Last week, I got to hang out with (Google Hangout with) the Jacksonville, Florida–based band TOMBOi. Their music is full of pulsing beats underneath personal lyrics. As their website says, “These women know how to make you dance.” TOMBOi created a beautiful visual aesthetic, too, which you can see in this new video for their song “Rainbow Warrior,” directed by Keagan Anfuso:
Alex E., Paige McMullen, and Summer Wood don’t just make art together, they also work with LGBTQ teenagers at a local nonprofit. They’re passionate about making music accessible to teens and letting queer people take charge of conversations about the queer community. After our conversation, my takeaway was pretty simple: These people are amazing.
LENNON WALTER: What’s your music origin story?
SUMMER WOOD: I played piano for a long time, classical piano, and switched to drums in high school. I met Alex and Paige through the music scene in Jacksonville. Paige and I played in a band together before TOMBOi, and we played on the same bills as Alex’s old band. We practiced at the same studio, so that’s how I met them.
PAIGE MCMULLEN: When I was like, 12 or 13, in the sweet spot of childhood angst, I got really into Blink-182. I watched a DVD of [Blink-182] behind-the-scenes, and I was like, “Being in a band would be so fun!” From that moment on, I just wanted to play guitar.
ALEX E.: I got my first job at 13 so I could save up to buy a guitar. I went to an arts middle school, so I took a guitar class, and got really into that. Then I started creating digital music. I’ve always been drawn to creating music in a digital way.
PAIGE: And the origin story of TOMBOi! So it was my birthday three years ago, and I love all things pop-punk, so Summer organized a surprise house show, and we all jammed out.
And now you’re releasing a new music video! What inspired the song “Rainbow Warrior”?
ALEX: When I wrote [“Rainbow Warrior”], there were a lot of [LGBTQ rights] issues going on in Jacksonville. Every conversation you have, it has to start with your identity, and why is that the case? That really fueled the song for me.
The whole aesthetic of your album, Spectrum, and your music video is so amazing. How do you consider the visual aesthetic when creating songs?
ALEX: Summer’s our art director. She has a background in graphic design, so she’s kinda in charge of the branding of TOMBOi. I work on the visual stuff for live shows, and Paige has more of an understanding of how film works. We all contribute in different ways.
SUMMER: The album cover is a spectrum of items that all mean something to us. We just wanted to push the word “spectrum” in all these different ways: objects, songs, color.
ALEX: We try to keep everything very Roy G. Biv.
I noticed that! The color theme is so strong throughout all of your work.
ALEX: Yeah, we use the color wheel as a metaphor for the spectrum of identity.
I really like that. So what’s challenging to you now? And how are you working through it?
PAIGE: Definitely as artists, as DIY artists, finding funding is a challenge. We want to have a cohesive style, and we want to have a lot of [merch] available, and at the end of the day, it all costs money. So finding ways to get our stuff out there and fund it ourselves is a challenge. When you do it yourself, you have the most control. Since we’re coming from such a marginalized community, it’s important that we have that control.
ALEX: Yeah, we want control over the conversation instead of the conversation being steered by others. People make assumptions about our identities and might push our music in a direction we don’t want. We had a really deep conversation about owning that.
Thinking about the direction you’re going in, what’s exciting to you now?
ALEX: Now, at South by Southwest, there are all these queer showcases that have popped up, and there are more and more each year. People of color are getting more visibility at the showcases too. There’s a shift happening. There are people coming from different genres that haven’t been given a voice before [at SxSW].
SUMMER: I’m seeing a lot more women in music scenes, more so than before.
PAIGE: We just did this huge music video, and the most exciting thing, I think, is incorporating new [editing software] when making music videos. The technological aspects of music and what it’s done for our band is really exciting. [There are] affordable ways to make music, which is really important. That accessibility is exciting.
That’s all so great to hear! Finally, is there anything you want to say to Rookie readers?
PAIGE: Continue to pursue your passion in spite of pushback. There are always going to be people who doubt your ability and make you doubt yourself. Believe in what you’re doing. Even now, I have to remind myself that what I’m doing is important.
ALEX: This presidential term is only four years. Perseverance is key. Fight the good fight.
SUMMER: Dust yourself off and try again. ♦