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An interview with Allison Gallagher - Writer / Musician / Activist

November 5, 2018

 Tell us about yourself in your own words.

My name is Allison Gallagher. I am a writer, a musician, artist, and poet. I’ve lived in and around Sydney most of my life. My work centres around gender and sexuality and exploring the tensions in those kind of things in terms of my own experience, and also trying as much as possible to create art that is informed by vulnerability and empathy which I think are very powerful tools for enacting change - particularly when they are channelled through art or writing or music that is accessible and tries to tap into a shared experience.


How long have you been writing and playing music?

I have been writing from as early as I can remember really. I think particularly in the last 3 to 5 years I’ve been a lot more active. The first writing that felt meaningful for me was blogging about my gender stuff around the time that I was transitioning and using that as a processing tool. I was applying writing as a way of processing and a way of articulating things that were inarticulate. I’ve been playing music from the age of 10 or 11 and I guess I’ve always been kind of drawn to making music that sat on the heavier end of the spectrum. Finding out about punk and hardcore and metal as a really young kid and buying my first guitar and realising that I could use that as kind of a release and a way of expending kinetic energy without having to explain it was really important to me. That was a really cool thing and I think I felt really drawn to making music and writing, but music I think especially that has a focus on release. Even in terms of the less intense bands that I do like Sports Bra, I think I’ve always been really drawn to making music where something gets communicated and something gets given and translated and people are able to tap into that. I think at its best the music that I make or like performing is based on a room full of people all collectively ‘getting it’. You do something and hopefully the audience gets you, you get them and they get each other and that’s how that release and empathy and connection happens.


You’re a creative writer, but you also write a lot of opinion pieces about your activism and beliefs. Does that inform or influence your creative practices?

I think so. I think that it comes from the same place of never wanting to make something for its own sake or for purely the sake of my own release and my own catharsis. I think it’s easy to write about things in a way that are just a release and a very personal thing but I think it’s important to try and make yourself the smallest part of that equation and make art that is more vulnerable. That is: putting a bit more on the line in terms of actively saying this is what I believe in and this is what sustains me and this is what I find terrible about the universe or terrible about things like power structures or whatever and it’s doing that kind that’s a lot more real and a lot more healing and has the capacity to be transformative when you’re not just thinking about yourself I guess. At the end of the day saying after this is done and after people can take it in, what happens then? Everything is political so to make art or to write in a way that is somehow ostensibly detached from those politics and what keeps the fire burning and what you believe in, that in itself is a political thing to do and that’s a choice that’s super informed by having the privilege to not have to really think about that kind of stuff or not really ever having to communicate that kind of thing and hope that it does something and hope that it can connect with someone in a way that maybe changes how they feel about something. I think art for art's sake is the most boring zero sum thing that I can think of and I think not having that meaning behind it is really difficult for me to resonate with.


Is there a way that you prefer to write?

I definitely like them for different reasons. I like writing personal essays for the directness and the accessibility of it where I’m not trying to make anything that is going to be difficult for someone to understand or take in because I think that’s a real problem especially when using writing as activism. If you’re writing in a way that is intentionally or deliberately complex or convoluted, how are you going to reach people that need to see it? If everything that you write about is written in a way that is aimed at people who are involved in academia, it’s difficult for me to see how that can really do much so I like a direct essay style of writing but at the same time I do think that I think I consider myself a poet first and foremost and think that that is accessible in a different way. When I write poetry my aim is for someone to be able to read what I’ve written or see me read it in person and to be able to connect emotionally without necessarily needing to know all the context. I think coming from making music in a very DIY way  means that when I do other writing or art my kind of thinking is ‘okay how can this be as human as possible and how can this include as many people as possible?’ I guess it comes back to that thing of art for its own sake - how can it reach someone who might be worlds apart from where I am and still be able to let us have an emotional empathetic connection?


What is your creative process and how has it changed over time?

I think I’m really a person who gets a quick spark and knows that I need to use that and harness that right away because if I wait ten minutes it’s gone. I think being a very disorganised and easily distracted person I find it really difficult to start something without having that kind of almost spontaneous burst of creativity. It’s really a manic rush and I think I have 15 minutes to try and communicate and articulate what I’m feeling and draw from that as much as possible because after that 15 minutes it might not be there and I might not feel it as much. In terms of actually producing something that’s definitely my process but in saying that I also edit quite meticulously and consider placement of words quite strongly but I also think I try not to too much because I think there’s a value in letting people see something that’s as close to the original as possible without it being illegible. I try to strike that balance which I think comes from growing up in DIY spaces and recording music on one take on an iphone in a warehouse and not discounting that and embracing that especially when you’re writing about things that are related to your activism and who you are as a person and that kind of thing. Those things are messy, they aren't clearly defined things, and no matter what you’re writing about its personal and so I try to keep that human part of what it is but also really carefully consider it and make sure that how I adapt it and how I edit is done in a way that doesn't take away from the humanness of it and energy of it.


What do you as an artist stand for?

I think that what I stand for when it comes to the art I make is trying to as much as possible remove myself from the position or the pedestal and trying to make art that is part of a larger conversation. I always want it to be something that people can then bounce off and have that be a continuing conversation and have me be the smallest part of that conversation and really shrink my ego and acknowledge that I don’t ever want it to be a one way conversation or a one way dialogue. There’s no reason why anybody can’t be making something and why someone can’t be a part of that conversation. Ultimately what I stand for is the idea that when you make art that is vulnerable, that invites people in and strives for empathy, what you’re able to do with that is really powerful. There is so much power in making art that is vulnerable and invites people in and strives for empathy because ultimately that’s what does something real and that’s what facilitates real connection and is capable of having a part in those conversations and keeping them going rather than them being blank statements.


What is the biggest obstacle you face when expressing yourself creatively?

I think I’m a serial oversharer and really believe in having that vulnerability. Allowing yourself to not be closed off to being vulnerable can do super powerful stuff but at the same time there’s definitely a feeling of writing something and getting to the end of it and thinking ‘oh fuck people are going to see this and people are going to look at this and know’. I think that has been a challenge for me in parts but making that kind of art and especially doing it in front of people can do real work and bring people together and create real connection. If  it doesn’t it can be really really emotionally draining. I used to sing in a band called Skin Prison, and pretty much all of the lyrics that I wrote would be around really intense stuff related to trans experience, experiences of trans-misogyny and violence and there would be times where we would play a show and I would be screaming these lyrics and look to the audience and feel like it wasn’t being received. So there were a lot of times where we would play shows to audiences who maybe didn’t really know who we were or what was happening and I would play our set and I would have to go straight home because the amount of emotional energy that that takes when it doesn’t connect it’s devastating. It’s really difficult to reconcile making something that is vulnerable when people aren’t being vulnerable on the other end or aren’t open to receiving. It can be really difficult but at the other end when it does connect to even one person who says ‘this really resonated with me and I really got this and here are my experiences and here is what I go through and let me tell you what I’m about’ - that I think totally makes it worth it.


What is the best piece of advice you could give to young women and queer folk who want to make art or music or just be seen and heard?

I think that the best piece of advice I can probably give would be not to bend over backwards to try and be well received by audiences or groups or organisations or venues that are never going to be receptive and are never going to treat you and your art the way it deserves to be treated. I think especially when you’re young and you see what the most popular stuff looks like you can really be pressured to think ‘oh that’s not what i’m making so I have to change what I do for it to be better received’. I think that pressure to change happens all the time and the thing with that is it’s ultimately never going to work because if you try and take the things out of your art that make it you so that you can beg for scraps at the table - those people aren’t going to give you space anyway so you might as well say ‘fuck that table I'm gonna sit at a different table’. When you’re younger and you don’t really know a lot of people, it’s easy to feel quite isolated in what you’re making and to feel like nobody is going to get it but I think there are always people who are going to appreciate it and appreciate you and have it reflect their experience and share their experiences with you. I think there’s a real risk to changing your art because you’re afraid that it wont connect with an audience because those people are always there and it’s a lot more fulfilling to create things and have them reach people that get it and want to support it and want to work together and collaborate and do all that kind of stuff rather than try and change it to fit in with what more formal kind of platforms look like.

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