It’s no secret that the metal and hard rock community has traditionally been populated mostly by white men. So when a band has members that don’t fit those race or gender roles, it naturally becomes one of the first things an audience or listener notices. Fortunately, any special treatment or perception in one direction or another towards these kinds of bands continues to become rarer. Bands still have to work hard at what they do and earn their own fans strictly through their music and talent, first and foremost.
While formed in 2000, Straight Line Stitch did not acquire female African-American vocalist Alexis Brown until 2003. Since then, the group has recorded and released two full-length albums and has appeared on major festivals like the U.K.’s Download Festival and the 2011 Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. Throughout constant lineup changes, the band has recently recruited members from the St. Louis, MO area and released a self-titled EP while on tour with Dead Horse Trauma during the summer of 2014.
On the last stop of the tour at Fubar in some of the members’ hometown of St. Louis, I caught up with vocalist Alexis Brown, guitarist Jackie Bergjans, and bassist Darren McClelland. We covered a number of topics ranging from writing styles, personal and group goals, crazy tour stories, and of course any differences the musicians may have experienced due to their sex or race in their musical career; as well as how those experiences differ for musicians performing and competing in an environment dominated by an age of social media.
I have to start with the obvious point. Metal, and even rock in general, have historically been seen as not only “boys clubs,” but predominantly white. But as time passes and we see more and more diversity in acts and audiences, it seems to become more commonplace to think of what was once a novelty as “no longer big of a deal.” In your experience(s), have you come across more adversity or welcome based on your race or gender in having a career in this type of music? Or have you not noticed any difference at all?
Alexis Brown (vocals): When I first started out, it wasn’t so much my race, but more so when I came out [in music] there wasn’t a lot of females in metal, and I think that’s what shocked a lot of people. But now… there’s a bunch of women coming up and stuff. At first… I wouldn’t say that it was an adversity, but it was more like, “Wow, I can’t believe that’s a chick.”
It was a surprise?
Yes. To a lot of people
Jackie Bergjans (guitar): Same thing for me. I still get, all the time, people come up to me after a show and they’ll be like, “Damn, you were good! For a girl.”
Yeah, token comment.
“Thanks. Because I didn’t know having boobs made a difference in playing an instrument.” You know, so yeah I still get that. It doesn’t bother me anymore.
You kind of have to blow off the whole thing. Even when you’re on stage, you have some idiot, “SHOW US YOUR TITS!”
That happens constantly.
Another token comment.
How many booty comments do you get?
I’ve lost count.
Well don’t you have to have “that guy” at the show?
[Laughs] I guess.
Are you saying you could totally go without having “that guy” for one night?
Yeah! That’d be OK.
That wouldn’t feel weird?
[Alexis and Jackie together at the same time]: No.
[Laughter] Those familiar with your two full-length releases have seen not only lineup changes, but also heard a variation in your sound, songwriting, style and approach. It’s almost like Straight Line Stitch evolves or experiments from album to album. Is Straight Line Stitch a band that starts from scratch every time you go into the studio, or are you still searching for an identity uniquely your own?
I think we start from scratch. It’s not anything planned out, when we write music. We all write how we feel… When we’ve been writing with Jackie, we just all have ideas and things that we bring to the table, and we just kind of feed off of one another. It’s not even a planned sound.
I wrote a song after literally playing the entire Mass Effect series, the video game. Different things inspire me at different times, and that determines kind of the sound that happens. So, I know it’s different for everybody, but we all throw in ideas and it just kind of becomes something… and its definitely different every time.
Straight Line Stitch itself is an identity all by itself. It has had a bunch of member changes and stuff, but the band just somehow keeps learning and evolving. It’s just its own monster, I guess.
I understand that you just put out a new self-titled EP while on tour this summer. Congratulations, by the way.
How is it different from your previous work?
That would be a question for you, m’am. Because there hasn’t been previous work for me!
Different lineup, different experiences. So THAT’S how it’s different from the other albums. Different life periods, I guess you’d say.
How did it come to be that musicians from right here in the St. Louis, MO area became members of a band from Tennessee?
Now this one’s for you!
Basically, a local band I was in for a long time, Strych9Hollow, opened up for Straight Line Stitch a while ago. It was like six years ago, easily. I know that they really liked us at the time, that lineup they had really enjoyed it, they loved it, we exchanged phone numbers [with] some of the members and I made it a point to go out to their shows and to support and say hi and all of that every time they came out. The last time they had come through was like September of 2012 and they were down a guitar player to just one. And I went up to the merch table – I was terrified – and Joey [Jackie’s boyfriend and band mate] was the one who was like, “You BETTER go up.” So I went up there, and I was like, “Hey Lex, do you remember me?” She said, “Yeah, I do! You’re that badass guitar chick!” [We] exchanged emails – I didn’t think I was going to get an email at all – and she sent me an email the next morning, I sent them a play-thru video of “Black Veil,” and the next email I got was, “Hey, do you want to tour?”
I was watching her videos – because she had a lot of guitar videos on YouTube – and I told Jason [White, guitar] if we didn’t pick this girl up, we’re stupid. And he agreed; I got in touch with her, and it was done.
And Darren came into play when we were down another guitar player, and J[ason] was like, “I want to play guitar.” I said, “Well, there’s only one condition; we need to find someone who can play bass as good as you, and I know one guy that can do that… And it’s Darren McClelland!”
Darren McClelland [bass]: [Upon arriving to the interview] …Hi! [Laughter] And I was already a fan of the band. They came to St. Louis [and asked me to join] and I’m like, “…Um, YEAH! I’ll play bass in a band with Jackie Bergjans!”
And you guys have played together in local bands before?
Oh yeah! So he and I getting on stage together was like peanut butter and jelly.
It was fate.
It just made sense.
…And now I’m hungry [laughter]. Straight Line Stitch seems to be a band that tours pretty regularly; you’ve supported many different types of bands and have played various festivals both in North America and across the globe. What are your experiences with crowds and audiences in different parts of the world, or even just the country? What are the similarities and differences?
Well, I can’t really comment on the worldwide part.
That’s kind of a tough one. You have hit or miss [shows]. Some shows are on, where the crowd knows the words, or they’re getting down to it. And then there are some crowds that are… not there [laughs].
I will say this, playing shows in New Mexico is AWESOME.
It’s amazing! It’s my favorite place to play.
And the reason for that is, there’s a lot of Native Americans. So in the audience, when they stop and they’ll cheer, they’ll do [Native American] chants. So it’s different than like, cheering in St. Louis.
They appreciate music more, maybe because they don’t get it as often.
And they get into it, too.
Yeah, HARD. Crowds are different all over. You meet all different types, walks of life.
In terms of sound or style, are there types of bands you prefer to tour with, or not to tour with?
Not at all, we’ll tour with anybody. We just love playing music.
Well, I don’t know about THAT…
That’s all her.
I would TOTALLY do that!
Actually, this [current] tour has been kind of eclectic.
Yeah, it’s really diverse. The shirt that she’s [Alexis] is wearing, Cage 9, they’re really like a rock – they have like, almost a classic rock feel at times, too. We had heavier bands on this tour and then they [played]… but it worked! Everybody loved them! It was awesome.
We’ll play with anybody, we really don’t care. We just love networking and meeting different [people], as long as they’re friendly.
What’s the craziest thing that has ever happened to you while you’ve been on tour?
…My hair came out.
Oh, Breast-Fest. Yeah.
It was supposed to be a classy affair for breast cancer, it’s a serious thing. As soon as we get there…
A GIGANTIC golf cart FULL of rednecks [come by]…
“SHOW US YOUR TITS! It’s BREAST Fest!”
And THEN – Darren can attest to this – a dunk tank next to our merch booth.
A naked middle-aged woman. In the dunk tank.
[We saw] Everything.
We’re talking HUGE areolas, and every time she would get back into the dunk tank…
Meat curtains. Yeah, terrible.
You can’t make it up. I know you’re throwing up a little bit in your mouth.
[Laughs] It’s gross. So that’s probably it.
…Now I just LOST my appetite.
At least you didn’t have to see it.
It seems that now, a band can’t survive in our current environment without some kind of social media presence. How do you use social media as a band?
I know J updates the Facebook page a ton, and THIS guy [references Darren] has been all up in Facebook.
I generally use it just to connect with fans. People put messages on the wall and I say, “Hey thanks for all your support.” “You guys played a great show.” Dude, thank YOU for coming out, because the show wouldn’t be a show without you.
People post all the time, so responding to them is important to you guys?
Oh yeah, for sure. I don’t do it enough, this guy does it a good deal.
They want to make sure that they’re not communicating with a robot. That we’re actually people and we LIKE to communicate with our fans.
Does that backfire sometimes? Do you maybe get some trolls or some hate?
It has backfired on me, that’s why I had to step away from it for a little bit. Because, I would get… some fan would send me a message, [I respond] “Oh thank you, thank you.” And his girlfriend breaks into his freakin’ Facebook. And I use [terms of] endearment; “Honey, thank you sweetheart!” And I got this big, “DON’T YOU CALL HIM SWEETHEART! BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH!” I was like, “Are you serious? Goodbye.” It was a lot of stuff like that; I don’t even know you, I’m just responding BACK out of LOVE as endearment – I call everybody that [sweetheart] and she went nuts like I wanted to take her boyfriend away from her. Bullshit. And I got other stuff, like people always WANT something from you, so it kind of takes a toll. But we love our fans to death.
Crowdfunding has become the next big thing right now. Is that something you’d ever do?
I can’t say that we would or not, because you never know until you cross that bridge. I think if the situation called for it, probably.
What has Straight Line Stitch not done as a band that you’d like to do next, or at least sometime in the future?
Go to Disneyland!!
[Laughter] You haven’t even done THAT?!
Yeah! We haven’t done that! We’ve GOT to go!
Now, do you mean just GO? Because I know some of the parks have venues…
She wants to see Goofy.
That’s my favorite! I just HAVE to go!
She’s a huge Goofy fan, she has Goofy sandals. I would like to – have you guys been to Japan.
We want to go to Japan.
That’s where I want to go; I’ve been there before, and I love it.
I want to go overseas, that’s my only goal really as of right now. I’ve never been overseas; I’ve been to like St. Thomas and stuff like that on vacations, but never in my element on a stage. I’d love to go on an international stage.