Good things -the really pure, impenetrable, organic, good things that breed positivity and change and creativity – can be felt and understood just by proximity, without much explanation or evidence. The energy that surrounds these good things gives off an immediate and unmistakable force…and when you talk about forces there is no band above Santa Librada. They are the good, liberating, force of unrepentant, bombastic rock and roll and womanhood.
The saint the band is named after has many forms around the world – Wilgefortis, Santa Librada, Uncumber, Kümmernis – but they are all based on the same story. A young woman was promised to marry a pagan king (a real asshole) and she prayed that she would in some way become unappealing to her future husband. Her prayers were answered when she awoke to find a beard growing out of her face. It did the trick and the king refused to marry her. Her father was furious and had her crucified. She became a symbol of liberation and was canonized by the Catholic church (and de-canonized in 1969 when the church decided her story was fake). Today, she remains a symbol of sticking it to the man and freedom from oppression.
In a lot of ways, the band offers the same liberation (without the martyrdom). Representation matters, and seeing these women scream, sing and play loud and proud about topics like government censorship and gender made me feel like there was no need to wear the mask of traditional femininity (polite, kind and approachable) that I’ve learned to keep on. Santa Librada creates an environment and a sound that makes it okay to let go of the facade and be unapologetically authentic.
I got to sit down with the band before their gig at Joe Squared last month and had a genuinely wonderful and inspirational time chatting with them.
WJ: What are your musical roots? When did you first realize it was your passion
KL: My first concert was Madonna. I don’t remember much about it other than it blew my mind. Having that kind of female icon was a huge influence. In my early teen years, I started getting really into pop punk which influences a lot of my playing since I was learning to play [guitar] around then. The Pixies were another band that really influenced me as a guitarist and I think that influence is something you can still hear in a lot of my playing but I try to avoid it because I want to sound new.
SS: I’ve always been kind of a “tapper” but I was made to play the clarinet in school. So that was kind of a bummer. In the 80’s I was into the heavy metal bands and the hair bands. Van Halen all the way. Then in college I got into Prince, The Cure, Violent Femmes and all that fun stuff. Bowie, of course, became a big influence.
CP: I started playing bass in high school. My friend said she was going to start playing guitar and I said, “Well I’m going to start playing bass then,” since I really liked John Paul Jones. We were really into metal, 70’s monster rock and riff-based rock. Eventually, I left home and joined the Navy, ended up on the east coast in the early 90’s. The whole 90’s scene was going on and I was immersed in the early sort of punk rock stuff which I had missed growing up in a rural area. I played guitar too, but I never had as much fun. This band has been me really fully embracing that I’m fully committed to being a bass player, not guitar. I’m doing what I really love.
RA: I’ve always been drawn to songwriting in particular. As a kid, I would really obsess about these records, especially live recordings. There was a Peter, Paul and Mary and a John Denver recording that I was super obsessed with. Then I matured a little bit and started buying everything. I started out middle of the road and then branching out into all directions — New Romantic, goth and punk — and experience all these different kinds of music. My very first band, we never played a show but, we were a country band called Kudzu Jubilee. [SIDEBAR: This name was met with cheers from Kelsi and, as anyone who sits with me for at least two seconds knows, I LOVE a good band name. That is a good band name.] Time went on and I moved to Baltimore and started a lesbian garage-rock band called The Degenerettes, which ran for twelve years or so…and then Santa Librada happened.
WJ: How did Santa Librada form?
CP: I decided I wanted to be in a band and I was going to play bass. So I went about every method possible of networking and it took a long time but Sharon had put in a Craigslist ad for a band. We chatted for a bit but then she said she already had someone slotted to play bass so she asked if I wanted to play guitar and I said no. That band went on for a short while and a few weeks later I saw the same ad back online. I was like “I guess it didn’t work out” so I pinged her and asked if she wanted to get together now.
KL: Colleen and my’s mutual friend, Jim Ventosa, from the awesome band Tomason, had put us in touch and we tried things out a couple times just to see if we sparked and we did.
CP: Yeah, the three of us got together and we decided we needed a singer so I had asked everyone I know and networked to find someone. Then I thought “Rahne knows everybody,” so I asked her if she knew any singers and she was like “What about me?”
RA: I was in a lull at the time. The bassist for The Degenerettes had just left town, my partner and I had started that band and thought about keeping it going as a duo but we’re both working artists and didn’t have the time. I have another band, Guided By Wire, a Neko Case/Guided by Voices cover band and it’s a duo. My bandmate was going in for surgery so I really had nothing to do at that time. Then when Colleen asked me if I knew any singers I told her that I could look for someone but it seemed like they were looking for someone with my skill set. At the time, I wasn’t really looking for a new project – but why not try. We had a practice and in that session we wrote a song, which we still play at our shows, “Damn Your Eyes.”
SS: We always write two songs at every practice. It’s amazing.
WJ: Do you really? That’s so fast!
RA: Yeah, we basically have an album’s worth of songs, we just haven’t recorded them.
WJ: What do you credit that to? Is it just your creative dynamic as a group? Work ethic?
SS: We listen to each other. Someone will come up with a part. We’ll sit down, the person will play it, we’ll start joining in and experimenting with this, that and the other. We’re all pretty sensitive listeners so that allows us to collaborate well.
CP: It was something that I had played with another band and they didn’t really get it [the subject matter], but I play it with Santa Librada and they get it.
RA: There is a song that is our set closer called “Warfare Queen” and two of the verses I’ve had in my back pocket for fifteen years. I started writing this song that long ago and I really loved the verses but hated everything else that was around it. Kelsi came up with this intense riff and I thought I’d try out these old lyrics that I didn’t want to let go of and it worked. We flushed the whole thing out and it became a sort of Franken-song in a way.
KL: “Warfare Queen” is particularly interesting for me too because I decided to fuck around and make some noise. Then Sharon came in with the beat and Colleen with the bass line and it was just there. I’ve never had an experience like that in any other band.
WJ: What drew you to claim Santa Librada as your namesake?
KL: That was another kind of magical thing. I thought the statues looked cool and that was it but it ended up fitting us so well. Rahne writes a lot on the topic of gender so it fit that really well.
RA: I had no idea what I was walking into when I first met with this band. I had no real sense of who the musicians were or anything so I thought I would just try it out. I walked in and here’s this amazing band, that’s super tight, – and I’m a politically committed queer and feminist artist as it is – and for me to walk into a room that is all women that wanting to make this very loud sound immediately made me think, yes, I’m already on board! I didn’t know what the name of the band was at the time but when someone told me and I started reading up on it. As a trans woman, it was electric for me. I’m reading and thinking “Oh my god, this is everything that I’ve been working on and it’s happening in this band.” We have a strong queer thing going on, even though we’re all over the map in terms of how we identify, but that’s the beautiful part about it. I love that I’m the femme of the band and I’m the trans woman. But it’s also been really challenging, last year for the celebration of Santa Librada Day [the feast day of the band’s namesake] we did our performance in beards and I realized that this was a thing for me that I have to work though.
WJ: What is the biggest message you want to send through your music?
SS: Strong women and a wide-spectrum idea of femininity. I love being a woman and being in a position of power.
CP: I just want people to see me doing my thing and kicking ass at it and think all of us would think likewise.
KL: It’s also being comfortable being yourself. No one here is going to be like, “what you’re doing is stupid. Stop it.” We’re a very supportive band. I think our sound is something I want to send out, we have a nice sound that makes me happy.
RA: I think our communication style is where that blossomed. Ya know, being in bands is usually fraught with opposition and we’ve got a really strong communication network here and we’re able to make everything better. All our songs evolve every time we write something new. It’s also really awesome that we’re aging women in a rock band, which – it’s hard enough to be a woman in a rock band – but when you get where we are it fuels everything that we do.
CP: Without it being a shtick or caricature, it’s really genuine.
WJ: What advice would you give women just starting in music?
SS: When I was a kid, I felt like the rock n’ roll thing was never open to me. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something.
CP: I was trying to play with guys when I first started. If you don’t feel valued or don’t feel like an equal partner, get the fuck out of that band and get a new one. That’s bullshit. And don’t feel bad about sucking at music. Go ahead and suck at it.
KL: Totally, take the time to suck. It took me twenty years of playing guitar to be ready for this band. My other advice would be to make the noise you want to make, that’s really important.
RA: If you want to start a band. Start one. I would say find a band that makes you want to push yourself. The first time I took vocal lessons was after joining this band. I was in a position where I could write in a way that made me want to be a better vocalist.
Listen to Santa Librada here:
Santa Librada will be celebrating the feast day of Wilgefortis at The Windup Space July 20th with Quattrancenta. Strap on your fanciest beard, wear your dancing shoes and come enjoy some wonderful music. Don’t miss it! Click here for details!