Don’t write Queercore off as a petty genre. Not only is it a growing one, but it’s a necessary one. “I feel like it’s basically just punk, but punks who are queer and tired of the regular punk scene,” says Mars Ganito, the main singer and songwriter of Queercore quartet Aye Nako. “It doesn’t do it for us, so we have to have shows with people who are queer, too.”
In 2013, Aye Nako released its debut full-length, Unleash Yourself, a collection of jubilant tracks about the members’ own experiences coming to terms with their identities and the fluidity of gender itself. Now Ganito, bassist Joe McCann, guitarist Jade Payne, and drummer Angie Boylan have a new set of poppy hardcore numbers out on this year’s EP, The Blackest Eye, where reservations are a thing of the past. Should it overwhelm them, they turn to their soon-to-be-Instagram-famous dog Broccolinni for a pick-me-up — and the human fans cheering them on with a similar level of adoration.
The album’s title stems from three different sources: a literal black eye representing child abuse, the perspective of a black person, and the themes of Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye. “One of the main characters in that book has darker skin and wishes she could be white because it would change everything: Her parents would love her, kids at school would see her as valuable, you know?” says Ganito. “I used to feel that way. I’m not super dark skinned, but when I was a kid I used to wish I could be white: birthday wishes, wishing-well wishes, shooting-star wishes. Any time a kid could wish upon something, that’s how I spent my wish: to be white. I’m still trying to undo that and learn how to appreciate myself for being a person of color.”
No one taught Ganito racism. It’s a learned lesson from firsthand experiences, both on the brutalities it upholds and the dismantling that needs to be done. “For some reason as a kid, I didn’t have the words [to explain racism], but I understood it. Part of me is really nervous about being outspoken about who we are and what we represent, but at the same time there’s something even stronger in me telling me to speak out about injustices and list my truth, to stand up against the evils of white supremacy. You have to. That’s something I felt since I was a little kid.”
Despite that, emotional honesty rests easy in Aye Nako’s music. The sonic layers seems flitting and merry—it’s still pop punk at its core for a reason—yet there’s lyrical depth that speaks far beyond their age as young adults. “Leaving the Body” challenged Ganito to confront sections of his shadowed life never brought into the light of the public eye. Openly discussing sexual abuse isn’t easy, especially when those close to you never believed you in the first place. Over time, it transitions from damaging to therapeutic, especially when backed by three of his closest friends.
“Writing that song and then sharing it with people—and also triggering myself at the same time by writing about it, talking about it, singing about it—was hard,” he recalls. “It’s a little less intense now. Trying to pull myself out of whatever flashbacks I was having while singing was hard. I’m proud overall that I was able to write songs about things that are hard to talk about, though. There’s a lot of emotion and feeling put into them. I feel proud of myself to be able to share really personal things like that. Like, the cover of the album is a picture form my 8th birthday. Seeing that photo is a bittersweet thing for me. My childhood wasn’t great, but also this picture is kind of funny. I think you can tell in the photo that I’m not really happy, that there’s a fake smile, and I think that goes well with the way I feel about my childhood as a whole.”
Ganito grew up in Arkansas where he started attending shows at age 15. There wasn’t any type of support readily available, and—as one of the only queer people there and “definitely” the only person of color—Ganito didn’t have any opportunity to talk about his experiences in a way that felt welcome. With Aye Nako, he’s not only able to create support for his past self, but for the LGBTQ youth of today.
“I see a lot of resistance to people speaking up about misogyny, transphobia, or racism,” says Ganito. “It mostly comes from more straight cis white guys who can’t stand to see people who aren’t in that demographic be successful or happy or have any sort of self-love or respect for themselves. They like to be at the top and not see anyone else care about themselves. I feel like I’ll never be able to change that, but I’m hoping just to put this out there, like, ‘Look black people, brown people, queer people, we make rock music and are into punk. We can do it. It’s fine if you don’t like it but that’s what we’re doing. Playing drums isn’t just for cis straight white guys.’ I guess if they’re mad, we’re doing something right.”
JOANNA GRUESOME + AYE NAKO + KING OF CATS + BENT SHAPES. WED 10.28. MIDDLE EAST UPSTAIRS, 472 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE. 7PM/ALL AGES/$12. MIDEASTOFFERS.COM.