"I think there was a time when it was necessary for people to point out that it was going to be a queer show or a queer band," says New Bloods bassist Cassia Gammill. "Now it's a band, and queerness is coincidental." Gammill and her bandmates Osa Atoe and Adee Roberson—all of whom are queer, and the latter two women of color—feel pretty much the same about race and gender in regard to bands, and that speaks volumes for Portland's current music scene.
In fact, I didn't know New Bloods' members were queer until it came up—half an hour into our interview—that Atoe and Roberson are romantically involved. When asked about the diasporic traces in the narrative of "Cut," the band mentions that I'm the first person ever (journalist or otherwise) to ask the New Bloods about race (which, to be fair, could indicate people's reluctance to discuss the topic). Of the fact that the band is all women, all queer and two-thirds black, Atoe says, "I think it's really important that it's there...." Roberson finishes for her, adding, "without having to be the main focus."
Likewise, Lauren K. Newman (a.k.a. LKN)—who is also partnered with her bandmate Terrica Kleinknecht—speaks of music being a man's world in the past tense: "Maybe at some point women didn't feel encouraged to play music," says the 28-year-old. "I get that idea from reading a lot of old rock magazines, Juliana Hatfield or whatever." But along with Alela Diane and Laura Gibson, Newman is one of three female solo artists on this year's Best New Band Top 10—which, in its three years of existence, has never featured a lone lady before. With Hey Lover's inclusion, five of the Top 10 artists have at least one female member—more than twice as many as last year.
It would seem that the goal of many outspoken queer or all-women bands is to make a custom of universal acceptance in music, and if this year's Best New Bands poll—and the attitude of LKN and New Bloods on the topic—is any indication, that goal has made great progress in Portland. "I find it interesting that Portland in particular, maybe the Northwest, seems to be really saturated with female performers," says LKN. "That's a rare thing."
Still, African-American artists remain rare on the Top 10—Atoe and Roberson are the first since Lifesavas in 2004 (which is also the only hip-hop group—black, white or otherwise—to ever make the list). But one of this year's artists is tackling issues of color as well: Atoe puts out a zine called Shotgun Seamstress ("by, for and about black punks") to pay homage to what she describes as "black people in white spaces." The zine covers everything from movies and artists like Sun Ra to local punk bands.
Not surprisingly in overwhelmingly white Portland, it seems racial diversity remains a hurdle in our music scene. Yet, on that front and others, Portland seems to be getting closer to living up to Newman's words: "We're all humans, we all take a dump. Let's all get used to the fact that anyone can do anything, get stoked about it, go home and have some dinner."