April Aliermo talks racial music, new directions, and eccentric tones

I met up with April Aliermo at Cold Tea where we talked about the Canadian Indie Music Industry, being a woman musician of colour, and Hooded Fang’s new record Venus On Edge.

Hiroki Tanaka (HT): Since you also dabble in guitar, when it comes to writing songs for Hooded Fang do you ever find yourself jumping onto guitar like, “Hey here’s a lick I came up with…”

April Aliermo (AA): I think it’s more like, ‘I don’t like the way that sounds… oh yeah that’s perfect’. For Hooded Fang Dan is the principal songwriter, [Dan and I] write lyrics together, then once he has tracks done we come together as a band and give our own input, and then later D. Alex or I will add our own touches to the instruments that we play.

unnamed-3HT: I hear D. Alex is going to the U.S. to study watchmaking. How’s he doing?

AA: Really well! We miss him, we’re excited to have Jon Pappo from WHIMM subbing in for drums. D. Alex is coming up though for a few weeks this summer to lay down some tracks for some new Hooded Fang we’re already working on.

HT: So Soon!

AA: I think we are excited to be playing VoE live, but now we’re like, “alright onto the next one, onto the next one”. Dan has already written three new songs this week. He’s definitely prolific, more prolific than he recognizes and that other people know… when he has that spark of inspiration, he just spits them out. And them I’m there to be like, “Ohhh I like all the work you put into this but… not really my thing”, and then he goes “auuuugh”.

HT: Do you think there’s any cultural influence that you guys bring in to Hooded Fang?

AA: I think that in general it’s more about the feeling that the music will give you, and that the influence that our culture might have is just by nature of us having those cultural backgrounds. I mean, in a way me being Filipino and being in this band, already makes some of these bass lines Filipino. Maybe not with a deep musical, cultural influence but by nature of me playing it. You can have people from a different ethnicity play music from a different culture for sure, but I think that me just being on stage alone already makes it a Filipino woman performance. 

HT: I mean, maybe the way you chose this phrase or this groove is dependent on what you bring to it, and what you bring to it if Womanly and Filipino.

AA: No, I think musically, it’s white rock. (Laughs). Definitely with our other band Phedre, there are musical influences that come from my cultural roots, but HF is white rock. I think the difference is seeing a Filipino woman rocking the bass, and that’s a very different thing from seeing a white dude doing the same thing on the bass. And it does something for the audience, no matter who they are. Does that make sense?

HT: Yeah.

AA: So Dan and I have this other project Tonkapuma and we went on tour with our friends VCR, and we went on this punk tour on the east coast of the US. And while Toronto is definitely more diverse than the U.S. cities we went to, there’s a huge Black and Latino culture in America. So there’s Black and Latino people playing punk music, and there was a big difference for me seeing a white dude versus seeing a racialized woman screaming along to a punk song and the feelings that they gave me were both different, because I’m a Filipino woman I obviously liked seeing a Black woman wailing out on the mic.

So I think that as far as ethnicity and culture goes in this Rock’n Roll landscape, a lot of it has to do with just being there, taking up space, and being seen on stage doing things that people of your ethnicity are not normally seen doing. And it shows white people that not only white people can do this, and it shows racialized women that they can do this too if they want, they don’t have to not play rock and roll because they are intimidated or they think that no one like them is doing that. And seeing other women on stage was really inspiring for me.

HT: What women do you see as your influences?

AA: Funny that you ask because right now I’m working on this project where I’m taking photographs of certain women in the Toronto music scene that I’ve had some kind of connection to, and while I wouldn’t say they necessarily influenced my music, just by the very nature of seeing them perform it was inspiring for me, and made me feel more empowered to play in a rock band. I would say that Dana Snell from The Bicycles was one of the first woman I’ve seen play drums live, and watching her I was like, “this is amazing”. Casey Mecija from Ohbijou was a big deal for me, because she’s a Filipino woman, and knowing that gave me an extra boost of encouragement. So yeah, watch out for this little zine that I’m going to be putting out soon.

HT: I’m wondering if you’re willing to talk a bit about Preoccupations (formerly Viet Cong), I mean I think you were one of the voices heard when people were starting to become aware of how problematic their name was.

AA: I don’t know for sure if that’s true but that’s cool if it was. I think that there was a lot of pressure on a lot of ends pushing for them to change. The article that I happened to write only because my friend who I was encouraging to write it took so long to write it, I think it made a difference.

More than anything, it’s cool that these guys changed their name, I don’t know if they fully understand why it was important for them to do that, or if they have further developed critical thinking as far as race relations or race issues go especially in Canada. Truthfully I never cared if they changed it or not, I think for me it was just the idea that they and the people around them needed to know why it was a problematic name. Some of my friends for sure wanted it to change, but I never want to force someone to change their name, especially when it comes to artistically creative groups.

HT: I guess awareness is what’s fundamental, and that’s part of the key to change, and you don’t want to have that kind of control or instigate that kind of power to force people to change.

AA: Yeah I want people to do what they want, I want people to make informed decisions, and I want people to know the ramifications of their choices. And on another level I don’t give a fuck, I want to live my life. I mean I’ve always been an activist, it’s not a new thing for me, and it just so happened that because I’m in this band I have more of an audience now.

What I found frustrating about this whole thing was that other bands, the media, and their fans were supporting them without really thinking critically about their name. It can seem like a menial thing and not worth arguing about, but it means a lot to a lot of people. It’s important, especially in Canada, to move forward with that anti-racist thinking and I think we have the perfect conditions in this country to voice anti-racist opinions, criticize racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism because you’ll have backup, you’ll have people who understand. As far as a conscious society goes, we’re not gonna get condemned by the government for calling them out, your life isn’t going to be in danger or in threat. And you’re going to have people in the periphery who are thinking about these things and are listening and will start to think critically about these things and will have a higher level of consciousness because of this conversation. And so I think what was great about the Viet Cong issue is that there were music journalists, other people who play music and people who consume music who stopped and thought about these issues and were like, “Oh yeah actually I can see a problem with that. I don’t quite understand, but I’m going to try and start to understand”, and that’s what was so effective about this issue.

HT: So what happened to the melodica

AA: (Laughs) I think it’s very natural that people have different musical phases in their lives, and the melodica was a very specific time and place. We enjoyed it at the time, we’re done with it, I think that it was a well-written record. And when I go back to listen I’m like “wow, it’s so impressive that [Dan] wrote all these parts for all these different instruments”, and of course Dan doesn’t want to hear it again, he’s done with it.

The point is that we’re constantly listening to new music and changing. Nowadays everyone listens to every kind of genre, for example I’ve been listening to Macka Diamond and Lady Saw, and what I love about these women, and it’s probably embedded in reggae culture, is that they are very strong and powerful women expressing their desire for sex. When a woman does that in our society she is labeled in a bad way like, “oh she’s a slut, she’s a prostitute” which aren’t necessarily bad things but are perceived that way. Like, Lady Saw is singing this song and it’s so melodic, sweet, and soft but she’s singing, “let me fuck you with my heels on”, and Macka Diamond is singing about how her body’s calling for you. Not that Hooded Fang is going to make a sexual reggae record.

HT: So what kind of direction do you feel Hooded Fang is going now?

AA: Right now for HF we have a particular configuration, two guitars, bass and drums, and we’re going to write and explore with that configuration. Lately we’ve been working with pedals, especially Lane and Dan. It’s cool because with VoE some people thought that some of the sounds made by the guitars were synths. As a bassist I just want to say, often tone gets neglected, but I do use very specific pedals, different tones and sounds based on the song. So now we can achieve different sounds, and the new record will sound different. We’re already working on stuff that is more rhythmic and with repetitive sounds.

HT: I did notice that you took some elements, texturally from Gravez, like in Ode to Subterrania, but refined it a little for VoE.

AA: I think for sure that if you look at the records that we put out, there’s a departure from each record, but there’s a tie to the record before. So there’s Gravez influence on VoE, and even Gravez from Tosta Mista and then Tosta Mista to the first album.

I would say that as we age and grow we are moving outside of ourselves, and the things that we are thinking about and writing about are more about the things happening outside of ourselves; real issues in the world, society and day-to-day issues that we deal with, as a woman or someone living in Toronto. So yeah I think part of growing as a human is that you have a lot of introspection and then you have to move outwards. And maybe what’s different about VoE is that there’s a lot more looking outwards, and thinking critically about the world than in previous records.

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