Interviews

Pop-punk duo Roman Tragedy talk womxn’s representation in music

Self-described as a “female-fronted boy band from the suburbs”, Roman Tragedy challenge gender, genre, and gatekeeping culture in the music industry.

From their potential beginnings as a Blink-182 cover band to their fiercely catchy string of singles, Roman Tragedy are a force to be reckoned with. We took some time to speak with one half of the power-duo, lead vocalist Maz. She was incredibly candid and gives detail on the band’s super sweet meet-cute. She also tackles some important issues surrounding gender equality and shares some insights into her current playlist.

If you haven’t already enjoyed the fruits of their latest single If You Knew What You Want, don’t go any further. Like a scene, double the oomph and twice the spice, Roman Tragedy are the one-two punch of pure pop-punk brilliance.

Photo: Ivan Souriyavong

HAPPY: Hello to you Maz! Where do you find yourself today?

MAZ: Hi Happy! Today, I find myself on a rare day off from the mundane-ness of third-semester studies, only to have that freedom replaced by the impending doom of holiday commitments, work Christmas parties, and the ick of the summer heat.

HAPPY: Roman Tragedy… how did that name get decided on?

MAZ: I think the name for the band came before the band was put together, to be entirely honest! Around late-2018, I had started writing songs with no set idea for a project to put them behind. Around then, I attended a small intimate show and saw The Wombats play at Oxford Arts Factory. I remember, very specifically, that I had a bit of a fight with a friend over what the last song on the setlist might be (Greek Tragedy), and in that moment, I thought to myself “you know what would be a good name for a band if it hasn’t been taken yet? Roman Tragedy.” 

HAPPY: Congratulations on the release of your single If You Knew What You Want! What does that title mean to you?

MAZ: In the beginning, that hook of If You Knew What You Want was mostly inspired by a song from The Bangles. If She Knew What She Wants also has a very similar call-and-response in the chorus. I started getting into a bit of armchair psychoanalysis deconstructing the song and began to ponder on why in certain relationships I’ve had with people, whether they be professional or romantic in nature? I have always seen situations and their end goals with clarity, whilst others “just don’t know what they want.” Being told that within the context of a budding relationship hurts, to say the least, because you know at the end of the day that person does in fact “know what they want.”

It’s just that I don’t have a place in that picture. If anything, the title is a reminder to myself that I shouldn’t have to take a chance on people and hope that they’ll change or wait around for them to make up their minds.

HAPPY: I loved the meet-cute story of how you two met. Can you tell us a bit about this moment?

MAZ: Josie and I first met in a bookstore in the city, called Kinokuniya, in June 2018 when I was hanging out with a mutual friend. Two days later, we met again by chance at the Burdekin where our friends were playing a headline show. At some point during the night, Josie approached me and asked “Is it true that you sing? You should join my Blink-182 cover band.” While we never actually ended up putting together that Blink-182 cover band, it was another six months before I ran into Josie again at Good Things Festival. At that point, I was already in the process of trying to start a band because I had a few songs ready to go that I wanted to start recording. Josie liked the sound of them and thus, Roman Tragedy was born.

HAPPY: There are some clear sonic references to big bands like Paramore on this. Who are you listening to currently?

MAZ: Currently, I’m listening to a lot of artists like Yungblud and Machine Gun Kelly, who definitely served as some major influences on this single. Beyond that, I find myself listening to the new releases from Bleachers, Christine and The Queen‘s La Vita Nuova, as well as a lot of our friends’ music including Capitol Affair and Georgia Marley, Mallrat, and Cry Club.

HAPPY: What does the creative process typically look like for Roman Tragedy?

MAZ: The creative process, for me, generally begins with putting myself into a headspace where I can allow myself to get introspective and reflective. I cry, I laugh, I reminisce. Through channelling those sorts of emotions, I start to write poetry and try to keep it to a set meter and rhyme pattern. I definitely have hundreds of little poetry sessions by now, some of which are great, others, not so much. Being able to self monitor my own art and whether its good or not has definitely been the most challenging part of the creative process.

From here, I usually jump into Logic Pro and try my best to develop a catchy chorus with lyrics, and build a song around that. I build everything up using piano and drums first, then take lyrics from my poetry bank and try to meld them to the melodies I’ve made in my head. Words and phrases usually get cut in the process but I try my best to hold onto the key metaphors. Once I have that bare-bones structure, I’ll change the majority of the pianos to guitars and bass, and then continue to perfect a song from that point onwards.

HAPPY: What are your musical goals for 2021?

MAZ: I think my main musical goal is to learn how to do screamy singing without absolutely trashing my voice in the process (laughs). Beyond continuing to write music and creating in a more general sense, I think I’d also like to refine my mixing and mastering skills, at least on a demo level.

HAPPY: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?

MAZ: If there’s one thing I could change about the music industry, it would be the way that we talk about womxn. When we talk about womxn in music, I think its important to speak about things from an intersectional feminist perspective. As a band where both of us are women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, I think its also important to recognise that female experiences are varied, universal, but also sociocultural in nature. As someone who studies media and law at university with a focus on these sorts of issues, it’s important to recognise that female representation is more than just a quota and shouldn’t be done tokenistically. I think it’s a very fine balance to achieve.

Womxn’s representation is a topic of significance to me and its relevant as there have been a number of important conversations occurring around the issue of gender diversity on Australian festival line-ups in recent years. Despite this, little is being done to actively implement it. Although this issue is something that extends beyond the limits of festivals and shows, it is important to recognise that this stems from a ‘boys club’ mentality and is symptomatic of the gatekeeping culture which is prevalent within creative communities.

I think its also important to mention that underrepresented groups, whether they be female, diverse, or LGBT, are not given the same opportunities to develop their skills, whether it be in songwriting, producing, or performing. I think we can solve this collectively by placing these individuals and groups at the forefront of addressing access and equity issues across the scene, we create an inclusive space that allows their voices to be uplifted and heard.

HAPPY: What’s to come for Roman Tragedy, another single? EP?

MAZ: I think for the next little while, we’re going to take a very small step back from music. Over the past six months, my quarantine pet project culminated in an experimental documentary short on womxn in music, starring Georgia Marley and partly inspired by her album I Hope This Feeling Doesn’t Last. Right now I’m focusing on releasing that, but soon after that, RoTrag will be back on the ball haha.

HAPPY: Cheers Maz!

MAZ: Thank you so much for having us!

Check out Roman Tragedy’s music on all platforms here.