Have you ever had a band or a song come into your life just at the exact right moment? That’s the magic of music, sometimes it finds its way into your life, and it’s like meeting someone new at a party and instantly becoming best friends. Discovering new music that truly resonates with you is like taking a gigantic breath of fresh air, especially when the list of things in the world to be upset and angry about continues to grow.
With that in mind, say hello to the North Haven band Bait Bag, the trio of singer/bassist Courtney Naliboff, 37, guitarist/backing vocalist Fiona Robins, 25, and drummer Claire Donnelly, 33. Bait Bag formed in the spring of 2018 because the three women needed catharsis “after being weighed down by constant bad news.” They decided to join forces and make loud music together, and a huge source of their inspiration is the “riot grrrl” feminist punk movement that began in the early ’90s. Bait Bag lists some of their influences as the bands Sleater Kinney, Le Tigre and Blondie, as well as “anything loud, fun and inclusive.” They say that their songs are intended to empower and excite, or at least give other frustrated people something to flail around to.
Before I hit play on the first of the three songs on their EP, I knew that even if I didn’t like their actual music, I would at least love where this band was coming from. But within five seconds of hearing “Girl Pushups,” I became an instant fan. The tune starts on a poppy note, then gives way to a rocking cheer about empowerment. “Put your hands upon the earth/Now push away everything you’ve heard about what you should look like or what you should be,” declares the song in a bold and deliberate way. “Push it away, the Photoshop retouch/Push it away, dying your gray hairs.” The song is exactly as long as it needs to be, and it’s message is clear. And perfect.
Here’s “Girl Pushups” :
Next is “Hot Garbage.” It tells of a woman enjoying a walk in the sun when she’s suddenly catcalled and then full-on harassed and made to feel unsafe. The woman clearly feels victimized but is able to pivot and take her power back. Add to this fuzzy guitar, tight bass and loose drums, and the end result is a fierce, punk rock bolt of thunder.
Finally, there’s “1982” with the lines: “She was 15, there was a party/She walked up the stairs and into a nightmare.” It didn’t take long to connect the dots and realize what this one was about. “They turned up the music, she thought she was dying/And in the chaos, she made her escape.” It ends with the lines: “I see you, I hear you/In 1982 and today.” The line “and I believe you” is effectively wailed four times by Naliboff toward the end of the song.
Naliboff started studying music at 5 years old and majored in music at Brown University, where she played trumpet and sang in a funk cover band. Donnelly picked up drums in 9th grade and was in an all-girl punk band in high school. She started drumming again when Bait Bag formed last year. Robins has been singing since she could talk, taught herself acoustic guitar in high school and has been in several bands. Bait Bag, however, is the first band she’s played electric guitar in.
As to what specifically influenced the writing of their songs, Naliboff, Bait Bag’s primary songwriter, spoke of the avalanche of “(expletive) grabbing”, the #metoo movement, gender equity and Brett Kavanaugh, among other topics. She said, “1982 is our response to Christine Blasey Ford’s statement … I wanted to write songs that were empowering and hopefully can give people space to say, ‘Yeah, push away all that nonsense.’ ”
Bait Bag describes itself as a feminist punk band, and I asked all three of them to expound on what that means to be a feminist in 2019. On Naliboff’s list is wage equality, excellent and well-researched women’s health care, inclusion of all women-identified people, paid family leave, affordable child care, being able to go for a walk at night without fear or mace and normalizing breastfeeding and menstruation.. Donnelly bemoaned the fact that the word feminist can be hard for some people to digest. “Being a feminist doesn’t mean we’re anti-men. It just means that we believe all people should have equal rights regardless of gender or sex.” Robins agreed with her two bandmates and added that she wants to live in a world where feminism doesn’t have a stigma. “For me, it’s all about equity and mutual respect. The fact that anyone has an argument against feminism blows my mind.”
Bait Bag hopes to get back into the studio to record more songs this year and appreciates that there’s no pressure surrounding it. “It’s fun to be able to release things primarily digitally because we’re not beholden to any album length or anything like that,” explained Naliboff. So while there’s no physical CD to purchase, you can find Bait Bag shirts for sale online at baitbagtheband.com, which is where you can also listen to the EP and keep tabs on what they’re up to. To download their songs, head to baitbag.bandcamp.com or you can also find them on Amazon Music, iTunes and Spotify.
Want to see Bait Bag do its thing live? The band will be at Fogtown Brewing Co. in Ellsworth with Beach Trash on Saturday night. Doors are at 5 p.m., and there’s a $10 cover. Info at brownpapertickets.com.
Bait Bag will also be at Port City Music Hall in Portland on March 9 with Ossalot, Random Ideas and Tiger Bomb. Doors are at 8 pm.. and tickets are $7 and available at portcitymusichall.com.