Pop-song activism with L.A.’s WASI
Be yourself. Easy, right? Merilou Salazar and Jessie Meehan, leaders of WASI, the L.A.-based, self-proclaimed “riot-pop” group, know that realizing one’s identity can be a challenge. In fact, it’s the theme running through their just-released album—also named Riot Pop—a series of synth-pop songs propelled by bright beats and dark lyrics. The peppy feel of the music contrasts the personal challenges the album addresses, as if to bring positive energy when things seem impossible.
“The foundation is definitely dark—that’s where the feelings truly come out—but the communication is optimistic,” Salazar said in a recent interview. “I think that’s also how we are as individuals, and that’s what’s kept us in pursuit of art and music for so long. Things are chaotic inside and out, but it’s our optimism as a couple and in our community that keeps things fresh for us.”
The new album’s first single, “Run,” bears this out with a hurried dance beat and stressed-out lyrics about trying to find one’s place in a chaotic world. Yet in the song’s bridge, there’s shelter from the storm: “We are here for each other/Together we create a space to make/a better place.”
Salazar and Meehan met in high school, playing in a band called the Midol Poppers, followed by various musical projects. In 2014, they decided to fuse their ideas together into a pop package. They transformed their electronic project, We Are She Is, shortened the name to WASI, and crafted a slew of synthy, somewhat punky sing-along anthems—across a trio of EPs—that dealt with themes of coming of age (“Adolescence”), personal identity (“And the World”), and gender equality (“Pussy Grabs Back”).
“We come from a place where it’s always been hard to fit in, be it our music or the scene—you’re not enough of this to play at this venue, you’re not enough of that to play at that venue—so that’s kind of what stemmed our ideas of creating our own kind of spaces,” Salazar said.
In celebration of the new record, WASI will come through Chico as part of the three-band Love Is Gay tour, which is moving in tandem with Pride celebrations throughout the West Coast.
“When we play shows we try to make it more than, ‘Here’s the live show of a band,’ but we try to make it a whole experience,” Salazar said. “Taking Love Is Gay to that level for us was kind of natural. For myself, it’s been creating a world you wanna exist in, [even] if that’s just a show for four hours.”
Over the last several years, the two have become active in the queer community—Salazar as a co-founder of the Women Fuck Shit Up Fest, and Meehan partnering with the ACLU to create gender-neutral bathrooms at Walgreens nationwide. While this type of action is born of strength, there is a vulnerability that remains, something the duo try to honor.
“Vulnerability is such a thing [on] social media, but there’s also so much tied to that we forget about,” Salazar said. “I [recently] posted on my personal Instagram [about] coming out being the hardest thing. I got really sweet feedback—‘you’re great’—but it still doesn’t capture how hard the past year was. Because our culture is progressing I had to, for myself, acknowledge, ‘Fuck, I need to be out and I need to be proud.’
“I think that only added to more mental health vulnerability I was dealing with. I think the mental health conversation tied to the activism is a big theme WASI tries to capture. There’s so much inner personal trauma that this album tries to acknowledge. We’re moving forward, but it doesn’t mean that everything is solved.”