In the hour-and-a half I sit with local rock ‘n’ rollers Ladygod at Union Market, we cover a plethora of topics over iced coffee and waffle fries – most of which I did not expect to delve into, but am fascinated to hear their take on nonetheless. Such topics broached include a shared dislike of the Star Wars franchise and The Big Bang Theory (sorry, respective nerds), sexuality as a vehicle to sell records, and why they aren’t the biggest band in the world.
The latter might sound like a self-important question for an artist to ask, but when guitarist and vocalist Skye Handler poses it towards the tail end of our conversation, I realize he has a point. Few bands are as connected or honest in their lifetime as these four are in the evening I spend with them.
Handler, along with bassist Kate Rears Burgman, guitarist Kelly Queener and drummer Seth Petersen – whose collective roots span DC, Maryland and Richmond – make music heavily inspired by the early, free-form days of rock ‘n’ roll. When discussing influences, Richmond-based indie rockers Sparklehorse and pretty much anything rock pioneer and icon Lou Reed had a hand in come up – not just in sound, but in attitude.
Though all from different backgrounds – and as I noticed during our chat, very different personalities – they are connected in their self-proclaimed “loserdom” and more importantly, a reclamation of that label through music.
“You’d sit there and get beat up and tortured in f–king high school, and you’d go home and put those records on,” Handler says of their shared influences. “And you were like, ‘Alright, yeah, I’m a f–king loser right now. I get that. But one day, I’m going to keep doing the same thing and I’m going to figure out how to own being a loser.’ And that’s what I would hear in these records. There is always a way out from whatever the bro culture is at the time, which is usually dumb.”
Bergman and Queener echo this sentiment through their own perspectives. Petersen nods from his seat at the table.
“It’s the shared experience of being a f–king loser and listening to music and writing music as an escape from feeling like a f–king loser,” Bergman says.
Queener adds: “Or an outsider, or however you want to put it. Rock ‘n’ roll gives you permission to just be who you are and not worry about anyone else. It’s like, ‘Oh, this is actually fun.’ It’s freedom.”
Handler jumps back in, noting instances when he has challenged peers about who they are creating art for: “A loser or the people that were being f—king jerks to you?”
“That’s probably what your expectation is, and you need to get rid of that,” Handler continues. “If you make music like that, you’ll never be making music to your fullest potential, you know? And you just don’t know how good you can be [until] you give yourself a chance.”
Petersen circles them back to their influences, adding, “There’s so much you can do with little, and I think that’s what Lou Reed did. That definitely bleeds through Ladygod’s shit, too. I definitely remember picking up The Velvet Underground & Nico [album] and being like, ‘This is so strange and f–king beautiful.’ I mean, I definitely rejected it at first. I was like, ‘The f–k is this?’ But those things grow on you.”
Their collective candor and willingness to forge their own path does harken back to Handler’s question of why they aren’t the next big thing. It’s a hypothetical at best, but Ladygod seems to be at a similar intersection to Reed and The Velvet Unerground: toeing the line of grandiose popularity while not fully selling out, and connecting with audiences who see themselves in Ladygod while also reaching broader audiences who may not feel how they feel.
The world could use more of that honesty, and the losers of the world could use more connectivity. The group keeps a similarly honest ethos when discussing their live performances, but also notes how a Ladygod show and a Ladygod album are two entirely separate experiences.
“They’re two different things with the same core,” Handler explains. “It’s really just like anything else. Everything you do in your bedroom, you go outside and it’s different.
“Well, maybe for you,” Bergman adds with a laugh.
“I look at it like this,” Handler continues. “As long as everybody’s feeling good, we’re going to gracefully fall down this mountain together. Am I going to get to the bottom? I don’t know. But we know what the chords are. We know what it’s supposed to sound like. I’m sure there’ll be a left turn or a tree down that we’re not expecting, and we’ll just hop over it.”
If you’re interested in gracefully falling down a mountain with them or communing with a group of losers turning to music and each other, you can catch them at Songbyrd in Adams Morgan on December 15 with Skyline Hotel and Maddie Mae. Listen to their latest album, Trash Medium, here: www.ladygodftw.bandcamp.com.
Songbyrd Record Café and Music House: 2475-2477 18th St. NW, DC; 202-450-2917; www.songbyrddc.com