Austin Band Sailor Poon on Being Young, Loud, & Free

Sailor Poon is one of Austin, Texas’s rising bands. They recently won the Best Punk Band Award at the Austin Music Awards, have played shows with the likes of King Khan and the Shrines, and also managed to donate the proceeds of their last release, Yeast Pigeon, to Planned Parenthood. We sat down with Poon to discuss touring, their process, and the politics of playing music.

Sailor Poon members and their instruments:

Billie - vox, saxophone
Mariah - bass
Madison - guitar
Shae - vox, tambourine
Sarah - keys

Editor’s Note: Drummer Cheraya wasn’t able to attend. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

 
Photography by Mika Locklear

Photography by Mika Locklear

 

SB: What is your musical process like as a band?

Madison: We usually end up getting pissed off about shit.

Mariah: Our good songs usually come from when someone was pissed off about something and we write a catchphrase for it and then the songs comes around that and we all noodle around with different riffs.

SB: You’ve been a band for over two years now. How would you say you’ve grown up?

Billie: We’ve grown as a sound. We definitely used to sound a lot different because we would just write songs to the best of our ability. Since we’ve been playing together, I think we’ve all gotten a little bit better.

Mariah: I don’t think any of us had played in a band with people before, so after two years of doing that it just kind of naturally became different.

SB: Did you already know your instruments before playing them?

Billie: We were all in band and orchestra, but being a small group, we’d never done that.

Sarah: I think it was a new thing for everybody, even if we’d all played in other stuff.

Madison: I’d never played this kind of music before. I remember when you were teaching me “Butt Gush” and I was like, “What key is it in?” and y’all were like, “It’s not in a key! Play anything!” and I was like, “I don’t understand what that means!”

I grew up classically trained in voice and then knowing music theory and shit and trying to always do technical stuff and this came along and they were like, “Just be angry and thrash everything.” So I was just banging on the guitar.

SB: The first time I ever saw you perform was in New Orleans, I was moved to see so many women play punk music together.  And then all the guys at the show were insanely rude.

Sarah: We had to go home with them! The guys who got kicked out of the show were the people we were staying with!

Mariah: He was like you can sleep in my bed, and Sarah and I woke up with him in between us.

Sarah: With only boxers on, and his arms around us.

Mariah: She went and slept on the floor and I was like I have more room now.

Sarah: That’s not what you fuckin’ thought! You were freaked out.

Mariah: Yeah, but I wouldn’t get out of the bed.

SB: What does it feel like to have your physical presence onstage be a revolutionary act? At the show I saw in New Orleans, there were a bunch of really aggressive men. How do you deal with that — not just as a musicians and performers, but as people? In my recollection, people at that show were so in your face and so aggressive and unpleasant. Is that something you deal with regularly?

Billie: That’s kind of how the shtick is so strong.

Mariah: We kind of want that to happen.

Billie: We take that shit and throw it back in their face. I feel like it works to our advantage.

Shae: I also feel like just being up there is therapy for the rest of fucking life.

Sarah: I feel like people who like us will hate on us, even though they’re the people who are paying to see us. Like where is the line drawn? A lot of people really hate us.

Mariah: I think when we started out I expected more of a negative reaction, but I think the negative reaction is new. I welcome it. Publicity!

Madison: That question reminds me of when we were in Indiana and that guy was throwing cigarette butts in [Billie’s] saxophone and they ripped up our set list in my face and were like, “This is what it feels like for people to treat you like shit.”

Billie: And then we got him fired.

Madison: He was the janitor there.

SB: Do you ever get tired of being pigeonholed as a feminist band? Do you ever feel like people forget to talk about your music?

Billie: Being female-fronted is not a genre.

Mariah: That’s also our shtick, but sometimes we are the white feminist spokespeople. And sometimes I want to explore other ideas, but that’s why we have other bands.

SB: Are any of you in bands with guys? And is that a different experience compared to being in this band? Or not?

Mariah: Billie and I have played in some cover sets with dudes. And that was fine.

Madison: The power dynamic is definitely different. Like when you set up, the person running the show will just automatically go straight to the guy.

Sarah: Or like when the guy who’s played piano for like five months tries to tell you how to play the piano or something.

Madison: Whit [Madison’s band] is all dudes and it started half and half, but now it’s just three dudes and me and they’re really cool, actually. I’ve played with a lot of bands. My first band was pretty much all girls (with the exception of the drummer) and that was really cool, but we all moved on.

Since then, it was pretty much male dominant bands that I played in and those all had conflicts that didn’t have anything to do with me. It was usually the men leaders having ego bashes, but with this group of dudes, it’s been cool. They’ve been very supportive and brotherly. And sometimes I need to be band mom, and sometimes I need them to be band dads. I think that’s probably why we’ve stuck together for so long. All those guys are emotionally available and know how to be nurturing and know how to be musicians that know what they want. They say what’s going on, but at the same time, if I have a vision for something, they’ll do what needs to be done too. And if they see that I’m freaking out, they’ll help pick me up. These guys, have been the best dudes I’ve played with for all of those reasons. I’m really lucky ‘cause that doesn’t always happen. And they’ll still be helpful. I’m a firm believer that [through] everyone around me, I can learn about life and myself. So they’re constantly teaching me, but they’re not mansplaining.

SB: You did benefits for Planned Parenthood, Rape Crisis Center in San Antonio, and the proceeds for you 7” LP, Yeast Pigeon, went to Planned Parenthood. Do you find that more bands are taking on or writing about social issues since the election? Or is it the same groups as before?

Billie: There are definitely people rallying.

Mariah: I find that a lot of people expect us to want to play their benefit show that might not necessarily benefit anybody except themselves. I think they expect us as women to stand up for ourselves in a way that they wouldn’t ask other types of bands. And they’re like, well you do this and you’ll play it for free. I wish that more male-fronted band would be asked to play these benefits in the way that we do because it’s not just women, it’s everybody. But it’s very easy to fall into that route.

Shae: It’s all these guy musicians who are in the same situation as we’re in for Planned Parenthood. I’m not saying that musicians get people pregnant, but we’re all fucking humans living this life.

Madison: Why are we the people expected to be the spokespeople for it? But we also put ourselves in that position.

Mariah: By being women? By initially doing that with the record?

Shae: But that’s just because it’s the right thing to do.

SB: How were you financially able to give away your proceeds on your first vinyl?

Sarah: We can’t.

Billie: Someone else paid for it.

Mariah: We don’t make money off the band, but we aren’t losing money either. We didn’t make money off the tour, but we didn’t lose as much as we could have.  

SB: Are there any bands you love playing shows with? Would love to tour with?

Mariah: Madonna.

Sarah: Phil Collins.

Shae: Mariah really wants to play with Kurt Vile.

Sarah: Kurt Vile is about to release an album and Mariah has been telling us every fucking second of the day, “Oh my god I want to play with Kurt Vile.”

Billie: We’re excited to announce that we’re now Thee Sailor Poon, because Thee Oh Sees dropped their "Thee," so we’re picking it up.

Shae: Because that’s what women do, they just pick up all the shit off the floor.

Billie: This is the first official interview with Thee Sailor Poon.

Sarah: Can we actually do that?

SB: Billie, you create the band’s poster art and won best poster artist at the Austin Music Industry Awards. What's next?

Billie: We also won the Austin Music Award for Best Punk Band of the Year as Sailor Poon. I won my award. That one was really chill, old Austin vibe. The music awards where Thee Sailor Poon won Thee Best Punk Band of the Year, we tied for the best punk band with this band called Worm Suicide, which is a bunch of dudes, of course. And it was fine. They kind of kept us in the free bar area and wouldn’t let us out with all the regular people. So, they kept us chained and drinking tequila and then they said go onstage with these guys. They went first, and —

Mariah: And then Billie said, “It’s strange to accept an award for being best punk rock band, but we’re going to keep sharting our way through the boys club.”

SB: How have you navigated representation and getting the attention of record labels (if that is something you want)?

Mariah: We’re pretty much done recording and that album is —

Billie: Fire.

Mariah: We have a lot of stuff in the works.

Billie: And we’re going to send it off and see who will give us a million dollars.

SB: What’s been your favorite venue to play?

Sarah: Hotel Vegas, for sure.

Shae: It really is.

Billie: It’s our home where we feel most comfortable to do crazy shit. Like jump up on the bar. All of our great ex-boyfriends work there. All of our great future ex-boyfriends work there.

SB: Anything else?

Billie: Young, loud and free. 2017, Summer of Poon.

Sarah: Of Thee Poon.