The Jezabels – Young Woman Rising

Posted by Aphra Magazine on 4/3/16.

The Jezabels have never been a band shy about challenging gender equality; just consider their name taken from the biblical character of Jezebel, a woman who has been unfairly represented in history.

Since forming in 2007, the alternative/pop-synth band from Sydney have found success with three EPs, two albums and multiple awards. Now the band that brought us hits like ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Mace Spray’ are back, challenging gender politics, creating debate, and setting it to music, with their politically charged third album, Synthia. Aphra had a chat to Hayley Mary, lead vocalist of the Jezabels, about confronting her own femininity, the importance of female groupies and how Synthia will contribute to the conversation around gender politics.

In Synthia‘s opening track ‘Stand and Deliver’, Hayley sings: ‘And it’s something quite unfair, in this underlying scene, that she wants the same success, but she’s lacking in the breeding.’ This theme of gender inequality is one that runs throughout the album, creating a powerful statement. There’s nothing subtle about the lyrics of Synthia’s tracks as they challenge the everyday sexism that we so often accept. Hayley says this directness is new for the band.

‘We’re just more articulate this time and a little bit more direct.’ Says Hayley. ‘I think people are more interested in those issues now than they used to be as well, so it’s easier to be overt about gender politics today than it used to be.’

‘I did used to shroud myself in romanticism because there were…feelings of frustration or longing and I didn’t really know what they were for or what I was trying to articulate. I still don’t totally, but I feel much more conscious in the politics and assertiveness than I ever have before.’

Hayley says creating Synthia has provided her with the confidence to confront her feelings about being a woman. She explains how she needed to face her fears in order to expand beyond her horizons.

‘From the dawn of time, groupies have actually been what’s made rock n roll possible. If young girls didn’t listen to Beatles, there would be no Beatlemania and there would be no rock n roll.’

‘I was very scared to go out into the public again and write more, and be in the face of criticism and be in a man’s world, but then that’s why I felt it was all the more important to do it.’

‘Sometimes I think life doesn’t give choices; it’s like you can choose to allow your world to grow smaller and smaller and that’s what you do by succumbing to fear, but if you want to enlarge your world, you do things that you’re scared of.

Having explored her personal experience in depth, Hayley reflects on how femininity is portrayed in the wider context of the rock n roll world.

‘Well I think obviously the rock world’s a big world, and there’s a lot of ways it’s portrayed, but there are some clichés that you have to acknowledge. I think there’s a notion that the main stereotypical roles that women play is the role of the groupie, historically, and even still now, and a lot of the time not only is it considered a passive role, [but] its value is also underestimated…’

‘From the dawn of time, groupies have actually been what’s made rock n roll possible. If young girls didn’t listen to Beatles, there would be no Beatlemania and there would be no rock n roll.’

Hayley says feminist revisionism of rock n roll history has brought new evidence to light.

‘The groupies back in the 60s and 70s were actually influencing the styles of the rockstars themselves, and they were influencing the music, and they were friends and they were treated respectfully. All these kind of notions that they were actually more important than they were perceived to be are coming out now through a revisionism of those periods of rock n roll history.’

‘You’ve always got these double edged swords…because you’re either playing into what people think women should be or you’re consciously going against it.

She continues, ‘I think there’s this notion that the woman is less valuable and passive in rock n roll, but that’s being constantly challenged, and it’s even been suggested that that’s never actually been as true as we think.’ However, despite this revisionist train of thought, Hayley does find it difficult at times to challenge gender stereotypes in the musical world.

‘I find myself being vulnerable, or being scared, or expressing these kind of very stereotypically feminine qualities. And then I think, “Was that just playing into these clichés about what it is to be a female and is that what people want females to express because it’s feminine?” Then I go the other way and I try to be masculine and I go “well was that a kind of denial of the feminine.”’

‘You’ve always got these double edged swords…because you’re either playing into what people think women should be or you’re consciously going against it. You’re never neutral; it’s always gendered in some way, which I’m not entirely sure men are as conscious of.’

Synthia, Hayley says, plays on contradictions; she uses the example of often feeling simultaneously like a groupie and a rockstar. That idea of not belonging anywhere, or rather, ‘in-between worlds’, fascinates the singer.

‘We’ve got these ideas [or categories] that we …try and sort of fit into because we think that’s where everyone else is. But no one is actually there, no one’s in ‘the category’, and this applies to discussions about everything, like race, gender, religion, sexuality.’

‘Women are going to find themselves in between worlds all the time, because we’re trying to leave our limited [gender] roles and make new roles, not just fall into male roles. So that in-between space really interests me and I’d like Synthiato occupy that in people’s minds.’

Hayley believes embracing the in-between space is helping to deconstruct and reject old stigmas.

‘I think all of those categories are breaking down and fragmenting constantly; they have been for a long time, but it’s getting further and further to the point where one day I think we’ll just see each other as one. It’s a bit of a hippy thing, but we will accept each other’s differences and not try and put each other in boxes.’

The conversation returns solely to Synthia and Hayley says of all the songs on the new album, she feels most connected to ‘Pleasure Drive’ because it’s all about ‘celebrating life and living in the moment’.

‘I think too much and sometimes it disables me, and stops me from doing, and existing in the real world. ‘Pleasure Drive’ was a song… where it’s like, I’m going to actually follow my body a bit more, and follow my gut a bit more, and do, rather than think, and not worry so much,’

Finally Hayley says if she could describe Synthia in three words, she would use a phrase that she heard from a family she met recently, which is ‘Young Woman Rising’. ‘When I say ‘Young Woman Rising’, I don’t mean she has to be young, I mean that she’s rising, as in she’s growing and getting older, so she’s progressing.’


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s