Party of Five is a quick little ditty where we ask someone (anyone we want) five questions (any five questions we want) and they answer them. This doesn’t have to be necessarily ‘queer’ — it doesn’t have to be anything at all, except five questions and five answers. Today we’ve got Alynda Lee Segarra and Yosi Perlstein, co-founders of Hurray For The Riff Raff. Ticket giveaway details at the bottom.
Hurray For The Riff Raff is the New Orleans-based queer Americana band that stopped your heart mid-beat with “The Body Electric’s” music video this January. They’re currently on tour, and according to Alynda, are playing the absolute best shows they’ve ever played.
On a rare day off during a stopover in Oakland, Alynda and Yosi graciously chatted with Autostraddle about about their recent successes.
Can you tell me about some of your inspirations? For your latest album but also in general.
AS: This album was a lot about New Orleans, actually. I found myself writing a lot about place. Small Town Heroes was definitely a lot of inspiration from living in New Orleans for 10 years and learning to play music there. And definitely there were a lot of different music styles that went into it. We have song like “Blue Ridge Mountain” and then we have songs like “Good Time Blues.” We just really tried to get all of our inspiration in there.
In general, I feel like when it comes to our band, we have a lot of different inspiration. Sometimes they’re not even musical. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Junot Diaz and he’s become a huge inspiration to me. … When I have a shell of a song — I’ll have the lyrics and the melody — I bring it to the band and we kind of bring it to life. Definitely with Yosi, I’ll come to him and explain to him the vision that I have for the song, and we’ll try to make that feel happen. Especially in the studio. He understands the way I explain my ideas. I’ll come to him and be like, this song I want to feel like a 16-year-old girl crying in her room, playing her guitar, and her mascara is running. And he like totally gets it and we can somehow create that.
I think it’s always sort of subversive when queer and marginalized people — the “riff raff” — enter these more traditional spaces and stake their claim. Could you talk a little bit about that experience? How do you feel your identity affects your work?
AS: I feel like with this album we really stepped forward and decided that we really had to be very overt about who we are. So much of what this album meant to me was me really claiming all parts of my identity. Like with the cover even, it has many different parts of my identity. I wanted to not put anything aside, and not feel like I was having to lower any parts of myself to fit in or something. You know?
AS: Ferguson sparked this whole movement of political activism among youth and people of color. It really inspired me to be like, this is the time to not be silent anymore, to really let our audiences know that this is who we are and this is what we believe in. You might think we’re an Americana traditional band, but just because we’re influenced by those things, we’re also very modern. And we’re very here, and we’re queer. I’m a Puerto Rican woman and I’m going to say things about this. I’m not going to try to fit into a white male hetero world just in order to have our band be a little bit more successful or something.
It feels really good, and it feels like we’re attracting people who have been waiting for that and who feel like they fit in with that. That’s really rewarding to me. Lately I’ve noticed that there have really been a lot more hispanic people coming to our shows, and that means so much to me. Being a Puerto Rican girl who feels like a weirdo who doesn’t quite fit in with the mainstream culture, it means a lot to see people who relate to that feeling. They come to our shows and feel like they belong, for an hour.
You do an incredible job of integrating your political philosophy into everything you do, from social media to music videos. … You frequently spotlight people that don’t always get to be in the spotlight. What’s your thought process like?
AS: I feel like me and Yosi talk a lot about being more responsible and being very intentional with everything that we do. In [“The Body Electric“] especially, we thought it was really important to bring a trans woman of color in. We just kind of wanted to bring them to the spotlight and let them shine. Let them reinvent our ideas of power and our ideas of femininity and our ideas of beauty. Also, Katy Red is from New Orleans. I feel like we rep New Orleans so much but I’m not from there. I thought it was really important to bring a New Orleans person into that song and to let her do her thing. She was so amazing and captivating.
With “I Know It’s Wrong,” the girl gang video, I really wanted to bring in all different sorts of people and let them have their moment. Because when you include different types of people, it makes more room for viewers to see themselves and to feel represented.
AS: With social media — I’ve been thinking about how for me, as a woman, I finally have a space where I can represent who I am. Somebody isn’t doing it for me. I just feel like it’s finally a time when a woman can be in control of how she’s represented. And even through something like Instagram, it may seem silly, but it actually becomes something really important.
YP: I think that probably for both of us, we don’t see ourselves in the media very often. So when we do it’s really exciting. I honestly actually can’t think of anywhere I see myself right now.
What does success look like for you?
AS: We do a lot of dreaming and a lot of trying to manifest the future. For me, it would really be just for us to be ourselves and to really be creative and to keep changing our sound. To just keep growing as a band and be able to play shows to audiences that find our shows fulfilling. I guess that’s like a mutual fulfillment, you know, for us to play shows where we feel we’re living our dream, and to audiences that feel like they’re getting some type of emotional release from it. I would love to be a musician until I die, but it’s not an easy life, especially financially. So I think that’s a big part of my dream is to just make it sustainable, to keep moving forward and to keep focusing on what’s happening in the moment.
YP: Yeah, I think if we can just do what we’re doing forever, that would be really nice. And hopefully we’ll be able to get by.
Is there anything that you want to say to Autostraddle readers?
AS: Something that I would like to say to young women of all kinds is that it’s really good to be confusing. And if you confuse people, that’s totally fine. Just make sure that you’re not really letting any part of yourself be dumbed down or taken away from you. You can be as complicated as you want. There’s a Billie Holiday quote that my friend Amelia says, which I love: “If you can’t be free, be a mystery.”
YP: Yes. What Alynda said is really good. Hopefully we can all just be our authentic selves and not have to worry about what other people think of it.
Don’t you love them? Well prepare to love them even more! Alynda and Yosi have two presents for you:
- A new and free tour EP (including an excellent Billie Holiday cover)
- The chance to win a pair of tickets to any non-festival show on Hurray For The Riff Raff’s tour. Wahoo!
Here are the tour dates:
3/17-19 – Austin, TX – SXSW
3/20 – Seattle, WA – The Crocodile*
3/21 – Vancouver, Canada – Electric Owl*
3/22 – Portland, OR – Aladdin Theater*
3/25 – Boise, ID – Treefort Music Festival
3/26 – Salt Lake City, UT – The State Room*
3/27 – Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater*
3/28 – Boulder, CO – Fox Theater*
3/30 – Sante Fe, NM – Sky Light*
4/1 – Dallas, TX – Dada*
4/18 – Charlottesville, VA – The Southern#
4/21 – Washington DC – 9:30 Club#
4/22 – Philadelphia, PA – World Café Live#
4/23 – Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club#
4/24 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom$
4/25 – Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg$
4/28 – Detroit, MI – The Shelter^
4/29 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall^
4/30 – Madison, WI – High Noon^
5/1 – Minneapolis, MN – Cedar Cultural Center^
5/3 – St. Louis, MO – The Sheldon Concert Hall^
5/5 – Little Rock, AR – South on Main – Oxford American Series^
5/29 – Louisville, KY – Headliners
5/30-31 – Nelsonville, OH – Nelsonville Music
6/2 – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom
6/3 – Buffalo, NY – Ninth Ward
6/7 – Hunter, NY – Mountain Jam Festival
6/14 – Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo
6/27 – Dover, DE – Big Barrel Country Music Festival
* Adia Victoria
# Son Little
$ Clear Plastic Masks
^ Daniel Romano
& Jess Williamson
% Joe Pug
To enter, all you have to do is comment on this article! Super easy, right? You could tell us which show you want to go to, wax poetic about your favorite Hurray For The Riff Raff song, or even just post a cute gif. Whatever you like! We will select a winner on Thursday, March 19 at 8pm.
Update: the winner has been selected. Congrats, Hanna!