Featuring Sep, Rosie, and Rola of SBSM | By Kelley O’Death
The synth-based aural assault of Oakland’s SBSM could be considered no wave or dark wave or noise or post-punk, but their experimental and impressionistic musical ruminations defy easy categorization. The crew steering the SBSM ship—electronics captain and second vocalist in command Sep, vocal skipper and electronics first mate Rola, and chief officer of the drums Rosie—strike a harmonious balance between evocative artistry and critical politics. Off stage, Sep and Rosie helm a radio show called “Scream Queens” via 104.1 FM Oakland—which will soon spawn its own magazine—on which Sep says they “play and promote music, art, poetry, zines, and pretty much anything creative that people who aren’t straight white cis men do.” Sep is also the proprietrix of two solo projects, “a goth pop video thing called Placentaur” and an “industrial project called Spitting Images.” SBSM’s last release—the excellent JOY/RAGE EP—came out in April of last year, but they have been “writing new songs,” Rosie says, “which I assume we will record hopefully by summertime. Heavier stuff.”
Sep: I feel like for trans girls who I know—and as much, I know for myself—our private spaces, like bedrooms, are such necessary realms for recuperating from the shit we take from the world. A lot of trans girls have found extensions for their lives on the Internet, and that, as a resource, mitigates what makes alone time seem like isolation. More so, we need these private spaces to preserve our physical selves. Like, if I don’t feel like shaving my face for a few days, I’ll stay resigned to my room for a while, ‘cause I don’t wanna go out in the world and have someone read me as a man or something. Not that having facial hair should distort how you feel about your gender, but other people’s projections onto you can be really damaging.
On tour, I have to do a little bit more than Rosie and Rola do, making sure I have the time and access to a bathroom where I can go shave, do my makeup, and be the pretty little bitch I wanna be when I’m performing. It’s weird to be in a band, having to be in front of people every day when I’m on tour, but the core struggle is me being able to keep up with the image I’m trying to present.
I also feel like people in California have this perception of the rest of the U.S. as being this scary homophobic [and] racist blob. In some ways, that reputation is real, but that shit is all around us everywhere, within metropolitan places and [spaces] we occupy in them: queer scenes, radical scenes, punk scenes. We’re dealing with oppressive behaviors and mindsets everywhere. When you deflect those problems onto things outside of your own environment, it gives you an excuse not to work on what needs to be taken care of at home. It serves this other damaging rhetoric of othering. A possible example is the attitudes queer people in Western countries have about places like Iran—my home country—being socio-politically backwards and needing outside intervention, making way for pinkwashing and other colonial practices. The civilized and the savage are being put into diametrically opposing terms in these new ways that still suck, and it applies to the “Bay Area vs. rural-wherever” thing. I could get killed anywhere, psychically or physically. Being a Persian trans girl in the world has this constant dull buzzing ache to it that keeps me knowing that nowhere is safe, and comparing places isn’t really doing all that much to help that.
In Toothworm #6, my friend [E.] Conner wrote: “Violence is an explosion of the precariousness of daily life. The usually silent pain or underestimated control is acted out in the same pattern but loudly this time.” I feel like this quote applies to what I’m saying. There’s maybe more chance of combustion when you’re constantly in public and in places you don’t know well, but all of life is terrifying, always. This terror is the foundation of wherever you stand.
I also don’t want to keep comparing shit that I go through to cis white men’s experiences. Obviously theirs isn’t going to be as intense and difficult as mine, but I’m trying to pave new ways and find new tools for me and other people like me to survive outside of that comparative framework.
Rosie: Well, the reality of doing something new that requires resources—and sometimes, even social capital—can be stressful. How do you do tour right? Will people like your band enough to book you? Who will come to your shows? Will you be stuck somewhere where you will be ripped off because you are considered vulnerable as a “female” or whatever? Failing is already scary, and let’s be honest, this system was made for us to fail. It still protects creeps and cops, and we have to interact with these people whether we like it or not. And we were harassed! By cops, and men! Recently, we were on tour, and had to deal with these creeps. That’s something that women and queers have to deal with all the time, and feel threatened to remain silent around. It’s the feeling of, “How can I get away from the person who is housing me and wants to kiss me tonight?” How much of a fuss do you make?
Fear is the foundation of patriarchy, of the state, of capitalism, and it’s inescapable when you are trying to explore outside your bubble of friends, of safety. This is what people face every time they leave their house. This is what we have to prepare for before we go on tour. Because every time someone has to deal with harassment, it brings up every other moment of trauma that they have experienced. It can’t always be brushed off easily, and you still have to continue on with your tour or finish a show. We also have to be there for each other when we face the violence of the outside world, so even if we individually do not experience the violence, everyone is there together. We have to prepare, not because we are fragile like the masculine ego, but because we have to maintain our strength around shit that tries to beat us down.
On Media Coverage:
Sep: In a lot of ways, our experiences and our feelings are constantly just going to be categorized as “identity politics,” which is the exact thing that robs us of the validity of the things we’re trying to express. Even with this interview, we’re not talking so much about our music as much as we’re being asked to talk about the friction we feel against cis white males, a narrative that is always kind of obvious. Trying to elaborate on the obvious begets more emotional labor. We’re really open people and show our hearts, but we’re not a display window for “oppressed queer people of color.” I’m trying to move in a direction that shows my optimism about the things we do and the things that we hold up above us. I don’t really give too big a fuck about what boring normative dudes are doing. I know that what SBSM stands for is far more important, and honestly those dweebs need to catch up to us, not the other way around.
Rosie: We have a ton of interviews in which “identity politics” in comparison to white straight cis dudes experiences was not the focus of the interviewer. We have had interviews with L.A. City College radio, The Media, MRR, and Fix My Head, and all of those questions varied. In our MRR interview, the focus was not so much on identity, but our influences and what we find important in our band, and still, we are greatly influenced by the violence that surrounds us. Everything from work, to cops, to our own power dynamics with loved ones. It comes down to our personal experiences within those power dynamics and relationships and how they influence our music.
Our music is inherently political, but the lyrics may not always be understood, so it’s important for us to be explicit about our politics. Our songs are about our experiences within patriarchy, misogyny, capitalism; when we talk about our experiences as a band within those terms, it may seem like “identity politics,” but really, we are outlining our experiences within larger political arenas. Putting labels such as “POC” and “queer/trans” out there is a way for us to connect with others who share these identities, as well as maintain the importance of visibility and empowerment. Telling stories that have been otherwise shunned throughout time. I think we have had “holistic coverage.”
Rola: I disagree that everything that’s been written about us has been [about] identity politics. For example, check out Remote Outposts’ review of our tape; it’s one of the first things written online about us, and we were all very happy when it came out. I think we’ve been fortunate in that, more often than not, people have been thoughtful and generous when interviewing or reviewing us.
One huge thing about being part of this band is the connections we’ve been able to make. I feel pretty blessed sometimes thinking about all of the creative, thoughtful, and super smart queer people of color we’ve been able to meet, perform with, get to know. These connections have strengthened me and grounded me in my intentions and politics. […] As much as this project is a big part of my life and keeps me alive, we are also just a band tho. We can’t undo the things that have happened in our lives, so our creative output will reflect that. And if there is someone reading about us who feels validated because they are also gay/queer or trans or a person of color or a sex worker, then great.
On Making Music:
Sep: The music is all experimentation and it doesn’t sound like most other bands. This could have been means for disconnection, but what ended up happening was us building relationships with other bands based on similar politics [and] intentions, as opposed to how we snugly we fit into a genre together. It feels like some kind of intersectionality thing that I can’t necessarily explain.
A thing that goes unnoticed is that we are not professionals in any way. I don’t see our equipment as devices I’m trying to master as much as I see them as tools that create a platform for expression. Gearheads like to come talk to us about what FX pedals we use, and I’m like, “There really aren’t any.” We sometimes even forget where and how to plug things in. We barely understand our own PA system. This amateurism does not undermine our intelligence or our musicianship, but when you deal with sound guys at venues, it can start to feel embarrassing. Really, you just have to get past that and not let some snarky man fuck with your self-esteem. We know what we’re trying to get out of what we’re doing, and we’re doing it. SBSM has literally been us overcoming shame together; it’s allowed me to grow into myself in a way that I could never have if this project didn’t exist.
Rosie: Being in the band has been an exciting and challenging journey. Everything from learning your instrument to playing your first show unprepared, to touring, interviews, meeting amazing people, recording, and doing it all together—the three of us—for the first time. I learned how to play the drums by being in this band. It is my first band, and only one so far, so I still feel like a learner anyway.
Playing the drums to what sounds like harsh noise before it develops into any sort of pattern or rhythm is not an easy thing to do, but it also leaves a lot of room for beat experimentation. We are all pretty fastidious in our own way, and vocal about it, so writing music together is can be pretty heated and funny. We all have those things we love that the others hate, and try to work them into the songs. I try to sneak in as much as weird shit as I can, and Sep tells me I’m a maximalist [laughs]. Since I have been influenced by noise rock, math rock, and no wave, I have always wanted to play the drums in a way that didn’t feel simple or overused—something to add to the ugliness, the thundering, the noise of our band—and so, I spend a lot of time trying to expand beats or break them apart. Just trying to fuck shit up. Sometimes, my bandmates have to tell me to cool it, simplify, minimize, which is also a part of my growth as a drummer.
On The Sea:
Rosie: I am a Pisces.
Rola: I am also a Pisces. On the ongoing ocean theme, Sep calls me a psychic jellyfish. And I think Rosie and I have a Pisces connection.
Sep: I’m trying to get my mermaid tail back these days. If you know of any sea witches who can help out, please send them my way… Tired of being of “part of this world.”