Founded by Jessie Meehan and Merilou Salazar, WASI is the pop band that the world needs. Not only do their songs preach love and liberation, but every member is passionate about social justice outside of their music. Jessie Meehan works with the ACLU on creating a gender-inclusive policy with Walgreens nationwide and Merilou Salazar is the co-founder of Women Fuck Shit Up Fest LA.
Their debut album, Riot Pop, is out this June, but Affinity is proud to premiere an exclusive look at the track, “What is Riot Pop”. The song deals with the constant flux of inspiration and motivation that stems from real-life problems. Jessie and Merilou from WASI were kind enough to sit down with me to talk about their single, “What is Riot Pop”, and their roles as activists in the community.
Ariel Zedric: What’s the significance behind your band name, ‘WASI’?
Merilou Salazar: WASI is an acronym for We Are / She Is, a project Jessie and I had back in the day. We are what she is- strong, independent, and bringing visibility to everyday struggles we go through as a marginalized community.
Tell me about the inspiration behind your new single, “What is Riot Pop”?
“What is Riot Pop” talks about what goes on when we sit in our heads. Sometimes it feels like the weight of the world is so heavy that we feel powerless about everything that is going on. When the paralysis is like cement on our feet, we take the action of reaching out to our friends and those that pull our asses out of it. We get inspired once again to move forward because at the end of the day all we have is each other to carry one another through these times.
Walk me through your music creating process, about how long does it take? Does each member have different roles, or do you collaborate on everything?
Jessie Meehan: Love this question! Every song is different, to be honest! Sometimes we write a song in 30 minutes, other songs feel like they take years! We noodle an idea and hate it and then come back to the demo down the road and spill it all out in a setting. For this particular song, it was written in sections, kind of one of those that we hated at first and when we came back to it, the beat and rhythm spilled out in one 15-minute go. Merilou and I write the songs- I write most of the music and Merilou writes like 90% of the lyrics. Once we have a solid foundation of everything, we bring in our special dude Kai to add his guitar and production. Then Cindy came in and threw down guitar parts.
In the final stages of this song, we send it over to our production team, the FUND, to mix/master/tinker with sounds and production.
The most important part of our writing/recording process is that it is very intimate and personal. We recorded most of this record in our tiny apartment living room and the vocals we recorded in our tiny closet. It was the first time we’ve ever done this and it was terrifying! We jumped out on faith in ourselves and we are really happy we did!
Merilou Salazar: I think in regard to creating in general, we sometimes have to force it out of us before it comes. I try to discipline myself every day to write for one to three hours, and if nothing comes out right away I just to another song and try to start that. I might hate the song at the end of that round but then at least you’re training your brain and feelings to work together. Sometimes there’s a diamond in the rough, and I take it to Jessie, and she takes it to a completely different world. Those are the most beautiful creations to me.
How do you separate being partners and bandmates?
Jessie Meehan: Since we met to be bandmates, that is definitely a big part of our identity. We definitely do a lot of things as best friends and as partners, but we both agree that some of the most fun and exciting things we’ve got to do together have been in music. For example, we recently got married and went to Japan for our honeymoon. When we were there we had a total blast as a couple enjoying everything about Japan but also daydreamed about the day we tour there. Seeing billboards of artists there really inspired us! And our wedding and party were filled with people we met through music, and these were people are beyond just friends to us — they’re chosen, family.
Explain the personal and professional struggles you’ve encountered in the music industry thus far. How have they molded the band?
Jessie Meehan: I’d have to say the hardest thing we’ve had to deal with is learning how to be fearless in embodying our identity and not giving a fuck. When we first started, we were in a more conservative area of Orange County and it wasn’t cool to be gay or to be non-binary. I remember being kicked out of a women’s restroom from the local Marie Calendars.
For me personally, this was extremely hard. I was constantly bullied growing up and into my adult years for looking masculine. I have a hormone disorder that made my voice deep and caused facial hair and a masculine-appearing body. I hated this about myself because I didn’t feel like a girl or a guy but was constantly told I looked like a man, so I didn’t know what the fuck I was. Since then, I’ve made this my power and own it. I love my voice and everything that makes me who I am but this took so many years of work. I’ve talked about it with others within the queer community and talking to kids that might feel the same way has been totally life-changing. It has become my identity and who I am, which plays a big role in music.
Merilou Salazar: Growing up in a very religious conservative household made it really hard for me to find my own identity growing up. I was pretty shy and involved in a lot of school activities and the music wasn’t a bit part of what I was doing. Everything changed when I discovered Avril Levine. I questioned my sexuality as well as picked up a guitar for the very first time. I don’t think my parents thought much of what I was doing. When I was a junior in high school, Jessie and I shared a physics class together and I heard through a network that she had a bass, so I asked if she wanted to join the band I didn’t have yet because I had booked a show with the after-school youth group I was a part of! Neither of us knew how to play, but we started a shitty band called the Midoll Poppers anyway and played our first show ever 2 weeks after starting this band. I would have to lie to my parents and ride my bike miles to band practice because my parents didn’t want me playing in a band. Something about that first show and being feeling whole for the first time in my life is what inspired me to continue playing and moving forward no matter what obstacles have come up along the way.
So when it comes to professional struggles, I try to find that “fuck it” intuition to guide me. I think it’s a foundation for who we are as musicians.
What’s it like being females in the music industry?
The best and smallest example I can give you is this: you go to Guitar Center and are looking for a specific condenser mic for recording, then the guy at the counter talks to you like you’ve never touched a fucking mic in your life. This isn’t to say that all experiences are like this or that all men are like this. We have been so fortunate that we have met tons of special dudes over the years that are totally respectful and treat females as true equals, and we choose to hang on to those guys! However, unfortunately, there are those experiences from time to time that are reminders that there isn’t equality and that gender inequality is still a problem.
Talk about your activism outside of music! What organizations have you worked with? What’s been the most satisfying and moving moment or event so far?
The most rewarding thing for both of us has been the work we have done with the Girls Rock Camp LA and OC. Every summer over the course of a couple of weeks, a bunch of us volunteers get together and teach girls between the ages of 8 and 17 how to play instruments of their choice, make bands out of them, and coach them in writing a song. At the end of each of these sessions, all of these bands perform at the Troubadour! It’s so incredibly inspiring to see these girls start the week shy and by the end of the week fearlessly get on that stage and play a song. It’s emotional, exciting, and gives hope to all of us volunteers in the future. Teaching these young girls tools and building confidence in them at a young age is an amazing thing that we didn’t have when we were their age.
Jessie Meehan: Last year I had an experience at a Walgreens in Hollywood in which I was denied usage of the Women’s room because my appearance is masculine, therefore I was asked to use the Men’s room. No matter what I told them about my gender identity (and that I am in fact a cis woman) they refused. My gender expression has been a struggle my whole life and is still something I have to deal with even in LA during pride month. I wasn’t going to let this one slide this time. I was informed by the staff that it was not only Walgreens policy but CA state law that you use the restroom based on gender expression (since fucking when?!). So I began the process with my the ACLU Socal to get Walgreens to create the policy they clearly didn’t have. It took us 8 months of negotiating, but we finally got them to create a bathroom policy nationwide that requires them to let folks use the bathroom of their choice based on gender expression. This was a huge thing for me because the scared kid inside that has had to deal with this almost every time I’ve used the restroom finally got justice for all the times I’ve been kicked out of Women’s restrooms or screamed at for being in “the wrong restroom”.
Merilou Salazar: Almost annually for the past five years, I’ve thrown a festival called Women Fuck Shit Up Fest with my best friends. It came because we needed a place to be ourselves in our community, and we couldn’t really find that right away. The aim of the festival is to create a space by women to empower women and bridge the music/art with non-profits. What started as something that we just felt like we “needed” became bigger than what we imagine, and it happens in Washington DC now too.
Do you have any upcoming partnerships or events that you’d like fans to know about?
We are releasing a music video soon for a new song called RUN! For the video, we partnered with the badass company TOMBOYX- a gender nonbinary company that makes comfy undies and clothes for people of all expressions and sizes.
We are also partnering with the app HER and Guayaki Yerba Mate who are helping us with our tour!
And when we go on our Love is Gay tour this upcoming June, we’re taking a different approach to each. Instead of just bands we meet to play, we invited local queer organizations, groups, and artists to be part of the night. This way, we get to dive into the community — from magazines like Outfront Magazine in Denver to Queer Spectra in Salt Lake City, etc.
— WASI (@WASImusic) February 4, 2019
Tell me about a moment in your career that has left you all extremely proud.
Honestly, we’ve been so lucky and have got to do so many amazing things and meet so many amazing people over the years. I would probably say that finishing this record is probably one of the proudest moments we’ve had. We put so much into it- all of our heart and soul. This last year was tough, and we got through a lot of really rough things and this record really talks about that and shares that experience. It’s how we cope and understand life.
What message do you want your fans to take away from your music?
Be fearless, be yourself. If we stopped playing the first time someone told us we sucked or should get the fuck off-stage, we would have quit after that first show in high school. It doesn’t matter what you do, always put one foot in front of the other no matter what. The voices in your head are the demons of what the world says you “should” be, but fuck that. You’re unique, embody that and own it and if someone hasn’t told you they love you today, we do.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists in the field?
Detach from the anxiety. The voices come, and we have to be on the ground ourselves to fight it, and before you know it those voices are gone. It’s not part of who we are — it’s the fear, anger, etc talking. And if you run towards the fear, you’ll find that the other side is growth and freedom.
Believe in yourself and everything else will come to fruition.
Featured image courtesy of WASI. Taken by Kat Contreras