Why fit in when you can forge your own way, stand out, and stand for something? That’s what WASI is doing with their unique blend of punk rock meets melodic pop with a side of queer jubilance for fun.
In honor of the season of celebrating all those who live under the arch of the fabulous rainbow, punks Merilou Salazar and Jessi Meehan, the married and uber-queer front-runners of L.A.-based WASI, have assembled a troupe of misfits who are taking gay to a whole new level.
Currently on the Love is Gay tour with Lucy & La Mer and Polartropica, the band is Denver-bound to meet up with local riot grrrl, femme punkers Rotten Reputation at the city’s own Seventh Circle Collective for a Sunday Pride celebration. OUT FRONT caught up with Salazar and Meehan to talk about genreless music, creating safe-spaces, and the importance of using their platform to end discrimination.
Can you talk about the evolution of WASI and how you landed on your genre-less sound.
S: We were an all-female identified punk band has been called the Midol Poppers, and we booked a show as we learning to play our instruments. We became WASI in 2014 and released our first EP in 2015. and at the time, we were an all energy kind of vibe and hadn’t really fine-tuned the vulnerable parts yet. With RIOT POP, we still carry that empowering, party, feel-good vibe, but we talk about things that hurt.
Tell us about the new album, RIOT POP. What was the process of songwriting and how was the experience recording?
S: We recorded a lot of the vocals for the songs in our closet, to capture that intimate feeling where we could be in the dark and go back to our true selves. Most of the songs been recorded and produced ourselves, and then we have a team that polishes it up and adds like, the bells and whistles. A lot of the songs are written as a stream of conscious songwriting, we talk about living, talk about moments of empowerment, there’s talk about fear and hurdles to jump over, and a lot of anxiety.
The music sounds poppy and fun, which is the way that we like to perform, but if you listen to the lyrics, there’s like a lot of darkness that’s going on in there. That’s what we always strive for, being really vulnerable and honest in this release.
M: We worked with our guitar player, Kai, and that was the first time we felt safe with a collaborator in the writing process. Once we felt comfortable and confident, we take it to the other half of our group and they basically know how to take the tracks to the next level sonically. It’s nice to have a team that you trust, because I think every artist can relate to recording and trying all these different things, and we’ve been really unhappy with the result a lot of time. We decided to do it ourselves and see how it went, so the feeling of releasing it is a little scary in a way, but awesome.
Was there an intentional direction you wanted to go with the new music?
S: It was about owning our pop element of it. We love pop songwriting and catchy hooks, so we tried to incorporate that intentionally, with an intentional message. We wanted it to be honest, and if we went full-blown ‘everything sucks,’ that wouldn’t have been honest because there’s a reason why we’re still doing music. But, we still acknowledge the pain that comes with having hope.
In what ways has music been an important part of your life?
M: I think that all artists, in some capacity, can relate to each other when we say that music saved our lives in some way or another. Whether you’re a musician or not, most people when you’re experiencing a hard time or something’s going on, most turn to music. We can turn on our favorite songs, and that kind of helps us make sense of what’s happening around us.
WASI stands for breaking the boundary between band and audience, how do you do that?
M: We are safe space oriented, a big thing for us is to create a safe space for people when we perform; it’s like an experience. That’s why we’re excited to try this tour and try something a little bit different, while still encompassing the same idea of having a safe space for anyone and everyone from all backgrounds to come enjoy themselves, forget all the craziness of the world, and have a good time together.
How did the Love is Gay tour come to be?
S: Our friend Lucy La Mer throws Love Is Gay every Valentine’s Day, so that kind of started as her idea. Around the last event, we reached out to her and asked, ‘Hey, have you thought about taking this to the West Coast, especially during Pride month?’ Because it’s always been a hit out here in L.A. Out here, it’s not even just a show, but it’s a big community event where other partners and artists get involved, so we decided to try it to see how some folks would respond. People were responding really positively to it, so we we decided to do it through a bunch of cities to see what happens.
You are vocally queer; has that been problematic for the band and getting exposure?
M: In recent years, not as much, but I guess it depends on what avenue it is. Before, when we were just barely coming out and playing music, we were kind of seen as the token lesbian band, and we’re kind of still tokenized in that way. It’s definitely a lot more prevalent, and there’s a lot more awareness around it. There’s still a struggle for queer people, for visibility, and equality, but it’s definitely come a long way since we started playing music.
There was an incident at a Walgreens, is that right?
M: Yeah, we were on our way to L.A. Pride to shoot a video, and we stopped by Walgreens and got some food. I asked you the restroom, and the person working opened the men’s room, and I said, ‘You know, there’s already a couple guys in there, I think I’d rather use the women’s room.’ She said, ‘I can’t do that.’ It then became an argument about my gender expression and how they weren’t going to allow me to use the women’s room, because they decided I look too male to do so.
I took that to the ACLU, and it took us eight months, but we got Walgreens to create a nationwide bathroom policy where people can use the bathroom based on their gender expression. It was a big campaign, and half of it was really positive, and the other half of it was really negative. Breitbart News even picked it up and said, ‘Walgreens caves to the gay agenda.’
People are so mean; we’ve experienced a lot of bullying and stuff all of our lives, so I wasn’t so bummed out about those comments. It was very mixed, and in those comments, I was like, ‘Ok, cool, at least that’s something I haven’t heard.’ But being out and presenting gender-neutral, it wasn’t necessarily negative; it had a very positive outcome.
Would you consider yourselves advocates and activists?
M: I think if you are within a marginalized community in general, and you’re out and open about it, there’s going to be some kind of conflict. It’s how you handle it that really matters, and when given an opportunity like I was, instead of saying quiet, I had to speak up and do something about it. I could have just let it, but I wanted to do something and hopefully create a safer environment for other folks that would be in the same situation.
Do you think it’s necessary for bands and people in the public eye to be out and outspoken?
M: I totally think it’s necessary. When people have a platform, whether it be music, or acting, or whatever platform that’s visible to a wider range of people, I think it’s important to speak up, because people are listening. It’s totally our duty to say something about it and to assure people we’re in it together; it’s important for people to feel like they’re identified with.
What artists did you look up to as trailblazers?
S: The Clash, their story has always inspired us. They stood for what they believed in within that punk community, but also the way they said it was a different kind of art than what was being pushed out there as punk. I relate to that we relate to that because our core and our hearts are punk, the way we put it out there is different from what you probably think of punk. MIA is also a huge influence, and K. Flay and how much she’s talked about her mental health and told her story through that.
M: Another one that I really love and is very pro body-positivity, and unapologetically so, is Lizzo.
Photo courtesy of WASI