Sexism, love songs and protests: Alex The Astronaut and Lindy Morrison In Conversation
Throughout the 1980s, Lindy Morrison was the drummer for seminal Australian indie band The Go-Betweens. With that group she made six hugely acclaimed records and will forever be a key figure in the history of Australian rock'n'roll.
Alex The Astronaut is a much newer artist. She’s only in her early-20s, but her career is powering forward, with her anthemic single ‘Not Worth Hiding’ one of the most adored songs of 2017.
For International Women’s Day this year, these two talented women sat down to discuss all things sexism, feminism, academia, and sport, plus play some of their favourite tracks.
Lindy is currently playing drums in Alex’s band – a great starting point for their conversation being their admiration for each other’s work.
“I’d seen the documentary Right Here just before I met you,” Alex admitted.
By this stage, Morrison had already been watching Alex’s star rise from afar.
“I was so happy to get the chance to play with you as I loved your work,” Morrison said. “I thought we’d get on, playing with musicians is cultural as well as musical. If you don’t get along culturally, you may as well not play in the band.”
Morrison also got a kick out of seeing the way Alex’s audiences responded to her music.
“They’re very young and they participate in singing with her,” she said. “I’m in awe with how you get the audience to sing, because if it fell flat it would sound terrible!”
“I’ve just done it for different songs that are easy to sing,” Alex said. “Like ‘Already Home’ has a short chorus and only a few words; if you make a joke out of it they think it’s fun.”
So, let’s head back to the beginning.
Alex wondered about the genesis of The Go-Betweens and whether Lindy joining the band after a plethora of drummers – the band always wanted a female drummer – was strange.
“Robert and Grant were much more comfortable with a feminine presence,” Morrison said. “They were very influenced by the Velvet Underground and the French film Jules and Jim about two men and a woman, so they always felt like they were acting out the Jules and Jim scenario with me.”
Morrison then introduced one of her favourite Go-Betweens tracks, ‘Quiet Heart’, taken from the last of the band’s album she played on, 16 Lovers Lane.
“Grant wrote it to Amanda Brown, who was the violinist at the time, and it’s the greatest love song,” she said. “It’s about missing someone so much when they’re not with him. I’ve always said that this song will be played at my funeral, so I’m very attached to it.”
Lindy admits she’s always uncomfortable when women are called girls.
“The other day I got an email about a photo session, where they said the girls will wear this. I had to stop myself screaming, ‘I’m not a girl I’m a woman!’.
Alex said she tends to react differently to the same issue, depending on who is saying it.
“If they’re patronising then I react,” she said. “But otherwise I don’t mind’
“I have a blanket reaction,” Morrison said. “Always hostility, as I think it’s demeaning. It reduces women and their power if they call you a girl.”
In a more general sense, Alex admitted that she gets annoyed when the media refers to gender at all.
“It gets used unnecessarily,” she said. “Why not just say new band?
“It’s been in lots of areas in life, like they always say, ‘women in science’, or ‘women in sport’. My soccer jersey says ‘Girls Soccer Team’ and the boys’ just says ‘Soccer Team’. We’re a team too! It’s pretty clear that we’re all women, you don’t need to put it on our backs.”
In your generation, people [were] chaining themselves to a bar. I get we may seem a little over sensitive...Alex The Astronaut — Double J, 2018
Lindy said it’s another example of very pervasive institutionalised sexism, a concept some people struggle to wrap their heads around.
“I think that’s the thing with a lot of sexism,” Alex said. “If it’s just one thing, it isn’t a big deal. But when you get one tiny thing like ‘Women’s Soccer Team’ on your jersey, plus a million other things, like being the only girl in your physics class, or maths class...
“Sometimes I could just be a physicist or a soccer player, but then it goes the other way and you want to highlight it so young girls can say ‘there’s all of those women doing it’.”
Attitudes towards women in the music industry haven’t changed that much over the years, as a recent incident at this year’s Mountain Sounds festival proved to Morrison.
“I was putting the gear away and I was taking my cymbals down and some dude came and yelled at me to get off the stage as they had to clear the stage,” she said. “He had no idea that I had played, all he could see was a woman standing at the drum kit with no idea why I was there. So I told him off in loud swearing terms.”
It was as recent as 1964 that two women chained themselves to a bar to protest females not being allowed to drink in public bars. Morrison believes that had a distinct impact on the music scene.
“That’s why I think the culture of music was so male in Australia,” she said. “The live scene was essentially set around bars and women weren’t accepted there. It was largely a male domain and that’s why, in the ‘70s, AC/DC and Cold Chisel did so well. It took ‘til punk before women had access to stages. But it’s different now.”
Which led Alex to consider the differences between her and Morrison’s generation when it comes to feminism.
“I think, for us, we experience all the little things,” she said. “There’s people who experience obvious sexism where they are denied a position of power, but for us it’s day-to-day things like Camp Cope calling out catcalling or festival line ups or working in a bar and noticing that everyone around you is male.
"Whereas in your generation, it was people chaining themselves to a bar. So it is very different. I get we may seem a little over sensitive.”
I see the outrage about sexual harassment, in my day we would fight it out physically and verbally.Lindy Morrison — Double J, 2018
Morrison was an active protestor during Joh Bjelke-Peterson’s long reign as Queensland Premier, where she’d fight for rights yet to be afforded to women.
“In Brisbane I had my drums confiscated doing some street performance in the ‘70s, as we were demonstrating the right to choose to have abortions,” she recalled.
“That sounds incredible now that you had to demonstrate those things, and I guess I do see your generation as slightly sensitive. I see the outrage about sexual harassment, in my day we would fight it out physically and verbally.”
The grey area between the generations’ take of feminism is highlighted in the backlash to Kirin J Callinan’s recent antics at the ARIA’s, Morrison said.
“He’s a performance artist, his job is to illuminate that bigotry,” she said.
“I was on a panel recently where they were talking about toxic masculinity; I choose the men I hang out with in the music industry and the men we hang out with. There’s nothing toxic about them, and to tar every man with that label is disgraceful.”
“I feel that too with the men I work with who are fighting for me and are really passionate about combatting sexism in the industry,” Alex agreed.
The women went on to discuss Camp Cope’s ‘The Opener’, taken from their latest album How To Socialise And Make Friends.
Morrison related to the song’s lyric, ‘It’s another man telling us we can’t fill up the room, another man telling us to book a smaller venue, hey hey come on girls we’re only thinking about you, see how far we’ve come not listening to you’.
In the ‘90s, Morrison interviewed ‘60s star Little Patti for a book she wrote on the history of Australian women in rock and pop.
There are 50 percent women and 50 percent men in the world, so for the world to hear those stories, it makes a difference. Because art is supposed to be representative of the people.Alex The Astronaut — Double J, 2018
“She said, ‘The most negative thing that happened to me and other girl singers was that, no matter how many hit records I had, I could never close the bill’.
“Camp Cope have pointed out that much the same thing has happened. The industry is lagging behind in understanding that women players are beginning to predominate. There are a lot more female artists at the moment.”
Alex noted that the comments the Falls Festival made to Camp Cope about starting their own female-dominant festival if they were unhappy with line ups has made her now reflect on the male to female ratios.
“All of the international line ups are so heavily male dominated,” she said. “I counted one the other day that was 95 percent. We don’t have anywhere near 50 percent, I don’t understand how people can be outraged for someone asking for a spot on the bill.”
Morrison remembers not even counting, as in her day it was just a given for there to be more men on a line up. But she has seen it change in her lifetime.
“Playing with you, and on many festival bills where there is at least one woman in a band, I’m just seeing it more and more and it’s thrilling,” she said.
But Alex didn’t agree with that rationale.
“You’re excited by seeing one woman in a band but we see three men in a band,” she said. “Like being given one apple and asking for one more would be greedy. It’s childish to say, ‘you’ve been given this much, why ask for more?’.
“There are 50 percent women and 50 percent men in the world, so for the world to hear those stories, it makes a difference. Because art is supposed to be representative of the people. It’s limiting to our cultural development.”
Alex then chose to play ‘Girlie Bits’ by Ali Barter.
“It’s clever and biting,” she said. “The line, ‘Give us a smile lady and act like a real lady’, I think it’s funny, clever and fitting.”
Morrison mused that one of the things about getting older was that she doesn’t get yelled at out of cars or on the street.
“Nothing annoyed me more than when men would shout, ‘Give us a smile’ or ‘Why are you so grumpy?’ Because women are expected to be happy.
Both women have studied quite a lot and both noticed that studying is different for women and men.
“I did a Bachelor of Physics where I was the only girl in most of my classes,” Alex said.
“There was one class, Thermodynamics, and one guy was particularly sexist, although I think he was trying to flirt with me. He mentioned something like, ‘Women aren’t supposed to be doing science’. It really upset me. He’d been in a lot of my classes and made a lot of comments; asking if I needed help.
“I felt like I had to be the smartest otherwise I’d be the dumb girl. I found it hard to raise my hand unless I was sure of the answer because I’d be worried they’d have the satisfaction of saying, ‘Oh yeah, she didn’t know’.”
Morrison compared this experience to the music industry.
“I’ve always found that men always want to hang out with men, having a woman around makes them uncomfortable,” she said. “I’d be the only women in ten to 15 men, I’d always be the outsider and nothing would change that.”
“I think they weren’t used to having women in their space so they needed to either help me with what I was doing or fix what I was wrong about,” Alex said.
I’ve always found that men always want to hang out with men, having a woman around makes them uncomfortable.Lindy Morrison — Double J, 2018
“What needs to change is that women need to be able to put their hand up and not be labelled as the dumb girl.
"There’s that confirmation bias and that’s the issue. Not the person asking the question of who fits the stereotype, or me being gay and playing soccer.
“The thing that should change is that everyone should be given the respect before they ask the question.
"So, when I put my hand up, I’m not just the dumb girl, I’m just a person asking a question. If I get it wrong, I’m just trying to learn, rather than confirming a bias they had previously.
“That’s the advice I would give to young girls, ask questions and be the smartest girl in the class because that’s where I got it wrong. It took two extra hours of studying to work out what I couldn’t understand.”
Alex experienced similar treatment in the also male-dominated world of sport.
“It happened when training got scheduled 20kms out of the way because the boys were on the main field,” she said.
“Sometimes I question whether I’m right, because I’m not entitled to that position because I’m not as fast as John. But I’m getting to the point where I think I’m doing my best and I’m good at what I’m doing and I think all women’s professional sport should be treated like that as well.”
After Alex had been raving about the recent film I, Tonya, Morrison recently saw it for herself. The portrayal of Tonya Harding’s fascinated her.
“Because she didn’t fit into the American girl next door that’s why she didn’t get the points,” Morrison said. “I’d like to draw another parallel with the music industry.
“In the ‘60s, a way to a woman’s success in the industry was she had to go on a show called Bandstand. All the girls were dressed in little gingham dresses and they weren’t allowed to sing boy songs. I saw how difficult it was for a singer who was really out there to break through, I really think Tonya’s whole future was predetermined because of her background.”
“That was the saddest thing about it,” Alex added. “Her husband has so much power in the relationship and manipulated her so much, even though she was the star. He shouldn’t even have been in it and should have been kicked out long ago. But he kept appearing, abusing her while she was trying to be an incredible role model.”
Another recent point of interest for both women was the HBO show Big Little Lies, starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.
“You always see housewives portrayed in a certain way, and here you have five that are so diverse and experience the world in such a different way,” Alex said.
“Reese Witherspoon’s character is hilarious, scrappy, clever and funny and then you have Nicole Kidman who is incredibly successful with an abusive husband and doesn’t give her any agency.”
“I love all the different types of women and the way they reacted to their lives,” Morrison agreed. “I never wanted to marry, I made the decision not to marry, and in a way that TV series shows why it’s important for some women to consider that they shouldn’t marry. Marriage is often not the panacea that women think it’s going to be, that you can still have love affairs but you don’t need to marry.”
Hear the full chat between Alex The Astronaut and Lindy Morrison on Double J right here.