Hurray for the Riff Raff performing (in a van) for a live show at SXSW last year.
Alynda Lee Segarra plays for an audience of misfits. “My songs are about people who feel down and out and feel like outcasts in society,” explains the singer and guitarist best known for her band Hurray For The Riff Raff. “And that’s who I want to come to the shows, too. Maybe because they hate the music on the radio now or they feel like music doesn’t have a soul anymore or they feel like their gender isn’t represented there.”
Segarra knows a thing or two about riff raff. She found the inspiration for her band name, (which is sometimes Segarra on her own and sometimes includes accompaniment) from her travels around the country. She left home in the Bronx at age 17 and traveled on her own, ultimately landing in New Orleans, which she now calls home. It was through these adventures that Segarra learned to play music and found a community of other musicians who appreciate folk music and old country sounds as much as she does.
This spring, Segarra will hit the road again—this time on a national tour in support of her new album Small Town Heroes, which debuts from ATO Records in Feburary. Here’s her playing “End of the Line” off the new album.
On Small Town Heroes, Segarra celebrates New Orleans and traditions of folk and Americana music by playing with genres and musical boundaries. With songs like “The New SF Bay Blues” and “The Body Electric,” Segarra parodies traditionally gendered musical tropes and puts a feminist spin on them. “Sometimes I like singing from a male perspective as a female because I think it blurs gender lines and makes the music queer, and you realize that gender isn’t what matters, it’s the power dynamics that matter,” she explains.
There’s a long tradition of country songs about men rambling on and leaving their women behind. Segarra flips that idea. “I feel like when a woman sings one of those songs and sings from that perspective, you realize that it’s about having power and strength for yourself, to believe that following your dreams is important enough to leave a relationship behind. As women, we’ve been taught our whole lives that you should do anything you can to keep a relationship intact, because that’s the most important thing.”
But Segarra wasn’t always focused on country music. When she was growing up in New York City, she found herself mostly drawn to the riot grrrl and punk scenes. She has carried the lessons of riot grrrl with her as she creates folk music now, though, and makes an effort to discuss her feminism in every interview. She describes feeling like the feminist messages in her music were incredibly obvious, and being surprised when other people didn’t pick up on them sometimes. “At first I was sad, because I was worried that I wasn’t being hardcore enough,” she says. “But now I think that even if it isn’t really blatant, having the intention of feminist beliefs and goals when creating music is really important and really makes a difference. My intention in every song is to try to put a feminist viewpoint on old folk songs.”
Another musical goal of Segarra’s is to do more collaborations with other female artists and songwriters. “There are very limited spaces for female musicians in general,” she says, “and so I feel like there’s this idea of competition that’s pushed on us that if we’re successful, we have to be the only one, but there’s room for all of us.” Most country music collaborations tend to be a pairing of a woman with a man, and they often reproduce traditional heteronormative gender roles, as well. Segarra hopes to break this pattern and form more bonds with her fellow female musicians that will allow for creative collaboration. She is already making good on this goal as she plays shows with Alabama Shakes, a female-fronted American rock group, and Shovels & Rope, a husband-wife folk duo that Segarra praises for their revolutionary dynamic and their truly equal musical partnership.