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Interview with Bailey Lions (Lionizer)

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Late last year I received a press release announcing the new album from Perth band LIONIZER. The presser wasn’t quite the stock standard mail out that tends to come through and instead this record was introduced via an impassioned “rant” written by drummer Bailey.

The rant did more than simply introduce the music and served as somewhat of a commentary regarding the meaning and process of the record and how the songs, particular lead single I Dug A Hole relates to Bailey’s experiences as a Trans Woman who has been through the emotional and physical rigour of sex reassignment surgery.

I spoke to bailey about the rant and why she felt it was important to make this statement to release the record. Before getting into the interview please read Bailey’s rant below.

“The lionizer album came out today, and I wanted to talk/rant about one of the songs on there. There’s a link below if you’d rather just listen to tunes than read a bunch of text.

Listen to New Parts of Me via bandcamp – https://bandcamp.us15.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b73eddb4d03e4af99cdc2586f&id=e54d71c1b7&e=d08d61609b

This song means a lot to me and I want people to understand both the context and the message of it. While we normally prefer to let people make their own interpretations of our songs, I Dug a Hole is deeply personal and I want to be very clear on its meaning.

Feel free to share / use excerpts from the below.

I wrote I Dug a Hole in mid-2015 while recovering from Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) in Thailand. For those who don’t know, SRS involves turning a penis into a vagina. Puns are fun.

I never know how to write songs about being trans; it always seems like you have to start with “when I was a child…” to give people the proper context. But this one just poured out of me. Maybe it was the exasperation of still dealing with transphobic bullshit post op, maybe it was the tramadol and the vivid nightmares that came with it, maybe it was just the constant pain.

SRS was life changing, life-saving, probably the best thing I’ve ever done, but at the same time it’s an intense and invasive surgery. Recovery is arduous; a seemingly never-ending painful and isolating experience that grinds you down over and over again. It’s brutal – I have the photos to prove it.

For me, the end result was very fucking worth it. I finally feel comfortable in my body. I finally feel whole. And yet, as positive as the personal change is, it didn’t change much about how society treats me (and people like me).

When I came home, I had to submit a change of gender application to the government, to the fucking Gender Board (who get to decide what you really are), and then to almost every company, person or department i’ve ever been a part of. Tax Office, post office, attorney general, electorol roll, bank, drivers license, university.

Of those, the electoral roll is the only one that actually updated their records. I still get mail addressed to Mr Mitcham, my tax bill Mr Lions. I went to renew my drivers license recently, asked why I was still listed as male, and got told that “gender isn’t included on the cards so why does it matter?”. The lady was really sorry about this, her “sons a crossdresser too” so she knows how tough it can be.

On the streets it’s a crap shoot, on the internet it’s worse. Shows are still awkward, though I don’t go to many that aren’t small, mates-only style affairs. I still get odd looks using the womens toilets at shows too, even though it would be pretty damn hard to use the urinal now. I made the mistake of telling someone I didn’t know that I was trans at some work event, they then went around to all their friends loudly proclaiming “he’s a dude! could you tell?”

People at the court ask me when I’m performing. Thanks drag culture.

And all this, after putting myself through hell and out of pocket $25,000. What more do these people want of me? What more can I do to show that no, this isn’t some flight of fancy, that this is real and honest and who I am? That this isn’t some fucking costume that I pull off at the end of the night? That I can’t pack this away and pretend I never changed? That my gender and my body are not here at their convenience.

And so, I Dug a Hole. A song all about the fucked up and ever expanding expectations of a society that refuses to recognise the shit I’ve been through. A giant fuck you to a whole country who still trots out the “men in dresses” trope at every opportunity.

A song about how, having done all this, having dug this hole to be happy, I’m still thinking that suicide makes more sense than screaming into this void. How clearly that trying to make positive change is a pointless endeavour, and how sick to death I am of these selfish, privileged motherfuckers who believe they are the arbiters of other peoples identities.

A song about getting a vagina, and all the shit that comes with it.

Thanks for reading. You can listen to New Parts of Me in full over at https://bandcamp.us15.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b73eddb4d03e4af99cdc2586f&id=cd0226e53f&e=d08d61609b.”

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Ok! I think the first thing I want to ask is about the rant.

Why you sent that out and if you could distil the it down to one essential sentence, or the essence of the message you wanted to get across, what would it be?

One essential sentence… that’s gonna be hard to do, so I’ll start with the ‘why’ and see if that takes me somewhere.

Lionizer songs are pretty much always collaborative processes – one of us will bring in an idea or a lyric or a riff and we’ll work on it together as a band, developing the song with everyone’s input and influence. This way everyone feels like they own the song, and that the music represents us as a whole.

This isn’t always the case but it’s the majority. Sometimes you gotta pull your ego in and let the song be without messing it with just to own it though, originally Out of Breath had this beast up-tempo dance beat. But it killed the vibe of the song, so we changed it out for a more even, steady beat.

I Dug A Hole wasn’t written like this. I put it together in Thailand and then played it for a while as a solo acoustic thing when I got back. It took a while for the band to get behind it – they all agreed it was a good song but as it was already finished it didn’t feel like a lionizer song i guess.

But yeh eventually we found a way to make it work and Vez and Cliff found parts of it they could connect to, and we recorded it for the album. I don’t think it was anyone’s favourite track or anything, and we decided to go with first Out of Breath and then Violent Delights for the singles, songs that had a deep resonance with all of us and that we thought would have a bit more cut through.

Long story short – they didn’t.

I knew when the album came out that I would want to say something about I Dug a Hole, explain the meaning and the way it was written and how I felt during that time. I wanted to just speak from the heart and put that frustration at the front, get people to scratch the surface a little bit and actually listen.

So, I wrote up a big ass rant. I’d actually done something similar for Violent Delights, but had deleted it as I didn’t want to speak for the band and it had devolved into this long, unintelligible essay on how queer artists are only highlighted for fucking up (see PWR BTTM, The Football Club) and how bigots use this to justify their homophobia and transphobia over and over, and how outlets like Triple J never actually step to these assholes. It was not really well thought out, and I didn’t want to speak over the band, so no dice.

But with I Dug a Hole, that was “my song” so to speak and I figured I wasn’t speaking over anyone. I posted the rant to my Facebook wall initially. It got a few likes and a few of my friends commented about how close to the bone it was for them.

The next day I realised I should probably send out a presser to say “the albums out”. No one had really gotten back to us from the previous ones we’d sent out (except to CC in their advertising team and offer up great options of $500 per editorial) with the single announcement, video or tour stuff, so I was kinda feeling a bit bummed out about doing it. Figured, why the hell not use that rant, it’s not like people are opening our emails, what’s the worst that could happen?

Probably should have thought it through a bit more.

The essence of my rant, or the message I guess, was just that surgery didn’t solve all my problems, it just made all those external issues way more obvious. Like fixing up your kitchen floor while people are throwing rocks through your windows. That while important, and should be supported, you can’t solve trans issues with medical treatment alone, and that way more people are complicit in transphobia (and the suicides it breeds) than they may realise.

I wanted to shine a light on the disparity of responsibility in fixing this shit – like trans people are expected to change everything about themselves to fit into society (did you know in Australia you can’t be approved for transition if your married? Just because it could technically cause a same-sex marriage. So people with loving families have to divorce their partners to transition. Yay beaurocracy) but society will never even meet you half way in it.

That was a lot longer than a sentence. To use a line from my rant that kinda sums it all up – “what more do you want from me?”.

Just a quick aside seeing as you mentioned them, do you think The Football Club were only called out as a means for bigots to make a point about the queer community?

No I think TFC were called out because people came forward about being sexually assaulted by Ruby. But a lot of people jumped on it to spout some awful shit about trans people in general. I saw a lot of “all trannies are rapists” style comments, and more that literally just said that. Same with Pwr Bttm.

IIRC one of the people accusing Ruby was trans themself, so the call out wasnt due to transphobia imo. On the other hand, how big that call out became, and how some people responded to it, definitely was.

Yeah, I get what you’re saying and agree, I saw a lot of that shit as well.

You mentioned you seconded guessed yourself previously about wanting to open up about your experiences. What about your band mates? Are they totally on board with making your experience the focus the release of the record. Was there any hesitation from them or was it just “no you go for it”? I can only imagine full support.

I didn’t actually ask them when I sent out the rant, I just sent it. Dick move to be sure, and I should have been clearer that I was talking about one song in particular and not the album or band as a whole.

After the fact, yeah, they were supportive. But at the same time, they didn’t get to have their voices heard and that’s a shitty feeling. And even if they were on board to make my experiences the focus, my experiences are broader than the ones around I Dug a Hole and the rant.

Like that’s definitely a thing, SRS is an interesting topic and I know a lot of people want to ask questions and talk about it. But it’s not all there is about me or the band.

It comes back to that idea of “speaking for” – I can’t speak for the band, for the whole album, but I can speak for this song, and offer that perspective that might help people understand where we’re coming from.

With the earlier rant for Violent Delights that I deleted, it just didn’t fit. It was just a rant that used the song as a jumping off point, and it would have given a false impression of what the band’s about and put everyone in an awkward position if they had to talk to those points.

The I Dug a Hole rant, because that’s all on me, is something that I can talk to without expecting Vez or Cliff to answer for it. In the same way, people could use that rant to ask Vez questions she could answer to, like “how do you sing with conviction about an experience you haven’t had?” etc.

As opposed to asking her “so what do you think triple j should do when queer bands are called out?”, which isn’t related to the song (Violent Delights) but just my rant about it.

To get back to your question though, the band has never said “you can’t talk about these experiences” just don’t try to make it all about you. In that sense, I fucked up hardcore doing this [sending out the rant]. At the same time, it did get people to respond and engage with the song.

This aint no Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the focus of the album isn’t trans issues, the focus is “we go through these shitty situations and we need to find a way to cope with these bullshit expectations.” I Dug a Hole is about one of those shitty situations. Cold Broke Drunk Happy is about one of those shitty situations. Violent Delights, Fuck Everything, Unartist, Out of Breath, Bunkbeds, they’re all little vignettes of shit we go through and how we get through it.

My rant focuses one song as a microcosm I guess, an example of the subject rather than the focus.

What do you think about people who might have the opinion that your rant is implying that society needs to instantly become understanding of the trans community? I think a lot of people might think things like “Well I don’t have an issue with trans people but I can’t magically change the 30+ years of social conditioning I’ve been subjected to, I’ll try my best, but I don’t have psychic abilities to understand your situation or even pronouns!!”

If they’re trying their best, or even just actually trying, they would be miles ahead of a lot of society. I don’t expect people to be psychic, but if you’re not sure maybe ask? I dont have a problem with someone coming up to me and asking “excuse me what pronouns do you prefer?” That’s what I mean by “meet trans people halfway at least.”

That’s what I thought you meant, but thank you for clarifying as I think some people might have taken it the wrong way and seen it as some sort of statement of entitlement.

I mean, it is, if you consider basic respect “entitlement.”

This is the weird thing, I lived as a guy for 25 years. I know how people treat and react to those they perceive as male, especially white hetero males. The comparison to how people treat those they perceive as women, or as queer, or as trans, in my experience, is crazy different

I might come back to that in a bit, because I am very curious about being in the world as a white male VS trans woman. But just to ask specifically about the song I Dug A Hole With the song title, was the bluntness of that title intentional?

The song was originally titled Dirt. Being blunt about SRS, I think that makes it easier. You can pull it up like a shield in some ways, but at the same time, being upfront, making a bit of a pun, I feel like it lets people know that they don’t have to walk on eggshells about the issue.

When I was playing it solo, a friend of mine told me she thought I was saying “I did this all to be happy.” That inspired the title change, so people could get that line clearly.

Ok so a bit earlier you said the focus of the record isn’t trans issues, how about the title track New Parts of Me? Possibly a bad assumption on my part haha….

Haha yeah, the title track. That song was originally called I Don’t Know, on account of it saying “I don’t know” a lot. That’s definitely trans related, though I feel like it’s grown a lot bigger than that. It’s more or less about making any change in your life – the constant struggle to be happy with what you have.

The subtext and story behind it is related to the Ship of Theseus – the thought experiment about the boat that slowly has all its pieces replaced, is it still the same boat – and what it means to be a person on a fundamental level. Am I changing into a new person, or am I still the person I was with new parts?

It was written earlier in 2016. I was heading back to Thailand for a BA and a 1 year follow up on SRS. And it was like, am I ready go through this again? Why am I doing this again? What’s changed in this year and who am I now?

It also kind of ties into gender essentialism (i.e. the bullshit theory that there are essential parts to being one gender or the other, that trans people lack and so are never their true gender).

But yeah, at its core it’s just self-hate and depression VS trying to make positive change, and be happy. I think that’s a broader experience than just trans people.

The choice in title, and the name of the album was kind of a joke. The song goes “I’m ready to hate new parts of me” and out of context that sounds like a stupid marketing campaign slogan to me. I can imagine billboards with people holding up the record and smiling and saying “I’m ready to hate” which, you know, ties into a broader theme on the album which is about how we tell our own story. How we create narratives for our lives and try to fit ourselves into them. The way I see this play out on the internet, it’s like the 2 minutes of hate from 1984. Who are we hating on this week? Who’s the latest rapist? The latest evil corporation? What bullshit did Trump say now? Look at Tony Abbots smug grin as he tells his sister she can’t get married. Just constantly new things to hate and to hate in the most vitriolic way possible. Pick a side, fit in, and repurpose your identity for a hashtag.

So, you’re an Orwell fan?

Not really a fan, I liked 1984 and Animal Farm but that’s the extent of my reading of him. Haven’t read a book in forever to be honest, mostly articles and critical analysis these days.

Haha same for me with Orwell. So, I just want to ask one more trans related question, if that’s ok? I’m really not sure how to word it…

Just rant it out, that’s what I do haha. I’m trying to type like I talk, stream of conscious style and no edits. Probably sound like a total goober for it but hey, sincerity is strength!

Well, I guess can you give a bit of a comparison or talk a bit about and difference in experience of being perceived as a cis het man in a band/in the music industry VS being a female in a band/in the industry? Is it different at all? If so are the differences positive/negative?

Yeah so, it’s weird right, there are heaps of differences. Some good, some bad. One of my favourites was when I was interviewing Keira and Sara from this rad af Perth band Rag ‘n’ Bone, and I asked Keira something about if she ever felt overly sexualised for the way she performs, or some other leading bullshit. She started up about how being on stage made her feel powerful and sexy, like she was in control. She then asked if I felt sexy when I performed, and like, growing up cis-het-white, that’s just not a word you use to describe yourself, ever! Powerful sure, sexy? No. I think it speaks volumes about gendered expectations of people. Some dudes want to feel sexy on stage, some girls don’t, but how an audience frames a performance, or how reviewers talk about them, there’s that gendered difference there.

In terms of the industry, I’ve never really fit into it you know? I’m fuck off tall, my high school band played a show once, and the promoter came up to us after and said we sounded great, but we didn’t look like a band, I was too tall to be in a punk band. It’s weird, I don’t know many men who get comments on their appearance after shows, but I did because of my height all the time.

The funny thing is, now I think I’m more wanted in industry stuff. Because I’m trans, and people want diversity. But at the same time, it feels tokenistic – quota filling. And I have this weird disconnect because quote unquote “real women” probably struggle more to have their voices heard than I do.

To be more specific, I guess, when I was a guy there was never any qualified statements about my ability or our songs, people liked us without having to say “for a girl”. I get “you hit [the drums] so hard for a girl” every now and then.

I’ve spoken to quite a few bands about tokenism recently. I was asking the girls in The Beautiful Monument if it gave them the shits that people assumed they scored a spot on UNFY Gathering and a few other shows because they’re females making heavy music, and it is definitely something they find frustrating.

I imagine you might have some similar frustrations about possibly wondering if people are booking the band because they love the tunes or if they’re just trying to meet that magical diversity quota.

Oh for sure! At the same time, fronting that shit gets press. Like we’re only talking because I made a big deal about being trans.

Haha well FYI, I loved Lionizer pre-rant, but essentially, you’re right.

I think really the industry is super insular. In Perth in particular it’s a massive clique, if you’re not mates with the right people you’re nothing. Imo, as a guy, that’s easier to break into.

Were any of you in any other bands pre-Lionizer?

Yeah, Vez and I were actually in a band together briefly and before that I was in a tech punk band called At Fault and an indie band called The World Arrest.

Were you and Vez playing similar stuff?

Nah it had a more bluesy rock thing going on. But we went to see An Horse together and were like fuck this band, let’s make our own!

Hahaha omg. Excellent.

We used to cover Camp Out,  the good ol’ days!

So, I know convos on genre are tired but I just wanna ask “what does indie punk” mean to you? I’ve just been fascinated lately at the diversity of bands choosing to identify this way. Everything from rock to surf pop seems to be attaching to the label. Lionizer are definitely a band who seem more “typically” punk in terms of sound. So, I guess I’m wondering if you think punk is becoming less important in terms of how a band sounds? Or perhaps typical ideas of how ‘punk’ sounds is evolving?

I have no idea haha. We kept being put on the spot about what genre we played when we first started looking for gigs and press, and while we both had punk roots, Lionizer wasn’t really a punk band, we were too cruisy and poppy. But we weren’t pop punk either, we were too soft. So, indie punk I guess. No idea what it means.

It’s interesting that more bands are taking on that genre though, I think it’s being used more to say ‘punk ethos without punk sounds’. It seems to go hand in hand with emo, and has cross overs with folk punk too with bands like The Front Bottoms and Modern Baseball.

Really, we just wanted to be like The Weakerthans and An Horse, punk approach to indie rock songs.

So, a bit more wit, a bit more raw, a bit dance-y, a bit big chorus.

Dance-y is a good one for it, like when we were coming up, the indie bands were like MGMT, Tokyo Police Club or Tegan and Sara. Now indie kind of means “soft” like a less ‘shouty’ version of whatever genre its attached too.

I think punk is still important to sound, but “punk” by itself is associated more with old school punk, and kind of has some bro-ey, machismo connotations. I don’t think I know any band that isn’t all men that calls themselves just “punk.” At the same time, genre is a little bit like gender, a useful label for simplicity but hopeless unable to accurately describe anything and, in the end, arbitrary.

Genre fluid?

More like anti genre haha. I don’t think musicians want to be boxed in you know? But yes, genre fluid. Pastiche culture.

So, are you legends heading over to the East coast for some shows for this record? I think I’ve only seen Melbs and Perth announced.

We want to! Shits expensive though. At this stage it’s looking late Feb early March. Do Newy/Gong/Canbs, try get back to Brisbane, maybe Coffs as well, for something new Kinda soured on the sydney scene, we never do well there. And of course, Adelaide, which is always an amazing time! [Update: Lionizer currently putting together a small 4 day tour through Newy, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide in May, check back for dates soon.]

Yeah Sydney is such an asshole right now. It’s treating everyone badly.

Yeah, so I hear! Plus, all the bands we like live in the Gong or Newy. That said, Sports Bra seem rad af and they’re Sydney based, I think. Would be cool to hook up with them. Oh and Tassie would be badass if we could pull it off, really into Squid Fishing, so keen to share a stage with them.

Yeah I’ve seen a lot of Sports Bra love lately too. Ex-Hannahband. Very awesome. I live in the Gong now, would be stoked if you came back here!

Yeah, hook up with The Nah and Queer Anne’s Revenge and put on a badass Pride Tide.

Yes! The Nah are so good!

Got to ask this, cause it’s kind of a rule for Cool Try. What local bands are you heaps into right now?

I always hate that question cos it’s usually like top 3 and I feel guilty for not shouting out all my mates haha. Here in Perth – Hussy, Rag n Bone, Axe Girl, Joanie Get Angry, Being Beta, Furball, Flossy.

Outside of WA – Press Club, Squid Fishing, Being Jane Lane, Antonia and The Lazy Susans, The Skategoats, Pagan, Foley….

Self Talk and Luke Seymoup as well, Paper thin, RMC. Jesus I could go on and on. Too many good bands!

Awesome list, some new names for me to stalk as well.

Heaps more, probably should have just focused on Notfest bands haha. But these days my go to convo starters to see if I’ll like a person is to ask them about Pup and Pinegrove

PUP are the best band in the world.

Fucking a. Except Pinegrove exist sooooo…. Did you know Sleep In The Heat is about a chameleon? I love that.

[Ed Note: DISCLAIMER – this interview was conducted before all that shit about Pinegroves lead singer came out! 😞 ]

I did not know that! Now I have to go and immediately listen with that in mind.

Omg it is. I’m reading an article about it, why did you tell me this? This story is so sad.

Right? Crazy! Have you heard Pinegrove?

Oh no you flat out asked me, I was trying to avoid you finding out I hadn’t really given them a chance….

Give them a chance.

I will definitely check them out properly!

Literally amazing

Listening now, reminds me of Ben Kweller.

I don’t know who that it is, is it a good thing?

It’s the best thing. Ben Kweller’s self-titled album is this amazing amalgamation of like…punk/rock with this tasty af country twang.

Hook me up!

Oh yeah this is cool. Very old school…

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Photo by Kim Anderson/ STWW

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