Big Joanie matches the sweet vocals of The Ronettes with the rawness and insanity of The Stooges. And they’re bringing that mix to the U.S.A.
Big Joanie is revving up to play SXSW this March in Austin, TX. It’s their first time playing the U.S. and they’re so ready. The trio released their debut full-length Sistahs at the end of last year and have been touring ever since.
When BTRtoday chatted with frontwoman Steph Phillips the group just played Gent in Belgium and were arriving at the venue for their next show in Brussels.
Big Joanie, “Fall Asleep”
Phillips has been on the road before playing with other bands. But touring with Big Joanie, an all-female/all-black group, brought on unexpected challenges.
“It’s different touring with an all-black group—there are things [issues] you don’t realize at first,” Phillips says. “Touring through Europe, it just became more and more difficult with each country we went to… It’s a lot more difficult to move about.”
The lingering uncertainty of Brexit hasn’t made traveling easier for the British trio. “We’re doing a few more Europe dates [after SXSW], but Brexit made it a little awful. Hopefully, we can still do that if our country is still a country.”
Phillips works in journalist and is an activist when she’s not making statements with her music. She’s explored the mistreatment of women in music and other facets of race, feminism, pop culture, mental health and politics for Noisey, i-D, The Quietus and other publications. She played in another feminist punk band before Big Joanie, but wanted to play music that was more reflective of her politics. “I wanted to start a black punk band,” she says about starting Big Joanie back in 2013. “It’s hard to find the depiction of black British-ness or black British women [in music]—so hopefully, I’m trying to bring a light on the realities of black women.”
Their debut Sistahs is bursting with punk rock anthems and black feminist passion. Phillips is brutally honest in her lyrics. Tracks like “Used To Be Friends” and “Tell A Lie” don’t mask their meaning in flowery language or overpowering instrumentation. Phillips makes her point over driving beats and punk guitars.
Their crowd pleaser is the fast and danceable “Fall Asleep,” but their goth/punk cover of the hit ‘90s song “No Scrubs” by TLC also never fails to get the crowd moving. Though it topped the charts as a pop song, Big Joanie plays the song as if it were always meant to be punk. “It’s got a good message behind it,” she says. “We can relate it to whatever is going on in our day and send support to other minorities and black women who are going through hard times and say, ‘this song’s for you.’”
You can catch them in the U.S. this year at SXSW, but in the meantime, listen to the full interview with Steph Phillips of Big Joanie and Sistahs in its entirety on this week’s The Music Meetup.