by Leci Solis
Fourth-wave feminism never sounded this rad. Fea is the project of Jenn Alva (bass) & Phanie Diaz (drums), two members of the on-hiatus indie rock band 'Girl in A Coma.' With the addition of Bobby Rivas (guitar) and Letty Martinez (vocals), their music is playfully erratic, a blast, very political and queer, it even subverts and refutes traditional misconceptions of what being a modern female in the 21st century entails. The thing about Fea is they deliver fun-filled punk songs characterized by their light-hearted aggression without spaz or abrasion. Described as "Chicana riot grrrl" and armed with all the fierce and outrageous elements of punk, the band named themselves after the Spanish feminine form of Ugly. They flaunt their care-free attitudes on stage as they unabashedly raise their voice in frenzied songs to tackle political and feminist issues including violence against women and gender inequality. Their single album released on Joan Jett's Blackheart Records features the production efforts of punk rock legends: transgender punk rock heroine Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!), Chicana writer, activist, and punk rock pioneer Alice Bags (Bags), and Lori Barbero from one of the most important female-fronted punk rock acts of all time (even before all the 90's riot grrrl movement), Babes in Toyland.
Fea's most contagious chant "I am I am a feminist" celebrates being... just that, but they reiterate it in Japanese, German, French, and Spanish; the song defends the term against the derogatory feminazi stereotype that invokes an erroneous image of extremist women who reject men and focus on irreconcilable differences. "Feminazi" is not arguing for extremism, but for mutual respect and conjoined efforts to find common ground to "meet in the middle." Unlike former sectionalist waves, the band's ideals align with a more balanced and open-minded approach to modern dilemmas that embrace multiculturalism and LGBTQ. To vary, Fea breaks the strictures of Hispanic and Catholic womanhood in songs like "Sister K", the bilingual "Mujer Moderna" (Modern Woman) and sprinkles it with a pinch of Mexican folklore in "La Llorona" inspired song. Even punk icon Iggy Pop digs FEA and Dave Grohl selected them for the upcoming Foo Fighters music festival lineup. Enough said.
I N T E R V I E W:
Are all of you native Spanish speakers?
Phanie: Letty is very fluent, I’m like Tex-Mex style…
Jenn: Bobby and I are…
So Spanish is very expressive and it sort of augments aggression in the language, and you guys code-switch. Is it natural or how do you decide what lyrics go in Spanish and what goes in English?
Jenn: Oh that’s a good question.
Letty: I don’t know, it just happens. Um, so usually, sometimes it’s different, but usually the music comes out first and then I just jam it out as I’m doing the dishes or sweeping my house, you know, I just jam the music over and over and then shit just starts coming out of me. Sometimes it’s in English and sometimes it’s in Spanish and then sometimes it’s in Spanglish. There’s no telling; it just happens.
There’s a genre shift between the indie rock you used to play and this hardcore punk from your youth. How is the reception of your new sound?
Jenn: Honestly, I think I hear a little more, ‘FEA is more my cup of tea.'
Phanie: Jenn’s being really honest.
Jenn: Yeah, I mean some people like Girl in a Coma, [it] is a great band. Then I kind of hear, ‘Oh I respect Girl in a Coma but I really like FEA, that’s more of my cup of tea that.' So that’s awesome.
Phanie: It’s been very receptive.
You guys are extremely energetic and defend feminism, but you also separate yourselves from feminists that antagonize or bring down men. How do you balance that? Coming off as very bold feminists, but without being abrasive?
Letty: We gotta be inclusive. A lot of the times when people think of feminism they think that others are being excluded and that’s a misconception. At least for us that’s not what we’re trying to do. Equality is all it is, so we’re not trying to leave anybody out.
Jenn: I think we’re going the speed limit with feminism, honestly, because if you go to fast, you’re gonna turn people off, deafen ears. You go too slow then you’re not doing anything. I think we go the right speed.
Phanie: You just don’t overthink it.
Jenn: Actually, just playing music and just being. I think that speaks louder sometimes.
Letty: Yeah, because none of us are aggressive in that sense or uncensored. I mean there’s a lot of parts to us, so we’re not aggressive about feminism, not in a negative way or in a way that excludes people.
Jenn: We’re like a cool cult.
Your record is inspired by personal experience, and you cover very sensitive themes. How does it feel to potentially be the band who voices and empowers this generation?
Letty: I don’t think it feels. Does that make sense?
Bobby: We just do it.
Jenn: We just are. It’s like what feels right for us, and we have our heart on our sleeve. I don’t think we can go wrong with just being natural and...
Now, tell us about CalJam18.
Letty: We’re so excited!
Jenn: Honestly, it was kind of the news we needed. We got Bobby, we were writing new songs, that was great. We needed some really good news to really get us going, to get us all pumped!
Phanie: We’re excited. We’ve been talking about it and the fact that it’s the Foo Fighters festival. Iggy’s [Pop] been a fan, so when he’s on it, we’re like ‘you better watch us Iggy.’ You’ve been talking about us, so watch us, hopefully.
Letty: Please watch us!
Bobby: I’ve been jamming like only Iggy Pop recently, trying to learn about everything.
Letty: That’s our version of praying.
Phanie: We just talked about it and we’re like, ‘how can he not’? He’s been talking about it, he’s gotta watch us.
Jenn: We’re an early slot but man, one of those motherfuckers has to be there to listen.
Letty: Hey now, hey now.
Bobby: Iggy if you’re out there...
Letty: You’re not a motherfucker Iggy…
So what are the expectations for this new album?
Jenn: Well we played 3 new songs tonight and a cover, and we’re actually going to work on releasing a 7” with the new songs and that Gloria Trevi cover. We’re hoping to release it before we leave on tour with Agent Orange in July. So, we’re gonna pre-do that and hopefully by the end of the year start putting out a full record.
Do you guys also still play a lot in San Antonio? Or are you just touring?
Jenn: We’ve been getting back into it.
Phanie: We don’t try to saturate ourselves too much in the city, because if we over do it then it’s one of those things where people are like, ‘I’ll catch them next week’. We just kind of limit ourselves to certain shows but we try to circulate Texas as much as we can.
What are some inspirations in Spanish? You just covered Gloria Trevi.
Letty: Well Gloria Trevi, I was obsessed with her when I was little and I used to put on these little shows and I’d force my parents to watch me. I’d put on a whole thing, wardrobe changes and everything, I was that little weirdo kid. But yeah I grew up listening to a lot of Spanish music. I used to have another band and I didn’t sing in Spanish, and with FEA it was really fun to explore that. I didn’t know I could write in Spanish.
[Bobby in background speaking to fans]
Jenn: Bobby’s famous.
How did it happen?
Jenn: We had some auditions. We just really couldn’t find anybody, we knew about Bobby.
Phanie: We saw Bobby play with other bands in town and I knew that he was able. I already knew before we even asked him, well this kid knows what he’s doing and I know he’s going to learn our album (snaps) like that.
Jenn: Audition was amazing, it was kind of a no-brainer honestly.
Letty: They sent me the videos, I was like ‘fuck yes!’. You got really good stage presence.
Bobby: I mean, I was a teenager, I was a big "Girl in a Coma" fan, you know. I followed these girls for a long time until they finally hit me up and it’s like ‘you wanna?’ and I’m like ‘Ok yeah!’