Melissa York has been keeping time for iconic lesbian bands as the drummer for The Butchies and Team Dresch. Both bands were integral in the riot grrl scene of the ’90s, as they were arguably the queerest groups that were initially part of the movement. Their albums like Personal Best and Are We Not Femme? spoke directly to lesbian listeners, but appealed to fans of punk rock and queercore all around.
Since the disbanding of both groups, Melissa has made a name for herself in the trio Ex-Members and playing as the tour drummer for Amy Ray. When she’s back home in Durham, North Carolina, she’s part of a folk-rock group in Durham, North Carolina called Humble Tripe, which just released their debut album on 307 Knox Records.
Melissa took some time to answer a few questions about her career, talk Butchies and Team Dresch reunions and why music festivals specific to women and lesbians are still necessary.
Melissa York: Firstly, thanks for asking me to do this interview and seeing the bands I was blessed to be in as “legendary.” I don’t know if we helped “pave the way.” I guess we worked on the highway but I think the paving started long before.
Everybody has their influences. The bands that they love with all their hearts. The lyrics that get them through the day — or stop them from killing themselves. I personally have those influences and with having those influences I am completely honored to be one of those bands that got someone through the tough days and happy ones. That helped them come out, that helped them feel “wanted.” I guess we broke down some walls just like other out musicians before us. You know silence equals death, so I guess with us not silencing ourselves it helped/helps every queer person — musician/artists or not.
AE: You straddle different genres in every band you’re part of. How has your role as the drummer changed with each band? Have you been more involved with songwriting in one vs. the other, or is the dynamic generally the same?
MY: I think it changes based on what project I’m doing. I love producing. I mean love it. So if I have that opportunity, awesome. Sometimes I may be just the drummer — just play the songs, no questions asked or taken.
I mean I am pretty opinionated so if it’s more of an investment (being in the band) then I am completely involved. Sometimes helping with songwriting, sometimes producing, sometimes arrangement. I love to talk about the song and analyze it. Especially what the lyrics are and how the feel of the song goes with what is being said.
AE: Do you think festivals like Lilith Fair and Homo A Go Go are necessary, or should LGBT bands try to be more involved in bigger fests?
MY:They are absolutely necessary. Maybe not in 20 years, but they are still so important now. But why not play both? We got to think big and not be afraid to put ourselves out there to the bigger fests. So what? We’re queer. Big f’n deal.
AE: Despite a move to the West Coast, you’ve lived in Durham, NC for a long time. Do you think you can be as successful there as you could in a bigger city with a larger music scene?
MY: I moved to Durham in ’98 to start the Butchies with Kaia Wilson. Before that I lived in NYC, growing up in NJ. Just to be clear I’m not a native of Durham. I have some extremely proud southerner friends and if I didn’t clear that up they may get mad at me.
So to get back to your question. It’s hard to say if you can be more successful if you lived in bigger city. As far as larger music scene, Durham has a huge music scene. Music is so important here. A lot of passionate music people. I think it’s really all about the music. There are great bands all over the place — key word being great. You can be in a sh—y band in a bigger city. The big city doesn’t make you any less sh—y.
To quote Sandra Bernhard, “If you make it here (NY, NY), you’ll fail everywhere else.”
AE: How did you come to be part of Humble Tripe?
MY:I’ve known Shawn Luby (Humble Tripe founder and visionary) for ages, never knowing he was a musician. He called me up and told me that he made some home recordings and asked if I could take a listen to them. Of course they were impressive cause I had no idea that he could even play. Isn’t that ridiculous?
I definitely saw some potential in those home recordings. Then he asked if we could “jam” sometime, so we did and now I’m his drummer.
AE: Do you think drummers get the recognition they deserve?
MY:Sure. I mean as a drummer I’ve never felt like I deserve anything. I have fun. I’ve been lucky. People do recognize me and it’s nice.
AE:How do you balance your time between drumming for Amy Ray and your own musical pursuits like Humble Tripe?
MY:Being Amy Ray’s drummer is the best job in the world. I love her. She is incredibly inspirational, but that project doesn’t happen all the time. A lot of her time is spent with the Indigo Girls so it’s an “every few months” kind of gig. That leaves time for other projects like Humble Tripe.
AE: What can we expect from you and Humble Tripe in the near future?
MY:Well personally I hope to be doing some recordings with Bitch in the near future, working on new songs with Amy Ray and playing some Team Dresch and Butchies reunion shows on the summer. As far as Humble Tripe, we are working on new songs (yay!) and playing shows as much as we all can. Shawn Luby is very focussed on his musical future so he’s planning on being very, very busy. I just hope I can keep up!