Cross Dog’s Tracy A: “We’re getting a lot of that younger Gen Z female and non-binary crowd”
In one of my journalism assignments at X University I pitched a story about how women musicians were doing lately. Being a lifelong punk fan I know that, even in the best of times, it’s hard making that music a big pillar of your life. However, considering how the pandemic affected both women and musicians disproportionately, hearing directly from the people experiencing this is invaluable.
To explore this story, I reached out to two prominent women in Ontario punk bands to see how they’ve handled the past two years, and how they feel about the future. The interviews I had with each of them were informative, gripping, casual, enlightening and all around fantastic. So instead of letting them hang out in pitch-limbo, I thought I would publish them myself.
This interview was with Tracy A, the vocalist for Peterborough-based hardcore band Cross Dog. I had come across their music many years ago when I was playing in the scene myself, and there was something about it that’s hard to pinpoint. The lyrics are in-your face, the bass is all-encompassing, and the drums are coming up from hell. Basically: it fucks.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Scott Martin: First of all, thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
Tracy A: No problem, thanks for reaching out.
S.M: Obviously there was a huge mix-up with the pandemic, can you talk about how it affected Cross Dog and you?
T. A: So, generally speaking like every other band, tour plans and everything was cut short. We released Hollow the summer before and we didn’t fully have an extensive tour that first summer, just Ontario and Quebec. We had big plans for playing across Canada that were just scrapped. Lots of label chat was happening and things where exciting buzz sort of got crushed when everything stopped. So that kind of put a damper on everything for 2020. Like everybody else, we had to stop jamming for a while there. We did “bubble” as a band when we were able to, but there was a lot of illness. Our drummer had some illness in his family, so we did slow down like a lot of bands did. Then we started writing, that’s sort of been what we’ve been focusing on. We’ve had to write a little bit differently, kind of had to go back to how we wrote in the very beginning, which was essentially Mark [Rand, bassist] coming up with main concepts and bringing it to us as essentially a fully fleshed out song, not with lyrics or anything, just the music part. Then when we get in a room then Mikey [Reid, drummer] could do his own thing with it. So it was a little different.
S.M: So, you don’t need to go into specific details, how did the financial situation change for Cross Dog and yourself because of the shut down?
T.A: The band stays afloat as a business from touring. Everything we made on merch or ticket sales, our guarantees for shows, that’s what kind of keeps our band going. We did see a lot more online sales. But in terms of financials, you gotta be on the road *laughs.* We do have outside jobs like every musician, mostly, and specifically hardcore. So essentially the main income stream ceased to be. We did get some grants. A local artist support grant and also we had a FACTOR grant that’s sort of helping us do demoing right now with material we’ve been working on. So that’s been helpful too, with money we normally would have been getting on the road. We’ve been able to get a little bit of help from other sources.
S.M: So you guys are based in Peterborough-
S.M: -was it like municipal grants for music or…
T.A: It was like an artist’s grant. The one we got at the beginning, there’s like a local artist collective that was giving maybe $500 or something. It was a small grant but it was really helpful. We applied and they narrowed it down, a certain amount of bands got it and we were one of the ones. It wasn’t city-funded, it was a smaller collective that did that to support bands in the pandemic.
S.M: You said you had a little bit more online sales, did you do any live-stream shows?
T.A: We did a little bit of live-streaming to engage with our audience here and there, we did some collaborating with other bands that are friends that were looking for some outlets. But we didn’t really tap into the live-streaming. Everyone was trying to find ways to do it and master it with all the latency issues and different issues that come with trying to stream your band from your jam space or a venue. We sort of went into this in the beginning from the stance of… we didn’t want to put out things for the sake of it. We knew that people wanted music but we also weren’t going to do things for the sake of doing them, or to just capitalize on trying to make a buck here and there or whatever the case may be. So we took a backseat and we honestly have really slowed down our presence online. We aren’t going to talk for the sake of talking, you know?
S.M: Can you paint me a picture of… y’know you’re a woman in punk rock and your lyrics are very out there. Did you have any negative experiences before the pandemic, during, now that you’re getting back to shows?
T.A: For sure as a woman in a male-dominated heavy scene I’ve had my share of experiences over time, not all negative. One of the things I’ve actually noticed, we only had the opportunity to play a few shows before things shut down again. But I’ve definitely noticed in the last few years a lot of younger women are coming out to our shows. We’re getting a lot of that younger Gen Z female and non-binary crowd. “The shes the theys and the gays”, honestly, those are my people. It’s nice to see them coming out. We did actually encounter some issues recently just being, this isn’t because of me or me being a woman, but being an outspoken band and talking about vaccines. Maybe we were being a little cheeky about some of the racist connections in the trucker convoy. That may have been Mark’s doing but we did get a bit of backlash and some people kind of rallied against us and were saying that we were bigots because we were ostracizing antivaxers and that made us bigoted? Which I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around. It was pretty foolish. But there were some people online who did gang up on us and there were some people sharing opinions in their stories and reposting us and things like that. It’s hard to completely ignore it but it comes with the territory I guess…
S.M: Yeah I have a friend in a band that wanted to release a song against the government [during the Trucker Convoy] and they couldn’t so they had to hold off on their second single.
T.A: I get that. When things were starting to open up in the beginning there were so many times that we booked shows and we cancelled or we wanted to wait and see. For the small little reach that we have we just felt, based on our values, we have a social obligation to not encourage a congregation of people in what we know to be very close quarters, very sweaty, very hard to keep distanced and safe. It’s not that we haven’t wanted to play shows, it’s that we didn’t want to be hypocritical about it either. We want to play shows, we just don’t want to be like ‘stay safe, but come and see us’ y’know?
S.M: Yeah it’s kind of a trend I’m seeing like even bigger bands like Jeff Rosenstock. It’s “We don’t want to, but it’s our livelihood so we have to.”
T.A: It’s hard, yeah.
S.M: So you’re getting back into shows. You said you had some obligation to not congregate but at this point it’s kind of slowly getting to it, what are your thoughts on the situation right now?
T.A: We haven’t actively booked ourselves a tour yet, we’ve been taking opportunities that have been coming our way. That’s the approach we’ve taken but that being said it’s also because we’ve been taking this time to write new music. We’re going into the studio at the end of this month to do some demos and hoping to record a full-length before the year is out and then planning for the release of that, hopefully, early next year. We do have other things that we’ve been working on that require focus that other shows can pull from. Again, we didn’t want to be the first out the gate, we want to see how things are. We’ve attended some shows and we’ve played some shows and now we’re becoming a little bit more comfortable that this is our reality now, so yeah I think that’s kind of where we stand. We’re just trying to figure out what our summer’s going to look like between recording and booking. But for us we’re always looking more for those opportunities you can’t pass up. Playing with a band you love as support and expanding our reach, and like I said there have been some behind the scenes things that we can’t talk about. There’s interest from different people and some opportunities that have been coming down the line that we need to flesh out before we fully commit to any next steps.
S.M: If I could just loop back to “the shes, the gays and the theys…”
S.M: You’ve seen a big uptick in that before the pandemic, has that continued or has it receded with the big stops?
T.A: I mean, we haven’t played a show now since fall, but I did notice when we came back that it was the case. There’s almost this boost of really outspoken, really active, young women who are fucking mad and are out there. There’s also this heavier music percolating right now in the mainstream a little bit, a lot more throwback to the turn of the millennium. I think it’s happening, but I’ll be able to tell you better when we get more shows in this next wave of reopening.
S.M: You talked a little bit about what the future holds for Cross Dog and all that, but you said there’s a lot more women and non-men, what do you think of the future in the scene and how things are operating?
T.A: Man, I hope that what we end up seeing is a more inclusive and safe space. I have seen that over the years. I mean I’m biased because the type of music that we play, it is a little bit divisive. If you don’t agree with the shit we’re saying, you’re not going to come see our band. Our audience is skewed but I’ve seen a lot more women on stage, a lot more balance in the bands in terms of gender representation across the spectrum. In label representation it needs to be better, but it’s definitely shifting. I’m hoping in the hardcore community that happens as well. But I’ve gotta say every single time I see a band signed that’s all dudes, it could be a label we’ve been talking to, then all of a sudden you see another band on the roster that’s full of dudes and you’re like ‘the fuck are you doing?’ like how tone deaf.
S.M: I agree with that. I’m sure you’ve experienced this but the older you get, the harder it is to find new music. I don’t want to seem biased but most of the most interesting music I’m hearing now is coming from non-men.
T.A: Yes, I agree. That’s not bias, that’s taste and that’s okay! That’s an observation and that’s cool. But yeah I mean I agree. There’s just so much. Yes, the internet makes things so much more accessible and you’re not held back by things like having label access and distribution. But you have to find that music. I can speak to the fact that, as a millennial woman growing up, I didn’t feel confident entering into a heavy music community as a player. I attended shows like four times a week growing up like obsessing, learning and taking it in but I was so afraid to join in with the guys who “knew what they were doing” and I was just a girl. That’s how I felt when that’s all you see on stage and that’s all you’re exposed to. I remember seeing I Hate Sally and like “oh my god, she’s so intense and so cool, I wish I could be that brave” but it takes seeing it. When you see that representation it empowers more of it to spring up and encourages more people to be in bands.
S.M: I might be opening a can of worms here-
T.A: I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. *laughs*
S.M: -but what is your take on, not only the provincial, but the federal government’s response to the pandemic, their approach to shows and their support, or lack thereof, of shows and musicians?
T.A: Yeah ummm… it’s not been great. I’ll start by saying that I’m not going to pretend that I can fathom the challenges that it would present to try to lead a province or your country, especially a country as expansive and such varied values as Canada, through this horrible past two years with so many unknowns. That must be a seemingly impossible task. I’ll start by saying that, but also there were lots of avoidable things. Just in general, not giving enough unconditional financial support, doing things in complete contradiction to what science was telling us, not making it easier for people to pay their bills to get their shit done, to subsidize the arts which are a very important part of our culture, or at least they’re supposed to be. Just making it easier for people to access support? I think the ball was very much dropped there.
As far as provincially, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise being from Ontario and having a conservative provincial government. Like… Doug Ford? Fuck him. It’s all politics, it’s all lip service, it’s no substance and only thinking about the reelection. There’s no substance there, there’s nothing that I could possibly contribute to that conversation that is going to be in any way positive. There’s no redeeming quality there.
Cross Dog’s album Hollow is available for purchase on Bandcamp and available to stream on all platforms now.
Scott Martin is a writer with articles published in The Beaverton, Passage, and Canadian Dimension. He’s an X University Journalism undergrad and runs the YouTube channel Pinko Punko. He can be found on Twitter.