A Conversation with

Brodie Lancaster

Literature | September 23 2016

When I interviewed Brodie Lancaster, she’d just finished her mini-keynote speech at BigSound, ‘Music To Watch Boys To’ (directly following Kim Gordon’s keynote), weeks earlier submitted a draft for her debut novel and was working on issue #08 of her zine, Filmme Fatales. All this while maintaining her jobs as senior editor at Melbourne writing studio and publisher, The Good Copy as well as staff writer at Rookie Magazine.

She generously sat down with me between the conference and hanging out in art galleries with Courtney Barnett for a short conversation.

Thanks for talking to me! You delivered your BigSound talk yesterday, ‘Music to Watch Boys To,’ how did it go?

I felt good! Kim Gordon spoke just before me, she had a fruit platter, a fancy bottle of Scotch and San Pellegrino in the green room and didn’t drink any of it. So I sat there and was like, “Should I have a Scotch before I go out?” But no, I had some fancy water and my two beta blockers, which is my new way to feel calm before I do a talk.

Girl audiences are often labelled as ‘fan girls’ or ‘groupies’ but are usually the biggest consumers, while male audiences are labelled as ‘experts.’ Why do you think that is?

I talked about it a little bit in the talk. It seems like this misogynistic approach to work that is made or consumed by women, especially when it’s a guy making music consumed by women. No one is imposing these questions of legitimacy or realness on Selena Gomez or Ariana Grande, because they have huge female audiences. No one questions that; that makes sense to people. But when it’s a band of guys that write their own songs and play their guitars, pop punk bands for example, if they have majority female audiences, those girls are assumed to be there for the wrong reasons, like they have a crush on the band members. There’s always this idea of when these bands can find older male listeners that’s when they’ll be legitimised. The Beatles are the biggest band in the world, but they weren’t when they had girls screaming at them for years, it was only when they got the seal of approval from legitimate outlets like Rolling Stone and that kind of thing.

We are at a music conference where everyone is asking, “How do we make our band popular? We need to make money and sell records, merch, and concert tickets”. If a band of guys can sell millions of dollars to young girls, it’s as if that money doesn’t matter because it’s girls spending it.

In my talk I just presented all of these ideas, these things that we take for granted, that that’s the way it goes. But this is shit we should be questioning.

And we should also be listening to these girls because they’re not just consuming everything they’re fed from a marketing team, or a Simon Cowell-type person. They’re consuming stuff and then they’re having opinions, they’re discussing it, they create their own fan campaigns. They are engaging on a critical level with the music and the bands they love. They’re not idolising these guys and thinking they are perfect.

So we need to take those audiences seriously?

Totally. And we need to question the fact that people don’t. I showed a couple of examples in my slides, like a review of a 5 Seconds of Summer single by a Melbourne music journalist. His review was basically like, “They’re the latest band created by a marketing team and sold to gullible teenage girls and if your daughter likes them she should be put up for adoption.” I thought, are you going to review the music or just talk about how girls are shit? I think it’s just that people who accept that narrative need to question it a little more.

What albums influenced you the most growing up?

I was really obsessed with Elvis. When I was really little I watched his movies on TV and in my talk I showed some slides of when I went to Graceland this year because that was a huge moment of fandom for me—he lived there! He was buried there! I didn’t know he was buried there. Elvis was a big one. You know, I listened to the singles compilations because I was raised in the ’90s so I didn’t know him on an album-by-album relationship.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Bundaberg, four hours north of Brisbane. I’m driving up there tomorrow to visit my family.

I grew up in Gympie.

I spent four years in Gympie!

No, you poor thing!

Yeah, you too! Helltown, baby. What years? My family moved there in ‘94 and we left in ‘98.

Yeah I was there then, I know Bundaberg though I used to go there for soccer carnivals. That whole experience of living in a small country town is so isolating.

Yeah and we didn’t have the Internet, it was just what you saw on TV or on the radio. We had cassettes, we had a Backstreet Boys cassette and my mum’s ’60s and ’70s music was what I grew up listening to.

I was 12 when I first heard the Ramones, and I think of it now: 12 is such a baby. But at the time I was like, “I’m so punk.” I talked a little bit about the Ramones in my talk yesterday because, Linda Ramone—who dated Joey and then married Johnny (very controversial)—when Johnny was dying of cancer he was like, “You were a fan, I trust you with this legacy,” and so she’s now the person that was really instrumental in this travelling exhibition of all this memorabilia that just launched earlier this year. So I ended the talk there, talking about how her fandom is legitimised and she has so much information. But so do people who don’t marry their idols. They still have this valuable well of information.

You’ve just finished your first book, a pop culture memoir called No Way! Okay, Fine. What was the inspiration behind writing it?

I had a publisher ask me to and I kind of didn’t want to do it.

Yeah I’ve heard authors say they wouldn’t wish writing a book on their worst enemy.

I never would, it’s so hard. I started on January 1st. 

Oh so it was fairly easy for you then?

It wasn’t easy, it was just I had to do it.

Because my deadline was the 1st of September and I signed the contract in December. So I was like ok, “I’m going to have Christmas and New Year and start the book on January 1st.”

Where did the idea come from?

This publisher at Hachette met me at a writer’s festival a couple of years ago and I’d just been writing for Rookie. He had read something that I had written about my relationship with my body and how I see people who look like me on screen and what that meant to me growing up. Only seeing people with bodies like mine as jokes, punch lines, it was really horrible to watch that growing up. So I wrote this essay for Rookie that ended up going kind of nuts and it was one of the first personal pieces I’d ever written that people really reacted to like that.

Was there one book you had in mind that you wanted it to be like?

Not that I have anywhere near the skill or experience as Roxane Gay does, but Bad Feminist was probably the closest thing I was thinking of because it is a collection of essays that can work independently of each other. And that’s very much what mine is. It has a through-line of stories about my life woven into it that I hope they can be standalone essays about different elements of pop culture and how it influences us as women.

I can’t wait to read it, when is it out?

Thank you, next June/July. So I just finished a couple of weeks ago.

I was also listening to your TED talk the other day.

I have a whole chapter, a version of that in the book.

Yeah it’s so good, my boyfriend watched it with me as well, and he was saying you don’t really think about it and then when someone points it out it’s so obvious. Your main point was that it’s hard for women to succeed unless they’re ‘nice’ and how this narrative has been reinforced through female representation in cinema. How do you approaching being a boss, being an editor?

I find it really difficult and am super conscious every time I’m like, “Sorry just checking in.” I’m very conscious of the fact that that’s a very softening approach to things. Sometimes it’s obviously necessary, like my job at The Good Copy is lots of client relationship stuff. I have to cushion myself a little there.

I found it really hard with Filmme Fatales, which is my zine, in the first few issues because I was getting contributions and pitches from people that I knew weren’t right and that I knew were the wrong tone, or that I just didn’t agree with or didn’t like as a reader. But was like, “Oh they want to be in my zine, I shouldn’t say no, I shouldn’t be mean.” Also I can’t afford to pay contributors for it so I can’t go back and forth on these hectic edits because I understand, as a writer, it’s hard when you’re not being paid to do something. Then as an editor you’re asking people to invest a lot of time in it, and it’s always been a very tricky thing for me to deal with, the fact that I don’t have any money to pay people.

After a while, an issue came out and I was like I’m not happy with this, and because I make it on my own, the only name on it was mine. I got to a point where I have to hold myself accountable to this, even if it means being a bit of a bitch sometimes (or someone might see me as that). I feel a lot better about being able to say, “this isn’t right,” or, “sorry, I can’t take this.”

Speaking of your zine Filmme Fatales, which explores the intersection of feminism and cinema. Since starting it in 2012, do you think we’re getting more complex female characters in film?

Maybe. I think there’s more happening in TV now, just because people are investing more in TV and there are a lot more opportunities for women to be making TV then there are for films. People are averse to taking any kind of risks in films, because you have to see so much more return on your investment.

Then again, just doing Filmme Fatales has made me so much more aware of different filmmakers. I always just had my one experience of the films I connected to or watched, and now I have different contributors who have totally different tastes. At MIFF [Melbourne International Film Festival] just gone there was a program called Gaining Ground that had these beautifully restored prints of movies—most of which I’d never heard of before—by a series of ’70s feminist. There was this one called Girlfriends, by Claudia Weill. I got emotional by the end of it because I was like, “I have lived 26 years without seeing this movie and I miss it.” I left the screening and I was with one of my best friends, Sinead—she’s written for every issue of Filmme Fatales—and we just stood on the street outside and we just hugged each other and I was like, “That’s my favourite movie, I’ve seen it once and it’s my favourite movie.”

Do you have anything else coming up for the rest of the year?

I finished my full manuscript the weekend before last, so it’s with my publisher now. They’re going to send me some line-edits in a few weeks I think and I’ll have to rework it based on their feedback and do a copy edit early next year. But literally when I finished my talk at Bigsound yesterday I was like “I have no deadlines, for the first time in three years”. I have nothing to do now so I don’t know what I’m going to do with my time.

What are you going to do?

I dunno, I’m thinking of maybe joining a gym.

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