Language. Everything boils down to language. It's how we define ourselves. There are whole branches of study devoted to studying the "how's" and "why's" of language - do words actually have meaning or do we just give them meaning? How does a definition vary from person to person? How does this affect human interaction? Language is everything.

A prime example of this being labels. In the music industry, labels are an institution that is slowly dying. With an increase in global availability of music for artists and fans alike, genre lines are being blurred to the point where they are becoming nonsensical. So the question must be asked: how important are labels in the present and what purpose will they serve in the future?

Enter FEA. This in-your-face rock collective - founded by Phanie Diaz and Jenn Alva of Girl in a Coma, with Letty Martinez and guitarist Aaron Magana completing the line-up - have been described as "queer-feminist-Chicana-punk" (that's a label if I've ever read one). They released a self-titled LP in July on Joan Jett's Blackheart Records, which was produced by Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!), Alice Bag, and Lori from Babes in Toyland. This record features an all-star lineup.

With this 'Under the Influence', I wanted to take it in a different direction. I caught up with the band via email to not only discuss their artistic influences but societal and language-based influences as well - namely, labels. The band responded with thought-provoking and earnest answers about what it means to be labeled punk, the melding together of music and the queer/ LGBT community, what feminism means to them, and to top it off, what the role of labels play for them and the role of the media on this subject.

Take some time and read through what FEA have to say about these topics. You may learn something new.

Where did you grow up and what is your hometown like?

Phanie: I was born and raised in San Antonio, TX. I absolutely love it. You get a sense of family and pride here and a melting pot of music.

Letty: I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley area, which is the southern tip of Texas. People that didn't grow up in the Valley think nothing fun goes on there, but I had a blast! Close to the beach, a few minutes from Mexico, culture, music, and good food. The punk scene there is so united and just thinking of the energy still makes me giddy. I don't know where I'd be if I didn't find it in my early teens.

Aaron: I'm born and raised in San Antonio Texas. I've always enjoyed my city, it's a bit more relaxed, not as fast paced or as crowded as some other cities. I think the slower pace and it being not as crowded really helps the music scene. There's not an overwhelming amount of bands, so artists have room to grow and venues to play at, and most people in our music scene are very supportive and genuine friends.

Jenn: I grew up mostly in San Antonio, TX. San Antonio has been always a melting pot of Mexican culture and Texas mentalities. Extremely friendly folks! I love living in SA.

What are your earliest memories of music? What was being played around the house growing up?

Phanie: My earliest memory is my mother playing her vinyl as she cleaned and my grandfather playing his in the garage, singing along with a beer in his hand.

Letty: Queen! My dad would blast Queen on his record player as well as The Beach Boys. A lot of Gloria Trevi and other Spanish pop rock. My parents also threw a lot of parties in which they'd play a lot of disco, salsa, bachata, and anything they could dance to.

Aaron: My earliest memories of music are sitting around my dad's old record player and him showing my siblings and me Elvis records (mainly) and the Beatles.

Jenn: Luckily my mom and dad had great taste in music. Patsy Cline, Freddie Fender, Elvis Presley to name a few, but most distinctively, I remember a 7-inch record that had a rhino on it. I was 5 years old and thought it was a piggy. I'd tell my mother, "Play my piggy record!" That record was 'I Love Rock 'N' Roll' by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. How funny years and years later we would meet and work with Joan.

At what age did you start discovering your own music? What bands/artists did you gravitate towards?

Phanie: I wanna say around the age of 8. I wanted to play already. I really liked the Monkees and would watch their show and sing along. In my teens I started listening to punk.

Letty: Although I still listened to the music I grew up listening to, I wanted angry girls on the stage! I searched on the Internet for girl bands. It led me to the Riot Grrrl movement and I was in heaven.

Aaron: When I got to high school I started venturing out. I was a guitar player by then so part of me liked guitar driven music. I had a Stevie Ray Vaughn DVD of his Austin City Limits performances. Listening to that, I was blown away and that got me into the blues. But I was kind of all over the place musically around that time too, I remember buying a Nirvana CD, I think I was 14, and I just loved them for other reasons than just the guitar playing. Nirvana's lyrics popped out at me and just the emotions you could hear in his voice, you could tell he meant everything he was singing. But I also liked the music that was coming out at the time in the early 2000s like the whole pop punk movement that happened, I was into some of those bands as well.

Jenn: At age 12-13 I would discuss music with my drummer/bff and talked a little bit about starting a band. It wasn't until we went to see Babes in Toyland in concert that it was settled to go hard and start a group.

Do you still listen to that music now? How has your music taste changed?

Phanie: I absolutely still listen to punk. My taste hasn't changed at all.

Letty: Hell yeah I still listen to all that, but I listen to so much more now. I love music too much and I can't stick to one genre or style.

Aaron: I don't think my taste has really changed, I still listen to all the old stuff I grew up with. If anything I tend to listen to older music a lot more then newer music. I don't know why that is but that's just the stuff I'm attracted to.

Jenn: Absolutely! We were fortunate enough to have toured with Babes in Toyland last year. As for my own personal musical taste, it's pretty much stayed the same, but with a realization that I love old country. I am talking about the '80s and older. It was blasting in my household growing up and...well, hell, I'm from Texas!

When did you start playing music? What made you want to learn your specific instrument?

Phanie: I started seriously playing at 14. I started on guitar. I didn't start playing drums until I was 22. Only because Jenn asked me to. She knew I could at least keep a beat and wanted me to drum for our first band Girl In A Coma.

Letty: I'm not great with instruments, but I've always loved singing. I've been putting on live living room performances for the family and their friends since I was about 5. I finally decided to start a band about 8 years ago.

Aaron: My older brothers played music and I would watch them and when they weren't home I'd go into their room and mess around with their instruments. I started playing around the age of 10 and I played drums first, I would play at church and I got pretty good but I had always been messing around with the guitar until it finally just took over everything. I just thought it was the coolest thing ever and I wanted to be good so I would practice all the time and it wouldn't leave my hand.

Jenn: I've always been fascinated with the bass guitar. When I meet Phanie in '92 I lied and told her I played. Truth was I didn't know at all. She actually taught me to play.

When did you all meet? How did you come up with the name FEA? Is it an acronym for something?

Phanie: I've known Jenn since I was 12. We've always played in a band together. We met Aaron through an open mic my sister use to host at a local bar in SA. He would show up and sing with his sister. He was innocent then! Letty we met while playing in Girl In A Coma. Her old band Angela and the X's would open for us when we played the valley of Texas. Fea is the female tense for the word "ugly" in Spanish. We wanted to take a negative term towards a female and make it positive. So we are Fea, so what.

You are described as a "queer feminist Chicana punk band." I'd love to break this down. How do you feel queer and LGBT musicians are represented in media? Do you feel this has improved over the years?

Phanie: I think it has improved but we still have a long way to go. I mean there are still a lot of homophobic racists in this country. Proof is in the fact that the idiot Trump is even an option.

Letty: I feel like it has definitely improved. In the past it wasn't talked about as much as it is now. I think it's important to talk about it and I'm happy many musicians are. It helps a lot of kids that might feel alone and misunderstood. I do believe that your sexual preference is your own business and I hope eventually it won't be a big deal.

What unique role do you feel music plays in the LGBT community? What role has it played as a form of protest?

Letty: Bands like Team Dresch and The Butches played a huge roll in my coming out. I felt comfort and they gave me courage to say fuck it, I am who I am. Music has always been there for me as I'm sure it has for so many people. Music is my means of communication and self-expression, and I find it is a great way to protest since it has the ability to reach so many people around the world.

Jenn: With a strong message and beautiful music backing it up, it's definitely a universal way of understanding in a different realm than just talking/writing. I have always felt just us "being" - being on stage, playing music, feeling confident and having a sense of pride - can play a strong role on a younger person in our LGBTQ community and influence them to be themselves, in music or life in general.

What does feminism mean to you? How do you convey that message through your music and lyrics?

Phanie: It means being proud of who are. I simply am myself when preforming and I think sometimes that in itself is powerful.

Letty: Feminism simply means wanting equality for both women and men. We deserve the same respect, that's all. We can go into detail, but all in all, it just means equality. We have a song called 'Feminazi' in which we explain that we aren't feminazis or man haters, we just want to meet in the middle. It pissed some people off and that cracked me up. I don't see how it is offensive to want to be treated with the same respect. We have come a long way, but we still have work to do.

Where does your music find a home in the Latino/a (Latinx?) community? Were there any struggles being a Chicana punk band? Who did you look to for support?

Phanie: In Fea, we have both English and Spanish lyrics. We talk about issues and subjects that I believe Latinos/Latinas can relate too. So far it hasn't been a struggle. I think people are more curious about us if anything. We mainly look to each other and our community for support.

When I was younger, I believed whole-heartedly the punk scene was fully inclusive. As I got older, I realized that wasn't true. What issues would you stay are still systemic in the punk scene when it comes to being a woman or queer or a person of color?

Letty: Fortunately for me, the punk scene in the valley was inclusive. At least it felt that way to me. This is where we went to be ourselves without being censored or judged.

How has the punk scene improved since you first started playing?

Phanie: I think it's become even more accepting. Queer punks are more open.

Letty: I live in San Marcos, TX now and there isn't much of a punk scene there as far as I'm aware. I am sadly no longer involved in the punk scene I grew up knowing, but I hear it is doing great! I keep up with some of the bands and I still keep in touch with a few good friends that are still doing what they do best. I'm very proud of the way it has grown.

Laura Jane Grace was a producer on your album. What was it like to work with her? What did she teach you about recording an album?

Phanie: It was amazing, she's amazing. We always learn from every producer we work with but with Laura, we learned the smallest changes can make a big difference.

Letty: Laura is so freaking awesome! She has taught me new ways to take care of my voice and the important balance of having fun and taking it seriously in the studio. It was such a blast and honor to work with her. I am forever grateful to her.

Aaron: Working with Laura Jane Grace. She was just awesome to watch in the studio. She was constantly coming up with ideas for songs. She kind of taught me how to think outside the box when recording. I had always just recorded whatever it was I played live in songs, but she kinda showed me how to put in other guitar parts without taking over the main riff. And just her work ethic-- she was extremely prepared by the time we got there to record, and we all got along really well. She was awesome to work with and hopefully we can do more work with her later on.

Jenn: I must say we were a little intimidated although we had met her prior on a Girl In A Coma tour. We were listening to Against Me! and my drummer and I felt she would probably focus on our singer and guitarist when it came to arrangements, and sure enough, she put them to the test. Laura Jane is ridiculously clever in all aspects, not just music. It was such an amazing experience working with her and our engineer Marc Hudson. Working with any producer, they are going to train your brain to think outside of what you already are accustomed to.

Many of the questions I asked dealt with labels. What are the pros and cons when it comes to labels in general?

Letty: Oh labels. We have a love/hate relationship. Cons are that you might feel like you are trapped in a box. If you are labeled a punk and listen to other stuff, you are a poser. If you are labeled gay or lesbian and express some sort of attraction for anyone of the opposite sex, you are a fraud. People grow, evolve, and even get curious here and there. You never stop learning about yourself and sometimes labels can hold you back. However, labels and people that share the same ones as you do can help you come out of your shell. You feel understood, cared about, and not so alone. Labels should not be taken so seriously in my opinion though.

How about when it comes to labels in music? For example, saying someone is a great female singer rather than saying they are just a great singer? What do you feel the media gets wrong when it comes to qualifiers?

Phanie: This is where labels are definitely a con. Why can't we just be musicians instead of women in rock? Is it so far-fetched that a woman can rock and inspire a male? It's been happening for years, yet the media can make women seem weaker and lesser-than and condition us to believe so. It's about time we are seen as human beings and capable of excelling at anything we take on. Until we stop using the term "woman who can rock" or "females in rock" and simply just refer to us as musicians, we won't see a movement forward. It's not so crazy a concept! Stop boxing everyone!

Lastly, what advice would you give anyone pursuing music who may feel out of place due to gender, race, sexual orientation?

Phanie: If you have a passion for something, fucking do it. Be proud of who you are and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You never know who you are going to inspire.