So I started putting together local and national resources of organizations (people with skills and training around helping others through trauma) against sexual violence, domestic violence, child abuse, to help with mental health, harm reduction, etc.
People would talk with me about assault at shows, I think partially because of the experiences we talk about and calls to empathy we do within our set, and maybe because without words survivors see each other. Now, I have therapy and medication and the tools to listen to other survivors stories and offer caring, love, and solidarity. But without others to help me I wouldn’t have gotten there, and I know so many people are alone and need someone to help advocate for them, or provide a resource, and remove them from harmful circumstance, and so hopefully starting these conversations in collaboration with providing individuals with literature about organizations that have concrete resources to help will allow others to leave abuse and find the autonomy they deserve.
“Concrete”: How do you think we can better support survivors that cannot go public with their experiences either because it is unsafe for them to do so or because they don’t know how to express it without being disbelieved?
S: Help connect survivors to organizations with trained individuals to help them, listen as much as you can, be there as much as you can. Help them to feel safe, be a trusted friend, help them regain the feeling of control. Never share their story. I’ve heard others share my experiences in order to promote their own heroism, and I remember feeling powerless. Let survivors have power in their story, let them dictate their readiness for healing, their readiness and safety in coming forward. Follow the lead of the survivor and act in support.
“Masculinity Is A Prison”: How important to growing as a person is recognizing one’s own toxic traits and then working on them? And what kind of impact do you think that can have on a community if its members are being conscious and active that way?
S: Recognizing our own toxic traits and working to treat others with kindness and respect is the most important thing toward self-growth. Symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD can manifest as really toxic traits. When we experience harm, we sometimes fall into cycles of harm unintentionally. Seeking help through professional institutions, community resources, trusted friends, and self, no matter how long it takes and how defeating it feels (and fuck, does it feel defeating sometimes) to unlearn unhealthy behaviors and thoughts is the only way to be able to positively contribute to or help others within your community. That whole, you gotta put your own life mask on before someone else’s stuff is real. You have to take steps toward unlearning harm, and give yourself compassion and kindness, before you can be able to love or support anyone else in a healthy way.
D: I think it’s so important to personal growth to work on your own toxic traits. I feel like it would help a community lessen the harm caused by others if they all took a step back and thought about the toxic traits they might be exuding.
“Apathy”: I try not to throw around the words “self care” lightly, but it’s real and in today’s world, I think it’s crucial to staving off apathy. Do you agree? And what are some of your personal go to self care routines?
S: SELF-CARE IS SO IMPORTANT. Apathy SUCKS; caring about yourself is the coolest thing you can do. Self-care routines for me include playing music, writing, 10AM Friday calls with my Grandma (LOVE YOU GRANDMA!!!!!!!! YOU ARE THE GREATEST GRANDMA IN THE WORLD) Self-care is taking a shower, brushing your teeth, having the strength to get out of bed, go on a walk, slow down, breathe, pet your cat, taking a break from always being overwhelmed.
D: I definitely agree! If you don’t take time for yourself every now and again you’re just gonna burn out. It’s not the most financially responsible always, but I like to shop every now and again. That or treat myself to a nice meal or an oat milk tea with boba and a hot shower.
“Fester”: Who is someone you feel you can tell anything to and how has their presence that way impacted your life for the better?
S: Our band is a little family. We share everything with each other. Dustin will always tell you when you have stuff in your teeth. Having these trusting and lasting friendships through trauma recovery has been so important. It’s a little less unsettling to relive your trauma in flashbacks and hallucinations when you’re on tour with your best friends and they can make sure that you are safe!
“Push”: Do you have any words of advice or encouragement or general love for those who are struggling mentally but lack the resources to seek help, or whose cries for it fall on muffled ears?
S: First, you deserve to feel okay, and it’s okay that you don’t feel okay, and it’s okay if things feel impossibly hard. This next one’s gonna sound weird and out of character, but seek professional help, or if you lack the resources to seek help find an organization that does advocacy for others (they exist-so many of them exist, email me, ask Google, I promise you won’t be disappointed). EVERY SINGLE PERSON IS DESERVING OF SUPPORT!!!!
“Temperance”: How about for those whose shame weighs heavy and lonely? What would you say to them?
S: For those whose shame weighs heavy and lonely, I can only offer solidarity, compassion and understanding. I can tell you that, for myself, it got a little bit better the more I learned to talk about it. If you can learn to talk about it with people you trust, the memories get to live somewhere besides on repeat in your head. You deserve to feel relief.
“Respire”: Every time I hear this song I think of your call for the crowd to scream together at the end. What is your favorite most cathartic song to belt out or scream to in your car whether with friends or alone?
D: Maybe “I’m Not Okay” by MCR lol.
S: ANY SOUTHTOWNE LANES SONG.
I believe a better, more accessible world is possible for everybody, including disabled people. I believe that world extends to the music and art community. Do you agree? What are some ways you think we in that community should be trying to make things more accessible for those that have been left behind in the past?
S: I DO TOO!!!! I know this because I know that the most perfect world is the world where everyone gets to be together, where experiences are equitable and where we share in everything. Advocate for accessibility within your community venues. Your patronship can be a bargaining tool in advocacy for your favorite venue to build a ramp, then EVERYONE gets to SAFELY enjoy seeing their favorite bands at rad venues! Booking tours with the caution of basement shows (I have been guilty as HECK of this in the past but am trying to be more aware moving forward), hit up the house show spot beforehand, before confirming with venues ask about accessibility and for information you can post with show info.
Thank you for taking the time to do this with us. If there is anything else you want to plug that we missed or anyone you want to shout out do so here. Take care.
S: BIG SHOUT OUT TO OAKLAND TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 2020. Y’ALL ARE MY HEROES!!!!!!!!!