Last year, it was reported that between 2017 and 2021, the number of people murdered for being transgender had risen by a harrowing 93 percent. And with anti-trans sentiment surging in political spheres all around the world – particularly in the US, UK and even here, where a TERF rally in Melbourne ended with police bashing trans activists and shielding their antagonists (including avowed neo-Nazis) – the death toll is only growing… Yet earlier this week, Thy Art Is Murder frontman CJMcMahon felt emboldened to say that a mother “should be burned to death” for appearing to affirm her child’s non-cis gender identity.
According to Reddit user Dubble0Donut, McMahon took to his Instagram Story with content sourced from Matt Walsh – a controversial right-wing figurehead known for spouting dangerous (and demonstrably false) anti-trans propaganda – wherein footage showed an unnamed woman reacting neutrally to her child’s declaration of identity. In the video, the woman asked her toddler, “Are you a boy or a girl?” The toddler responded, “Both,” so the mother laughed and told them, “Okay, you’re both.”
Assuming the mother in question was affirming her child’s answer – and not responding to it in a joking manner, as was implied to be the case by her laughter – McMahon said she “should be burned to death”. Though I’m unable to verify as much, Dubble0Donut said this was “not the first thing [McMahon has posted] that could be interpreted as transphobia”.
The post was removed from McMahon’s Story after a short while, and in a statement posted to his main profile (which has since been deleted altogether – shoutout to Twitter user @ProgPro for archiving the content), the vocalist wrote: “I am going off social media for good. I will only post band-related things on here and will not be contactable, I will start an [OnlyFans account] with my own content and no it will not be nudes or sexual soon.”
Many commenters seemed to side with McMahon, with one writing that he “shouldn’t have taken [his] Story down” because people “need to call out that movement”. He responded directly to that comment, assuring his bigoted fan that he didn’t delete his Story, but it was removed by Instagram after being reported. “I got messages off four stupid people and 100 people backing to protect children from this behaviour,” he wrote. “I’m just ducking done with it all [sic] so I’m gonna go do my own thing.”
After some gentle backlash on social media, and reporting by the likes of MetalSucks and Metal Injection, Thy Art Is Murder acknowledged the controversy by posting the transgender pride flag to their social media platforms, accompanied with the quote: “Setting the record straight, we stand with you.” Comments on the post were initially limited, but they’ve since been opened and – unsurprisingly – flooded with transphobic sentiments. Thankfully though, many commenters have also pointed out how pissweak the post was to begin with.
For starters, limiting the comments at first proves Thy Art Is Murder knew to expect backlash – both from their queer-friendly fans who saw through their flimsy, quarter-arsed attempt at damage control, and from their bigoted fans who would leap at an opportunity to sneer at the trans community. The post itself also failed to even address the situation – McMahon is not attributed to the post, he has shown no remorse and made no apology for the comments he made, and there is no sign he’s willing to take accountability for having said something so dangerous.
The optics here are quite atrocious. Thy Art Is Murder have thrown the trans pride flag up as an attempt to cover their asses after their frontman called for violence against that community – specifically, in case you accidentally glossed over it above, saying a woman “should be burned to death” for merely accepting someone who might be trans. The fact they thought that would be enough to make things right, without even acknowledging what McMahon said, is beyond embarrassing. As a trans person, it’s insulting.
What was the thought process here? Were the band worried they’d miss out on a few sales of their new album (which they have coming out in just over three weeks)? Because they shouldn’t be: transphobic vitriol is in vogue right now – see everything going on with JK Rowling, Graham Linehan, and even locally on the ABC (Four Corners and Media Watch have both platformed anti-trans rhetoric over the past year) – and ultimately, their sales will be fine. Thy Art Is Murder won’t face any longterm consequences for sharing their hatred of people like me – it’s just us that will.
The band can say as many times as they want that they “stand with” us, but McMahon’s comments say otherwise – we know now that we’re not welcome at Thy Art Is Murder’s shows, and if we were targeted or have violence inflicted on us because of our identities, no-one in their camp would come to our defence. The band’s transphobic fans have been galvanised in knowing they can get away with it when they want to antagonise us. And this trickles on well past Thy Art themselves, because those antagonists aren’t just fans of theirs: they’re members of a much broader scene, and they’ll feel comfortable targeting trans people at any show held within it. By making the comment he did, McMahon explicitly told them that violence against trans people is okay. In fact, he encourages it.
Again, the band are unlikely to face any real consequence here, because very few people in the Australian heavy music scene are willing to call out transphobia. None of McMahon’s bandmates are going to address his comments (at least publicly), nor is anyone in the band’s extended camp. None of the bands associated with them will speak out to denounce McMahon or affirm their support for the trans community – they get to stay quiet and watch this all blow over in peace, comfortable feeling like their silence counts as allyship (sidenote: it doesn’t). Nobody comes to defend us when big names in the scene kick us down – Ronnie Radke, for example, is notorious for being loudly transphobic on social media, but Falling In Reverse are still selling out arena tours all over the world.
Trans people are easy targets in 2023. We’re seen as inherently “lesser” than other groups in society; when transphobic sentiments are protested by the mainstream, it’s most often because cis people are also affected by them (like when people criticise anti-trans bathroom laws by pointing to cases where cis people faced violence after mistakenly being read as trans). Recent studies show that as trans people, we’re four times more likely than our cis brethren to be the victims of a crime. And McMahon’s comments only serve to embolden those who commit them.
It’s not as though the frontman called people race traitors for being in interracial relationships, or said that (cis) gay men deserved to face the AIDS epidemic, or that Jewish people control the media; those comments would be met with vocal outcry and McMahon would be forced to address them properly – as should be the case – and Thy Art might even go as far as to fire him (or at least put him in time-out for a while). But nah, McMahon just said a woman should be burned to death because she appeared to affirm a transgender kid’s identity. She wasn’t even outwardly positive about her child saying they were “both [a boy and a girl]” – her reaction was, all things considered, pretty neutral. But according to McMahon, that’s plenty to warrant her brutal murder. And the mainstream consensus says that isn’t worth more than a gentle slap on the wrist.
I’ll get more than a slap on the wrist because of it. Because of comments like McMahon’s, people like me are routinely murdered in broad daylight, the justified excuse being that we had the audacity to exist. Because of people like those leaping to McMahon’s defence, I can’t feel safe being out in public without a weapon on my person. Comments like his put real human lives in real danger, and they shouldn’t be tolerated in the Australian heavy music scene. They shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere.
As a public figure – one of the biggest names in modern heavy music, no less – McMahon has a responsibility to protect his fans in marginalised communities. He has transgender fans. His scene is littered with us. And he’s called for violence against us, then had a sook and bailed from the internet after he faced the slightest hint of pushback. As it stands, Thy Art Is Murder don’t stand with the trans community. They stand for cowardice – and we don’t really want cowards in our corner. I reached out to representatives of the band for comment; at the time of writing, they remain silent. A source close to them, however, noted that a formal statement is unlikely to be made.
For now, I’ll leave you on a positive note: while there aren’t many bands in this scene willing to stand up for trans rights, there are some that actually include trans, non-binary and otherwise non-cis members. Some of my favourites include Cherish, Traces, Queerbait, Private Function, The Last Martyr, Hubris, Orpheus Omega, PTL, Stabbitha And The Knifey Wifeys, Ashbel, Adore, Final Girls, Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers, Histamine, Pity Lips and The World At A Glance.
Also keep an eye out for news on TRANSGENRE, a music festival celebrating trans and non-binary voices in Australian music, which will debut in Eora/Sydney at the end of 2023.
For those in need of support, here are some helpful resources:
I’ve been debating whether or not I should make a “transition fund” for a hot minute – long before I came out as transgender or started medically transitioning – but I keep being harshly reminded that I’ll never be able to afford the procedures I need to live my best life on my own, so I finally bit the bullet and set up a GoFundMe. I’m not really expecting anything to come from it, but if by any chance you might be able to help me out on my journey (and want to, most importantly), donations of any amount will be greatly, greatly appreciated. The fund is available here: https://gofund.me/bcb2375d
I would also greatly appreciate if you’d consider sharing the above link to any platforms that may allow for such funds to be promoted. I don’t know what else to write here, so I’m just going to copy the spiel I have written in the fund itself below. Take care!
Hi, hey, hello!
My name is Ellie, I’m a 26-year-old transgender woman based in Naarm/Melbourne, and I’m hoping to raise a bit of money to cover the rising costs of my medical and social transition.
To put it bluntly, being trans in 2023 isn’t just difficult because of the abysmal state of the political landscape, it’s also extremely expensive. My hormone replacement therapy (HRT) alone costs around $65 per month ($780 per year) and as a trans woman, things like feminine clothes, makeup and skincare products are important to ensure that (most) people view / take me seriously as a woman in society. Additional costs include appointments with my endocrinologist to manage my HRT ($400 each), regular sessions with my psychotherapist to work through the mental aspects of my gender dysphoria ($140 each), and voice feminisation lessons (variable, but on average $150~ each).
I work as a freelance music and pop-culture journalist, so the income I bring in is… Less than fantastic. I can scrape by in covering the above costs, but there are several procedures that would greatly aid me in my transition and help to combat my feelings of dysphoria, which I genuinely consider to be crucial in my journey.
The most important, I believe, is a hair transplant. I began medically transitioning at age 25, by which time I’d suffered significantly from male pattern baldness. My lack of natural hair is the single most significant source of my dysphoria; I am envious of virtually every woman I see with natural hair, I hate looking at myself in the mirror and not seeing my own hair, and I feel like a fraud and a disappointment to myself having to wear hair pieces (aka wigs) to look or feel feminine. It’s had a devastating effect on my mental health – not to mention, hair pieces are expensive, uncomfortable, cumbersome, difficult to maintain and just don’t look as good as real hair – and it’s something I am desperate to remedy as soon as possible.
I’ve been quoted $18,750 for a hair transplant of 3,500 grafts (7,000 hairs). All the money I save at present is going towards this, and I am also looking into securing a loan so I can at least have the surgery locked in and work towards paying it off. Until I’ve had that procedure, all money raised through here will be going towards “Ellie’s hair transplant fund”. My hope is that I can achieve the means to undergo the procedure by the end of 2023… It might be a bit too ambitious of a goal, but I won’t know unless I try, right?
From there, any funds raised through this campaign will be used to save for other procedures I hope to undergo along the course of my transition. These primarily consist of FFS (facial feminisation surgery) and GRS (genital reconfiguration surgery), the two I would consider the most essential to my transition after a hair transplant.
I would greatly appreciate any help I can get here, whether that’s through a donation (of any amount at all) or just sharing this campaign. Either way, thank you so much for taking the time to read this and consider helping me in my gender transition.
It was on November 30th, 2022 that Hazel Rue Meyer – one half of Perthian alt-pop powerhouse Those Who Dream, and one of the Internet’s most underrated shitposters – came out to the world as a transgender woman. For most of her fans, this was not entirely surprising: Hazel spent much of last year performing in feminine clothes, her hair growing longer and her makeup becoming bolder and more ambitious with every new photoshoot. As one commenter so elegantly put it, the closet for Hazel was made of glass.
My Spidey senses first tingled back in April, when I saw Those Who Dream open for Short Stack in Naarm/Melbourne. Hazel played in a twee green sweater – the kind a Disney Channel magnate in the mid-2000s would flip her shit over – with her cheeks soft and tinged with blush in the unique way estradiol seems to make them in the first few months of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I remember writing my review of that show and feeling stumped when it came to the paragraphs recapping the duo’s set: I wanted to spotlight Hazel by name because she absolutely stunned with her performance, but it felt wrong to use masculine pronouns or prefer to she and singer/guitarist Josh Meyer as “brothers”. At the time, the drumming Meyer had not identified herself as anything other than a cis man – but it was very obvious the person onstage thrashing up a storm alongside Josh was not a cis man.
Though Hazel hadn’t yet told anyone she was trans (aside from the care providers that facilitated her HRT), she’d been on hormones for roughly three months. It was also then that she started road-testing the name Hazel. She tells me: “I was in Melbourne for a couple of weeks, and I went to Starbucks every day. So when they asked for my name, I would say, ‘Hazel,’ and they were like, ‘Yeah, cool, Hazel’ and write it on the cup. And I was like, ‘Nice. That looks great, sounds great… I like it.’”
Hazel’s egg-cracking came at the turn of her 20s, immediately after she’d watched an episode of Euphoria and inadvertently connected to Hunter Schafer’s (openly trans) character Jules Vaughn. “I walked away from the TV,” she says, “and then my jaw just dropped and all the explosions started happening. I was like, ‘Wait a damn minute!’ And then chaos ensued.”
The subsequent reckoning was “a layered explosion”, Hazel says, noting that “so much of [her] life started to make sense” after being walloped by the bombshell revelation that she was a girl. “I always assumed there was something fruity going on,” she says of her budding sense of self as a child, “but I just didn’t know what it was. For so long, I was thinking, ‘Am I queer in some way?’ And the answer was, ‘Yes, but in what way?’ And then eventually, I came to the realisation that [my queerness] had nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with gender… One of the first things I thought [when I realised I was trans] was, ‘Oh, that explains my literal whole life. That explains why I only ever got along with girls. That explains why I always wanted to wear women’s clothes, but not in a boy-wearing-women’s-clothes way, like in a woman-wearing-women’s-clothes way.’”
Reflecting on her earliest memories of gender as a concept, Hazel says she spent the bulk of her youth feeling “confused”, and quickly learnt to repress her wandering thoughts about a possible life outside the masculine binary. While the Meyer household itself wasn’t conservative, Australian society at large had (and still has, to a slightly lessened degree) a palpable repulsion to visible queerness – particularly when masc-coded people show any kind of femininity. “When I would like things that were feminine,” she says, “I would be called ‘gay’, and I saw that as an insult, so I just started repressing [my femininity]. And every time the questions came up in my head, I would ignore them and be like, ‘No, that’s not what’s happening.’”
As a time-honoured coping mechanism for a litany of traumas, repression served Hazel well in her youth… Until, of course, it didn’t. “Something I learned about repressing things is that you don’t really have a choice when it comes to the surface,” she says, explaining that her metaphorical pipes started leaking metaphorical backwater at the literal age of 14. “Little bits were coming out,” she continues, “and I was going, ‘Well, maybe this is a sexuality thing. Maybe I’m bi or something?’ And then I thought, ‘No, that can’t be right,’ and just kept ignoring it. I thought, ‘This is a journey I will get to someday, but right now I cannot be bothered doing the self-work it would take to understand this.’
Hazel was a newly minted adult when those metaphorical pipes burst and flooded her brain with metaphorical debris. Jules Vaughn was not the first transgender character she’d seen represented onscreen; that was Laverne Cox’s Sophia Burset in Orange Is The New Black. But especially in earlier seasons of the dark-dramedy, circa 2014 when Hazel’s egg had taken its first hairline fractures, the character of Burset (and by proxy, Cox herself) was not exactly celebrated as the trans heroine she was. As Hazel puts it: “The representation was like, fine – it was good, but there was also a lot of negativity that came with it, so my takeaway from that was, ‘Okay, being trans is bad and you will be bullied and beaten up for it.’ So I definitely wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, that could be me’ – I just thought like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting…’”
Euphoria, meanwhile, handles Jules’ transness with incredible tact – not even in contrast to OITNB, but (mostly) just in general. Most crucial is that her identity is very rarely used as a narrative device, and when it is, it’s because it’s relevant to the overall story and her admirably dense, multi-faceted character arc; like virtually every character in the show, Jules endures a seemingly unending ream of trauma – but never explicitly at the expense of her transness. She laughs and fucks and hangs out with her friends – thrives – as a girl first and a transgirl second – and seeing this opened Hazel’s eyes to the fact that transness does not, by default, equal ostracisation. Cue, the aforementioned pipe-burst.
“It felt like I was having a conversation with my brain,” she says of that formative moment. “My brain said, ‘You’re a girl,’ and I said, ‘No I’m not.’ And then my brain said, ‘Yeah you are.’ And I said, ‘Oh? Oh!Oh shit!’ And then my brain was like, ‘Yep… Have fun with that.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, doesn’t society, like, hate trans people? …Fuck. I’m fucked. My life is about to be really bad – I don’t think I want this.’ And then over the next few days, I was just trying to rationalise why maybe I wasn’t trans; I was like ‘No, there’s… There’s got to be something else going on! This can’t be true! This is not where I saw my life going!’”
What followed was a few weeks of veritable agony, followed by gradual acceptance – “I thought, ‘Well, this is my reality. I can’t choose to not be trans, and if I repress it, I think my life will be even more horrible’” – and then a spiral into dysphoria when she “looked in the mirror and realised that how I felt about myself [didn’t align with] what I was seeing”. That lingered once she’d eventually learned to embrace her womanhood – when she “realised I had to live in a body that didn’t reflect that [womanhood]” – but after “a few months of pain and dysphoria”, Hazel took a forcible step forward to kick her feelings of self-hatred. “I sort of had to learn to love myself,” she says of the process, “and be comfortable with a lot of things that I’m not necessarily happy with, but have to live with for now. I could change what I could, and do little things like book doctor’s appointments and buy cute clothes… I could give myself little bits of joy to hold on to.”
One of those little bits of joy, as noted earlier in the anecdotal mention of her crippling Frappuccino® addiction, was her newly adopted name: Hazel Rue Meyer. She initially planned to transition under her given name, because the prospect of eschewing from it – something so innately linked to her identity (or at least the first 20 years of it) – was a “total culture shock”. She explains: “It was another thing that was really hard for me to get my head around: ‘Not only am I a different gender to what I thought, but I have to go by a different name too?’ I didn’t think I was going to do it. But my [birth] name started giving me a lot of dysphoria, and I started feeling less and less connected to it.”
Names are a fickle thing: sometimes our parents give us certain names because they hold a deep personal meaning or have rich familial ties – and sometimes we’re named random shit just because it sounds nice. Sometimes it’s a mix of both. Equally variable is the process of choosing a new name for yourself. Some trans people spend years mulling over potential options, backups and spellings – I, for example, spent about a year on mine, and road-tested one other name before landing on ‘Ellie’ (a name with ties that are deeply significant for myself, but in short, comes from The Last Of Us). Some fans of Hazel’s have linked her new name to her features – she has warming brown eyes and luscious brown hair – and her middle name could nod towards her love for Euphoria (Rue being the name of the show’s Zendaya-played protagonist); truth be told, though, both ‘Hazel’ and ‘Rue’ actually came from baby-naming websites.
The ‘shortlist’, as it were, started at a solid 100 names – “I’m a perfectionist,” Hazel quips. “But then I narrowed it down to like 50, then to about ten, and then about three. I tried a few different names – just saying them out loud and writing them down on paper – and my two favourites ended up being Hazel and Rue, so I decided to make Rue my middle name and Hazel my first name. And once people started calling me that, it just felt right.”
Next came the medical aspect of transitioning – the importance of which, it should be stressed, is entirely subjective and not at all essential to “the trans experience”. It was and is for Hazel, though, as she beams that HRT has given her “everything I could have wanted and more”. She says of the journey thus far: “It was never really a question for me, if I was going to do it or not – it was just a given – but I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t expect nearly as much of the emotional turbulence. I mean, you’re pretty much going through a second puberty, so you’re just a hormonal mess. And I really wasn’t prepared for that, because I was also going through so much else – you know, getting ready to come out, and just transitioning in general, it’s a whole mental mindfuck – so to have the hormones going crazy on top of all that… It was a lot.”
Because she’d started HRT before she told anyone she was trans, Hazel’s coming-out timeline was not something she had complete control over. Playing in a band with her brother, for example – someone who knew Hazel better than virtually anyone – it was inevitable that Josh would eventually grow suspicious of his sister’s physical evolution. He and their sister Ashleigh were the second and third people Hazel came out to (following her girlfriend at the time), and she tells me that Josh in particular “wasn’t very surprised”. She chuckles: “I told him and my sister at the same time, and both of them said they knew something was coming. I mean, look, I was on hormones for a long time, and it was getting pretty obvious. But they were happy for me!”
Having always been so close with his sister, though, Josh went through somewhat of a reverse metamorphosis: though he was strictly “amazing and supportive” at first, Hazel says, her brother’s perspective shifted slightly as he fully processed it. She elaborates: “We’ve always told each other everything, so he was just taken aback by the fact that I kept this from him for so long. But that led to us being more open with each other than we ever had been, and I think the whole experience has strengthened our relationship so much more.”
After telling her (now ex-)girlfriend and siblings Josh and Ashleigh, the obvious next step for Hazel was coming out to her parents – the “scariest” step in the journey, she says, but one that her siblings “hyped [her] up and gave [her] the courage” to take. “Josh literally had to start the conversation for me and fill in the gaps where I couldn’t get my words out,” she says, assuring me that her parents have been “very supportive” of her transition, but noting that she “didn’t really take into account that it would be a very emotional [process] for them as well”.
“There was a lot of mourning and just coming to terms with it all,” she elaborates, “which is totally fair enough. I didn’t really predict how tough it would be for all of them, or that it would bring a lot of turbulence to my relationships as everyone processed it in different ways. It’s almost like I needed to reintroduce myself to all of them – to let them know that I’m still the same person… But also that I’m not? It’s a really difficult thing to put into words.”
As a public figure, Hazel knew that at some point, she’d need to come out to tens of thousands of people at once – a prospect so daunting that most of us couldn’t begin to comprehend its gravity. But in the weeks leading up to November 30th, Hazel’s prevailing emotion was “just eagerness”. She did endure a brief cycle of catastrophising (naturally), but admits that after a few weeks of wading through those mental rabbit holes, “I was just like, ‘Oh my God, can I do it already!? I’m so bored of being closeted, I just want to be myself!’”
There was no real significance to the date on which Hazel came out publicly – the only prerequisite, she notes, was that she did it before heading out on the Good Things tour at the start of December: “I had packed my suitcase and it was full of dresses and skirts, and I couldn’t turn back.” She says of that turning point: “I was ready to be onstage as myself. And then it got to about three days before the first show and I still hadn’t come out, so I was like, ‘…Dammit, I guess it’s time.’ I had the photos ready. I drafted the caption – the first draft just said ‘am girl lol’. But the moment itself… I was in an Uber, I clicked ‘send post’, and then I dropped my phone and just turned it off, and didn’t look at it for like an hour – and then I got back to where we were staying in Melbourne and had a big cry. I meditated a little bit – I put some headphones on and just did some breathing – because I was just so fucking… It was a lot. It was a lot of emotion.”
Once her adrenalised surge of emotions settled, Hazel felt “just so fucking relieved” to be out. It helped that her friends, family and (of course) fans all rallied around her with rapturous aplomb: “I expected people to be nice, but not that nice,” she says, still a little shocked by the unremitting wholesomeness her coming-out attracted. “I expected at least a couple hate comments, but I didn’t get any. I knew that most of our core fanbase is queer, so I didn’t have any doubts about them [being receptive to the news], but we also have a lot of casual listeners and people who aren’t necessarily super-fans, who I know would be less experienced with this kind of thing.”
Particularly daunting was the crowd at Good Things – a festival of predominantly hard-rock, punk and metal-adjacent bands, where Hazel would be one of nine women on the bill (contrasting 121 men), and one of just two non-cis people. Hazel was understandably terrified by “all the metal dudebros” she’d be surrounded by all weekend, but quickly found that they “were actually some of the sweetest guys” she met on the trek (citing members of The Gloom In The Corner and Polaris as notable legends). To boot, all the festival’s crew – some of the toughest-looking motherfuckers in the industry – were nothing short of lovely. “It made my heart happy,” she says, describing her overall stint at Good Things as “such a special experience”.
As for Those Who Dream’s sets themselves, Hazel considers them some of the best she and Josh have ever played. Her cheeks crease with the weight of her big, dorky smile, growing more as she reflects on the “incredible” euphoria she felt upon darting out onstage. “I knew it would be special,” she says, “but it definitely exceeded my expectations. Just seeing actual people in the crowd, seeing them seeing me for the first time, it felt so good. It kind of felt like a press tour, re-presenting myself to the world and being like, ‘Hello, look, it’s me! I’m wearing a skirt!’ I can’t wait to keep doing it.”
I didn’t get to see Those Who Dream play at Good Things, but I did see approximately 2.8 million Instagram Stories from their set, all of which showed a band in their truest, most energised form. Especially life-affirming was how the bulk of those focussed on Hazel and championed her in those moments, celebrating that she was finally able to perform as her true self. It was no small moment for this legion of young Australian music fans – most of whom identify as queer themselves – because they’re able to connect with Hazel on a unique level. This “scene” does have a healthy cohort of transfeminine idols, but Hazel’s character makes her stand apart from her peers: she’s a role model for Gen Z’s class of shitposting alt-pop fanatics, and she adores having that role.
“I get to be the representation that I didn’t have growing up,” she beams, tearing up when she notes: “People have messaged me to say I’ve helped them on their journeys to discover who they are, or given them the confidence to come out.”
Like most in her position, Hazel wasn’t briefed on the ins and outs of being a perfect role model – “I’m a little scared,” she admits – but that’s part of the process in helping her fans figure themselves out: she, in realtime, is figuring it all out for herself. “I will absolutely take that torch [as a role model for trans women in pop music],” she says proudly. “I mean, role models usually say a lot of amazing things, and that feels like a lot of pressure – but I will happily take it on, because I just want to be that [role model] for people so badly. And I think it’s okay to be imperfect as a role model, and just live your life authentically and publicly; I just want to show people that you can be trans and have a great life.
“I guess the only way I can do that is just be vulnerable and honest, and not hide any parts of myself. I think I wasn’t a very good role model for a long time, because I wasn’t honest, and I wasn’t showing my true self… It’s hard to be a [prominent figure on] social media and post everything about your life. But I know I appreciate it when other people do that, so I think other people will appreciate it when I do that.”
In the way of her own role models, Hazel cites Hunter Schafer, Kim Petras and the late Sophie as three notable trans women who showed her it was possible to live authentically and thrive at the same time. She has a particularly strong love for Schafer, who she admits, blushing, “became [her] comfort person”.
“She just seems really happy,” Hazel says, “and she’s just living her best life. She has a poppin’ modelling career, a poppin’ TV career, and she gets to date Dominic Fike – she just makes me very happy and gives me a lot of hope. And her modelling career is just about her being a beautiful woman; it’s not like all these brands are going, ‘Look, we got a trans model!’ I think that’s really cool.”
For her formal coming out last November, Hazel (directly influenced by Schafer) organised a photoshoot to “debut” herself as both a trans woman and a model. “I’ve always loved modelling,” she says, “but I always struggled with knowing that I was meant to give off a masculine vibe, because that wasn’t something I wanted to do. In a lot of our earlier band shoots, when we had a makeup artist, I’d whisper to them and be like, ‘Do your worst.’ Like, ‘Glam me the fuck up – give me all the lipstick and stuff.’ So I got to dabble in it. But to fully be myself and do a photoshoot that is fully, like, ‘divine feminine’, embracing everything about that… It was really special. It was a really important project for me. It was just me, a makeup artist [Amelia Hart] and a photographer [Jarrad Levy, who is also queer], and there was just a lot of beautiful energy between us. And when I saw the photos, I just felt like I was me, you know? I’m really excited to do lots more of it.”
In those photos, Hazel has this celestial, pseudo-angelic glow to her; she doesn’t look into the camera, but keeps it peripheral – she knows it pines for her attention and relishes in teasing it. Herself fixated on something just out of reach, she occupies this grey zone between innocent and sensual, hovering ethereally and teetering on the edge of the bridge between fantasy and reality. Above all, she looks feminine. She’s delicate and tender and pretty and soft; she “passes” flawlessly, the way most trans women only ever dream they could. But the topic of “passing” brings a pause to our conversation – it’s a loaded topic for most trans people, and one Hazel is still dissecting the minutia for in her mind.
“I naturally want to pass,” she says, “like, I have a natural urge to want to. But I can kind of unpack that a little bit and understand that passing doesn’t have to be the goal. I do think the idea of ‘passing’ is kind of toxic to trans people, because it perpetuates the idea that cis-ness is the standard, and you should just blend in and look exactly like a cis person. But I love trans beauty, and I love seeing weird, alien-looking people. I think it’s really cool. I wouldn’t want everyone to just look cis, and I’m glad a lot of people can embrace being outside the binary in that way. For me, I do naturally just feel like I would like to pass… But I don’t think it’s healthy [to think that way], and I’m trying to work through that.”
Internalised transphobia is something Hazel struggles with in many ways – as most trans people do. “I didn’t expect that to be a thing,” she admits. “I don’t think anyone does. Because you’re like, ‘Well I’m trans, how can I be transphobic?’ But our brains are just hardwired that way, from how we were brought up and how the media treats trans people, to have certain thoughts.”
In order to reckon with and process those thoughts, Hazel developed a mental exercise whereby they’re allowed to materialise, but not take hold of her perspective: “When I have thoughts that I don’t necessarily resonate with,” she says, “I can choose to keep them, or I can choose to let them pass by. And sometimes when I have those moments of internalised transphobia or misogyny, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting… Okay, goodbye.’ And I just kind of unpack it a little bit and let it float away, because I know it’s not how I truly feel.”
At 23, Hazel’s relationship with gender has blossomed into something beautiful. She’s no longer fighting with the binary, or trying to mathematically decipher her place within it. “I love gender,” she laughs, another genuine smile breaking through. “I was confused by it for my whole life, and I had a very, like, ‘Fuck gender’ kind of mindset. I was like, ‘I don’t like gender, because the one I have isn’t something I like. I just don’t like the concept of gender, I don’t like anything to do with the binary.’ But now that I’m so in touch with my womanhood, it’s kind of amazing to me. I love the binary. I love everything about being a woman… I mean, I still have so much respect for people who still say, ‘Fuck gender,’ and I still feel that on some level – but for me, personally, I’m very… Woman. Everything about it makes me really happy, and it just feels really true to me.”
As a career musician, Hazel’s personal life is intrinsically linked to her art; she and Josh have long used Those Who Dream as an outlet for their formative ruffles with mental health. Josh has long been the duo’s main songwriter, but as they earnestly chip away at new music, music videos and a short film, Hazel is “feeling more creative than ever”. As for how her transness will inform the project’s narrative, she says: “Our lyrics tend to mostly deal with identity and mental health struggles. I’ve always loved music that doesn’t shy away from talking about real shit… So yeah, I can definitely see us sprinkling some of my experience as a trans woman into our writing.”
That narrative itself, too, is set to expand with “some crazy shit”. Hazel teases an ambitious future for Those Who Dream, noting that she and Josh currently have “about 100 demos just sitting in a folder”, and a growing eagerness to share the fruits of their labour – first with a rip-roaring single called ‘Apology’ (which features an unexpected detour into thrashy mosh-pop territory) and then a follow-up to their 2017 EP Life In Cyan. “I think we’re just going to try and drop way more music and be way less perfectionist about it,” she says. “We haven’t really done that in the past, and we have so much music just sitting there – I think it’s time we just released a bunch of it. And our music videos, as crazy as they are, are only going to get crazier. The narrative we’re telling is going to come to a head, like the end of a season of Stranger Things.”
I watched Those Who Dream play their debut Melbourne headline show on Sunday February 5th. It was a powerful experience, partially for the band’s enthralling set – where Josh and Hazel bounced off and charged each other’s buoyancy, shining with the kind of ironclad chemistry that only siblings can – but also for how gratifying it was to be surrounded by so many other trans, gender-diverse and otherwise queer people, soaking in and igniting this eruption of celebratory emotion. There was a moment where Josh gassed up his sister’s recent coming-out – “Let’s hear it for trans women in 2023!” – and the crowd cheered louder than they had for any song. Hazel blushed and wore a 24-carat grin, but that wasn’t too notable – she spent virtually the entire set beaming, visibly enthralled to be living out her dream, trashing out onstage before a sea of adoring fans, as her true self. It was the happiest I’ve ever seen her.
As a fellow trans woman in the very early stages of her transition, that gravitas cannot be overstated. Those early struggles in tackling dysphoria, getting your head around things like aesthetics and clothes and makeup, and societal pressures to pass a certain threshold of femininity – to say nothing of the confidence needed to be yourself in public, and the strength to weather seemingly endless pushback from the public… It can be a lot. But seeing Hazel thrive and live her best life, truly in her element and celebrated for it, assured me that I’m on the right path; that it’s more than worth braving those initial storms because what lies on the other side of them is more gratifying than any kind of safety “the closet” might offer.
That’s not to say Hazel’s journey is over, or even close to. Those Who Dream’s future, as it stands, is much clearer than Hazel’s individually – but that’s part of the fun, she notes in closing: there is no one definitive ‘trans experience’, and Hazel is making the most of hers. “For the first time in my life,” she says, “I’m actually excited for the future. I actually want to get out of bed, put on a cute little outfit, and present myself to the world. And that’s a crazy development for me, because I used to just want to hide away all the time. Suddenly I’ve gone from being too afraid to plan for the future, to having so much to look forward to. Sure, there’s a whole load of hardships and struggles that come with being openly trans in a world that is largely unaccepting – but I’d be lying if I said those weren’t outweighed by the absolute euphoria and sense of self-assuredness that comes with finally being myself.”
Happy #TransDayOfVisibility! Remember to show your appreciation for all the trans peeps in your life by sending them $20 (PayPal works fine, thanks babes xoxo).
Nah but for realsies, this is my first TDOV as an open trans woman, and I have a lot of feelings about it.
My relationship with gender has been chaotic for about as long as I’ve been lucid. I spent the first chunk of my life being completely oblivious to the binary, not really understanding that there was a (societally perceived) disconnect between “girls” and “boys” and sort of just thinking I would grow up to be a woman because… That’s just how it worked, I guess?
Having it made explicitly clear that I wouldn’t* grow up to be a woman kind of spurred on my first real existential crisis. I spent my teen years trying to run and hide away from, ignore or brush aside my feelings of dysphoria, always trying to make excuses for why I felt envious of the girls around me and didn’t fit in with or relate to any of the boys. Like most of the trans people I know, I kind of just assumed that everyone wished they’d been born as the opposite sex – that gender envy was just a normal part of life that everyone experienced.
I didn’t know what the words ‘transgender’ or ‘dysphoria’ meant until 2014, and after that, it was impossible to ignore what was “wrong” with me.
I got real sad.
I tried numbing myself with drugs and alcohol.
I used self-harm as a crutch.
I wrote more suicide notes than I’d care to count.
I was introduced to non-binary identities in 2016 (at the age of 19) and made a bunch of queer friends, and for the first time in my life, it felt like things kind of made sense. I started identifying as non-binary in my private life and slowly started feeling more comfortable with myself, even though I was still presenting 100% masculine. But as I entered my 20s, my beard got thicker, my skin got rougher and I started to go bald, and naturally my dysphoria intensified as a result.
I started seeing a psychiatrist that specialised in transgender care and planned to start hormones in secret in early 2017, but my sister found out and after a fight with her, I was spooked out of it (thankfully she’s no longer a part of my life). Five years later, last May, I was able to “come out” properly and start living as Ellie in my day-to-day life, be more open with how I expressed myself and experiment more with feminine presentation (albeit with the beard intact and a mostly masculine wardrobe). I also started HRT (hormone replacement therapy, for the cis among us) last July.
I did feel very comfy being openly non-binary, but the more I connected with my femininity, the more I was forced to actually address and reckon with my dysphoria. “Maybe I’m actually just a trans woman” was an argument I’d had internally for years, and I settled the debate for myself a little while before I came out last May (which is why I didn’t explicitly use the term “non-binary” when I did), but I didn’t make the full leap and come out as a trans woman then because, among other reasons, I was scared. I didn’t know how to navigate what would come afterwards.
Over the last few weeks of 2022, there were a few key events that forced me to take my battle with dysphoria more seriously. It became painfully clear that I couldn’t keep denying the truth for myself, and… I chickened the fuck out. I freaked, spiralled and ultimately tried to kill myself on New Year’s Day.
After coming home from the hospital and settling back into reality, I came to the conclusion that if I was going to keep living, I needed to accept myself as a trans woman and get myself to a point where I felt okay living as one. I started thinking about how I could work myself towards a presentation I felt comfy with before gently coming out – I’d keep going on my weight loss journey until I felt okay about my shape, then I’d lose the beard and get all the follicles lasered off, get a hair transplant and start growing it out, practise make-up in private until I had it down-pat enough, and then finally come out one last time.
But after seeing my extended family at a funeral in early January, I realised that I didn’t have all that time at my disposal. It hurt too much to keep playing pretend – I couldn’t keep wearing the mask I’d been wearing for my whole life thus far; I couldn’t force myself to hide behind masculinity anymore.
I came out to my partner on January 12th and leapt straight into femme presentation with no sense of aesthetic, a few hair pieces, wicked stubble, no idea what I was doing with makeup… I mean, I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I feel like I’m slowly getting better? I am slowly figuring out how to dress, present and embrace myself as the woman I am. And the truth is that I’ve always been a woman, it just took me 26 years of struggling to accept that for myself.
I’m still struggling. I cry at least once a week over the fact I don’t have my own hair (that surgery is my #1 priority right now). I am finding voice training to be absolute hell (heat from fire, fire from heat). I do not pass in the slightest (as people in the street are always extremely keen to make clear), and the public transphobia is so much worse than I anticipated (see: that TERF rally here in Naarm a few weeks ago, where Victoria Police protected self-declared Neo-Nazis while they bashed trans rights activists). But I would much rather die as an open, struggling trans woman than live miserable and closeted.
I am more comfortable in myself now than I have ever been. Every mismatched fit, botched makeup job and vocal cord squeak is a learning opportunity – a baby step in becoming who I was always meant to be. When I look at myself in the mirror nowadays, i don’t immediately feel like shit. I smile. I see the hormones slowly starting to work their magic, I see my aesthetic skills developing, and I see a future where I feel comfortable in my own body. I see a girl trying her damn hardest to live her best life – a life of authenticity, radically and defiantly so – and my spirit burns for her. She’s my biggest inspiration.
TLDR: my name is Elizabeth Ashley Doria – Ellie for short (and if you’re wondering, Robinson is my mum’s maiden name; I use it for my writing as a tribute to the feminine energy that shaped me). My pronouns are she/her. I am a daughter to Mark and Jeanette, a sister to [redacted], a fiancée to Milo and a dog-mum to Cadbury.
I am a transgender woman, and I am proud as fuck to be one.
QUICK LIL’ CONTENT WARNING: This post openly discusses some potentially triggering topics, like gender dysphoria and transphobia, weight/diet/exercise stuff, financial insecurity and general mental illness vibes. If any of these might be triggering for you, I recommend proceeding with caution or giving this post a skip. It’s all good if you gotta do that, I still love you!
Hey, hi, hello!
Oh my God, it has been a MONTH. I refuse to believe February is the shortest month of the year – this one felt like it went on for approximate 13,462,373 infinities. But we got through it! And we went to a stack of gigs! Ten to be exact!
So like January, this month started pretty dismally – after last month’s whirlwind of emotions I was (or like, I have been) feeling very raw and sad and anxious. Milo and I went to see Girl In Red on the 1st and the show itself was incredible – she played all but one of the songs I was hoping she would (no love for ’Summer Depression’, sigh) and we both had a big ol’ bop – but it was also the first show I went to in girlmode, and it definitely kind of sucked being glared and stared and sneered and double-taked (double-taken?) at by a solid 20 people there.
Like I said last month, I don’t even come close to passing – not even close to close to close – but I was at least hoping that Girl In Red’s own (extremely queer) fanbase would be cool around visibly trans people. It was those curt up-and-downs – those quick-but-callous scans to verify that I was not a “real” woman – that really cut me. But I guess at their cores, cis queers are still cis people and exhibit cis people behaviours. I still had a great time at the show. And fuck the rest of Melbourne, I looked cute. I wore my fuzzy pink top and pseudo-edgy Valentine’s skirt from Dangerfield, fishnets and my buckle-y Docs, and I dolled myself up with a smoky red eye and razor-sharp wings… I objectively served cunt.
The next day I needed to grab some basics and felt confident so I didn’t bother de-feminising when I went for a mid-arvo Coles run; normally I’ll dress femme and girlmode around the apartment from the time I wake up, and then I’ll swap to boymode whenever I need to head out – it’s just a safety/not-feeling-like-being-perceived-as-the-truest-form-of-scum-just-for-existing kinda thing. But like, obviously my confidence was misplaced. I was out of the apartment for maybe ten minutes, tops, and got sneered at four times: first by a couple in an aisle, then by a group of teenage boys who were blocking the entrance to the self-serve checkouts, then by the staffer working those checkouts, and finally by a car of frat bros on the walk home.
It never fails to stun me that transphobes think people actually want to be trans – that we’d choose to put ourselves in these situations, that inviting the rest of the world to openly and loudly hate you would be trendy. I made it back to the apartment and sulked until I fell asleep. There were countless others sneers and microaggressions and other little tidbits of transphobia that I copped throughout February – I went out in girlmode more than I did in boymode – but I’m only going to touch on the ones that feel relevant to what else I did this month. Otherwise this post would need chapters.
I felt second-hand gender euphoria watching my friend Hazel crush it with her band Those Who Dream on the 5th. Seeing the crowd cheer for and celebrate her doing her thing – celebrate her just being her – was truly life-affirming. And the show itself was sick – that was definitely a plus. (Sidenote: I wrote a giant ((5,000+ words lmao)) profile with Hazel that I should be able to post here in a little bit, I’m just waiting for her to send through some assets and one last quote ((but alas that bitch be busyyyyyyyy))).
A couple days after that gig (on the 9th) I went to 100 Gecs’ show at the Northcote Theatre and, very unsurprisingly, that was even transer – there had to be no more than, like, eight cis people there (one of whom obviously being Dylan Brady). It felt weird not being the tallest girl in the venue – I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before? – but every other element of that show felt absolutely incredible. They played most of my favourite songs and all the 10,000 Gecs songs sound absolutely massive IRL. I’m also parasocially in love with Laura Les, (not to simp but) that fucking woman could kick in the face with her Vans and I’d have no choice but to thank her.
I also realised when they played ‘Fallen 4 Ü’ (my favourite song of theirs – absolutely criminal that it didn’t make the cut for 10,000 Gecs) that I have an actual crush on this girl I’ve been talking to a lot recently and holy shit, I hate it. I mean, I don’t hate having crushes – I think it’s nice to have people that make you feel warm and cutesy and give you butterflies, it’s such an amazing feeling – but I specifically hate having this crush on this girl because she is so wildly out of my league and would never have feelings back for me, and I inevitably get stuck on those facts when I think about her.
Also crushes are weird when you’re in a committed relationship; Milo and I are open about the feelings we have for other people (and actively welcome it) and we’re not sexually exclusive, but we are romantically exclusive (ie. we’re not polyamorous, just ethically non-monogamous), and it’s like… I don’t want another partner or a side-piece (a sucky concept to begin with) or anything in that kind of realm, but… Like… Actually I don’t know what I want with this girl? A platonic friendship where sometimes we go out on proper dates and kiss a bunch? I had that simultaneously with Milo and another person before Milo and I started dating, but it ended with Milo and I developing serious feelings for each other and eventually becoming full-on partners (four years strong now!!) – and that other situationship wound up with the other person also developing serious feelings, which weren’t reciprocated by me, which caused problems, which ended up with our friendship ending messily. (But that other person was also very toxic and abusive and just a terrible person to have in my life altogether, so… Yeah look, I dunno).
Some other little moments of gender euphoria from this month: getting my eyebrows and lashes done at Miss Jay’s; having my first session of facial electrolysis and never having to see those few stubbly beard hairs ever again; taking the first step in exploring surgical options and having a consultation for a few FFS procedures (even if the consultation itself was wildly depressing and left me feeling incredibly dysphoric); noticing some of the physical changes I’d been waiting for since I started HRT (namely them PS1 Tomb Raider titties); being gendered correctly in random places like shops and cafés; the handful of insane, OTT full-body orgasms I had (one of the many other benefits of HRT); all the extremely sweet replies I got to all the dumb, cheesy femposting I did on social media.
Last month I vaguely gestured at “not existing in the gender binary where I thought I had for the last few years” and “unpacking that later on” – kind of broadly hinting that I’d probably come out as a trans woman soon – but I didn’t think I actually would for a long while… Maybe another year? Maybe on my 27th birthday? I came out “publicly” as Ellie and started using that name with work and in my day-to-day life last May (I’d been going by Ellie in my social life since 2016 and ID’ing broadly as non-binary since around 2020-ish) so I thought it would feel trite to “come out” again so soon – even though I’d been struggling with the thought that maybe I was actually just a straight-up “binary” trans woman for a hot minute before that time around 2020, and came to that solid, ironclad conclusion for myself a few months before last May.
I didn’t make that full leap when I told my parents/colleagues that I wanted to be called Ellie because I was scared – very fucking scared – and just taking that one step felt like the most I could do at that time. I was still trying to convince myself that I was okay with presenting masculine – that I wanted to, that it didn’t cause me intense dysphoria every time I looked at myself in the mirror or got dressed in masculine clothes or heard myself speak. But repression only works for so long and especially so as I saw more and more of my friends and colleagues come out and embrace their true selves, it felt like I couldn’t keep trying to run away from mine.
I think paradoxically, coming out as non-binary was part of what helped me realise I wasn’t non-binary; I’d shoot for that pseudo-androgynous vibe of wearing femme clothes with a masc face and feel great about the former but awful about the latter. I’d try to describe to people how I related (or didn’t relate) to the gender binary and realise halfway through a sentence that I was actually just describing what it felt like to be an egg who’d thought she’d already scrambled herself but hadn’t even cracked.
Hormones, too, amplified my feelings of physical dysphoria: my skin got softer and my mind got quieter, my titties started doing their thing and I even started smelling differently – not to say anything of how my emotional baseline shifted – but I still had a beard and a thick, bassy voice and I still wore gruffy bear clothes… The more I connected with my femininity, the more I disconnected from masculinity. And then I spiralled into a crisis where every hour of the day was directed by dysphoria, and I tried to kill myself because I’d rather be dead than have to keep hiding away from being a girl. And then I realised I couldn’t keep hiding after my great grandmother’s funeral… It’s all very flowery and dramatic, I know. Zach Braff would have a field day with me.
So I didn’t want to come out for at least another nine or so months because I’d already came out once, like seven months ago, and I didn’t want to look like a whore for attention. But compounding the amount of dirty looks I get every day just for existing in public as a loudly non-passing trans woman (a fat one at that) with the seemingly neverending discourse around Hogwarts Legacy, (in)famous TERF cunts like Glinner and JK Rowling, the murder of Brianna Ghey, and a band like Sticky Fingers being platformed at Bluesfest, it’s hard to ignore the overwhelming likelihood (if not just straight-up inevitability) that I’ll be involved in a hate crime in the not-too-distant future.
It’s not irrational to think that, it’s just a harsh reality of being transgender in a largely conservative world – even if they are a minority, there are people in the world that want people like me to be wiped out from existence. If I die because I happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, I at least want to be mourned as the person I actually am. So I came out with a quick tweet that I put two seconds of thought into on a random midweek morning. And now I’m an ✨open✨ trans woman. So wild. I want to write more about gender and my relationship with gender – as soon as I clear out my current freelancing backlog, I have a billion things to say.
I’m trying to fill that backlog up as much as I can, though, because I don’t really have a “day job” anymore. About 80% of my income came from the shifts I worked in the NME newsroom – a solid 40 to 50 hours of (very well-paid) work every week – but the newsroom got shuttered at the end of February. I’m able to make it through March alright, but unless a miracle happens and I manage to pick up a good dozen projects in the next little bit, I don’t really know how I’ll make rent for April. It’s a really scary time, money-wise. Becoming homeless has always been my number one fear, and, like… I’m fucking scared right now. But I’m putting myself out there and trying really hard to get by. Fingers crossed, right?
If you’d like to help me out a bit, here’s my Kofi link and here’s my PayPal (please ignore my deadname – I’m trying to get it changed but y’know, that process being absolute hell and all). I don’t like asking my friends for financial help, so there is absolutely no expectation that anyone will even click those. But there’s also no expectation that anyone will even read this post – I’m just killin’ time over here. I probably shouldn’t be, I have so much shit to do, but… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Swinging back around to a more positive note, I did some other cool shit this month! One of the biggest highlights was a face-to-face interview I did with Dallas Green at the Forum, talking about his new City And Colour album The Love Still Held Me Near – maybe his most powerful (and heart-wrenching) body of work to date – and the gear he’s been playing for the live shows. We did the rig rundown onstage, which was so wild (genuinely one of the biggest “oh holy shit I’ve made it” moments I’ve ever had), and we had our deep-dive album chat backstage. Dallas was incredibly sweet and wholesome, and he gave me a great story. I am very thankful for him, and the phenomenal women at Deathproof PR who made our lil hang-out happen.
Laneway was also wild. It was the first festival I’d been to just for myself – not to review or “cover” or anything, but just to enjoy – in a solid five or six years. I did go to a press event in the morning though – a lil’ brunch thing to commemorate the launch of SoundOn – and that was really nice; I caught up with some colleagues who I’d known for a while online but never met IRL, and I had some fantastic new people put on my radar.
As for the festival itself, I had a total fuckin’ blast. I saw The Beths, Julia Jacklin, Girl In Red, 100 Gecs, Phoebe Bridgers and Turnstile – and every single set was goddamn brilliant. It was a very fun and chill and gay time. I was so dead after it that I had to bail on two gigs I was really looking forward to the next day – nothing,nowhere. and the Victoria’s Pride Street Party – but I’m not mad about that. I had the best time at Laneway, and I’m glad I listened to my body and gave it the rest it needed afterwards.
Turnstile’s Laneway sideshow was also insane, Glow On was my favourite album of 2021 and it felt so wild to see all my favourite songs from it come to life in the flesh. Milo and I also went to Dodie’s show at the Northcote (very cute and wholesome, such a wonderful vibe), and I went to Leo, Harry Styles and Alexisonfire by myself. I do wish I had more friends I could go to gigs with (Milo doesn’t like going to them anymore, so my +1s often go to waste) but I still had a ripper time at all of those shows. Harry was especially fun – just such a buoyant and bubbly vibe.
The night of that Alexisonfire gig was also the first time I tried wearing a 3XL shirt in a few years – and to my absolute shock, it fit me perfectly. Last March I could barely fit into a 6XL. I know it’s not a super positive thing to be like “I’m a 3XL!!” – I’m still considered “morbidly obese” – but fuck, I’m really proud of this little milestone on my weight loss journey. Because I’ve been struggling a bunch lately: my weight has plateaued between 157kg and 160kg for the past two months or so, and my eating habits have started getting a little more unhinged lately – but I’m still making progress, I guess, even if it’s a bit slow and inconsistent.
I keep needing to remind myself that progress isn’t linear. As long as I’m making progress at all, that’s all that matters. And I’m making decent progress – I weighed in at a scratch over 200kg in the later months of 2021, I’ve lost about ~40kg in 18 months. That’s pretty decent! I have a long way to go before I’ll be happy with my weight and figure, but y’know, baby steps and all that.
This month I interviewed two people for Australian Guitar (Dallas Green, and Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins) four for NME (Hope D, Annabel and Cecil of Body Type, Dallas Green, and Bec Stevens) and one for a freelance biography project. All of them were great!
It’s been such a mission trying to shake off the masculine “radio voice” I’d spent the past eight years developing. I’m doing voice training for just, like, everyday life, and so far that’s been a whole journey and a half in itself – finding a natural, comfortable feminine tenor, then training myself to speak in it and adapt it to my everyday speech patterns, then trying to rewire my brain to make that my default – so trying to adapt all of that to the OTT “radio presenter”-style voice I put on to conduct interviews… It’s been a lot! And I’ve been failing a lot! But I’m still trying! And that’s all that matters!
Like 99.9% of trans girls under the sun, my voice training journey has been steered primarily by studying videos from TransVoiceLessons (aka the actually iconic Zheanna Erose) on YouTube. (I feel like an easy way to identify transfemme people in a crowd would be to yell “HEAT FROM FIRE” and see whose heads whip around in knowing curiosity). I started training a few days into 2023 and felt like I hit a weird kind of snag around mid-February – I was finding it difficult to actually apply the advice and lessons Zhea gives in her videos – so I bit the bullet and booked in a private lesson with her. It was obviously so fucking expensive (and with the whole “losing my day job” thing, probably not the best use of my limited finances) but it was honestly worth every cent.
Zhea not only gave me some incredible guidance, she was able to break down where, how and why I was failing to progress, and gave me tangible and easily applicable tools to overcome those barriers. It’s only been a week since our first lesson and I feel like I’ve made an insane amount of progress in my training, just using what I was taught over that hour. I mean, I still have an insanely long way to go, and I’m nowhere near achieving the voice I want for myself… But things take time, right? I was a terrible journalist in 2014 when I started, but now I’d confidently argue that I’m pretty great at my job. I’m looking at voice training like that – and things cooking, driving, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, etc – whereby practise really does make process. Sometimes ya just gotta trust the process.
I know I need to take that same advice when it comes to transitioning in general. I have some friends who have been openly transitioning for years now, and they seem to have everything under control – they pass flawlessly, they have the most stunning fashion senses and makeup skills, they sound incredible, they seem so confident and fearless in themselves… But I scroll back to where they were a couple months after they came out, and see they were in the same spot I’m in now: rough makeup, garish fashion choices, overly forced “confidence”. There are some girls I know that seemed to nail femininity right off the bat – like they skipped the first five years of transitioning and leapt straight to the optimal “endgame”… But I’m not one of them, and that’s okay.
I think this point in particular is when I need to remind myself of that often. It helps to have goals and targets, and (for most of us at least) there’s a long and tricky process involved in reaching them. Every time I fuck up my foundation, I learn what not to do next time; every time I clash my colours or contrasts with an outfit, I learn what top and bottom combos don’t work. I’m not [names redacted] and I can’t speedrun my transition. And that’s okay. I am where I am and I’ll keep working on myself, and then in a year’s time, I’ll be where I’ll be. I’m not waking up, scratching a beard and immediately wishing I was dead; I’m not who I was in December 2022, and fuck, dude, that’s a huge enough leap for now.
In terms of other media I consumed this month, I… Actually haven’t consumed much at all. I haven’t had time. Milo and I went to a press screening for Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, and as expected (being a giant, unapologetic MCU slut) I thought it was so fucking sick. And of course I have remained absolutely fucking obsessed with The Last Of Us. I love everything about this fucking show. I truly am not ready for it to end next month.
Speaking of which, March is shaping up to be enormous. I have 16 gigs in the pipeline – six of which are My Chemical Romance (yes, Milo and I are doing the entire tour) and all of which I am very excited for. I also have a bunch of features trickling out over the next couple weeks, and I’m hoping I can get a few more over the line to make March a really solid month, writing-wise.
If you ended up reading all of this:
1. Why? What is wrong with you?
2. I’m sorry that a lot of this was just aimless rambling about dumb shit
3. I hope you taking the best care of yourself that you can. I know this post was about 4,000 words that made it sound like I very much am not, and maybe I’m not taking great care of myself – I mean, I know I’m not – but I can promise I’m making the best effort I can to change that. I don’t know if March will be a good month, or whether I’ll make any progress with the things I’m struggling with – shit, I might spiral even further down!!! – but I’m going into March feeling hopeful and optimistic that it will be and that I will. I went into February with the same mindset and was swiftly kicked down, repeatedly, but I’m not letting that stop me from hoping things will be different in March. I can’t let it. I don’t want to be spiralling, I don’t want to be in a constant state of crisis. And if I don’t try to stop spiralling or try to reckon with my crises, they’ll kill me. And as much as I’m struggling with suicidal ideation right now, I don’t want to die. So I am trying to take care of myself, and I hope you are too. I hope you’re taking time to think about the positive things in your life and find positive ways to approach the negative things in your life. I hope you’re allowing yourself to feel loved and I hope you know that you are loved either way. I believe in you.
All the love in the world, Ellie 💖
Here are some songs from this month that I’m vibing a whole bunch:
It’s been a hot minute since I made my last post dump on here (roughly a year and four months? or something like that?) and I’ve written a decent handful of features for NME Australia since then! Here are all of them:
QUICK LIL’ CONTENT WARNING: This post openly discusses suicide and gender dysphoria. If either of those might be triggers, I recommend giving this one a skip. It’s all good if you gotta, I still love you!
Hey, hi, hello!
I wanna try to do a little recap thing every month for this year; I feel like 2022 kind of just zoomed by and I didn’t take the time to stop and reflect, or appreciate, all the beats I hit. And I’ve never had the best memory – we can chalk that down to my tendency to repress both emotions and general everyday thoughts, my ADHD and my complex PTSD – so I think journalling regularly will be healthy for me. And I already have this blog so like, why not make it all public? It’ll be rough and sloppy and very word-vomit-y, but I think I like that about it?
Anyway, I tried to kill myself on New Year’s Day. December 2022 was one of the roughest months I’ve ever lived through, mentally, and I lost hours every day to spiralling thoughts and multifaceted crises – most relating to gender dysphoria, isolation and hopelessness. Those last couple weeks of the year, I was sleeping maybe 2-3 hours a night, 3-4 if I was lucky. I would struggle to make it through shifts at work or day-to-day chores/errands because all I could think about was cutting or getting high or just straight-up killing myself.
I made it to January 1st and… I don’t know, I kind of just lost control? I was high and I was sad and I was just not in a good place – I succumbed to the voices in my head, that’s the vaguest way I could explain it. I tried to overdose on amphetamines. Milo saved me. I spent a few days in physical agony and a few more in mental agony, and then after about a week, it properly dawned on me that I’d lived and I couldn’t keep trying to shove my dark thoughts to the side. I had to address them and address what was causing them and try to fix the issues head-on. I booked in to see a psychotherapist and stopped taking the meds I’d started right before my mental health began slipping (y’know, more than it usually does).
And then on Monday January 9th I went to my great grandmother’s funeral; she died on December 29th last year. I could spend hours writing about her – how much of an icon she was, how much she meant to me, how much she meant to literally hundreds of people – but I think for my own mental safety, that stretch of time needed to be a blip on my radar, lest I spiral again. I will most likely write something in-depth about the legendary Olive Robinson in a separate thing. But that trip to Whittlesea felt like a turning point of sorts – I saw family I hadn’t seen in years and felt like I was doing so behind a mask that I’d really grown sick of wearing.
On the drive home I decided I wanted to stop presenting as masculine. It became clear that the masc-leaning enby aesthetic no longer represents me; I don’t feel connected to androgyny like I did a hot minute ago. That’s a revelation I’d been inching towards for pretty much all of 2022. We got home on Tuesday morning and I shaved my beard. I bought a bunch of skincare and makeup products, jewellery and a whole new wardrobe of feminine clothes, and then a wig that I felt comfortable wearing almost all day, every day. On Friday January 13th, for the first time in about three years, I had exactly $0 to my name (in fact I actually owed Milo a couple grand). But I drained my savings on shit I needed… shit I needed to survive.
I do not pass. I don’t even look like a cute non-passing trans woman; I straight-up just look like a man in a dress, the kind TERFs and Tory types tout in tweet threads to “prove” why trans people are evil and disgusting. I look like I should be on a sex offender registry. I make the transvestite bartender in Shrek look hot. I am disgusted by myself every time I look in a mirror, and I know my family and friends are when they see me too. But I’d rather look like a grotesque caricature of a woman than any kind of man – inflamed five-o’clock-shadow, boxy nose, quadruple-chin and all.
I am learning to be confident in myself. I am taking and posting selfies and not caring that they’re more embarrassing than anything else. I am noticing every curious glance and side-eye, double take and grimace I receive and choosing to parse them as empowering rather than callous – I am being perceived and I am making people think critically about what they consider to be acceptable displays of femininity. I don’t care that I disgust them. I just hope their disgust morphs into reflection; “Why am I disgusted when I see someone that looks like that?”
In attempting to present more femininely, I’m allowing myself to connect more with my femininity. That seems obvious, writing it out, but there’s layers to it. I’m not hiding away from my gender dysphoria or trying to brush it aside when it shows; I’m confronting it and learning why it never settled after I started living openly as non-binary; because I don’t exist on the spectrum where I thought I had for the past five, six, however many years. We can unpack that later on, for now I’m just really enjoying wearing more feminine clothes and practicing makeup, diving into voice training and just generally living more freely with my gender expression.
I stopped biting my nails so I can grow them out and paint them – that’s been a really tough habit to kick. But it’s been a few weeks and I’ve only caved a few times, so… We’re getting there! I bought a fidget spinner and started picking up some new stimming techniques that don’t fuck with my fingers or teeth. And then on January 31st I got them done professionally for the first time, with hard gel extensions, at Miss Jay’s in Thornbury – a queer-run and -inclusive salon that I could not recommend more. I had a wonderful experience there, left feeling high as hell on gender euphoria, and I adore my new nails.
Milo and I drove to Tharawal on January 16th. We spent most of our time at my parents’ house just enjoying some R&R but we did go to the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo to see the Unpopular exhibit (small, but very, very cool) and we went to Donut Papi in Redfern (also small, but also very, very cool) to finally annihilate the doughnuts I always see on Instagram and wish I could annihilate… Is it possible to have a crush on a doughnut? I might have a crush on Donut Papi’s strawberry milkshake doughnut. That may be the fattest sentence I’ve ever written out. Anyway, 10/10 on those ‘nuts. The trip as a whole was pretty solid. We saw Bruno and caught up (a bit) with my parents and got to spend a few days away from the city… It was nice. I do miss home a little. But the trip also made me realise how much of a home Naarm has become for me over the past year. I love it here a lot more than I love Tharawal.
This month I interviewed six* people for Australian Guitar (Eric Gales, Bonnie Raitt, Tony Perry of Pierce The Veil, Isaac Hale of Knocked Loose, Jordan Finlay and Connor McLaughlin of Teenage Dads, and Javier Reyes of Animals As Leaders) and one for NME (Tim Nelson of Cub Sport). I finished a ~5,000-word profile that I am so proud of and happy with, for an artist I think is doing amazing things both in and outside of her professional life; I also wrote a bio for an incredible up-and-coming indie artist named Leo (whose new single ‘Half Unconscious’ is STUNNING and you should absolutely pre-save it!) and I started working on a few other little freelance-y bits and pieces. Work in general is going good, I think. I’m optimistic for the rest of the year and how my career will progress over it. I am very keen to pick up a lot more work in 2023 – swing me an email if you wanna do something together?
Milo and I saw Remi Wolf play the Forum on January 5th. That was my first real “outing” after the suicide attempt. Milo isn’t a fan of Remi’s music but they came with me because they were too worried to have me go alone. We ended up having a super great time and although they still haven’t been able to get into Remi’s studio material, Milo conceded that she absolutely fucking served on that stage. I also saw Montaigne play a free corporate gig at District Docklands on January 28th; it didn’t scratch the itch their headline show last year would’ve (but as I wrote about in this post, I’m a fuckhead and got the dates mixed up for that) but it was a very solid show nonetheless!
Milo has been championing my feminine overhaul wholeheartedly, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have them in my corner. Since “the incident” we’ve been a lot more open about our feelings and what’s going on in our heads. It’s been difficult to open up but it’s been great, too. I feel more connected to them than I have in ages. And we’re fucking more often than we have in ages, too, so that’s cool.
In terms of other media I consumed this month, I finally started watching the second season of Euphoria (great), I finished reading None Of This Rocks by Joe Trohman (decent) and I read Kisses For Jet by Joris Bas Backer in one marathon binge-read (meh). I finished collecting the colour editions of Scott Pilgrim and finally started re-reading those – I’ve mowed through book one and half of book two so far – and I started reading Sellout by Dan Ozzi (so far, really solid). I am absolutelyobsessed with the HBO adaptation of The Last Of Us – I can’t believe they knocked it out of the park so perfectly? I was really worried they’d fuck that up. I will definitely write something about it when the season is finished.
It feels like it’s been a huge month. February is looking even more stacked – especially gig-wise, I went to two (2) shows in January but I have 18 on the itinerary for this month (SO FAR) – and I’m… actually really looking forward to everything?
Anyway, this blog has been dead since I published those Good Things interviews because of all my mental health struggles and gender-reckoning shit. I really need to focus on getting some paid work under my belt right now (my bank account has a total of $1.62 in it and I still owe my partner like $400) so I probably won’t have much up on here for a little while, buuuut I have a stack of content in the backlog – I just need to find the time to edit/tidy up/do all the furniture for it all. Soon!
Until then, I hope y’all are keeping safe and feeling groovy like a smoothie!
All the love in the world, Ellie 💖
Here are some songs from this month that I’m vibing a whole bunch:
Sleeping With Sirens roared to life in 2010 with their pummelling debut album, With Ears To See And Eyes To Hear, and have since held steady as staples of the Hot Topic “emo” scene. With their first few records aimed primarily at angsty, black-sheeped tweens hopped up on Monster and mid-transition from primary to high school (and more importantly, MySpace to Facebook), there’s a good chance that, should you have found a seat on the hype train in time, Sleeping With Sirens have been with you for half your life.
Much like ourselves, Sleeping With Sirens have grown exponentially over the last 13 years. Our social circles shifted as friends came and went, and they similarly cycled through guitarists and drummers; we filled our résumés with jobs, some lowkey and fun and others impressive but gruelling, and they similarly hopped from label to label (first Rise, then Epitaph, then Warner and now Sumerian); we found new passions and hobbies, and eventually got nostalgic for our teenage obsessions, and they, too, tried new things (see: Madness and Gossip) but ultimately fell back in love with the punchy, colour-drenched metalcore they cut their teeth on.
On the cusp of 2023, having just released their seventh album – the prismatic and powerful Complete Collapse – with a full year of touring ahead, Sleeping With Sirens stand tall as their strongest, most energised and invigorated selves. The album is reflective of that: another parallel between them and the average late millennial is that they too were pushed to the brink by adversity, but clawed their way back and, galvanised by the experience, were met an immediate jolt of adrenalised optimism.
For the Kellin Quinn-fronted band, this journey started with 2015’s Madness, a confident dive into the open seas of pop-rock – something they’d toyed with, but never fully committed to on records prior – that led to them being sucked into the riptide of major label chaos with its follow-up, Gossip, two years later. Chewed up and spat out by the pop radio monolith, Sleeping With Sirens almost didn’t make it to the end of the 2010s. They’d been singed by the industry and burnt out on the road, and as strongly as their artistry translated to that shiner, more saccharine pop sound – Quinn’s chops in particular were primed for Top 40 hitmaking – the band didn’t get as much out of it, personally speaking, as they did from metalcore.
What followed was a complete 180: Sleeping With Sirens ditched Warner for Sumerian – another indie label à la Rise and Epitaph – and swung back around to their old-school sound, keeping their newfound slickness intact but wholeheartedly embracing the riff once more. Their 2019 album, How It Feels To Be Lost, is explosive and defiant, at once an unapologetic nostalgia trip and a fierce leap into the future. But like any great comeback, the initial “fuck yeah!” was inevitably followed by the daunting question of what would come next. Where would Sleeping With Sirens head when their trajectory was no longer guided by sheer adrenaline?
With touring off the table, the pandemic gave Quinn and co. a chance to gather their bearings – a forced micro-hiatus of sorts. This proved to be incredibly beneficial: after reflecting deeply on everything they’d been through over the course of making and touring six albums (and an EP, and a couple errant one-offs), Sleeping With Sirens had – perhaps for the first time ever – a crystal clear vision for the future. That involved ambitiously swinging from their highest highs to their lowest lows, fusing their grittiest riffs with their most shimmering melodies, and committing to a mindset that no idea was too unseemly to consider. So paved the way for what is, in my own opinion, Sleeping With Sirens’ best album yet.
Complete Collapse has been out for (just a few days shy of) two months now, so when Sleeping With Sirens touched down for this year’s Good Things festival, I caught up with Quinn and guitarist Nick Martin to vibe on how the album has been coming to life onstage (particularly in Australia) and how it brought the band to a new peak. Have a listen to – or read – our chat below.
elcome back to your home away from home. How’s the trip been so far?
Kellin Quinn: It’s been good!
Nick Martin: I’m loving it. I missed Australia so much, so it feels very, very good to be back here. It feels very familiar.
Quinn: Yeah, it’s been really nice. The weather’s been really nice. It’s been light jacket weather, which is great, but it’s not too cold. [We’ve] got sun today, so I’m gonna wear my sleeveless shirt and let my BB guns out.
Martin: Wow, your BB guns!
Quinn: My BB guns, I’m gonna let my BB guns out!
So before kicking off the fezzie run today, obviously you’ve already played a couple of sideshows – Melbourne yesterday, and then Adelaide on Wednesday?
Quinn: Correct. Did you say ‘side’ or ‘sad’ shows?
I guess the main question is, what’s it like playing in clubs again? Because it’s been a fucking while.
Quinn: I like playing in clubs.
Martin: I do too. It’s tough – I wouldn’t say it’s, like, what I prefer, but yeah, it feels good to be back in in some clubs. I’m enjoying it.
Quinn: He’s not much of a clubber. I am though, I like to go to the club.
Martin: You love the club.
Well of course, you’ve got plenty of new tunes to show off – two albums’ worth since the last time you were here. Of course the big talking point is Complete Collapse – how will these new songs been coming to life onstage?
Quinn: We were talking about this in rehearsal. So, I like playing new songs, like, a year into them. I don’t like playing them right away. Because it takes a while to, like, find your footing with the whole live experience, you know, playing songs off a record. So yeah, we have a lot of albums, we have a lot of songs, and so we’re kind of slowly getting into the new record. We haven’t played a lot of… Well, I don’t think we’ve actually played anything off of our last record here, so… Lots of tunes! But yeah, we’re having a good time with them.
Martin: Yeah, it’s crazy that you say that, because it doesn’t hit me until it’s brought up [that] we have two albums’ worth of material that we [are] yet to play over here, so it’s nice to finally play new songs. But I mean, for me, I enjoy playing the nostalgic hits from the catalogue. I like a good mix of it. I think it’s important for us to not play too much new material – it’s important for us to have a nice mix of the catalogue. There’s a lot of songs.
I feel like the live show is the real test, right? Like, a song can sound killer in the studio, but if it doesn’t work live, it doesn’t work, right?
Quinn: Yeah, that’s true.
Martin: Which happens to us.
Quinn: Yeah, there’s a lot of songs that we don’t play live because they don’t sound good live.
Martin: Yeah, really. It’s true.
When I spoke to Nick a few months ago, we were talking about how this record really represents Sleeping With Sirens in its strongest form, and that the band has kind of been rejuvenated by Complete Collapse. How did this record push you guys to that level?
Quinn: I think a huge thing was being able to have some time at home and rest. I think that our band was just kind of touring non-stop and into the ground, and we were just burnt out. And I think we didn’t realise that until we had time to reflect on it. So we were charged up and energised when we back into the studio, and we just had fun making songs again. And I think that’s, like… The key to doing music in general is that it should be fun. And if it’s not fun, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it anymore, you know?
Is it safe to say that before this record, things weren’t so rosy in the band?
Martin: I think there was…
Quinn: It was on its way up. It was pretty bad before the last record. [The] last record was great, and then I think that the extra time at home definitely helped cement us, like, being in a better place as people.
Martin: Yeah, I think we’re in a much better place now. But we had definitely gone through rough patches as a band, but also just individually, so it’s nice to come out on the other end of that and be where we’re at now, for sure… As opposed to many years before, where it was really tough for us.
I think that vibe of, like, pushing through the boundaries – [and not even] musically, but just personally – I think that’s very palpable on How It Feels To Be Lost. And I know [that] after Gossip, you know, being thrown through the wringer with Warner Bros. and being burnt out on touring, that was like… You guys were pretty close to the brink. That album, How It Feels To Be Lost, was that sort of like a chance to find your footing as a band again?
Quinn: Yeah, I think so. Look, I think that as much as it’s a rough situation to go through – making a record that you’re not really that proud of – the benefit to it is humbling yourself to kind of get back to square one and finding your roots again. And I think that’s [what] How It Feels To Be Lost [was] for us – finding our roots and going back to, like, where we began. And this record that we just put out, Complete Collapse, it’s kind of a continuation of that, but just a more mature sound.
And obviously a cornerstone of Sleeping With Sirens, from LP1 to now, is that emotional intensity – in both the lyrics and the music. And again, it’s so palpable, how you pour so much of yourselves into both of those aspects. In the process of doing that with Complete Collapse, what did you learn about yourselves?
Quinn: I learned that I can take naps in the studio, no matter how loud the music is. If there’s a comfortable couch, I can do it. And I didn’t know that about myself!
Quinn: I feel like every answer has been serious! I had to break the ice, dude, I can’t be serious [for] that long.
Martin: What was question? Like, what did we learn about ourselves?
Quinn: Yeah, through the process of making our new record, what did you learn about yourself?
Martin: I don’t know if this really answers it, but I think there was a bit more of a newfound confidence for me, personally. I think I was going through some rough patches personally for a long time, and during this recording process, it definitely allowed me to open up a bit more and be more confident in myself as a musician, but also as a person. So it’s a very, like, therapeutic process for me.
Quinn: Great answer.
Huge shoutout to Janine Morcos and Amy Simmons for making this happen! Complete Collapse is out now via Sumerian Records. Check it out here.
Cut from the same cloth as bands like Northlane, Architects and Periphery, Thornhill fast made a name for themselves making colourful prog-laced metalcore, blending thick and gnarly guitars with soaring and melodic vocals. They’ve largely kept committed to that alloy of dark and light, but with their debut album, 2019’s The Dark Pool, they started leaning more on the latter – those brighter and more widescreen soundscapes that didn’t need the aggression typical of metalcore to convey bold, gripping emotion.
The album’s follow-up, Heroine – which arrived back in June of this year – is a fitting continuation of that ethos, all but eschewing the band’s metallic edge altogether. It sees them instead favour flavours of grunge, industrial and alt-rock à la Nine Inch Nails and Alice In Chains, at points nodding to wider-ranging influences like Radiohead and The Smashing Pumpkins, and in some moments even The Cure. The album’s accompanying visuals – like the cover art, press shoots and film clips – all make it clear that the band were inspired most by the gothic uprising of the late ‘90s, and the band have been open about how songs were directly inspired by such cultural phenomena as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Twin Peaks.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Ethan McCann for Australian Guitar, and he told me that Heroine was effectively a multi-layered concept album; the aesthetic influence is one layer, thematic links comprise another, and one comes in how each song was written “to soundtrack a different movie or TV show, or fit a different aesthetic”. Think one of those old-school movie tie-ins where a stack of hot topic scene bands would write songs vaguely referencing the plot or themes of the film it was commissioned for, except every song is written for a different film… But they all link together as the same body of work… And it also has its own set of themes.
Convoluted as its concept may sound, Heroine in a resoundingly consistent (and consistently resounding) effort from Thornhill, and as their set at this year’s Good Things festival proved, the songs sound especially exceptional when they’re performed live. So after they wowed a packed early-arvo crowd at the Melbourne edition, I reconnected with McCann, as well as bassist Nick Sjogren, to dive a little deeper into the backstory of Heroine, reminisce on their recent tour in support of it (where the album was played in full), and explore what’s next for Thornhill. Have a listen to – or read – our chat below.
How’s the day been so far? How was your set?
Nick Sjogren: The set was really fun – really, really fun. The crowd was a lot bigger than I was expecting, to be honest, and yeah, people were going from the start. Pretty crazy, honestly.
So Heroine came out exactly six months ago – well, it will have as of tomorrow. Considering how much passion and energy you put into it, how does it feel to have this record in the rearview, so to speak?
Ethan McCann: It’s kind of bittersweet, to be honest, because it was like… We were really proud of that record, we did lots of things that we wanted to do, I guess. But at the same time, we wrote it in lockdown, so it was a pretty traumatic experience. So there’s lots of good memories and lots of bad memories connected to that record, but we’re keen to, like, move on and get the next one out.
I know that when you’re gearing up to release a record – and recording it as well – things can be so stressful and hectic. But now that it’s been out for a hot minute and you’ve toured it a bunch, are you able to look back and really appreciate what you made?
Sjogren: Yeah, it’s a really funny one, because when it first came out, there [were] a lot of loud people on the internet, who weren’t as stoked [on Heroine as they were on The Dark Pool] because it wasn’t, like, riff-y metalcore style. But we’ve had a lot of people like around to it [and] say that they get it a bit more, so to speak.
McCann: I think it was also kind of nice… Obviously, like I said, we wrote a lot of those songs – if not all of them – in lockdown, [so] to then take them to the stage, we sort of learned what we enjoyed and what we didn’t enjoy playing, which I think will be really cool to apply to new music.
Obviously there was that tour in July, where you [performed] the album from cover to cover. What was it like to celebrate Heroine as a standalone body of work like that?
McCann: It was pretty ideal, I would say, because I think we sort of wrote that album with the intention [that people would listen] to it cover to cover. Because we’re very much so, like, an “album band”. I know the general public, I think these days, is much more into singles and, like, rapid releases – but I think we all really enjoy listening to albums [from] cover to cover, still, so that’s sort of how we wanted people to hear it. So yeah, it was really cool to do that.
Is that something you see yourselves continuing in the future? Making concept albums, and…
McCann: 100 percent, for sure. And if people don’t get it, fuck it.
There were, of course, those couple shows in Canberra and Hobart where you had to play [Heroine] instrumentally because Jacob was not doing so great. What was it like to really celebrate the musical side of it?
Sjogren: I was surprised [by] how much people liked it. Because Jacob is such a good frontman – he’s such a powerful frontman, and his voice has so much character, [so] a lot of the personality behind the music seems to [come] from him. But playing it instrumentally, it was really cool to see people actually appreciate all the surrounding elements, too. It was just a good crowd for both shows in general – not just a good for an instrumental set.
And of course, I’m sure some of them stepped up to the plate with the karaoke vibes?
Sjogren: A bit, yeah.
McCann: My least favorite part was actually having to, like, make banter with the crowd. Because that’s usually Jacob’s job, and I’m not a very talkative guy. So I was like, you know, “Get up!” But it’s not my thing.
Everyone is like, “The singer has the easiest job, they don’t have to play an instrument,” but man, banter – fuck, that’s…
McCann: Banter’s hard. But I mean, they don’t have any gear, so they don’t have to load out [laughs].
Something we touched on a little while ago was, obviously, this record being such a conceptually ambitious and artistic vision – knowing how cutthroat this scene can be at the best of times, were you worried that people wouldn’t rally around Heroine the way they did?
McCann: I wouldn’t say we were worried, we kind of knew what we were doing. And like, by dropping ‘Casanova’ as the first taste of that album, it was kind of intentionally [released] to stir the pot – as childish as that sounds. It’s just like, we knew it was going to mess with a few people, and it’s what… We were really proud of that song, so we were just like, “Eh, let’s just throw them in the deep end from the start and see if they enjoy it or not.”
Well, the album was a wild success – Number Three on the ARIA Charts [and] you got the nomination at this year’s awards for Best Hard Rock… How did it feel to get that kind of response?
Sjogren: I was always pretty confident. ‘Cause I don’t write the music, personally – Ethan and Jacob do 99 percent of all the music, if not 100 – so I was always pretty confident that it was going to be received well, because I really liked listening to it. It was really fun to see it progress, from the first demos – just after [The] Dark Pool came out – to where it ended up getting to. There was a lot of thought behind it that made it all make sense. So I figured that even if people didn’t like it at first, they’d get it eventually, because it’s just really good.
Has inspired you to go even more ambitious, or step even [farther] into the unknown on album #3?
McCann: Yeah, very much so. I think even though it sort of split the crowd for us – like we knew it would – just the fact that we enjoyed writing something different and pushing [the] boundaries so much, I think it’s something we’ll always do with our music and our albums. I think Childish Gambino talked about it, where he’s just like, he opens and closes a world with each album, so you sort of, like, progress and do new things every time – and I think that’s such a cool way of looking at it.
Is that third album something you’ve started talking about now that Heroine has been out for a hot minute?
McCann: Yeah, for sure. We’re chipping away at a few ideas. [We’re] still figuring out the general vibe – it usually takes, like, one or two sort of full songs to then have the direction. Now we’re sort of just, like, playing in the shallow end for now.
What are these vibes you’re playing around with?
McCann:[It’s] hard to explain. Definitely rock-ier; I’ve been listening to nothing but, like, Arctic Monkeys and Queens Of The Stone Age for the past year. So yeah, [I’m] hoping for a sort of UK rock-y sort of sound – but I don’t know, we’ll see. It’s too early to tell.
That’s really interesting, because Heroine has that more grungy, almost like ’90s Britpop-y feel – so I feel like that kind of sound is definitely a good natural progression from from Heroine.
McCann: Yeah, we’re hoping so. And it’s like, it’s kind of funny because I think we’re gonna look back in, like, 10 years, and look at all these albums as just different phases of things we’re into. Because obviously, like, our tastes change pretty rapidly, you know, you don’t listen to the same thing a couple of years later.
Well taste in general, like… And this is kind of circling back to Heroine – I know that this record was written as almost like a score to a lot of the film and TV you were inspired by. What kind of titles are we looking at?
McCann: We’re talking Buffy The Vampire Slayer. We’re talking American Beauty. We’re talking She’s All That.
Sjogren: The Crow.
McCann:TheCrow. We’re talking The Craft… Just lots of, like, ’90s goth-y teen movies. I really love that aesthetic, and the colour palettes are always really cool. And it’s just like, I really like the sort of nostalgia that it made me feel – because I was born in the late ’90s, so I sort of grew up with a lot of those movies. And I think that was kind of comforting in lockdown, that sort of nostalgia, so it’s something we wanted to push into the music as well.
Are there any other movies or TV shows that you think you could write a banging Thorny track to in the future?
McCann:The Batman! I would love to do a fucking song on the Batman soundtrack,
Which one? The new one?
McCann: The new one. Give me, like, the Rob Pat number two Batman – give me that soundtrack, oh my God, I will go to town.
Have you thought about the possibility of doing any scoring or soundtrack work in the screen industry?
McCann: I would love to. I don’t think I’m quite there yet. But even just like… You know how bands in the early 2000s used to do, like, music videos, or just songs on album soundtracks, and it would just be like a one off? I really want to do that, because I feel like they don’t do it anymore.
How fucking good were, like… Even as late as the Jennifer’s Body soundtrack with Panic! At The Disco…
McCann: Yeah, shit like that! And there’s, like, little snippets of the movie in the music video. I love that shit so much.
Sjogren: ‘Little Things’ by Rob Thomas… Wait, no ‘Little Wonders’.
McCann: And that Nickelback song from Spider-Man.
Sjogren: Linkin Park’s discography for Transformers.
Are there any filmmakers in particular that you’d be keen to link up with, or franchises? Other than The Batman, obviously.
McCann: I’d love to do a David Lynch movie, that’d be sick. That’d be really sick. I’m sure there’s a list – I can’t think right now.
Sjogren: We need Jacob right now.
McCann: Yeah. Jacob will say someone like Baz Luhrmann, but I’ll pass on that.
I guess in general, we know you’re kicking around some vibes– you’ve got touring lined up for the next… Fucking eternity. Which is 2023 have in store for Thorny?
Sjogren: It’s funny – we don’t have much locked in, but we have a lot of things nearly there. It’s looking like it will be busy – very, very busy, all over the place. So yeah, we are definitely going to be playing shows. We’re gonna we playing hella shows.
McCann: Yeah, I think if all goes to plan, we’re going to be home for all of about three and a half months next year. So, [the year is] pretty stacked.
Huge shoutout to Janine Morcos and Amy Simmons for making this happen! Heroine is out now via UNFD. Check it out here.
No amount of shitty, crowd-shot iPhone footage could ever do Nova Twins’ live show justice. The genre-bending Brits made their Australian debut last week, playing a one-off headliner in Sydney before they tore Stage 5 to shreds at the Good Things festival. Second to none, they were the best band I saw at the Melbourne edition; they made Bring Me The Horizon and Deftones look like amateur pub bands, and even fighting a storm of technical mishaps, their musical prowess shone not a beam out of place.
Particularly mind-melting was the technicolour wizardry that Georgia South inflicted on her bass guitar – a super rare Westone Thunder 1, as she told me when we chatted recently for Australian Guitar – shredding and slapping wobbles in the vein of Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites-era Skrillex using only analogue effects. Her secret weapon, I found out after diving down no less than four internet rabbitholes, is a Hot Hand MIDI ring. By way of motion sensors, it allows South to modulate bass frequencies when she moves her hand in patterns close to her guitar’s pickups… I think. Admittedly I have no fucking idea how it works – I just know it sounds cool as hell.
It’s impressive, too, because almost any other band would simply lean on tracks, or at least use Kempers to emulate their digital elements. But Nova Twins spent years not just honing their sound – an idiosyncratic hybrid of punk, dubstep and hip-hop – but finding ways to authentically replicate it live. It’s this ethos that sets the duo, rounded out by vocalist and guitarist Amy Love, apart from their peers: there may well be other acts that sound similar to Nova Twins, but none are as fiercely devoted to embracing their inner chaos.
So too is this true in the ways they operate outside the music itself. They encourage individualism, even at shows where crowds are united by their affinity for one band, genre or “scene”. When they play ‘Parcels’, an ode to both melodic hardcore and ‘90s R&B, they call for pits where moshers and twerkers go ham in harmony. Even at a festival like Good Things, where Nova Twins were one of 32 acts performing – with a daytime slot on a side-stage, at that – they brought together a crowd entirely unique to their set: easily the most diverse, and very easily the most aesthetically ambitious.
Nova Twins are the risk-taking champions of inclusivity that punk needs in 2022. So, after experiencing a full-blown religious awakening during their set, I sat down with South and Love to learn more about their modus operandi. Have a listen to – or read – our chat below.
So this is your first time in Australia – how have we all been treating you so far?
Amy Love: Very nice. Everyone’s really cheery, got good spirit, good energy…
Georgia South: Super nice. The crowds are awesome – we just played our first festival here, so it was… Yeah, amazing.
Yeah, I just saw your set, on stage five… I don’t know why I’m hyping it up, it’s happened – but I’m still processing what I saw, and all I know is that it was, like, the best fucking thing I’ve seen – hand on my heart – in literally years. What was it like from your perspective?
Love: Well, there was a lot happening in our ears, so…
South: We had a few technical issues, but it was honestly so amazing, seeing women at the front and, like, everyone looked so colourful and amazing. And the fashion was insane, and the vibes were ten-out-of-ten.
Yeah, I feel like in-between every song I would just glance around the pit and be like, “Fuck, there are some fits in here!” First of all, with the set: Georgia, whatever fucking witchcraft you’re pulling with that bass… I have to know, how were you getting that analogue wobble when you were moving your hand over the pickups?
South: So I’ve got a magic little ring – that’s my, like, little special toy that I like to play with.
Love: That sounded really, like…
South: [Faux-sensually] “I love my toys…”
So my theory is, like… It’s magnets, right?
South: Could be! Y’know, it’s a secret…
Okay! How long did it take you to develop the sound that you have?
South: I think it’s been growing for a few years. We’ve been a band for a while now, so our pedalboards grew over time, and over the lockdown we had so much fun experimenting with new sounds. And we really had the time over Supernova to get into [those] kind of sonics as well.
Love: Yeah, it just grew. We sound more like we did at the beginning, and then we went down quite like a punk route, and then we came back again, full-circle. So it’s been quite fun.
I know, Georgia, you play with a Westone Thunder 1 – is that integral to your sound?
South: Oh, yeah, it’s so integral. It’s amazing. I love them. And they actually don’t make them anymore, so it’s a nightmare trying to find them on eBay and places like that – I also love playing Fender Precisions too, but I love my Westone.
And [Amy], you play… Is it a Mustang?
Love: Mustang, yeah, P-90 pickups.
Huge, huge sound – shoutout to the P-90.
Love: Shoutout to the P-90!
As far as the set itself goes, one thing I have to address is the absolute fucking calamity that is a combined mosh pit of moshers and twerkers. How does one come up with such a revolutionary concept?
Love: I think because when we wrote the song [‘Puzzles’], we were such big lovers of, like, ’90s R&B [and] ’00s R&B – like Destiny’s Child, Missy Elliot, you know, Snoop, Pharrell, all of that – but at the same time, we loved heavy music; we grew up on the punk scene, you know, we’re in a rock band for fuck’s sake. But we wanted a song that married the two loves and the two worlds, and all the different types of people who enjoy them type of things…
We do have a lot of non-male people at our shows who want to twerk as well, who don’t always want to mosh. So it’s like, “Well if you do want to twerk, this is your moment too – you can exist here and do that – but if you want to mosh, join in and, like, become a family.
‘Puzzles’ – it’s like the anthem for the entire Nova Twins fanbase, right?
Let’s talk about the record as a whole, because later this month, we’ll be exactly half a year out from the release of Supernova. I know when you’re gearing up to release a record, it can be super stressful, and just like a fucking rollercoaster. But you’ve kind of caught up on the buzz a little bit, played a bunch of shows… How do you look back on the record?
South: I think it’s been quite an emotional year for us, because… Just so much has happened. We’ve toured more than we’ve ever toured, we’ve been places we’ve never been – like here. We’ve played in America and Europe and the UK, so it’s been incredible, thinking [about] how far Supernova has kind of taken us. And it meant so much to us, this album, so for it to get the Mercury [Prize] shortlist and things like that… It was just… Yeah, [it’s been] an incredible year.
Have you started thinking about album three yet? Or is it a little too early?
South: Yes, we have!
Love: We’ve been thinking about it.
Yeah? What’s the vibe?
South: We don’t want to give much away. But we’re definitely thinking about it, and we’re excited.
Do you see the Nova Twins project – this sound and character… Are you going to kick it up to a different level, or…?
Love: I think we’ve never put any kind of boundaries or pressure on what’s going to come out. I think we just let ourselves do and if it comes out… It could be anything. And if it feels good and it feels like us, then we’ll just go with it. I think that’s the best way to keep it fresh, and also, like, discover things that you might not ever have thought you’d go down. If you just let yourself do it, it will come. So we’re just like, “Whatever happens, happens.”
There is a power in spontaneity, right?
South: Exactly. There [were] moments when [we were] writing Supernova, where we were like, “This sounds different to us!” But we’re like, “We like it, so why not?” And we just went with that feeling.
Without trying to blow smoke, my all-time two favorite genres are punk and drumstep. And I think what made me gravitate towards Nova Twins is like, the driving force is that raw, visceral aggression – that punk – but like, there’s that belting synth bass… It’s kind of like an In Silico-era Pendulum vibe. What is your history with bass music? Was that a big thing for y’all, growing up?
South: Yeah, I love my electronic music. Especially Timbaland’s production or Missy tracks, or like, N.E.R.D – love them – and even Skrillex. I love that kind of like, gnarly electronic synth bass sound. So I just wanted to emulate that onto [my] bass guitar with completely analogue pedals and stuff like that. So I love electronic music.
Outside of the music itself – and I think this was definitely evident in your crowd – I know it’s really important for you both to fuck with the status quo and challenge the binary of punk and rock as what has been a very traditionally white, straight, male-dominated scene. Being such an active force in the movement against that, have you noticed a shift towards a more inclusive scene and more inclusive crowds?
Love: Yeah, 100 percent. I think so much has changed since we’ve [started the] band. And obviously, for the people before us, it must have been completely different. But when we first started, we used to be the only women there sometimes – definitely the only people of color there – And you used to look around and think, “Fuck, this is quite…”
It was never, like, a “bad vibe” – people were always really nice and respectful, but it wasn’t good enough in terms of the promoters and who they were booking. It was lazy, you know, and people got used to just regurgitating the same headliners, the same acts – and it was like, “But what about all these new people that are coming through? What about diversity?” The genre nearly went slate for a bit! But now you can see, it’s kind of making [a comeback] – especially in the UK and the US.
I don’t know about here, but it’s a whole revival right now. I mean, we’ve played on our main radio station, which would never have been the case years ago. But it’s coming back, and it’s so exciting because we’re allowing for diversity, and fresh ideas and fresh takes, and new artists to come through. So it’s a super exciting time.
It is incredible to see this carving out of a space that is very important – and frankly, well-overdue. Obviously, that’s something you must have yearned for when you were coming of age?
Love: I think when we were younger, we didn’t really… Because we were young, we didn’t know, we just thought, “We just want to be in a band!” And then when it came to being the band, we got faced with all these different kinds of challenges and hurdles, and we thought, “Hang on a minute, is something wrong with us?” And it wasn’t us, it was the industry, not accepting us doing the type of music we do and the way we looked with it.
It was all very long and tedious, but you know, we just kept going [on doing] what we love. We took our own route, we were an independent band – we still are, you know, we’ve found an independent label that are really good to us [Marshall Records] and we’ve got a great team now – but yeah, we just fucked off everyone else and [were] just like, “We’re just gonna keep doing it our way.” And then it paid off eventually!
I think something that really ties into that in a big way is how you always push to get your fans involved – like the mosh-twerking pit and things like that – and make these people feel like they’re a part of something. What made you want to be, for lack of a better term, or more “interactive” band?
South: I think it just comes naturally to us. The people that support us, we call them our Supernovas, and they’re just amazing. They’ve been there, some of them, since day one – and when we just played our London headline show, we felt so emotional because we’ve been seeing these people that [have] been coming and coming… When we’d been playing to ten people, they were there, and people just really support us. So we always want to give back to our community, and you know, open the door and let people through – because that’s just what it’s about.
Are you very inspired by your fans?
South: Completely! They’re super talented, and like, the most badass, amazing people ever.
Love: And really loving. What’s really lovely about our fans – especially seeing our Discord group and things like that – is that they take care of each other. They see them in the queues, like, if someone’s come on their own, we’ll see certain fans – like our proper everyday fans – take them under their wing and show them around the area. Or if they need to get home, they’ll take them home. If someone’s fainted, or… You know, it’s really amazing, the community that they are – they’re just really lovely people. And they’re so open – I love that people come to our show and they feel safe and accepted to be whoever the fuck they want to be.
I fucking love that vibe. And just to wrap up – because I’m gonna get in so much trouble – at the very end of the set, Amy, you mentioned that Nova Twins will be coming back to Australia soon… Are we talking 2023? Headline tour?
Love: [Slyly] Maybe! I don’t know…
Love: I don’t know! You’ll have to ask our [tour manager].
We need, like, the 40-date regional tour…
Love: We will be back! This won’t be the last time you see us.
Nova Twins will be back.
Love: We will be back.
That is a promise, we’re holding you to that.
Love: Yeah, of course. If it goes well at Good Things, we’ll definitely be back!
Georgia: My grandparents were Australian, so I feel like this is my calling, to be back here.
Huge shoutout to Janine Morcos and Sose Fuamoli for making this happen! Supernova is out now via Marshall Records. Check it out here.