For Crying Out Loud, the debut album from L.A. based feminist art-rock/power-ballad/pop band Cassandra, couldn't come a day too soon. Led by frontwoman Laurel Butler, Cassandra's music offers listeners a compelling soundtrack to accompany our current political climate. Butler's voice is soulful and haunting, delivering a cinematic experience that demonstrates a particular kind of feminine power--power that is strong because of its softness, not in spite of it.
With a background in multi-disciplinary arts and activism, Butler's previous projects include theatre programming for incarcerated communities and the all-female David Bowie cover band, Lady Stardust. She currently works as Associate Director of the Arts Education Program at UCLA. Butler has garnered her talents in crafting an album that is as empowering and inspiring as it is entertaining and emotional.
For Crying Out Loud is the perfect album to put on repeat as you follow the rapid-fire news, as you get ready to rally, as you mourn the days past, or if you need reassurance that there are still brighter days to come. Butler shared some thoughts about For Crying Out Loud, the song-writing process, and how artists can use their work to resist tyranny.
Cassandra’s message and aesthetic express fierce, active feminism. How do you create a feminine message using rock music?
In general, we look to the idea that the personal is political, and make sure that we're telling our stories in a way that feels true. We're very concerned with autonomy and self-determination of representation. And power. I think that is a central conceptual question for Cassandra: in what ways we can use the prescribed aesthetic codes of rock and roll--a genre that has long been known for misogyny and sexism and rape culture--and reclaim them as platforms of power for ourselves?
How does the band ensure that its feminism is intersectional?
Every Cassandra rehearsal includes a check-in that goes beyond the usual “How Are You?” It goes really deep and sometimes supersedes the need to actually practice. We're also all dedicated to self-education and will start off rehearsals talking about our latest readings on different issues. These conversations inform the rehearsal process and the way in which we collaborate with each other.
Representation is important, too. The music video for “So Wild,” our first single off the record, includes a cast of Black women, Latinx women, Native women, Jewish women, women who are mothers, queer women, all embodying these postures of power and sisterhood that feel strong in their unity and clear in their individuality.
Is there a specific theme or message conveyed in For Crying Out Loud?
The overarching theme is about desire. Each song deals with one of those forces-- domestication, persecution, trauma, grief, a condition of being un-free--and investigates how our internal processes metabolize those experiences, alchemize them into a sort of power. It’s a record about a state of personal resistance and the role of transformation--even magic--in the process of subversion and liberation.
What is the songwriting process like?
I'm the primary songwriter, though once the songs are written all of the talented women in Cassandra contribute their own special ingredients to the live arrangements. But the songwriting process is very solitary for me, and very psychically weird, and comes in bursts, periods of creativity that last for several months at a time. For the album, my producer and I found a really rich back-and-forth process, working from afar to fine-tune each track. It’s been an incredibly satisfying and profound collaboration.
Funding for the album came from a Kickstarter campaign. What was your experience like crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding takes a real psychic toll, particularly on artists because we're a little bit porous in that regard. The counterbalance to all of the angst was how fueled I became by the love and gratitude I had for all of the Kickstarter backers. It's such a gift to see the tapestry of people that comprise your life come together to support you, materially and energetically, to know that you have that many people in your corner. It's kind of astonishing and made me feel very held by the universe.
How can artists use their work to resist a Trump presidency?
Connect as clearly as you can to the thing that you already love, the thing that you already do, the thing you are good at, and do those things with clarity, integrity, and steadfast commitment. No one person can engage with all the demons that we need to confront right now. Find the thing that feels meaningful to you and just do that: that’s your piece of the fight.
If you’re an artist, ask yourself, Where can the resistance be made evident in my work? Incorporating a revolutionary stance into the semiotics of your work has an impact on the people who follow you, on multiple levels, and gives them permission to do the same.
Also, let what is happening right now inform your work. We don’t know what kind of impact these times will have on the archive of history. If our press is silenced, if the internet implodes, if we all develop some weird amnesia, then it is the art that we will look to, in the future, to tell us the story of what happened here, and how heroic people were in the ways that they showed up and bore witness and intervened in and shaped the narrative.
Anything else you hope to say to audiences?
I've been thinking about the political sleight of hand that is going on with this administration. I want to invoke the image of Cassandra as prophet. To imagine her actually soothsaying, the way her vision must have softened, expanded to include all of the cracks on the periphery. I want to encourage all of us to have that same kind of soft focus. That does not mean any less ferocity or determination. But it means trying to hold the whole picture in mind--the past and the future, the micro and the macro--so we can avoid their trickery.