It’s hard to put your finger on what exactly makes a punk band great. Is it stage presence? Technique? Maybe the ability to bite various appendages off of animals onstage?
Skunt, Vancouver’s youngest and most deadly punk trio, has two (possibly three) of those things, but what they have beyond that is the do-or-die, you-and-what-army attitude that makes a great punk band.
Originating as an English project at Windsor House School, Skunt is now carving themselves a sound place in Vancouver’s music scene, with multiple shows at Astorino’s already under their belts and an upcoming show at Vancouver’s famed Railway Club. Inspired by the riot grrrl [pronounced “girl”] movement, the female rockers pump out downright rowdy punk jams that can turn civilized people into mobile mosh pits in mere minutes. Composed of guitarist and singer Nora Kelly, bassist Phoenix Robson, and drummer Allie O’Neill (who at least once has performed dressed as a skeleton), Skunt is both a breath of fresh air and a throwback to the sharp sound of bands like the Pixies, or the band’s own idols, Bikini Kill.The result is a sound and image that’s raw, thrashing, and undeniably punk. If you’re not convinced, when Lotusland met with the band, Kelly had just returned to rehearsal despite both of her arms being broken. If that’s not punk rock, we don’t know what is.
Lotusland decided to track down the elusive rockers to ask them about riot grrrl, the perils of playing a show with Funk Schwey, and venturing into 19+ waters.
What’s going on with Skunt right now?
PR: Well, Nora broke both of her arms.
AN: It’s a little bit of a predicament. But we played together just yesterday, it went really well, and we know Nora can at least physically play.
NK: It’s amazing I can play guitar at all, cause this happened like a week and a half ago. Wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought! So we’re playing a show on the 30th at the Railway Club.
PR: And July 7th at Fingers Crossed studio– it’s a Shout Back festival fundraiser.
AN: And we’re hopefully going to be recording soon, as soon as Nora is ready.
Important question: How did you break your arms?
NK: I was actually biking about 5 blocks from here, and I turned the corner and there was this guy throwing these huge beams of wood down on the ground, and uh…I’m kinda spacey, I guess. Didn’t really notice it was happening. So when a beam of wood fell next to me I freaked out and flipped over the handlebars.
Was it hard transitioning back to playing after that kind of injury?
NK: Not really, surprisingly– it was pretty straightforward!
PR: We did have to cancel a show at one point though, which really sucked.
AN: Red Cat Records for Car Free Day.
You guys have mentioned the Railway Club show, wanna talk about that?
NK: We’re playing there on the 30th [of June] along with Velvet Chameleon and Porn for the Blind.
PR: I’m really excited. It’s going to be a really fun show. I mean, so many of our shows have been really fun but this is like our first really legitimate show. Like I told my aunt “Oh yeah, we’re playing at the Railway Club” because everyone knows about the Railway Club, it’s been around for years and years and years. It’s like an institution.
NK: We also do a lot of stuff with Safe Amp, which puts on a lot of all-ages shows, but this is our first 19+ show, and that’s kinda really cool.
AN: We’re also really, really grateful to Safe Amp for being stoked about our whole ooncept. They’ve really made it possible for us to play shows. Safe Amp is awesome.
PR: And it sucks that most of our friends, fans, and even me and Ali are underage, so it’s awesome that we can play the Railway Club and it’s a great experience, but we’re definitely going to be playing more all ages shows.
Is it hard to arrange a 19+ show when most of the band is underrage? What are the rules around that?
PR: [laughter] We’ll have to stay in the greenroom the whole time we’re not onstage- I have friends who’ve been kicked out of venues because they were chatting and stuff after they were done playing.
NK: Or they’ll have a stamp you can get and you can just not buy drinks and hang out, hopefully they’ll be cool with that.
You guys just mentioned Safe Amp, and you’ve also played Astorino’s a few times, right?
PR: Three or four times I think.
NK: Astorino’s is kinda the brainchild of Safe Amp, hosts all the all ages shows that they put on. Really cool venue.
AN: And it brings like, the best crowd out. That’s like, the most inviting environment that I’ve ever been in.
PR: And since theres no age barrier or monetary barrier, it’s a lot more inclusive.
AN: Gets a lot of people to come out.
Aside from Astorino’s, you guys also played the Russian Hall with Funk Schwey. How did you survive that?
NK: Well, I think we opened for them technically, so you know.
PR: I think they’ve opened for us before though. We’ve been around for longer than them. [laughter] When we were practicing for the sound setup and stuff and warming up for our show, they were running around, being ridiculous. Remember how they moved your cymbals around?
AN: Oh yeah! I would warm up and smash it and try to keep a beat going and then they would pick it up and move it to the other side and I was tryin so hard to keep playing. It was awesome, man. Those guys are so fun.
NK: They totally are.
You guys are obviously a punk band, and that genre gets cut into a lot of sections– super political stuff, power punk, hardcore groups, pop punk–
PR: I love pop punk.
Where would you guys place Skunt in that spectrum?
PR: Riot grrrl. I think that’s pretty obvious.
NM: Riot grrrl has this musical style that’s kinda grungy, but also really works for our band since we’re an all girl group. It fits well with our style.
AN: The message of riot grrrl is definitely something that we agree with and try to send forth.
There aren’t that many all-female punk bands floating around, and sadly the one that most people would know is Pussy Riot. What bands do you guys get inspiration from?
AN: I would say the biggest one for me and for riot grrrl is Bikini Kill. There are lots of others, but that is like, the giant Jesus of riot grrrl.
NK: And Kathleen Hannah just in general…
PR: Is a babe.
NK: We are all saving our virginities for Kathleen Hannah. But I would definitely say that imagewise and even music wise our biggest influence is definitely Bikini Kill and other riot grrrl bands. Even the Breeders.
AN: They have one male member though, right?
NK: The Breeders are kinda a spinoff project from Kim Deal from the Pixies. They have a really sweet kinda stripped down sound.
PR: We love the Pixies.
NK: Also, like, maybe not musically, but the Runaways and Joan Jett are big because they were kinda first.
PR: They were kinda put together though, but it’s a good thing they were.
How did you guys all start playing punk rock?
NK: We could tell him the story of the birth of Skunt.
PR: Skunt originally was just a name. We were all going to a school called Windsor House for a while, and I don’t know, I think we were just trying to think of really good riot grrrl names.
NK: The grossest name.
AN: I think one of our earlier ones was “Skunt Squad” but that just sounded like a really bad reggae band.
PR: But Skunt came up and it was like “That’d be a great name for a female punk rock band”.
AoN: And we got credit for it in school!
NK: We had an agenda studies class and basically our English project for that class was Skunt. And of course our school had a band room so we would just go there to practice.
AN: We were there all the time.
NK: They made it really accessible and easy for us to just do that, and then I think we just decided to actually play a show. Phoenix is kinda the band manager, so she got us to finally play some shows in the beginning when we didn’t take ourselves very seriously.
PR: I was like “Oh, we’re gonna play this school thing. Oh, maybe we can play at Astorino’s!” I think we ended up playing the Citi School Cabaret, which was another alternative school that a lot of our friends went to. It went horribly. So many instrument malfunctions. I was so upset after that I just hid under a table for a while. It went really badly. But now we just laugh about it all the time.
Skunt is for the children, man.
PR: Our school was actually kindergarten to grade 12. So we were actually playing for children.
But in all seriousness, I mentioned your name to someone today and their only response was “That’s not very nice.”
PR: Aw, hey now.
Has the name ever actually posed a problem?
NK: We’re punk, man.
AoN: I think at the beginning I was a little bit nervous about the name, like I didn’t want to tell my grandma. But now everytime I think about these girls or the band, I’m just so fucking proud and I don’t really care. The name doesn’t really mean its connotations anymore, it’s just representing how we are around each other and how we love to make music.
You’ve made the name your own.
PR: It’s still kinda obviously a really funny offensive name.
NK: It’s pretty obvious.
AN: It’s open to your own interpretations.
PR: We have a joke that I used to tell onstage that it’s the runt of a litter of skunks. That’s our PG version of the name.
I’m gonna go right ahead and pull a Nardwuar here. Here’s an 8 track of Never Mind the Bullocks, the first and only Sex Pistols record. Does that band mean anything to you guys?
NK: Oh my gosh, absolutely. They aren’t my favourite punk band, but they mean so much to the movement, especially in Britain. This is awesome.
A fun one now. A lot of musicians go through a lot of bad names in their time. What is the worst name you’ve ever performed under or considered before you became Skunt?
AN: Oh no.
PR: I don’t think there were any names we used before us, were there?
AoN: I think we tossed around a few, but I don’t even remember! There have been some bad names for previous bands, but for this…
NK: I think we were called the Epaullettes.
AN: They weren;t even really funny, they were just straight up bad. We were called “The Fizz”-
PR: After Fizz candies.
NK: There were way too many dumb names that were just really boring.
PR: Me and some of my friends when we lived on Vancouver Island were really set on having a band called “The Cardigan Theives”. It just happened because my friend stole my cardigan and I was like “You’re a cardigan thief!” and she just said “Oh, that’s a great indie band name!” Maybe I’ll have my indie side project one day.
The Cardigan Thieves sound like a band that would play in a coffeeshop. A really fancy one.
NK: With like, four acoustic guitars.
And a banjo. And they would only cover the lesser-known Radiohead tracks…I’m getting off topic. So, what’s next?
NK: Recording, getting a music video done, or a bunch of music videos, because that would be the best part of summer.
AN: Getting ideas for music videos too– we have a few already. They will be fun to make. Maybe dangerous to make.
Any shoutouts to make?
PR: Shoutout to Jorts.
AN: Shoutout to my mom.
NK: Shoutout to punk dads.
PR: Shoutout to Nora’s dad.