Renee Phoenix, queer frontwoman of Fit for Rivals, gets her Freak on
Sounding like a mix of Tegan & Sara, Joan Jett and Finland’s heavy metal outfit H.I.M., the seven-year-old rock/punk/pop band Fit For Rivals is fronted by out lesbian singer/songwriter Renee Phoenix. Her vocals pack serious punch — and more than a pinch of androgyny — while the first singles and videos from upcoming 2015 album Freak Machine, “Hit Me” and “Freak Machine,” mash up head-bobbing, guitar-driven rock-punk and screamo style with strong melodies.
Hailing from Jacksonville, Fla., the five-piece band, which released debut album Steady Damage in 2009, is currently part of the SnoCore 2015 tour, making its way across the U.S. Phoenix talked with us about the upcoming Freak Machine, lesbian dramas that fueled its lyrics, and what she’d like to say to major influence Joan Jett.
— Lawrence Ferber
Dallas Voice: You were in a band called The Explicits before Fit For Rivals. How was it different from Fit For Rivals? Renee Phoenix: That was the first band I created and I was just figuring things out. It was a guttural punk band. There was double bass, loud in your face punk music. I took a turn to more pop-rock influence with Rivals.
Did your parents encourage your love for music when growing up? They’ve been very supportive. The only thing that drove them crazy was, when I first got into music, I wanted to try drums and after like five minutes of tinkering on a set my father was not having it. That’s the only time they’ve been irritated with music. My dad was like, “Maybe we should switch instruments here.”
You formed Fit For Rivals by taking out a Craigslist ad to audition band members. Did any crackpots show up? Oh gosh, yes. Some didn’t have any teeth or equipment. One guy came without a guitar or amp. I was like, what are you doing? Are you gonna be a backup dancer? What do you do? Eventually, [guitarist] Thomas Amason came. He can play, and from there it took on a life of its own.
Did you consider potential bandmates’ sexuality? No, it doesn’t really matter. Just people that are chill, got along, and of course accepting, because I am part of the LGBT community. Good people.
What is the theme of Freak Machine? Is there a thread running through its lyrics? Since our first album we’ve all grown as artists, and everyone has an individual voice. Everyone’s doing their own thing. So I feel like the underlying theme would be maturity. I went through a lot since the first album and that’s interweaved through the lyrics — relationships and personal things, figuring out who I am as a person. Getting it out through song really helped that. The song “Freak Machine” is about a failed relationship and the main thing, the best part about it, was the sex! To be completely honest! That person you can’t resist. Dammit, why can’t I push you away from me.
Does the girl know the song is about her? I mentioned it to her once before, but I’m not 100 percent sure she heard me. I feel like she knows. Even if you whisper under your breath, you’ll know.
Do lesbians stir up more drama than gay boys? [Laughs] I feel like everyone can cause drama, honestly. No matter what your sexual preference, it comes down to the person. A lot of people back home in Florida like going out to the same places and seeing your ex. Where you live it can be a small community, and where I live it is. People like the drama and stirring the pot. I feel like it definitely contributes.
Do you currently have a girlfriend? No, I’m single. And it feels good! I can focus on doing other stuff, like this. I can get distracted if it’s a sour relationship or that person is sucking the life out of me, which happened with my last relationships. I’m trying to find someone who contributes to my life instead of draining me dry.
Have you met Joan Jett, whom you cite as a major influence? And what would you say to her if you did? I have not met her yet. I would love to. I would probably have a million questions I would forget as soon as I met her. I really admire everything she’s done, and it would be an honor and privilege to tour with her or some sort of collaboration. That would be great. I really admire her work and what she does, and I strive to be the queen of rock and roll.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 3, 2015.