On their way out of a dreary Remington bar, the members of Wet Brain encounter an unexpected moment of female solidarity. "I love your skirt," the female bartender tells Madi Shapiro, the vocalist and guitarist for the all-girl Baltimore-based punk band, complimenting her silver sequined miniskirt.
"Thank you," Shapiro replies. "I was worried it was too slutty."
Later that night at the Ottobar, the skirt comes up in conversation again.
"Being in a girl band, I'm not trying to be like 'come see these girls so we can see their tits,'" drummer Amanda Boutwell says.
"I just don't really care about nudity," Shapiro responds, and adds as an aside, "I'm a [nude] model at MICA, so I don't really think of it as a thing."
Meanwhile, Cami Diresta, one of the band's two bass players, has gone missing, last seen "in the alley with a mischievous look on her face." Sienna Cureton-Mahoney, the band's other bass player, nurses a drink while Shapiro and Boutwell continue going back and forth. Boutwell isn't interested in lecturing. That's not what's happening here. Rather, it's an intellectual (though drunken) debate. When Shapiro contends that female sexuality can be used as power, Boutwell replies, "But it's really easy to flip it [the balance of power] over."
"Do you really think it's that easy?" Cureton-Mahoney joins in. A few of the band's friends make their way over from the bar. Cureton-Mahoney and Boutwell scoot down to the far end of a booth to make room and continue their discussion while Shapiro has moved into another discussion altogether, proposing out of nowhere: If you could either never meet your favorite musician or you got to meet them but had to give them a swirly, would you do it?
This debate, unlike the last one, reaches a consensus: "Hell yeah." Still, the difficulty of being a female punk band is not something Wet Brain takes lightly. Wet Brain recently shared a link on its Facebook page to a Guardian article titled "Punk has a problem with women. Why?" The poster added her own commentary: "We're not asking for special treatment, we're asking for equal treatment. Get with it!"
The band (minus Boutwell, who came in after its first drummer moved away) held its first practice on New Year's Eve, 2012. In 2013, Wet Brain self-released its first album, "Too Much Fun." The album is like punk rock in a creepy funhouse, an impression you get just by reading the song titles ('Iron Cage,' 'Baltimore Crackhead Zombie,' 'Flasher,' and of course the album title itself). Some of the guitar riffs sound psychedelic, others tease sluge metal, and the vocals bounce up and down before lurching into screams and yells and playful taunts, not unlike a sped-up Gordon Gano.
Their as-yet-untitled follow-up album is out in early August , but in the mean time they're busy touring. "I wouldn't be doing this if touring with [the rest of the band] wasn't so much fun," Boutwell says of their overbooked schedule and everything that comes up with frequent gigging, including once having to sleep on top of their van, "Big Linda," because the room they were supposed to sleep in was covered in cat piss.
It seems that the first time Wet Brain's members are all in one place the night of their Ottobar show is when they pick up their instruments to play. As soon as the music starts, incidents of disappearing bass players (Diresta reappeared in plenty of time for the show) and buzzed conversations take a backseat. When they play 'Who the Fuck Are You,' the first song off of "Too Much Fun," and arguably the most quintessentially Wet Brain song, the band members grimace and the people in the crowd violently bob their heads and sing along to all the words, which alternate between "Who are you? Who the fuck are you? I'm nothing, I'm no one" and "Who are you? Who the fuck are you? Get your shit together," a snaking riff and shambling breakdown winding around the lyrics.
Wet Brain's performance seems like a resolution to Boutwell and Shapiro's brief feminist debate from earlier in the night. If they disagree about a skirt or precisely how a Woman In Music should comport herself, they are in agreement on stage. Not only does Shapiro stay fully covered, but Boutwell is too busy head banging to notice even if Shapiro's skirt might have gone up a little too much. Anyway, the most immediate way for women musicians to be treated equally—in spite of dickhead misogyny coming from some corners of the scene—is to play really fucking hard. Wherever you stand, there's no arguing that Wet Brain does exactly that.