story / Lily Golightly
photographs / Jena Cumbo
JD Samson is no stranger to leading the protest all the way to your speakers. In her former band Le Tigre she and bandmates Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fateman pumped out delicious politically charged dance-pop tracks. The band’s dismemberment found her pairing up with Michael O’Neill and starting the political electro-dancepunk outfit JD Samson & MEN. Though she still leads the protest, JD Samson & MEN’s sophomore album finds them taking a step back and looking inward. Labor came out on October 22 and can be purchased from JD Samson & Men’s Bandcamp , webstore, and Itunes. The protest tracks that made waves in the music world ‘Make Him Pay’ and ‘Let Them Out or Let Me In’ are included in the bundle.
Tell me about your new album, Labor.
JD: It’s a real turning point for me both musically and emotionally. I think it being my sophomore record with a new project, it was kind of difficult to come up against and it took a lot of introspective thought on my part, as well as relearning how to collaborate. Our band shifted members from the first record, so it was really all about change and about working in the industry to be my truest self as an artist, but also to work emotionally to find my place in this world.
On the track “Let Them Out or Let Me In”, (a song you get free when you buy the album directly from Bandcamp or JD Samson & MEN’s webstore) you stand in solidarity with Pussy Riot. Can you tell me about how the song originated, the situation, and what it means to you?
Yeah, I was touring in Europe around the time that I was reading about Pussy Riot and the upcoming trial- that was the big thing. I noticed in Europe it was a really big feature in the press- especially in the UK and coming back to the states and not seeing that was the thing that really affected me the most. But as someone who makes political punk music and as a feminist I could really relate to everything that was happening to them. In the states we were really giving them no airplay. I guess it became really important to me to get press around the issue especially in the artist community, so I set up a reading of the text both from the lyrics and text from the prison.
About the song though- the song was originally about the internet and how it can be awesome and also how it can tear us apart. And it didn’t feel right- it felt really too literal and I just erased it all. I sang these lyrics, and in a way I feel really proud of the vocals on that track. I felt I was able to write a very direct pop song about something that was important to me.
The last album was extremely activist driven and this one is much more personal. Why the change?
For the last album I did this interview in Paris with this woman who was so incredible and somehow was in my head and she said to me “I don’t think you ever said I on the record, you only said ‘we’”. I was like really? I started realizing how much of my work is about my community and how I feel like I’m not paying attention to myself because I am paying attention to the larger community and our work together, so I think I kind of subconsciously tried to do the opposite on this album, and paying a little bit more attention to myself and see how my community could relate through me thinking about me.
That’s actually really interesting because I picked up on that a little bit. I grew up listening to Le Tigre’s Keep On Living and it was so inspirational and big. I was listening to your new track ‘I Don’t Care’ which is a really sad song- still really danceable but also really lonely and it feels like you’re giving up. And to look back on Keep On Living- these songs sound like opposite sides of the same coin.
I think that was a big thing for me, and thats a lot of the cover art and the title of the album was my relationship to my own fame. It’s something that I thought about a lot- what it means to live as the persona that I’m in, or living as the person who is really inside of me. So this record is really about showing people what’s inside of me. And yeah, I can be super positive and all of those sentiments are sincere but I also have a hard time.
As a queer activist, how have you felt about the recent wins on the marriage front?
I think it’s awesome. I’m a big proponent of equal rights and anything that gives people equal rights is great. On the case of abortion or any other thing or any other case where people have to decide for themselves how to live their lives- equality is important. I also think shows like the L Word are awesome because it gives visibility to lesbians even if thats not what all lesbians are like. I’m pretty basic about that kind of stuff.
Can you tell me a little about the song “Make Him Pay” and what it’s about?
It’s a feminist protest song really, there were several moments where I felt like I was speaking about the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and some moments where I felt like I was speaking about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and also moments where I was thinking about my relationship to men in my life more personally. As an umbrella subject, it’s a feminist protest song for sure.
The song “Club Thang”, you say you want to hear your songs on TV. What shows would you like your music to be on?
These songs were written like laments, where it’s these chants that are kind of depressing and kind of funny. I don’t think think staying up every night until four in the morning is what I want to do right now and I kind of want to make some money, and the way to do that is to get syncs and have your songs on TV.
Do you think that’s selling out at all?
No way, are you kidding? We try to make sure that all our placements are with companies that give same sex partner benefits, but now that there is gay marriage things are really different. I guess it’s also about the content of the show. We had some content on Weeds and I was really excited about that. I’m not that picky.
JD Samson & MEN’s record release party and show at Union Pool on October 26! Tickets are available viaTicketfly now!