Throwaway Style: Playtime (and Cultural Dread) with Rachaels Children

Throwaway Style, Features, Interviews, Local Music
05/05/2022
Martin Douglas
All Photos by Handrez Garcia Gonzales

Throwaway Style is a monthly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, the first Thursday of every new month on KEXP.org.


As many times as I’ve been to The Shredder in my two trips to Boise, it’s easy to be confused by which way you’re supposed to enter. 10th Street begins unconnected to any surrounding cross-streets, cut off just before reaching W Myrtle. After you pass the outdoor benches, the modest-but-well-curated row of arcade machines, and the person standing next to the bar checking IDs and Treefort Music Festival passes, it becomes apparent that a lot of people enter through the other door.

A funny, even a little backward, layout for people coming from the west end of downtown. Or maybe it’s appropriate, given the venue which hosts some of Treefort’s noisiest and/or weirdest Northwest cult favorites is located at the beginning of an unfinished street. 

It’s here I saw Tres Leches for the third time in two months back in 2019, where I stood in front of a line of people outside of an at-capacity set by Boise cult legends Treepeople and still couldn’t get in (as I’ve since learned, the press pass doesn’t mean anything unless you can jump the line with the Zipline wristband). And it is where within a few minutes from entering the venue, I will finally witness Seattle’s best new(ish) punk(ish) band live for the first time.

I’ve been hearing about Rachaels Children for a bit before falling in love with their debut single “Running.” Whispers of their fun and unpredictable sets turned to excited chatter well above the accepted decibel level for an inside voice. The nearly unnerving intensity of songs about entitlement is punctuated by the burning fire in frontperson REL’s expressive eyes. The vitriol, the dynamism, the plastic fox masks. 

Finally seeing the band for myself opened me up to one of the most spellbinding performances I’ve seen from a fledgling Seattle band in years, centered around the explosive theatrics of the sort of magnetic, charismatic, iconoclastic lead singer my generation has historically failed to produce in abundant supply. 

With Black Ends frontperson (and self-described #1 fan of Rachael’s Children) Nicolle Swims next to me upfront, the band launched into their opening number, a feel-good, optimistic party-starter turned sour as REL simulated getting her period mid-song. After a long middle section allowing for peak flow and REL and bassist Otto singing in unison of menstruation dripping down their legs in the song’s climax, REL decides to take a little nap on stage to wait for the cramps to subside.

Rapturous, astounded applause erupted from the Shredder crowd. I was certainly not the only one who realized we were witnessing something special. So much so, that I decided to see the band for a second consecutive night at the Handlebar, a 15-minute walk west of Downtown Boise. 

Both sets were equal parts affirming (“Babe,” “Running”) and cathartic (live staple “Side Eye” and the truly excellent “T3," the latter sadly, or perhaps thankfully, not named after the Slum Village founding member). Guitarist Meer, aforementioned bassist Otto, and drummer Fox run through an array of styles in the music for Rachael’s Children: sparse post-punk, bad vibes garage-punk, languid surf, artfully fucked up jangle. REL shouts, bellows, jumps into the crowd and gets in people’s faces, flips off imaginary bullies, points out the babes in attendance (more or less everybody; true to the Libra spirit), and jogs in place during the set’s closing song. 

There is a clear dynamic between the four members of Rachaels Children, and a big part of that dynamic is the musicians’ cool efficiency, sharp musical prowess and remarkable restraint, leaving plenty of space for their singer to chew up the scenery. REL expels a lifetime of anger, trauma, and dread both cultural and existential through darkly humorous lyrics and the kind of 1000 megawatt facial expressions you only see on Broadway or at WrestleMania — as well as a presence bigger than most of the rooms the band usually plays.

As the saying goes, you can’t teach presence.

At the KEXP studio, about a week before seeing them for the third time in two and a half weeks (a show where REL would stomp through a set wearing a white powdered wig), REL and Meer are chatting with me as I spend an hour and a half trying to figure out a software issue in the production room. Thankfully, sitting around for the time equivalent to a Netflix documentary wasn’t at all awkward, as I had spent time with the two founding members of Rachaels Children at Treefort sometime after their two sets and participating in Fox’s collaborative, experimental dance theater project Gender Tender (in a performance inspired by the Stonewall Riots). 

“Oh gosh,” REL says of the band’s Treefort experience this year. “It was our second time, so we knew Boise a bit. We knew our energy level and how much we wanted to put in, seeing shows versus getting ready for our [own] shows.” Says Meer, “I felt like the first year, you go to a new place and you don’t know anything, so you’re just overstimulated by everything. And nervous. I had such a great experience last year, but this year I had more confidence. I just felt like I knew what I wanted to do more.”


Under the dim lights of The Shredder, my eyes grow wide as REL dedicates the band’s next song to the cis white males in attendance, about to launch into a tune named after them. In her prologue, she also notes the song was also for the cis white women catching their set, “because we have a lot to answer for too.” 

As the band gets revved up, the song soars as REL’s now-trademark thousand-yard stare looks past every single human in the venue — past me, past Nicolle, past the bartender popping open cans of Montucky behind the bar — and bellows the tune’s opening words.

“CIS! WHITE! MALE!
ALWAYS CRY-HI-HI-ING!
THEY! SAY! SAY THAT IT’S NOT FAIR!”

The songs of Rachaels Children have targets, whether those arrows are shot by Eros or Philoctetes. With very limited exceptions, there is a “you” being reached out to, whether it’s the narcissist taking up space on “Side Eye” or the jogger who needs an extra push on “Running.” The voice of encouragement and the voice of confrontation are both represented, capturing a full spectrum of emotion and humanity. 

For people who don’t get to experience the long-held societal privileges of “Cis White Male,” representation matters. It’s a fundamental truth, to the point of being self-evident, that people need to see people who have come from similar backgrounds, people who look like them, as an example of what they can achieve. 

In the production room, REL says, “I always am like, ‘Well, shit, I’m a cis white female, dude. I’m just as culpable of violence and cruelty and ignorance as a cis white male.’ So it always feels so strange to sing that.” She mentions the song was brought in as a poem by the band’s former drummer, Jordi, who separated from the band in early 2020.

The band's music reflects on facing marginalization and sometimes outright oppression; in the face of cis white people leading the charge of legislating everybody’s lives away. But with the need for representation comes the burden of representation; all the obstacles and setbacks and pressure from being a marginalized person in a position of influence.

It’s something I think about a lot, so I wanted to ask REL and Meer: “Do you feel the burden of representation?”

“I think that’s the question we always talk about,” REL starts by saying. Meer continues, “I can’t speak for you, but my problems in life, in a global sense, are not big problems. We also talk in our band dynamic — I identify as non-binary trans and Fox and Otto are trans — so we have this dynamic where Rel is cis. And we have questions, like, ‘Are we a queer band or are we a trans band? Are we a women’s band?’ How do we represent ourselves?” 

Meer grew up in a Hasidic Jewish household where their dad played his own compositions “over and over and over again.” There was always music around in the Jewish faith centered around songs (which you can attest to even if you’ve only been to a Passover seder), but Rachaels Children’s guitarist wasn’t from an environment where they were exposed to a wealth of secular music.

REL on the other hand remembers dancing in the living room when her father would play Tina Turner, Prince, and the Stooges. “And in the evening time,” she says, “he’d slow it down with John Coltrane, and all of a sudden jazz would come out at night.” 

Receiving their first guitar at age five and beginning to play seriously at twelve, Meer spent their formative years on the instrument with a stint in a klezmer band, playing retirement homes and beginning to learn the ins and outs of the studio. REL mentioned playing gigs around Seattle, “these little guitar folk songs I sang about existential dread, which I still sing about.” Meer and I prodded her a little about her experience in performance. “Yeah, so I performed a lot,” she said in a cheery deadpan, provoking a round of laughter in the room.

I really got the scoop there. 

REL, quite unsurprisingly, revealed she always wanted to be a performer. Also revealed was a past marked with childhood after-dinner plays and demoting a friend from lead to cow in one of her middle school productions.

Meer and REL met and were roommates in an artist house, along with the inspiration for their namesake, Rachael Ferguson; former member of NighTraiN, current member of Pink Lotion, and all-around Seattle arts scene legend. Bonded by a love of Gillian Welch, Meer and REL share a laugh at how they were convinced they were going to form a country-folk band. 

“I do think there are certain ideas about song creating and performance that are guidelines for me personally,” says Meer about their approach to the musicianship of Rachaels Children. “I really like the idea of scarcity, especially with Rel’s performance style. You know, it’s big.” 

The fact that Rachaels Children are an immense live group would only hold half the power it does if they didn’t have so much depth as songwriters. The band has about nine-and-a-half minutes of recorded music to their name, so of course, their live show accounts for all that and then some.

But the songs they have speak to an experience that is encouraging, heartbreaking, riotously funny, and visceral — or just plain riotous — sometimes all at once. “T3,” from their recently released EP What Makes a Babe? Feels like the best kind of rant from a friend calling you in a breathless, particularly salty cathartic rush; in the mood to let their anger out about everything.

Rachaels Children’s best song runs the gamut of fake wellness disguised as self-care, fatalist anxiety, talking heads on cable news, family trauma, rape culture, Seattle’s depressing housing market making the buildings so tall the sun is trapped behind their shadows. 1-2-3 FUCK YOU!

There’s a lot to be goddamn angry about. We’ve been witnessing the slow collapse of American society for quite a while now. The totalitarian iron fist of late-stage capitalism. Black people being killed in the streets by white supremacist forces carrying badges and body cams with their wires clipped. A liberal government that is willing to let the poison balloon of bipartisanism be burst by conservatives while millions of people die for a variety of reasons. Just the other day, a reportedly leaked draft opinion describes the Supreme Court’s intention of overturning Roe vs. Wade, which would exterminate the right to safe abortion in the vast majority of our country. States are virtually outlawing children to come out as transgender. Banning critical race theory in schools? Don’t say gay? 1-2-3 FUCK YOU!

Rachaels Children is a band that deeply cares about the weight being pressed down on us every day by a society created to serve a very small segment of our world. They’re a band that gets pissed that human beings have been marginalized and oppressed for so long for the benefit of so few. 

“For me, it’s like I’m taking from an everyday view,” REL says about the lyrical direction of the band. “I love observing people and interactions, so I think conceptually that’s where I often come from. ‘What is happening around me? What is actually fucking happening around me? How can I put this into something?’” 

When asked about the very real, very distressing things happening in our world and how important it is to process our feelings through song, REL answers, “For me, it’s important to maintain a sense of connection. Otherwise, I would isolate because it’s really hard to listen to the news, go outside, walk the streets of fuckin’ Broadway and Capitol Hill and not be able to find ways of expression. To make sense of something. That’s why I’m here, I guess?” 

Meer says, “Tangibly, music is a way to connect to community and build connections with people that are real and can help buffer the fucked-up-ness of things that are going on. I’ll say I have Rachaels Children songs stuck in my head all the time. And I use them, like, ‘I’m angry!’ I [use them] to express myself, like, ‘I’m actually angry right now.’ It’s okay to just be like 1-2-3 fuck you!


The final question at the end of more than 2 ½ hours together comes as a look at the future, as so many interviews often end. I asked the two friends and musical partners if they have any goals for Rachaels Children. As it has throughout our conversation both on and off the record, it ultimately steers back to the notions of art and community. 

“I mean, I want to go on tour,” REL says. “I really want to take it out of Seattle. I want to take the Children out.” Meer says, “Similarly for me, performance is where it’s at. I have some desire to record a full LP, but I’m really tied to the performance aspect of the band. I really want to get out there and get to build; make friends and see how other people are doing. Art is really rewarding to me. And I want to, I want to like, see what other things Rachaels Children can do. I really love us performing in non-classical venue settings, with mixed art and like dancing and other kinds of performance aspects. I know there's other people out there doing this stuff and I just don't know who they are. And I want to find these people.”

Listen to Martin Douglas’ interview with the founders of Rachaels Children in full below, where they talk at length about their friendship and how it relates to the band, their sibling band Black Ends, and more about Treefort and the Seattle music community.

New, News, and Notable

Suede Watch: Hundred Year Darkness (produced by Small Professor)

This one feels like worlds coming together for me.

If you listened to my recent interview with rap super-duo Armand Hammer, you heard that I’ve known the Philadelphia producer known as Small Professor for over a decade now, a friendly rival in my beatmaker days as Blurry Drones. For the uninitiated, the card-carrying member of Wrecking Crew, the Philly-based collective of titanic rap talents, has a long list of rappers who have tried their hand at demolishing his hyper-specific brand of boom-bap. His outfit with Zilla Rocca, Career Crooks, might be rap’s most distressingly well-kept secret; his instrumental cassette A Jawn Supreme (Vol. 1-3) flits around between a generational update of his pseudonym inspiration (Queens, NY stalwart Large Professor), the microscopic corners of records any producer worth their weight in cardboard sleeves spends hours trying to find, and the type of soul sample flips that would raise Madlib’s eyebrows.

If you’ve heard the beats AJ Suede has made for himself, it leaves little doubt as to why he’d link up with Smalls. They’re nothing if not kindred musical spirits.

As with every Suede project with a well-known producer (the same thing happened with Camoflauge Monk), there are new rap heads arriving into his world, new to him rendering his world of day jobs in kitchens (“the only skinny chef that you can trust”), the bounty of cocaine in Seattle if you know where to look, and obliterating verses in one take. Over the elegance (“Enterprise”), the jazzy brilliance evoking hallmark rap producers Pete Rock and Q-Tip (“Full Metal Chimera”), the rain-pouring foreboding (“Thesaurus”), and the bright horror of a Disneyland ride erected in the 6th circle of Hell (“All Your Base”), Suede deepens the craft of articulating his worldview with stark clarity. 

After Suede makes pipe bombs out of Drano and leads you to your grisly end similar to a Euphoria storyline on Hundred Year Darkness, Smalls deigns to remix songs made over two of his own productions, turning opener “Apologize Later” into a dramatic, whistle-led composition and “Drano” into a mid-century horror movie score with thudding, knocking drums that DOOM himself would probably kick himself in the afterlife for not creating.

News: Send in the Clouds, So Dreamy Music Festival is Happening June 4th and 5th!

Sometimes, sitting on your couch frustrated is the spark that ignites change.

In a recent Instagram post, SuperCoze frontperson Cody Choi described the aforementioned feeling about the lack of queer and trans artists of color being represented on bigger stages in Seattle’s vast network of music venues. So they did something about it: they gathered a group of like-minded organizers and began to organize a two-day festival centered around those same people who have historically been marginalized by the city’s music scene power brokers. 

On Saturday June 4th and Sunday June 5th, Cafe Racer and Vermillion will host some of the best groups Seattle has to offer: Black Ends, Ex-Florist, Mirrorgloss, Breaks and Swells, KEXP’s own Reverend Dollars, Da Qween, Lemon Boy, Tio Nacho’s House, Tres Leches playing a DJ set, and many more! The event will also include drag performances, local food vendors, artists, and more! In other words, do you like fun and happen to be free this time next month? Well then, grab your two-day passes now!

Short Takes: Baywitch - Apocatropica

Seattle’s favorite psychedelic surf trio is back, just in time for “Doomsday.” Released just a couple of weeks ago, Apocatropica, the new six-song ripper from Baywitch, makes for the ideal soundtrack for warm weather which — let’s face it given having the coldest April in nearly 80 years — at this point may never come. But any time is a good time to boogie to some rousing tunes about settler culture, the neverending lurch of capitalism, the threat of cultural vampires, and the smell of hell in the air. Lila Burns’ lilting voice and chiming guitar offset the tumbling, just-on-the-right-side-of-chaotic rhythm section of Sicily Robinson and Daniel Onufer. Reportedly Apocatropica was slated to release in 2020 until the kind of plague Baywitch would write a song about was unleashed on the world. But now, it is here in all its splendor, and we can dance to the slow decay of our world together!

Live and Loud: This Month's Recommended Shows

May 6: Kate Clover, the Fucking Eagles, & Steal Shit Do Drugs at Clock Out Lounge

May 6 and 7: Belltown Bloom, featuring Black Ends, Tres Leches, Breaks and Swells, Claudia Magbag, and many more at the Crocodile

May 11: King Youngblood at Madame Lou's

May 19 through 21: Fisherman Villiage Music Festival featuring Digable Planets, Haley Heyndrickx, Shaina Shepherd, Lavender Country, and more at various location in Downtown Everett

May 22: Bocha & Donte Thomas, Perry Porter, & Jaywop at ALMA Tacoma

May 26: Weep Wave, Wild Powwers, & Flesh Produce at Madame Lou's

May 27: KEXP Presents: Music from Fresh Off the Spaceship, featuring Black Constellation (Shabazz Palaces, Stas THEE Boss, Porter Ray, JusMoni, and more)

 

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