Shawna Potter is the front woman of the explosive and vital feminist hardcore band War On Women. The band is currently on the road supporting Bad Religion and Alkaline Trio for their first tour back after the pandemic halted everyone in their tracks. She took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about on life on the road, what she and the rest of the band have been up to, and more. Scroll down to see what she had to say.
War On Women performing in 2019 (photo by Kate Hoos)
You just played an acoustic show recently, prior to the start of the tour supporting Bad Religion and Alkaline Trio, how did that feel to be back performing again after the pandemic?
It felt good, like an actual show. Those first few live-streamed acoustic things were cool to try at first, but they don’t compare at all to playing in front of real live people. I was also happy to have a lower stakes situation to remember how the fuck to perform again in the first place. My big takeaway lesson was to shut up and sing. (You win this round, misogynists!)
It’s been officially out a year, actually, but yes, I can’t wait to see what weird dance moves my brain comes up with for “Aqua Tofana.”
Cover art of Wonderful Hell
What are you most looking forward to being back on the road? How do you keep yourself sane with the downtime/tour self care routines?
I’m most looking forward to rocking the fuck out! This will be the first time we play songs off the new album and I cannot wait. And touring has been my life since I was 14 years old so it feels very familiar, comfortable, to get back to it after all this time off. It was harder to plan of course, I was out of practice dealing with all the logistics pre-tour, and that’s always the worst part, but we pulled it off. It can be tough, too, but yeah having routines helps. On off days I try to jog or workout, and I’m an avid cross-stitcher which keeps me off my phone (sometimes). And this tour I actually have some work I need to do, but in a fun way? For example, I’m doing research on theater intimacy choreography, hoping to add it to my repertoire of services I can provide. We’ll see if I can stay off my phone long enough to accomplish anything.
What did you get up to during the time the pandemic forced us all to stay inside?
Oh wow, well first I want to acknowledge I was very lucky that I didn’t lose anyone close to me, and I was able to survive until unemployment kicked in, which was just a total chance thing. So I accomplished some things that would absolutely not have gotten done otherwise. By being home and not constantly touring or planning for the next tour, I was able to buy a house during that sweet spot when rates were low and it was still a buyer’s market, finally getting out of an apartment where the rent just kept increasing. Once I settled into the new place, I had dog-fever and was able to adopt a sweet and complicated 3 year old pit bull named Rosie that benefits from my ability to work from home. I’ve been conducting virtual safer space and bystander intervention trainings, doing feminist consultations, and I even started a podcast called But Her Lyrics… It’s a great excuse to interview cool and smart people, experts in their fields, about the things I sing about. I get to talk to the band about writing and recording our songs and explain the inspiration and meaning behind it all. To help support that I have a Patreon where I share bonus content and pictures of Rosie, of course.
War On Women performing in 2019 (photo by Kate Hoos)
What music/artists/books/podcasts/shows are you excited about right now?
This is a very incomplete and inaccurate list, but I have been watching Squid Game, and falling asleep to Bojack Horseman (somehow it’s a perfect show to decompress in my bunk after a long day), I’ve been listening to Jessica Pratt “Quiet Signs” to chill out, and now that we’re on the road I have no time or patience for podcasts or anything mentally challenging.
In keeping with the mission of your book, Keeping Spaces Safer, what responsibility do you feel venues have in keeping artists/fans/employees safe in the realm of COVID precautions? And concurrently, what role do artists play? What can fans do?
My book, Making Spaces Safer, definitely does not specialize in human health and safety issues, but it does touch upon how many venues and groups already have systems in place that are so normalized we don’t even think about them: signage about how to help someone who is choking, fire extinguishers, defibrillators, and now even Narcan for fentanyl test strips. So the book argues that adding identity-based harassment to our concept of public safety is not only worth doing, but that it can be done simply and cheaply, becoming normalized like anything else. COVID-precautions are similar. There’s a bit of a learning curve, or even inertia maybe on the part of those in charge, but once best practices are decided upon they can be added to current routines. From what I’m seeing so far, clubs have great policies about masks, hand sanitizer, etc, but they are unable or unwilling to enforce them strictly. So a club with a mask requirement might have about 30% of the audience actually wearing masks while we play. That’s scary! I would like to see more enforcement, and more audience members taking their own health and the health of those around them (including their favorite touring band that they just paid money to see!) more seriously, and more headliners requiring the clubs they play to enforce mask wearing and proof of vaccination or recent negative test to get in.
Can you elaborate a bit on your work as an educator/consultant to venues and how that has been received and how can that translates out into other applications?
Well I’m lucky enough to just work with people who want me, right, so no need to go into a hostile environment. So it’s been going really well, people seem to be benefiting from the easy system I provide to handle complaints of harassment and try to prevent it from happening in the first place. If someone can’t afford to hire me for a private training, that is what my book is for, people can absolutely go DIY with safer spaces. I also teach bystander intervention (generally and for the workplace), and I don’t see the need for these trainings going away any time soon, unfortunately. If anyone is interested in hiring me, they can reach out via shawnapotter.com.
War On Women performing in 2018 (photo by Kate Hoos)
We made it through the Trump regime (barely it feels like), but what next? How do we keep up the fight when naturally a lot of people tend to let their guard down during Democratic administrations thinking we are past the worst threat? How do we avoid lulling ourselves into a false sense of security?
This is a tough one, especially because we’re dealing with crisis-fatigue, but I think not only is Biden is fucking up enough to warrant our attention, but so many Republican-run states are hell bent on stripping away the basic rights of anyone who is not rich, white, and male. So there is always more work to do. But when we feel overwhelmed we can always look local and tell your representatives what you want and don’t want, and make sure to vote every single election if you are someone privileged enough to not have your voting rights challenged all the time.
And to follow up on that, how do you stay inspired/fight fatigue to keep doing the work you’re doing in the wake of the terrible things that keep happening all the time (the horrible abortion restrictions in Texas, continual violence against women/gnc/BIPOC/queer people, etc etc etc sadly….etc etc etc) How do we stay focused when sometimes, all of that can be very overwhelming? What do you do to work in self care to make sure you’re okay but still keep up the fight? Is it okay to take breaks sometimes?
I have BEEN on a break, so yeah, it’s necessary. I think recognizing where I can have the most impact and just putting my efforts there has been helpful. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. Right? And that will be different for everyone, which is good. And also knowing that the urgency we feel looking at social media is often false, so taking some time for yourself is fine and necessary to get back to it as your best, full self.
One of the things I love about your lyrics, and their delivery, is that while they address very serious topics, they are often very sarcastic and have a lot of snark and bite. Political sarcasm is not easy to pull off but when wielded correctly, is a powerful tool to get the point across to audiences. Was this a conscious choice to approach these difficult subjects this way or is it something that just naturally happened when you started to write lyrics for this band?
Oh I’m just snarky, I can’t help it. I am glad to know that you can tell I’m doing it on purpose, though! If I analyze it, I could argue that adding some sarcasm deflects any potential critiques of taking ourselves too seriously, you know that classic insult thrown at feminism in general: no sense of humor. But I also have no problem admitting that I’m not such an expert in every subject I sing about or care about, so I wouldn’t want to feel like I’m full on lecturing anyone. Can’t say that about all men in punk!
I know Brooks (lead guitar) is now playing guitar in Jawbox, and you both also run Big Crunch Amps in Baltimore. Everyone else has other projects/pursuits going on too, what are some of the things Sue (bass), Jenarchy (rhythm guitar), and Dave (drums) are up to outside of the band?
Ah, well Jenarchy is in like 1,000 other bands, so check out their Instagram to see what all they have going on. Dave plays guitar and sings in a band called Black Lung, which tours when we’re not. Sue has just been busy being a computer scientist and working on some sort of database for COVID-related info? Can you tell I didn’t actually understand what she told me she was doing? Frankly it’s a wonder that we’re ever able to get anything done, but I think we all value this band and what it stands for and make sure to make time for it.
Anything you’re working on that you can share? Have you been working on new music?
We have, but thankfully it got interrupted by going on tour! So we’ll start messing around with new stuff early next year, I’m sure. We technically fulfilled our contract with Bridge Nine so we have the option to work with another label, but we’re not sweating it. We’ll just see what happens. I’m also reassessing how I want to use my Patreon, if I should continue my podcast, or what. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know!