June Owatari’s Grrl on Grrl Podcast is a complete revelation. Informative, funny, and unarguably rad, the interview show features women and nonbinary musicians in an exquisitely produced format – not to bury the lead, but we’re fans. In wanting to know June’s thoughts on production techniques, Mexican food, and gender in media, we asked the host a litany of pressing questions.
Rob Patrick: What was the genesis of the Grrl on Grrl podcast?
June Owatari: Well, I’ve been thinking about doing a podcast for years but never had the right idea. Then in May or June of 2015 I had this light bulb moment. We have so many radio interviews or music podcasts but the ratio of women to men was still tilted towards the men side. Why don’t I try to fix that? But I also know that trans and nonbinary folks are an even more invisible voice in the music industry. I wanted this podcast to focus entirely on us so the marginalized can see that there’s a supportive community for them to feel safe playing music.
During interviews, you’re incredibly well-researched, perceptive, and fluid in conversation. To you, what makes a great Q&A with someone?
Oh man, I’m glad someone thinks that. If you listened to the unedited interviews, you’ll notice that I’m not as fluid as I sound in the episodes! A great Q&A to me is when the guest mentions or starts talking about something that I’m not familiar with. Some of my past guests have taught me so much about music, the DIY scene, and other aspects of the community that I never would have thought of. This is why making people comfortable before and during the interview is so important. Having the interview be a conversation rather than a rapid-fire question and answer session allows the conversation to go to unexpected places.
You’ve been in a few bands. I imagine having that particular musical compass enables you to form more thoughtful and topical questions that a typical media presence wouldn’t think of. When interviewing musicians, does that background provide more comfort for your guests?
When it comes to my musical background, I don’t think it plays a huge part, really. Many of the interviewees have been doing music for much longer than I have. I think more important is my work as a freelance writer where I’d have to do phone and face-to-face interviews, so I had experience getting people to open up even before I started the podcast. I think the most important thing to make an interviewee feel comfortable is to reiterate beforehand that it’s a casual conversation. And I tell them that I edit out the stuff that makes us sound dumb. That usually makes them laugh, and it helps to make the interview seem not so serious.
What is something that, most often, people get wrong when writing about music?
That the musicians are real people. I get that you only have so much space to write for a magazine or site, but I think the best interviews or album reviews are about the musician’s background and how they and their fans connect with what they write. It’s not just about the latest album, their equipment, and what they’re “inspired” by. I think the biggest complaint I’ve seen from musicians, especially ones who do a lot of interviews, is that they get asked the same question over and over. The answers become rote, like a script. The best interviews I’ve read are about other parts of their life, a personal snapshot. At least, that’s what I like when reading interviews.
What can San Diego media – from publications to podcasts – do to further support local bands?
Yikes, that’s a difficult question. I think that there needs to be a bigger effort to highlight smaller bands–ones that aren’t necessarily the big shots in San Diego music. There are so many of the little guys that don’t get the press they need. Why not go to a show with three bands that you may never have heard of and write about them? You may be surprised by what you find, and you wouldn’t have heard of them unless you had taken the risk to check them out.
In an interview with Chastity Belt, Julia Shapiro told us that she is constantly asked “what’s it like being a girl in a band?” Why do you think so many dudes, professionally or otherwise, are so culturally and socially inept?
Oh Lord. That’s actually funny because I asked one of my recent interviewees, Anastasia Rivera, that same question, specifically about touring and being stuck in a car of “smelly guys”–her words not mine! She said, “The only thing that sucks about being a girl in the band… is being a girl in the band.”
I think that particular question, “What’s it like being a girl in a band?” is a double-edged sword. It can be a positive question because those dudes may honestly be curious–they have their own personal experience, and they realize that other people have their own personal experiences that can be completely different. The question can be an awareness that the “dude experience” isn’t the norm for all musicians.
Then you have the ones who use it as a weapon, unintentionally or not. A woman is NOT the norm, so the question is actually a fetishization of the concept rather than actual curiosity about that particular musician. A couple of my interviewees have mentioned being put on a pedestal of sorts. It’s the concept of being a woman in music that the dudes are curious about rather than that specific woman’s experience.
I don’t think people who ask that question are inept… They are giving into the cultural and societal expectation that people other than men don’t play music, so those non-men fit into what is considered the norm. That’s a big part of why I started the podcast–to fight against the mainstream idea that there’s one monolithic type of musician. Not all men are the same as each other. Not all women are the same each other. Not all nonbinary person are the same. So why would all musicians be the same as each other?
What are some of the most important boxes for you to tick when organizing, assembling, and recording a podcast?
So… many… to do lists.
The most basic list is: find a guest, contact the artists that the guest chooses for permission to use their song, the actual interview, and editing–this is the part that takes the longest. Then, finally, I send it off to Gary Hankins (of the Summer Knowledge) to EQ it for me.
I try to have at least two interviews recorded, plus one that I’m in the process of editing, and finally, one ready to post. Having a backlog is such a relief. When I first started, I’d be scrambling the week of the release to record, edit, and mix.
You have a great well of knowledge for music. What sort of bands, artists, and stories do you find most interesting?
Phew, I don’t know if I consider my knowledge that big. That’s kind of what’s great about starting the podcast. I’ve learned so much about different genres and different artists, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning.
Personally, I love talking to people about their goals as a musician. Do they want to “make it big”? Do they play music because they can’t imagine doing anything else? A combination of the two? And how are they trying to reach their goal? Another thing I’m interested in is how the musician supports the community that surrounds them. What have they done to create a welcoming experience to fans and other musicians?
Five dream guests, go.
EASY. Mitski, Sadie Dupuis, Laura Jane Grace, St. Vincent, Gwen Stefani.
And, most inconsequentially, what’s your favorite Mexican food spot in San Diego?
How dare you say this is inconsequential?! Gallegos, hands down. It’s right across the street from Tower Bar. Their surf and turf burrito is FANTASTIC. The sauce they use is divine. (Colima’s is a close second.)