T-Rextasy is not your average “girl group.”
In fact, they chafe at the sexist implications that being in a “girl band” has taken on—and all of the misogyny and homophobia that comes with it.
That much becomes apparent within minutes of meeting three of the band’s members—singer Lyris Faron, guitarist Vera “the Duchess” Kahn, and bassist Annie Fidoten, all 22 years old—at Chinatown restaurant Dimes to discuss their latest album, Prehysteria (released today on Bandcamp), over fresh-squeezed juices. Drummer Ebun Nazon-Power, who rounds out the quartet, is away at school at the time of our conversation.
The band formed when most of the members were still attending New York City public high schools—a result of mutual “friend crushes” and introductions, they tell me, as well as a desire to see more women in the DIY music scene.
“I was always super-depressed in high school about the fact that all the bands were all guys,” Kahn says. “So I would go to all these shows, [and] a lot would be really fun, but this part of me would just be so sad on the inside.”
Faron agrees: “[The scene] definitely was male-dominated. Like I remember—I was in a band, my first band was called the Bluffs. That was me and two boys. And we would play shows… And [for one show] there would be four bands on the bill. And I was the only girl on the bill. And so I had this idea, I was like, well, I’m going to recruit the coolest girls in school! Like, make a band.” Faron and the rest of the band concede, however, that female equality isn’t their sole focus. “I’ve also definitely learned… that there’s more progress to be made. Like, I think on that bill, everybody was white. And that’s also important, like, representation beyond thinking just about women on the bill.”
It’s a much-needed mindset that seems rare for musicians these days—to not only think critically about gender, but race and sexuality as well. Then again, T-Rextasy tends to be the exception to most rules.
They played their first show at a venue that was a preschool by day, with “the meanest bouncer” at night, who’d frequently bust underage concertgoers for trying to smuggle in alcohol. “I think I knew how to play four songs on the bass that night,” Fidoten jokes, “And we played every single one of them.”
The band released its first album (2016’s Jurassic Punk), chock full of digs at sexist fuckboys and catcallers, when most members were still in their teens. The album was featured on music blogs like NPR’s and the Village Voice. They embarked on several tours, all before graduating college.
But Fidoten, Kahn, and Faron are realistic about the challenges they face as women, especially queer and gay women, in the music industry. “For every little advance we make, there is still something,” Faron explains, pausing in frustration. “Like, the other day, I showed a picture of my band to one of my managers at work, and he was like, ‘oh, are y’all like, chick punk?’” Fidoten and Kahn laugh, a bit incredulously. Faron continues, “And I was like, ‘What is that? What does that sound like?’ It’s just funny.”
Kahn, who seems to be one of the more outspoken members of the group, tends to take a more aggressive tack when confronting sexist men. “Anytime I hear any trace of condescension—I don’t care if it’s an accident, or somebody sneezed—I’m not gonna put up with it,” she says.
She shares an anecdote from a show in Virginia, where the band was playing in a coffee shop, and Kahn asked a fellow musician to borrow one of his two amps. The man proceeded to, well, mansplain amplifiers to Kahn, who put him in his place. “I might have overreacted,” she says, shrugging. “It might not have been a correlated amount of anger, but I feel no regret.”
While T-Rextasy’s music features a DIY aesthetic similar to that of punk, they emphasize that they are not a punk band. “It was only after I’d been playing music with everyone for a while that I realized there was this real tendency to lump women into [labels like] ‘punk’ and therefore ‘riot grrl,’” Fidoten explains. “And that people were not actually listening to our music and responding to it, but rather like, looking at a picture of us or reading our name, or seeing us come into a room, and [presuming] what we sounded like.”
“That’s also the double-edged sword that I've found, as a woman [in the music industry],” Kahn says. “It’s just like, you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don't.”
Nazon-Power shared similar sentiments while texting with me not long after I met with her bandmates. “It’s a completely different ballgame when you are a femme person of color,” she wrote. “All I have to say for this moment is that it is really, really hard to work within an industry where most of the people who hold positions of power are white men.”
Being taken seriously can also be a challenge. The band’s songs are catchy, lighthearted, and fun to listen to—but to assume that T-Rextasy is purely bubblegum “girl pop” would be a grossly superficial analysis of their music and their ethos.
“We’ve been treated well in a lot of ways,” Fidoten says carefully. “But also I think that it’s really hard for us to be taken seriously. In a lot of ways. Like as instrumentalists.” She continues, “I think being really fun, and trying to embrace fun, [makes it] hard to be taken seriously. Whereas I think when dudes do it, there’s more of a sense of a double-edge—the satire, the parody, the outlandishness. The references to glam rock.”
“A ‘devil-may-care’ attitude,” Kahn adds, perfectly parroting the language music publications use to laud the irreverent male-fronted bands Fidoten alluded to. “At the end of the day, I like to have fun,” Kahn continues. “And we have some pretty elaborate arrangements and stage activities—I mean, we put on a good show. And we have fun. And people might not know the layers of work we’ve put into it. But at the end of the day, we’re entertainers too.”
T-Rextasy’s campy, fun, live shows have earned them a devoted fan base—something the band members are endlessly proud of. Not only are they dedicated musicians, but also, as Kahn says, they’re performers. Kahn, Fidoten, and Faron have a background in theater and understand the power of an unforgettable show.
“If you’re having a bad day, you go up there, and you give it your heart,” Faron says of her mentality when it comes to performing. “And if there are are three people in the audience, those are three human beings who came out and got in their car to come and see you, and they deserve as good as a show as like 600 people.”
“Not that we’ve ever played in front of 600 people,” she adds, “but one day we will.”
The ability of (mostly white, cis) men to behave in ways that would negatively affect a woman is a major sore point for T-Rextasy. “I always think a lot about how there are these male artists and male rock stars that just get afforded this title of ‘eccentric,’” Faron says. “Like, they’ll disappear, they’ll go to another country for a year, and they’ll work on their music, and then they come back, and they’re like a genius, and so eccentric, and they’re mystical, and they’re larger than life. But if women behave like in a similar way—if they’re aloof, if they don’t really answer questions in interviews—then they’re unprofessional.”
“Or they’re weird,” Fidoten interjects.
“And I wanna just be a weirdo!” Faron says. “I wanna be a fucking weirdo.” She continues, “I always [have] a voice in my head being like, ‘Did you word that email correctly? Did you say “thank you” enough? Did you say sorry enough?’ And I really wanna not do that, but it’s so there. ‘Did you respond quickly enough?’”
She sighs. “But I feel like if I don’t, I’ll be called unprofessional. Because I have. Because we have.”
That hasn’t seemed to stop T-Rextasy. Nor has it stopped them from exploring different ways of expressing their gender and sexual orientation. Faron and Nazon-Power identify as queer, while Fidoten says she identifies as gay. None of the band members feel any qualms about playing with gender presentation, especially onstage—but they recognize that cis men enjoy greater freedom to experiment with their personas, with few repercussions.
“When it’s a straight, cis white man in a dress, he gets to be transgressive about gender without any of the consequence,” Fidoten explains. “There’s no conversation after. But if a woman wears a suit—well, if I wear a suit, even on stage, which isn’t even that transgressive... people will be like, ‘Oh, is T-Rextasy trying to do this thing now?’... There are more implications. You have to go home and then deal with the shit.”
Radical politics inform most of what the band does. “At first, we were young and we thought that being a band of women meant we were being political,” Fidoten explains. “We realize now that that is not true, and it's not enough to just be a band of women. That might be not common, but it's not radical, you know.”
The band frequently donates portions of their proceeds to charitable organizations, and picks a cause to highlight in between songs on tour—they’re particularly vocal about supporting an organization called Black and Pink, which works towards prison abolition and supporting LGBTQ people currently incarcerated. They also strive to include POC acts in their shows, and support fair wages for all workers. “That is what matters above like, how many Spotify listens you have,” Faron explains. “Or how much money you're making. Connecting with people, that’s it.”
T-Rextasy does not want to be pigeonholed as a purely feminist band, nor as spokeswomen for the movement. “We can’t be an ambassador for a movement, but we can be ambassadors for ourselves,” Fidoten explains.
“It disheartens me when I see people like—I’m literally thinking of white women in music—who have a pseudo-feminist platform because they’re a woman making music, and choose not really to speak up about injustice,” she adds. “We’re privileged to have a platform. So I feel like we have actually an obligation, a moral obligation, to do what we can.”
“And I think that’s where it gets outside of feminism. Like we can’t just think, ‘How do we look as feminists?’ We have to think, like, ‘How can we speak about white supremacy? What kind of causes do we want to support?’ There’s a lot of other layers of things that we have to tackle as the people we are.”
A small hiccup in the band’s trajectory came in the spring of 2017—when sexual abuse allegations against PWR BTTM frontman Ben Hopkins came to light. T-Rextasy had more or less been mentored by the band as they came up in the NYC music scene; the allegations caused them to pull out of their scheduled tour with PWR BTTM, and issue an apology to their fans on Twitter.
When I bring up the PWR BTTM controversy, the mood immediately dampens at the table.
“If you act in accordance with your values, you will be happy,” Kahn finally says. “Integrity is so important, and if you... you just gotta walk the walk, and then you’ll be happy. If you believe in it, you have to do it. Integrity. And it’s so important to speak up—in any situation where you feel uncomfortable.”
Fidoten agrees. “I think that we are learning every day how to conduct ourselves with integrity and be people that we’re proud of and a band that we’re proud of. And that’s... I think about that every single day. Integrity.”
“Everybody is young, and everybody is learning,” Kahn adds.
I ask them about the steep learning curve they’ve had to navigate as a band composed of young, queer women. “It’s so unfair that you must comport yourself [in accordance with] higher standards,” Fidoten says. “But at this point in my life, I’d rather look at it and be like, I’m happy that this is something that I have to be aware of, that I have to think about my behavior, and learn how to be conscientious of the way I walk in the world. Because that’s a really important lesson, and some people never learn it.” She pauses for a moment, then adds, “And I learned that young.”
Their new album can be seen as an extension of this mentality—an effort to learn more about themselves, but never at the expense of their happy, campy aesthetic. Prehysteria contains upbeat, catchy songs about tattoos, girl crushes, and adult acne, as well as an introspectiveness that nearly belies the record’s carefree sound. But don’t think for a second that T-Rextasy has abandoned their dedication to radical politics.
“I think you don’t have to be a ‘political’ band to be a political band,” Kahn says “Your music doesn’t have to have necessarily political statements in it for your band to take an active stance. So many artists have been activists and don’t necessarily make political songs.” Faron and Fidoten agree.
“With this album, this just took effort to make happen,” Faron explains. “It took years to happen, to write, and to pull off. For just a lot of reasons. It was just really a difficult thing to make and I feel so proud. It was really a struggle and an effort to complete, and it feels so good.”
She continues, “I just feel like we know so much more about who we want to be now.”