THICK, the Brooklyn-based DIY punk outfit made up of guitarist Nikki Sisti, bassist Kate Black and drummer Shari Page, are much more than a girl band. But that doesn’t mean they ignore the reality of that label pretty much defining them: The term “girl,” in particular, seems inextricable from the band’s music. Whether they are caterwauling or harmonizing, opening up a mosh pit or shredding, gender is at the forefront of their identity.
The trio’s debut album 5 Years Behind is about the feeling of falling behind where parents, friends and strangers on the Internet expect an ostensible adult to be in their career. While the ethos of punk rock doesn’t necessarily mingle with profit and commercialization, the reality of our capitalist world means that if you don’t make money off of your craft, you’re better off working a dead-end retail gig that will at least marginally pay the bills. While this is true of every human being living in this borderline-dystopian system, women have it especially bad.
?THICK have been around for a while. They formed in 2014, put out their first EP in 2016 and are now releasing their first full-length album. When one factors in heavy touring, constant self-management and the creative toil of making music, taking six years to hone one’s craft, connect with an audience and write and record several EPs before putting out a debut might seem rational. But factoring in the incessant drive of the market, which features an onslaught of new content daily, it’s also understandable why a band might feel as if everyone is getting things done quicker—every day, week, month or year that goes by seeming like wasted time.
The title track of the album perfectly illustrates millennial ennui on a broad scale: “Always five years behind / Everybody’s expectations / That they have of my life… I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed / If I didn’t let time take control of me”
For women, this dead-end stasis troubles authority figures, mostly because working unforgiving hours with little pay means that the perceived purpose of our lives might not be fulfilled—to be a wife and a mother. The song “Your Mom” also expresses how women are just as quick to reinforce patriarchal notions of gender generationally: “Your mother said to me / Build your life have a family / Your mother said to me / Make more money / You’re not a punk / You’re not an artist / You’re always wrong.”
But THICK have an even bigger issue with men that stifle women’s desire to forfeit their expected roles. The song “Mansplain” serves as the crux of the album, bashing the numerous men who have made snide, thoughtless remarks about women musicians. The song is so entrenched in its indignance towards this attitude that it bookends the song with samples of remarks that the THICK band members have actually received: “‘Are those your boyfriend’s drums?’ / ‘I wouldn’t really recommend a Fender to a woman, but you’re kinda tall, so…’ / ‘Do you think they’d be this successful if they were men? / If they were guys I’m not really sure people would be into this.’”
For a group that have worked their ass off to gradually establish themselves—according to Oh My Rockness, THICK played 96 N.Y.C.-area shows between 2016-2018, and were crowned “New York City’s Hardest-Working Band” in 2016 (No. 7 in 2017 and No. 11 in 2018, as well)—these comments are more than misogynistic, they’re completely dismissive. “They start explaining how to play guitar / If it wasn’t for your help we wouldn’t get this far / They start explaining how to do my job / All your suggestions it really helped a lot,” they continue on “Mansplain.”
The establishment, whether that be men or boomers, face the constant ire of THICK’s wailing guitars on 5 Years Behind. But the album is also very much about the pain of growing up and realizing it’s not okay to be young and messy anymore. In fact, even if people wanted to keep acting young and messy, the places that fostered that feeling are long gone. On “WHUB,” the band lament the death of youthful institutions of rebellion, which in turn ushered in the overwhelming corporatization of the DIY music scene. Just in Brooklyn alone, the past few years have seen the demise of beloved venues and community spaces like Silent Barn, Shea Stadium, Palisades and DBTS.
It’s hard not to feel disillusioned with the world when no one takes you seriously and the few safe havens available are now defunct. On “Bumming Me Out,” THICK explore the burnt out feeling that comes with believing so deeply in something that just can’t seem to come to fruition: “Never knew I’d be so tired / Fighting for what I believe / Try to take it all in?stride / Sometimes?it just feels?like / Everything that I see, bumming me?out.”
THICK lay it all out in a way that isn’t subtle, but that’s okay. Their vocals convey emotion as raw as their instruments, and that alone is something worthy of praise when studios frequently make bands sound cookie-cutter.
Sure, women-driven punk projects have long begrudged the patriarchy (including everyday jerks and brainwashed moms) in their songs. But the way that those critiques ring just as true now than they did during the ’90s means that the topic is still rife for exploring 20-plus years later. To explore it through angry, catchy punk is as viable as ever.
Revisit THICK’s recent Paste session: