“Het Ward started in the winter of 2015 with Justin, Rye, and myself being the core lineup,” says Cecelia, who contributes drums, vocals, and lyrics to the Pittsburgh queer hardcore collective. “When we first started, we were just a side project, so we didn’t take the band too seriously in our early days. We just wanted to play angry hardcore punk, and I just wanted to be in a band again. I started on bass and then moved to vocals after a few practices. We didn’t have any set goals beyond playing, and we had no idea our music was going to have the impact on people that it did.”
Het Ward’s policy of being “hard as hell, queer as hell, unapologetic about it, and uncompromising” has definitely made an impact. Their raw musical aggression and vulnerable yet pissed-the-fuck-off lyrics are like a kick to the gut, resonating with many who feel under siege by the dominant culture, exclusionary politics, and even their own scenes and communities. Their new Pittsburgh-based lineup features Judy on vocals, Lilith on guitar, Kallen on bass, and Cecilia on drums. Ant—of Asheville, North Carolina’s Cloudgayzer—helps out on guitar, and fellow Cloudgayzer members Riley and Terra have provided guest vocals.
“The unexpected resonance that our music had was my prime motivation to keep the project going,” Cecilia confirms. “Eventually, Rye stepped down to focus on school and personal endeavors, and Justin went on to devote more time to their current projects. I didn’t want to see Het Ward end and got their blessing and the green light to continue.”
Rather than viewing this disbanding as a sign they should surrender, Cecilia saw it as an opportunity to expand the band into a collective. “The decision to become a collective really stemmed from that desire to have more of our friends involved with our music,” she explains. “It enabled us to play shows we couldn’t otherwise, and seeing how happy it made everyone to be involved in our live show was such a joy. I wanted to leave that door open. There’s so much you can do as a collective that can be harder to achieve as a set band of members. There’s more fluidity with playing shows, both locally and out of state, and more minds to contribute. I was nervous it’d end up failing, but it’s gone over well so far!”
This spirit of hardcore perseverance has now been captured on Het Ward’s first full-length, No One Is Ever Going To Tell Us How To Love Again, set for release on Jan. 20 via Get Better Records. The album follows up their self-titled debut EP, which was released in December of 2016.
“The full-length will feature rerecorded versions of the songs from the EP,” Cecilia shares. “Lyrically, the full-length is a lot more personal. It’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt with my writing. I keep feeling simultaneously excited for this album to come out and terrified. It’s angrier, it’s faster, it’s harder, and it’s heavier. I got to experiment with some cleaner vocals as well. It’s absolutely furious—and for good reason.”
“Our sound is often synonymous with late ‘80s New York hardcore punk bands and other elements of hardcore punk, so we didn’t stray too much from that sound on the full-length,” she continues. “This album is more than just a record to me. It’s the closing of a very dark chapter in my life. I wanted this album to capture all the frustration, pain, anger, and hopelessness I had been haunted by for so long. I was a much angrier person when this project started, but this band helped me process that anger in a way years of therapy couldn’t quite achieve. I watched myself grow gentler, more at peace, develop healthier responses to the elements that hurt or frustrated me. This album is the closing of a chapter.”
No One Is Ever Going To Tell Us How To Love Again not only marks the closing of a personal chapter for Cecilia, but also the closing of a musical chapter for Het Ward. “We’ve already decided that whatever new material we write in the future won’t adhere to the same sound,” she reveals. “We have a lot of ideas we’re tossing around, so expect big changes in whatever we release next. I think it’s important for people who love and support us to know that we don’t want to be a collective that releases the same album over and over. We’re going to change—musically and as people—and that’s totally fine.”
For their debut LP, Het Ward tapped Jade El from Baltimore band Syringe to create the album’s eye-catching, uber-purple artwork and recorded the tracks with Alina Nehlich. “She was exceptionally thorough, organized, familiar with what we were looking for, and just an absolute gem to work with,” Cecilia says of Nehlich. “The time and detail she put into ensuring we achieved the best sound we could for this record is amazing. Out of all of the albums I’ve recorded, this is the one I entered with the most focus. I think it shows on the recording too.”
That focus certainly shows on the album’s debut single, the brutal and brutally honest “Violent Deceiver.”
“‘Violent Deceiver’ is about people who project a facade of being intersectional feminists, while simultaneously being violent to trans women in the form of dead-naming, deliberately misgendering, and promoting transphobic and bioreductive ideology in regard to our lives and identities,” Cecilia explains. “I chose this single because it’s extremely personal and really sets the tone for the album. Sound-wise, it showcases the direction we took with the new material. I experiment with some different vocal dexterities and ranges on the album, this song in particular. The beginning is kind of meant to mimic a psychological breakdown in response to this kind of dehumanization. I think it sounds kinda unsettling and fucked up, and it’s supposed to sound that way.”
Another deeply personal track for Cecilia is “More Than Ever.” “That song is about processing sexual assault and domestic violence that I experienced in my life,” she says. “I kept the lyrical content vague, because I wanted the listener to be able to empathize in other ways, but the root of the lyrics is about the assault I endured and watching that trauma manifest later in life, all while desperately reaching out for support from people you love—for yourself and other survivors. The ending is meant to mimic me pleading and begging for those who I loved to see me through and begging my family members to stop retraumatizing me with memories of assault as well. It’s about the urgency of being heard.”
Het Ward chose to issue No One Is Ever Going To Tell Us How To Love Again through the Pittsburgh-based, queer-centric, DIY label Get Better Records, with whom they’ve had a longstanding positive relationship.
“We originally were supposed to put out a split with Get Better Records last spring, which didn’t end up happening,” Cecilia recalls. “[Owner and operator] Alex has been incredibly supportive of us since discovering us as a band. Everything that Get Better Records embodies as a label, its artists, and those involved in facilitating that label is something we want to be a part of. They prioritize lifting the voices of musicians who are marginalized by the world at large, and that representation is, was, and will continue to remain important. We couldn’t be happier to release this album [with them].”
Before the record is released on Jan. 20, Het Ward plan to hit the road from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. Chloe from the Columbia, South Carolina, bands Hissy Fit and Ossifrage will join them on second guitar. “We’re doing a week-long tour during the holiday season, which is a difficult time for a lot of queer and trans folks,” Cecilia elaborates. “I’m really looking forward to all of the new cities and artists we’re playing with and especially excited for the Asheville New Year’s Eve show. Asheville has felt like a home away from home and has been so good to us. There are so many people who I love there and get roadsick wanting to see. No doubt it’ll be an unforgettable experience.”
“On every tour, there’s always an element of fear, especially for people who are already at high risk to regularly experience violence,” she continues, “but we’re good at looking out for each other and aren’t here to take shit. So, that definitely quells a lot of fears associated with being on the road.”
Though Het Ward adore the many friends they’ve made in other cities, Cecilia specifically wants to thank “everyone from Pittsburgh who has been with us since day one.” The collective will show their hometown some love with an album release show on Saturday, Jan. 20 at The Mr. Roboto Project. The night’s lineup also includes Blak Rapp Madusa, Tyler Vile, Maenads, and Medium Ugly. “Hope to see some of you there!” she adds.
What else does the future hold for Het Ward? “As long as I’m living and able, The Het Ward Collective will continue,” Cecilia asserts. “Our aim is to continue to write, to push ourselves more in our writing in the future, and to work on growing as people and as a collective. We want to center the experiences of trans women more in our lyrics and interviews and to be a band that trans women especially can find solace and comfort in. Our love for queer and trans folks as a whole is immense, and all of our stories and experiences are beyond value. I feel that people who experience the intersection of transphobia and misogyny still need to be able to talk about our issues separately from our communities sometimes and have access to bands and artists who talk about those experiences, so that’s what we want to be.”
Top photo by Matt Belvillian