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J e n n y W o o (Canada – acoustic Oi!)

In 2008 the Canadian skingirl Jenny Woo took her acoustic guitar and, inspired by both the legend Johnny Cash as well as Oi! bands such as Badlands, she started an acoustic Oi! project. Three years later she just released a second CD (a split with Discharger from Holland) and she is about to leave to Europe for a mini-tour. A few days before leaving we spoke about the skinhead scene in Canada, the gender issue, clichéd lyrics and getting back to Europe again.

September 2011 – band website
jennywoo

I received your new CD yesterday. You recorded it in Canada?
I recorded the songs here in Canada with a friend of mine. Then i sent the files to Bart from High Lake Hill Studio in Antwerpen en he mastered the recordings. It worked out very well!!

Do you received any feedback on the new record yet?
Well, I think you’re actually the first person to say that they’ve even received the album. The CD came out only a few weeks ago and I actually haven’t seen it yet, so I’m curious to see what it looks like.
Personally I think it’s hard as an artist to hear your own work and it’s also not very objective to critique yourself, so I wouldn’t really trust myself to review it. I think it sounds ok. There are still a few things I’d like to change, but it’s too late now!

Your new CD is released very soon after your debute record. Do you find it easy to write new songs?
The albums are released closely together, but they were recorded over a year apart. I recorded Alberta Rose in 2008-2009 and due to financial and logistic problems with the record label it took almost two years to release it. So the new album is closely released after ‘Alberta Rose’, but I recorded it a year and a half after recording the first album.
The new batch of songs I wrote over a course of sixteen months, so I had a lot of time in between the records. But when you write a good song, you’re very motivated to write another good song. Once you’re on a roll, things go much quicker.

jennywoo2

Last week you played in the USA at the 2000 Tons of TNT fest. The line up was impressive!
Actually I was just astounded. For a North-American show it was probably one of the best festivals that ever happened on this continent. There were so many bands from overseas, like Evil Conduct, which were really incredible. It was amazing to see the response.
As for my set, I played at 1.30 in the afternoon, but still a lot of people came to see me. It was good and the crowd’s response was really positive. For me it was amazing to see Gary Bushell clapping in the audience.
About the festival in general, it was very well organised, no fights, no problems. So it was really lots of fun.

How did you started your acoustic Oi! project? Did you played in some full line-up bands before?
I started in 2007-2008. At that time I was playing in some punk bands in Canada, but I really wanted to play Oi! music as that was what I really loved and really cared about. In 2007 I auditioned for an Oi! band in my city, which I was initially excited about and was eventually disappointed with.

I think I had the right attitude and the right image for the band, but they didn’t want women to play in the band cause it would make the band seen less tough. I was really confused by this and also a bit sad. There were a lot of initial barriers, so I decided to write some songs myself at home. I think playing on an acoustic guitar is really natural. Most songwriters write on a acoustic guitar, because it’s very stripped down and if you’re able to write a good song on an acoustic guitar it’s a good song in general because you’re not relying on distortion or effects to bolster it up.

As the skinhead scene in Canada is very small I wasn’t fortunate enough to find the right other people to play my songs with so I started playing them by myself. It was hard in the beginning because I was and I am still not a singer, so it was very challenging for me to learn how to sing. And, of course I was very nervous to sing on stage in front of people especially in a solo act.

So basically I started the solo project more as a default then as a conscious decision. I really believed that acoustic music had a heart and a soul to it that could contribute to the skinhead scene, and I figured that it would be better to do it by myself instead of not doing it at all.

Soon after I started working on my acoustic oi! songs, I joined the Canadian oi! band the Kroovy Rookers, which is a great band from Edmonton, Alberta. The guys in the band soon became my good friends, and that bolstered my confidence a lot and I was encouraged to then continue with my own song-writing after joining the band. Unfortunately, I had to leave the Kroovy Rookers when I moved to a different part of the country, but if you have the opportunity you should definitely check them out!

jennywoo3

I saw a flyer of a gig organised by RASH Montreal and you also played there. I was pleasantly surprised by this cause in Europe all fractions of the skinhead scene are very much seperated. Is the skinhead scene in Canada – besides small – also very open?
This varies from region to region as Canada is a very big country. As matter of fact it can almost take a week to drive across the entire nation! As a result, it is hard to travel to gigs when they are taking place in different cities, and certain scenes can be isolated from others. Where I come from in Western Canada there are no politics – in most of Alberta there are no redskins, no white supremacists, no SHARP… It’s just skinhead. I grew up in a scene where everyone was unified, and I was ignorant of the deep political divides that shake the scene in general.

In Montreal and Toronto the scene is much more divided. There’s RASH, white power skinheads, non-political skins and also ‘non-political’ political skins if you know what I mean. There has been a lot of violence and tension over the past three decades in the city, and it’s interesting how this animosity between skinheads is carried out generationally.

I choose to play the show for RASH Montreal and I go to RASH Montreal events. I wouldn’t say that I am a redskin, but a lot of people in that scene are really nice and have been very welcoming to me. If the alternative is to play white power gigs or to not play any gigs at all I would rather play a Redskin show.

But if you have the impression all those white power people and apolitical skins go to RASH events than that is a wrong understanding. At RASH shows there are mostly redskins and anti-racist skinheads, and other types of political skins are unwelcome.

The lyrics you write mainly deal with daily life issues, but i know you study political theory. Did you never wanted to add any political content to your lyrics or have you choosen to keep the politics out?
Indeed I studied political theory and I did my masters degree in political philosophy, so I’m very interested by politics.

However, I have so far avoided tackling political issues in my music because I think it is a really hard thing to do well, and I haven’t been able to come up with something I have been happy with so far. The problem is that even when you say something in a way that seems clear to you, it’s very easy for it to be interpreted as something else.

Typically, as well, the type of politics that are reiterated in the skinhead scene are different than the breed of politics I would be interested in singing about. In the skinhead scene you have this very black-and-white mentality and a lot of times it misses the nuances which are the most interesting and most crucial parts of modern day political issues.

Personally, I am interested in political issues such as citizenship and economic development. It’s really hard to bring that into a song and to make it sound ‘sexy’. However I would really love to do that cause I think that a different take on politics and a more nuanced shot at opening a discussion could really contribute to the skinhead scene. I’d like to see bands bring the discussion away from the black-and-white “fuck you Nazis” and “fuck you reds” to a more complex level.

Indeed some Oi! bands write about politics in a very black-and-white way, but personally I really like a band as the Angelic Upstarts and also the Redskins. They do have a political content in their lyrics, but not in the typical black-and-white way. No matter what your own political views are, I do think that they both have an interesting approach of getting a political content into their lyrics.
I definitely agree with you. I think Mensi (Angelic Upstarts) is an excellent songwriter and there are lots of bands out there that touch on really important issues in their lyrics and that bring different things to the table. For instance I was talking to the lead singer of The Blood the other day and he is really interested in human trafficking. It’s interesting to see people sing about what they are truly impassioned by, and it is great to hear about other peoples’ authentic visions of a better world. I think that this, at the end of the day, is where punk music is about. It’s about trying to make the world a better place and to put out a different opinion out there. I think a lot of that mentality is lost in certain modern-day Oi! bands. There’s a sort of tendency to reiterate clichés, and it’s hard to hear the meaning in something when it just sounds like it is copied and pasted out of another band’s lyric book.

jennywoo4

To continue on the gender issue… About 80% of the people into Oi! music are male. It might be strange to ask it to you as you are active, but do you have any idea why there is such a small amount of women active in the skinhead scene?
The way I see it, the skinhead scene is built around a very macho culture. I mean a lot of the values which we see reiterated over and over again are violence, womanising, drinking beer and typically male dominated sports. There’s not a lot of entry value for women because lot of things that are sung about… maybe they can’t relate to?

I just was thinking about this the other day, about how a lot of women are portrayed in Oi! music. If bands sing about women it’s often somebody’s girlfriend, a total hottie that people want to pick up at the bar, or a demonic slut she-beast. Either way, women are generally written about in objectifying terms and it is very rare to get a song that portrays a first-person view of being a woman in oi! music since there are so few women who writing lyrics for bands. I think it’s really hard for women to enter this scene and to get respected cause they are either seen as an Oi!-toy or they have to work twice as hard to get the same respect as any male does, and the stereotypes are re-confirmed in the music because there aren’t enough women in the scene to change it. It turns into a negative cycle.

But having said this I don’t think the skinhead scene is necessarily excluding women and I definitely think it’s changing all the time. I see a lot more women active in the skinhead scene now then ten years ago. The more visibility that women get in the scene the more that will change.

At the TNT Festival last week I was talking to the saxophone player of the Hub City Stompers and we realised that out of all of the bands that played at the entire festival – there were probably thirty bands or something – there were only two women. But I think that is changing – I see more and more women starting up and continuing writing music, a lot of women involved in fanzines and in promoting, and I am sure that as more women start playing crucial roles in the scene, others will follow suit. After all, women are generally resourceful, intelligent, and resilient, and I think that the skinhead scene could really benefit from a stronger female presence. Boot girl power!

You travel a lot. In which countries did you played so far? I heard there are plans to play in South-America and also in Indonesia…
Indonesia is a project in the works. I have been fortunate enough to do a lot of travelling, but most of the gigs I have played were in the USA and Canada, because that’s the closest, and also in Europe because my record label is based there. But I noticed there’s a huge scene coming out of the developing world and I have made a lot of contacts with people in Colombia, Mexico and Indonesia. A few people have invited me to play there and I’m so happy about that because I would love to travel to these places. I think I will do a small tour through Indonesia and Malaysia in 2012 or 2013, but it’s hard to book gigs there because if a promoter over there wants to book a gig they just can’t afford to help paying for the airfare as the cost of one flight equals their salary of the entire year. So it’s really up to the band or the artist to save up enough money beforehand to get over there.

jennywoo5

You are planning some European dates. Are you excited to come back again?
I’m very excited, but also a bit nervous cause I’m leaving in five days and strangely enough not all shows have been officially confirmed yet which is very stressful for me because it starts in less than a week. So I hope things will be solved in the next few days or else it’s gonna be a very stressful tour. But as far for the dates that are confirmed I’m really looking forward to it and I’m especially looking forward to the dates in Holland and to the Oi! Weekend festival in Sweden with Infa Riot.

Is there much difference in audiences?
Yes, I have definitely noticed that there’s a difference between European and North American audiences. Of course it depends on which band is playing, I mean if Cock Sparrer is playing there’s gonna be a huge reaction no matter where you are. In terms of playing my shows here in Canada… There’s a saying you’re never much appreciated where you come from. If I play in my own city in Canada there are probably fifteen or twenty people who come out and a lot of them are standing at the back. Maybe they saw me too many times, but I still find it challenging to play gigs here.

I have also played some shows in Germany. I don’t know if it’s a different scene or if the music is better promoted there, but people there are so enthusiastic and they are always dancing and singing along. I played a show there last May and I was so amazed cause people sang along to the lyrics. I was so touched that people took the time to listen to my music and learn the words. So I think it’s easier for me to play in Germany, as strange as that sounds, than to play in Canada.

It’s the same with the TNT Festival last weekend. I was amazed to see people sing along and dancing and really getting into the music. It was a lot more responsive than local shows here. It’s a strange phenomenon.

Your CD’s are both released in Germany, but not in Canada…
That’s also a very strange phenomenon. I work with Randale Records and they are based in Germany. I guess they don’t have any contacts to do a good distribution in Canada. So the CD is not very well distributed in North-America and most of the distribution has been done through me. That might be a reason too that it’s hard to play gigs here in Canada cause nobody knows the music.

Isn’t that dissapointing?
(silence)… Yes. But that said, there aren’t really much record labels or distributors here in Canada. In terms of distribution it’s very difficult as there’s not a huge network of promoters throughout the country. It’s a very strange situation…

I ran out of questions. Do you have any closing comments?
Thanks so much taking the time to do the interview. It was refreshing to do it interview over video camera. I would just like to say that, as I said earlier, I started this project out of default, but over the last few years I have become more and more impassioned about it and I am trying to improve every day and in every way. I have taken some singing lessons, I try to practise all the time, I read books on song-writing, and I talk with other musicians. I am sure that the best is yet to come.

There have been a lot of challenges and struggles along the way, but I love what I do. I just hope it will be well received by people and I just hope it will keep on getting better and better and bigger and bigger. (laughter) Next step is world domination!

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This entry was posted on October 4, 2011 by in Interviews and tagged , , .
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