Now on their second full-length, the Houston postpunk/riot grrrl outfit talk about their home city and living in a redder-then-red state, about the experiences of Muslims as well as trans citizens in America—and about the influence of… drumroll, please… Keanu Reeves on their music and their art. (Above photo: via the band’s Facebook page / by Trish Badger Photography.
BY ROBIN E. COOK
Houston’s Giant Kitty blends fun and political awareness seamlessly. They observed Trump’s inauguration alongside other Houston bands with an ACLU benefit: “We Belong: Houstonians of Muslim Descent Dissent.” (Singer Miriam Hakim is a Syrian-American Muslim.) On the thundering “This Stupid Stuff,” the band explores everyday prejudice and stereotyping, and the video amplifies the message via Post-Its. The topic is personal not only for Hakim but for her bandmates. Guitarist Cassandra Chiles and drummer Trinity Quirk are transgender women (they also tied the knot onstage in 2016), while the band’s newest member, bassist Roger Medina, is Mexican.
But then the band changes gears and pays tribute to Keanu Reeves on “Don’t Stop That Bus,” with a video that recreates scenes from his most famous movies. For their second album, Rampage, Giant Kitty mixes charged commentary, searing riffs, and just the right amount of sass to make it a blast to listen to.
BLURT: Could you give me some background on the band?
Cassandra Chiles: The band was founded about five years ago. We started as kind of a riot grrl band, and kind of morphed into more of a punk-ish…
Miriam Hakim: We have a riot grrrl attitude. Whatever the hell music we’re making is what we’re making.
Roger Medina: Punk rock.
MH: Yeah, we’re punk rock. Some people might argue, but it doesn’t matter.
RM: It’s like alternative punk, a lot of different styles.
MH: We draw from a lot of different influences, but I think ultimately, you know, we’re just sort of writing personal songs about things we care about and are relevant to us, and I feel like that’s pretty punk rock.
RM: We’re a band for the people, yo!
CC: I think there’s a good balance between the serious issues and the humor element that a lot of bands don’t have.
I noticed that too, like, for instance, your recent videos, like “This Stupid Stuff” for instance.
MH: I think there’s that quote, “The personal is political,” right? And really for us, I feel like that’s kind of our mantra. We write very personal songs, and because of our identities and our experiences, sometimes those personal songs end up being a wider message, like “This Stupid Stuff.” But ultimately what we’re really doing is we’re writing about our experiences and hoping that somebody else can connect to them too.
I have a question about Houston. It’s definitely thought of as being a pretty liberal city, isn’t it?
MH: Definitely. I think we were the first major American city to have a gay mayor, Annise Parker, a few years ago.
And I think that really goes against the image people have of Texas as being this totally redneck state, because you do have places like Austin and Houston.
Trinity Quirk: We’re still a red state no matter what at this point, so we’ve got our share, definitely.
MH: It’s true, and I think a lot of the northern-southern divide is more of an urban-rural divide. Texas has some of the biggest cities in the United States. Not just Austin, but Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and everywhere in the Valley, they all vote Democrat and have for a long time. So I think it’s really just a matter of how the districts are drawn in Texas. That’s why it goes red. But it’s not necessarily as solid red as maybe people outside of Texas would understand.
CC: Even Dallas, which tends to be more conservative . . . it’s really almost a dead middle ground area, at least I find it to be.
MH: I’m from Dallas, and I would say, yeah. And also, there’s something to be said for being more lefty people, like we are, from a red state. Because there’s some sort of camaraderie that we have and this sort of underdog mentality that in some sense I feel like, you know, the things we’re passionate about, maybe when we visit a blue state, they’ve sort of already won that battle, right? And for us, we’re still fighting, we’re still passionate about it. And we still understand like the day-to-day effect that it has. So me being a lefty person who’s lived in a red state all my life, I feel like it gives a little different perspective on it.
You did a show of bands with other Muslim members, a fundraiser for the ACLU. Could you tell me about that?
MH: I organized that with a couple of other people in Houston from the band Ruiners. The lead singer, Shan [Parsha], he’s half-Pakistani, I’m half-Syrian. And, you know, the day after the election, we were really upset, and we felt really betrayed. Both of us grew up in the United States. I guess both of our parents are Americans now, but we have parents from another country that’s kind of vilified, and both of us are Muslim. And so we just felt really helpless and really, like I said, betrayed.
We were chatting on Facebook, like what can we do to feel better and help others feel better. And we decided is that Houston has so many bands with members from Muslim families that why don’t we, on Inauguration Day, throw a big concert and get all the bands that we can with members from Muslim families together?
We specifically wanted to raise money from the ACLU, because they don’t just fight for rights for Muslim people. We wanted something that would fight for everybody. And so yeah, we threw this big, very affirming concert, and thankfully all these people were on board with it. That was Roger’s first show with us, which I feel is really appropriate and meaningful and that was a dark day for a lot of us. And the fact that we did that and we raise almost $2,000 for the ACLU, I mean, maybe it’s a drop in the bucket, but I feel like for a lot of us that were there that day it helped us feel like at least we did something.
Do you feel like trans rights after the election took one step forward, two steps back?
CC: I think that there is a backlash because . . . basically, when Trump got elected, I think a lot of people were very shocked that he actually won the election. And because that empowered the extreme right backlash on all minority groups whether they’re not Americans, they’re not white, or they’re not cis, or they’re trans or gay, I think there was a pushback.
As far as the actual rights . . . it’s inevitable. I mean, they can cry all they want to, the extreme right, about trans rights, gay rights, or immigrants or anything, but the deed is done. It’s going to keep pushing on, pushing forth. If you look at the whole of history, history always moves toward the left, progressively, and always continues to evolve and we’re here. We’re not going anywhere.
And the whole idea that trans people have just recently popped up is a bunch of garbage also. I was from the Renee Richards generation in the seventies. Before me it was Christine Jorgensen generation of trans people.
And I think that’s the biggest thing I can say to anyone who is trans or even questioning or even in the middle of gender or genderqueer people or anything is that, you know, just be yourself and just keep on pushing.
Getting back to the red state/blue state divide, I remember reading an essay by Samantha Allen, a columnist for The Daily Beast. And she was writing about how in these seemingly conservative areas you find these communities, these LGBT communities. Do you agree with that?
CC: Oh, absolutely. All you have to do is look at someone like Caitlin Jenner, who comes out late in and is assertively right wing. It seems from even an outside point of view it’s counterproductive to her own benefit and well-being. And even now, as she finally comes out and admits that Trump has set back the trans community—in her opinion, not mine—twenty-plus years, she still is an adamant supporter of this right-wing GOP agenda. So I think the thing to keep in mind here with that too is that you can be LGBT and still be across the political spectrum. And I think that’s what frightens red people the most, is that someone who is hardcore Republican and gay.
MH: People can emerge in places you don’t necessarily expect because of how different the development’s been there. So, I mean, there’s lots of statistics about what parts of the country queer women congregate, what parts of the country queer men congregate. And because of the gender pay gap, based on gender and race and all these intersections about pay gaps, because of how those happen, you actually see a disproportionate number of queer women living in Southern areas and rural areas. People congregate in places that maybe intellectually one wouldn’t think would happen.
And you guys still have a sense of fun with your music. I’m reminded of your video for “Don’t Stop the Bus.”
MH (points at TQ and CC): Those two made the whole thing! The whole thing they made by hand! (Chiles laughs) I feel like, what was it, two months? Every free moment you had, you were making that damn video! It’s incredible.
(to TQ and CC) So you guys are the Keanu Reeves fans in the group?
CC: I think all of us are.
MH: We’re all Keanu Reeves fans, but they’re the ones who took it to the next level and made an intricate video about it.
TQ: That was just one day of rehearsal. I can’t remember how that came about, but we started talking about it, and they’re like, “We should write a song.” It came together in about 30 minutes and it was hilarious.
CC: We wanted to make a couple of videos. We had no money, so we scraped together every favor from every friend we could find. It was just, you know, “What do we have?” Well, I have an art background, so I can make these puppets I used to make as a kid. Our manager at the time, he was excited about it, so we just kind of went with it, but we had no idea if it was just going to look ridiculous or we were gonna pull it off. I think we pulled it off pretty well, for what it was.
MH: And you all had a lot of fun making it.
CC: It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun in the end.
Below: The band performs “American Dad,” which hails from 2016 but, in light of the Bill Cosby news this week, is more relevant than ever.