The women of Cheerleader are not here to play nice

Flint's punk garage act talks riot grrrl, the water crisis, and misogynistic assholes

Apr 13, 2016 at 1:00 am
The women of Cheerleader are not here to play nice
Photo by Zak Blake

"Yeah, I take showers," says lead singer and guitarist of the band Cheerleader, Polly McCollum, as she sheepishly giggles on the phone. "But some people are afraid to shower. For everything else, I use water bottles."

We hear about Flint in the news almost everyday, but we can't even fathom what the people of Flint must do to get by every day. Cheerleader, the three-piece punk band, is living through the daily struggles.

"I go to the fire station a couple times a week to get water. I don't cook or drink the water from the tap, plus I have dogs, so I don't let them drink it, either. The city gave everyone filters for their house, but the water has ruined those, too."

You'd think that the living conditions would halt any sort of creative process for a band, but it's what drove Cheerleader to finish their first full-length album, due out April 15.

The album, Bitchcraft, draws inspirations from not only living in Flint, but from being in an all-female band.

"We were at a show in Mount Pleasant and this guy was just being a dick. He was trying to buy us shots and drinks and just being rude. He eventually got kicked out of the bar, but we were just expected to stay on the stage and let him keep going because that's our job and that's what we're supposed to do," says McCollum.

"We were baffled that this guy was harassing us and hitting on us and we were supposed to act like it was okay."

Fortunately, when the band's speaking with professional musicians, sexism doesn't leaked through.

"When we talk to professionals, they don't belittle us. But when we were first starting out like five years ago, they would offer up advice that we didn't ask for."

As frustrating as misogynistic assholes can be, it has inspired some of Cheerleader's most thrashing and heavy-hitting songs. McCollum wails "Could you melt me?/ Well. Probably not/ You think you got me?/ How much you got?" on fan favorite "Quencher," which sums up Cheerleader's aesthetic.

The band started out as most punk rock bands do, just some friends that started jamming together. Drummer Nisa Seal started hanging out at the house that McCollum shared with her brother at the time. She just picked up the sticks and started banging away.

"She really wanted to play, so she kind of just taught herself. We jammed together and it was just very natural considering she had never played and came up with a couple of songs. We just wanted to add a bass player."

Keeping with the DIY theme, bassist Ashley MacDermaid also had no clue how to play bass. "Nisa invited her over and she told me she played, but turns out she didn't, either. But it was weird, it all just came together so naturally."

Cheerleader emulates many great all-female bands that McCollum listened to when she was younger. "The first band I really remember loving was Kittie. They were all girls, and they all played their own instruments. They were heavy and looked really cool."

Polly even mentions the riot grrl scene from the early '90s as a huge influence after the band formed.

"We were introduced to riot grrl when we were already a band. We didn't know anything about it and people were telling us like, 'Holy shit, you are doing riot grrrl.' We got really excited. We watched so many documentaries about it and read so many articles. We got really into Bikini Kill and Bratmobile and Sleater-Kinney."

The inspiration from these bands fuels Flint's own riot grrrl group. McCollum and her bandmates would meet with other women in the community to create a safe place for them to create music and share ideas.

"We knew all these girls and would see them out and about, but we didn't really know each other. We invited like every girl in our scene to our house to come together. We did lots of fundraisers and raised money for Planned Parenthood, which was really awesome."

There was a backlash, of course, to the feminist movement happening in Flint. As soon as some guys posted "riot bitch" songs online it turned into an us vs. them for about a year, according to the band.

The future looks bright for Cheerleader. The EP-turned-full-length album comes out the 15th, followed by a hometown show in Flint and a show at Detroit's Marble Bar. McCollum says they plan to tour this summer and will make their way to New York and back, hitting up cities in the Midwest and on the east coast. "We really just want to get out there and play. We've been stagnant for a while, so we're looking forward to showing everyone what we've been working on."

Along with a tour, they are busy making merch and art pieces to sell at shows that show off their semi-sarcastic worldview. Everything seems to be taken with a grain of salt.

"The album is called Bitchcraft, so hopefully people don't take it too seriously. We're not a bunch of witches, we just like to rock out."   

Bitchcraft is released Friday, April 15. The band plays two album release shows in the next two weeks. The first is at the Soggy Bottom Bar, with Pretty Ghouls and Sweat, on Friday, April 15; Doors at 9 p.m.; 613 Martin Luther King Ave., Flint; 810-239-8058; $5. The second album release party is at the Marble Bar on Saturday, April 23; Doors at 9 p.m.; 1501 Holden St., Detroit; 810-938-5969; $5.