Two musical couples began rehearsing together during lockdown. Within a year, the band made its official debut, released three singles and are prepping the release of its first full-length album.
DEFEM, pronounced like “defend,” is a new art and music project by Sarah Scherer (organs and synthesizers), Chris Orr (guitars), Liz Liles (vocals, bass) and Zac Brown (drums). Sarah, Chris and Liz spoke with CapRadio’s Nick Brunner about what brought the band together and how they rely on each other more than musically.
Sarah Scherer: The name actually means “the five” in Swedish. We had seen a Hilma af Klimt retrospective in New York and there was a little blurb about how she used to run this woman's art group, like a seance. And these five women would get together and would do automatic drawing and just work very freely together and collaboratively. And we just kind of like that idea, like the way it sounded, like that it didn’t necessarily sound like a real word. You know, it's just hard to name the band in general. So we found that we were super stoked on the idea.
It’s important to say that we’re all individual artists ourselves. Liz is a dancer, I do painting and drawing. Christopher also does a lot of drawing; Zac’s a graphic designer. We all have kind of an individual background but for the band I would say it’s a little bit more impulsive and collaborative.
Liz Liles: I just feel like there's a lot of inspiration to be drawn from Sarah and Christopher's visual art. A lot of Sarah's art that she does is around lips, and it's very feminine. And there is this kind of thing, especially with my lyrics, that is very feminine. So there is this tie-in as well.
Sarah: I don't know. It's just really kind of cool not to not second guess yourself and just go for it.
When did this become something you committed to as a full-on art and music project, as opposed to just getting together and playing music with friends?
Liz: At the start of the lockdown. Sarah, Christopher and Zac all were out of the job immediately when COVID hit. I was the only one that still had something to do. My workload went real down as well. I like to be very busy. We're all very productive people.
Chris Orr: It's something that kept us mentally healthy and inspired, productive.
Liz, I've read that there is a significance for you within the lyrics of “Popped Off,” the first song that DEFEM released. Would you talk about that with us?
Liz: Yeah, it's just kind of a song that's dealing with my mourning of my mom's death, which is kind of a theme throughout the whole record. But there is a line in the song - “The god that came into being alone,” - which I found in one of my mom's old poetry books from like the seventies or something. She had found that line in readings on the Shinto religion, which my Japanese family were practicing Shinto. She wrote it in a poem that was about her mom's death because she lost her mom when she was young as well.
Has there been a bit of catharsis as a result of dealing with those feelings through the music of DEFEM for you?
Liz: Absolutely. I'm an Aquarius that's kind of weird with dealing with my emotions. Lyrics aside, just playing music is very cathartic. I mean, I've caught myself sometimes almost like crying while we are practicing, not in a bad way, in a good way. Yeah, I love it.
This one's for Chris and Sarah. The music of your previous project, Screature is a great deal different than what you're doing in DEFEM, at least to my ear. How would you two compare the two groups and what you're doing within them?
Chris: Sarah's role in this band is a little different. DEFEM kind of has her more stepping up in a lead role - playing a lot more melodic leads and rhythm parts, like a second guitar almost.
Sarah: ...and alternate riffs and everything. Trying a new instrument that's always fun and scary.
That feels like a theme within the group. Liz, you talked about moving from drums into bass and being front and center, and I'm not used to seeing Zac behind a drum kit.
Liz: Yeah, Zac’s never played in a band as a drummer. It was funny because I was a drummer, Zac’s always been a bass guitar player and we flipped. Yeah, Christopher is the only one that's playing like what he's used to playing in a band.
Chris: I got some new picks…thicker gauge stings…