Rockers in a Straight Man’s World
Galaxy is a very good band that happens to be made up of a trio of two lesbians and a bisexual. Vocalist/guitarist Katie Stelmanis explains: “I’m totally fine with being a gay band and having that label, just as long as people know that we’re just as good, if not better, than all the other rock bands.” Katie and her collaborator, Emma McKenna (vocals and guitar), understand the importance of identifying with a specific community while fighting their way through Toronto’s crowded indie scene, but they don’t always agree when it comes to how being gay women affects playing rock music.
Gay politics were out in full force during Galaxy’s Pride Week performance in June. Toronto’s Pride festivities have become a symbol of Canada’s progressive stance on gay rights and tolerance, and for those who wandered through Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village during the celebration, it was easy to see why. Thousands – of all sexualities – turned up to be part of the celebrations, from S&M leather-clad men to topless women sporting generous armpit hair, from nearly-naked, corporate-sponsored hardbodies to young heterosexuals showing their support with rainbow t-shirts. How do these two pretty, feminine rockers – Katie, smiling to herself as she listens to Emma, with her red ringlets and “My Little Pony” tattoo – fit into this hodgepodge of sexualities, and how does it affect their music?
Because Katie and drummer Maya Postepski come from classically trained musical backgrounds, while Emma is self-taught, their perspectives vary when it comes to how their politics and sexuality play into their performance. Katie, whose opera influence can be heard in her singing, stresses that she is a musician first and foremost. Emma, however, seems to be the political fire behind the group, and she passionately explains, “I started to play music as a form of protest and politics because of my experience listening to the Riot Grrl movement…. Having some sort of medium that you are going to be handing on to somebody else gives you a form of power. It is the power to transmit whatever information or experiences you have.”
Galaxy’s song, “Pink Collar Holler,” is an example of Emma using music to transmit her message. The piece is about “the feminization of poverty and the pink-collar ghetto – women within the service industry doing female-specific jobs. It’s a holler, not just about gender, but about being working class.” But Katie is quick to point out that not all of their music is as overtly political. “Our music isn’t actually that political. The only thing that is actually political about our music is ourselves – who we are performing it, as girls and lesbians.”
Katie goes on to describe the danger of over-politicizing music. She believes that if politics or sexual identities are the main focus of making music, then music won’t be able to offer anything to people outside of that identity. “We don’t want to be seen … as a gay band within all these other gay bands.” Emma agrees, and adds that they sing about sex and love, for example, in a way that anyone, gay or straight, can relate to.
No matter how politics and sexuality affect their music, one thing cannot be debated: Galaxy is a very good band. Check out their new album, I Want You to Notice (September, 2006), or visit them online at http://www.intothegalaxy.com to find out about upcoming shows.