A discussion on "Fists & Pride" and being international women in music
The Aural: What is the story behind “Fists & Pride”?
Ristic: "Fists & Pride", basically, talks about domestic violence. The core inspiration comes from me volunteering for the domestic violence awareness day in Switzerland some years ago… I spent my day handing out flyers and badges in front of a train station in the rain and was initially expecting that passers-by would bluntly ignore me. What happened was quite different - some people actually took time to talk to me about it, ask for more info before rushing to catch their train. Some people shared their sad experience of domestic violence, others knew some family members or friends or suspected them to be silent victims and didn't know how to help them.
The song is recent - I wrote it last year when I started experimenting with alternate tunings and, at the very beginning, it only had the lead vocals, the main guitar line, bass and drums. When we started recording it last summer, the second guitars were composed and added, but it still lacked something... At that point, the main vocals were finished, and me and Jenny (the drummer) decided to try and write completely separate lyrics for the backing vocals. The two parts complement each other - the lead vocals tell the story from the outside / from what can be seen and the backing vocals speak from the "victim's" point of view - the unseen story, the unspoken one. It took us one day to finish it and we knew that that was it - the song was complete!
"...people actually took time to talk to me about it, ask for more info before rushing to catch their train... some shared their sad experience..."
There is no deliberate gender-orientated focus - I wanted it to be as "open" and inclusive as possible… I like my lyrics to be simple enough to understand but as dense in meaning as possible. The song tells the story of a person that suffers from his/her partner's violent behaviour day after day, and decides to leave on the day of the wedding.
Not having much budget, we tried to find the most efficient way to convey the message and the idea we stuck to was to find some friends that were up for miming the lyrics. Different ethnicities, age and genders had to be represented - as domestic violence can affect anyone, gay, straight, young and older people, men, women, etc. And we had to differentiate ourselves as "the band" from the other people in it - hence the nude shoulders and dark background - which emphasizes the exposure to violence, be it verbal or physical. We feel naked when hurt. But we didn't want it to be "heavy" and dramatic - hence the "instrumental" bit, where the takes in-between rushes were mostly used (people smiling, or doing funny faces) as the song ends in a positive way.
Ristic: We are a trio and come from very different backgrounds - I'm from Belgrade, Serbia, Jenny (the drummer) is from Manchester, UK and Flo (our bass player) is from Valais, Switzerland. The Narentines is a relatively "young" band as Flo joined us early last year.
But we all were involved in music in different ways before we met. I used to play violin since I was little - but the instrument is just not sexy enough so I switched to bass and then to guitar when I was a teenager. Loved listening to Eurythmics, The Doors, Siouxie and The Banshees, Bauhaus, Cold Wave in general, but also a bit of punk, metal, blues. Preferred Joan Baez to Bob Dylan, Siouxie and the Banshees to Sex Pistols. Loved the post-rock late80s-early90s era with emerging female artists like PJ Harvey, Björk, Tori Amos. I always looked for strong female artist icons for inspiration. A female artist genealogy as an alternative.
"I always looked for strong female artist icons for inspiration. A female artist genealogy as an alternative."
Switzerland is no exception to the rule of the "male" music tradition - being quite sheltered, things move slowly here - but nowadays no more no less than anywhere else in the Western world. However, the difficulty resides in being taken seriously (now we're over 30, we hear things like "isn't it too late for you to do a band at your age?" - so the fact that there shouldn't be a place for you is still thrown back at your face) and find[ing] people who would be ready to support you. Music labels are scarce and the language barrier (Switzerland has 4 national languages) doesn't help as the French-speaking scene is quite different from the German-speaking one.
“the difficulty resides in being taken seriously… we hear things like 'isn't it too late for you to do a band at your age?'"
Culturally speaking, although there are a lot of bands in Switzerland, it's not something the country's known for… [and] the infrastructure in place… or the lack of it, makes it difficult for indie pop-rock bands. I've noticed that there's a bit of snobbism as well among the young adult generation… the weirder the music you listen to/play, the better… But, maybe, I'm already a bit too old-fashioned. From where I/we as a band stand, it seems that Switzerland is just an agglomeration of different small saturated "local" scenes, and finding your place/audience is more like a treasure hunt.
Special thanks to Jelena Ristic and The Narentines.