On a recent Friday night, a bunch of punk rockers in patch- and pin- covered jean jackets, cutoff shorts and moth-eaten band T-shirts packed into the front room at Magnolia House. Some donned well-worn baseball caps, two wore dreadlocks, one wore a dangly yin-yang earring.
Charlottesville punk band Haircut had second billing on the hardcore lineup that night, and by the time the group started its fast, political set around 10:30pm, the air in the room had already ripened with the energy of fast-bobbing heads, darting limbs and damp armpits.
Haircut vocalist Juliana Viana, dressed entirely in black, clutched a microphone and dragged its long cord behind her as she paced back and forth between her bandmates and the audience. Her eyes shut tight under a furrowed brow, she sung ferociously into the microphone in English and Spanish, about consent, identity and fighting the patriarchy while punching the mic away on the cymbal crashes. Viana thrashed around so powerfully that the elastic holding her hair in a bun on top of her head gave out, and by the end of the set, she was out of breath.
Some bands make music to escape, and others make music to “empower and educate,” says drummer Daniel Russell. Haircut believes that both are necessary, but the group feels compelled to do the latter, especially in the current social and political climate.
Viana and guitarist Daniel Berti started the band unofficially in 2015; Russell and bassist Ben James joined the band about a year ago, and the first group of songs they wrote together became Criatura, a three-song EP released digitally and on cassette last December. The songs are brief, potent, opinionated and full of attitude—classic punk—and offer up an extraordinarily important perspective that’s either lacking, or too often overlooked, in Charlottesville music. We don’t have many punk bands and we don’t have many female-fronted bands of any genre—we have even fewer bands fronted by a Hispanic woman. Haircut, a punk band fronted by a Hispanic woman, is all of those.
Viana gets into that with her lyrics. “I’m speaking from a really personal part of my life, as far as my gender, my sexuality, my culture and family,” she says, and “all of that is political.” On “No,” the second track from Criatura, she sings about consent: “What don’t you understand about no? / …Why can’t you understand the word no? / Why is it that you never learn?”
The “general mood” of Haircut “is one of being outspoken and talking about these things that affect us, because [right now] doesn’t feel like a fun time, on a day-to-day basis,” says Viana. It’s not necessarily what they set out to do with the band, but it’s what feels appropriate, it’s what they think about all the time and it’s what comes out in the music and the lyrics, says Berti.
“We’re a little more
just playing easily
Newer Haircut songs, to be released in the coming weeks, are more hardcore punk than classic punk. “I felt a pull to get faster and more aggressive, for my lyrics and the way it feels when we play shows—it just comes out more naturally,” says Viana, to resounding agreement from the rest of the band. “We’re a little more confrontational than just playing easily digestible music.”
On “Patriota,” one of the new songs that Haircut has rotated into its live set, Viana sings in Spanish about her conflicted feelings about her cultural identity: “criata en un país / que no me respeta. / Entiendo una cultura / que no me entiende a mi” (translation: “raised in a country / that doesn’t respect me. / I understand a culture / that doesn’t understand me”).
Viana’s parents are from Colombia, and they moved to Birmingham, Alabama, just before she was born. “I don’t feel the way I describe in the song all the time,” Viana says, but it’s “a feeling of wondering how different I’d be if I’d grown up in Colombia. How much of me is inherently Colombian, or Hispanic, and what does that even mean? And also feeling really tied to…American culture, because I am American, I grew up here, but at the same time, I don’t get respect from this culture that I appreciate. [It’s like] living between two worlds,” she says. “I’ve mostly come to peace with [the idea that] it’s okay to be both and embrace both. But I have moments of frustration.”
Another new track, “Work Weak,” is about how employers often feel entitled to more than the work an employee provides, entitled not just to the employee’s time and service, but to her soul. That sort of thing pisses Viana off.
Band members say music is a liberating outlet for their thoughts and feelings, and the act of sharing it—with each other and an audience—is a cathartic move. By putting these things out there, they hope that audiences will either relate to the situation, the sentiment or the sound. “We want to form a community around [the music],” one that accepts everyone, says Russell.
That sentiment is a big part of why, in addition to making music in Haircut, Berti and Viana book shows at Magnolia House, their home and a vital spot for Charlottesville’s DIY music scene that provides a platform not just for punks but for hip-hop heads, indie rockers and musicians of all genres.
People can take from Haircut what they will, Viana says; she’s just keen on saying her piece.