For a local band that’s released only three recordings, one music video and a cassette with three remixes of their first release by three musical peers, TOMBOI has quite a résumé. In less than two years, they’ve played at Austin’s SXSW and in New Orleans twice, including a stint with Macaulay Culkin’s Velvet Underground parody band, The Pizza Underground.
But more important to members Paige McMullen (guitar), Alex E (keys, vocals), and Summer Wood (drums), the group is deeply involved with Girls Rock Jacksonville, volunteering time and expertise, including putting on occasional workshops to help young girls find community and empowerment through music.
Even their shows, in a sense, are an extension of their effort to create safe, empowering, positive spaces for the homosexual and gender-neutral community. They don’t book shows at venues that allow smoking inside, out of respect for fans who don’t smoke. Alex E is working on a banner for upcoming shows that will encourage fans to be positive and communal with others.
Folio Weekly sat down with two of the three members of the outspoken, all-female electro-pop band — Paige and Alex — at their practice space, ahead of their appearance this week at FolioFest, to talk about the importance for safe, accepting places where LGBTQ people can be themselves, and what TOMBOI hopes to add to the Northeast Florida community.
Folio Weekly: How did TOMBOI get started?
Paige McMullen: We actually met here, at Warehouse Studios, which is where we practice. We met when we were in different bands, and those bands dissipated for whatever reason. Alex was in a solo project, and got invited to go to SXSW and we were just friends. And she was telling me about it the day after my birthday party, where we learned ’90s songs together.
Alex E: It was this silly night of friends hanging out late at night, being silly.
P.M.: Basically, Alex was, like, “How do I get to Texas because I don’t have a car?” I was, like, “Well, I have a car.” I had just gotten a car a couple months before, so I said I would drive. You were going to say no.
A.E.: She was, like, “You’re an idiot. How do you not go?”
P.M.: I bullied you into letting me drive you to Texas.
A.E.: I was, like, if I’m going to go, you might as well play guitar or something. Literally, after brunch the next day, we walked over to Summer’s house, and Summer’s, like, “I’m down.”
After your whirlwind start as a band, what happened when you got back to Jacksonville?
P.M.: We were definitely motivated.
A.E.: Because we’d been in so many bands and because we have been in the music industry all of our adult lives, we saw all the things, we’ve already done all the things we know we shouldn’t do anymore, and we wanted to try this really specific approach to making music. We sought the wisdom of our elders, and took the advice to heart, and the advice paid off. Our friend Lisa Thomas was basically, like, “Make a single, make a music video, and if anybody is really into it, then fund that project more.” And we did that, and we got a response.
Why are you involved in Girls Rock Jacksonville?
A.E.: We care about the people that are going to give us their time to come and listen to the things we do. It’s a mutual respect. I think that’s something that’s disappeared from a lot of music culture because people are, like, “You’re welcome” — artists who had the ability to be an artist in your life.
That’s why we’re so involved with Girls Rock Jacksonville. No matter what happens to TOMBOI, or us in our future, it’s important the community we leave behind is a safer place for females and female-identified people; that this is a community that will assist you in that way instead of being so belittling and male-dominated and validating for males and whatever.
What do you stand for as a band?
P.M.: Empowerment for queer-identified people and females.
A.E.: And for hetero-normal people who want to understand queer culture better and they need a space to do that themselves. Creating an all-inclusive environment centered around positivism. All the songs we have are something about empowerment or queer-centric love songs. Aren’t you tired of hearing another white hetero male love opinion? Don’t you want to hear something else, too? Are we really alone in this concept? Making pop music that is accessible to everyone so that everyone knows that queer culture is not subversive.
What’s your goal as a Northeast Florida band?
A.E.: We can get on stage and write these songs for a queer dialogue that are being presented in pop music so it’s able to be swallowed in a hetero normal community so that no one is uncomfortable by it, but then it has to go the step farther, it’s like being an active ally to the situation. I think that whole concept for TOMBOI is constantly evolving, because the dialogue in our culture is constantly evolving and making it more accessible for everyone to be more considerate toward each other.