interview: Summer Cannibals
words + interview: lauren rearick
photos: jason quigley
There are occasions when my own words seem unnecessary, and this interview with Jessica Boudreaux of Summer Cannibals is one such instance. Today, the band released their new album Can’t Tell Me No, and while any album release gives a musical artist reason to celebrate, this addition to the band’s catalog is particularly impactful, important, and needed. Below, we talk with Boudreaux about the album that they’ve declared is a means of saying “fuck you” to an industry that continues to support and lift up abusers.
The Grey Estates: I wanted to start by asking you, what inspired the title of the record, Can’t Tell Me No?
Jessica Boudreaux: I usually like to have a title track name the album. I don't know why, it’s a force of habit. For me, “Can’t Tell Me No” felt light enough to name the record after. Since it's kind of a heavy record, I wanted to try to keep it positive in a way.
The record came to be after we were forced to trash a record that we had been pitching for a year, and playing out. It took me having to put my foot down and stand up for myself. So, it made sense for me to call the record something that's kind of defiant and, saying, ‘fuck you.’
Was that difficult to decide that you were gonna redo the record and was there a point where you considered maybe not doing it again?
Yeah, because it had to be totally new songs. For me, there was no choice about whether I could keep the other one, just because the person who is involved with that was claiming credit of all the songs and was threatening to kill me. I was in a situation where I could let it go for the sake of the album or it was a matter of being forced to break any possible ties to this person. Tiny Engines offered us a deal on that record. I didn't want to let anybody or anything take away another year of this band's life, because all that time is a lot of time. We lost a lot of momentum in the three years since our last record.
It was a decision that came very easily and very fast just in the sense that the options were to not put out a record or to force myself to get a new one done. I told Tiny Engines to give me two weeks, because I'm going to have a new record, will you please listen to it and maybe you'll like that one. And they liked it more, so it actually ended up being totally 100 percent for the best.
So you recorded the new one in two weeks then?
Pretty much, yeah.
How did you do that?
Cassie and I are both recording engineers. I opened a studio about a year and a half ago in my basement. I had bits and pieces of songs that I had written in the month or two before, and it was lots of very long days.
Cassie was out on tour with another band when all of this came up and she was gone for two months. She got home that night, and we just started doing it. I had tracked all the bass and drums before she got there and then we just started. We worked like 16 hour days. We pulled it off.
Do you think that some of what happened and the fact that you were forced to redo this record inspired any of the album, songs, or the feeling of this album?
One-hundred percent, yeah. I mean for the most part, that experience is what the record is about, really aside from maybe a song or two. It was written during all of this and it's definitely not a breakup record. It's processing heavy shit eight months after the relationship is over. It's less emotional in that sense, about a relationship lost or abuse occurring in a relationship, and more taking this experience and setting it up next to everything that's been going on, like the Me Too movement. I was seeing it play out in my own life in this way. It was detrimental to my career, forcing me to burn bridges with people who were kind of heroes in the music scene. The record is less about one person and more about that experience as a whole, and all of the different things that kind of tumble down and snowball out of this situation that I found myself in.
Do you think that you have a responsibility as an artist to address some of the Me Too movement and what's going on? Even just as a fan and follower of the band on Twitter, I appreciate the fact that you stand up and call out the shit that continues to happen in this industry, especially when it comes to men. Do you feel comfortable taking on that role?
I do, personally. I feel it would be really hard to ignore that stuff, especially when it's something that's directly affecting me. As a woman who plays lead guitar and who does a lot more than just "front a band," I feel a sense of responsibility to be well-rounded in how I present myself. There's nothing one dimensional about any of the women, non-binary, queer, or persons of color of in this industry, but I feel like it can be painted that way. I don't feel like it's the only personality trait of this band or me. It's just one aspect to how I feel comfortable presenting myself to people.
For fans listening to this album, what should they extract from it? What do you hope fans get from listening to it?
I hope that for people in similar positions to me it feels empowering. From my point of view, it's a pretty multi-dimensional and varied record. There’s a song called “Innocent Man” that doesn't sound like anything we've ever done before.
I really love the album, and it's a new sound for us. I think it's a more complex and interesting sound. I've made a lot of records that are angry, and people use the word snarling a lot when they talk about our music or about me, and I do think there's a couple songs like that on this record, but for the most part, I think it's more complex than that. It's more thoughtful and I don't think I was that angry when I wrote this record.
Are there any other tracks on the album that you feel might be different or like that you really feel like a strong connection to?
There's a song called “Start Breaking” that is poppy, and I almost didn't put on the record because it felt too specific about the situation that I was in. It talks about the person who I went through these experiences with. It’s about me finding out they were out playing songs that talked about killing me. I felt that it was way too poignant and that no one would ever relate to that, but when I hear it now, I feel really empowered by the honesty. I feel proud of being able to turn that situation into this narrative that I think comes across, and it's also this kind of fun catchy song at the same time. I feel excited about the album closer, “Into Gold.” We always end every album with a slow song, but I really love that one because we kept it super simple and minimal and the way that it came out is really beautiful.
What would you maybe say to someone who was listening that might be going through a similar situation to what you were going through?
It's hard. I'm still kind of figuring out that stuff out myself. A lot of what that person wanted for me was fear, and I definitely still at times feel fearful. I think that taking matters into your own hands and taking steps to keep yourself safe, while also being vocal and letting people know what's going on and knowing that there will be people who distance themselves from you, there will be people who don't believe you is important. There's still plenty of people who feel that way about me, and it can feel really personal and really hard. But I do think that for as many people out there who are doubtful of our stories, I really think there's just as many who are willing to listen. It's something to take to heart when someone does listen and you're able to speak honestly with people in your life about the shit they're going through. I'm glad to have had a lot of support, and people who wanted to be there to listen and stand up for me whenever I could use some help.