Vile Creature: “The fight for equality in sexuality, gender, class and race is an everyday struggle”

Ontario post-doom duo Vile Creature on queerness, identity and how their experiences feed into their music.

Vile Creature: “The fight for equality in sexuality, gender, class and race is an everyday struggle”
Phil Alexander

“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t queer,” says KW, the guitar player and co-vocalist of post-doom duo Vile Creature, casting his mind back to his childhood and the time he turned 11.

“I have really vibrant memories. I came out of the closet in my bedroom to a guy called Donald in Grade Five when he came over to play,” KW – who uses he/him pronouns – continues. “He asked me if that meant that I liked dresses. I also remember having a conversation with my sister in Grade Nine and I don’t think she understood because the verbiage I had at the time involved bisexuality. She was just like, ‘Oh, great! So we can go shopping together!’ That was the very early 2000s. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t queer and interested in people of all gender presentations.”

Growing up in Florida, KW endured what he describes as “a violent time”, receiving regular beatings from local bigots in the process. “It’s not fun to relive,” he admits. “There are lots of stories from that time – from 11 to 18 – that are not awesome. But I wouldn’t change any of it because that stuff hardened the person that I am. I’m forthright about who I am, what I stand for, and what I’m willing to do to defend the people that I love and that are worth defending. That all came from my growing up experience.”

Throughout his teenage years KW points out that he was lucky enough to have supportive parents, most specifically his mother. The same is not true of his Vile Creature partner Vic (they/them), whose family’s Christian values continue to be at odds with their developing sexuality.

“My dad was an extremely newborn Christian, so [sexuality] was never a thing that I could talk to him about as we knew where he stood on that. So I never felt comfortable coming out to my parents because they were in their own little worlds and I felt the rejection was imminent,” says Vic. “I just felt that me being friends with such queer-positive people all my adult life, coming out of the closet wasn’t necessary because there was always that underlying element of support and acceptance built into it.”

Vic and KW met over seven years ago and formed Vile Creature, the latter teaching the former to play drums as he re-learnt to play guitar after years away from playing music. As well as performing together, the pair married and opened their own vegan food truck. This subsequently led to them setting up their own bakery/deli in Ontario where they work when they’re not playing shows.

In fact, they have rushed home from their store in order to conduct this interview during their lunch hour. Speaking to them, it is obvious that they are partners in the real sense of the word, offering each other mutual support during the subjects we discuss, and chiding their wayward cats who attempt to gate-crash the conversation. Together for seven years, do they get mistaken as being a heterosexual couple?

“I’m glad you mentioned that, because I’ve been thinking we should discuss that in interviews,” begins Vic. “For all intents and purposes we do look like a heterosexual couple and, for a lot of people in this world, they are in a heterosexual presenting relationship, but that doesn’t mean that that relationship takes away from people’s sexual identities. There’s so much behind the scenes that you can’t assume that.”

“To elaborate on what Vic was saying, Vic is gender neutral,” picks up KW. “Vic uses they/them pronouns. I identify as a man, I use he/him pronouns. Your queerness isn’t defined by the relationship you’re currently in. It’s defined by who you are."

“There’s a weird sense of gatekeeping in the queer community if you’re not… 'visibly queer' is not the way to put it but, if at any point you’re heterosexual-seeming, you’re [viewed as] not as queer as you could be, which isn’t accurate. You can’t take things at face value because we’re about as queer as you can get.”

When it comes to gender neutrality, the use of pronouns has become an intense topic of debate over the last decade. So how does Vic explain their significance?

“I identify as non-binary and the pronouns are really important for a lot of people feeling validated in their existence,” Vic says. “It’s the minimal respect that people can show with their language, to show basic human decency. Referring to someone as their pronouns is just a way of forming a relationship with them. If someone knowingly denies that, for me at least, I shut myself off from them.

“There’s relationships that I have, with strangers that may not know, where I correct them. That’s one situation. But like my mum, she should know better. She should know what gender neutral is. She’s not dumb, but she still refers to me as ‘she’, her daughter, and stuff like that, and I feel that’s a hugely disrespectful attitude to have. It just makes me not want to have a relationship with her at this point. I just need to get the courage to say something more, but it shouldn’t be on me to say something because I’ve said it to her so many times.”

“They/them pronouns were in use until the 1900s,” adds KW. “You can find dozens of instances in Shakespeare where things are gender neutral. It’s a huge, huge thing. It’s a Euro-centric, white person’s thing that kind of binaried everything into ‘male-penis, female-vagina’, that is a white Euro-centric construct.

“I like to think of it this way: does using the right pronoun, the one they identify with, harm you in any way? The answer for everybody is no, it does no harm to you, so the choice not to honour those and to just respect someone’s identity is stubborn and disgusting. The onus is on you and who you are as a person. It doesn’t take any effort to say, ‘Oh, I was hanging out with them and they were awesome.’ It’s not that hard. My mum can do it! My sister can do it!”

While both KW and Vic are conscious of the battles they are continuing to fight around the issues of gender equality, both are keen to point out that the metal community has become more inclusive in the last six years. Since their shows in the early days on DIY bills alongside pop-punk and noise bands, Vile Creature have built an increasingly large underground following.

“Now we’re playing bigger stages with metal bands, the community has grown and the people we’ve been able to surround ourselves with are supportive, like-minded and challenging in a great way,” smiles KW.

At the heart of that acceptance, lies the music itself – the band’s latest album, Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm! adding an experimental edge and choral elements to their crushing sense of doom, endearing fans of the likes of Neurosis, Thou, Sumac and The Body. So how does their sexuality reflect the music they make?

“This band started as a way for us to express ourselves through very existential lyrics and it’s been that way since Day One,” affirms KW. “Our experiences in life colour everything that we do, so every string we hit and every snare that gets snapped on are hit with the experiences that we have, and are a cathartic release that are an expression of our past.

“The first record [2015’s A Steady Descent Into The Soil] was very specifically about the experiences we’d been through when we were younger. Then we wrote an EP [2017 A Pessimistic Doomsayer] that was specifically about how escapism is very important through the relationships that you build with fictional characters in the books that you read. The elements and characters you become attached to are very important when it comes to healing.”

Vile Creature's second album, 2018's Cast Of Static And Smoke, was a continuation of the duo's quest to build a world of their own making, while their latest offering, 2020's Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm!, rails against the prevailing winds of nihilism.

“We wrote our own story as a means of escapism,” nods KW referring to the loose thematic elements of their second effort. “I feel we’ve consistently had a logical progression through what we write about, evolving as musicians and evolving as lyricists and evolving as people. We consistently process what’s going on in our lyrics and our music writing. I don’t think I’d feel as confident as a person if I hadn’t had this during the last seven years as it’s helped me move forward in a very healthy way.”

Despite describing themselves as an “angry queer gloom cult”, Vile Creature remain resolute in their positivity and determined to fight for issues that extend beyond sexual equality. At one point in our conversation, the duo mention the shocking abhorrent establishment of Residential Schools – an enforced colonialist programme set up by the Canadian government in the 1800s where indigenous Indian children were forced into boarding schools under harsh conditions. “It was designed to basically erase their own culture and it went on until the ’90s,” spits KW. “People think that colonial violence is a thing of the past, but it still going on in a lot of ways,” adds Vic.

Keen students of history, the duo also have a distinct view of what Pride represents and, like many members of the LGBTQ+ community, possess a certain ambivalence towards aspects of the movement.

“I feel pride in myself and what it means to be queer, but I don’t need a rainbow-coded month, or rainbow capitalism from white men whose view of equality is about equality through marriage. That’s always been the narrative when it comes to corporate pride, and it definitely has been co-opted from the beginning of Pride and its roots,” says Vic.

“I understand and have a lot of respect for elements of it but I think a lot of people have forgotten that Pride was about direct action. It wasn’t about walking down the street, it was rioting down the street,” continues KW, referring to the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969 that provided the gay liberation movement with its first major focal point.

“That’s what Pride was based on but it’s been white-washed and commercialised. The thing that bugs me the most is that it starts on June 1 and then after 30 days, the second that July starts, people forgot it ever happened and the rainbows go away, and they wait another 11 months to give a fuck about queer issues again. This is a 365-and-a-quarter-day struggle, just like every struggle is. I understand not having the energy to do things all the time but the fight for equality in sexuality, gender, class, race is an everyday struggle. It’s not ‘February’s Black History Month and June is Pride Month. This is when we care and when we stop caring.’ It bugs me a lot.

“Yeah, congratulations to McDonald's for having a rainbow golden arch for 30 days and donating a quarter of a penny from a Big Mac – which I’m sure they don’t," KW adds. "All of these big companies don’t give a fuck about you! They don’t! Where Pride used to have meaning, I don’t know if it really does anymore for me. To me, it’s about taking all of these struggles and making them year-long things. It’s Pride Year, every year, all day!”

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