Southern punk duo GRLwood isn’t afraid to call out the dude-bros for being homophobic or the false allies for being posers.
Based in Louisville, Kentucky GRLwood is comprised of Rëj Forester and Karen Ledford. They met one evening in a dive bar where Forester was putting on GRLwood as a solo act. Ledford asked if she needed a drummer and thus their badassery combined to create the powerful scream pop duo you hear today.
Just a little over a week ago GRLwood released their debut LP entitled Daddy. “’Daddy’ is a very loaded word in American slang culture,” Ledford tells BTRtoday about the meaning behind the album name. “It’s a word that can reflect the desire of male dominance over women.”
Forester says she got the inspiration for the album’s “daddy” theme from being stuck in the middle of a conversation between friends about its colloquial use. “[A] friend exclaimed that they didn’t know why it was seen as disturbing to call your sexual partner ‘daddy’ during intercourse and that they throw the word around when being intimate without it being weird,” she explains. “The other friend agrees that it is a term better used in the bedroom—[another] friend spoke up and was like, ‘but if he called me mommy, I would freak out, that’s fucking weird.’
The album is packed with unapologetic tracks that send thrills down your back. From fast riffs and hard-hitting dreams to slow distorted guitar and heavy steady bass drum, the album slaps you in the face with a story of empowerment. GRLwood is not going to take your close-minded shit, and the world shouldn’t have to either. Tracks like “Wet” and “Vaccines” are sharp and strong with their meanings, and fast and chaotic with their beats.
Read the entire interview with GRLwood below and get ready to shake your buns.
BTRtoday (BTR): Tell me about how GRLwood came to be.
Rëj Forester (RF): GRLwood was a solo act at the time and I was performing at a local bar and there I met Karen. She said she played drums, which had me very interested. So we rehearsed – all went well and we have worked together non-stop ever since.
Karen Ledford (KL): In early August of 2017 I went to a bar called Time & Space to play ping pong and watch my friend Birddog’s noise band called WET. There were only a couple of people there and I stood next to a girl in a creepy pink dress. I looked over at her and complimented her hair. She told me she’d cut my hair and then immediately walked on stage and started setting up equipment.
That girl ended up being Rej and GRLwood was a solo project at the time. As soon as I saw her perform I knew I had to get to know her and jam with her. After the show I asked her if she ever played with a drummer and she said a girl drummer was her dream. We jammed a couple days later and the rest is history. She welcomed me to her project and we played our first show just two weeks later at Surface Noise Records.
BTR: I have family deep in the mountains of Kentucky and had difficulty just for being a girl. I’m sure it’s different in Louisville, but do you find yourselves being alienated for so openly challenging the heteronormative social structure in your music?
RF: Absolutely. We have a lot of great support here, but there are still a lot of times that feel alienating. It’s pretty common there is a group of dude/bros duding out about music at a show—when you mix me and Karen into that social environment, they usually don’t know how to interact, or they don’t want to interact with us to the same degree as they do with each other. We get talked over or disregarded—even amongst our “allies” here in the city.
KL: Well, my family actually hails from Harlan and Hardin County. I’ve actually only lived in Louisville for three years. I grew up in the small towns of Hardin County and definitely experienced the difficulties of not only being a girl, but also being a lesbian as well. I remember crying my eyes out in fifth grade once because a boy called me a “lesbo.”
I grew up dressing like a boy and wanting to be a boy because girls were treated so second-class that of course I did not want to be one. Middle school was the worst though. I was getting bullied so bad that I just stopped talking at school altogether. Words like “fag” and “dyke” were consistent ammo used against me. Louisville is definitely the most accepting place in Kentucky you can be if you live outside of the cis, heteronormative structure. Nowhere is perfect, but Louisville is the first place I have ever lived where I feel accepted and safe about my identity.
BTR: You guys seem to have influences melodically from all types of genres—who are some of your biggest influences?
RF: I haven’t regularly listened to music since I was 17/18 years old, because of my lifestyle and I haven’t had the time as an adult to take space and indulge into music like I used to when I was younger. But anyhow, I enjoy a lot of pop music and techno. A few people have told me they didn’t expect me to like the kind of music that I do. I really don’t listen to music in a similar genre to that of which I play. It’s weird. But if I were to remember the artists I listened to a lot when I had an iPod, it was Kaki King, Tegan & Sara, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, New Young Pony Club and Marilyn Manson.
KL: I got an Ozzy Osbourne CD for my sixth birthday and that changed my entire life. I was obsessed with shock rock as a child. Black Sabbath, Marilyn Manson and David Bowie were my favorites. Manson honestly saved me when I was in the darkest pit of my preteen years. I wear a red stripe on my face as a sort of commemoration to the shock rock icons and more importantly because it is a symbol of me owning my body and doing what I want with it. As far as drummers go, Bill Ward and Dave Grohl are my biggest influences.
BTR: Tell me about this debut album DADDY.
RF: “I’m Yer Dad” is likely the strongest song we have on the album and the term “daddy” plays off of our satirical approach to the issues discussed in our music. Once I was in-between two friends having a conversation about the use of the word daddy—one friend was complaining about people using the word to refer to their fathers and that is was disturbing and uncomfortable to hear the term used in such a way. There was silence and then the friend exclaimed that they didn’t know why it was seen as disturbing to call your sexual partner “daddy” during intercourse and that they throw the word around when being intimate without it being weird. The other friend agrees that it is a term better used in the bedroom. Silence follows again, and the friend spoke up and was like, “but if he called me mommy, I would freak out, that’s fucking weird.”
KL: “Daddy” is a very loaded word in American slang culture. It is a word that can reflect the desire of male dominance over women. The album wears many characters, but “daddy” is one of the most important of them. Listen to [the track] “I’m Yer Dad” and you will understand completely.
BTR: Any personal stories or experiences go into this album lyrically that you could share?
RF: Every song is directly derived from a personal experience of mine. We are singing very directly from our life stories, and I could likely write a paragraph about each song, as you can tell with the explanation of the album name.
I will say that the song “Vaccines Made Me Gay” is critical of toxic sensationalized media that preys off of uneducated people’s fear of the government—for example, vaccines causing autism [and] fluoride causing gayness/lameness. The chorus is, “America, yay, America is gay,” the song then flows into social constructs of masculinity curing the gay virus (i.e. football and fast cars made me straight). Living in Kentucky there are a lot of people that truly believe in sensationalized, fear mongering media and socially constructed masculinity aiding heteronormativity. I am surrounded by these ideologies everyday. So I made a song about it.
KL: Rej writes all of the lyrics, but we had the funnest time jamming out to “Vaccines Made Me Gay” and “Wet.” She made up the lyrics to those songs on the spot and I laughed so hard that I cried a little. Then we ate pizza and ran around the room slapping each other in the face probably.
BTR: [Laughs] Wow. So tell me more about this writing process.
RF: We usually free flow/jam/improv everything and if something sticks we keep it. So, our writing process is not methodical in any way. But I think that’s why many of our messages and songs are very blunt and strong.
KL: When Rej and I write a song together we typically just improv-jam it out until we’re like, “oh, that there I somethin’.” And we record it on our phones. It is a much more natural approach given that we’re just freely playing what comes off the top of our heads instead of sitting down and writing it out. Rej also has a plethora of songs in her noggin that she has written herself.
BTR: Can you paint a little picture of what your live shows are like?
RF: The room is poorly lit, there are colored lights cutting back and forth through the room and the crowd is shoulder to shoulder, bouncing rhythmically waiting for the drop. Then their bodies collide and they are gritting their teeth in an animalistic smile.
KL: We got fists flyin’, legs kickin’ and heads goin’ through ceilings. It’s beautiful; queers and weirdos bouncing off the walls and dancing their lil hearts out. The live shows are definitely what I live for. There is a strong energy that ricochets between the crowd and us. It is also important to mention that there is a huge diversity in age at our shows. I’ve seen 16-year-olds in pits with 50-year-olds—surreal stuff.
BTR: Other than the debut album, what should we be keeping an eye out with GRLwood?
RF: We are already making plans to record a second album/EP. So keep your eyes and ears peeled.
KL: A big ol’ tour where we come to your city and we all shake our buns together—cum shake your buns.