Indie band We Don’t Ride Llamas made their second appearance at SXSW this year at the 2023 conference and music festival. They joined us on Instagram for a takeover that week, and sent our fans some incredible content! We caught up with them briefly post-SXSW to see how the experience was, and to explore their next chapter a bit.
an interview with we don’t ride llamas
imperfect Fifth (iF): What was the first song or album that you remember hearing, and does that work of art have any influence on how you approach your music today?
We Don’t Ride Llamas (WDRLL): We’ve had a lot of different musical influences that started out since infancy. Some of our favorites include: Robert Johnson, Esperanza Spaulding, Brandy, Aaliyah, Dilla, Missy Elliot, Nirvana, Deftones, Solange, Death, RHCP, Pharsyde, Billy Joel, George Benson, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Coldplay, Earth,Wind,& Fire, Carlos Santana, Marvin Gaye and Musiq Soulchild.
iF: Tell us a little bit about what got you started in music, and how this project came to be.
WDRLL: We all started out by playing a video game called Rock Band and eventually got bored so we decided to move on to the real thing! Since then we’ve been working hard everyday on our craft and our EP, The Oracle, is a project we’re super proud of! That being said, we have new music on the way so stay tuned.
iF: What did the road to SXSW look like for you, literally or figuratively?
WDRLL: We’re local so the hardest thing this year was finding parking for everyone!
iF: Good call, that’s amazing! (And convenient.) Was this your first time at SXSW, or have you been to good ol’ ATX for the madness before?
WDRLL: This was our second time at SXSW and like always the buzz is so delightful. The audiences are always ready to get pumped and rock out. The venues are super friendly and accommodating. It’s such a nice feeling to be able to show out for our city.
iF: Best showcase, besides your own?
WDRLL: BÖNDBREAKR WAS SO AMAZING LIKE?? The power and the prestige they brought to the stage was intoxicating! Pussy Gillette was also incredibly fun and massively entertaining.
iF: What was the most magical thing you found in Austin?
WDRLL: There are a lot of magical things in Austin but we love the club Empire! The vibe there is always so set and comfortable. Additionally, we love Mayfield Park and all the pretty animals they have over there. I think seeing a bunch of peacocks walk up to you is pretty magical.
What’s your absolute favorite word right now, and why?
WDRLL: The word “Incandescence” is very pretty. Just saying it out loud feels like a shimmery fabric. It’s also one of those words that sounds like what it actually means which is a plus!
iF: If you had the ability to tell the future, would you like it?
WDRLL: When we think about the future, we see our personal community flourishing and being nurtured by love despite the current state of the world. And we do like that vision.
iF: What’s coming up for you that you’d like us to tell everyone about?
WDRLL: We are going to a festival in Boise, Idaho for the Treefort Festival! We’re super excited because this is our first time being invited to play there. It’s definitely a new experience but we’re so ready. Additionally, we will be dropping a new single soon so keep a look out!
iF: Anything you’d like to add?
WDRLL: Thanks to everyone who turned out to our shows and blessed us with your presence. Thanks to our city and our friends, family, and friends. Without your support, this wouldn’t be as meaningful.
You know that commonly used phrase “Never meet your idols?” Well, it’s controversial. It always has been. While your idol’s personality may be very different in real life than their perceived persona or stage presence, they will most likely still have inspiration oozing from them. In the way they carry themselves, the people they surround themselves with, and the projects they work on.
Singer-songwriter/producer Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes) has been navigating the music industry landscape for decades now. She has founded two record labels, composed and produced hit songs for a myriad of artists (Pink, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Adele, Alicia Keys, Courtney Love, James Blunt), and continues to innovate in the field. And while she probably never would have described what she did as paving the way for women, her work has absolutely been doing that since the day she started in music.
So it was only natural that she sat on a panel of four incredible women to discuss gender gaps in entertainment, and how we can all work to close those gaps and give women more opportunities in music. She was joined on stage by four other indelible women in the industry, Carrie Colliton (Record Store Day), Ericka J Coulter (Warner Records), Tierney Stout (Vans), and moderator Lori Majewski (Sirius XM). All five have an inspiring body of work behind them, and legacies that will stand the test of time. To be in their presence alone? Absolutely intoxicating.
Then the stats rolled in on gender gaps and representation. Only 21% of musicians are women, only 12.6% of songwriters are women and only 2.6% of producers are women. Seeing that women are so poorly represented in the industry isn’t a shock, but those numbers are insanely low. Especially for the number of women who begin their careers in supporting roles throughout the industry, and are then pigeonholed into more administrative or side careers.
One of the biggest issues facing women’s approach to the industry? “You have to see it to be it,” explained Lori Majewski. You can always have ideas about what a career in your field could look like, but unless you can see other people like you taking the reigns and paving the way for others, it can be a difficult thing to grasp. Women in the industry provide beacons of light for others and are also incredibly well-formed mentors in some cases.
“I showed up big,” admits Perry, who has always held a makeshift torch in every space she has occupied. “I’m not the kind of girl the guys go after, so I’ve never had that problem. But I remember a couple of very big producers who would undermine my skills because of how I showed up. I was considered difficult through the whole process of the [4 Non Blondes] record. I read a similar story about Axl Rose. He was considered a leader.”
And she’s not wrong. Often, women who take a strong stance in their career are considered difficult to deal with and widely vilified, while men are considered strong and capable with the same attitudes and dispositions. This is across all fields, with biases affecting multiple aspects of the career climb.
Carrie Colliton co-founded Record Store Day – a vinyl renaissance that gets all generations involved with their local record shops on a yearly basis – which is celebrating its 15th year. She also runs all of the social media year-round, which increases leading up to the event. She admitted she has to restrict comments on posts with female artists, black artists, and children. This is because of the subject matters that often come about in the comments section. People on the internet are very likely to say sexually harassing things about photos of women, be racist in comments, and even say some pretty messed up things about children. Unfortunately, she found it to be a pattern so she had to take restrictive measures to keep the offensive comments low.
Besides protecting marginalized groups in the feed, Carrie has helped to spearhead initiatives that create a safer space for those communities. To increase visibility for underrepresented groups in the industry, this year, Record Store Day chose to implement a list of female-run record stores, and give each participating shop the autonomy to choose how they identify themselves to the public.
Record Store Day and Vans have partnered numerous times on collaborative efforts like special vinyl releases. This year, they released an album featuring groundbreaking female artists that benefits women-owned and operated independent record stores. They also hosted a list of black-owned record stores to ponder when choosing where to make those special yearly purchases.
The key to closing the gender gaps that currently exist? Collaboration over competition. “[Often there are] so few women in the room [that] they’re competing with each other,” admits Tierney, a fact everyone nodded in agreement with.
“Women are always going to work harder,” explained Perry. “It’s not a surprise it’s not a shock. It’s not even a complaint. We on this stage are always going to work harder for those who can’t right now so we can provide a safer space for all women in all creative and entertainment.”
Echoed Erica J Coulter: “When I stuck to my plan I took every step to get there. It’s not going to be easy but you can get there, you can get into this door.”
Of the multitudes of sessions we could have attended at 2:30 on a Thursday during SXSW, we chose this one. Why? Well, with a description asking questions like: But what about our personal identity and our own long-term goals? Aren’t we more than just the companies we tag in our Instagram bios and the artists we work for? Is it even possible to separate our panelists from their music business identities?
We knew this was the session for us.
And so did, apparently, everyone else. This was a PACKED room of folks in the industry, industry-adjacent, and even students who are considering “what’s next?” The panel was made up of 4 folks who have worked in multiple roles throughout the music industry. Maria Gironias (Reddit), Sydney Lopes (Spotify), Brandon Holman (UnitedMasters), and Nick Maiale (jump.global). All of the panelists have had realizations (whether forced through layoffs, or on their own through self-reflection) that their personhood does not = their job. This goes hand-in-hand, however, with the realization that many times it’s the job title that gets you the calls, the invitations, and the clout within the industry.
If you choose this industry, then it is yours – Maria
A couple of the panelists recalled being removed from their position, and hearing crickets instead of responses/outreach from people they thought were their friends in the industry.
FOMO became a large part of the conversation at this point, because – with the detachment of a job title from your name – people stop calling, inviting you to industry events and collaborative projects. This is because there is a perceived notion that you can no longer do things for them because you are no longer [insert position here] at [insert company here].
It’s the type of “contacts-solely-for-personal-gain” nonsense that has kept me out of traditional networking spaces for the majority of my adult life. I don’t have time for that nonsense – and no one else should be making time for it either.
But, with a creative industry that has been built upon/with titles and clout, it was very refreshing to listen to these folks talk about their experiences, lessons learned, and even air their grievances. As Maria indicated, you need to allow yourself joy and reprieve from your work as well. “Eating three meals a day,” she listed as one of her big MUSTS. “Making sure I call my parents more. Not skipping out on that meal with a friend.” It was a very down-to-earth conversation, and by the end – even in a crowded room – I felt like it was a chat between friends. Myself included.
Some lessons straight from the panelists’ mouths:
“Your network is your net worth” is garbage. – Nick
Just because you have a lot of [followers, likes, etc], doesn’t mean you can get people in the room – Sydney
I AM meditation you stop identifying with your name and gender and all the things around you. I AM. you are relinquishing stories and programming. You are something so much more powerful than any of these boxes. (Deepak Chopra) – Brandon
You are not a shitty artist if you don’t have a billboard in Times Square. – Brandon
Your career is nonlinear and just because something doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it wasn’t great – Maria
We were pleasantly surprised by the energetic set by Norwegian experimental group Fieh. Not only was their style eclectic and inspiring – I mean, look at those shades alone – but their music was absolutely phenomenal, and they brought a special presence to the International Day Stage on an otherwise exhausting and hot St. Patrick’s Day.
The day after we were intoxicated by punk rocker Haru Nemuri absolutely destroying her midnight set at Elysium on March 14th, we had the pleasure of translating her energy into portraits. She was delighted that two generations of our family were there to enjoy her late set the night before – it’s not my fault we have the coolest mom ever, honestly – and we were able to joke around a bit while she threw stunner poses at us.
SOFI TUKKER – a high-energy pop duo that infuses their upbeat anthems and party songs with deep channels of thought and acceptance – is back with the video for their latest dance track “Original Sin.”
“Original Sin” is the perfect way to introduce the world of WET TENNIS and it’s very emblematic of “the freak fam”, our community. It says: we aren’t meant to be saints. We aren’t born sinners. We’re just a bunch of freaks who make mistakes and keep trying to do our best. WET TENNIS is an acronym that stands for: “when everyone tries to evolve, nothing negative is safe” and that’s what this song is all about. We live in a troubled world, it’s not our fault if we have trouble sometimes. That’s part of what makes us human. But when we evolve together and celebrate instead of judge each other, we can move through negativity into a more optimistic way of life.
The music video – which is thrilling and dynamic in its own right – is a jolting burst of vibrance – in both color scheme and subject matter. Playing tennis in all-white garb leads to an abandonment of purity. Skin-to-skin contact, implied trysts against the backdrop of stained glass, a brief but duly noted nod to religious restrictions over the ages. It’s far more nuanced than one could expect to take in in just one watch. Explained the duo of the music video:
The “Original Sin” video is the Garden of Eden of the WET TENNIS world. It’s a place beaming with sexual freedom and colorful possibilities. At first, we see everybody in their traditional roles, wearing all white, clapping politely, acting as one “should” during a tennis match, but as the world unfolds, we see that everyone is a freak. At the end of the video, that freakiness is liberated as we all look up to the WET TENNIS statue in the sky.
We’re wearing custom tennis outfits we designed with Johnny Wujek, that have the WET TENNIS gradient scheme from orange to purple. We wanted to take the traditional aspects of the tennis aesthetic and flip it on its head to make it more colorful and wild. We have a moment of Sophie in a headdress made of tennis balls. And of course–an orgy in the confessional booth, set in front of the lush Hawaiian mountains. It was so much fun to shoot this video and create this world from our bizarre imaginations into real life. We hope it invites people to take a step away from the path they think they’re supposed to be on towards one where all their desires and colors are welcomed. And we hope it puts people into a sexy state of mind.