The fire that ignited classic punk music of years past hasn’t gone out. Discrimination still bites down on women, minorities, and the otherwise disadvantaged — even within the “punk” community. Fires don’t ask where bystanders would like for them to burn, after all. They rage without regard to preferences or ignorance until they’re put out.
Night Witch’s Who’s Next (a completely DIY project that the band’s drummer Tyler Bisson recorded, mixed, and mastered) serves as a response to these fires. The members of the hardcore punk band — including vocalist Rosie Richeson — aren’t just sitting around and waiting for everything to transform to ash. After all, as Rise Against put it: “People live here.”
Personal Experiences Inform Who’s Next
Richeson is one of those people. She’s in the trenches via some of her own personal experiences, which inform all of the lyrics that she writes. She has personally experienced the anger expressed via Who’s Next — it’s real. “I just write when I’m really frustrated or feeling really strongly about something,” she explains.
That energy compounds in the face of the socially embedded masses of hurt. Who’s Next faces off against epidemics of sexual harassment and assault, both inside and outside of the music community. On the track “Creep,” for instance, she screams: “Keep your hands to yourself you fucking dirtbag! I just want to dance with friends.”
That thread of personal experience extends through the album. The song “Riding A Bike,” for instance, covers Richeson’s story of finding it mentally triggering to ride a bicycle through a certain area because of the association with an incident of assault she experienced.
“It’s very specific — people aren’t triggered in that way,” she notes, “but I think that writing through my personal experience, people can copy and paste their experiences onto what I was dealing with at that time. Yeah, they might not be triggered by riding a bicycle, but they’re still triggered by things like that. I don’t write it to make it relatable. I write it to speak to my own personal experience, but I find that being genuine through your own personal experience is relatable to a lot of people. As long as you’re being genuine about how you’re feeling, most of the time, people are feeling the same way, and it just takes screaming about it and being super vulnerable on stage to bridge that gap.”
RAINN, an organization that advocates for victims of sexual assault, reports that an estimated 1 out of every 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. (An estimated 1 in 33 American men have been similarly victimized.) Many incidents of sexual misconduct go unreported, too, as the “Me Too” movement has made abundantly clear.
In other words, there are a large number of individuals who can empathize with some aspects of Richeson’s experience, even specifically in the music community. No segment of that community is a perfect bubble.
“I think unfortunately, the lyrics I write are universal to a lot of people in the scene specifically, and that fucking sucks,” she explains. “I talk about all of my songs on stage very often — most of our sets are shorter than my actual explanations for the songs. I talk about them because I want people to be able to relate, and if anybody’s had those experiences, to be like — ‘you’re not alone, and the shit that happened to us is freaking traumatizing, and horrible’. I’ve had so many people come up to me after our sets, even in town, locally, and just say “thank you for saying that. The same thing happened to me.’”
“It’s a really wonderful experience to be able to connect with people like that over some shared trauma and be able to talk about it, even if it’s just at a show, just to be validated,” she adds.
The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall
Richeson and Night Witch are a part of the broader practical push to combat discrimination, too. They work both on the side of elevating the downtrodden and dealing with the individuals who put them there.
Richeson has personally worked for years as the North Florida Regional Organizer for Planned Parenthood. Her work has taken her to legislative sessions and on the ground protests.
Early on in her time at the organization, former Texas state politician Wendy Davis spoke at a Planned Parenthood event in her area, and Richeson actually got to pass on a song that she’d written about the activist. Davis became known for staging a thirteen hour filibuster in the Texas state Senate in 2013 in an effort to block anti-reproductive rights legislation. Richeson shares that at the time and since, her work community has been supportive of her creations with Night Witch.
As a part of the band, Richeson has worked to combat some very acute practical issues herself. On Who’s Next, for instance, she sings on “Blind” about the scourge of police brutality and overbearing immigration authorities on minority communities in the United States.
The thread of personal experience extends to that song, reflecting her unique take on the situation.
“I spend my time around a lot of white liberal older people who kind of don’t get it and would defend police,” she explains, “and I even think that a lot of punks feel that way too. Unfortunately, instead of being radically minded, they’re more liberal minded and can be like sitting on the fence type people when it comes to trusting police and cops and stuff like that. Instead of writing to the experience of somebody else, I write to mine. I’m a white lady — I’m not ever going to experience being afraid that [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is going to take me away. I’m going to have an exponentially lower chance of being harassed by police because of the color of my skin, so I don’t talk about that, because I don’t experience that. What I do is aim it at the white liberals who are like, oh, ‘we just gotta vote ’em out’ and all about putting your faith in Democrats or whatever.”
Finding The Message A Home
Night Witch’s messaging along these lines rests on an energetic, heavy punk base. Richeson explains that Nick Derella, the band’s bassist, originally helped the band maintain that direction because of his own significant hardcore music background. He’s a fan of Paint It Black and all of the bands those musicians are also in.
Richeson was herself drawn into hardcore music largely through the sounds of bands like Punch and HIRS, otherwise known as The Hirs Collective (and pronounced “Heers”). Night Witch performed with HIRS — and Thou and Screaming Females — at an April 2018 show in Gainesville, Florida.
“Specifically with Punch and HIRS, those lyrics are really what got to me specifically,” she explains. “Just being able to scream certain things, and the emotion that was behind them is really what drew me to hardcore music specifically. What keeps me coming back to it is that kind of energy and passion that goes into it.”
Richeson hopes that her music, heaviness and all, starts conversations about subjects that may otherwise be difficult to discuss, no matter the exact future of Night Witch as an entity.
Beyond any band, the issues that Richeson covers in Night Witch’s music continue. As long as there are people, there will be a place for upholding those people — the form of that work, though, evolves.
Richeson hopes that it proves more and more inclusive as time goes on.
“I want to see folks who are more liberal minded stop being afraid of ‘leftist’ ideologies,” she says. “That’s an ideal world. I think that unfortunately it’s going to take a lot of work and baby steps, and I think we all just need to take responsibility for being more understanding when people have differing points of view about political stuff. Not understanding as in accepting, but understand that they aren’t going to get your crazy radical ideologies right away. You can’t jump down people’s throats in order to change their minds, because then they’re going to be pissed.”
“It’s really kind of fucking scary right now just out in the world for a lot of different reasons,” she notes, “and it’s really easy to feel nihilistic like ‘we’re all gonna fucking die anyway, the sun’s going to explode in twenty years, right? So why do anything’. I think that if you have the privilege of education and energy, then I think you need to be better at talking to people about radical things in a way that’s accessible. Just have people be more responsible and empathetic about things.”
The sun may certainly explode at some point in the future — that’s one of the basic paradigms of science, after all, that orderly systems get more and more chaotic over time — but for now, we’re alive. There’s a conversation to be had, and you can join it by jumping into Night Witch’s music.
Listen below. The entirety of Who’s Next is available to listen to post-August 31, 2018.