Photo Credit: Kate Hoos
The last time I got to connect with Baby Got Back Talk life was a handful of years ago elsewhere on the interwebs. We connected about being one of the few Black kids at rock shows, and talked about what’s become one of their fan favorites, “Historically White College.” Today, they’re all grown up but taking a page from their past paying homage to one of the most quintessential emo videos – ever. We talked about video inspo, the reality of being Black in America today, and more like their 2022 release, ‘Existential Shred,’ out on September 9th.
Kendra: So a few things have happened in the world since you dropped your full-length LP back in 2020. Just a handful of headline-making news stories, right? With that, did anything about how you all approached your craft change at all? Were you moved lyrically one way or the other by current events more so than ever, were there days when the dread of the world made making music hard to do?
G’Ra Asim: There’s a running gag in our band about how every time we write a song reflecting on something heinous happening in the world, the song has this endlessly renewable cachet because bad things keep popping off in the same way that the lyrics describe. We released our single “When They Go Low, We Go Six Feet Under” in late 2019. The music video highlights the Say Her Name campaign, a movement to amplify and politicize the stories of Black women, girls, and femmes killed by police.
There’s a long history of feminist interventions in punk, and there are countless instances of the punk scene raising awareness about police brutality. We saw the music video as an opportunity because there are not so many cases of framing state violence as a specifically feminist concern. About six months after the video dropped, we were all out in the street again protesting racist state violence alongside just about everybody and their cousin. The names of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were on everyone’s lips. The country claimed to be in the midst of some (ultimately toothless) “racial reckoning.”
Two years later, a mass shooter in Buffalo, New York went low and sent 10 Black folks six feet under. Our band had just queued up a new single called “Model Minority,” which skewers replacement theory, a far-right doctrine that partially motivated the Buffalo shooter.
Kendra: I did a podcast last year with some fellow elder emo millennials and I talked about how there were certain bands I just didn’t listen to anymore not because they got bad or anything, but more like I outgrew them. Like what they released when I was 16, even 24, fit at the time but as someone in their mid-30s, it just wasn’t it. Do you ever look back on records you loved as a teen and have any similar thoughts?
G’Ra: In a certain way we would rather those songs begin to feel like relics of a bygone era, rather than constantly picking up new resonances. We know the drill by now with our new EP, ‘Existential Shred,’ as the title might indicate. To us, the cataclysmic times we live in definitely heighten the urgency of what we’re doing. This is a time of global upheaval and that means that there is a pervasive need for the kind of sustenance that only art can provide. Punk culture has been and continues to be a beacon for us. We’re doing our best to return the favor.
Kendra: I ask because you’ve noted that Baby Got Back Talk very much represents the current punk scene, one that is focused more on DIY culture and social issues. In hindsight, are you grateful to be creating in an era where we want to hear more music like this? Because let’s be real – I don’t think we would’ve heard the likes of Fall Out Boy or New Found Glory busting stuff out like this in 2004.
G’Ra: We straddle a line between the bands you mention and some of our more overtly political forbears like Anti-Flag, Against Me!, Bikini Kill, or even the Max Levine Ensemble. What’s exciting about making this music in the current climate is that listeners are more receptive to that duality. If you come to see us live, you’re liable to hear a sweet, pining crush song and a fist-pumping anti-fascist anthem in quick succession. You’re also likely to see punks vibing with it like there’s no dissonance between the two. We’re super grateful for that!
Kendra: Now we have to talk about the “Model Minority” video because it pays homage to the best teen movie that never was, an iconic moment in not only emo music history – but music history all around – and that’s My Chemical Romance’s “I’m Not Okay.” Were there any other videos from that era that you were toying with the idea of doing in your own way, or had this always been the game plan?
G’Ra: Oh man, such a great question! We had been kicking around the idea of referencing American Hi-Fi’s video for “Flavor of the Weak.” There’s a section of that video before the song’s audio actually starts where an archetypal metal dude is asked for his “philosophy on life.” The dude shits all over punk and name drops his favorite figures in metal, but somehow American Hi-Fi (conspicuously not a metal band) makes that list. It’s ridiculous and strange and not altogether relevant to the song. In other words, exactly our speed, and we might nick it for some future Baby Got content.
Kendra: Also with G’Ra writing and releasing a whole book last year, I did want to tie in ‘Boyz n the Void’ by asking which song off of September’s ‘Existential Shred’ would you have loved to gift your younger selves years ago and why?
Rhiana Nisnevich: I would love to be able to gift myself the song “Season Premiere.” Growing up I always felt this constant weight of not being able to see past the experience I was living in to a brighter future. I felt stuck in a small town and locked into being someone that didn’t feel authentic to who I was, and it led to some pretty dark and yucky feelings and experiences I could have done without.
What I find inspiring about “Season Premiere” is that it gives this sense of the chance at multiple new beginnings, new chances to have a shot at becoming the person I wanted to be as I got older and had more control over my life. Looking back now (and after writing the song), it would have been nice to tell myself that there are many seasons in life to do something different and become who you envision yourself to be, and that’s a very freeing concept.
Kendra: Side note time – with September being a Back 2 School month, I’d love to know your favorite field trip memory.
Rhiana: I’ll be honest, I’ve tried to block out a lot of my field trips because I’m a big dork, but I think my most memorable trip was my last high school trip to Disney World (this was back in 2011, so some monuments may be different and my memory is a bit hazy from age).
The first day we arrived I was excited to get on as many rides as possible, but I was very anxious about not being on time to meet with the rest of the class and get back to the hotel on time. When it came time to leave the park I was a lot further away from the meeting point than I had anticipated, so I had to make a mad dash from that wild west section to the front of the park before the buses left me there. I was running as fast as I could and the person in front of me stopped short, causing me to ram my pinkie toe against the back of their shoe hard enough to break it. It hurt soooo bad, and the next day I had to jam my swollen foot into an orchestra shoe and pretend life was beautiful onstage.
It was at that moment I decided to pursue a career in punk, as I know my current bandmates would have sacrificed looking good for my feeling good and let me wear a flip-flop.
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘Existential Shred’ out on September 9th, what else can we expect on the horizon from y’all as we head into the fall?
Rhiana: More installments of our comic “The Most Interesting Band in the World,” another Baby Got Back Talk zine, more music videos, new merch, and more shows! We want to come to your city and play your house show/community art space/rent party. Hit us up. Our carbon emissions footprint is lagging way too far behind Taylor Swift, Floyd Mayweather, and them.