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Punk rock band Big Joanie on their album 'Back Home'



There are bands that, from the first notes, let you know that they mean business.


BIG JOANIE: (Singing) You're right. I'm taut in the middle. Feel high but I'm taut in the middle. You made my world feel less than.

RASCOE: Big Joanie is one of them, a British punk band with lyrics that are rich with the strength and vulnerability that defines the genre. Drummer Chardine Taylor-Stone and singer-guitarist Stephanie Phillips join us now from London. Welcome to the show.

STEPHANIE PHILLIPS: Hi. Hi. Thanks for having us.


RASCOE: Stephanie, I'll start with you. I want to start with where Big Joanie actually started almost a decade ago. Tell us about your first show.

PHILLIPS: Sure. So we started the band because I saw an advertisement for an event called First-Timers, which was about getting more marginalized people into making music. And, yeah, I put a kind of post out asking if anyone would want to join a Black punk band, and Chardine, who I'd met a few months prior at a Black feminists meeting group, replied immediately and said, you know, I want to play drums. I want to play drums standing up. I think we should sound like this. And, yeah, we just kind of kept playing.

RASCOE: I want to go to Chardine now. You know, I read that you called yourselves a Black feminist punk band, basically because you'd never heard of that before. Why did you give yourselves that label? Did it help other people understand your art better? And also, why punk music?

TAYLOR-STONE: Well, I mean, I think it's quite literal. So we are Black feminists...


TAYLOR-STONE: ...And we're in a punk band, so it just kind of made sense, really. You know, I grew up listening to Nirvana and Hole and, you know, hardcore punk bands. Anybody would be making the music and trying to be like the bands they like, and that's essentially what we are doing.

RASCOE: Here's some of your song "Confident Man." We're going to play a little bit of it.


BIG JOANIE: (Singing) If they love me, it could be my big day. I could matter. If I try with all my might, I could win. I will matter. If I'm lucky and I'm smart, they'll pay out. I'll come out on top. If I hustle, if I stay cool, I could be a confident man, too.

RASCOE: Confidence can be a trap. It can also be a tool. Like, what were you thinking about with this song?

PHILLIPS: It was inspired by an essay in the writer Jia Tolentino's book "Trick Mirror." There's so much about kind of con man culture that is almost aspirational for, like, today. Like, people kind of like the idea of people that get one over on capitalist culture, but then there's no aspiration to actually break things down. And yeah, it was about kind of the kind of idea of aspiring to be that con man, that confident man that always feels like they know everything but really is just kind of there, out there to kind of - as a leech on society and everyone else.


RASCOE: Let's listen to some of this track. We've got another track. It's called "Insecure."


BIG JOANIE: (Singing) Feeling like I've run out of time. I don't know how to make up my mind, my wasted youth spent moving mountains. Is that a path that I can see?

RASCOE: Can you talk to me a bit, Chardine, about those mountains? Like, what were those mountains that y'all feel like you wasted your youths moving?

TAYLOR-STONE: Well, I mean, I think for us, growing up as Black women, you know, we're taught to, you know, be pretty, be quiet and often to take on a lot of labor in the home that maybe our sort of, like, male siblings and parents don't actually do. So there's lots of things that we need to do to be able to have space to create.


BIG JOANIE: (Singing) Sit and think of all that I could be. Tell me, how will I ever succeed?

RASCOE: When you're not making your own music, both of you are really invested in trying to make the music scene in London and particularly the punk scene more accessible to people who might not have been welcomed in before. Like, what keeps you motivated to do that work? What does that work look like?

TAYLOR-STONE: I guess the motivation is really just to have a space where we can be our full selves, when there's, like, really amazing moments where, like, you're fully, like, walking out in the pit and stuff and you see all these different types of people of color doing their thing, bringing their culture into the pit, which they just can't do in other places. We started this band because we wanted to be in a band where we can just be Black girls who are weirdos, and now we can. You know, so it's about creating new norms for people, and we're really proud to have created those spaces.

RASCOE: Let's end on your song "Happier Still," and we're going to play a bit of that.


BIG JOANIE: (Singing) I want to feel happier, happier, happier still. Feel happier, happier, happier still. It's been a long road. I'm running out of time. It's been a hard road. I'm feeling far from fine.

RASCOE: Is happiness radical? And is happiness punk?

PHILLIPS: That's a good question. Punk, to me, is about, you know, again, like we say, about being radical, about being revolutionary. And being revolutionary means you're not just kind of accepting the way - the life that society has handed to you. It's about kind of actually building your own spaces, creating your own community and creating a community within yourself and happiness within yourself. So I do think happiness can be punk in its own way.


TAYLOR-STONE: You know, the sort of ideas that people have about punk is it's nihilistic. It's, you know, people falling over drunk and high. And I think these kind of ideas that we had in the past about what punk was were really quite sort of patriarchal ideas of rebellion. Our thing is about changing that completely to be like, OK, so what is it that we want our society to be like, in truth, not just like a fantasy that looks good on a poster?

RASCOE: Chardine Taylor-Stone and Stephanie Phillips, two-thirds of the band Big Joanie - their new album is called "Back Home." Thank you both so much.



BIG JOANIE: (Singing) It's been a while since I've held... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.