A Chat With: Gully Boys
Based out of Minneapolis, Gully Boys are a neo-emo band blazing the way for non-male bands in the DIY scene. I sat down with drummer, Nadirah McGill to discuss boy bands, “diversity,” and shifting the dialogue on local music.
Tell me a little about how you got started.
I started playing the drums about two and a half years ago. My ex-boyfriend had a drumkit and I would just fuck around on it. I finally saw these two drummers, Ben and Drew from POLICA. I saw them live and I was just like.. deceased. And it inspired me to start drumming. I always wanted to drum but my mom wouldn’t let me, she said it was too loud. So as soon as I was old enough, I got one, and it kind of happened like fate. My ex-boyfriend broke my TV and so he gifted me the drumset as payment.
Wait. Your ex broke your TV?
He was like “you can have this drum set, I was gonna sell it but I broke your TV. So.” And I was like “that’s fine”.”
And so that’s kind of how Gully Boys started. Kathy came over and we covered “Boyfriend” by Best Coast. And then she showed me one of the songs she had and it was called “Hymen Honey.” She invited her best friend Natalie, and we jammed together one time and we became a band. It was nice because none of us had really played our instruments before so there wasn’t a level of power difference or hierarchy. We all learned our instruments and grew together. We all have a musical background in different things, so it’s really fun to kind of take that and smash it into a different instrument. Our first gig was in 2016, and we had started playing like maybe a month before that. We said we wanted to be a band, and came up with a name, and then just never practiced because we were like “we know how to do this.” And then we booked our first gig and we were like “oh shit we need to figure this out.” We pulled it together. And it’s really funny because my friend brought my mom, and I didn’t know but she recorded our first gig. My drumset was next to the stage, it was so awkward. We were so nervous and were just shaky little babies in the video. It’s kind of embarrassing that it’s on the web. My sister was actually at our second gig where we covered ‘Burning Up’ by the Jonas Brothers and she posted it on Facebook. Now it’s always there.
Music is undoubtedly dominated by men. The drums are especially an instrument we don’t often see non-men play. What’s that like for you?
So when I was on tour in Chicago this last New Years Eve, this guy walked up to me and he was like “you’re actually a good girl drummer! I see all these good girl drummers online, but when I see women drum in person they’re never that good. You’re actually amazing!” And I know he meant that as a compliment but it was so fucking rude because I know that people don’t say that to men. It sucks. If you’re femme-presenting or just not a dude and you play the drums, or are just in a band in a predominantly white male setting, it’s hard. But with my drums people patronize me in small ways. They don’t assume I know what a drum kit is or how to set it up. Someone told me once, when we were backlining the drum kit, I was like “oh what do I need to bring? My pedals and my breakables?” and they were like “oh you know what breakables are? Usually we have to say cymbals and snare.” I’m not an idiot. It sucks so hard to exist in this space and to just have to not take it personally. I know I have to have tough skin because. I had a girl come up to me and tell me that she wanted to start a band because of our band, and she had never played an instrument before. And that’s all I want to do. Because I never had female rockers to look up to, especially queer rockers of color. And I don’t play the drums to show off, I do it for me. Drummers were always my favorite in bands. And Katherine from Lunch Dutchess is like, my idol. Every time I see her band play I’m so inspired. It’s just so good to see women drumming, and she’s such a badass, so when men do question her about stupid shit she can just tell ‘em to go fuck off.
Have you ever had that chance?
Yeah! It was so funny. So we had a gig at this space, and right before I was shooting a music video for someone else and I was playing the drums in it. And in this one part of the music videos I was purposely getting frustrated with one part on the drums. And this guy walks up to me and goes “if you just raise your snare stand, just a quarter of an inch you’d get it every time.” And I just looked at him and said “you fucking asshole, I’m doing this on purpose, I know how to play the drums. Thanks even though I didn’t ask.” He was so confused, and I’m like dude, nobody asked. Why do men think they can just insert themselves and give me unsolicited advice?
Do you get that “advice” a lot?
All the time. And it’s so annoying. It feels like they’re trying to hold my hand and go “oh, silly girl you don’t know what you’re doing.” But, I love when they do that before I actually play and then I play and they’re like wow, you know what’s up.
You recently posted a meme on Instagram with you and other non-male bands in the Twin Cities as the Breakfast Club. Which was hilarious. But do you find that you all get lumped into one category?
I just ranted about this recently. As non-men bands, we get compared to each other All. The. Time. Especially in write ups. Like, when we played the main room we got compared to Scrunchies. And we don’t even play the same genre of music. In write ups, if there’s another girl band on the bill we get compared to them. Whereas there will be like eight boy bands and none of them ever get compared to each other. But there is some solidarity because when we [other non-male bands] do play with each other, we’re all like fuck all this, it’s ridiculous. We get tokenized, guys literally ask us to come on the bill and open so they could check their diversity quota of being diverse like “we have one girl band.”
Is that tokenizing or belittling behavior is pretty blatant?
A lot of it is micro-aggressions. Just small little pokes. Like when people say we’re so good for a girl band and not just… a band. Boy bands don’t get that. Or after our sets they’ll be so surprised that we make music that men like. It’s stuff like that.
I notice you’re using the term “boy bands”, which is great. Is that a term that comes up or do you consciously categorize all male bands as boy bands?
That’s what’s really funny. I don’t know when we started doing that ‘cuz everyone’s like “all male bands” and we’re like, no they’re boy bands. They’re not grown men. They’re boy bands. But, we also want to fit in that space too. We’re boy bands. We make different kind of boy band music, and we’re actually girls, but we’re a boy band. Also all of us were fucking weird tomboys when we were kids. And now we’re all hyper femme and reclaiming that aspect of our dirty, reckless childhood in boy bands. But all the local male bands are boy bands to us. They would be offended if we said that, I’m sure.
I like that. So Metallica is a boy band, Led Zeppelin is a boy band? Big Black is a boy band?
Yup, we call ‘em boy bands who make “butt rock”. Butt rock music. We have a boy band butt rock song. But we look at Led Zeppelin and we’re like yeah, that’s butt rock. It’s a genre of music.
Has Women Bands(™) become a genre?
Yes, and it sucks. That’s why I feel we get compared to other bands. Because even though we make music that’s completely different from Scrunchies and other local bands, we get compared to them because Women Bands is a genre now. It’s baloney sandwich and I hate it. Because we’re girls we get pinned against each other, and you can feel that misogyny in the music scene. And then it gets kind of fucked up because I’ll be honest, I find myself comparing myself to other female bands because of my own internalized misogyny. But then I’m like, “why?”— I want them to succeed and I want them to have good things, and I want to support them as much as I can and as much as I want them to support me. But we’re lumped into one genre; if we’re women and a three piece, we’re a “Punk Woman Band.”
Do you feel safer or more confident when you’re on bills like tha-
Yes. When we get to play bills of just non-boys, it’s so good. It’s definitely just more safe and more fun hanging out backstage, and just naturally clicking. We both do this really hard thing for this thing that we love and have to go through more B.S. than boy bands do.
You just played First Ave, a big historic venue. So there’s no denying that we’re seeing a shift in who makes music. Do you feel like we’re seeing an influx of more non-men in the scene?
Yeah! In some aspects, yeah. Recently I’ve been seeing more calls for non-men. There’s a DIY festival for non-men that we’re playing in Fargo, North Dakota. But I feel like we’re also very supported in this scene. During our tour we talked with other women and their DIY spaces. It’s hard for a lot of people to find their space and acclimate. A lot of spaces are male heavy. But there is definitely is a wave of non-men coming. Stephanie Jo Murck [a musician in the Twin Cities] is kicking down doors and making space for women in DIY spaces. We’re seeing non-men take up space they should have and not be confined to being a Girl Band Playing in a Basement. There’s so many DIY bands now that are comprised of mostly women, or at least fronted by them. It’s becoming more normalized and more accessible. And it feels good and welcoming, like we’re moving away from tokenization because it’s not something unnatural. It’s not super groundbreaking anymore to have women in music and rocking. There’s also so many non-binary artists. There is space for non-men musicians to just exist and do what they do best, and get supported!
If you were dictator of a venue, what would the rules be, what would it look like?
It would be a mixture of touring bands and baby bands. Bands who just started and want to make music, and just picked up instruments for the first time. I’d want space for them to open up for bands on main stages, just making space for young people of She Rock. There would be a lot of space for non-binary folks too. I feel like there’s a lot of space for women. But queer and trans folks, especially trans women, get the short end of the stick when it comes to DIY and that doesn’t sit well with me. There’s so much space and so much room for everyone to succeed and everyone to do well and support each other. I wouldn’t have it be a competition. It would be more of a collective, co-op type thing. I would like more of this. We’re like thinking of opening up our own space in a friend of ours’ house. And that space would be run by musicians with disabilities, and musicians of color, and non-male musicians. It’s in the works. There might be that utopian space coming soon.
What kind of conversations do we need to have to create more inclusivity in the DIY scene?
One thing I don’t like is people who claim to be woke and have all these inclusive thoughts and then just take up space from the people they claim they’re fighting for, that’s what drives me absolutely insane. It’s the well intended white people. They inadvertently take up space they talk about giving back. I’m black, and queer, and in punk music, and making music that is predominantly run by white males. We need to remember that that music came from black people. Inclusivity for that would be having those conversations and realizing where you stand and how much space you take up. You need to ask yourself if what you’re doing is uplifting and making room for more people or if it’s self serving. I would just like a space where I could feel safe at all times and make music at all times. It’s, y’know, simple things.
Is Minneapolis an especially white city to play in?
Oh yeah. When we went down to New Orleans it was cool to see that space because everywhere there were just black musicians owning that city. But here it’s… really white, yeah. I have to tell my brothers that sometimes I do struggle being in a band with two white people, because sometimes small microaggressions will happen and they don’t notice it. Like on tour we went to Birmingham, Alabama and I was a little nervous being a queer black woman in the south, and Trump is the president right now, so it’s dangerous to exist. And I was trying to explain that to them and they just hadn’t considered it. There’s those times where I can feel that their bubble is only so big. And sometimes my realities exist outside of their bubbles. And that’s within the whole scene as well. But I am starting to see POC come into the scene too. And when I see them it’s like, I’ve been waiting for this. It’s good to see people who look like me playing this kind of music.
Re: creeping on your Instagram, I notice you hashtag “women in music.” Is that for irony? Just in case people search that tag? Or is it how you would describe yourself?
I do that because it’s how I found bands on tour. I mostly do it so other women bands can find us. I go on it and reach out to bands on tour and make friends with other women in music and find solidarity. Sometimes I do do it as a joke, but I’ve just found that tag to be useful for networking with other women. And of course it’s ironic too because we do call ourselves a boy band- we’re all brothers.
Do you feel like this wave of non-male bands is paving the way for the baby bands out there?
I feel like that bit of credit is true for most female bands. Any non-male bands have had to go through some bullshit so the next wave of musicians can have a smoother ride into the space. One of the things I always try to say at our shows, to whoever needs it, is to just start a band if you wanna start a band. Just pick up and instrument, because we need it. There are so many non-men and POC who have such amazing things to say but nobody has pushed them to say it or made them feel safe enough to just step into it. And I know I needed that. If I hadn’t have seen Tony Peachka, I don’t know if I would’ve been inspired to just do it. All of these bands kick down a door so someone else can walk through it.