Sheer Mag comes back to Orlando to kick ass and confiscate whistles
By Ida V. Eskamani
"I always wanted to sing. I don't think these people who say shit about me know I've been dealing with this since I started singing."
Somewhere in South Philly, Christina Halladay, lead singer of the full-hearted and resolutely DIY punk band Sheer Mag, is reflecting on her storied roots while picking up whisky for a party she's hosting at her home. It's a celebration of many things: the band leaving for their first tour since the global apocalypse, alongside a couple of birthdays and the changing of the seasons.
"My little brother is a brat," continues Halladay. "We were fucking 10 years old and we're listening to Sublime when it first came out. I was singing it and he was like, 'This is a song for boys! Don't sing the boys' song!'"
With assuredness, she concludes, "I've been getting told to shut up and that 'it's for boys' my entire life, so it doesn't make a big difference to me."
Even in a brief conversation, it's crystal clear Halladay is a woman who forges her own way. As a vocalist, she's equal parts tender and tenacious; fist-clenched passion paired with a warm and desperately needed hug. Lyrics of hardship, hope and scrappy rebellion are sung with Halladay's innate determination before a backdrop of timeless classic-rock grooves welded to punk rock spirit. It's a magic Sheer Mag casts with remarkable ease.
Eight years on since the unlikely formation of the band in a decrepit but well-loved punk house known as the Nuthouse, Halladay, Matt Palmer, and brothers Kyle and Hart Seely have garnered a global following playing by their own rules. Sheer Mag have turned down countless record deals, gained a reputation for turning down media interviews and reached cult status before even releasing an album.
In an already punishing world, Sheer Mag has consistently chosen the hard way. But for the band, autonomy is paramount.
"It's a lot of trial and error, and trying to figure out what's best for us. ... We don't always make the right decision, but we never regret being able to make our own decision," says Halladay. "I don't think people realize how rare it is for a band to own the masters of your music. That's something that's really important to us."
Leading a band in a scene dominated by men, Halladay's endured the patriarchy in all its vicious forms, too: "There's just things that I've learned to deal with, that obviously should be completely unacceptable. Being mistaken for the tour manager, for the merch person ... being a voice that isn't taken seriously as a leader of the band."
It ain't right, and it ain't fair. But every time that Halladay asserts her rightful place, she's claiming space for countless women and femmes.
"The most meaningful example I can give is in Japan," remembers Halladay. "Women are still expected to be demure and quiet, small, not taking up very much space, kinda the opposite of me. ... They saw a lot of things they weren't able to be in me. There's one girl that wouldn't stop weeping and hugging me. It's super meaningful and makes me feel good about what we're doing; all the things I'm working towards actually mean something."
Gearing up for a stateside tour that's already started by the time you've read these words, Halladay shares some meaningful but less wholesome Florida stories.
"At Will's Pub, this guy had a whistle at the show and was blowing the whistle while bands were playing. I eventually grabbed him by the scruff of his fucking neck and tore the whistle out of his fucking mouth while we were playing. I was like, 'Yo fuck you!' And I still have [the whistle] as a source of pride," says Halladay, "Miami is crazy, I pierced everyone's ears the night we were there."
Utterly amazed, we asked Halladay what we should prepare for come Saturday night. Halladay's response: "I don't know what to expect either, so I don't know if I have any way to warn you."
Ida is an Iranian-American from Florida who grew up with the Beatles, and came of age in the pit. She will talk to you about music for as long as you will pretend to listen. She is founder of Bandifesto, a little blog with a big heart.