tanya avanus on being a woman in the punk scene
The Pinheads are an eccentric outfit hailing from the underground – a fusion of punk and psychedelia that capture a DIY ethos that is a throwback to another era – an analogue sensibility that is apparent from their songwriting to their music videos. One of seven members of the act, Tanya Avanus aka ‘Tun the Pinhead,’ is a pansexual identifying, person of colour that is often overlooked in the overtly masculine scene. For example, the band are currently on the road touring their debut album, and a piece published on the aptly named, Tone Deaf, shared some tips from the ‘Wollongong boys’ on how to tour on the cheap. Just because Tanya’s femininity doesn’t fit a generic mold doesn’t mean that she automatically defaults to masculine descriptors. News flash, girls and non-binary individuals are in bands too.
On the eve of the tour, we posed some questions to Tanya to find out about how she navigates a scene and industry that is still rife with chauvinism.We were lucky enough to catch the live show on the Gold Coast, and the sheer energy that the band bring to the stage is unrivaled in the Australian scene. Be sure to check out the remainder of their tour dates and give them a listen below.
Punk music can often be very masculine space. Do you sometimes feel like just by being in the scene, you’re making a political statement?
All I can say is I do what I want – and I don’t give a flying burrito if people have some sort of issue with it. If someone finds significance in my actions, then all power to them.
You are a person of colour who identifies as pansexual. Has the scene been welcoming to you, or have you had any incidents that have made you uncomfortable? If so, can you give us an example and tell us about how you handle those tough situations.
Most people that I’ve encountered on my journey have been absolutely incredible, positive and warm. Of course I’ve had instances where the sound person has completely ignored me, offered much too eagerly to ‘help’ me, male members of other bands have flooded me with technical questions about guitar specs and sniggered when I didn’t know the answer, and even fans who will applaud and congratulate other members of the band when I’m standing right there, and look right over my head. It sucks, but any woman in this industry (and others) will probably tell you the same. How do I handle those situations? I shrug and bottle up my rage towards the patriarchy.
The Pinheads is the only band you’ve been in, but you mentioned that you previously auditioned for another act when you were in Year 12. Can you tell us the story about how that went?
This is a real weird story. It started with an ad that was placed in drum media. I can’t remember exactly what it said but it seemed approachable enough for me to contact the advertiser. He asked me who I liked to listen to, and who my influencers were. It kind of caught me off guard and I replied with what I thought he wanted to hear. We met at a Cuban bar, and being 17 at the time made it feel badass. After an awkward hello to the advertiser and another guy, they took me to the tiny concrete courtyard to sing them a song. I remember it was Nude by Radiohead. I gave it my best shot and they were impressed. What followed over the next month or so was confusing. He’d invite me over to his house to ‘write’ and ‘jam’. Those sessions almost always consisted of the the following routine: listening to My Bloody Valentines Loveless album, picking up guitars and learning Ceremony by New Order, failing, him suggesting we watch a movie, watch movie, then he would drive me home. After a while, we just stopped contacting each other and that was it. In retrospect, it seemed slightly creepy. To be honest, I thought it was all a dream until I saw him in a bookstore this year. I wonder if he’s still making music?
Your music and live show is raw and raucous. Where do you draw all that energy from?
Half of it is regressing into your own world and your own fantasy, and the other half is having an intimate exchanging of vibes from the audience. It’s a push and pull of zippy waves and it’s super electrifying.
What’s the craziest thing that has happened at one of your shows?
Ten minute changeover times. It obviously takes longer for 7 people to set up. Halfway through our set, the sound guy signalled for us to stop. I can’t remember if we didn’t see or if we refused to stop, but it got out of hand. First, he turned off all the mics. After that didn’t stop us, he turned up the PA so loud that the crowd had to move to the back of the room. As a last resort, he got the organisers to physically come on the stage an turn the amps off one by one. They couldn’t figure out how to turn the bass amp off so the drummer and I finished the song. Security guards circled in and bullied us out of the venue. So, after being there nice and early, making special costume preparations and driving a heck of a long way to be there – we were kicked out on to the street with our instruments and nothing to do for the rest of the night. If that wasn’t enough, he sent out an email to all the other venues in the area completely writing us off and advising them not to accommodate us. That’s some passive aggressive weiner shit.
Who are some of your inspirations, whether it be musically or personally?
I look up to and admire Amanda Palmer so much. She’s the strong, independent and driven woman, artist, musician and mother that I one day hope to be. She’s always retained her integrity and individuality – she bows to no one. Badass bitch, as they say.
You were enrolled in Art School so you obviously like to work across a variety of mediums, have you always been drawn to expressing yourself in these ways? Does creativity run in the family?
I come from a long line of makers and entertainers. It runs in my blood. I always wondered why I never thrived in an academic setting and I guess that’s why. I’ve always drawn, and later moved into taking photographs and painting. I don’t paint so much anymore, but I still draw and have taken up screen printing. Learning is key. Knowledge is power.
When did you develop a strong interest punk/psych music? What was most often playing in your high school bedroom?
I was actually a big ol’ metalhead in high school! I remember when I first heard Metallica’s Master of Puppets when I was 13 and I was absolutely floored. I listened to it everyday for almost a year! Of course there’s a heap more but I don’t find them significant. I also really liked Joni Mitchell. Still do.
You’re in a band with six guys. What’s that like? Any really annoying habits?
Lots of farting! It’s actually awesome. We all have a really sibling-like relationship in that we’re all aware of how annoying we can be and sometimes we don’t keep it a secret! Sometimes we have the best adventures though – we love exploring!
When did you begin identifying as pansexual? How was the transition process for you?
My very first romantic relationship ever was with a girl in highschool. I always knew I wasn’t straight. I called myself bisexual for a while, then realised my attraction to other people wasn’t restricted to cisgender binary people and therefore, tada! Pansexual.
Did your music help you work through that time in your life?
As a teen, music was my saving grace. I would listen so intently to lyrics that I identified with, and live by them. I had some really rough patches growing up, and sometimes it was nice to escape for a couple of hours into another reality. If I could ever make music that was someone elses happy place – that would be ultimate fulfillment.
You have developed such a killer style and aesthetic. Any advice for those who are feeling uncertain about their own gender and sexuality?
Thank you! It’s mostly based on practicality. I would say the most important part of finding your style is to be comfortable. If you’re not comfortable expressing who you are inside, then it’ll show on the outside. Like for example, if I started wearing high heels and body con mini dresses, I would look terribly uncomfortable (and ridiculous). Plonking along, hunched over, sucking my gut in… it sounds as bad as it would hypothetically look. People can tell. Wear what you’re comfortable in, what makes you feel confident. Don’t subscribe to what people think ‘queer’ is. What people think ‘gay’ looks like. What people think a ‘girl’ looks like and so on and so forth. You are you.
The debut album is out now. What was it like working on your first album? Any key learnings?
We didn’t know if it was going to be an album or an EP so there was a sense of excitement but also uncertainty. We had some amazing writing sessions at a ranch, the freedom of recording in a home studio. Everything we do is a learning experience, and I think acceptance of the fact that no matter what, you’ll look back at your work and think, man, we could have done such a better job now with all the extra knowledge and experience under our belts. Though in a way, it’s such a beautiful snapshot of where we were at the time – What we were going through, who we were influenced by.
What’s next for you guys?
This album tour! We’re so excited to play the album for everybody. Then I guess after that, album number two!
The Pinheads are mid way through their Aus/NZ tour. Get along to one of the remaining dates!
Friday June 30 | The Chippendale Hotel, Sydney NSW
Saturday July 1 | The Workers Club, Melbourne VIC
Saturday July 8 | UOW Unibar, Wollongong NSW
Thursday July 13 | Valhalla, Wellington NZ
Friday July 14 | Totara St, Tauranga NZ
Saturday July 15 | Whammy Bar, Auckland NZ