The Best of Shotgun Seamstress, According to Osa Atoe

Black History Month, Interviews
Martin Douglas
Photo by Evelyn England
All Shotgun Seamstress covers courtesy of Osa Atoe


"The impetus for creating Shotgun Seamstress was really positive, actually." 

Back in November, I had the pleasure of speaking to Osa Atoe — musician, ceramicist, writer, artist, and creator of influential African American punk fanzine Shotgun Seamstress — prior to the publication of its reissued anthology on Soft Skull Press. As a natural course of conversation, there was a bit of talk about our experiences as Black punks, as well as a few things I've wanted to know as a longtime devotee of the relatively short run of the zine. There was the letter to punk rock bible MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL in 2005 (which was reprinted in full in the first Shotgun Seamstress issue), where Atoe was mistaken for musician/writer/dancer/"one very notorious Black punk" (Atoe's words) Brontez Purnell. Purnell would later contribute to the fanzine, including penning one of my favorite articles, "Why I Will Be a Riot Grrrl Until the Day I Fucking Die." 

Atoe made sure I knew the fanzine was a celebration of Blackness, and not the defense of Blackness in a suffocatingly white space, like so many Black punk essays, manifestos, and firsthand accounts can be (even a couple I've written myself). 

In its original six-issue run, Atoe interviews veritable punk legends like Mick Collins (the Gories, the Dirtbombs) and Poly Styrene; explores Don Letts and the punk/reggae connection in the UK; and traces the very Black history of punk through both her eyes and the eyes of various contributors. (There's also a great missive on the Detroit band Death by Sean Padilla, who wrote the song I titled my pretty well-known essay "The Only Black Guy at the Indie Rock Show" after.)

Years later, even after the first Shotgun Seamstress anthology was published by Tacoma's Mend My Dress Press, Atoe decided to create an issue devoted to the flyers she made for No More Fiction, a series of concerts she booked herself. "It was a project that lasted about five years," she says. "And I just wanted to document it. I made tons of fliers. I was putting on maybe two or three shows a month at some times, I mean, and I did this for five years straight. And I could feel it kind of, you know, I could feel that I was burning out a little bit and that that was about to come to an end. And I was just really proud of everything I'd done so I wanted to, like, make it into a zine."

"So instead of it being just a fanzine where I'm interviewing people, this was just about my personal experience setting up shows under the name No More Fiction for five years and creating space for, like, women, non-binary people and queer people in the city of New Orleans, where I was living at that time."

I asked Atoe to run down her personal highlights of each issue of Shotgun Seamstress, from the very first installment to the final, eighth issue. We talked about Najia punks, ESG, brilliant guitarist Rachel Aggs, RuPaul's roots in the punk/new wave scene, and much more.

Shotgun Seamstress #1

Osa Atoe: I'm gonna say Toni Young 'cause she's on the cover. I mean, you know how it is right now with the internet. There's so much information and, like, punk minutia out there, you know, that there wasn't in 2006 when I first made the scene. So, who knows? Maybe there's another Black woman in hardcore, like an original '80s hardcore somewhere out there, but Toni Young is the only one that I know of 'til this day.

She was part of the D.C. hardcore scene, the original D.C. hardcore scene in the '80s. And yeah, she's always gonna be a highlight for me. I feel like, I mean, I don't know a lot about her. There isn't a lot of information out there about her, and the reason I even know anything about her at all is due to the book Banned in DC. So, yeah, there is this photo book, Banned in D.C.: Photos and Anecdotes from the D.C Punk Underground, 1979 and 1985. It was compiled by Cynthia Connolly, Leslie Clague, and Sharon Cheslow, and Cynthia Connolly still makes it available. I think — I don't know what pressing it's on, but she's, you know, reprinted it several times since then. And that was how I was actually able to see her because, I mean, I had the first Dischord comp that has those the early seven inches on it. I had that, but I wouldn't have known that a Black woman was in Red C, for instance, just listening to it.

So having the photo book helped me put a face to, like, all these figures in the early hardcore scene in D.C. And that's basically how I found out about Toni Young. But again, yeah, there's not a ton of information out there. She actually passed away when she was really young. I've heard people speculate about, like, how and why she died. But yeah, she's definitely a highlight from the first issue for me.

KEXP: That reminds me a lot of finding out about Tina Bell. Yeah. And, like, realizing that there's so many architects of these very celebrated scenes that are Black women that get pushed to the margins and unearthed decades later.

Right? Yeah. I mean, we're in an era now where everything's being unearthed, fortunately. So, you know, we could enjoy them now, but, like, people like Tina Bell, it's like, you— we didn't find out about her until later. But people who were there at the time, I mean, aren't — aren't there quotes by, like, Kurt Cobain that she was an influence on him?

Yeah. Oh, yeah.

I mean, it's like, at the time, you know, people knew what was up, but she was just lost to history because people love to bang the same drum and, like, focus on the same two people over and over and over again. I didn't talk a lot about Bad Brains in the zine. So I feel like, you know, people might pick this up and, like, be like, "How come there isn't a lot about Bad Brains?," but I just felt like people already knew enough about Bad Brains and they've been documented so heavily. There's, like, tons of pictures and tons of writing, and everybody already knows who they are.

I really wanted to use the pages of my zine to highlight people that were relatively unknown and more underground, and then also things that were happening at the time that I was active in the punk scene. And then also that just adds to the idea that punk is really about: which is [that] anybody can do it. Bad Brains are incredible. I'm not trying to take away from them at all, but I'm just saying, when we create icons and celebrities out of figures in punk, I feel like it's kinda anti-punk, right? It should be this place where, or the space where, you know, ordinary people are doing extraordinary things. And that's kind of me borrowing Kim Gordon's words about the Raincoats. But yeah, so I wanted to focus on just my friends and, you know, bands that I got to see when I was on tour or that, that toured in my town or whatever. Yeah. So that's what the zine is about.

Shotgun Seamstress #2

Osa Atoe: In both Issue One and Issue Two, I cover close friends of mine at the time. My ex and bandmate Adee Roberson. So, she's in Issue One and Issue Two, and Brontez Purnell is also in Issue One and Issue Two. In Issue One,  interview him. In Issue Two, he's a contributor. So again, I just want to talk about how this was very much like, what, it was,  it was a personal project unlike maybe, like, larger fanzines like Maximum Rocknroll. It was just about, like, the people that I had contact with at the time, people who are my friends, people whose bands I was actually seeing. So at the time, Brontez was in — well, he still is in the Younger Lovers — and then he's also talking about his fandom for riot grrrl.

And then, man, Issue Two was also the one with RuPaul on the cover. And rereading that makes me feel like this was written so long ago, even though it wasn't that long ago because I'm talking about how there were no famous drag queens at the time. RuPaul was one of the few, and RuPaul was still pretty much an underground figure in 2006, and that's completely changed since then. There are now because of RuPaul's Drag Race; there are tons of famous drag queens. Right? But in 2006, that absolutely wasn't the case. But that was only, what, like 14 years ago or something? So, yeah, just writing about RuPaul as this, like, underground queer figure who was definitely inspired by punk and was in new wave bands in the '80s. I think that that would still probably be interesting for people who just don't know anything about RuPaul before Drag Race, you know?

Shotgun Seamstress #3

Osa Atoe: Okay. I'm actually flipping through as we talk about this because my memory is limited, so I've got to look at this stuff. So Issue Three. Highlights. Okay. It's just so hard to pick, Martin. I think they're all highlights. So Brontez is in this one again, talking about his time with Gravy Train. But I would say the highlights are being able to interview K.B. "Kali" Boyce, who was in this band called Nasty Facts when they were like 12 years old or something. They were in this power-pop band in the early '80s in New York and got to play at CBGB's. Even though they were underage, [the bookers] were just like, "Sure, your band can play here." And just, like, hearing those stories was just so fun, again.

Also, I just want to mention that Nasty Facts just got a re-issue finally.

Before now, it's like you could only find their seven-inch for, like, two-hundred bucks on Discogs or whatever. And then getting to talk about Alvin Baltrop was really important to me. And I feel like it kind of goes with the mission of this whole zine that it's a Black punk fanzine, but at the same time, I really wanted it to be about just Black people freely expressing ourselves in ways that people aren't used to, that just creating outside the boundaries of what people expect. And Alvin Baltrop was a queer photographer who photographed, like, the queer underground in New York in the '70s and '80s. I actually found out about him through Vaginal Davis. So my band, New Bloods, at the time went on tour to Europe, played a show with Vaginal Davis in Berlin. And she told us who Alvin Baltrop was and was, like, "Y need to write about this person." So, yeah, getting to elevate Alvin's name, getting to do all this research and look through his photographs and learn his story, I would definitely say that was a highlight from Issue Three.

Shotgun Seamstress #4

Osa Atoe: Issue Four is kind of sweet to me. I titled it "Sister Outsider Art." On the cover, it says this zine is about art by Black queers, Black feminists, and other Black folks I admire, and Vaginal Creme Davis is on the cover. And I say Sister Outsider, the title of it, well, it comes from the title of Audrey Lorde's book of essays. Right. And so I'm wondering what happens when you combine Sister Outsider, the experience of being part of a community, but also separate on the margins. What if you combine Sister Outsider with outsider art, which is the creative work of self-taught artists that exists primarily outside the mainstream art world? So "Sister Outsider Art," and so this one was all about visual artists. And I start with James Spooner, the director of AfroPunk, who's also a tattoo artist, and, and he also draws comics and [recently released] a book called The High Desert.

So getting to talk with him was a definite highlight from Issue Four. Again, I talked to Adee about her visual art because alongside being a musician, she was always working on paintings, screen printing. And let's see. There's a letter to Vaginal Davis in the zine. I also got to see some art by Caleb Lindsay when I was in New York that year. So I had gone to The Studio Museum of Harlem, and saw an installation by Caleb Lindsay, and wrote about the experience of seeing that while I was there.

From The High Desert, Image by James Spooner


Shotgun Seamstress #5

Osa Atoe: Issue Five was back to rock and roll. I have a band called Kick Tease on the cover. I was living in New Orleans at this point, and there was a band that was fronted by two Black women from Baton Rouge, which was just like 90 miles down the highway. And we would invite them to New Orleans to play shows. And so I decided to interview them. We did our interview on the steps of Lee Circle, which has been deconstructed now. You know how a lot of Southern monuments have been taken down. It was before that; the club that they played at just happened to be like right across the street from it. So we needed to find like a quiet place so we just did it on the steps outside.

I just felt like their story was really important to tell at the time. I felt like they were having a really hard time fitting into the Baton Rouge scene and they felt really happy to have the attention and community of New Orleans. And I don't know, I felt like it was just a way to validate and build community with these women from out of town. And so that was a definite highlight from number five.

I talked about my ESG obsession. Yeah. ESG, everybody knows they're, you know, just one of a kind, right? Like what other band even sounds like them. So for people who don't know, I guess they would fit into maybe post-punk. They're really hard to define, like... Martin, how would you describe ESG?

KEXP: Oh, my gosh. Disco funk punk? It's...

And it won't be [exactly] right [as a description]. I finally talk about just how much I love that band, how original they are, how we, we only even see them as punk, probably just cause they're, the context in association, you know. Of like the bands that they played with and things like that. But yeah, I would say covering ESG and covering Kick Tease were the highlights of Issue Five along with the very, very lengthy interview I did with DJ Soul Sister, who is a phenomenal DJ out of New Orleans. And if you don't know about her, you should definitely look her up.

Yeah, for sure. And yeah, going back to ESG, I feel as though every, every few years there is a band that tries to sound like ESG and can't quite do it because they were so original. Like, it's just amazing to think about like, you know, going on 40 years, 45 years on.

Yeah. They're incredible and it's incredible that they still play.

Shotgun Seamstress #6 

Osa Atoe: I want to say that one of my favorite Black punk musicians of all time's name is Rachel Aggs. Rachel Aggs started in a band called Trash Kit, and then has also been in a post-punk band called Shopping, and is in a band that also defies categorization called Sacred Paws, and then also does a solo project.

Now, I'm a person who is admittedly picky about music, and I can wholeheartedly say that I like every single one of her projects. All of her bands I think are amazing.

And so in Issue Six, I finally got to interview her band Trash Kit. And so that was a definite highlight for me. There are so many things. I mean, it's hard. To me, every single article is a highlight. It took me about a year to make each of these issues, so it's the best of my year, right? My entire year. Like the best music and the most amazing people I met all year are in an each issue. So I mean. Issue Six has my interview with Poly Styrene before she passed away. It also has a, I had a friend of my name, Diane, contribute an article about her trip to Brazil and witnessing the Brazilian hardcore scene at the time. And Diane is also Nigerian-American. I got to interview Jackie Gresham, who is this older Black lady who had been a tattoo artist for decades, who lives in New Orleans. And our conversation was completely fascinating. I'm sorry. It's hard to pick one.

KEXP: Of course. I mean, if someone were to interview me about the highlights of Shotgun Seamstress, it would be difficult for me to pick one thing from each scene. It's just a wealth and encyclopedia of a very important history of a lot of stuff that goes undocumented.

So you knew you were asking me a hard question. [laughter]

Oh, yeah, absolutely. And to talk about Rachel Aggs for a second. She is just a phenomenal guitar player in each of her projects, I'm just blown away by what she can do on guitar.

Yeah. And I think she's pretty much self-taught. I think I was really waiting for a moment when the West African or just even like just Pan African guitar styles were going to merge with punk. And she did that, and I'm not a guitar player, you know, but I always kind of had this dream of, you know, having kind of a punk band with, like, Afro polyrhythms, having highlife guitar, guitar lines, you know, inside a punk band. I just kind of had this idea in mind and Rachel just did it, and I was like "cool." I could just sit back and relax and just enjoy this music without having to wrack my brain on how to make this happen. Because she's a better musician than I've ever been or will ever be. 

Shotgun Seamstress #6.5: Naija Punks

KEXP: I was wondering if you could explain to [our readers] what Naija is.

Osa Atoe: It's Nigeria. It's what Nigerians call Nigeria. Yeah, that's what it is. Naija, Naija punks. So you know how it is for us. I found three others, and I was like, "Woo-hoo, there's a total of four of us," and now there's even more. Nowadays, everywhere I look, I see Nigerian names. Like, I'll be listening to a podcast and like, one of the producers has like a long-ass Yoruba name [laughter] or I'll be, you know, watching a movie and I see a Nigerian actor. There's Nigerians everywhere now. I feel like even, you know, just a few years ago when I wrote this, like, it was way less than that.

I think maybe like all of us, first-generation [Nigerian] people are like coming out of the woodwork, you know, and that's what's happening. Whereas when I was growing up, we were the first generation, right? Now there's just there's so many more of us. So anyway, [one of the articles] was an interview with myself. I interviewed myself and then three of my Nigerian-American punk friends. The first one being Kyle Okafor. He's in the Breathing Light from Chicago. And then my buddy Diane, who I actually haven't talked to in a really long time, but I was just talking about Diane because she was the one who contributed that article about punk in Brazil in the previous issue, in Issue Six. And Nneka, who is on the East Coast somewhere, I want to say like New Jersey or Philly. She was in a band called Glaser for a while. I know she's a nurse. We actually have never met, still to this day. And then, but we're still in touch. I basically asked everybody similar questions. I tweak them a little bit, but I asked them all the same questions. And I answered my own interview questions. I'm the fourth interview in the mini zine.

Shotgun Seamstress #7: Flier Art from No More Fiction

Osa Atoe: I just think reflection is important, right? Because we're mostly just like running around doing shit all the time. And, you know, five years is a long time to be doing any type of voluntary project. I never made any money off of any of this. This was just like a labor of love, and I could feel myself winding down from it. So I feel like just taking the time to reflect on all the stuff that I had done, you know, it's a lot of logistics. I had actually tried to make No More Fiction a collective, but I could not find people who just wanted to put on punk shows as like a pastime because it actually is work, you know, it actually is work. I had a couple people like come through and do it but would just be like, "This is too much work." And, you know, so I became like the main contact for No More Fiction.

And I think making the zine was just a way for me to look back on all of the moments, all of the shows. So all of shows that I put on were DIY, meaning I tried not to use bars. There are a couple of bar shows in here sometimes you have no other option; a band gives you a date and they're like, "We're going to be here on this date," and you can't find any other venue. But a lot of these are house shows, warehouse shows, cafes, generator shows, and again, they were all fronted by women, non-binary people and queers, every single band, every single show. And to be fair, New Orleans had a lot of women, or at least a good handful of women, who were active in the scene. But there would be times where I would be like the only woman. I have memories playing a show where there was like five bands and I was the only woman in all five bands, you know? And this was like in like 2011 or something like that. Like, not in like the '80s, right?

KEXP: Not that long ago.

Not that long ago. So and then I would also have experiences where it would be like all bands, all the bands on stage are men, but then there's like tons of women in the audience and I'm like, "How come there's not more women on stage?" Because there's women in the audience ,right? And also, I've got to say: Moving to the South after living in D.C. and Portland was a bit like moving back in time. I just wanted to create that space and like bring, I don't know, the, the experience I had in Portland, where I was going into like basement shows, and [there were] tons of queer women involved, right? Like it wasn't even a thing [down South]. So I just kinda wanted to bring that to New Orleans.

It was just a way for me to journal and reflect on like that whole period of time in my life and all the people that were involved and all of the bands — sharing all these bands with people because, you know, punk bands are usually pretty short-lived. Most of these bands that I put on probably don't even exist anymore. I would say like probably like 99% of these bands don't even exist anymore.

Shotgun Seamstress #8

Osa Atoe: This is probably my favorite issue, probably because I'm so well-practiced at this point, right?

I had my shit together, and this actually was the one issue that overlapped with my pottery practice before I became way too sucked into ceramics to even have time to make a zine, you know? And this also fell after my last trip to Nigeria. So I have a piece in here called "Okada Boys" and it's a meandering response to the question, is there punk in Nigeria? Because people always would ask me that. I, as a visitor, have a limited experience in Nigeria. I mostly experience it through my family and I don't know anyone in my family who is subcultural.I mean, I have tons of cousins. I don't know, I don't know their lives, you know, that intimately because I have tons of cousins. But from, to my knowledge, like everyone's straight, everybody listens to hip hop and R&B. Like, you know, like everyone's married, everyone goes to church.

So for me, I mean, going to Nigeria, I haven't been able to experience subculture. I know now that there is an LGBTQ community that exists at their own peril because it's illegal to be queer in Nigeria. So I answer the question in a kind of imaginative way that hopefully people can appreciate. It's not necessarily based on fact, but just me traveling and looking around and noticing Okada drivers.

Okada is basically a motorcycle taxi. So like you just hop on the back of like some dude's motorcycle and they take you someplace, and it's cheaper than a cab. And so driving through Lagos and traveling all throughout Nigeria, you see them everywhere. And I just started to imagine,"What if they're a subculture?" What if Okada drivers have their own kind of scene or something? I don't even know if any of this is true. This is just me using my imagination and explaining what I saw, and putting it together.

And then also talking about Charly Boy, this Nigerian pop star who wears like leather and spikes and is kind of like this controversial pop culture figure in Nigeria. And posing the question, do you think Charly Boy is a punk? Like, I'm going to leave that up to you, but he's definitely blowing people's minds with his style and his attitude and his lifestyle and stuff. But. Oh, yeah. And then also I want to say a highlight is my interview with Shredded Shredder. Um, she's actually this like international film, like kind of B-movie film star. And we met because we were working at the same cafe in the French Quarter.

In New Orleans. And I was like, "Wait, you do what? Can I interview you for my zine?" And so, yeah, and she was all about it. Like, she loved it. She loved that I had an actual print zine.

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