Wax Idols dishes on the dominatrix life, the fetishizing of female drummers, and erotic zines

Header photo by Nedda Afsari

By Chloe Saavedra

Oakland-area foursome Wax Idols’ latest release, American Tragic, emits a continuous aggression with a strong drum backbone, overlaid with lush, thick vocals and dreamy guitars. There is this familiar, hopeful sadness in the songs that makes you want to dance all alone in your bedroom.

Charismatic frontwoman and dominatrix Hether Fortune and drummer Rachel Travers took a break from working on Wax Idols’ fourth LP, Happy Ending—set for a spring 2018 release—to speak with Tom Tom. They explored the struggles of showing strength, transforming fetishes into power, and the impact of zines.

Tom Tom: It sometimes can feel kind of impossible to be viewed as a drummer, alone, without preconceived notions and sexualization of your body while drumming. How do you reconcile this emotionally?

Travers: It’s incredibly difficult. My entire career, I get people telling me that I’m great for a girl, and I’m like, OK, first of all, I don’t like the phrasing of that, for one because I’m way past adolescence and also because people can’t just see me as a drummer. They have to pigeonhole me, and because I’m petite, people tend to fetishize me. I try to ignore it; to not let it get to me. It’ll sound pedantic when I correct people, but I want to just tell people, ‘Don’t think of me as a girl drummer. Think of me as a drummer, trying to reach one dude at a time.’ [laughs]

Tom Tom: It has become more and more popular to be a female drummer. How do you deal with drum opportunities that have come your way that you know are partly or solely because you’re female?

Travers: I feel really horrible, but sometimes you gotta get paid. I was an extra for this GMC commercial, and they were looking for female rock drummers [laughs]. I was like, “I’m gonna just get paid right now.” So from a moral standpoint, it didn’t feel great, but I’m glad that it’s becoming more socially acceptable to be a woman drummer.

Fortune: Yeah, even though it sucks to exploit yourself in certain ways, the hope is that the more people who see women, or nonbinary people, or just non-men, doing all these things that men are more visible doing, eventually people will get used to it, and it’ll be just as commonplace as men doing it.

Tom Tom: I was thinking about how, like, women started punk rock, and this idea that we are more punk than any man could be because we have to survive in this world and work twice as hard to be recognized and taken seriously. Realizing this sometimes can lead to a liberating response of just giving no fucks whatsoever. How do you deal with this love/hate relationship?

Fortune: I struggle with it a lot. When I was younger, I really gave no fucks. I was always aggressively confronting men and sexism and all kinds of things really intensely, and I didn’t care what anyone thought about it. But as I’ve gotten older, seeing how the music industry works, I’ve gotten a little bit dated about that. Even though I’ve seen a lot of changes in the music industry in the last few years, which is great—things are becoming more inclusive for everyone, not just for women—I know for a fact that there are some opportunities that I have not been given because of being outspoken and aggressive as a person. So I struggle with that a lot, wondering if it’s worth it, or if it ever really makes a difference.

But at the end of the day, I feel like I know myself and what I’ve had to go through to get to a point where I have a band and can perform where anyone gives a shit—and it took a lot; a lot of survival and overcoming abuse, mental illness, and poverty. I’ve been through a lot of shit and a lot of it has to do with my gender, even from the time I was a little girl. I know that I deserve a certain amount of respect for what I’ve overcome and been able to accomplish. It’s a struggle, but I try to just remember the truth about myself and just keep moving forward and stay tough because there are a lot of other women and young girls out there that need to see people like us doing what we’re doing. Even if it doesn’t seem like it’s that impactful right now, it does make a difference. Girls have told me how much it means to them that I just exist and that is more important to me than any of the other things.

Tom Tom: I’ve read a bit in interviews where you’re talking about your upbringing and history of abuse. You must have to be so fucking strong.

Fortune: I definitely don’t always succeed at being strong. I mean Rachel knows that, my band knows that. I think there’s this perception of me being this, like, ice queen, but I’m actually really sensitive. I’m just a big old fuckin’ softie sad person.

Travers: Well, you’re faking it till you make it. [laughs]

Fortune: Yeah, I try to project strength. I need that as a shield to survive and hopefully inspire other people. But it’s tricky—the public likes to see you as this one thing, and that’s all you are, especially if you’re in a band getting any molecule of attention. People decide you’re just this one thing, and it becomes hard to express the complexities of who you are.

Tom Tom: Heather, what is your zine Orgazm Addict about?

Fortune: Um, sex! There were short stories from other writers, my friend Alexis Penny, who’s an amazing drag performer, novelist, and queer multimedia performance artist, wrote a really amazing piece in it, and I wrote some things about my early work as a dominatrix. And then I had a section called “Masturbation Material,” and it was all collaged images of Nick Cave.

Tom Tom: Growing up going to punk shows, finding this escape from traumatic things at home—does that parallel with your interest in becoming a dominatrix?

Fortune: Uh, no. I mean when I was a teenager, I was asexual. I had not a drop of sexuality in my body. I was a full-blown tomboy and had zero gender expression whatsoever. I didn’t wear makeup, didn’t wear body flattering outfits, and didn’t know how to do my hair. I was gross. My intention was to repel men, and it worked. Then as I got older, I started having sex, and I was like, “Oh, I have this body, and I guess that’s OK,” and then I started blooming in that way.

The dominatrix thing happened super randomly. I was, as always, trying to find ways to make money, and some friends of mine were like “You should be a dominatrix,” and I was like, “Maybe I should,” because I’d been interested aesthetically in fetish and was finding as I was developing that I had some fetishes of my own! That had a lot more to do with my sexual identity being figured out in my twenties than it did with discovering punk rock. I mean sure the aesthetics of the early British punk rock movement really influenced me, which is heavily indebted to fetishizing items and imagery; but once I started doing it, that sort of crossed over because being a dominatrix is essentially erotic theater. It really bolstered my performance chops. My confidence grew a lot more as a performer, I was like, “OK, if I can wear some crazy fuckin’ fetish outfit in front of some creep for a sum of money, then surely I can go onstage.” [laughs]


This article was featured in the Sex issue of Tom Tom. Purchase it online. 


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