Ursula Holliday of Skinny Girl Diet
by Lucy Katz
Skinny Girl Diet got their name by chance one day, when guitarist and singer Delilah Holliday was messing around on the internet and stumbled upon a fad-diet of the same name that promoted women to starve themselves. Since then, sisters Delilah and Ursula, along with their cousin Amelia, have been a loud, scratchy, screamy teenage threesome that have done way more than flush the bullshit body-shaming detritus out of search engine result pages. Bristling with genuine alt-femme punk ideals, the girls’ momentum comes from a fierce girl-gang mentality borne out of affinity with generations of feminist-centric musical traditions, unapologetically strong self-possession, and a razor-sharp perception of the forces working for and against young women in 2015. Their self titled debut EP, and follow-up, Girl Gang State of Mind, have just been joined by Reclaim Your Life; a short and sharp three-track EP that’s about a sweet as a punch in the stomach. Behind the kit, Ursula thumps out the beats that weigh down brooding melodies, snarling vocals and guitars so abrasive they sound like sirens. Encase all this in a cast-iron no-fucks attitude that manages to be tough without being cold, and you’re some way to imagining what this band is capable of. These girls want the patriarchy quaking in their boots, they want you to dance with them, and more than anything else, they want the youth of the godless 2010’s to shrug off all the shits it’s possible for them to give and find in their whaling battle-cries an antidote to the insidious poisoning of their consciousnesses. Introducing Ursula Holliday, the drummer of Skinny Girl Diet:
You’re in a band with your elder sister and your cousin; how did you fall into your respective instruments and come together as a group? What drew you to the drums?
Me and Delilah were cult fans of The Powerpuff Girls as kids, and there was this one episode where they were all in a band playing instruments. I was always Bubbles because I’m the youngest and my favourite colour is blue, and when I saw her on the drums I thought she looked badass. I was also inspired by The Slits, Babes in Toyland, L7 and Hole growing up, as my parents exposed me to female punks at an early age. My sister chose the guitar, so me playing drums made sense for us to be able to jam; there’s no band without a drummer. We started jamming as a two-piece called ‘Typical Girls’. Looking back, it took real balls to play underage in a pub full of older people, some of whom were incredibly judgmental given our ages. There were times when I wanted to give up as the male sexist belittling was ever so apparent. A year later, we decided we needed another texture to our sound, so we got Amelia involved, she had just started learning bass and dabbled with the drums too. We find power as a threesome when it comes to guys being patronising about drum parts or looking down on us- but we aren’t to be messed with. I was never good at the whole school thing, so learning on the job is a great way to push myself and going against the book allows you to form your own style and experiment more.
How did you learn to play?
I don’t really practice every day, I like working with people who just feel the music. You can imagine how the odd drum lesson that I did attend didn’t always end very smoothly: “You’re playing too loud!”, “You’re playing too fast”, and “You need to start practicing”, but I practiced every time I played a gig. I also learnt through seeing bands live and just being a creepy little girl staring straight at the drummers as they did their fills. I really connected to Ringo Starr as he proved you don’t have to be that technically ‘efficient’ to be a legendary drummer, he’s creative and has his own ‘Ringo swing’ style. Then there are all the iconic female drummers who don’t have any trace in ‘His-tory’- Viola Smith was tearing everything up playing drums in the orchestras in the 1940s.
Why did you feel that music was the creative medium that allows you best to express yourselves? Was it a natural choice?
It was a natural choice. I remember watching a documentary when I was 10 on the Sex Pistols and how they got arrested for singing ‘God Save the Queen’ and it was this, as well as songs like Nirvana’s ‘Rape me’ and Nina Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddam’, that gave me something to think about as well as feel. They tackle class, sexual abuse or racism; all things that need to be discussed. That’s what music is lacking at the moment. Music is the perfect way of saying what you need to say in a form that’s less mundane and less like a load of forgotten rants on twitter. Some people are like me and the non-conforming creative route speaks louder to us than an upper class twit in a suit telling us a bunch of statistics.
I know that you would say, and it’s completely true and evident in your music, that SGD is primarily a product of our time and your experiences, but it is undeniably an extension of a wider feminist-centric musical tradition. Bearing this in mind, do you have any role models in people, women especially, whose attitudes/aesthetic you take inspiration from? Or have you always had a very clear idea of yourselves and image?
I’ve always had a strong sense of myself only due to having been introduced by my parents to loads of amazing bands when I was a little baby; it made me grow into an individual rather than copying someone’s aesthetic or personality just because I think it’ll make me cool.
How much do you feel that the kind of women in these bands have paved the way for what you’re trying to do now? Do you identify with what they were trying to express and overcome? Is it a continuation of the same battle?
It does feel like a continuation of the struggles that female musicians have faced, as the current state of music feels like we’re going backwards rather than forwards. You can be treated like scum for saying the truth, obviously not to the extent of getting spat at in the street, like The Slits experienced for example, but being outspoken definitely gets a lot of people’s noses out of joint. X Ray Spex’s opening on ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours’ that goes: ‘little girls are told to be seen and not heard’, says so much and it would be silly to say that these women didn’t pave the way. We had the uprising of honest, brash and unapologetic music in the 90s grunge scene not so long ago, but we’ve become an auto-tune generation where women humping the air half-naked wrapped around a fully clothed man singing utter nonsense is normal. People are using ‘the 90s’ as a fashion style now instead of paying attention to all the great bands that got exposure for that short time. I think the lack of different ethnicities within punk or grunge is something that needs to be addressed too.
Do you think then, that the same set of barriers (class/gender/race/sexual orientation) to equality of representation in music still exist in the way that they used to? How have you been affected by any obstructive attitudes?
There is a deep routed over-sexulisation of non-white females, and a frequent depiction of them as ‘exotic’ or ‘animalistic’ in a ploy to make them attractive to the racist fetishist ideas of women of colour. White women are hailed as the desired race in the media, yet the majority of them are surgically making themselves have black features, for example with botoxed lips to create ‘rubber lips’ that were once looked down upon. It is a social thing; black people throughout history have a way of ‘not existing’ or have been uncredited and all the genres black people created are slowly diminishing due to cultural appropri
ation. Arguably, I think there is still a big barrier between race and certain genres of music. I’ve had people think I’m in a hip hop group just because I’m mixed race and when I reply ‘I play punk music’, there’s a sense of surprise and unease on their small-minded stupid faces, or maybe it’s just due to me also having a vagina, which is just as profound. A man who was a regular at our shows once said ‘I thought you were a lesbian’, which I found strange; maybe strong-minded girls who can play drums can’t be straight in his mind. I gave him a piece of my mind; why does it even concern him? There’s a myth that Women are supposed to be fragile and in need of saving, so it must be threatening to see a girl beat the shit out of a drum kit, I hope they’re quaking in their boots.
Obviously you have something very significant to say about contemporary feminist issues; your name, image, and some content of your songs testify to this, but how central is feminism to the band? What does feminism mean to you? And how far does it inform your creative and personal decisions as an individual, as well as a band?
Feminism means equality to us. You see stuff and have experiences everyday that make you think and that you can incorporate into your music. You can’t walk down the street at night in a dress without a man leering and beeping in his car, or a freak following you home. You hear stuff said by utter brain-dead Neanderthals like ‘she deserved to get raped, look at what she was wearing’. Makes you sick. We live in a society that is so obsessed with female beauty and it feels like women are encouraged only to think about if they measure up, bombarded by adverts that are trying to help you achieve an unachievable male-imposed ideal of how a woman should look. I believe that this leads to a kind of self-hatred for many women. I can’t help thinking that this is engrained in our culture. The name Skinny Girl Diet is a social commentary on the slim-fast culture we live in; we want to take over the web results when you google the diet so hopefully anyone that does sees a bunch of punk feminists instead.
Regardless of everything we’ve said, you do have a very strong and unique aesthetic, how important is image to the band?
We’re lucky I guess because we like fashion and experimenting with looks. I think the fact that we are three mixed race girls playing punk music is rare, and it is part of our ‘aesthetic’. In a band, you do have to have some sort of trademark. However, it is frustrating as male bands (pop not included) don’t have to even think about their image, they could have just rolled out of bed and not get looked at twice. Image isn’t much of a factor when you’re a guy in a band; just fret wank and try to look like a bad version of Kurt Cobain.
It seems like the Riot Grrrl aesthetic is pretty hip at the moment, but is falling into the hipster trap of having the radical potential of the movement sucked out of it by a preoccupation with its ‘cool factor’—how do you think the ideology of Riot Grrrls can be reinvigorated? Should it be?
To me, the ideology behind riot grrl is to stand up for all those that are getting oppressed in our society and this is something no one can ever push aside. You can see how the movement has been latched on to; covered in pink hearts and daisy chains on the internet. Riot Grrrl isn’t pretty, it comes at you like a snarling bomb. I think the modern movement should be all races, all different backgrounds, any sexual orientation, coming together and speaking out about social issues and showing girls can tear it up like the boys. Don’t be afraid to pick up an instrument, ignore any man that looks down on how you play. We have the internet so there isn’t as much room for actual meet-ups and talks like the riot grrl scene used to do because you can find all kinds of stuff online nowadays. Maybe our generation is lazy because of the internet, but I think that’s why there is even more need for physical things like zines and live music. Boys can be involved too by allowing girls freedom of expression and being supportive. Being a male feminist means you’re willing to understand, and my dad is proof that real male feminists exist, not just liars that want to hook up with you. The aim is for anyone who wants to scream for their beliefs to feel welcomed into a circle of equality, and feel free to dance together. Possibilities are endless of how this new scene could form.
Your music has an edge to it, it’s not easy-listening, and it sounds dangerous, slightly unhinged and potentially destructive when you compare it to a lot of other music being made right now. It feels appropriate that you wrote a song about Nadine Hurley from Twin Peaks – a character (mis)construed also as dangerous, unhinged and destructive. The female capacity for violence and aggression is something we are not that used to seeing and thinking about (look how people lost their shit over the Bitch Better Have My Money video, for example). How do you respond to these ideas, especially as a drummer?
Nadine Hurley does what she wants, when she wants to; she’s a strong feminist icon who’s overlooked. Women are always looked down on when they know what they want, being called ‘divas’ or ‘bitches’ when they are just being honest. Women are very much capable of violence and we are currently working on a video exploring this idea of aggressive ultra-violence. Even in video games, the girl character is usually the worst to play. I also think there is a male-imposed idea that women are ‘catty’ to other women but that’s what the media wants you to think. The promotion to self-hate extends to how women look at each other; it’s time to mess up the gender roles. Skinny Girl Diet brings the idea of girl gangs to mind, and how if we all had sister solidarity, women would be a stronger force to be reckoned with. The music we make hopefully stirs up that energy that makes males or females feel indestructible. A girl once said with glee after one of our shows ‘I feel like I can do anything’, which makes it all worthwhile. Eat up the masculine energy. You have to be aggressive if you play punk style drumming; there’s no way you can still look dainty, you have to love that sweaty beast- who cares what you look like as long as it sounds awesome.