RIFF IN PEACE:
ERIN DWYER (1980-2017)

ANTIGRAVITY-JUNE-2017-Erin-Dwyer-by-Emily-McWilliams
Published  June 2017

Those of us who make up the beautifully braided knot that is the New Orleans indie, punk, and queer communities were saddened to hear of Erin Dwyer’s passing last month. It’s no exaggeration that Erin was a pioneer in each of these respective communities, performing and living unapologetically as a young, queer punk—no easy task growing up amidst Catholic school and the Metairie suburbs of 20 years ago. It’s because of Erin’s passion—and those like her always working so hard for so little reward—that ANTIGRAVITY even exists in the first place. We’re heartbroken to celebrate her many achievements too late. We’ve compiled an oral history from friends and band members alike to celebrate her life and legacy.


September 21, 1997 changed my life: it was Ovary Action’s first show. Sarah and I had dreamt of forming a band our whole lives. The first two years of high school were wrought with failed attempts, like the punk boy who didn’t understand why we didn’t want to make out during practice, or the girl who literally missed the drums when she swung the sticks. Then we met Erin. We shared an angst and humor that we all desperately needed to express. When we started jamming, it just worked. Erin was the missing ingredient. I somehow booked our first show before we had finished our first song. Erin, Sarah, and I spent every spare second writing and rehearsing an eight song set over two weeks. We killed it. As Erin was sipping on an Old English 40 after the set, a guy from school walked by, saying, “You guys are pretty good for chicks.” Erin scared him away with some loud, unique profanities, turned to me, and said, “What a chump. You should write a song about that.” So I did. She was fiercely protective, creative, unabashed, and complicated. I am so grateful for my time with her, and so proud of what we did together. —Dylan Ysaguire

I am one third of what used to be Girl Gang Productions. We put on indie/ punk shows for the queer/women’s community back in the early-to-mid 2000s and often had Ovary Action and Tragic Girls End Up Like This open for shows with out-of-town bands. I’ve known Erin since she was a teenager, when Ovary Action started, and literally watched her grow up. I always thought of her in a goofy little sister kind of way. She was awkward and so was I—that sort of formed the basis of our friendship. But I was always a fan and in awe of her musical skills. I will forever think of her every time I see a trucker hat. —Margaret Coble

I can’t remember when I met Erin, but I think we must have been 16—maybe younger? I think she was wary of me at first. I always seemed to be around even though I didn’t play music. But I had a fake ID, so we became friends perhaps by default, or maybe because I liked her, and I insisted, and she gave in. My late teens and early 20s were punctuated by her bands’ shows—I was an unrepentant fangirl, pushing to the front, cheering, dancing, singing along to every song. When she was on stage (even if that stage was the corner of my living room and the audience was just 15 of us New Orleans kids), she was a brilliant, subversive dream. Erin was a rock star who would let me drag her around town, dress her in stupid outfits, and even acquiesced to learning ridiculous dance routines for our drag troupe (it was the late ‘90s, don’t judge). She seemed equally entertained and annoyed by my unfettered adoration of her. And then we grew up and apart, stupid drama unfolded, and she disappeared from my life for almost a decade. Then one day, magically, she was back. And I was thrilled. Just a few months ago, she was standing in my living room, casually playing a ukelele. She was laughing and talking about music with my fiancée. They were making those “let’s jam” plans that it seems every musician has to have with every other musician. I remember thinking, how hasn’t she changed? In almost 20 years, she looked exactly the same. We had taken a road trip together to Austin so many years ago, and I swear she was wearing the same shirt that day as the day we sat on a creek bed together, our knees touching, drinking from the same bottle of something, not talking, just listening to crickets. Memories like this keep bubbling up, me and Erin sitting on the bench in my grandma’s backyard, us arguing on the porch of my first apartment, dancing together in some dive bar we were both too young to be at. I was lucky enough to be her fan and her friend, and like so many others, I’m heartbroken. —Yvette Del Rio

ANTIGRAVITY-JUNE-2017-Erin-Dwyer-by-Eric-Martinez

Photo: Eric Martinez

 

I was in a band called the Cupcakes in 2002 and one night Erin was hanging at our practice space while we were working on a new song; and we were like, “Hey, why don’t you play guitar?” She came up with the coolest parts! We should have demanded she become a member. Thank you for your kind/ beautiful soul. You were a pioneering force in the New Orleans punk/indie scene and just so supportive of the whole scene in so many ways. You will be remembered in New Orleans music history as an iconoclastic figure, as your band Ovary Action was the first NOLA queer punk band! We were so in awe of your playing we called the track “Erin Song.” Seems sooo fitting and even more now. Too young to go. We miss you. (And if you want to hear “Erin Song,” you can find it at soundcloud. com/thecupcakesnola) —Art Boonparn

Erin and I had a lot in common, most of it unspoken. We would give each other the nod whenever we found a common resonance that showed us what kind of kindred spirits we were. Mind you, this is circa 1997—99 so I have a decade gap of memory loss to lose specifics. I carried her with me, though. Her advice and guidance to teenage me kept me going through dark times. I always looked up to Erin because she was taking action and working toward making something happen. She made her corner of the world more beautiful. —Diana Ray

The first actual band I performed in was with Erin. Before that, I had the encouragement of playing one gig at a haunted house on the Westbank with my friends Jen and Andrew when I was 16. I realized then I really enjoyed playing in a group. I started college and continued to go to shows, which included seeing a band called Ovary Action. They seemed super close and always had a great crowd at their shows at Mermaid Lounge, Shim Sham, and Tip’s. Ovary Action must have disbanded and Sarah Brooks and Erin were in a new band. I was added to the super group called Tragic Girls End Up Like This—perhaps even on Erin’s recommendation. I am certain that my knowledge about practicing, gear, booking shows and recording pretty much started here. Not to mention, there were no other bands performing in New Orleans that were comprised solely of women—much less queer women. We opened for Q and Not U, TV On The Radio, The Butchies, Pansy Division, and plenty of local acts. I was excited to be a part of the group and felt a sense of community with bands and people attending shows (Hi, Girl Gang Productions). I am still friendly with nearly everyone I knew from back then and the news of Erin’s passing has affected quite a few of us. In the middle of a stretch of touring, I have reflected on bands I’ve been in and the people that gave the scene character. Erin was a member of both. She was excited about making music and regularly involved in her community. —Emily Elhaj

Since the morning i got the phone call of erins death my brain sorta shut off. Its been a week and change and things are slowly returning to normal function (with a spontaneous burst into tears in various hardware stores or bars through out the city). Everything seems to remind me of her. Drum sticks and guitar picks lieing around my apt. Nasa bullshit. The pixies. Even my dirty laundry currently piling on the floor. Growin higher by the day. Her house has been my weekly laundry matt the past 5 months. This has been a rough one to axcept. The first photograph i ever printed in a darkroom was a shot taken at a punk record/zine store named underground sounds, which frequently did instores. In the photo is Oavery action playing next to the flyer riden glass store front facing the magazine st sidewalk. Erin sarah and dylan run trough there upbeat pop punk set as i shoot on my moms old minolta. I cant twll you the feeling of seein your pals play and then developing the roll yourself .its very unifying.. kinda like being in your friends band.. Thats sorta the whole thing i take from punk culture. Finding this scean in high school saved my life. You are suddenly not alone in this world! But when we lose a member… Its felt throughout our sacrid community. Across all ages and state lines. Erin has for many years been a inspirring figure in my life (and continues to be). Thank you for every memory that weve had together. —Eric Martinez

Erin and I became close when we started playing in The Spooks together during high school. I’m not sure if it was her first band, but it was mine. She might as well have been the manager of us, because she was the one working at getting us shows. We probably played 15, 20 times in our short existence of being a ska band and Erin was responsible for probably 95% of our gigs. I remember one time we went to a show at the Faubourg Center and she convinced (I think it was) Bryan Funck to let us play a song in between groups. Our drummer Josh wasn’t at the show, so we got Drew Woods to sit in. It was a fast, one-song set and we had fun, and then we got picked up for curfew when we walked out. But that was what Erin loved: playing music. She loved the local music scene then and it only grew with time. She will be missed. —Dante O. Pierson

We got to the Fillmore early to make sure we got a great spot close to the stage. My lady Michelle and I have been in San Francisco since the storm and weren’t expecting to see anyone we knew at the Breeders show. Before the show started I saw a SAINTS hat. Those gold letters screamed out to me, so I had to scream back, “Who Dat?!” I would have been happy to talk Saints/ NOLA with anyone, but it was Erin. After establishing our shared New Orleans friends, reminiscing about New Orleans shows we had seen or performed at, and telling our respective storm stories, we became instant friends. An amazing reunion show by her favorite band (one of mine as well) sealed the deal. We danced and sang along to all of Last Splash with the same feeling and energy we had when it came out 20 years ago. That was great enough but then, because they recorded Pod in San Francisco, the Breeders had decided to play that album in its entirety too! What a phenomenal concert at one of the best venues ever! We rode the high for the rest of the night. I drove us all out to the ocean and we were the only ones out there. We finished up with some overly indulgent and fancy food that capped off one of my best nights in the Bay Area. Every time I came home to New Orleans after that night, Erin and I got together. We spent only a short time together as friends and as I make plans to move back now, I looked forward to seeing her more. It breaks my heart to not be able to share anymore good times with her. I love you, Erin. I am sorry I did not say it because I was afraid to say it to such a new friend. Love you. You will always be part of one of my best lifetime memories. —Edward Pellegrini

Growing up in New Orleans you take a lot of things for granted, like how long you actually know some of the people you’ve known for what seems like forever. I feel like I’ve known Erin forever, and one of the moments I’ll never forget, that happened what feels like a lifetime ago, was a conversation we had at Dixie Tavern about playing music, punk, and why we both loved it and how therapeutic it was. During the course of this conversation I think I said something to the ridiculous effect of, “I just want to change one person’s life with music, and then I can quit.” She informed me that I’d already really helped at least one person out and that I should probably keep doing it anyway. Although the condensed version of the conversation doesn’t sound profound, it has stuck with me ever since. I’ve thought about her and that conversation every single time I’ve had to make a major decision in my life regarding music, and writing and where I actually stand with it, which is a pretty huge deal because it’s a very large part of my life, and why I still play today. I saw Erin the last time I played and we hung out and BS’ed, and talked about some music stuff she was working on. I wish I would’ve told her that she was a huge reason I was actually standing there. —Chuck Dass

I started a new project and wanted Eric Martinez on drums and Erin on bass because I knew the chemistry would be good. We’d been jamming for about 4, 5 months, taking our time and outlining some songs to make a demo. The practices were always half playing and half hanging out. We had our last band practice shortly before. During a break, Eric took out his laptop and downloaded the “Anaconda” video by Nicki Minaj. The three of us watched intently, making sure we didn’t miss a move. I can’t remember who, but after the song one of us said, “Would you fuck her?” Eric said yes, Erin followed with a hell yes, and I said yes too but expressed concern I may not have enough “Anaconda” to satisfy Nicki. Erin laughed and shot me a grin and a shrug of her shoulders as if to say, “That’s your problem.” Erin finished a cigarette. We all finished a beer and played a few more songs. —Brian Serpas

The first day I met Erin I was at a party in the suburbs. It was the first time I’d ever drunk a 40 ounce and I had been smoking a lot of weed that night. Somehow I wound up in a car full of guys I didn’t know and they started getting aggressive and grabby with me. In my hazy state I asked them over and over to let me out of the car and was denied each time as they taunted me. Just as I started to freak out, lo and behold Erin swung open the door from the outside and pulled me out of the car while shouting obscenities at the predatory men who had me trapped just seconds earlier. She got me away from them, took me somewhere to sit down and held me while I cried. She told me she’d kill them for me if I wanted her to and even though we didn’t know each other from dirt, I believed her. That night she smelled like a comforting mixture of clean laundry, cigarettes, and whiskey. Her chin-length hair fell shyly in front of her intensely dark eyes. She wore her infamous Beastie Boys ringer tee and her chain wallet hung off of navy cargo pants that brushed the tops of her skate shoes. Shortly after, our friend’s dad came to bring us home, but before she left me that night she slipped her number (835-YUCK) in my pocket and told me not to be a stranger. I laughed, but somehow I knew we’d go on to shape each other’s lives for years to come. Unfortunately, I was too intimidated to pick up the phone too soon after that night, but I started going out of my way to take the streetcar that went past De La Salle, where she went to high school, hoping we’d catch a glimpse of each other and very casually wind up hanging out. Of course, my plan failed miserably so I finally mustered up the courage to call her, not satisfied with passing glances, which led to over two decades of deep friendship, musical collaboration (most notably Ovary Action and Tragic Girls End Up Like This), falling in and out of love (with each other and various other women), and bittersweet memories to last me a lifetime. Erin was passionate to a fault, proudly butch, unabashedly radical, too humble, and never on time. Though we spent what seems like forever as best friends, through all our ups and downs, I never imagined our time together would be cut so short. I fantasized about us growing old together and jamming out well into our geriatric years. Losing her so young has been a life-altering tragedy that will be felt throughout the DIY music scene in New Orleans and beyond. I’ll love you forever, Erin. Your bass lines were always better than mine. —Sarah Brooks

Photo: Kathryn Zansler


Top Photo: Emily McWilliams

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