The Anti-Queens’ Valerie Knox: “We’re pretty vocal about where we stand as women in this industry”
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 Valerie Knox, co-songwriter, manager and lead guitarist for Toronto-based punk band The Anti-Queens. When I played drums for a band in the early 2010s I had the pleasure to play many shows with Knox’s other band Black Cat Attack. Her rise in the scene has been an inspiration ever since.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Scott Martin: So obviously the pandemic had an effect on the music scene, can you talk about how it affected The Anti-Queens?
Valerie Knox: Well for one it kept us all part, when you’re used to seeing each other regularly. We had a lot of plans for 2020 and they just all went down the toilet.
S.M: That’s a good way to put it. Did you have any big tours planned? Or did you just have some shows that were ramping up?
V.K: We had a west coast tour across the country with The Creepshow, they were headlining and they were going to take us to British Columbia and back. We didn’t get to do that, we made up for half of it just this past year in November when everything opened. We had plans, we wanted to keep ramping the band up.
S.M: How did the financial situation of you and the band change?
V.K: I worked in retail so I was out of work for a few months but I had the CERB program to back me up, so that helped me immensely. But for the band it was different. We weren’t playing shows and we weren’t bringing in money, we had to scramble to find different ways to make money so we could keep things moving in the band and find fun things to do. We upped our merch game, we joined Printful and Shopify, kind of on-demand merch. I didn’t have to ship it myself, didn’t have to order a ton of merch then send it out to everybody, it was just on a website after we paid a small fee for it. That allowed us to drop new designs and keep things interesting. It brought in a little bit of money for us to help with some costs to keep this band going.
S.M: Was it more profitable than doing everything by yourself?
V.K: I don’t really run the finances behind that but I will say it definitely brought in a couple hundred bucks every once in a while and that helped out like crazy. Once you do the DIY, you’re covering shipping, you’re covering packaging and the actual shirt itself, and you try to keep prices reasonable. It’s just a total pain in the ass to do it yourself. It made everything so much easier and we were able to make a profit.
S.M: So obviously a huge switch to online happened-
V.K: Oh, yeah.
S.M: -was there any difference in the approach to the band? I know as an all-women band you’ve probably seen your fair share of garbage. Did anything change or improve?
V.K: Well I mean, how much time do you got? As far as band operations, we were a month into lockdown and we all decided together ‘let’s just write some music, it’s all we can do right now,’ and we had to learn how to pretty much become like little mini engineers. We had to get the programs and the equipment to record our instruments at home. Then over the Google Drive we share our files with each other and we keep track of BPMs… we wrote a whole album together almost completely in isolation.”
V.K: Yeah. We wrote about, like, 40 songs, and then we cut it down to 14 or 15 and we’re currently recording them in the studio.
S.M: That’s quite a bit of work.
V.K: It was difficult because you had to learn a whole new dynamic of working with each other, right? ’Cause normally we’d write songs in the jam space and we just put them together, try out multiple ideas. It definitely slowed the process down, but it made it easier to play around with different things. It was a double-edged sword. It was great and really efficient, but at the same time it kept things slow because everyone has their own schedules.
S.M: In the past two years with the shift to online and everything like that, did you do any promo online, like live stream shows?
V.K: We did one live stream that was put on by our record label, Stomp Records, for their 25th anniversary. All their shows got cancelled in 2020 and 2021, well not all of them, but I think it was 2020 we did a live stream for Stomp. We just filmed and recorded simultaneously just us doing a set, pretty much. It was a lot of fun, we did it at the studio we’re recording our album at. We did another live stream but we put it together from home and it was for The Fest in Florida, we did a Halloween live stream for them.
S.M: This might be a bit of a blunt question, but have you had any negative outpouring of anything online? It can be a toxic space.
V.K: Can you give me an example?
S.M: I’m a big fan of Bleached, for example, and I see a lot of comments like ‘Oh an all-women punk band, I’ve seen this before: The Go-Gos,’ stuff like that. I know a lot of people went terminally online in the past couple years-
S.M:-so I just wanted to know if that affected The Anti-Queens.
V.K: No, not really. Every time we put something up specifically for online promotion during lockdown it was all really positive. The only time we’ve gotten an excessive amount of hate and misogyny is when we released our single and “Worse Than Death” music video in the summer of 2019, it found its way to reddit. We don’t know who put it there but the comments were outrageous and a little soul-crushing, but we were able to laugh most of it off. But that’s mostly the only excessive amount of negativity I’ve seen expressed towards this band.
S.M: I mean, the fact that that happened is awful, but the fact it’s that minimal… it’s pretty good that you’ve had more positive responses since.
V.K: We’re pretty vocal about where we stand as women in this industry and where we stand as feminists and by now I feel as though our fan base and people who find us are pretty aware right away that we won’t tolerate it. We won’t put up with it, we’ll call you out.
S.M: You said you played make-up shows in November. There’s been sort of a mini-lockdown since so now that we’re “getting back to normal,” what’s the difference been from before all this to this push to more in-person shows?
V.K: We didn’t play our first show from the first lockdown until… I think it was August 2021. We were lucky enough to get on a festival out in Quebec. Then after that we did a couple local shows while we were open late summer. Then we did the west-coast tour with Dog House Rose. It was super fun but it was definitely a shock. We got into the west coast and not a lot of people were wearing masks, but we saw lots of masks in Ontario. So that was a big difference in that time alone. Later we did a few Ontario shows with Danko Jones and there were no masks at all and everyone was feeling good, feeling positive that this was really winding down, then Omicron hit and shut everything down. Now that we’ve come back from that, I’m testing regularly, I’m wearing masks at every show because it’s affecting everybody. It’s still running rampant.
We played three shows just in the last couple weeks and all of our direct support had members that got COVID a few days before the shows. We had to scramble to find an opener for one of them. That’s just kind of the reality now. Like we’re going to have to keep bands on call just in case. It’s wild. The shows have all been really positive. Not a lot of people wearing masks. Which is fine, it’s their choice, everybody’s exhausted with all of this and I understand that. But for us personally, we have to be extra careful, so like I said we’re testing regularly, we have a strict mask policy at shows, cause as soon as one of us gets COVID? We’re all down and can’t be productive in this band. A cancelled show is cancelled income, and it’s hard to reschedule so… we’re being extremely strict, probably more strict than we have been throughout the whole pandemic already.
S.M: Regarding that, do you have any thoughts of the government’s handling of it lately and how they have been supporting, or not supporting musicians?
V.K: Well I mean… I’m kind of torn because I was lucky enough to receive financial support from the government that got me through most of the pandemic. I feel like I had more money than working my part-time retail job, right? I was able to actually live off of it, which was a new experience for me *laughs.* But I mean, as far as musicians goes. I wish they hadn’t gotten rid of the vaccine passport so quickly. I feel like they got rid of it at the same schedule that they were going at last year before Omicron hit, and I feel like they should have extended it for everybody’s sake because the music industry suffered so much throughout the past couple years. We lost venues, my band lost members because you’re sitting around for two years and it’s just not fun anymore, y’know? So they lose interest and they go on to other things that do more for them. Bands themselves have collapsed and fallen apart, like, where’s Fidlar?
S.M: I know! I’ve been watching their Instagram for years!
V.K: I know! So, I mean, I feel like that was probably before COVID but just as an example. But bands just don’t have the ability to keep moving forward and they become defunct. People have rent to pay, people have kids to support, people have things they gotta do outside of playing music. This pandemic was soul crushing for so many people. Not to mention the mental health effect across the industry, and I’m sure every industry. I feel like the government could have protected everybody a little bit more for a little bit longer so we could come back nice and strong and not have instances where I’m losing my direct support the night before a show, or shows are getting cancelled because bands are getting COVID still. They gotta go out and do it, but it’s not necessarily the safest environment for them right now. Sorry, that was long!
S.M: No worries. It’s a broad question like “How do you feel about the government?” How do you answer that in a sentence, right?
V.K: Well yeah and let’s not forget too, all that bullshit that went down in Ottawa. It almost feels like the government’s catering towards this convoy movement. I hate to think that way but that’s how it kind of looks. All the science is suggesting that this isn’t over, but it could be if we’re careful.
S.M: So you’ve changed, you’re getting back, you’re booking shows I saw, where do you see the future of, not just The Anti-Queens, but the scene going from here on out?
V.K: I see lots of hungry bands that are just waiting to get back to playing shows. Everybody knows the risks and they’re doing it anyway, it’s definitely a labour of love that will never die. I’m happy to see a lot of my personal venues, not only in Ontario but down in the U.S too, a lot of them survived and I can’t wait to go and play them. I think this scene is always going to thrive, it just needs some time to recover. For anyone reading this: pay the $20 cover to see your favourite local bands because you’re helping everybody and you’re helping to rebuild the scene.
Anti-Queens are going on tour with the Cancer Bats in May. they’re playing Pouzza Fest in Montreal and will be touring in Europe this summer. They’re currently working on a new album with Stomp Records and have a planned release for Fall 2022.
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.