When I tell people about Rituals of Mine, I always feel like my description falls flat. The music is incredibly emotive, but you’ve never truly experienced how deeply tactile the group’s music is until you’ve seen a live show, with beautifully haunting vocals, a powerfully potent stage presence backed by a live drummer and deep-cutting production. Formerly known as Sister Crayon, Rituals of Mine stopped in Seattle on their tour with Garbage, and we had a chance to chill with vocalist Terra Lopez and her lovely partner, Kelsie, backstage.
As a queer woman of color, Lopez opened up about the adversities she has faced and still faces within the music industry, getting honest with herself about mental health, starting her own label [Join the Bitchwave!], her incredible art installation, “THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE” and so much more.
The music industry has largely shut out queer WOC, and you have been vocal about this. As a face and voice for the minority, can you share some of the roadblocks you have experienced because of your identity in this industry?
Lopez: I mean, I definitely have [experienced them], and it’s usually in micro ways, where I don’t realize it until I step back and I’m like, “Oh yeah, I guess guys don’t get asked this question.” I just feel that I’ve been doing this for a long time, and there’s been so many instances where I’ve either felt treated differently either because I’m a woman or because I’m brown or because I’m queer, and I feel like, as a person of color in this industry, you have to really work so much harder than your white counterparts.
I see it every day, and it’s really difficult to not let that get to me and get in my head, because I legit feel like I have to work at least three times harder than even a white woman, you know. It’s definitely something that my friends and I talk about a lot, and not even in the music industry, but just in all creative fields — we definitely feel like we have to prove ourselves before we even step up to the plate. So it’s exhausting.
Definitely the day-to-day stuff, where it’s like, you see these opportunities completely bypass you, and you see other people who maybe aren’t as qualified get them — and that happens every day, I see that happen every day. [Turning to Kelsie] I would say feel free to chime in, ‘cause I’m constantly telling you, complaining to you about stuff — I might be forgetting.
Kelsie: Your experiences with bigger record labels being like, “Oh, if you’re a woman over the age of 28, you can’t be in this industry.”
Lopez: Yeah, that’s true. Thanks, that’s a big one.
Kelsie: … to lie about your age.
Lopez: Yeah. Working with major labels I’ve been … the first label that came to me when I was 18 — wanted me to sing only in Spanish because of my last name, and I don’t even know Spanish, so I was like, “That can’t happen. Why — why can’t I sing how I sing?” So that was really weird, and they legit told me, “Well, you’re a brown woman, so we want you to do this. This is how you’re gonna sell, you’re not gonna sell anything otherwise.”
Or if you’re a woman in this industry, you have a shelf life, and if you’re a queer woman don’t even think about it. Coming out as a queer person— I’ve had labels tell me will drastically cut your fan base in half. It’s just crazy all of the stresses that we as minority people have to deal with on a day-to-day. It’s insane how much more we have to carry on our backs. And to try to create art with all of that piling on top of you can get pretty heavy sometimes.
You leaked some exciting news about your girlfriend producing a song you wrote for a TV show. Can you tell me more about that?
Lopez: Oh, yeah. So random, but I started working with this composer, Tyler Bates, on some music. He’s a very well-known film composer, so he asked me to write some creepy stuff for “The Purge” TV show. I was like, “Sure.” So we [me and Kelsie] went into the studio that we own, and I just asked her. It was the first time that we kind of worked on a song together, and it was really fun … For Ritual stuff, I absolutely can’t really collaborate, but when it’s something like that [“The Purge” collaboration] I find it to be so fun, ‘cause it’s like a character almost — that wasn’t me singing, that was the character that we built. It was cool.
There is no question that your music videos have always been very cinematic. You have mentioned wanting to write a film — is anything in the works?
Lopez: With the music videos — I’m not a visual person normally, but I definitely know that themes or mood is a really big thing for me … A film that I really want to do is basically loosely based on my past three years of my life. I’ve dealt with a lot of grief and a lot of loss, and so it would be this dark comedy about a woman trying to process grief and what that looks like in today’s society.
During the havoc of the “zero tolerance” policy, where over 2500 kids were separated from their families, you tweeted, “We have to do something. This can’t keep happening. We have to riot in the streets until this fucked up system changes.” I couldn’t agree more. What do you say to those who would respond with, “Violence isn’t the answer”? And why do you think that, through everything that this administration has thrown at Americans, there has yet to be a massive movement?
Lopez: We [motions to Kelsie] talk about this all the time. I think something’s gotta give. Especially with this administration, it’s insane. I’ve always been a non-violent person, and in a lot of instances I still am, but I feel like I’ve also looked back into history and really sided with groups that necessarily — maybe weren’t violent, but set off bombs in abandoned buildings, like government buildings, to make a statement … I think that we have to do more than what we’re doing now, obviously. And it’s wild to me that we aren’t rioting in the streets. We talk about this all the time … [Looks to Kelsie]
Kelsie: There’s a level of comfortability that I think a lot of people have in the 21st century, where it’s like — you feel like you post on social media, and that’s enough. Whereas people didn’t have those luxuries throughout history, and you look at successful revolutions and people are out on streets doing things because … I don’t know, there’s a lot of privilege amongst the people who are upset about things right now, and with that comes comfortability, so it’s enough to tweet something and then go to sleep in your house.
Lopez: And then that’s it. I feel like it’s everyone’s duty to do something within their realm, whether it’s with art or education or whatever you do — I feel like you absolutely have to stand and fight for something. It just seems like every single day we’re just piled on with more and more stuff. That’s really been on my mind lately, like, what more can I do as a person that has some kind of platform? What does that look like? What does that mean? And I’m still trying to figure out what more we can do than our exhibits or … there’s so much.
What more? I’m all for the protests — and, I mean, I’ve been doing that since I was a teenager, protesting in the streets — and I just feel like that has to be something that happens every day, at this point. Because I feel like the more that you fuck with people’s money or business, that’s where you’re actually gonna see change. We see that throughout history, where there’s boycotts of some sort, and then it becomes this undeniable problem for the other guys. So I’m hoping that we can do something in that realm.
You’ve been open about dealing with your manic depression, and how difficult it was for you to even see a professional about it because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Do you have any words of encouragement for those who might be going through that same cycle?
Lopez: For me, growing up in a Mexican family in a poor neighborhood, you never talked about mental health. Like, that was a “fake thing,” and you were considered weak, or it was the worst thing to admit that you were struggling. And so I grew up with that stigma — I think a lot of us grew up with that, but especially in those kinds of communities, it just wasn’t something that I ever felt was an actual valid thing.
I questioned how I was feeling my entire life, and I lost my father to suicide three years ago, and that really put everything into perspective, where I was like, “That can’t happen to me, and that can’t happen to anyone in my life” … Our healthcare system makes everything so difficult, and even if you have health insurance, finding a therapist can be real work, and when you’re struggling with depression, even more work just seems like an impossible task.
So finally — last November, actually — was when I went to see a doctor and started medication, and it’s completely changed my life. It hasn’t fixed everything, but it’s at least made everything more possible, and it’s gotten me to place where I can actually experience joy again and feel like I’m deserving of joy, so I think I would just try to encourage people to really talk about mental health with your friends. Like, me and the guys in the band, we check in with each other every single day now: “How are you feeling?” And not the surface [level, more] like, “How are you really feeling today?” Check in with your friends, and be unafraid to go there.
You’ve been vocal about the low monetary value our society places on art, making it hard for artists to get by and continue to create. Considering the length of your career, do you see this shifting at all, and if not, what do you think needs to change?
Lopez: It’s something that I’ve actually been thinking about a lot, because you would hope that it would shift, but I see and still hear my friends struggling. Friends that are successful in my eyes aren’t able to pay the bills all the time, or they have to be on the road constantly in order to pay the bills, and it’s a very difficult thing. I feel like we still live in a society that wants art but doesn’t want to support artists.
I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been laughed at growing up when I told people what I did. They’re like “No, no, no, what do youreally do for a job?” And I’ve always had jobs, I even work right now still. I feel like if you’re an artist you have to be good at hustling and working three to four jobs just to be able to do your passion and create what you really wanna do, and so I certainly hope that we start to see more cities providing resources. Like, it’s pretty cool in my hometown, there’s this low-income housing for artists. I would love every city to have that and more of it so that we can actually support our artists so that they can keep creating, because I think the saddest thing is when people can’t use their talents to express themselves. That’s like my worst fear, so I don’t know, it seems pretty bleak.
You posted about Audre Lorde’s “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.” What other books have been on your reading list this year?
Lopez: I’ve been reading a whole lot lately, and it’s been so dope. I feel the most complete when I’m reading. I’m reading right now this book called “Amateur” [“A True Story About What Makes a Man” by Thomas Page McBee], and it’s incredible. It’s about this trans man basically examining toxic masculinity and what it means to be a man, and he goes undercover and starts to box, and he discovers himself through this long experience of fighting amongst other men. And that’s been just such an incredible book …
“Your Art Will Save Your Life,” also written by a queer woman, Beth Pickens. That book is really rad because it talks about … it’s written for artists, directly to artists, kind of about all of the worries and insecurities and fears that artists face. And she’s actually an artist therapist, which I didn’t even know existed, and it’s just really incredible. I think everyone should read it. Just perfect with guiding you through all of those self-doubts that we all face.
For those who don’t know, can you tell me about Bitchwave, and what you hope for the future of the label?
Lopez: Yeah. So I was on [the] Warner Bros. [label], and we left Warner Bros., and after that experience — which we’re super grateful for — I realized I want to do things my way. I wanna have fun with this, and I don’t wanna have to compromise in any way. So Bitchwave was really a venture with one of my best friends, and we decided that we want to not only put out our music and create a community and a culture that supports other artists, but we really want to not have to depend on anyone else. Yeah, it’s gonna take a lot of work, but I feel like that’s one of the ways in which it’s still growing. It’s one of the ways in which I wanna really try to change the culture of how we treat artists, and what labels expect of artists right now I think is ridiculous. That’s our goal, just to really support artists, queer artists, artists of color, women. We’re just trying to create something that … just create space. I feel like I wanna create space for us.
Originally published on EarthlingsEntertainment.com