While the L.A. Music scene runs rampant with talent, you do run into the occasional passive-aggressive attitude that surrounds the scene. For as many kick-ass bands as there are, egotism and competition run strong and the thirst to get to the top is too real.
Head up north to Olympia, WA and prepare to find the polar opposite. The music scene is a collective community: one big, happy family filled with camaraderie and bands who look out and care for one another. Humans seem to actually matter there. Girl bands are actually good and sing about important shit that doesn’t solely obsess over “cute” boys while subtly secreting anti-female messages. It’s positive, it’s supportive and it reinforces the power that your voice and words can have through music and brotherly/sisterly encouragement.
Olympia has been on their music game for years. Broken Water is one of those bands. The meanings behind their lyrics promote the questioning of political affairs and poetically depict the topics of feminism, racism and things that the world should be concerning themselves with. Everything 100% sincere. Not to mention their music aesthetically embodies a mixture of shoegaze and alternative rock that carries elements of early Sonic Youth.
Broken Water consists of Kanako Pooknyw on drums and vocals, Jon Hanna on guitar and vocals, and Abby Ingram on bass.
Their hauntingly moody and melodic album “Tempest” came out on Seattle label Hardly Art in 2012. The album bleeds structured chaos from start to finish and leaves you feeling. Yes, you will feel it.
Their new album “Wrought” came out this March and follows in the last album’s footsteps. But it carries with it much more political angst that is backed up with heavy shoegaze wavelengths.
A couple of months ago I sat and conversed with Jon and Kanako outside a random parking garage in Echo Park before they played a show at The Echo in Los Angeles. The show ripped. Froth opened, Part Time Punks Dj’d their obscure underground dreamy tunes between sets, and Kim Gordon was in attendance. Nice night, eh.
But the thing that really stuck with me that night was how Kanako and Jon are two people who are sincerely passionate about what they put into Broken Water. And it had been a while since I spoke with a band who talked about topics I could linger on for days. Read below, it’s worth your time.
What Youth: I want to start off with you guys talking about when you first started out. Where did you draw inspiration from versus the things that inspire you now?
Kanako: I’ll let you take this one Jon, I’m rolling a cigarette.
Jon: When we first started off as Broken Water, Kanako and I had just been in a previous band called Sisters. That was a little more aggressive punk, and I think we were going a little more for a kind of mellow post-punk Cure vibe when we started off in a way, or Siouxsie Sioux… I don’t know, but anyway it also had a lot to do with our first bassist Abigail, it was a big part of it. And the sound has definitely evolved since 2008 when we first started. I think it’s gotten a lot more personal for the both of us in a way, just in the way we’ve brought music to the band and also our writing process. I mean my influences have always been pretty much the same over the years as far as like post-hardcore…
Kanako: Drop some names! Who are you into!?
Jon: Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Bardo Pond, The Swirlies…Yeah, that’s been a basic constant for a really long time. And I know Kanako has got some other stuff to say about that probably…
Kanako: Haha! Okay well for me when it first started it was just kind of an excuse to hang out with buddies. Because I think that, I don’t know, we always are getting super techno’d out and staring at screens all day long and it’s so much nicer just to hang out real time with people [laughs]. And I feel like music is a good catalyst for that. So for me its always felt really personal, I just like collaborating creatively with other people and it just kind of motivated me. I also sucked at the drums. And now we’ve been playing… how long have we been playing together?
Jon: Nine years?
Kanako: Nine years…So I’ve been pretty heavy focused on the drums for the past nine years. But prior to that I was really into playing piano, guitar, bass, viola and like everything but the drums. But as soon as I started playing the drums it was so different. It was really physical and it was a way to get out a lot of the energy that I had… yeah haha, a little bit of that. So yeah I don’t know, I just like hanging out (laughs).
Your last album was put out by Hardly Art, how did being put out by a major label change the vibe of the album?
Kanako: This record (“Wrought”) that just came out is super independent, with the Night-People. But the prior record, we had already finished the record before we knew who was going to put it out so it didn’t actually weigh into our creative process at all. But when I was, like, 19 or 20 in Olympia it was a really different scene. It was pre-Internet explosion and pre everyone downloading music for free, so there was actually a very vibrant underground music industry. So all the punks in Olympia worked at Kill Rock Stars or K Records or Chainsaw. All the young punks had jobs putting music out. So it was kids figuring it out how to do that together in a physical way, not like in an Internet kind of way, because it’s so different the way communities around music function now I feel like. So we just had a lot of examples for like how to do it. I think that helped us get connected with Hardly Art, does that make sense? It was just having those roots in an old-school, kind of DIY punk underground music scene. It just kind of groomed us to get to that place.
Yeah that makes a lot of sense and it’s lucky to have that. That kind of leads me to my next question in regards to the rich music scene and culture in Olympia and how it helped to shape Broken Water as a band?
Kanako: Well I think individually we are all pretty influenced by it, like that it kind of just comes out when we are hanging out and playing music. I helped organize the first Ladyfest in 2000, and prior to that I was kind of on the peripheral. I saw Bikini Kill when they were still a band, and I got to see a lot of amazing bands play back in the 90s like The Need and Unwound, and they were always playing, the music was just right there in your face so it would be hard for it not to affect you I guess because it’s just like, your scene. And then when I got involved with Ladyfest, which was like 15 years ago so I totally understand if you have no idea what I’m talking about (laughs). But it was like this massive community organizational happening which was pretty gallantry and a bunch of amazing people worked on it. So I was just really inspired by getting to be apart of that whole process and getting to make buddies and being around a bunch of women that wanted to support you making music and art, which is so valuable and so rare these days I feel like. There are still women that support each other and help each other out, but a lot of times it’s not like that.
God I completely agree.
Kanako: It’s like this opposite vibe.
God I completely agree.
Kanako: It’s like this opposite vibe.
I know, and it’s all competitive and shit.
Kanako: Yeah! And that doesn’t necessarily doesn’t stress me out as much as the “mean girls” stuff that happens and the weird… I don’t know, I don’t know what it is, it’s hard to put your finger on it. It’s pretty dangerous to the patriarchy when a bunch of girls start getting along and working together and supporting each other and not having it be about like, boys haha… or something.[Laughs]
Yeah and it’s sad but so true… Okay so I want to talk about what themes and elements contribute to the feel of the new album “Wrought” ?
Kanako: Heartbreak… and like, anger hahaha, so basic over here (laughs).
Jon: No you got more than that! You got songs like “Choice” and “1984.”
Kanako: Yeah no, all the songs are really political and they are all really personal, and I think that politics are really personal. We talk about government surveillance to women’s rights to choose to scarcity issues and how there are so many people living on the edge, paycheck to paycheck, and how it’s not really necessary when you think about all the resources and who’s hoarding wealth and how everything works. There’s a lot of critique of capitalism. Haha this is going to be so boring, you guys are going to think I’m so boring.
What no way! This is way interesting because a lot of musicians will write about a lot of basic or bland stuff — or just don’t even pay that much attention to lyrics and are more about the melody, but you guys have very strong and poetic lyrics that definitely pick up themes. I read that you guys collaboratively write songs together, can you expand on that a little bit? Because like I was saying you guys do write very poetic lyrics but you also contrast it with a lot of intense melodies as well, so I’m curious how that all works out in your heads?
Kanako: We got a bunch of tricks to it now and one of them is just jamming it and recording it and listening back to things we like and picking apart what we like. I’m pretty heavy handed in structure a lot of times. Like we’ll have different parts that we’ll think will fit together and then put them in different orders. So we write and we edit and we write and we edit and we write and we edit. So usually things won’t just pop out. But then Jon will come to practice with a song. Usually he’ll have two parts and I can help flesh out a third or vice versa – I’ll come in with some material I have in mind and Jon will help flesh it out. We get to bring things to the table and we also get to make things organically. But it’s nice to feel like we both have equal say and power in the process. And it’s kind of funny, it’s not as smooth as you might think, sometimes we’re just like brother and sister that bicker a little, or… I’m kind of bitchy (laughs). But it’s just the way we communicate! And you know, this is what happens in the end. It’s like our process… It isn’t necessarily healthy but… (laughs)
Jon: We’ve been doing this for nine years and have been in bands together and traveling around so…
Kanako: Yeah. we’re pretty close.
Jon: And lyrically, we each write our own lyrics for the songs that we sing on, so that part is not really as collaborative, but the music is collaborative.
Okay last question. What are some bands you guys have been listening to on the road?
Kanako: Today I listened to Le Chat. I listened to Black Stone Ringers, this is going to be all over the place haha. I also like to listen to Hope Sandoval and The Warm Intentions.
Ah cool, I love her.
Kanako: Yeah me too! Right when we were coming over the big mountain into L.A. I put her on, it just kind of has this moody Hollywood kind of chill sunday, sunny sunday in Hollywood vibes… So I put that on (laughs).
Jon: Yeah you put on Cat Power today too.
Kanako: Okayyy well, you don’t have to tell everyone.
Jon: And I put on a Swirlies mixtape and Bardo Pond.
What’s a current band right now that everyone should be listening to?
Kanako and Jon: Vexx
Jon: And G.L.O.S.S.
Kanako: They’re all Olympia bands, we’re reppin Oly pretty hard.
Jon: They’re fucking blowing up pretty big, all three of those bands.
Kanako: But they raise the bar. Their live performances are like nothing I’ve witnessed, and I’ve been going to shows since I was 15 so I’m like fucking stoked on those bands.
Kanako: If you’re into punk music, they’re way more punk than us.
Jon: Yeah they’re fucking hardcore [laughs].
Yeah in L.A. it’s so different because it gets isolated and difficult for people to support each other because it is really competitive. So it’s cool that you guys have a really supportive scene out there.
Jon: Yeah and Olympia is so small, these people are all our friends and co-workers and roommates and stuff you know? We all do this together.
Kanako: I always attributed our music scene, or I compare it to how skateboarding and surfing is down here. Because there are all these different groups but it’s a scene and everyone shreds you know? I mean people can skate and shred up there too but it’s not the same… Everyone is pretty much in their room practicing guitar. —Asal Shahindoust
Wrought is now out and can purchased on vinyl or ordered through iTunes.