Punk is energy. Sometimes it’s raw, oftentimes it’s political, and not enough times it’s diverse. But Fea, the four-piece band of mostly queer, entirely feminist Chicanas from San Antonio, has found a way to channel all that positive energy and serve up a forward-thinking punk rock manifesto.
Made up of the rhythm section of Girl in a Coma, bassist Jenn Alva and drummer Phanie Diaz set out to start their dream band — a culturally-infused, ladies of '90s rock fever dream — and have found it with Fea. Along with singer Letty Martinez and the new addition of guitarist Sofi Lopez, they’re seamlessly stitching together the most joyful chunks of punk with the most righteous racket of Riot Grrrl. RIYL: X-Ray Spex, The Brat, Bikini Kill, The Breeders.
Their sophomore release, No Novelties, reunites them with fellow Chicana and LA punk legend, Alice Bag. Bag previously produced three songs from their self-titled debut, and brings to the band a much-appreciated “fifth ear.” “Working with Alice Bag is such an honor,” said Martinez. “She has such clever tweaks that really enhance the songs without changing them completely, and she knows how to push and get the best out of you.”
The songs onNo Novelties take the female fury of living in the modern world, and lighten the load with catchy beats dancing over smart, sassy lyrics. A stand out from the record, the anthemic “Girl Band” refers to the stereotype of how female bands are some kind of novelty with no real talent. And to that, Fea give two enthusiastic middle fingers up!
No Novelties is out Nov. 15 on Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records. Ahead of the release, Billboard is premiering their new "Itch" video below, and caught up with the group to talk songwriting, musical inspirations and more.
What’s the elevator pitch for your band?
Letty Martinez: Fea is a Riot Grrrl revival band made up of four strong Chicanas, fusing together unapologetic lyrics with high energy, melodic punk.
What makes a Fea song? What elements must be present?
Martinez: Catchy bass riffs, sharp drums, powerful leads, and genuine lyrics, with a humor/sarcasm safety blanket.
How does songwriting come about? Do you ever need to tackle it like work, or is it more organic?
Martinez: I'd say mainly organic. For this album, Jenn got the songs started with her awesome bass riffs. From there we all just layered it on. There was one song that gave us trouble. We took it to the studio and had a late night jam session with our producer, Alice Bag. It was a lot of fun, but at the same time it was a little like work. We didn’t want to drop it but we didn’t want to record something we weren't all proud of and we were running out of time. By the time we were done with it, we couldn’t get it out of our heads, which is a good thing.
What’s been an interesting genesis of one of your songs?
Martinez: "Let Me Down" started off as an accident. We were in the practice room waiting for our previous guitarist to show up. Jenn was trying to show us something she had worked on, but messed up and played what is now the opening bass line of the song. Phanie Diaz joined in, I came back with lyrics, and we really like it. It continued to evolve when we decided to layer the harmonies, and when Sofi Lopez joined us several months later, the vocal harmony rainbow was complete. Alice suggested some small rearrangements at the studio and BAM!
How do you decide which lyrics are sung in English and which are sung in Spanish?
Martinez: I like recording sound during practice because I find it hard to sit down and write. This way I can run errands or clean my place while I blast the unfinished instrumental songs. They will eventually bring out an emotion or a thought in me but I never really know what language it will be in until it comes out.
What single musical inspiration links you all together?
Martinez: I would say punk. We all have different backgrounds, but that is where we meet in the middle.
Your latest single “Let Me Down” tackles some of the pitfalls of social media, and yet it’s a necessary form of self-promotion especially when it comes to music. What industry changes have you noticed since you started playing music? Is promoting easier, weirder or harder with social media?
Martinez: Definitely easier. Before social media exploded you had to get out of bed to promote. Although nostalgic, passing out flyers and handing out demos was a lot of work. You can do it all from your phone, and you can reach a lot more people in less time. “Let Me Down” is more about the unhealthy relationship some people may have with social media — obsessing over ''likes'' and self-promoting for quick ego boost. It can be harmful, but if you can find a good balance, it can be a great tool.
You’ve said that you love the “scuzzy glory of touring,” but given an opportunity to experience the glamorous glory of touring, what would that look like?
Martinez: We don’t ask for much. I think we can all agree that we dream of a working van with A/C, that has enough room for our equipment and to take comfy naps. We do love our coffee in the morning and whiskey in the evening. While we really enjoy staying with friends on the road, hotels are nice.
What makes one of your own performances stand out for you?
Martinez: When all four of us are all in. We get extra rowdy, and you can really tell we are having fun. That’s contagious to the crowd and vice versa. It's when I jump off stage, get in the pit, or dance with people at the show.
Representation matters, and as a band, Fea tick off a number of boxes. Do you feel a sense of responsibility to the female/LGBTQ/minority community?
Martinez: I guess in a way we do. Growing up, there wasn’t as much representation as there is now. When I finally discovered Riot Grrrl and Queercore music in my early teens I thought, ‘Woah I am not alone!’ I related to these bands. Fea has the same mission, and our music is for everyone. If you don’t relate to our message, then maybe you can learn from it.