As Indigenous artists continue to strive to occupy space in a world where hip-hop and pop have taken over the mainstream music industry, it’s even trickier for Indigenous rock musicians and fans alike to find space where their identity is present in the alternative rock scene.
Guelph-based rock band WHOOP-Szo can be described in many ways, but it’s the feel of their sound that cannot be contained within one genre. The Grunge/Shoegaze/Folk/Art-Rock group have just come off their summer tour, and Anishinaabe frontman Adam Sturgeon (Dzhkon Zibi – Antler River/Chippewa of the Thames) talks with RPM about what it’s like for an Indigenous artist such as himself to find a Nish audience within their niche.
How has your touring been going?
We’ve been super lucky to have played a ton of really great festivals the last couple of years and are looking forward to what is next. We’re not gonna mention too much on this end quite yet!
How did you guys start out as a band? How long have you been making music?
The band started with myself and Kirsten Palm, a Finnish non-native who has been a welcome addition to the communities she has worked with. We started over a common desire to explore our healing relationships… we met because both of our parents were in wellness programs recovering from drug and alcohol abuse and we recognized our shared family history and how it had impacted us both in similar and differing ways. Kirsten’s family were punk rockers and mine athletes so there were a lot of funny differences despite the chaos of their addictions. We also recognized our own vulnerability but found strength in each other which has remained a huge driving force for our band.
How did your culture influence the music you make?
Both my father and my aunt have instilled a huge influence on myself personally and helped maintain our Indigenous teachings since I was very young. Our healing journey is so influenced by our “culture”, or as I like to say and my teachers like to say “our way of life.” It simply is who I am so it seeps into absolutely everything I do be it very “traditional” or “modern”, like metal music.
What influences your style of music?
Both my writing and Kirsten’s is influenced by our surroundings and the emotional attachment we have to it. Sometimes it is easier to express things through sound over words so we’ve added a lot of members and collaborators along the way to help shape the overall vibe of what we are putting down. So often we are referenced as political, however we don’t see it that way, we follow our teachings and the words follow that.
From your experience, what’s the scene like for a Nish grunge/shoegaze/folk band such as yourselves? What is your fan following like?
Our fans are most definitely white, for the most part but it’s very very common that those marginalized groups present at our shows gravitate towards our band. There aren’t a ton of other grunging Nish out there, but I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some Indigenous folk along the way. We talk about this and some of us are thinking of forming some kind of coalition or whatever, we don’t know yet, but I’m very thankful for those conversations along the way. People like Kayla Stevens from Crossed Wires and Dan from Dri Hiev, Coco from Construction and Destruction. There are others, but our voices are still shy. We all have a similar history and we feel a bit different than the rest of the scene. That said, we are very fortunate to make it known that we play in safe spaces, we drift away from bar culture and our audience is very inspired and intrigued by our beliefs… So that is a start.
Your last full album was released two years ago, and a single released last year. Do you have plans to release new music anytime in the near future?
We’re working away on new material and have a bunch of collaborations and such in the works. It seems as though you are either touring or putting out music. We have basically been on the road the last two years touring and truly enjoying that momentum but are anxious to show the world what we have up our sleeves.