Spray Tan is an Oakland trio making punchy, major chord-driven punk that's fun, rebellious, and not too self-serious, even when addressing important topics such as gender identity and homophobia.
Its three members are genderqueer — which, for those who are not in the know of queer and feminist parlance, is a loose term for folks who don't identify as male or female. There's no single way to be genderqueer, and its definition is broad enough to allow for a multiplicity of expressions that defy the gender binary.
The members of Spray Tan embrace that open attitude towards gender in their work and in their lives. The band's music loudly rallies for acceptance for queer and gender-nonconforming folks — albeit in tongue-in-cheek ways. Take the song "STR8 H8" from the band's 2015 debut album, Soloslut. The track subverts the "Kumbaya" narrative of equality, instead flipping homophobia on its head: Fuck straight people/I hate straight people are the song's only lyrics.
In a recent interview in their West Oakland practice space, the three bandmates — bassist Dorsey Bass, drummer Lindsay Partridge, and guitarist Andrea Abi-Karam — admitted that sometimes, performing the song still makes them nervous. Being loudly and visibly queer certainly attracts queer audiences at shows, but oftentimes, the members of Spray Tan find themselves to be the only queer musicians on a bill, which means they also often play for straight audiences.
"It's amazing to play for a room full of queers but it's also really funny to play for a room full of straight people. A lot of the time half of them will slowly make their way out," said Partridge.
"Or they'll be like, 'Yeah, sex!' but then we'll play 'STR8 H8' and they'll be really offended and storm away," added Abi-Karam.
Nonetheless, the bandmates said that they're unafraid to challenge norms. During their cross-country tour earlier this summer, they performed throughout the Midwest and Deep South — often in cities without gay neighborhoods or active queer scenes. And while Bass, Partridge, and Abi-Karam said they did encounter homophobia on the road, they were glad they could reach queer people in those isolated places.
Bass got sentimental when remembering Spray Tan's show in Birmingham, Alabama: "I was a little nervous, I guess, but there was such a cute little queer community there, and they were so down for queer, trans freaks to come through."
"They needed it," Partridge agreed.
The members of Spray Tan refer to their music as "shameless, genderqueer slutrock." I asked them whether they felt concerned about being tokenized, since identity politics factor prominently into their work. "When I listen to straight bands, I just feel like they're straight. I pigeonhole them as straight," Bass responded bluntly, cracking everyone up. "If we're going to be a genderqueer band, we may as well go in. If people wanna discount us based on that, they're assholes."
She had a point. We're socialized to equate straightness (much like whiteness) with neutrality or normalcy, and relegate everything else to the realm of "other." But the trio's insistence on centering queerness in everything they do illuminates the fact that the presumed "neutral" point of view is only relative to which groups have power.
While gender identity is at the forefront of Spray Tan's work, the band wasn't born of a gender studies seminar or anything else related to critical theory. Instead, the three bandmates, who are also roommates, said that their music is simply a reflection of how they live their lives.
"I think it just started naturally with us being slutty genderqueer people," laughed Partridge.
Indeed, Spray Tan's body of work is unabashedly sex-positive and spans taboo topics such as porn, masturbation, and polyamory. "Soloslut," the title track off the band's debut, is about masturbating as a form of self-care when our millennial dating culture of apps and broken communication inevitably becomes too annoying to deal with: I'm sick of OkCupid/Grindr is fucking stupid, Bass talk-sings in her valley-girl drawl before quipping about lube and ice cream in bed.
At its show at One Fam in West Oakland earlier this month, Spray Tan performed two new tracks: "Yes" and "Poly Drama." In "Yes," the only lyrics are Partridge's sexual moans and groans. "It's inherently consent-positive. Sex is awesome, let's enjoy it," said the drummer.
"Poly Drama," with Abi-Karam on the mic, offers fictional accounts of polyamorous dating — with the vocalist dishing about dating and hookup fails to the audience as if divulging juicy gossip to a friend. The track pokes fun at the fact that, though polyamory is often hailed as a more liberated alternative to monogamy, practicing it successfully requires intense communication with multiple partners. Potential for drama is high, hence the hook: The fucking feelings. The track also illuminates how small the queer, poly dating scene in Oakland actually is: In one of the verses, Abi-Karam sings about how two of their potential hookups turned out to be roommates.
The ten tracks on Soloslut are fast, simple, easily digestible, and have a palpably fun-loving attitude that reflects Spray Tan's songwriting process of going with initial instincts and not overthinking the lyrics.
"Half of our band practices are gossiping and talking about feelings, and then we practice for like twenty minutes at the end," Abi-Karam said.
"It's true," nodded Bass, noting that the bandmates wrote three tracks at their first practice.
This playful element is an important facet of Spray Tan's work. While it's crucial to highlight the discrimination and violence that queer, trans, and non-binary people face, queer joy is an equally vital part of liberation. With their spontaneity and vibrant self-expression, the members of Spray Tan raise important issues surrounding gender, sexuality, and representation — and have a good time in the process.