By Reed Romanko
On his show ska is dead and we killed it that aired on July 13, WTBU’s Reed Romanko chatted with Poindexter’s Nick Furlo, Gracie Pryor and Keira Woodword. Check out the transcript below.
Reed Romanko: What exactly is Poindexter?
Nick Furlo: Do you wanna take that one, Gracie?
Gracie Pryor: Sure… We’re a ska band, a ska collective. We’ve used both terms. We play ska and there are eight of us.
RR: As per norm laughs. How’d you come up with that name?
NF: I don’t even remember who came up with that… Was that yours, Gracie?
GP: I felt like that was a name you recommended.
Keira Woodword: Yeah, that was me!
RR: So is there a story behind it, just thought it sounded nice?
GP: Yeah, we had been throwing some name ideas back and forth. Some of them were based around the idea that at least two of us were teachers. So that’s why the word came to mind, cause we’re all either teachers or nerds.
RR: I gotcha, big teacher energy. How exactly did the band get together then? What’s your origin story?
NF: I’ll make a long story short, but it started with Gracie and our trombone player Kenny and I used to play in a queer punk band called The Vulnerable. Then that band broke up, just from too much stress with the band, we all had other stuff going on. Kenny and Gracie and I were trying to do other projects for a while, but they just kept – people were like “Hey, I actually can’t do this anymore” or we were like “Ah, this music isn’t very good, let’s try something else” or whatever. One day I got another text from Kenny which was like “Hey, you want to try another band?” Gracie and I showed up, and then we just kinda slowly accumulated members. Kiera joined shortly after that, and then Merlin joined a little bit later. It was mostly Kenny trying to assemble something to do, and Gracie and I were among some of the first people hit up because we were trying to make stuff for a while. Then we just kind of found other friends to join in as we went.
RR: That’s fun and wholesome! So you released your self-titled EP this past spring, really great first debut. What went into that EP, what were some of your inspirations?
NF: You wanna do that one Keira?
KW: I mean, I don’t know…
NF: Actually, Gracie, do you wanna take that one? You wrote a lot of the music.
KW: You did a lot of the song writing, I just did horn good [laughs].
GP: I’m just over here honkin’ [laughs]. A lot of our stuff is just taken from old stuff that me and Nick wrote together for our previous project that we had tried to work on, just the two of us, and never really amounted to anything. A lot of them are old songs from that project which we repurposed, and made more ~ska~ for the purpose of Poindexter.
NF: Yeah… A number of them right now are from doing that, just repurposing old stuff that Gracie and I wrote. Gracie, you also wrote at least one new song that’s finished, and then we’re also trying to have other people throw in other stuff that they’ve written as well. It’s kind of like an amalgamation.
KW: A lot of the horn parts and lyrics is a group effort, I’d say. It’s not one person in particular that’s doing– like Kenny normally does most of the lyrics, I and the other horn players make horn parts. We just kind of get together and write music together.
NF: And then Gracie and Josh, our other music player, he is a music teacher! So he’s very good with creating melodies and stuff, and so Gracie and Josh work together to come up the vocal melodies and stuff, so we’re kind of all got our hands in different pieces of it.
RR: You love to see it, cooperation! With that said, is there anything you’re working on now? Is quarantining prompting any musical creativity?
NF: I don’t know how much we can really say at the moment. We do have a couple things in the pipeline. I don’t want to spoil too much, but we may or may not have some videos that we’re working on, which will hopefully be out within a month or so, maybe a little longer. I’m not really sure, kinda working on timelines and stuff. It’s hard to get everybody’s stuff. But we did just purchase, amongst all of us, we all purchased equipment in order to record things remotely. And so hopefully we’ll have some new tracks coming out after we’re able to get some stuff recorded and mixed. That can take a little while, but keep an eye out and that’ll definitely be coming soon, and then Keira, do you want to talk about our new merch store?
KW: Yeah, we also just launched our merch store. We have a lot products including T-shirts and pins and stickers, all designs by Gracie. Shout out to that.
NF: And we have patches as well, and that’s all on our bandcamp under the merch tab, so you can check that out there. If you do combined shipping, or get a couple things, the shipping is cheaper as well. Also half of all of the proceeds from the album sales as well as the merch are going to the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit, which is a center for LGBT youth. We’ve worked with them a bit in the past, Kenny and Gracie and I worked with them with previous projects, they’re a great organization. Highly recommend checking them out and donating to them. It’s a good cause and they can use the money.
RR: Yeah, it’s funny I was actually just about to bring that up, using your platform to raise money for all these great causes. What made you choose the Ruth Ellis Center? I know you’ve worked with other groups before, right?
NF: I don’t know if Poindexter has, but I know Gracie and I have with previous projects. And Keira comes from an organizing background, so Keira’s done a lot of work with other organizations. Yeah, Ruth Ellis is an organization we’ve worked with a lot in previous bands, and they do a lot of really great work for LGBT youth in Detroit. They provide housing and food and medical care, and all kinds of different things that people have trouble financing, especially if they were kicked out of their house or something like that. They’re a local organization, and they’ve been doing good work for a long time. It’s a black-owned organization and a black run organization, which is great. They do a lot of good work, so we want to continue giving them as much money as possible. Also, a lot of the members of the band are LGBT, and so we saw that as kind of an organization that hit close to home for some of us. We wanted to help out with that.
RR: Understandable, makes sense. You know, right now lot of bands in the DIY scene are really trying to use their platforms for good, raise money for good causes, spread awareness, promote good things. For the ones who aren’t and are interested, what do you suggest they do to start getting in that space?
KW: To start getting in that space, I think you should try to choose a couple of front line issues that you find important as a band. These can often be issues that are connected to your community, whether that be the queer community or your physical community or your racial identity. Just stuff like that is really important as well. Identify a few key issues that you feel as a band you can contribute towards, and start using your music and stuff, do what we did laughs, Give proceeds to organizations, talk to people in your communities about what organizations are good. Just establish a lot of connections that are important to sustain and keep working at those connections, don’t leave them.
NF: I think a big thing as well is, when you’re trying to figure out “how are we going to generate money to give to these people?” In non-quarantine times, it was great to have a benefit show where you give all the dough to the charity; that’s pretty simple, it makes sense and it’s easy. In times like these where we can’t do things in person, there’s a lot of options. We had our EP up for free or pay-what-you-want and we would donate it. For a while we were doing everything from that to Ruth Ellis, once we had the merch out, we were doing fifty percent because we had to pay for more merch. I think putting your music out for free or letting people pay whatever they want, so that way, if someone only has a dollar, they can give you a dollar. Also with merch, I know a lot of bands are like “I’d love to sell merch and give some of that money to charity, but I don’t know how to finance that.” Find someone who you know who does art and commission them. Know that you have to pay for that. You can’t get art for free, it’s pretty huge. A lot of people try to get art for free, especially if they’re like “Oh, you’re my friend, come on!” No, pay your friend. They’re not going to charge you out the butt, they’re your friend, still give them money. Try to find a local screen printer. Maybe someone from the community. The person that does our screen prints is the person from the DIY community that I’ve known for a long time that did merch for The Vulnerable. You get to know someone like that and usually they’re going to charge a lot less than an online printing service or like a big shop is going to. And then you’re giving money back to people that probably maybe need the money more because they don’t have a big store and stuff, they’re working out of their basement or whatever. Just find ways to make things as cheaply as possible and then sell them for reasonable prices and then donate as much as possible, I think is a big part of it. Once you find your organization, you can get all of your money stuff sorted out, and then keep a spreadsheet of your money so you’re going to make sure you give enough money to the right people and you’re not accidentally giving them too much or giving yourself too much. Also, as a band you need money to function, especially when you can’t play shows. That’s why with us we made it fifty percent because well, we need money to buy more merch and money to buy other things that come up like more equipment. And for Gracie, when we can eventually do shows again, we have to fly Gracie from Los Angeles to Detroit! We have expenses in order to exist. Just keep that in mind when you’re putting your stuff up as well, that you gotta sustain yourself.
KW: Also, it’s not the same for every band. I know a lot of people in our band have purchased and have been able to purchase recording equipment on their own. That’s like something that is also something we should talk about. We’re self financing a lot of stuff in this project.
NF: You don’t play ska music to make money. You play ska music to have fun and go deeply in the hole.
KW: That’s also a privilege that we have, to be able to self-finance a lot of things.
NF: Yeah, a lot of the people in our band have salaries and have good jobs. Not all of us, but a lot of them. It helps with being able to pay for stuff where it’s like “Oh we need new T-shirts,” and then one of the full time teachers steps in and they’re like “Here’s one hundred and fifty bucks. Go get T-shirts.” That helps a lot, it helps to have the money beforehand to go into it because you’re not going to make money playing music hardly ever unless you’re playing covers in bars. And most of us don’t want to do that just cause we want to play our own stuff.
RR: Yeah, very well said. You mentioned a fair number of you are teachers, right?
RR: How do you think that affects the band dynamic, if at all?
NF: Mostly just around scheduling more than anything, because two of our members are full time teachers that work with K through twelve so they’ve got to be up really early. Show’s on Sunday nights, probably not a great idea. Meetings at eleven o’clock at night, probably not going to work. Myself, I’m a teaching assistant at the university, I’m a grad student. For me, usually I don’t have to get up early. Luckily, that doesn’t play in, but also it’s hard to coordinate with– cause teachers are very busy, and then we have a number of us as students, and that makes things very busy. It’s mostly just hard to coordinate because there’s frickin eight of us.
KW: I think in terms of like how we function as a band, I think having teachers is very important because they definitely help guide us in our practices, especially Josh kinda take a big role there– and so does Kenny– moving our practices around and being efficient and working on stuff that needs to be worked on.
GP: Especially because Josh is specifically a music teacher. He’s corralling and taking care of instructing people and getting their music together all day anyway. He knows really well how to keep us on track and the things we wouldn’t normally think about to efficiently write a song and get through a practice and be productive.
NF: He knows what steps to take to get us there, and also working with us I’m sure just really can’t be that different than working with a bunch of middle schoolers, he’s got the experience down, he’s got it down, it’s perfect.
RR: That’s a ska sentiment if I’ve ever heard one.
NF: That’s why Gracie and I never got anywhere with our old project, we’d spend too much time sitting around making fart jokes instead of writing music. Laughs.
RR: So what have your experiences been as queer people in the ska scene?
NF: Gracie, do you want to contest to that a little bit?
GP: I honestly haven’t spent a whole lot of time interacting with the ska scene, I just kind of keep to myself, practice with you guys, and then most of my time is spent in the art community, cause that’s my full time… what do you call it?
GP: Yeah, that’s it. But I mean, the people I do interact with in the ska scene are all other queer people. For me, it’s been a very supportive and nice kind of family community because those are the people that I choose to surround myself with. Even though I know there’s a lot of people who are not like that out there, but those are the ones I keep the closest to myself.
NF: Yeah, the ska community has historically been incredibly inclusive. Even like some of the earliest ska bands– Like at the time where black and white people didn’t play in bands together unless they were ska bands.
RR: Two tones!
NF: Yup, exactly. There’s a great community in ska in that they’re very inclusive generally. I haven’t really found anyone through ska shows that was bigoted or ignorant or anything like that, which is different than with punk music. When Gracie and I used to play punk music, in Detroit it was always great, never had any problems, no one ever said anything. Then when we went on tour, we were out actually Boston, unfortunately for this story, and there were people who showed up and started saying derogatory things to trans people at our show and that kind of thing. It depends on where you go and it depends on the scene, your local scene. I’ve found in general that ska, even from place to place, tends to be much more inclusive. If you’re somebody who’s nervous about going to shows, nervous being discriminated against, ska is a great place to start because ninety-nine percent of those people are going to accept you for who you are and not care what you look like, what your gender is, what color hair you got, no one cares! They just want you to have fun.
KW: Yeah, and also there’s a huge online queer ska community, especially I find on Twitter. There’s a big one, and it’s a fun community to be a part of. It’s not the same as physically going to shows with people, but often times there’s a number of those people in shows anyway, it’s just local people.
RR: Yeah, great! So, what do you think it means to make queer ska?
NF: I think it just has to do with your motivation.
KW: and centering queer experiences and what not.
NF: Exactly, yeah, just trying to create music that explains the queer experience while also helping others to be confident in themselves. Especially with ska, a lot of ska music is about self-empowerment and self-embetterment. I think that comes out with queer ska music, where it’s like, “Hey! We don’t care what your identity is or how you were born and what your parents said you were or whatever.” It doesn’t matter, we’re here to have fun and you’re understood in these places. I think it’s about just helping push those messages in the same way like queer punk music has done for a long time.
RR: Yeah, awesome! You mentioned a bit ago the ska scene in Detroit being very warm and welcoming. As I’ve been looking around at the current state of ska in the US, it seems like there’s a lot of bands coming out Michigan, which surprised me!. There’s you of course, and also We are the Union (kinda), Run and Punch, The Tellways, Grey Matter, and that doesn’t even account for earlier bands like The Suicide Machines and Mustard Plug. Why do you think that’s happening right now, if you have any idea?
NF: I would say it’s definitely like a chain reaction. Once one ska band from your local area is getting attention and people care, then other ska musicians or people who want to play ska are like “Oh, people care about ska again! I can go ahead and play these shows.”
KW: Also those more popular bands have taken the time to promote smaller ska bands in this area, and I think that has definitely helped the scene.
GP: I think that’s a really positive thing that’s pretty unique to ska as well. People who blow up and have this recognition but still explicitly taking the time to lift up smaller local bands.
NF: Yeah, and bands like The Suicide Machines and Mustard Plug have been doing that forever. Mustard Plug has been huge for local ska bands in Michigan. It’s always Jay Navarro from Suicide Machines post stuff all the time. Jay and all the dudes from Mustard Plug will often repost or reblog or whatever local bands’ stuff. Like, “Hey, this band from down the street from me put out their first EP, check it out. It’s pretty cool!” In Michigan especially, that’s a huge thing. It’s a big thing that local bands do. Grey Matter has done that a lot, and plenty other bands all do that. We all try to boost each other up. You got to stand on the shoulders of giants in order to get anywhere.
KW: Mutual aid.
RR: Yeah, so any parting words for fans?
NF: Whatcha got, Gracie?
GP: [Laughs] oh my god, put me on the spot baby. Keep your eyes up because we’ve got those videos in the works. If you’re going to get any merch from us, do it this month so we can donate as much money to Ruth Ellis as possible. That’s brand spanking new, fresh off on our bandcamp for the first time. And yeah, what about you guys?
NF: In terms of the merch, I will say if we don’t have your size in something, we are working on getting more inventory. I know we’re kinda low on mediums and larges right now, but we are getting more stuff as soon as possible. Keep your eye out. If you see it and it’s not up there, wait a few days, check again. We’ll have some stuff up hopefully pretty soon. But yeah, if you wanna play music, go play music with your friends and have fun. Don’t worry about money and what not. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have gear, or you don’t have merch, you don’t have any of that stuff. If you’re having fun, that’s all that matters… What about you?
KW: I’m just gonna say yes to all of those. Seconded, ditto!