jellyskin are a Leeds-based duo that are inherently difficult to define. Their music shifts from dreamy shoegaze in their earlier releases, such as ‘Grey Glass Hat’, to a heavier rock sound with recent release ‘Eater’. It’s a joy to hear an upcoming band that are so openly fluid in their style, willing to try on different genres like trying on a new set of clothes, refusing to let themselves be pinned down and pigeon-holed into any one category. With the release of their new EP and in the wake of their upcoming tour, including some of their first headline shows, we sat down with Will Ainsley and Zia Larty-Healy, the masterminds behind the sound, to chat synths, PJ Harvey and dealing with sexism in the music industry.
Describe jellyskin in just one sentence.
Will: Metal Machine Music.
Zia: Excited couple making exciting music and hoping it will excite people.
As a band with a female synth player, it’s impossible to escape the fixation of ‘girls in bands’. Do you feel this fixation is helpful or harmful for women in the music industry?
Z: It is impossible to escape and I’ve thought long and hard about it but still don’t really reach a conclusion. I know that some women think their gender should be irrelevant to their art, which I do agree with to an extent, but then do we not have a responsibility as women to champion female artists, embrace our female identity and endeavour to inspire other women? I look up to countless females in the music industry and they make me proud to be a woman in a very male-dominated business. I’ve experienced sexism as a girl in a band, from the inconsequential minor things like only ever getting beer in our rider, to more hurtful things, like receiving patronising comments from leery guys who think I need their advice on performing. Because of this, I do feel strongly about keeping my identity as a woman an integral part of the band, but also to not make a massive deal out of it. The point is that while gender should be irrelevant, there’s still a lot of inherent sexism in the industry and I feel a duty to acknowledge that. The ultimate aim really is to remove all stigmas so everyone can just forget about gender politics and just get on with making the effing music.
W: We played our biggest show because we have a girl in the band so it’s sometimes a boon! I suppose it’s reaching the end of its usefulness in a way because there’s such an influx of female artists so in ten years it might be harmful. We don’t want people to find out about us and for the first thing they think to be “ooh there’s a woman in that band,” although it does set us apart, I suppose. But we’d rather people just focused on the songs.
You recently supported The Moonlandingz in Sheffield after answering a call on their Facebook page for bands with female members to support them on their tour. What do you think bands can do themselves to promote the visibility of female talent in the industry?
W: Simply having an awareness of how many brilliant bands there are with women in them. I don’t think it’s entirely up to the bands to promote the visibility of female talent. It’s up to promoters and booking agents, and that’s not to say there should be affirmative action, but just more knowledge of the amount of female talent out there. If you look at a promoter like This Feeling, they’re putting on a tour with 15 bands playing in total: three headliners and twelve local bands. If we say there’s probably four people in every band, that’s sixty people playing. There’s just one woman in just one of the bands. Obviously you can take into account the music that This Feeling promote, as with Madchester-y, rock-y kind of stuff there isn’t going to be a 50:50 split, but one in sixty is such a disparity that I can’t help but take notice of it. I’m not saying it’s a deliberate move but there are so many amazing female artists doing the lord’s work right now. Why aren’t they more visible?
Z: Yeah Will and I were incredulous at that. It feels so uncomfortably backwards, irresponsible and lazy to only book one band with a female member. I’ll echo what Will said – it’s up to the promoters to amplify bands with female members. I think most female musicians try hard enough as it is, but often aren’t lifted onto the platforms they should be on by agents or promoters. I was heartened at Secret Garden Party to see so many amazing women on the line up, including the insane Peaches, Let’s Eat Grandma, Bonzai and loads more. They’re such incredible artists and all so diverse, too. More gals headlining festivals please!!! I ADORE Glastonbury with all my heart but this year was a bloke-fest on the Pyramid Stage.
What have been your experiences of sexism or discrimination in the music industry and how have you reacted to them?
W: In a review of the Moonlandingz gig, a journalist wrote about the ‘sultry’ voices and ‘seductive hip-swaying’ of Zia and Goat Girl, an all-female band, so we called them out on that. This wasn’t sexism or discrimination, really, but a term that we felt a bit uncomfortable with.
Z: At one gig, a guy in one of the other bands came up to me after and said, “That was great! YOU need to look more confident on stage, cos you’ve GOT it! You just need to believe in yourself more!” You can pull me up on this and say he was just trying to be nice, and of course I know he was, but it’s these kind of subtle comments that really anger me. On stage I don’t think the expressions on my face are much different to Will’s – neither of us are grinning widely but that doesn’t mean we aren’t feeling like that – so why was it just me that he felt the need to comment on? Obviously I can’t move around as much as Will can with his guitar because I’m holding the synth-fort. I just can’t help feeling that this guy assumed that because I’m a girl I didn’t feel as confident on stage as the lads. The truth is, it is daunting when I’m the only girl on the bill, but I get on with it and I love sticking up for myself and I will continue to do so, always.
You’ve recently decided to boycott Leeds pub and venue The New Moorside as you experienced instances of sexist behaviour there. What can venues do to reduce the frequency of these occurrences?
W: CONSTANT VIGILANCE.
Z: Venues must be much more acutely aware of sexist behaviour in their premises as it happens somewhere every single day. I felt the incident at The New Moorside was dealt with very poorly and felt extremely isolated in the situation. I was told that the man was ‘harmless’ and that ‘it’s just what happens at pubs’ etc. That is exactly the kind of attitude that needs to be erased. TAKE HEED VENUES OF THE WORLD AND DO NOT DEFEND ANYONE WHO HAS MADE SOMEONE UNCOMFORTABLE IN ANY WAY.
This one’s especially for Zia: there are not a lot of female synth players around, possibly due to the stigma that anything vaguely electronic or mechanical belongs in a more masculine realm. How do you see yourself fitting into the wider picture as a role model for young women?
Z: I think guitars are more stereotypically in a masculine realm, like guys giving their guitar’s female names, but there’s definitely an absence of female synth players as well. There’s also a very male-dominant presence in the DJ world. I guess the King of the Synthesizer has got to be the mighty Eno, and although he was male, he was pretty androgynous and so ahead of his time. I’m endlessly inspired by him. But I’m not sure who the Queen would be – probably Wendy Carlos. The soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange is phenomenal.
I think one of the most obviously popular female electronic musicians in recent times is probably Grimes who is just an incredible producer, as well as her friend and bandmate HANA, who makes really gorgeous music. They both do everything themselves and it’s joyous to watch. I’d love to eventually be a role model, of course; it would make me feel as though I’d continued the work of, and given something back to, the women who’ve inspired me in my life so far. I don’t pretend to know a lot about technology because singing is my first and foremost passion, but I love both my synths and still feel like I haven’t tapped into their full potential yet. Hopefully one day I’ll know everything about every electronic instrument and be like Nigel Tufnell in Spinal Tap except with synths and keyboards instead of guitars.
Who are your favourite female role models in the music industry?
W: PJ Harvey is probably my favourite, although it’s interesting because in many ways she’s not a role model, but then in not being a role model she completely is. She doesn’t bring up her gender much, she just is, which is more inspiring for me. She refuses to label herself a feminist which is admirable. [She doesn’t] make her gender a defining part of her music, which I find inspiring and something we try to do. We don’t try and push an agenda.
Z: This is such a difficult question to answer without writing a gushy essay! The girls from The B-52’s – the craziest most mind-bending harmonies and the most achingly cool ladies ever. Patti Smith because she basically started it all. PJ because she continued what Patti started. KT Tunstall because she is a ray of beaming sunshine in an oft-bleak world. St. Vincent who blows your head off with her raw talent and puts so much effort into everything she does. Marina and the Diamonds because she just writes amazing and actually substantial pop bangers with a powerhouse voice. Alison Goldfrapp who has inspired me to go beyond my vocal comfort zone since I was little. Nina Kraviz because she’s a sassy spearhead in the techno scene which is mostly dominated by guys. Joan Jett because I don’t think she’s ever going to stop doing what she loves and is just one of the coolest. Too many ladies to list.
What’s your take on the recent incident of alleged sexual harassment at a Cabbage gig?
W: Well they turned out to be unfounded, although what went on was still kind of confusing. A lot of people jumped on the bandwagon, us included, and so we apologise to Cabbage for slating them. All you can do is go off the information presented to you, and if you get a few eye-witness accounts then what can you do?
Z: Sooo shady and weird and puzzling. It’s so tricky to determine what actually happened, but I get that things can get twisted especially nowadays when every man, woman and their dog has a social media account and can say whatever they like on it. I feel bad for them if it was completely unfounded and got blown out of proportion. But, I think if we can learn anything from the outcome, it’s that things like this do happen at gigs; it’s a very real, scary thing and needs to be taken seriously. The situation may have been a misunderstanding, and of course we apologise for jumping to conclusions, but people do need to be listened to if they are saying they feel uncomfortable and I think the witnesses were right to jump to the girl’s defence rather than [the band’s]. It makes me so desperately sad because going to gigs and playing gigs are two of my favourite things in the world, and the thought of harassment and abuse happening in that magic space is sickening. More awareness needs to be raised, more stories circulated, and more love spread.
Interview by Jemima Skala