Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Rock, Feminism & the Challenges of DIY Punk

By Deborah J. Draisin

I met Lauren West backstage at a Bouncing Souls concert earlier this month prior to her big debut singing alongside Greg Attonito on the little-known song “Wish Me Well (You Can Go To Hell.” We hit it off right away and shared both cocktails and regular tales. She told me all about her band, American Pinup (formerly known as Big Sister and risen out of the ashes of Marissa Feldman) and I waxed poetic about the joys of freelance pop culture journalism. She shared with me how both nervous and excited she was to perform that night, adding that performing with one of her idols was much tougher than headlining one of AP’s own shows.

The video for their single “Strongbow” off the recently dropped “Strange Creatures” album has been posted on their site. The band is about to embark upon their first real tour as a new addition to Altercation Records and has also scored a coveted slot on SXSW at Headhunter’s in Austin, TX this coming March 15 at 7 p.m.

American Pinup’s incredibly catchy ska/surf-punk sound will appeal to fans of other fierce female-fronted bands such as Hole and No Doubt.

Q: Okay, I have to know: who is Marissa Feldman? Your blog teases fans to ask their parents, but assuming that said parents would be about my age, I still don’t know who you’re referring to – unless you mean that girl I went to camp with in the sixth grade…

Lauren: It's a little known fact that we used to go under the name Big Sister. Even lesser known is that before that (circa 2006) - when we also had a different lineup - we went under the name Marissa Feldman, which was a moniker that the guys had chosen based upon the name of a made-up girl used to prank a high school friend (perfectly innocently, of course!) We played a Battle of the Bands at Playland in Rye, New York and a show at the University of Maryland's radio station under the name and then and decided we needed to change it so that people would stop calling me Marissa. We were completely off the radar then, so the "Ask your parents" crack is just an example of my snark.

Q: Now they just wonder whose big sister posed for Playboy. Now here you are in your early twenties, already feeling jaded by lyrics that you wrote in your mid-teens? Imagine how our idols must feel, still playing songs they wrote at that age some twenty or thirty years ago! Does the disconnect result more from a change in attitude or a change in location?

Lauren: I wouldn't say that I'm jaded by the lyrics that I wrote in my teens, but I guess
you could say that I'm sometimes embarrassed by them - I don't think that's particularly uncommon for a songwriter. A change in attitude may have something to do with it, but growing as a person and an artist don't always go hand-in-hand. Sometimes you just get better at your craft with practice, and I think that's what I've done over the years.

I set higher standards for myself these days and try to take more pride in what I put out into the world. I'm no longer comfortable with scrawling down something half-baked, because, to me, that's not a complete thought as a composition; it's half-assed. For instance, a song like "Go!" - which I wrote when I was fifteen - will probably never get old for me, but I don't know if I would write something like that today. There is no denying that it's a really fun song, and there's merit to that, but it's not saying much; it has a point, but no deeper meaning. If there's no deeper meaning, it's hard to maintain that feeling of being "connected" to the material years later.

Q: Very well said. So, van tour, that’s huge! Lining up a working van is often a big hurdle for new bands. Other than loading up your AAA card just in case, what precautions are taking to avoid leaving one another on the side of the road?

Lauren: Well we certainly won't be leaving anyone behind in Memphis or anything; we try to be slightly more organized than that! However, we did get the van inspected to make sure that everything checked out, and they say it's good to go, so hopefully we won't have to deal with any disasters on that front.

Right now, it seems like budgeting is the hardest part. We'll be packing a big cooler full of plenty of food and water to minimize our rest stop expenses and bringing sleeping bags to save on lodging. I even went so far as to map out the cheapest places to gas up. Luckily, our label-mates The Jukebox Romantics will be traveling with us, so we'll be able to follow their example a bit, as they've had some experience on the road. I'm sure it'll be a good time no matter what problems we encounter, but it helps to be prepared.

Q: It definitely doesn’t hurt! Packing your own shit is a good start, provided you don’t want to set fire to all of it by the end of the tour. Speaking of which, “Feeling like a stranger doesn’t really feel so strange” is an interesting line from “Bus Stop.” It can also apply to the artist/audience relationship as well, can’t it?

Lauren: That line is really just a reflection on the idea that feeling out of place can become routine. I'm sure I'll experience this to some degree on the road - playing to rooms of strangers on a daily basis - and I'm sure I'll get used to it over time. However, I think that the line is reflecting u[on something slightly different.

It's really referring to something that I think far more people can relate to: feeling alienated from the people that you're surrounded by in your everyday life -- your community, your classmates, your family, etc. -- but also feeling like this alienation is normal, like it's just your default state of existence. It's not about malicious isolation, it's not even really about being ostracized, it's just about being that person who no one really "gets" and being cool with that.

I think that being an artist - especially one with a lot of devoted fans - is like being surrounded by strangers who feel as though they understand you, as opposed to being surrounded by familiar faces who don't understand you at all. So, in a way, they're contradicting ideas, but they're definitely closely related. "Bus Stop," as a whole, is really a song about nostalgia, and how, ultimately, it has more to do with the recalling of certain feelings and old habits than it does with memories of specific events or incidents in one's life. Nostalgia is like looking at a bad photocopy of those old feelings or temporarily morphing into this strange simulacrum of your former self.

Q: That’s an awesome insight. Alienation is definitely my default state of existence, I can’t even deny it. It’s also an interesting time to mention this, considering the current state of affairs surrounding women in society at the moment, but we spoke briefly last month about the pluses and minuses of the attention that arises from being a female-fronted operation. To expound a bit for the readers: Are you finding yourselves being taken seriously out there? As the main songwriter and an obvious focal point, does the band ever feel overshadowed and how do you combat that?

Lauren: It's old-fashioned and it’s disconcerting, but it also true that we're often thought of as the "chick band." In fact, a recent review of our album referred to our music as "chick rock," and did so as if to say that meant it exists in a second class of music. I just think that's such a misguided and dismissive point of view.

One of the more disenchanting things about being a musician is my discovery that this perspective, though warped and dated, is not as uncommon as I once thought. I have been called "fluff" to my face (and I'm sure behind my back as well.) I have been mistaken for someone's girlfriend while carrying my own guitar. I have endured the condescending looks of surprise when people discover I write my own songs. It's part of it, though. Everyone has some kind of disadvantage or another in this business.

This is a really complex issue and it definitely ties into the issue of the "spotlight." For some reason, having a woman fronting a band makes it impossible for some people to pay attention to anything else. "Look, a girl!" People can get so wrapped up in the aesthetics of femininity - whether it's how I look on stage or how my voice sounds on a record – that they overlook the content. They also sometimes overlook my incredibly gifted bandmates, each of whom brings something invaluable to our act. At the ground level, you don't have much say in how you're marketed, and you'll never have a say in how people respond to you.

At the end of the day, I think the guys and I all understand who we are as a band and take pride in what we do together. Our bond as bandmates supersedes any resentment that could arise from such a lame misinterpretation of what we're trying to do. We stand by one another and make great music together and that's all that matters.

Q: I really respect that. It’s unfair, no doubt – I wonder if it’ll ever be a level playing field out there. Another thing that might get missed is the fact that you guys really go for it live, no matter how tiny the club. Do you have anything special planned to amp up the upcoming shows even more?

Lauren: We're preparing a few covers for the road that we've never done before, so that'll be exciting. I think my goal for this tour is to really get comfortable playing in front of bigger crowds and total strangers. I'm pretty shy and I think that can sometimes come across on stage, so I want to take this opportunity to get over that. As a band, we just want to get tighter and more energetic. We're practicing our asses off and stepping up our backup vocals, which we haven't been so consistent about in the past. Generally, we're just trying to get out there and impress some folks.

Q: I think you will. American Pinup has managed to retain a loyal fanbase through two name and several lineup changes. Does having that sort of support early on make it easier to keep going, or do you feel pressure not to deviate too far from your roots?

Lauren: We definitely, absolutely, totally do not feel restricted or pigeonholed! Our album is ample evidence of our willingness to try new things, experiment with different genres, and be whatever kind of band we want to be at any given moment. I think that having the loyal support we've had has actually encouraged us to do this. We don't worry about how "punk" we come off even though we're technically on a punk label and are very much a part of that scene. The great thing about our band is that we all have very similar taste and when something sounds good to us, we stand by it. We do whatever the fuck we want because we trust each other's instincts and talent - that's actually pretty punk rock anyway.

Q: I cannot stand it when people wax too poetic about what is and isn’t punk! I’m glad you mentioned that. Loyal fanbase or no, Westchester must have been a hell of a difficult place to get a scene going. How would you advise other young up-and-comings to pursue their art in earnest? What to look out for, what to ignore?

Lauren: Avoid pay-to-play scenarios and venues that require you to bring a minimum number of people. Those places aren't going to expose you to new crowds. The reason they ask you to bring people is often because they're struggling for business in the first place. This is a very common thing in New York City. It's so easy to get into that rut of playing to your friends over and over again.

Music is such a competitive environment these days, you have to be willing to literally go the extra mile. Be very adventurous, play everywhere, and practice a lot. Communicating with your bandmates about your goals is also crucial. When everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goal, things happen a lot faster.

Now, this is my controversial piece of advice: never, ever give your music away for free, especially to total strangers. This is really difficult sometimes, because we live in a world where people now feel entitled to free media, including music, but you have to stick to your guns. This isn't greed; it's strategy. If you don't value your work, neither will other people. If someone hands me a free CD, I know I'm not going to listen to it, at least not right away, and I think if I wasn't a musician, I wouldn't listen to them at all. However, if I buy a CD from someone, even if it's for a couple of bucks, it'll immediately go in my CD player when I get in my car. At the very least, people will be curious about what they just spent their money on. You have to insist that your work is worth something to the world. It's so easy to be taken advantage of in this business and that's one small way in which you can practice the art of standing your ground.

Q: You’re right, that is an unpopular standpoint. I think most bands advise the exact opposite, but I never really thought of it in the context that you’re putting it in. It’s food for thought, surely.

Thanks so much for your time, Lauren. I’m really looking forward to American Pinup playing a date here and trading more war stories at the bar afterwards!

Lauren: Thank you! It was great to meet you. Hopefully I'll catch you at our next Jersey gig!

Q: I’ll be there!

Check out American Pinup and order their new CD at

View the video for “Strongbow” -



 is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

Jersey Beat Podcast

Home | Contact Jersey Beat | Sitemap

©2010 Jersey Beat & Not a Mongo Multimedia

Music Fanzine - Jersey Beat