music | 28th January 2017
Tali Williams unapologetically combines music and activism to channel her staunch political views into gut wrenching lyrics. With her latest band Human Resource about to head to Melbourne, we have a sisterly heart to heart about growing up in the Wellington hardcore scene, being a fierce front woman and changing the world one song at a time.
words: vera ellen williams
photographs: frances carter
As my older sister, Tali was my window into the outside world. I have a strong childhood memory of being huddled up next to my mum amongst a mass of sweaty punks in a dingy Wellington basement. I remember looking up at the stage as she aggressively screamed into a microphone sporting a baggy t-shirt and army shorts. In high school I spent a lot of time at her Garrett street flat, which doubled as a hub for political activists and artists. I would wake up to her passionately debating politics, running activist meetings and reading Noam Chomsky. She made me mix tapes, showed me stacks of her poetry books and handmade political zines. Tali saw the world for what it was and fiercely sought to change it. Whether through her music, her poetry or her activism, she is a force to be reckoned with and has no intention of slowing down.
“I wanted to hear that darker music. I wanted to turn that music up and sit inside it.”
From a young age, Tali expressed an affinity for heavier subjects: “I was listening to Nirvana and associated grunge acts like The Smashing Pumpkins and Hole. Really on reflection I resonated with lots of feelings of alienation, anger and sadness,” she says, “I wanted to hear that darker music. I wanted to turn that music up and sit inside it.” Her interest in social justice was sparked early on when our Dad took her to a campaign meeting: “I had to sit through this meeting in order to get to a party, but then I ended up being a bit interested in what was going on. Before I knew it I was being tasked with some of the actions that were happening around this campaign. I was just really hooked from there.”
“I like the idea that music and politics come together and are not seen as one delineated from the next.”
While her mates were out partying and being regular teenagers, Tali filled her days with political activism and engaging in the local music scene. “I was part of a group called the National Youth Network. We made left wing political newspapers and distributed them to high school students,” she says, “At the same time I started to go to shows at Thistle Hall, an all ages venue in Wellington and started to do some community radio shows.” Over the next few years, Tali’s dedication would only increase, and she began to really consider the power of music as a political vehicle: “I like the idea that music and politics come together and are not seen as one delineated from the next.”
“Inevitably being a woman in a patriarchal society, you are affected by the way that capitalism treats you. The sexism that I came across tended to be in other avenues in my life and not as much in the music scene.”
Whether she was touring with her first band Pedal Faster, releasing albums with The Deadline or signing to an American label with Dial, Tali never felt her gender was the focus. “[In the punk scene] a lot of effort was put into respecting people and trying to be aware of oppressions,” she adds, “Inevitably being a woman in a patriarchal society, you are affected by the way that capitalism treats you. The sexism that I came across tended to be in other avenues in my life and not as much in the music scene.” Those who commented on her aggressive vocal style being too “masculine” and suggested that “girls shouldn’t sing like that,” she simply ignored. “It never got to me. It never affected me. It never stopped me.” She recalls one instance where she was approached after one of her shows, “A man came up and said to me, ‘Are you a girl? Or a man in a girl suit?’ ” She laughs. “Yeah I think that just says it all doesn't it?”
Refusing to be conventional in anyway, Tali does not write song lyrics but rather poems. Starting young, she has now accumulated a healthy stack of poetry books. At a time when many artists seem to shy from addressing political issues, Tali’s confronting words are refreshing. Her distinct vocal style which she defines as “confrontational caustic screaming,” demonstrates the heaviness of her overt political lyrics. Listening to her chant “but I’m afraid of you,” I can’t help but get goose bumps.
“We realized it’s just so macabre that someone's job is to put the makeup on the shitty face of capitalism.”
Tali approaches music with the same conviction as she approaches politics and is no exception to her latest band Human Resource. Being in the audience, while her voice trembles as she sways back and forth, is nothing less than cathartic. Human Resource formed after Tali and her work colleagues Stephen and Liam discovered their common affinity for heavy music and politics. After jamming with Liam's friend Richie on drums, the band connected immediately. Their name is a nod to bad work experiences: “We realized it’s just so macabre that someone's job is to put the makeup on the shitty face of capitalism.” The post hardcore group have plenty on the horizon, with their debut album release and a few gigs in Melbourne lined up for February.
At 21, I still look up to my sister with the same wonder I had as a kid. Her daily struggle to make the world a better place is both inspiring and perplexing. With the state the world’s in, I wondered what motivates her to continue fighting what feels like a losing battle? Tali responded by reading me a poem she found..
I persist in thinking
That the place of a poet
At this moment
Is in the street
You must storm
The ivory towers Raze them to the ground
A state of emergency
When I allow myself
To snivel over my misery
If that misery is not also
There is no more
- Unknown Author
human resource: bandcamp
human resource: facebook
vera ellen williams: @whoismaplesyrup
frances carter: @francescarter
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