As part of our 40th anniversary celebrations, beloved former music editor John Payne returns as honorary music editor this week, taking the reins for the print and online music content.
The uniquely right-on Bitchwave Records is an L.A.-based queer/person-of-color label created by Ritual of Mine’s go-getter frontwoman, Terra Lopez. Formerly known as Sister Crayon, RoM is a buzzy, choicely melodic and choicely abrasive brand of synth-pop/new thing given prime heft by Lopez’s authentically heartfelt lyrical topicality and the charismatic intimacy of her vocal delivery. They have a few indie releases notched on their studded belts, along with a 2016 set on Warner Bros. called Devoted, all of which kick major butt. A new album is slated for release in mid-2019.
Given the, uh, challenges presented by our current enslavement under impostor President Donald Trump, Lopez the vocal activist/musician has made it her mission to use her hour upon the stage to sing in specific terms about how we’ve all got to cope, got to fight back, got to make some real loud noise. A recent song is called “No Time to Go Numb,” and that title sums up where Lopez is coming from.
“We started writing that song on Inauguration Day ,” she says. “We were in the studio and we were working on other material. But I was feeling so heavyhearted by Trump getting elected and with everything going on in the political climate. For me it’s about telling those that are listening: Don’t go nuts, care, give a fuck.”
For Lopez, the song was a reminder that this kind of real-world engagement is indeed her purpose in life.
“Everything that I do has some kind of political edge to it, whether it's intentional or not,” she says. “It’s just who I am as a person.”
Activism isn’t just a fad Lopez has recently latched onto to impress her Instagram friends. Her interest in social justice began as a li’l pipsqueak growing up in Sacramento.
“Ever since I was a kid I’ve been, like, leaving school to go to protest rallies about any kind of injustice,” she says. “It’s always been something that I felt very passionate about. I remember being like 5, 6 years old and reading about Martin Luther King and civil rights and crying about his assassination for days and days and asking my mom, 'Why did that happen?' Especially as I get older, I’m more and more inclined to be as involved as much as I can and to use any kind of platform that I have, whether it’s music or other things.”
You all know the problem with a lot of politics-heavy bands and artists, right? Correct, the music sucks so bad that whatever they have to say gets lost in the hokum. As a musician, the self-taught Lopez is well aware of the artistic traps of presenting her sounds in the context of a sobering political message, and fortunately she (with studio partner Wes Jones) has come up with richly satisfying musical textures, melodies and beats to get her potently politicized messages across, taking cues perhaps from her early Bristol trip-hop faves Portishead, Tricky and Massive Attack and especially the ever-creatively fertile Björk –– who also taught Lopez a lot about empowerment via a well-crafted art form.
“I remember first hearing Björk when I was working at this record shop in Sacramento, and everything stopped,” she says. “And I realized, Oh! The music that I hear in my head, I can do, because she’s doing this. I felt like her music gave me liberties to scream onstage, to have the voice that I already knew I had but just didn’t feel it was OK to have.”
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Björk’s magical music and, crucially, intriguing persona have stuck in Lopez’s brain, even encouraging her to feel good about describing herself today as an activist first and musician second. One wonders if Lopez doesn’t feel a bit obligated to be politically intense and heavy all the time; maybe she’d like to do the occasional ditty about going to the beach or washing her hair. But she has learned, she says, that that kind of thing is important, too, and not to worry, the intensity of her onstage performances actually helps ameliorate the stress.
“Performing has always been the cheapest form of therapy. For me it's very cathartic, very emotional, it’s reliving trauma every day. For a while I felt like I was beating myself up every time I was onstage, and I felt like I had to in order to sing the songs that I made. But now I’m starting to smile onstage, starting to really own the stories that I’m telling.”
Another thing that keeps Lopez going is the sight of the very mixed crowds her gigs attract, which seems to indicate that the power of her music can really affect people, many of whom are, technically speaking, nothing like her at all. She’s not just singing to the choir.
“I always feel surprised at shows to see the types of people that come out. You have younger people, older people, straight, gay, it’s all over the place. I think that signifies that I’m doing the job I’m supposed to do. I'm making music that talks about the human struggle, and anyone can relate to that.”