The Mineral Girls guitarist talks about growing up in upstate New York, her new solo project, and being filled with utter and total despair.
This profile is a collaboration with the Trans Music Podcast. Stream the interview below:
So there’s this guy at my job who is really jaded and kind of emo. You can tell he hates his boss, and whenever something goes wrong he says the following quote:
“Man plans. God laughs.”
There is no venue where that is truer than the world of interviewing. In my short tenure interviewing musicians for the Trans Music Podcast and this publication, I have been reminded of that quote a whole lot. But I think that’s the fun of interviewing. It’s not like writing. I have no control, I’m just along for the ride, trying my best to be earnest, curious, kind and maybe a little critical if I feel like it.
You know who else is really jaded and literally emo?
Today’s guest. Audrey Ayers.
Audrey used to play lead guitar for the Charlotte area emo rock band the Mineral Girls, and has a new solo project called Problem Addict. I got to talk with her recently when I was in Charlotte visiting my dad.
If you thought last week’s spiraling conversation about cultural appropriation got a little dark, wait until you hear what we talked about. Well, I guess I should probably warn you. We talk about drug addiction and really rough mental health issues, and the way power manifests itself. And you know, like, guitar pedals.
The thing I liked most about this interview is that her whole deal as both an artist and person is facing your mistakes and your power head on. And not in a cheesy, pay-lip-service-to-your-privileges kind of way. Her band name is literally a play on the word “problematic,” which as we all know was the Social Justice Buzzword of the Year in 2016.
(If you’re curious, the Social Justice Buzzword of the Year in 2018 was “accountability.”)
Anyway, here’s the interview.
So Mineral Girls and Problem Addict are your two big projects, right?
Yeah, and they’re different. With Mineral Girls I only played guitar. I did some harmonies, but I didn’t have anything to do with the vocals or anything like that, writing wise. So I got very used to viewing the guitar as a melodic instrument, a lead instrument, and kind of drifted away from song writing.
So I didn’t write songs, for the most part, when I was in Mineral Girls, of my own. It used to be all I did. I never had a band. I grew up in a small town, so no one was really playing music, and those that did didn’t really play the type of music I wanted to play. I mean, I used to write my songs on a computer program called Guitar Pro, which allowed me to MIDI out every single instrument. That’s how I used to write my songs.
So I used to be my own band basically, and it was completely new to me when I was in Mineral Girls to be in a collaboration type of environment with people. So this project, Problem Addict, to tie this together, is me getting back to that. I wrote my first song in almost two years called “Staying in Bed All Weekend,” and I put that out in October, and I’m just working on writing an album. So, yeah.
Was it hard to learn to collaborate with people if you were the mistress of your own design up until that point?
For sure because, like I said, I was so picky. Whenever I tried to get a band together, I was always trying to teach people parts, and I think it got in the way for some people because it’s like, “Well, I’m not having any creative input,” which I totally get. I have a lot more sympathy for it now, being in a collaboration. But with Mineral Girls it was hard at first because I really wanted to impose ideas that I knew I didn’t have the place to when it came to songwriting and melody writing and stuff with Brett when I first joined-
Brett’s the singer?
Yeah, and he for “Cozy Body,” he wrote pretty much all of the album, like in terms of the album was musically written almost entirely before I joined. Then I came, and I pretty much threw lead lines over the songs that already existed. Then once I was more of an established member, particularly with the last album that we ended up putting out, “this is the last time every time,” I wrote some of those songs. I would say, in terms of the structure guitar wise, I brought 90% finished songs to the band for them to write over. So it was like the process changed while I was in the band, too. So that was pretty cool.
You were able to kind of put more of your influence in.
Right. Yeah. There are songs in there that just straight up could not have been written if I wasn’t in the band, so that was cool. It felt good being more of an integrated part of that. It very much went from me being completely out of my element, in terms of writing… and that was really cool. I actually am very glad I have that experience because I would love to do that again because it’s very different from being your own band.
You had to learn to play with others.
Right. My thing is I don’t want to lose sight of being my own band, too. I want to be able to do both at the same time. I feel like when I was in Mineral Girls, I let songwriting fall by the wayside because my brain just rewired itself almost.
It’s kind of funny because in the two minutes we’ve been talking, you kind of painted a picture of yourself as talkative and bossy. But I feel like when meeting you, you don’t come across that way.
No. I’m very introverted and unsure of myself. It’s just I feel like I can snap into these modes. Any other time, like when it’s less organized maybe conversations, I feel like the thoughts in my head are going at 1,000 miles an hour, and I can’t pull them away enough to form a coherent sentence out of them.
Do you feel like that’s why music appeals to you, because you have time to get a thought out?
Yeah. I feel like it brings some organization because I sit down with a guitar, and I’m like, okay. Sometimes I have an idea of what I’m going to do when I sit down with a guitar, and usually when that happens I don’t write a song. [Riley laughs] But the funny thing is when I’m not thinking, I’m just like, oh, a song comes out. It’s weird because it feels like when I do write a song, it feels like it’s been stored in there, and it was just waiting to be willed into the world, in a way, because all my songs usually get written within an hour. I don’t do a lot of editing. It’s a really bizarre thing that I don’t know how to explain, but it’s like its own language, you know? I don’t know if that made any sense.
Like it kind of flows out?
Yeah. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like I know when it’s going to happen, too, because I’ll be sitting, and a melody will just come to me. Then from there, if I just keep singing that melody, lyrics will come. I could write a million songs in a year probably if it were easier for me to write lyrics just because the music part comes so easily for me. The actual language, the… English language, the…. words. Words! That part is hard. The music is like a different language, and it’s much more fluid for me.
So your song writing process is just sort of like wait until it appears kind of and then write it down as quickly as possible?
You record things yourself, too, right, for your solo project?
I have. I don’t intend to when it comes to the record. I actually have a very, very particular vision for the record.
That’s so surprising, given everything else you’ve told me about your process.
No, I’m just kidding.
[Both laugh] No, I had an epiphany. No, so as of right now, anything that I’ve put out under my own name or under Problem Addict is recorded on my iPhone with the GarageBand app, and I don’t use anything other than my iPhone. I have a pair of headphones that don’t have a mic so that I can use the mic that’s built into the iPhone. Very particular process, but I’ve been doing it for years, so I know how to do it so that it sounds halfway convincing. That’s why my songs don’t sound perfect or great even, but they don’t sound like they were recorded with a phone.
You know what I mean?
They definitely … I’m surprised to hear that.
Yeah. They’re self-produced entirely, but they were done with my iPhone, and the EP, in particular, was recorded in the master bedroom’s bathroom.
So, for those listening, right now we’re in Audrey’s apartment that she shares with a couple of other people. Her bed’s in the living room right now, and we’re sitting on her couches, and there’s a fake fire. There’s a fake fireplace, but it’s not a fake gas fireplace. It almost looks like some shadow puppetry, some orange shadow puppetry.
Yeah, like one of those fires you’d see in a stage play.
Right. Yeah. I’ll put a picture on the website if that’s cool with you.
Yeah, it’s important. Do a little short video clip if you can.
Yeah. I’ll do a GIF of the fake fireplace.
There’s a giant-
We’re going to fight over the pronunciation of that [GIF] today.
Oh, are we?
No, I’m not going to make that part of the interview. Just a joke.
I care so little about how to pronounce it. I really do.
I don’t care as much as I used to. I used to be very pedantic as a person. I’m not anymore.
[Both laugh] What changed?
Understanding that pedantry is probably partly rooted to white supremacy.
If you think about it hard enough.
If you really unravel that thread enough. I grew up in a very small mostly white town in upstate New York, population of a couple thousand maybe at most, two hours away from any big city or anything like Buffalo or Rochester. I don’t think people realize it, but New York is so vast and different than just the city. So I was in a cultural bubble of just utter bigotry and racism and stuff. People don’t even realize how racist they are there, and I had a lot of unpacking to do when I came here. I think not being an obnoxious pedant or whatever, it comes from unraveling some of my prejudices. I went back and visited and saw more Confederate flags there than I do here.
Yeah. That’s … yeah.
So how old were you when you moved to Charlotte?
I moved here when I was 20.
Okay. So from a tiny town in upstate New York to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Mm-hmm, and that place has a way of stunting your growth as a human being because there’s no opportunities, so there’s no room for economic or personal growth in various areas. A lot of people are unemployed there because there’s five major places to work there that will pay you decently. They’re not hiring because there’s so many people already there. But anyway, moving here I’ve had a lot of growing up to do. I’m almost 26, so I’ve been here for almost six years. A lot of growing has happened. I was just having the thought the other day, like if I had stayed there, how long if ever would it have taken me to realize I am trans, you know?
Yeah. So you don’t know any trans people from your hometown?
It’s not to say that necessarily, but they were younger than me by a lot. The one I did know who I went to school with passed away of a heroin overdose, but I didn’t know they were trans when I grew up there.
That really sucks. I’m sorry to hear that.
Yeah, that’s okay. That’s another thing. In that area a lot of people I know who are LGBT there are struggling with hard drugs like that. It’s just not a great place to live in that regard. It’s where I came from, and so it’s been a very tumultuous six years here, not in a necessarily exclusively bad way. It’s been a lot of good.
Charlotte’s a interesting place. I grew up here. I don’t know if you knew that.
I didn’t know that. Not a lot of people have at this point.
Yeah. Not a lot of people grew up in Charlotte. But yeah, I grew up in Charlotte, and… I would not call it a progressive place obviously, but there are a lot of different kinds of people here.
That’s the different thing though. That’s the crazy thing to me is because to me this is progressive compared to where I came from.
Charlotte’s messed up in a really different way.
Mm-hmm. I wouldn’t say it’s progressive, but I was able to progress here.
When you moved here, how did you end up joining Mineral Girls? How did you end up finding a musical community?
Okay, yeah. So when I first moved here, I didn’t know anyone besides my family. My family moved here first. I followed them.
Your mom and stuff?
Yeah. I knew I wanted to move so I wasn’t stuck, but I didn’t have a safety net outside of here because all of my family is just in this area now. Again, I didn’t have any economic security there. I didn’t get paid more than $100 a paycheck there. I didn’t have the ability to even save money there, and I spent almost all of my money on weed, to be honest, because at the end of my time there, I was so fucking depressed.
When I first moved here, I spent two months really lonely and not knowing anybody. So I didn’t have a job, and I was browsing Craigslist for jobs. I was like, “Oh, let me look at the music ads.” I saw this ad for, we’re looking to form this emo/post-hardcore band for fans of Thursday and this and that. I went to go meet them, and one of the people that I met was Dylan, who played bass in Mineral Girls eventually, but this was 2013, early 2013, that we met. We tried to form a project, but it just kept not working out. We would keep trying to collaborate together, but Dylan ended up joining Mineral Girls in 2014.
I ended up, when I came to the conclusion that I was trans, or the realization or whatever, it was in summer of 2014, so a year-and-a-half of living here. I remember posting an Against Me! song called “The Ocean” or something, I think is the name. I’m really bad with song titles, but it’s the most explicit song that Laura had written about being trans before she came out as trans. The second verse is like, “If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman.” Brett commented on my video share, and he quoted that line, and I was like, “same.” He was like, “Yeah, me, too.”
So we connected through that interaction, and I recorded an EP with him that never got released, or I have recorded an EP with him that never got released. Then the reason it never got finished is because he had to take a pause because they were starting to write “Cozy Body.” I was there-
That’s one of their albums, right?
Yeah, it’s the 2015 Mineral Girls album. So I was there hanging out, and I would be at their band practices and stuff. I just was at a practice one day, and they were writing a song. I was like, “Let me play guitar on this song.” They were like, “Whatever. You can try it.” And at the end of that practice. They were like, “Yeah, you can be in the band now. That’s cool.” Once I joined it was like January of 2015. So, it took me almost two years to be in a band, and music is my absolute thing that I know I want to try and do in life, and pursue, and I’m always going to do that, and it still took me two years to find a band, just because how it is sometimes, but … yeah.
I think it’s better to wait to find a band, than to find a band, and then stick with it too long, that doesn’t work, that doesn’t fit.
Right, and I honestly always expected myself … whenever I had a band, I expected myself to be a vocalist, to be at last like a co-vocalist. I did not expect to fill the role that I did in Mineral Girls because when I joined Mineral Girls … and I really feel like I can hear this on Cozy Body… I was not a lead guitarist, like I did not know what I was doing as a lead guitarist. I didn’t even know … I never played with an electric guitar in a live capacity, or even really in a recording capacity. I had one, but I never really utilized it. So, I didn’t know how to get guitar tones, I did know how to do this or that, I was very much fumbling my way through it. Those growing pains are some of the things that I hear in Cozy Body, that I think some other people don’t. So, when other people are like, “Cozy Body is like my favorite Mineral Girls record,” I’m like, “Can’t relate … just can’t relate.”
So, you didn’t know how to like use pedals and stuff?
No. I had two pedals on that record. I didn’t know how to get the sounds that I heard in my head, so it all just sounds very confused to me. If you hear some of those songs live, they’re a lot more muscular, and they’re a lot more like… We did like a live album of our last show, and if you were to watch those videos or listen to the live album, the Cozy Body songs are totally way more like rock band than dream pop band like they turned out on that record. It’s just a weird… I love that record in some ways, and then in other ways I’m… it’s like looking at baby pictures in a way, or like adolescence pictures, which is even worse, like puberty pictures.
It was very much a fake it ’til you make it thing with me in that band.
What are you working on learning right now, like in your musical practice? What’s your next skill goal that you want?
Okay. This ties into want I want to do with the record sonically. I had this weird revelation that a lot of my most favorite songs in the world are 90s singer-songwriter pop songs, like Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” by Paula Cole is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard in my life, a bunch of Sheryl Crow songs. You know what I’m talking about, like what I’m signaling into.
I’m studying those songs, basically. I’m listening to them a lot, and I’m going to pretty much exclusively cover those songs, because I want that to bleed into my music, because I really want… I really want this record to be like that, like I want it to have that spirit.
The songs are all pretty much exclusively about my struggles with mental health and gender dysphoria. I don’t know, it’s almost like reimagining that era of songwriting, because those songs are very much love songs, but they’re like forlorn love songs, or they’re like breakup songs, and stuff. “Torn” is like unrequited love almost. “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” is like, “Why do men suck?” honestly if you really think about it, it’s like… it’s definitely critical of like patriarchal gender roles. I used to think it was celebratory of them, and I didn’t… I was like embarrassed to like that song for a long time, and then I realized, no, it’s like critical of the patriarchal gender roles that we have.
It’s instead of those themes… It’s like those songs, but written about blunt experiences with mental health. I’m not in the business with these songs of writing about mental health and my struggles with it in flowery coded wording. One of the songs I wrote recently is basically me taking my suicidal ideations and treating them like a character.
You sent me a song recently. You were like, “Oh, I wrote a new song. You want to hear it?” I was like, “Yeah.” Then you sent it to me, and it was like the darkest, saddest-
It’s probably that one. Yeah.
I was like, “Whoo, man.” It just… It was-
It’s that one. Yeah, it’s definitely that one. It could’ve only been that or Stayed In Bed All Weekend, because-
I think Stayed In Bed All Weekend is also extremely fucking sad, but I think that’s partly because when I wrote it… I mean, it’s very autobiographical, it was at the end of like a four-day streak of me just spending most of the day in bed.
That one I think it was sad, but it was sad in like a relatable today, like in a, “Oh, man. All I ate was Cheerios today,” kind of way. But the one… What did you say it was called? The-
That was sad in like a… Whoo, boy.
Yeah. That’s going to probably be one of the saddest on the record. I don’t plan on getting it that much darker.
I don’t know how much further you could go.
But if I’m being real, because I really think that it’s important to be honest about mental health, because I think that it de-stigmatizes it in a way, and it’s not a ploy for attention or anything, but to be perfectly honest, I wrote that song after I stole a pack or razor blades from the grocery store.
It wasn’t that I definitely planned on killing myself, it’s that I wanted the option. But I threw them out. I don’t have them anymore.
I’m glad you threw them out.
That song was… it came from a real struggle in myself. I was like… because the song is me talking to whatever it is me that makes me feel suicidal. I’m not going to… We’re talking about a song that’s probably only going to come out on the record eventually, but… because I’m sending that song to friends, but I’m not planning on releasing it. There’s a glimmer of hope in it, but it’s very faint. It’s very uncertain. It’s a song that I really had to write, and I’m really, really proud of.
I hope so. I hope it doesn’t seem like sophomoric. I’m always worried that my lyrics come off sophomoric, because I’m very-
I don’t even know what that means.
It’s like pretentious or juvenile-
In the context that I’m using it.
So, exactly how I was at 15.
Right. Yeah, exactly. I just… I’m very worried about my lyrics coming across like that, because the things I’m talking about are very serious, and very personal to me, but I’m bad at… I feel like I’m bad at expressing them sometimes.
Like I said, the written word is hard for me.
I mean, maybe it just takes practice to find the right tone. But you’re an emo musician, right?
I don’t want to be.
You don’t want to be?
I don’t even like emo music anymore. I’ve had my trust dismantled by emo and DIY. That’s not even going into the fact that I grew up on that music, and so I feel like anything I hear today that sticks to that sound is going to be worse, or just not new, than what I grew up on. Because I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard any variation of emo you can throw at me. I’ve heard all of your twinkly fucking guitar parts. I’m sorry, I have. I’ve heard them all. Y’all are using the same fucking tunings. I’m sorry. I’m going to be real with you. I don’t care about emo music. Not to deride you, because in a sense, yeah, I am an emo musician, I am striving for more than that.
Yeah. What’s next after emo, right?
Right, it’s hard to make that transition. Very few bands have done it gracefully. I think my problem with DIY is it pretends to be an alternative to the music industry, this toxic wasteland that is the music industry, which it is. DIY is no better, because all we can seem to fucking do as human beings when we connect on a social level, is replicate the ills that we have experienced through other systems. So, really what’s happening in DIY is just a microcosm. It’s the same shit that the music industry at large is doing, just on a much less regulated scale.
No corporate HR for the punk house.
Right! No, not at all. How many of these places could kill people that we play in in DIY spaces, if we’re really honest? How many people could die at a show? That’s not me saying I want DIY venues shut down, because I was very… When all that stuff was happening with like 4chan trolls outing DIY venues back in like 2016 or some shit, I was like livid. But there’s truth to that. There’s truth to the fact that we claim that we have safe spaces, but these places are fucking fire hazards. It’s ludicrous.
And social capital is a very real thing I hope people get clued into soon when it comes to like the dynamic of how capitalism is restructuring itself in these small communities. That’s the best… like it’s… I feel like I’m giving you a piece of a puzzle, rather than trying to tell you what the image the puzzle makes is. Think about social capital, like really think about it.
Freaks me out.
It is. It’s freaky, and it’s hard because often people who are in activist communities, music communities, a lot of antiestablisment organizational work, whether that’s like fun art stuff, or political stuff, or whatever, people accumulate power for different reasons. I don’t know that that’s necessarily bad? I mean, I don’t know. I think sometimes the only way to get something done is if you know a lot of people… but it does give people power over other people that isn’t as straightforward as this is my boss, or this is someone with more money than me, or something. Those are more straightforward, but having someone who 35 people in your small town like a lot… is still power.
Yeah, and that power can be used, and often is used, in bad ways, is what I think I’m trying to get at. Those people use their social status to not be accountable for their own shit, because everyone has something to be accountable for. I promise you.
Everybody hurts people. But when you’re like the pillar of a scene, the way that you hurt people, like the weapons you have are bigger.
What’s a better way of organizing things?
[Audrey sighs] I think that’s what freaks me out is, anything I could think of is corruptible. Because all I can think… This is funny to say given what we’re saying, but… but it does feel like we as human beings only know how to do versions of what we’ve already done.
In a way.
I mean, you’ve got to start somewhere.
Yeah. I feel like a hypocrite because I know something needs to be done, but I don’t have any solutions to offer. I can just point out… because I’ve seen… I think a lot of people don’t see it. I really do think a lot of people don’t see it, but there is… something’s wrong. [Both laugh] I mean, I’m down to brainstorm and collaborate with people if people want to reach out to me and be like… as a group, and just be like, “Hey, let’s brainstorm ways that we can…”, but there’s not a single person I trust enough.
Maybe it’s not about trusting individuals, it’s more about trusting systems?
Yeah, but even that’s-
But they better be right.
That’s the thing, and that’s… We… Because I don’t trust the systems in our government right now. I don’t trust the checks and balances in our government right now. I think that they’re very corruptible. They are corrupted. I’m just… I struggle with people. Because it starts with the individual, and none of us are perfect. We’re all corruptible.
But I also think that… We’re all corruptible, but violence isn’t final. Like we are all also capable of growth and positive change.
I agree with that. We have to be honest with ourselves and others about the wrongs that we’ve done, and I don’t think a lot of people are ready to.
Yeah. Yeah, that’s true.
How many people do you think are hiding something about themselves because they’re afraid of being ostracized right now?
I mean, I think everyone has stuff like that.
Mm-hmm. I… I’m really all in my head.
Yeah, I can tell.
You know what I mean? Like I think most of the day away.
What do you do-
I really should be medicated for it, and I am trying to get that, but it’s expensive to see the doctor-
It is very expensive to see the doctor.
…with the consistency that I need to. I was on some antidepressants that we’re making me feel worse, so I have to find some new ones. I think that what will stop this record from coming out next year, if it doesn’t come out next year, is prioritizing my mental and physical health.
Yeah. I want that. I want to be like that.
I’m excited for your new record. I think it’s going to be amazing. I would much prefer it if you were in good mental health, like-
I’ll give up… as much as I want to hear this Problem Addict record, I will make that sacrifice for you.
I appreciate that. I mean, I think that if anything this interview could be used to hold me accountable for that, because I have a lot to do to get better. And I really want this record to come out as soon as it can, because music has always been my thing. It’s important to me. I want to be better so that people can see like that it’s possible, you know what I mean?
Because it is, it’s just really fucking hard.
It’s so hard.
But it’s nothing that’s worth doing isn’t.
Yeah. What I’m feeling with you right now is like… when was the last time you had a two-hour conversation about your feelings with somebody?
Yeah, I don’t have a… I’m sorry is this like a therapy session for you, because I don’t have a therapist. I need a therapist. I just haven’t been able to afford it.
It’s not bad, like I don’t mind or anything, but it does kind of feel like you’re like, “Oh, my god… someone to talk to.”
Somebody to talk to. No, absolutely.
It’s just like, it’s also being recorded.
It sucks. I’m probably never going to be able to read this interview, to be honest, but I’m glad it exists because this is evidence to me that I need help. Again, that’s not a ploy for attention. I need to get my shit together. This interview is proof.
Yeah. To be quite honest, yeah. Yeah.
On that much more positive note, this interview has been… Oh, my god… an hour and 14 minutes.
I’m so sorry, y’all. I’m really sorry.
No, you’re fine!
I wanted this to be really good, and-
It was good!
It was good, but not in the way that I wanted it to be.
You know what, you don’t get to decide how conversations go.
That’s something I’m learning as an interviewer. I can have all the questions I want, I have no idea where they’re going to go, and they’re usually going to go opposite of the direction I’m trying to steer it, and that’s okay. It’s not my car, you know?
It’s your car. It’s a self-driving car. I’m just sitting there.
But thank you for talking to me.
Yeah. Thanks for talking with me, and … yeah. That’s all I’m going to say, because this needs to end.
Note: Audrey did end up hearing this interview before publication. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay to put on the internet. She’s still working on that album, and I’m still excited for it.
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