Shady Hawkins

Who Are Shady Hawkins?

Paula Mejia

By Paula Mejia

on 03.13.14 in Features

File under: Witchcore punk bashing in both eardrums and expectations
For fans of: Babes in Toyland, the Wipers, Sleater-Kinney
From: Brooklyn, New York
Personae: Suzy Exposito (vocals), Sabrina Elba (bass), Mike Funk (drums), Matt Presto (guitar)

When Shady Hawkins vocalist Suzy Exposito moved to New York City from Florida in 2007, she was dismayed to find its punk scene homogenized, lacking feminist and queer narratives, or the perspective of people of color. As a direct reaction, Exposito began jamming with drummer Mike Funk, with the intention of starting a band to remedy that. The pair recruited their friend Matt Presto on guitar, and after bassist Sabrina Elba joined on bass in 2012, Shady Hawkins was born.

Shady Hawkins are a riveting, unforgiving unit, but their songs provoke more than a deep dive into athemosh pit. The quartet’s LP Dead to Me brims with socially-conscious, feminist-informed lyrics, building on the foundation of urgency their riot grrrl heroes laid down. Exposito’s lyrics demand equality and denounce sexism, but touch on smaller topics: “How Long?” is about disappointment with friends and waning trust, while “Not My Comrades” tackles what it’s like to lose respect.

Paula Mejia chatted with vocalist Suzy Exposito about Sky Ferreira, her musical origins and New York City’s ever-evolving punk scene.

On musical beginnings:

My dad is Cuban and my mom is Belizean. My parents were younger; they had me in their early 20s. I listened to whatever my parents listened to, and what they listened to was incredibly good, like Nirvana, the Cure, the Smiths. My dad loves classic rock and jazz. We used to drive around listening to the classic-rock station in Miami. He had this competition between my sister and me, and he’d be like “I’ll give you a dollar if you can name this song!” I got really good at it. “This is Pink Floyd! These are the Rolling Stones!” I think I was like, 10, and I was starting to name all the songs. But what I really liked singing was Fleetwood Mac. I really wanted to be Stevie Nicks. And really, who doesn’t want to be Stevie Nicks?

On evolving as a band:

Our first songs were about breakups and street harassment, but eventually we started writing about disappointment. A lot of our songs are about losing your faith in communities. I could sing at The Man all day, but what does it mean when I sing to someone who’s supposed to be my sister? What does it mean to sing an angry song to someone I trust and lets me down? Lots of feminist bands can sing about patriarchy, politicians. But we write uncomfortable songs. We’re not just confrontational — we’re very analytical. Other feminists are not immune to critique, and I don’t think they should be.

On Sky Ferreira:

I haven’t been listening to much punk rock in the last few months. Night Time My Time is a fantastic record. Sky Ferreira delves into these very spooky places, and you’re feeling the beat you kind of descend with her into these dark, uncertain depths. Her songs are open wounds, even though they’re pop songs. I wish I’d had some of her songs when I was 19, when I was going through that point in life when you just want to be loved and everyone around you just wants to consume you and spit you out. I can’t listen to her music without thinking of that time — and there’s something very particular to that in a woman’s life.

She’s also kind of fighting for her own subjectivity, her own voice in a way. She demonstrates that being a compelling musician is not exclusive to rock, or punk. There are plenty of young women making compelling music today. Like Angel Haze, who is a fantastic rapper.

On the NYC punk scene:

A few years ago I was very concerned about not seeing any women making punk. At rock camp I found a community of women and queer people making punk music, so I started going to those shows. The more celebrated bands in punk in NYC are all white males, and it’s still an issue. Although there are tons of bands with people of color, people don’t promote them, people don’t book them. That’s something that needs to change. But at least people have been speaking up about it. In the Bronx there’s a massive presence of black and Latino people in punk right now.

On meeting famed Bags frontwoman Alice Bag:

I love her book, Violence Girl. We talked about growing up Latina, dealing with dysfunction and things like that. We had a heart to heart — and even though it was just a few minutes, my heart was overflowing afterward. She’s such a kind person, but such a badass. I love her band Castration Squad, and her fashions. I wish that I was brave enough to wear stuff like that now.