The Tuts Talk Sexism in Music, Their Upcoming Album, and Their DIY Aesthetic
The Tuts are the most exciting feminist all-girl band on the scene right now. They have no manager, no stylist, no publicist, no booking agent, and no label, but they continue to gain fans and play sell-out shows across the UK. Formed ‘properly’ in 2013, The Tuts are all about super-catchy ‘fuck you’ punk pop anthems, and they sing about everything from street harassment, to relationships, to a disastrous dalliance with a manger who just wanted an ego massage. Nadia Javed, Harriet Doveton, and Beverly Ishmael are The Tuts. Two are women of colour, they’re all feminists, and they all rock harder than any of their male counterparts on the scene right now.
I first saw them at A Carefully Planned Festival in Manchester, where they packed out the venue and got crowds who had stood very still for two days of mostly-male indie bands to jump and dance. They invited me to interview them about the upcoming debut album, set to be released on their own label, Dovetown, and is already entirely funded through Pledge.
Harriet Williamson: So talk to me about Pledge, and the new album.
Harriet Doveson: We decided to use Pledge because we’re a completely DIY band – we’ve done everything off our own backs, and we’ve come quite far considering, so we thought that there wasn’t any point using a small label even though we have a lot of respect for independent labels, because we’re essential a label ourselves. We call it Dovetown – and we thought that we should either sign with a big label or we do it ourselves, so we decided to do it ourselves. We went on tour with Sonic Boom Six and Barney [Paul ‘Barney’ Barnes from Sonic Boom Six] works at Pledge and suggested it. We looked into it, had meetings, and decided that our fan base is full of the type of people who would want to get involved in this way.
Beverly Ishmael: Yeah, they’re really interactive.
HD: It means we can fund the album through pre-orders and then release it off our own label.
Nadia Javed: People are paying for something that doesn’t even exist yet. I mean, we have the songs, we have classic old Tuts songs that have never been recorded, but we’ve also got new ones we’ve written. We’re totally blown away by the response. We knew we had a loyal fan base but we didn’t know that that many people would be interested.
HD: We were overwhelmed.
NJ: To hit a 100% in less than a week, even the people who pledged are gobsmacked, and at the Pledge head office, they’re using our campaign as a prototype.
HW: And this campaign wouldn’t have been possible without social media.
BI: You have to use social media for all it’s worth!
HD: We came up with these bundle ideas, and we decided to take some of our grassroots DIY stuff and put it on the Pledge. We’re going to be hand-customizing Tuts jackets and screen-printing posters.
NJ: A bundle is when you get a number of items, so the Girl Gang bundle is for the teenagers and they get a t-shirt, the CD, scrapbook, stickers, badges, and a handwritten letter. We did a big feminist sign to go in some of the bundles. We’ve got bronze, silver and gold, and a platinum bundle. We only made 10 of the platinum for £100 each, and they had the CD, t-shirt, both vinyls, stickers, badges, guest list for one year, a handwritten letter, a lyric sheet, and a mystery gift. We sold out in a couple of hours, all ten gone!
HW: Can you tell me a little bit about the influences for the new album?
HD: It’s going to be old school Tuts songs and some new ones. We’re listening to so much pop music when we’re in the car on tour, so when me or Nadia bring a new song to practice, we say ‘this one’s a bit like McFly’!
NJ: Growing up I had a real obsession with Feeder, which turned into The Libertines, so the way I play guitar was learnt from how they play guitar. They’ve reformed now and they’re back in the mainstream, which is quite weird for me. We toured with Kate Nash, we’re really open minded about what influences us. People don’t think its cool to like pop or Spice Girls, but we grew up in the 90s.
HD: Catchy pop melodies are the core of our songs, as well as the distorted guitar, so citing pop influences is really us being true to ourselves
HW: Let’s talk about sexism in the music industry.
NJ: As soon as we started, there was sexism. At school, bands would use our gender against us, saying things like ‘the only reason why people like you is because you’re girls and it’s different’. Trying to make us out like a token band. When we started to get our first few shows, people would assume we were the girlfriends of the boys in bands.
HD: Or they’d assume we were on first. We don’t mind going on first, but it was the fact that their brains would jump there, like why?
NJ: Then the headliner would be this really shit boy band, and we’d look at their social media, just out of interest, to see what interactions they’d had, and there would be hardly anyone following them, no status updates, no passion – nothing.
And we go up there and give it 110% every times because we believe in what we do and it makes us happy and it’s natural – and then we get told…
HD: That they’re the real deal.
BI: That they’re legit.
HW: Because they have penises.
NJ: I’ve said that on stage before – ‘If I had a penis’!
HD: To be honest, a lot of it is everyday sexism now.
NJ: And labels will get one girl band and say they’ve reached their quota.
HW: It’s like TV shows where there’s one person of colour in the whole programme and that’s all the non-white characters the writers can put in.
NJ: I know we have to raise a certain amount of money for the recordings, but we’re not blown away by the money. It’s about how many people have pledged. They really care, and I didn’t think we’d even hit 20%, I really didn’t. We’ve proved to people that you can do it DIY and yes, the industry’s fucked, and yes there’s lots of sexism, but on the flip side, we can just fight this shit. We can still be successful.
HD: Even though it’s a battle, you can still get there.
BI: You can still break through the barriers.
NJ: We have to work ten times harder. We’re always working on the band. Whether its emails, practicing, writing songs, coming up with ideas – we have so many different group chats for ideas.
HD: We just want other women to feel empowered. I remember when I was a teenager and I first started playing guitar, and there were loads of rival boy bands – we had one boy in our band when I was 16 and people said ‘err you have to have at least one boy in the band or else you’d be really shit’. To be honest, that’s always stuck with me. I was insecure on stage for years and then I finally thought ‘fuck it, I don’t give a shit anymore’, and now I’m brilliant.
BI: When me and Nadia were at school together, we saw male, white boy bands like The Libertines and The View, we were never really intimidated. We never thought ‘we can’t do that’. We just thought ‘if they’re doing, we’re doing it too’.
NJ: We’re more extroverted and lairy than any of them, so when we were growing up in Hayes and we’d have boys taking the piss out of us at school, we’d always have to cuss them back. We were getting this racist shit and people taking the piss out of how we looked, and we’d shout back. We’re feisty. We used to go to Skepta raves!
BI: And now we’ve realised that not every girl is like we were.
NJ: When we went on the Kate Nash tour, we got a lot of young girls becoming fans. They asked us ‘how do you go up there, give us some tips’.
HD: And they say stuff like, ‘I could never do that’.
NJ: Or ‘you’ve given me the inspiration to want to do that’ and then we realised that a lot of girls are really shy and insecure. So for us to give them confidence to then go out and do it, that’s an amazing feeling. We used to get a lot of letters from girls because we used to give out Harriet’s address, but someone published it on Twitter…
HD: … And we were like ‘nooooo not doing that anymore’.
NJ: Remember that gig we played where all those boys at the front were getting hard ons? And that time when there was a wet floor, that man wiped his finger on the floor and sucked it!
[Sounds of disgust]
HW: That’s so unhygienic for a start off…
NJ: Yeah and then I saw him at another gig when I had my hair tied up and he said ‘oh you look ugly with your hair up’.
HD: We used to get more, but now we have a more established fan base..
NJ: We’ve scared them away!
HD: They know not to be like that now. It happened more when we used to play random gigs.
BI: Yeah, battle of the bands kind of gigs.
HD: And random shows in London. Doesn’t mean they’re not still there, but they get filtered out a bit.
HW: Tell me about your on-stage style. I was worried that this was a sexist question, but you clearly put a lot of thought into how you dress.
HD: No, not sexist at all!
NJ: Yeah, we put thought into it. We like make-up, we like to look nice. We like coordinating, so the night before we’ll ask ‘what are you wearing’ on the group chat and try to match. It is important to us, because it makes us feel good.
BI: Like an armour, that’s how it felt when I first started wearing matching stuff.
HD: Doesn’t mean everyone has to do it of course, wear what you want on stage.
NJ: When I think I look ugly on stage, I act more timid, like I’m more scared.
HW: You guys look fierce on stage.
NJ: Yeah we look good for about 5 seconds then the beat drops and the hair’s all over the place! The fucking hairclips that you’ve crisscrossed over have been flung in the air…
HW: Hitting a misogynist in the eye?
HW: Ok, best record of last year?
HD: I really like Laura Stevenson’s album ‘Cocksure’.
BI: I dunno, there are too many… this is a hard question.
HW: I never said it would be an easy interview!
NJ: Craig David’s ‘Slicker Than Your Average’. We’ve rediscovered Craig David. I’m gonna go for Big Eyes as well
HD: That one didn’t come out this year, but Nadia got into last year.
NJ: I’d say The Selecter too.
HW: Your shows are so energetic. How do you get the crowd going?
NJ: Cocaine. And champagne.
BI: We shout abuse at them and rile them up, they love it!
NJ: Yeah we just swear at them, they fucking love it. If you say ‘ooh you lovely bunch, just clap along and be happy’, they’re not going to go for it. I fell off the stage once and we sold the most merch ever.
HD: They love disasters! Falling over, breaking strings…
NJ: They love any sort of drama on the stage.
HW: Do you feel you have to go harder that male bands?
HD: we were saying, they roll out of bed.
BI: They roll out of bed, onto the front cover of NME.
NJ: They are so boring! At most you might get a bit of a knee tap and then some wanky guitar masturbation but we go crazy. It’s not forced either; we want to do it. And somehow our lip liner stays intact!
HW: So you’re a West London band?
NJ: Yeah. People hear West London and they think Kensington, Fulham, Chelsea, but we’re from Hayes where Heathrow Airport is.
HD: We were talking about how it’s been erased, that area of London. No one talks about it, even though Heathrow’s there and everyone uses the airport – people pretend Uxbridge and Hayes don’t exist.
NJ: It’s because Boris Johnson’s running it!
HD: It’s because it’s not trendy, there’s nothing going on there, it’s not exactly a very posh area either.
HW: When are you hoping to release the album?
HD: Start of summer, so we’d say June. It will probably be done before then, but you’ve got to build it up and get your tour ready. We’re playing Glastonwick, Bearded Theory festival, Rebellion, the Northern Modern Ska festival, Undercover, and Camden Rocks this summer.
NJ: There’s more we’re working on.
HD: Because we don’t have a booking agent for festivals. You have to hunt down the people or else they don’t give a shit.
NJ: I’m always on my bed, legs crossed, teapot, laptop, BANG new tab, BANG Instagram, BANG Twitter! Then I’m typing the guy’s name into linked in, finding his contact details, his website, then I watch some YouTube videos, do some research, and find something about this person or this festival, so we can customize the email.
HD: If we had a booking agent, they’d just be sending out blanket emails. We want to do it down to the details.
BL: Yeah if we had one, we’d be like ‘so what about that festival’ and they’d say ‘nah they never got back to you’.
HD: Booking agents help you but they also keep you in the dark a lot. You don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know who the contact is, and we like to be in control.
NJ: I found this guy on Facebook who was the booker for a festival, and I added him at like 3am, and he accepted, and I messaged him – you know like creepy men do? ‘Wow that was quick’ – so I was the creepy man! And I said ‘how do I know you’ and he said ‘we were caught shagging in the back of your mum’s Fiesta’ and I was like ‘oh shit’. I said ‘shut the fuck up, I’ll throw a pint at your head’ and he said ‘so do you want to play the festival’, and I said yeah.
HW: I don’t want this to end, but what message would you like to leave me with?
BI: We are 100%
NJ: DIY or die.
NJ: World domination.