interview: Evan Greer
Evan Greer has officially returned, and today marks the release of their new album, she/her/they/them. In celebration of the release, we’re excited to welcome Evan to the blog for an interview + an introduction to some of the artists featured on the album that Greer collaborated with.
The Grey Estates: This is your first release in a decade! What have you learned during that time away from music and what inspired you to return?
Evan Greer: When I was 20, I dropped out of college and pretty much went on permanent tour. I was playing 300 or so shows a year, mostly in basements and living rooms and lefty bookstores and squatted social centers. I released my first real studio album, Never Surrender, about a year before my kid was born. I kept touring after that, and my kid (who is now 8) has been to a dozen or so countries and more punk shows than some adults.
Eventually it just wasn’t feasible for me as a parent to tour that way anymore, so I shifted my focus to activism and started to work full time with Fight for the Future, a nonprofit that focuses on net neutrality, Internet freedom, and defending basic human rights in the digital age.
When I first realized that I couldn’t quite make a living as a transgender activist folksinger and had to get a “real” job, I was pretty bummed out. I had put so much of my soul into working as a full time artist. I really internalized the capitalist idea that if I wasn’t making a living off my art then I wasn’t a “real” or “serious” artist.
But it actually turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I never “left” music, I just shifted my relationship to it. I kept creating art and was actually able to be more intentional about the shows that I played, the collaborations that I started, and where I put my energy. Instead of just touring relentlessly and playing every show I got offered just to pay rent, I could focus more and build more community. I started organizing Break the Chains, a monthly queer dance party in Boston featuring nationally touring queer and trans performers, and got really excited about curating events rather than just playing them. I organized the Rock Against the TPP tour with folks like Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and actor Evangeline Lilly, combining my passion for strategic organizing with my love for throwing an epic party.
Recording another studio album never felt like my top priority during this time. I was so focused on playing live, organizing events, running campaigns and finding ways to use music and art to fuel activist movements.
But eventually these songs just kept rattling around in my head and I could hear them with full instrumentation, rather than just the live versions with me and a guitar. Since I wasn’t constantly bouncing from tour to tour I actually had time and space to think about how I wanted my music to sound in a studio setting. I teamed up with my friend Taina Asili who I had done a bunch of touring and activism work, and her guidance producing the album is what made it possible. Even with that help, though, it took me a couple years to get it done, traveling back and forth between Boston and Albany (where we were recording), getting guest tracks from collaborators, and balancing life, parenting, activism, and music.
What are you most excited for with your return to music?
This feels like a really important moment to release this album. With the Trump administration’s open attacks on the LGBTQ community / the entire fucking planet and everything we hold dear, it just feels important to be sharing art that’s medicinal but also somewhat utilitarian. She/her/they/them definitely has both. There’s some really personal stuff on there to listen to in your bedroom when you’re depressed about the state of the world, but there’s also sing-alongs to punch nazis to and tunes to keep your spirits up walking a picket line or at a protest.
It also feels like the music scene is a lot different than the last time I released an album. While the Internet has created new challenges for artists, it’s also really changed the rules for how independent, fringe, and more marginalized artists can find and build their own audience and community. There are so many more queer artists gaining national attention these days than there were even just a few years ago. And I’ve learned so much through my activism about how to reach people on a variety of levels.
Even though I haven’t been touring as much lately or putting out new studio music, I still get messages almost every week from people who have connected with the songs I have out there, or who have been helped to feel a little less alone. A lot of those notes come from young queer and trans people all over the world, and those messages mean the world to me and keep me going. I’m just excited to finally share these songs with the world and hope that they get heard by the people who need them most.
What can listeners expect from this new album, and how does it differ from your past work?
I released Never Surrender in my early 20s and it’s full of youthful energy and optimism. I feel like She/her/they/them is just a super different album because I’m a grown-ass adult now . It’s musically a lot more complex and layered. There’s a lot more electric guitar and indie-rock vibe rather than straightforward folky protest songs. And the content has changed too. These are songs about the struggles of being a transgender parent and raising a kid in a messed up world. They’re songs about mental health and paranoia and police violence. They’re songs about queerness, assimilation, and internalized oppression. It’s a bit darker than my previous work, and you can sort of tell the ways that I’ve grown as both an activist and a musician over the last decade. In the end, I think it’s a more honest depiction of who I am and the ways that I see to make change in the world.
It’s also my first attempt at a “real” studio album, recorded professionally and with super talented people helping me produce it. These songs sound the way they sounded in my head when I first wrote them, and it’s such a gift to be able to let other people hear them that way.
What do you want people to hear or take away from this album? What’s the theme of this release, and what subject matters did you want to approach with this one?
I’ve always had a hard time with boxes and categories, whether it’s gender or genre. And the songs on this album were written in some cases over the course of more than 15 years, so it spans a lot of topics and moods. If there’s one theme that ties it all together I think it’s an unrelenting commitment to fighting unchecked authority and oppressive power structures, in the interest of a world where we can all truly be ourselves. So whether it’s a lighthearted song about flirting with boys at parties or a somber ballad about political prisoners, it’s always about lifting up those who are pushed down, and trying to show people my truth in the hopes they can then share theirs.
What’s behind the name of the album and how does that tie into the rest of the recording?
As a nonbinary trans person and the main spokesperson for a national activist group, I’ve been misgendered by reporters literally hundreds of times. It gets exhausting to follow up with reporters and editors just to get them to use accurate pronouns for me.
She/her/they/them are my pronouns, so I decided to just go ahead and call the album that. I wanted to be a bit fearless and just put my identity front and center. There are so few transfeminine artists who are getting coverage and attention from mainstream music outlets, it felt important to just put this part of my identity on blast and refuse to let it become a footnote.
Having my pronouns as the album title is also an important way to speak directly to other trans and queer people and let them know that this music is for them.
What advice would you give our readers?
Sometimes it feels like the many interconnected forms of oppression / bullshit that we see in the world are overwhelming. That nothing we could do could possibly be enough to dismantle them. But I always try to remind myself that part of activism, or creating art, is harm reduction. Think about how much WORSE things would be if people didn’t fight back and resist. Think about how much worse things would be if we weren’t creating art and holding each other close. We can’t solve everything all at once. But we can make things a little better, one day at a time.
For this post I wanted to highlight some of the music being made by the amazing people who collaborated with me to make this studio project a reality.
Taina Asili and Gaetano Vaccaro
These are some of my closest friends and musical co-conspirators and this album would not exist without them. People often talk about a “DIY community” and “mutual aid,” but working with these folks is the first time I’ve ever really felt that. We support each other constantly. We review each other’s press releases, we call each other late at night for emotional support. They’re also unbelievably talented musicians, video creators, and so much more. Check out this video from their upcoming album of music video documentaries based on Taina’s interviews with women of color about the topic of resilience.
Chris #2 of Anti-Flag
I actually wasn’t all that into punk music in high school. I was still pretty into my parents music: Simon and Garfunkel, Joan Baez, stuff like that. But Anti-Flag was one of the first punk bands that caught my attention. They write catchy music on purpose in order to deliver their message to a broad audience. And they’ve just kept getting better and better. It was awesome to have Chris #2 add some melodic screaming to the track Last iPhone. Here’s one my fave songs of theirs.
bells roar aka Sean Desiree
Sean is an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist, producer, and songwriter. We’ve gotten the chance to tour together a bit and collaborate musically over the years. They have such a powerful way of synthesizing complex ideas into lyrics. It was awesome to work with them on the track “Assimilation,” which is basically an open letter to the mainstream gay rights movement, which has frequently failed to fight for the most marginalized members of our community, and at times has seemed more interested in getting us all married and into the military as quickly as possible.
Madigan Shive is a legend in the riot-grrrl world but she’s so much more. From her days collaborating with Elliot Smith and Sleater Kinney to scoring live theater productions to being on the soundtrack for the iconic queer film But I’m a Cheerleader, she’s paved a way for queer artists. She’s also the baddest punk cellist ever to put bow to strings, and it was an honor to have her shred, sing, and shriek on the song Confluence, which is sort of a chamber-punk essay against the patriarchy.
Pol Mac Adaim
I’ve been really inspired both musically and politically by the struggle for Irish independence and the long canon of music that has emerged from the 800+ years of fighting colonialism there. My song “Queen and Empire,” is an attempt to add to that, and it was amazing to have Pol Mac Adaim, who has given his entire life to that struggle, add vocals and whistle to give the tune some life.