Sassy songstress Rachel Lark, formerly of Psychedelic-Rock Band Antioquia, is the rising star of the sex-positive comedy scene in North America. Emerging from Dixie De La Tour’s Bawdy Storytelling in San Francisco, Rachel has performed on the Savage Love Cast, and recently finished up a tour of North America. I got to meet her last year when she came to play at Vancouver’s Erotica Electronica and blew the socks off everyone! She just launched a kickstarter campaign to raise money for her first official music video- for her song Warm, Bloody and Tender- and I decided to find out a little bit more about this phenomenal woman.
The Importance of Play
Rachel: I actually still do teach babies, a little bit- I do a bit of contract work with preschools. Basically I teach parents how to be musical with their babies, because kids learn from modelling, so if your parents sing to you when you are a child, it is very likely that you will be musically proficient. It actually doesn’t matter how good they were at singing, it just matters that they sang. So that’s what I used to do full time, and I really like that balance, cos sometimes when you’re a musician, in clubs and bars, in makeup, dealing with drunk people… well, its really refreshing and energising to be around young children, who are completely unaware that later in life they’re gonna have to get drunk to be this silly, you know? They’re just into it because its fun. You don’t have to convince them at all. I love working with kids, I get inspired by them, and it’s a hugely validating experience to have a group of children super stoked and having a good time. Of course, if I was only doing that full time, I’d probably have to kill myself, because there’s only so many times you can sing “Pop Goes The Weasel” before you go crazy, but its a nice balance.
Mel: So how the heck did you end up touring North America and singing songs about consent, cunnilingus, and dropping acid on christmas day?
Rachel: They sort of happened simultaneously! When I first came here to the Bay Area, I came here to join a band called Antioquia, and we toured the country non stop for two years. It was my full time thing, we were all broke, and I had random gigs trimming weed and catering and substitute teaching and babysitting. We would come back home, do a couple of things to make money, and hit the road again. So it wasn’t till that band broke up that I wanted some kind of job in the Bay Area that was regular and fulfilling to me, rather than just all these gigs on the side, and that’s when I started teaching full-time, but that’s also exactly the same time I started my solo career, and picked the name Lark, and worked on the stuff I’d wanted to write for a long time.
So I found this stable job that was really fun and creatively gratifying, and I started making this music that was really fun and creatively gratifying, and it was really in tandem for a while till it hit the point where I really had to pick one. And it was hard to give up the teaching because, a) the money was good and b) it was really rewarding and great to get to know these kids and families. But I needed to be able to tour the country. And I decided, you know, I can teach twenty years from now, I can’t necessarily tour and play five shows a day twenty years from now.
But- maybe what you’re asking about is I sing about sex and drugs and I also teach kids? I think that makes perfect sense! I might be wrong, but I think that people who are good at working with kids tend to understand Play, and if you understand Play, well I think that we think of Play as being something that is reserved for children, and when grown-ups play, its usually like sex or drugs or dealing with life in a fun, uninhibited way. I think that Play is extremely important no matter what age you are. Clearly it needs to be age appropriate, but I don’t think there is any real contradiction there in understanding play at whatever stage you are at.
Mel: It’s almost like you have this Clark Kent Persona that teaches music to babies, and then you take the glasses off and let your hair down and are like, “Hi, I’m Rachel Lark, and I’m going to sing a song to you about a threesome.”
Rachel: I don’t feel that I’m a different person when I walk into my classes with kids. Clearly I’m not singing about the same things. But my suspicion is that if you were to come to one of my preschool classes, you would also be laughing your ass off and having a great time, and wouldn’t be disturbed by this new Rachel you see in front of you. I think it’s a continuous thing for me- and my bigger mission of just getting people to simultaneously to lighten up, and question everything, is very compatible with both of those ideas. I’m also lucky that in the Bay Area a lot of parents I meet are thrilled to find out what I do in the evenings. They don’t see too much of a contradiction. It is funny. It is good fodder for a memoir.
Mel: What does the term “Sex-Positive” mean for you?
Rachel: I just read this article about Sex Negative Feminism. To me, sex-positive means celebrating sexuality, and this article that I read was saying that this author’s view of sex negative feminism- and why she called herself a sex negative feminist- is because she believes that sex discourse has a place when we are talking about sexuality too. Some third wave feminists believe that whatever turns you on is great and we should never talk about how that could conflict with your feminist ideals, whereas this other author is saying, no, we should think about how patriarchy plays out in our sex lives and we should be analysing that.
I tend to be between the two. I think sex is fascinating to talk about from an analytical and political perspective. But at the end of the day I do believe that understanding what turns you on and embracing that is a wonderful thing, and I think that we have to live in this world, and we have to love ourselves in this world, and we are not going to help ourselves by feeling shame about what turns us on, because that is often like a very deep thing that is part of who we are.
I think that what’s wonderful about the Kink community and the overlap between feminism and kink: there are ways to play with these things that can turn you on, while also holding true to values that you have as an individual in other parts of your life. In short, I think sex-positive means loving your kinks, loving your turn ons, and having that eager curiosity to learn more about sex and appreciate the joy and the play it can bring into our lives.
Mel: Well said.
Non-Monogamy and Healthy Relationships
Mel: I know you talked with Cunning Minx a bit about this- I’m curious, how would you define your flavor of non monogamy?
Rachel: Hmmmmm. Ummmm, my flavor of non monogamy. Well, I definitely feel like calling it Non-Monogamy. For starters! But, I don’t know. Since I did that interview a lot of people have talked to me about the Relationship Anarchist title, and I do like it, I think I do wanna stick with it. I believe in honesty and communication and commitments. but I don’t believe in promises about the future. I can promise behaviours for the present, and I can commit an intention about something, but I’m very jaded about the concept of “I will love you forever.” But maybe that’s just cos I’m someone who got married when I was 23! On my dating profile I write, “I make no commitments except to honesty and things not sucking.” Does that answer your question?
Mel: Oh, it totally does. And I can relate, as someone who got married at 22, that jadedness about loving someone forever- you learn a lot about getting stuck with those expectations and getting trapped and limited by them. I was going to ask you what you think makes a healthy relationship, but I think you’ve already answered that! Honesty and things not sucking, I like that.
Rachel: Yeah, you take care of you and I’ll take care of me, so we can take care of eachother. I think ‘healthy’ is such an interesting word. We have so many weird cultural markers for what’s healthy, and often ‘are you in a relationship’ is a marker of if you are healthy. You’re in a long term relationship- oh even healthier! I don’t identify with that as a gauge of mental or sexual health necessarily, but I think that healthy relationships of all kinds, whether they are friendships or romantic relationships or flings, are relationships where you both feel like you are being seen and valued for who you are, while at the same time being challenged to grow in the ways that you want to. I think that’s the good place to be. And if you’re a single person with a bunch of great friends and fuck buddies and you’re getting that, i think that’s extremely healthy. And you know sometimes we get stuck in relationships, and we’re not growing, and we start growing backwards and pulling out the bad parts of each other, and I think that’s very unhealthy, and you should get out of a relationship if that’s what’s happening.
Mel: Dan Savage has talked about the importance of people doing non-monogamy to be open about it, if they can. Do you see a role for yourself in promoting awareness of healthy non-monogamy?
Rachel: Absolutely! It’s a big reason why my boyfriend Andrew and I put our relationship status on Facebook. It’s not something either of us were into before we started dating, but I felt it was important to put “In an open relationship with so-and-so” on facebook, in large part because I feel it’s important for non monogamy to be visible. I want people to be aware that I am in a happy, public, non monogamous relationship. Also, I wanted him to have an easier time getting laid.
I feel like I’m in a place where I feel super fine being open about it and have no problem talking about it.
Mel:Your song “For the Guys” has become an anthem for Consent Culture. What inspired it?
Rachel: Yay! Oh, what inspired it? A couple of years ago I was in a community of musicians, and a guy in that community was sexually assaulting women in that community. It started with one rumor that was easily brushed off cos “she was crazy” but then it started to be more and more women. And I hooked up with this person, and had a situation where we were making out and things started going really fast and I said “Hey stop! Hang on!” And he didn’t, and I had to scream and push him off me. I wasn’t raped, but what I had been through certainly gave a lot of credibility to what other women were saying.
I was approached by some women who wanted to organise an intervention of sorts, and it was a really, extremely hard and strange process. We had no idea what we were doing. There wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute this person. A lot of the women felt they weren’t heard or seen by this community they used to be part of, and they wanted a chance to speak, and confront this community they felt had turned their back on them. We organised 50-60 people together, to have a meeting about what to do. It was one of those events where you see everyone’s true colors. Till this point we all knew each other from partying and having a good time, and things never got deep or challenging, and then we were facing this moment where you could see who was willing to step up and handle this, and who would rather act like its not a problem.
So we had this meeting. We brought in a woman from Bay Area Women Against Rape to talk about Rape Culture, and then each woman read out their story to everybody. There were eight women; those are just the ones we knew about. There was a facilitated meeting, a conversation. It was frustrating, because there was one comment at the time that really got me. This guy raised his hand and he addressed the women in the room, “You know, women, you guys need to express yourself more, cos sometimes it’s not clear, and sometimes there’s this grey area and we don’t know what’s going on.” And I didn’t have the words in the moment to say, “Cool, then get your dick out of that human! If it’s not clear, what the fuck are you doing?”
I didn’t have the words at that time to say that, and I was just in shock. There was so much in the meeting about what women can do to protect themselves better, and also how to help this guy. It was frustrating, realizing that a) I don’t know what to do in that situation, still, cos what we did didn’t do a damn thing, cos he raped two more women within a year after that and he’s still out there, and b) it was really amazing to see that people find it so much easier to believe that a community of women would make this up, than believe that it actually happened.
I stayed in that community for a while and was jamming at someone’s house one night, there were thirty people drinking and playing music, and at a certain point I was going to leave, and everyone was like “No don’t leave!” I joked to my friend about how no one was letting me leave, and he said, “That’s cos you’re the only girl left.” I suddenly felt really unsafe. But I realised I was drunk and so I decided to crash, and he gave me the couch. I went to sleep and turned off the lights and then I woke up later to a guy making out with me. At that point, I realised that community was toxic. And I held so much anger about this, and people were telling me to write a song about it, and I was like “Fuck that! This is so stupid, it’s so obvious you don’t behave the way these men behave!” I was kinda defiant. Assholes don’t get songs written about them! I’m writing positive stuff about positive experiences!
And then- there was a Bawdy Storytelling show coming up, and the theme was “Trigger Warning” and there were no stories about rape in that show. So I started writing it six months before I had to perform it. It was the hardest song I’ve ever written.
Mel: Wow, thank you for sharing that. That’s intense and, the sad thing is, that’s not the only community where things like that happen. I hear these stories repeated over and over again. It’s great that you wrote that song, I’m so glad that you wrote that song. Humor can help teach people. My experience talking about Consent Culture in my community has been that a lot of people just want to get angry about it and about fighting Rape Culture. But the people who are oblivious, who don’t understand there’s a problem or that they might be part of the problem, they don’t respond well to the aggression, and they just act defensively and say “Fuck You!”. But to have this song, and say, “Here, this is funny, and we can laugh at ourselves in this song” I find that sinks in deeper, and reaches more people.
Rachel: I agree! I have been sort of humbled and terrified that there have been several men who have come up to me and said “Wow I never really got it that way before thankyou.” I think, wow, I feel excited that my song did that for you but I’m also like- really? You didn’t get that before this moment? But yeah it is pretty amazing.
On the Rise to Stardom
Mel: So, you’ve performed for the Savage Lovecast, as well as for Bawdy Storytelling. How does it feel to be an up and coming celebrity in the world of Sex-positive, non-monogamous Relationship Radicals? What’s it like?
Rachel: Surprising! It’s surprising, it’s exciting- and yeah it’s certainly not how I thought my path to career musician was going to go. There’s so many great musicians out there who write great and funny songs about sex, and I didn’t think myself to be so different from a bunch of songs that Dan must have heard already. But, I’m super grateful. I do write about other things! And sometimes friends who have known me throughout my career ask me, “Is it weird for you that people just expect the funny raunchy stuff?” And- no. I mean this stuff is still super emotional for me. I don’t think it’s trivial, but also the reaction that I’ve gotten is that people who become my fan through hearing me on Savage Lovecast or Bawdy, once they discover my other music they are usually really into it and supportive as well. I don’t feel that it’s a different person I put on. It’s all me. And when people like an artist they tend to trust them to do different stuff.
Mel: I’m super appreciative of your musical versatility. I loved your loop set when you played here in Vancouver. You sang Flowers Fuck- with all the beautiful feminine vocal melody happening. It’s so cool! Its groundbreaking.
Rachel: That’s the next music video I want to make! For the electronic version of Flowers Fuck!
Mel: Speaking of music videos! Let’s talk about the Kickstarter campaign! You raised 25% in your first day! And from what you told me, it’s going to be a “who’s who” of today’s sex-positive celebrities. What more can you tell us about it? How do you think it will affect the world?
Rachel: Well, I can tell you that Dan Savage is going to be covered in… blood. And, call me crazy, I think that might get some reach!
It’s tricky being an artist and wanting your stuff to get a bigger and bigger audience and thinking maybe this will be the thing that goes big! And I try not to think that way cos my path so far has been through this awesome organic growth of community, and I think that’s more important than suddenly getting a million views on Youtube and being forgotten later.
But it would be cool. It would be cool to make a music video that gets picked up by some sex and feminism blogs, and I feel ready. I feel like the music is ready to be heard by more than just the West Coast pockets of sex positive communities that I’ve gotten into.
Being an independent artist and having a well done music video that showcases your message is critical, it’s like a business card, its an essential part of levelling up in terms of the kinds of shows you are booked at, the reach you are able to get, how much you get paid for different shows. It’s a critical step in your career, and to do it right, you do kinda need a lot of money. It’s going to be pretty epic. The team working on it is amazing, their sense of humor and professionalism- it’s that perfect balance of class and vulgarity that I tend to hang out in. It’s a really good fit. We’ve been doing pre production for months, and so much has already been happening. It’s amazing to see all these people who want to be part of this project, and that it is worth all this effort.
Mel: It’s my favorite song, well, other than Acid and Hot Springs.
Rachel: It’s a catchy one! It has a solid hook!
Mel: Yes! That sing along bit! One of the best things I have ever witnessed was three hundred kinksters and ravers sitting down to listen to you play that, and joining in with the chorus.
Rachel: Yeah, that’s the preschool training!