Laila of Sonic Boom Six gets real about being the only girl in a band
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think being the only girl in an otherwise all-male band would be kind of lit. You’d never have to fight for the bathroom mirror, nobody would “borrow” your clothes, and if you ever wanted to hook-up with one of the dudes who was around, you probs wouldn’t have to compete with anyone.
But it also comes with a lot of assumptions and negative stigmas – not to mention dealing with your own female friends saying shit like, “I just don’t like bands with female singers.”
Laila Khan, the lead singer of Sonic Boom Six, has dealt with it all – including female stans threatening to “give her AIDS” if she went near their favorite band dudes – in her 15 years since founding the band.
We caught up with Laila in her few moments of downtime at Warped Tour to talk double standards in the music industry, creepy band dudes, and how to say “F U” to critics.
Photos by Keri Dolan
So how did you get started with music in the first place?
I was into music from a very early age. It was kind of my outlet because I didn’t have any friends, and I hated the world, I was very alone. So music was like my escapism.
Do you find you were always drawn to the same style of music?
I always was, metal and rock. I was one of those annoying teenagers where [I didn’t want other people to like metal], which is ironic because metal is every musical style under the sun. Barney and me put a band together. It was very much ours. I had to sing, but I was typically really shy, [so I] would have to get drunk to be able to do it. Awful, but I just didn’t have the confidence. I was told at a very young age, “you have a weird voice, you look weird, it’s not gonna work.” I just never had any support. It’s easy when you’re older because if you don’t have support you’re just like, “F you I’m gonna do what I want.” But at that age, from 11 to 16, it can really be debilitating for a long time in your life, unless you are lucky enough like me to address it and sort it out.
So do you still get nervous when you have to get on stage?
Every single gig. I have to go to the toilet about 50 times and nothing comes out. I get this weird thing where I yawn – it looks like I’m bored, but I’m not. I just get [anxiety] and all at once because you’re playing in front of someone else’s audience [at Warped Tour]. Today we played for Andy Black’s audience and they were the friendliest people ever. I was like, “how is everyone doing?” And they were like, “Hey!” Normally when I do it [the crowd is] like, “Get off.” No they’re not, but that’s my favorite, playing for people who don’t know us. I love it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love playing for the people that know us. I just love the challenge of doing that.
Going back to when you said you got a lot of criticism, do you think it’s harder to be a female singer?
One hundred million percent, especially because we’ve been going for 15 years. So you’ve got to think, 15 years ago, the sexism debate was still there, but not like it is now. It existed, but there was a small community but now everyone can be involved, which is a great thing. We toured with a band called Black Out they were all men and they asked for us to play. Weird combination, but anyway they asked us to play and every single night we’d go on stage and it was like all women [in the crowd]. The girls would say [about me] “If these girls go near Black Out I’ll give them AIDS.”
Oh my God.
Unless you stab me with a dirty syringe, good luck because you’re not getting near me. It used to be a lot worse, every single review we would have would be concentrated on my performance, and my voice. It’s a little bit better for us now. On Warped Tour it’s easy, everyone’s open-minded and accepting, so all the reviews have been great. I’m happy for you to tell me you think my band is shit. That’s fine, but you don’t have to tell me I’m shit just because I’m a woman, and my voice doesn’t sound like X Factor. Yeah, it doesn’t, I’m not a singer, I’m a performer. No one sounds like me, and I’m proud of that.
That’s awesome, and I feel like there are so many male singers in the scene that have shit voices, but nobody ever says anything to them.
You’re right, because it’s easier to criticize [women]. One of my best friends is a woman and she’s 46 years old and even now – every time she says it I wanna punch her in the face – she goes, “I just don’t like bands with girl singers,” and I’m like, “Are you an idiot?” So I ask her if she ever liked Blondie. And she’s like, “Of course I love Blondie,” and I’m just like, “So you are an actual idiot.” We blame the sexism on men, because it mostly is men, but it’s also internal misogyny.
I’ve had it 50% men and 50% women. People regardless of gender don’t want to be told the way they’re thinking and acting all their lives is wrong. Because you know, if someone came up to you and went, “you know, that’s offensive, that’s wrong,” you’d be like, “fuck off.” The way we do it is we have some daft tunes and we incorporate some kind of social message into it. It’s the most daft song ever. It gets everyone moving and it gets everyone happy. It’s a song about feminism, it’s a song about not being told what to do by anyone, it’s as simple as that.
So do you think being in a band with all guys you’ve taught them some things about feminism that they might not have been aware of before?
Honestly, I don’t even have to work on them, it’s more the women. They just see a guy and they’re like, “ugh he’s so fit I need to have him,” but the guys they would never do that. But whenever they call me out, they go, “you say that’s sexist, but then you’re drooling at that guy.” I’m like, “We’ve had it for hundreds of years, give us a break.”
I don’t mind you chatting about a girl or whatever. The other day we played, I can’t remember where it was, somebody’s guests were three young girls, maybe 15 [years old], and [a band mate] starts taking pictures of their ass in shorts. And I was like, “What? That is offensive.” I wouldn’t ever do that, if a hot guy ever walked past I wouldn’t be taking pictures of a 15-year-old boy. Like, think about a 15-year-old boy in shorts! You would instantly think I’m a pedophile, wouldn’t ya? But when an older man does it to 15-year-old girls, I bet pedophile didn’t go through your head.
Besides fans being jealous of you being around their favorite musicians, what are some other common misconceptions or negative stereotypes you have to deal with being a woman in a male-dominated scene?
I guess it’s assuming you can’t do the job as well as someone else. I do a lot of the PR, the digital work and digital media, and there’s always this assumption that the male counterpart can do it better, and not even do it better but they will be taken more seriously. So my attitude is I do not put up with any shit, it’s the only way for me to get through. And if I know I’m right I will just stick to my opinion and I’ll say “You’ve given me this job to do, I’m telling you this is right.” You’ve just got to work that extra bit harder, which is shit, but it is what it is.
And then you get called a bitch for the doing same thing a guy would do.
I’ve been called worse, so it’s absolutely fine.
Who are some female musicians that you look up to?
There’s so many. I love Lissie, she’s kind of American/country. But then I’m a cheese ball, I love Beyonce, J-Lo. It isn’t even from a feminist point of view, it’s more I like them and I think they’re really nice people. And then there’s women like Tina Turner and you think about what she had to put up with. And you look back, like the first Warped Tour who did you have? You had Gwen Stefani, that was pre Sonic Boom Six. The level of sexism there… you’re talking people in reviews saying someone’s fat. They would never do that now. And going back to the battling thing, like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, the press always goes around something bitchy that one of them said and we buy into it because we’re primitive and I don’t know how to stop that. But also, I just love lots of women artists. But for some reason I can’t think of any right now.
How do you have to adjust your routine on Warped Tour?
This is more routine than I have in my life. You get here at 8 am – we’re doing completely DIY because we like that. This is our first Warped Tour, we could’ve gotten us someone to come and wake us up, sort everything out, and we were like, “no, we can do it.” We’re self-driving, there’s six of us and we have our designated jobs. Two people get to the stage to unload the gear, the other two people we’ve got drive the band and go and get us breakfast. It’s like so great that we all have jobs and work as a unit. It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life and I love it. When I am home I work out, I go to work and even my work I can work from home so I don’t really have a routine, all I really do is just work, like all the time.
How are crowds different in the UK from the US if they are?
In the US people are a lot more welcoming, in the UK people are quite weird. The UK is unlike anywhere else. The UK has always had a hard time to understand [Sonic Boom Six], because you can’t pinhole us. The UK press in particular. In the US I feel like we’re quite refreshing, we’re not like anyone else, we have a lot to say, we’re positive. I mean the last few days the crowds have been bigger, we’re that weird band.