On the day I’m scheduled to interview New Zealand pop-punk band Miss June, Instagram targets me with a personality quiz that says it can tell me which member of the formidable foursome I am. The quiz declares me a “Chris.”
When I reach Miss June singer/guitarist Annabel Liddell on the phone while she’s on the road in the United Kingdom and ask what that says about me, she breaks into giggles. It means the quiz is broken, she says. Everybody so far has been a Chris.
It’s not a bad thing to be Chris Marshall, the band’s bassist, she assures me. “Nice guy, good hair!” she says.
People ask Liddell “all the time” if she’s Miss June, but the band is named after the Brian Jonestown Massacre song “Miss June ’75,” and the name was picked in a rush. The band consists of Liddell, Marshall, guitarist Jun Park, and drummer Tom Leggett, and it formed “about four years ago.” Liddell had a solo gig, realized she didn’t want to do it alone, sprinted into the jazz school, found three guys who were willing to learn her songs quickly — and the lineup hasn’t changed since then.
2019 has been a banner year. The fuzzed-out Kiwi band signed to New York’s indie-playground label Frenchkiss Records, their debut LP’s sizzling lead single “Best Girl” landed on The New York Times’s exclusive Playlist, and the album, “Bad Luck Party,” drew raves from all around the music blogosphere. On top of that, Liddell is set to graduate from medical school in New Zealand next month, right after the band comes home from its two-month tour across Europe and the United States.
The band will be playing tunes from “Bad Luck Party,” and some unreleased new material too, when it brings the noise to ONCE in Somerville on Tuesday.
Q. How did you balance being a med student and a musician?
A. I’ve balanced it the best that I can. At the end of last year, I had really worked myself into the ground. Honestly, working all day, every single day, without fail. I was doing the best I could, and I have a great support network. My family and the boys in the band are really supportive.
Q. When you were in the depths of medical school, when did you find time to write?
A. So first of all, I had a two-year break from writing. That was during the time that I was doing all the academia. For med school, you have three years which are pretty much theory before you get in the hospital. I was working so hard, and I stopped writing, but then once I got into the hospital work, I found a lot of inspiration. My mind was more active. And so I used to keep my writing guitar in the same room as my study. I’d cram for a couple hours and then take a break, make coffee, and pick up the guitar as a break from studying.
Q. Is there a story behind your
Twitter and Instagram handles, “@ihatemissjune?”
A. We were playing a gig, and a bunch of Jun’s friends came to the show. They all made these T-shirts, and on the back of the T-shirts they wrote “[Expletive] Miss June,” just as a joke. And they were moshing in the front, getting so into it with these “[Expletive] Miss June” T-shirts on! We thought it was really funny. Obviously, we couldn’t make our Instagram handle “[Expletive] Miss June,” so we went with “I Hate Miss June.”
Q. Tell me about the way that the band writes songs. Are they mostly yours, is it a collaborative process?
A. In the early days of Miss June, I was very much doing the lion’s share of the songwriting. I remember we had a conversation about it, where the boys were like, “We want to contribute more.” And I’m like, “Cool. Let’s try to do this more collaboratively.” That’s the newest sort of song for us. Some of those heavier songs like “Enemies” and “Aquarium” were riffs that Jun wrote on guitar and brought in, and then I put vocals on.
Q. What inspired “Best Girl?”
A. I am from a tiny island on the bottom of the Earth, and it has a very small population. Because of that constant close proximity with other people, it’s really important to be supportive of each other. That’s something New Zealand can struggle with a little bit.
I wrote “Best Girl” from the perspective of being a young female musician growing up in a small town. And basically just feeling the weight of expectation, and the patriarchal construct that says there’s only room for one woman on the lineup, or there’s only room for one girl in the band. And it’s this mentality that forces us to compete with other women, and it’s just not necessary or true. In my mind it’s another form of oppression.
What I’ve been seeing recently is a lot of marginalized people, a lot of women, rising up and saying, “[Expletive] your old system, we’re actually going to do our own thing.” The song is about this pursuit of this goal that doesn’t exist . . . “If I’m the best girl, I’ll be happy, no one can win but me, I have to be the one.” Which actually isn’t true. There’s enough room for everybody to succeed in their own right.
At ONCE Ballroom, Somerville, Oct. 15. at 8 p.m. Tickets $12, www.oncesomerville.comInterview was condensed and edited. Zoë Madonna can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.