Hailing from the heart of Pōneke, Revulva is a fresh force in the NZ music scene with their unique fusion of jazz, funk, and new age soul grooves - not to mention elements of Latin, disco, and even some blues. Complete with a four piece of horns, some funk guitar, dynamic keys, and a tightly locked-in rhythm section, they’ve created a sound that lovers of dancing and genre bending songs can’t get enough of.
Revulva consists of many veterans of the Wellington music scene. Phoebe Johnson, lead vocalist and bassist, gathered Olivia Campion (drums), Zane Hawkins (guitar), Lily Shaw (tenor saxophone/flute and BVs), Toby Leman (tenor saxophone), Hugo Olsen-Smith (trombone, percussion), Hayden Richardson (trumpet), & Hector McLachlan (keys) to help bring the vulva vision to life. Forming in only July of 2020, they have released multiple singles that immediately gained traction and helped them grow a dedicated fan base in Wellington and beyond. This eight-piece has just released their highly-anticipated EP capturing some of the songs they’ve been performing in the past year.
Johnson describes “Girl's Gotta Eat”, the six-track EP, as “a collection of songs about what it's like to be a woman navigating life and the music industry”. As a fellow female, I relate deeply with their unapologetic and jocular remarks, and have had some great laughs listening to the lyrics. They paint the picture of what many women feel but may be nervous to say out loud. They are joyously outrageous, exemplified in the way they give crowds confidence to chant “I love p*ssy” at every one of their live shows.
“One Puff Wonder” is the first track of the EP, which the band describes as a tale of the intense social pursuit of pretending to smoke. It was inspired by the infamous San Fran balcony on Eyegum Wednesday evenings in Wellington. The way Johnson sings “Been told myself to sleep, but a girl’s gotta eat” describes the exhaustion of a woman working deep in the pockets of the music scene, refusing to say no to gigs, and working hard to make ends meet. Her vocals fall in a deep soothing register, hitting some soulful low notes. The chorus is anticipated by a single triangle ding that drops right into the groove of the song. The horns come in sounding like a latin jazz big band, with a pace you could easily dance the salsa to. Johnson describes herself as a “one puff wonder” who tries to resist the pressure to smoke, singing “two, and I’m under, three, I’m on the ground, feeling like the room is spinning round”.
With their second song, “Stop Pulling On My (Hair)”, they start out with a deep pocket bass line and upbeat drums, which are reminiscent of the bass heavy lines of new age funk icon Thundercat. The up-tempo beat resolves in the drawn out bridge section spiced up with a long wail from Johnson, anticipating the line “Stop pulling on my hair”. This song features a lovely solo from the trumpeter, Hayden Richardson.
“Sniffly Lady” starts out with a funky guitar line accentuated with a wah pedal, played by Zane Hawkins. This song fuses the tempos of their upbeat songs as well as the relaxing feel of “Tuning Out”. It speaks about a “sniffly lady” deciding whether or not to join in on the dance party, being held back by intense allergies and the need for antihistamines and loraclear to get through the day.
The band describes “Tuning Out”, the second single released by the octet, as the feeling of losing your mind at a party from feelings of social anxiety. It’s the first song on the EP that slows down to a relaxed groove, giving listeners the chance to catch their breath, and shows a more intricate side to the outfit. The tune begins with a tenor sax line that is reminiscent of Aretha Franklin's vocal melodies in her song “Call Me”. “I don’t want to talk/I’ll just nod my head/let’s just accept we are different people now/and I’m tuning out”, captures the social expectation to try to connect with someone that you may have lost touch with due to going down separate paths in life.
They throw a fun reprise to “One Puff Wonder” in the song "Two and I’m Under" - which features Toby Leman (one of the two (yes two) tenor saxophonists in the band) delivering a captivating-yet-relaxed spoken word rap.
Revulva released the last song, “Blood”, in early May as a single leading up to their EP release. The song was accompanied with a live video session shot in an urban tennis courtyard by local film/keys legend Ben Stewart, which doubled as a music video. Described as “an ode to all the uterus owners out there" Johnson unapologetically shares what it is to be female-bodied and face the reality that your time of the month is very near. It’s something not many women are confident enough to share, and you can tell it really hits home for the ladies in the audience as if Johnson was taking the words right out of their mouths. “I’m not weak/I’m at my peak/before I bleed/I’m all I need” The guitarist comes in with an incredibly catchy solo, which the horns later on emphasise in a slower groove section. This song closes out the EP beautifully, resolving the highs and lows of the tempos, emotions, and moods throughout the work.
I’ve had the chance to see Revulva a few times during the summer of 2021/22, and their enthralling live performances made them easily one of my favourite bands to watch in Aotearoa. Within just a couple years, they’ve played some prestigious venues and festivals (The Mussel Inn, Nest Fest, Tora Bombora), and I believe with their hard work, distinctive form of funk, and enchanting live performances, the band will continue to release great music.
Be sure to check out Revulva and “Girl's Gotta Eat” on all platforms, and swing by our Flying Nun Newtown Store to pick up a CD signed by all members of the band.