"We got hit with a brick in the face," said Meghan
Galbraith, the front woman of queer band 8 Inch Betsy. It may sound like she’s recalling a fight she was in, but she’s
actually speaking metaphorically. The music industry is the brick, and 8 Inch
Betsy is a punk rock trio of out lesbians who recently released their album This Time, Last Time, Every Time. Getting industry support hasn’t been
as easy as it is for their straight counterparts.
"We were submitting our demo and we’re pumped up, ready
to move, ready to tour all over, hoping someone will sign us," Galbraith said.
And then 8 Inch Betsy received a reply from a large indie label: "Sorry — we
don’t do the gay thing."
Based in Chicago, 8 Inch Betsy, comprised of Galbraith and
bandmates Liz Burke and Stephanie Levi, play an edgy form of queercore tempered
by a bit of pop accessibility. They’ve opened for the Gossip several times, and
after Amy Ray was impressed by their performance at the Estrojam music
festival, she invited them to tour with her.
That constant touring has made their new album a long time
coming. But now that it’s been released, fans will not be disappointed — Amy
Onstage, Galbraith is intimidating. She usually wears sleeveless
T-shirts cut low enough to reveal the tattoo across her neck. Her gruff voice
is punk, loud, yet perfectly on pitch. She has sported a Mohawk for much of her
time in the band, but recently she has worn what’s left of her hair in a short,
Offstage, Galbraith isn’t as brash as her stage persona. She refers to herself and her bandmates as "the Betsys." To them, "the gay thing" may be obvious ("Dogs can smell it, you can see it from space," Galbraith jokes), but they don’t see themselves only playing for a gay crowd.
Meghan Galbraith (left) and
Galbraith with bandmates Levi and Burke (right)
"We thought, ‘Do we want to try and give ourselves a
little foothold in the queer scene because there’s a big audience where we
might get to go further faster?’" she said. "But then even though we
might move faster, our career would be shorter if we tried to only reach that
amount of people."
There are plenty of recognizable themes on This Time —
Galbraith’s lyrics are eerily right on for the times you want to be honest with
yourself. "It’s easy to picture your demise, and it’s better if I’m
planning out my revenge, I’ve got nothing to do better with my time," she
croons on "Bender in Hell."
The energy at an 8 Inch Betsy live show is infectious, but
on the album, it’s easier to appreciate the way the band works together in
creating their songs. Galbraith’s vocals shine on the song "Train,"
which switches tempos throughout. There are plenty of bands with singers who do
their damndest to make themselves heard — whether it’s by way of screaming or
unintelligibly mumbling — but Galbraith is a vocalist, and her vocals become
much more isolated on the record, standing out over the roar of the guitar and
Their sound — and perhaps because the number of other well-known
queer female punk bands can be counted on one hand — has garnered 8 Inch Betsy
comparisons to Team Dresch, but she is quick to shrug them off.
"We played with Team Dresch, and we don’t sound
anything like them," Galbraith said. But when forced to choose comparisons
for their album to be listed on CDBaby, she admitted that they struggled to
come up with any.
"For some reason we never f—ing thought of that,"
she said. "We tried to bounce some around and we’re like, ‘OK, we got
nothing.’ After like a month we realized, ‘OK, now [that] the CD is ready to be
shipped out, we need to move on this. I’ll say Alkaline Trio, Joan Jett and the
Blackhearts for the girls in there.’ So we’re like, ‘OK, we need another one,
we need a third.’"
So they chose Green Day, and given the pop-influenced,
hard-hitting rhythms about everyday struggles in songs such as "Unemployable,"
it’s a fair comparison.
Without any support, the Betsys might still be unheard of.
Luckily, they’ve chosen to embrace their "gay thing," and the band is
better off for it. At the end of 2007, they established a deal with Queer
Control Records, and one of their fans with promotions experience became their
manager and set them up with an entertainment lawyer and their own publishing