Welcome back to the new series Musiq Scene, where we shine a spotlight on LGBTQ artists kicking ass and taking names around the world. This issue features TinVulva, a riot grrrl group from Brooklyn, New York. I spoke with TinVulva’s Sarah Soller-Mihlek on the group’s origins and inspirations, using music as a tool for change, and how punk rock saves lives.
How did you (and the band) first become involved in music?
As kids, we all came from different musical beginnings. Gia Jordan started playing trumpet in marching bands and she also fronts her killer band The Violence. Kat started playing drums with her roommates and shortly after started jamming on bass and stuck with it. Ashley “Larry” Zeolla studied drums as a kid, listened to way too much Led Zeppelin and also has a musical family. And, I always sang as a kid in school, picked up guitar in high school, studied classical guitar in college, and now I teach music.
Who/what is your inspiration and why?
Identity and inspiration go together so our influences stem from a variety of people that speak to us on a personal level – musicians like ESG, Janet Jackson, Bjork, Peaches, Cindy Blackman, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney. They’re an eclectic mix of strong female voices, misfits, POC, queers, and punk rockers. New York is also inspiring because of the diversity and the struggle to survive here. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger! And of course, family; having strong female role models like our moms. Sarah’s mom immigrated from the Philippines and she worked as a single mom to put her through school while excelling in her career.
Why is music important to the queer community?
Visibility, empowerment, hope, anger, and freedom. Music is a powerful tool of expression because you can speak out for what you believe in; be honest, and be proud of who you are. It’s also an incredible way to speak for the marginalized and bring awareness and bring people together.
What do you hope to achieve as an artist?
Representation and inclusiveness. There’s a certain amount of snobbery that comes with any scene and there are times when even the radical diverse community can seem exclusive. Even among misfits, we’re misfits! We want to reach a wider audience of folks who have felt similarly excluded. We’re working hard to be able to play in more places other than New York like going to D.C. for the Women’s March and throwing a benefit show for Planned Parenthood. We’ve done some events with the fierce feminist organization, Gabriela. We would love to go to Manila to play a Riot grrrl-fronted show to raise funds for the work they do with women and children in the Philippines.
Did music play an integral role in your coming out? If yes, how so?
Of course. It was one of those moments when I was listening to way too much Ani DiFranco and Fiona Apple and then going, “Oh shit, I’m gay.” It was actually kind of terrifying at first because I went to a conservative Catholic high school and was really conflicted about who I was and how to act around my family and my peers. It wasn’t until college when I was really getting into music as a means of self-expression that I started to care more about being happy and less about what other people thought of me. Punk rock really does save lives.
Given challenges facing our country and community, in your opinion, what is most needed for the queer community now? How can the music scene further that goal?
Equal rights, inclusiveness, protection against discrimination; music can give a voice to the voiceless and be an inspiration to mobilize and to fight for change.