Hershenow, who identifies as gay, and Allyne, who identifies as bisexual, admit that there is a subtle but undeniably queer presence in their approach to music and performing. "We like to play with gender roles," says Hershenow. "It's exciting for both of us to feel the fluidity of going back and forth between these masculine and feminine moments, and playing with those expectations on stage."
Allyne, whose performances stomp and stride with the stereotypical swagger of a rock star, adds, "Once you realize that gender is a performance -- that none of these traits are inheret to any particular sex, it's immensely liberating. When you know what the rules are, you can start breaking them."" -- Metro Weekly
Hunger: The last time we spoke to you was back in 2012. What do you think has changed the most for you guys since then?
Zofia:So much. So much has changed since then! Back in 2012, we were about to start touring for the first time for an album where we had, you know, just made music for the first time. We were basically winging it and experimenting in like, every aspect of our professional lives. We're a little more seasoned now, a little more assured. I think there's been a lot of growth with us as people and obviously artistically. Which sounds like I'm shitting on us as like, naive people and Secondhand Rapture, but that growth is natural. So yeah, short answer, everything. Yeah?
Max: Yeah, we became much better performers as well through the process and realised that performance was such a big part of the project. It wasn't always something that we thought about when we first started writing as a band, and so after two and a half years on the road we realised how important it was to write music that translated to the stage. It was fun to set a challenge for ourselves to write music for performance, and stuff that's fun to perform on stage. Songs that were meant to be sung along to, and danced to, and moved to!
How do you think you've both dealt with the rise in fame and pressure over the last couple of years - has it helped being able to go through it together?
Max: We don't feel particularly famous -- it's not something that we engage with very much, and that's not really why we're in it. And I think it helps having each other, to sort of be really practical about where we stand. When you're in it, it's hard to tell what impact you're necessarily having sometimes. I think we've done a pretty good job of keeping ourselves isolated from that, and insulating the creative process especially. And to continue to write music that feels right for us first and foremost.
Zofia: I'd be one of the first people to call us nobodies, so I really don't think of myself as famous at all, I sort of forget a lot that we are sort of in the spotlight. Sometimes that forgetting is really disasterous -- like getting blindsided by something like the Wreckoning -- but sometimes it's pretty great, like when we play a festival and like you walk out to thousands of people and you're like, holy shit. But I mean, I live my life pretty normally. Sometimes I get noticed as one of Ione James' friends, but more often than not we're really removed from that atmophere and the pressures that come with it.
How do you think your music has given you a platform, or a voice to speak out on the issues that matter to you?
Zofia: That's a good question. I know this is like, really contradictory to what I just said, but I think it gives us a huge platform to like, express our individuality and our creativity, and it also sort of ... amplifies our voice to talk about things that are important to us, although I think especially now in the age of the internet, anyone can speak out, anyone has that platform. With the How Does It Feel tour, we've started giving a portion of our proceeds to The Third Wave Fund, it's a youth led charity that donates to really grassroots queer, trans, and feminist organizations. Obviously Max and I are coming from a place of bias, but those are causes really important to us, this is what we stand by, and this also shares with our fans a space to get part of things and get active with them, or any organization important to them.
You've spoken to us before about how social media helped shape your vision - how have you seen that change in the last couple of years?
Zofia: Social media is so important to us, and always will be -- I just think it adds a layer of extra engagement and personalization to the whole thing. It's changed really dramatically, too, and that's be interesting to watch. When we started out, we put all of Candy Bar Creep Show on Tumblr, everything -- songs, stems, art, videos, and that was kind of unique at that point? I know others had started to bypass traditional routes and use Tumblr and bandcamp and whatever, but it wasn't as commonplace and now I feel like it is! And that's really great, I think it puts a lot more creative freedom in the artists' hands.
Who are you listening to in pop music right now who you think is doing something different with the genre that you really admire?
Max: Well I think Ryn Weaver's sound is really super unique.
Zofia: Ryn is great. I think pop music has sort of become more legitimised lately, like there was always pop music but people sort of .... disparaged it, thought it was soulless or shallow, and I think people are starting to see it as a like, eclectic genre with a lot of gems. Everyone wants to go pop now.
Max: Everyone wants to go pop. Because ultimately I think people realise that they want to have fun listening. You want to make music that feels good to listen to and is exciting.
Zofia: I'm 'stanning', as the youths say, Christine and the Queens hard lately, she's like this big household name in France and I'm excited for her to blow up in the states. I love Holychild, Tei Shi ...
How did it feel to be back in the studio?
Zofia: It was really exciting -- we had been touring for like two, two and a half years, and we were starting to get burnt out pretty bad. That's where Painted came from, one night after a show I just like laid on the floor of our hotel and had an exhaustion cry and then wrote it -- that line about 'when you put me in unnatural space' isn't deeply metaphorical, although I welcome any interpretations of our lyrics anyone has, it literally refers to the tour van -- but obviously good things came out of that feeling, and obviously that tour was amazing. But it gets to you. It was kind of a challenge, adjusting to that -- we had a couple of weeks of writer's block, we choked a bit, we went upstate to this real studio, this isolated cabin in the middle of January, to write and see how it went. It was .... interesting.
Max: A couple of songs came out of it, but I think we did realise it needed to be a space that was ours, that we controlled. So we rented this space in Brooklyn, in Bushwick, and we just had a single room, just super DIY, not that clean or nice -- but it was ours, and we were paying for it, there wasn't anyone knocking on the door asking if our demos were ready, or pushing us to do anything different than we wanted to do. So it meant that we could really write the music that we wanted to write, and experiment in the way that we sort of had on the first record.
Where do you think you see yourselves in the future? What are your goals and what path would you like to take as musicians and activists?
Max: I think we're figuring it out! I think we're too close to this thing to figure out what's the next step. Do stuff in fashion, and do performance stuff -- and yeah, absolutely continue to do activism stuff.
Zofia: Yeah, definitely. For me, I'm very competitive with myself, but I don't really care about charting or like, doing better than so and so. I want to be able to continue making a living as a musician, I want there to be continued growth in our music and to be able to make music that we're proud of and in control of, I'd like to headline a festival. Those are my more reasonable goals. If you let me get crazy I start thinking of the Epicene fashion line or the, like, two hour, costume-changed multi-set pieced Madison Square Gardens set in my dreams, and then someone has to bring me back down to earth.
Epicene will be playing in London on 10th November at the Electric Brixton. Find out more on their website: epicenesounds.com
"It is immensely satisfying to do something people don't believe you'd be able to." It was that sort of attitude that drove Zofia Allyne, 27, to form Neon Gold Records with her twin brother Dominic while still a junior at NYU. Time before and between classes was spent pressing the 7 inch singles the label was known for at the time, finals often had to be worked around to accommodate festivals that the pair needed to attend to scout or support fresh talent. In spite of the fact that the pair were too young to even buy alcohol in the states, Neon Gold got off the ground in 2008, helping launch Passion Pit's career with the release of their single, Sleepyhead. "Our age was, surprisingly, not a huge problem. Most of the artists we met were our age, more or less, so they appreciated that we were a little more aware than say, a sixty-year-old, three time divorcée who only knows about the internet from his assistant." While their age did not prove to be a barrier to entry, Zofia's gender nearly did. Even in 2015, the music industry -- from its producers to A&R to its label owners -- tends to remain a boy's club. "There's a really condescending way people call you sweetheart that you hear a lot when you're starting off like I did. Well, I heard a lot. Strangely, my brother not so much." In the seven years since they began, Neon Gold has helped launch the careers of other well-known ladies of pop, including Gage Ridley, Ultra Violet, Siego, Icona Pop, and Charli XCX.
Allyne also spearheads her own musical outfit, Epicene, alongside Max Hershenow. The duo, who just released their sophomore album this July, How Does It Feel, first received attention in 2013 when their song 'Bones' was used in a trailer for Game of Thrones. Since then, their music has been used in a countless number of television shows; recently, the haunting 'All Things Lost' was heard in the trailer for Room, starring Emma Wright. "There used to be this notion that letting your music be used commercially made you a sell out," Allyne admits. "But I think people are starting to see how ridiculous that is. This is a feast or famine business, unfortunately. You gotta get creative. For us, personally, we like to see how our music is interpreted, for tv and stuff, we were so excited with that Game of Thrones deal. For us, selling out, if you want to use that term, would be compromising our artistic vision." Although Epicene is signed to Columbia, the duo exercise complete creative control over their sound, visuals, and style.
Allyne views feminism as a "no brainer" -- Epicene's upcoming How Does It Feel tour is donating a portion of its proceeds to the Third Wave Fund (as in, third wave feminism) -- and jokes, "I don't fuck with people who don't believe in it." That is, "I mean on a very basic level, I am all about girl power, and I'm hyper critical about the way society is failing both men and women in the pursuit of upholding a white supremacist patriarchy, and I don't really care about spinning it in a way that says like, okay guys, it's about equality! when it's really about so much more than that. On the other hand, I get why it's a fraught word for people of color and people who fall on the LGBTQ spectrum. But there's obviously a difference between someone being like, I'm not a feminist because my voice hasn't been heard in these spaces and I'm not a feminist because, like, some people have war in their country and we're all equal here?" As quick to criticize the latter as she is, Allyne admits that education is important in erasing the stigma and helping people become aware. "I mean, people change, I was pretty stupid about this shit once too. The way we talk about this shit changes. Theory changes, which is pretty cool. I mean some people are lost causes, but I don't necessarily think we should write off everyone who doesn't understand."
Epicene will be touring in support of How Does It Feel throughout the US and Europe for the remainder of 2015 and likely throughout 2016. As for what comes next for the singer and self-made entreprenuer, who knows? In Allyne's own words, "I have a lot of possibly implausible dreams and a lot to prove, so, who knows?"