Genres, not genders.
That’s one mantra embraced by Sweater Kittens, a Kamloops grunge band made up of Mallory Johnson and Ashley Walshbarr.
Another might be, “Make as much noise and take up as much space as you want — everyone else is doing it,” which is how Johnson described the movement that shapes the band’s purpose.
The group has just released its debut album and is about to embark on a seven-show tour of Western Canada — a first for both of its members.
Walshbarr and Johnson found each other in the first hours of 2017.
“It was a drunken New Years’ Eve party after the midnight bells and we got talking, very passionately, about our goals as musicians,” Johnson told KTW.
“We both felt passionate about our experiences as women in the music industry and as musicians here in Kamloops.”
The two found a lot of common ground, especially in terms of music and politics, and later that year set a goal to record an album together.
By early 2018, their songs were written and by the end of 2018, they used their demos, recorded with Spaceship Records here in Kamloops, to land some studio time at Vancouver’s Echoplant Recording Studios.
The result is a four-track EP called Good For You — and its sound is as heavy as the attitude of its songwriters, as heard in its title track, GFY.
“That song is sort of about saying, ‘You don’t own this.’ It’s about taking very clear ownership of what we’re doing,” Johnson said.
“Any situation where someone is trying to steal your f---ing thunder and it’s a piss-off — and so, ‘good for you,’ we’re saying it really tritely.”
The defiant attitude falls along the lines of the riot grrrl subculture feminist movement, which the two said is about making space for women in a music scene where women are often absent and not represented.
“Seeing yourself reflected is something that can be so formative. It can inspire you to think, ‘Hey, that’s something I can be,’” Walshbarr said, adding that women generally have to work harder to be respected in rock music.
The bias against women in rock is one thing the duo is hoping to combat with their music.
“When you see a female-presenting person on stage in a rock setting, there’s something that makes you go, ‘Oh, I wonder if she can play,’ and we both still check ourselves about that because it’s so ingrained,” Walshbarr said.
The duo’s counterculture aspirations don’t stop at their music, though. They are also using their merch table — where fans can find Sweater Kittens buttons adorned with designs of “all different kinds of boobs” or other gender-fluid options — and their choices of show partners as they tour in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Johnson said the band has chosen other female-fronted or non-binary bands to play shows with on the tour.
“Not exclusively, but for the most part — we’re just making sure there’s enough room in the scene for everybody,” she said.
Riding high off their recent Kamloops show alongside Wintersleep and Partner and the release of their album, Johnson, Walshbarr and drummer Rob Simpson are off to Calgary to kick off the Meow of Never tour with a show on Friday.