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‘You’re a part of the problem’

Tulsa’s new post-punk band Tom Boil is here to make you uncomfortable

Joe Harari, Poe Hendricks, Allison Ward, and Brandon Smits

Greg Bollinger

“You’re not a victim for sharing your story. You are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth. And you never know who needs your light, your warmth, and raging courage.” —​ Alex Elle

Sexual assault and abuse in the music industry is nothing new—and it’s endemic. Whether it’s a drunk concertgoer fondling an innocent crowd surfer or an industry powerhouse exploiting young artists, this issue festers as victims continue to be silenced and disregarded. Local band Tom Boil has been around only a few short months, but the group wants to bring attention to this oft-ignored issue. And they’re already making waves in Tulsa’s music scene.

I first saw Tom Boil perform at Colorfeed A/V, an all-ages venue. The lead singer had her back to the audience for the first half of the show. She screamed each word fervently over vibrant yet gloomy riffs. When she turned to face the crowd, her cheeks scarlet and eyes wide, raw energy permeated the crowd. “Everything’s fine and that’s the problem / Listen to victims not their assaulters / Everything’s not fine and you’re a part of the problem.”

In between songs the band would make eye contact with each other and smile, making it clear that they were a unified front.

Lead vocalist Allison Ward, guitarist Brandon Smits, bassist Poe Hendricks, and drummer Joe Harari say they perform with a mission: to bring awareness to sexual assault and abuse through raw, uncensorced lyricism.

Many fans have been inspired by Tom Boil’s mission. Others who attend the shows say that the band makes them feel uncomfortable. But that’s precisely the point.

“It’s a very uncomfortable subject,” Smits said. “But it’s a [conversation] we need to have for this to conclude, or at least be a little bit better.”

Tom Boil was only supposed to be around for a few short months, as Ward and Smits had plans to move out of state. But they changed their minds when they began to see the impact their band had on the scene. “The other day, a girl walked up to me at Soundpony and said, ‘I just want you to know that your lyrics made me cry.’ I’ve never had anyone come up to me and say that in my life,” Hendricks said.

Each band member said they heard similar testimonials. So, they decided to stay in Tulsa to continue to effect change within the scene. “I want to make the place I’m living the best place I can possibly live,” Hendricks said.

Tom Boil’s intent is not to publicly shame abusers. “If you have a call-out culture environment, especially here in Tulsa, people aren’t going to listen—they’re going to hear the names of the people they know and immediately try and push it away,” Harari said. Instead, Tom Boil hopes to foster an inclusive environment where it’s OK for victims to feel enraged while at the same time leaving a space for those who are misinformed to ask questions and grow.

“I am from the mindset that people can own up to the things they’ve done wrong and change,” Ward said. “I’d rather speak about abuse that I’ve experienced in a way that isn’t necessarily calling people out, but rather calls attention to it.”

The band just finished recording a five-track demo that is set to be released mid-October. The cover art for the record will feature a collection of photos of places individuals have been abused. All photos have been sent to Ward who has kept all names and stories confidential.

For Ward, this project is very personal. “We were in OKC a few weeks ago and we passed by the place where I was roofied, the night I was raped essentially—and it’s the first time I had seen that since it had happened, and I thought, ‘Good thing we are playing a show in an hour because I’m really fucking triggered right now,’” Ward said.

While everyone’s path to healing may differ, there’s an undeniable solace in learning that you are not alone. Tom Boil’s mission is to make sure people know that.

Many of the people who come to listen to the band can most likely relate to the experiences Ward sings about. Nearly one in five women and one in 71 men in the U.S. have been raped at some time in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As I listened to Tom Boil talk about their advocacy for victims, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own past experience of abuse. I wondered if my journey would have been different if I had someone other than family members screaming in anger at what had happened. What if I had someone, like Ward, screaming that I was not alone—that I was believed?

As I left my meeting with the band, I returned for a moment to that place of isolation and loneliness. I imagined what it would have been like to come across a group like Tom Boil who were as angry as I had been. It felt good. It felt cathartic.

Abuse is pervasive and comes in many forms. If you or someone you love is a victim of abuse or sexual assault, please call Domestic Violence Intervention Services (DVIS) 24-hour hotline 918-7HELPME (918-743-5763). All of DVIS’s services are free no matter how long ago the abuse or assault took place. DVIS also offers free counseling to perpetrators of abuse.