Welcome to Spotlight Series, a monthly feature shining a light on emerging local music makers in the stellar music community in Manitoba. Come back every month for a new interview!
By Mahlet Cuff
Vagina Witchcraft are having an amazing year so far. The metal-hardcore band based in Winnipeg earned a Western Canadian Music Award nomination this year as well have landed a coveted spot on the prestigious Polaris Music Prize Long List for their self-titled debut LP.
The long list nomination was announced by Cancer Bats musician Liam Cormier, which is a full circle moment for Vagina Witchcraft, which opened for the band back in September 2019.
I spoke with Kayla Fernandes, the nonbinary poet and activist who fronts the band, guitarist Dylan Sellar, and drummer Julien Riel about their experiences, inspirations, making the music scene a safer and more equitable place, and more.
Congrats on making the Polaris Prize long list! How does it feel and what does it mean to be on this list?
Kayla: It doesn’t feel real honestly, it hasn’t really sunk in yet for me I have been screaming and crying for most of the morning.
Dylan: It’s really cool to have that recognition and validation, when you put out a record people tell you that they like it and we are super proud of it but it’s nice to know that people in the music industry not only like the sound but resonate with the message that Kayla is putting out there.
Who are your inspirations? Not only musically but this could be writers, artists, activists, etc.
Kayla: My first love will always be hardcore, it will always be metal but my roots come from gospel, motown and Rnb. As well as Angela Davis and her activist work. In regards to poetry the people that inspire me the most are Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. When it comes to the emotion coming from Black queer artistry it would be the two of them.
Has it always been your goal to go beyond what metal music is? In terms of the subject matter you discuss in your songs coming from a personal place?
Kayla: The fact that I can be Black, non binary, be a vocalist of a band and dress however I want whenever we play shows but also white people pay money to see me scream at them. It’s been a dream.
Dylan: We try to go beyond the stereotypes and go against the grain of what metal music is, looking at our album cover it's this delicate black and white photo, and as well as band group photos we always tend to be laughing or smiling and being natural.
Julien: When it comes down to it, showing human emotion is important. Not being afraid to be vulnerable.
"The fact that I can be Black, non binary, be a vocalist of a band and dress however I want whenever we play shows but also white people pay money to see me scream at them. It’s been a dream." - Kayla Fernandes
Oftentimes we think about the ways that we are able to entertain our audiences but not think about their overall comfortability in a venue setting. How are you able to make your shows safe for everyone?
Dylan: We want these spaces to be inclusive, we want people to be able to speak up for themselves and Kayla has specifically said in numerous posts if these things are happening to you tell someone, tell your friends, tell the venue owners, tell the people promoting the show, tell us.
Kayla: Vagina Witchcraft shows are an inclusive space and if you don’t feel comfortable we will stop the show and we are not going to play if everyone is uncomfortable or is not feeling validated.
With the pandemic being a time of isolation and not being able to see one another in person. How have you been able to support one another during this pandemic?
Kayla: I have been prioritizing joy in my life by forcing myself to consistently make an effort to do so. Working in the social services field is a lot, I think it's important to have those days where you do laugh at nothing, or sit down and revel in the accomplishments you’ve made.
Julien: I think we have done a really good job of staying in touch and making sure that we all are doing ok. When we do go back to being with each other again, we know where we're all at and what all of us have been up to.
Dylan: We have all been checking in on each other because it is tough, it hasn’t been a lot of songwriting but taking a step back because people are going through a hard time. We wouldn’t want to push ourselves to our limits.
For people in the metal scene here in Winnipeg and across the prairies what advice would you give them on starting their own band and being true to who they are?
Kayla: Just do it, if you can’t find a space that is made for you or includes you, make your own and start your own band. The only way out is through.
Julien: Rather than wondering what you should be doing or if you’re doing what you need to be successful, I think if you’re doing what you love for the right reasons and you’re giving it your all, people will notice.
Mahlet Cuff is an emerging interdisciplinary artist and curator who produces their work through digital and film still photography as well as audio recordings. As well as she is community organizer with Justice 4 Black lives Winnipeg and is a part of multiple artist collectives such as Patterns Collective and Rind.