by Silke Hartung

Scarlett Lashes: Dirty Deeds Done For Good

by Silke Hartung

Scarlett Lashes: Dirty Deeds Done For Good

Tāmaki Makaura sound engineer Jess Haugh is a busy woman. Alongside fronting the indie-rock explosion that is King Ketchup, she single-handedly runs Women About Sound, organising free events with the aim of upskilling women in the music industry, and has also been cracking the literal whip as electro-cabaret feminist mistress Scarlett Lashes. Silke Hartung caught up with Scarlett in advance of a performance at Grrrl Fest 2021 in Kirikiriroa/Hamilton on March 6 with her right-hand, party monster Natattack. More info about Grrrl Fest and its other events can be found here.

Who is this Scarlett Lashes? When did you come up with the idea of her?

Scarlett Lashes is an electro cabaret trash queen who wants to smash the patriarchy one dick at a time. She is funny, weird, and wild. She wants to push the boundaries, make people laugh and immerse the audience in something that is different. Scarlett originated out of a very avant-garde band I used to be in called the Fannywaterman Collective around 10 years ago.

How much of Jess Haugh is part of Scarlett?

I think the humour is something that is very much part of me, and my love of dance. But I am a lot shyer in real life, so Scarlett is my alter ego where I get to be a little wild and crazy!

Where would you place Scarlett Lashes in terms of genre?

Hmm, that’s always been a tricky question for me. Some call it performance art, musical theatre, comedy. It’s genre-bending and not easily defined so it’s always best to see it in real life to really get what Scarlett Lashes is.

The live performance (especially) seems to overlap into other areas of on-stage entertainment… 

I like the idea of getting the audience involved, so there is no barrier between me and them. I never stay on stage for the entire show, instead, I like to roam about and interact with the audience.

What has been the most extreme reaction to your show that you can remember?

It’s not the most extreme reaction, but my favourite is when a woman came up to me after my performance and said I inspired her to chuck a glass of water over some guys who were being rude, which made me feel pretty good.

How do you write music for Scarlett?

I usually come up with a concept of what I want to talk about in a song, or a one-line lyric and then go from there. I generally write the music first then sort of smash the lyrics over top to fit.

What instruments, software, and other gear do you use for her sound?

I normally use Logic and a lot of the software instruments on it. I play around with effects and pedals as I’m really into the sounds of things. I have also been getting into sampling to make different types of sounds.

What is your biggest career highlight as Scarlett Lashes?

Some of my favourite gigs were at the renegade room at Camp A Low Hum, they had the best vibe and I had the loudest encore call ever.

You’ve released a lot of singles and great music videos over the years. What are your long term goals for SL?

OK, so my short term goal is to have a long term goal. I would like to play overseas and tour around as I love going to new places with new audiences.

How did your performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival come about?

I went to the Fringe Festival the year before and loved it, especially the free fringe offshoot. I decided to apply for the free fringe and got accepted. It’s a nice lower-risk way of doing the festival as there is no venue hire costs, and you get koha from the audience. My big takeaway from Edinburgh was that there were so many amazing performers and shows out there. I think there is something like 5000 shows on during the festival, an insane amount.

What tip would you give to other performers who might be interesting to perform there, once the Covid situation is under control?

One tip would be to make sure your venue suits your performance. The location is mega important, and I ended up performing somewhere that was off the beaten track which made it harder to attract an audience. It is a brutal competition at the festival so you have to be prepared for potentially small audiences.  Also, go and see lots of other shows to get inspiration.

grrrl festWhy is it important to put more of a focus on women in music?

It’s important because there is still a big gender imbalance in the music scene. I am a live sound engineer and often the bands I do sound for are 90% male. I want there to be a focus on getting more women into music, in particular playing instruments in bands and music production. There are barriers and reasons why there is less participation from women, we need to find out what those are and try to overcome them. Diversity makes a scene flourish and a hell of a lot more interesting.

You’re also active in upskilling in the industry through Women About Sound. What’s the idea behind it and what do you do with WAS?

I started it in 2017 because I wanted to focus on something that was action-based in terms of assisting cis and trans women and non-binary in the music scene. The idea is to provide a safe space for musicians of any level to come and learn about something new, give something a go, and upskill themselves in areas such as songwriting, electronic music production, live sound etc. A positive and supportive environment where you get to meet other musicians, and for me personally, the connection to others is what I have really enjoyed the most.

What’s up next for you with both Scarlett Lashes and Women About Sound?

Scarlett Lashes has some new music that will be coming out soon, accompanied by a new music video that I’m excited about, Dirty Girl. I also have another music video planned where I need quite a crowd so, people, hit me up if you want to be in a weird funny video…

Women About Sound has a full year of workshops, songwriting mentoring sessions, and some live gigs. Our first gig of the year is going to be at The Thirsty Dog in Auckland on May 8th with some amazing bands! Our first workshop had to be postponed due to the Level 3 lockdown but we will have a songwriting mentoring session in the first half of March with the talented Caitlin Smith.

When will Dirty Girl be released… and following songs like Dick Crusher and Chicken Thighs, I’m of course wondering what the song is about?

Dirty Girl will be out on April 15th, combined with a gig at the Wine Cellar. The song is playing with the idea of the “sexy dirty girl”, and a girl who just loves getting physically filthy/dirty.