Wax Idols' Hether Fortune and King Woman's Kristina Esfandiari explain the harassment they allegedly endured, and Pentagram issues a statement.
Last week, Bay Area bands Wax Idols and King Woman announced via social media that due to an “overload of bullshit,” and being “treated really poorly & harassed in gross ways,” they’d be cutting an 11-date tour with classic doom metallers Pentagram short, nixing their opening slots in Santa Ana, San Francisco, and San Jose before heading out on their own national co-headline tour. Though the two frontwomen, Hether Fortune and Kristina Esfandiari (of Wax Idols and King Woman, respectively) were decidedly vague about the details, they concluded the announcement with, “Never let anyone fuck with you and yours,” and finally, “If you knew the shit we were dealing with you would pay money for us NOT to play with them.”
Since the announcement, many friends and fans expressed not only their support, but a general assumption of what happened based on Pentagram’s reputation, or more specifically that of frontman Bobby Liebling, whose decades of drug abuse and various other clandestine behaviors one would expect from a hard rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle have been chronicled in the now-infamous documentary Last Days Here.
Noisey reached out to Pentagram for comment, and were sent a statement by the band's manager, which stressed the band's surprise at their tourmates' departure. The entire statement can be found at the bottom of this post, but reads in part, "We’ve been professionally performing and recording music for close to 50 yrs and this is one of the most unfounded and grossly opportunistic situations that we’ve ever encountered. These bands didn’t communicate to Pentagram or the tour manager about wanting to leave the tour. A few nights into the tour, they simply disappeared, posted negatively about us on social media and then headed over to the show that was previously set up for them that very night."
Even from a fan perspective, the tour seemed chaotic: Bobby Liebling was a no-show at the Seattle date, causing the band to play without him. The next night, at Dante’s in Portland, all of the bands’ sets were pushed back, and during Wax Idols’ set, the sound person came onstage, imploring them to play two more songs, presumably to buy time. The story is that Liebling was actually on a plane to get to the venue during the show, and admittedly the crowd was pleasantly surprised when Pentagram finally took the stage—a disheveled, spandex-clad Liebling in tow—nearly two hours late. The announcement about Wax Idols and King Woman’s decision to drop off the tour came just a week later, and whispers began to circle regarding sexual harassment and generally despicable behavior from old rock ‘n’ dudes who may or may not be accustomed to behavioral consequences.
Before now, Hether Fortune and Kristina Esfandiari have not come forward to publicly disclose more information. Though they were content to leave the sparse details as-is on social media, when we reached out, they agreed to share their story exclusively with Noisey. We caught up via phone about their decision to put their foot down, and what happened to cause it.
Noisey: Last week, you made the decision to cancel your last three appearances on tour with Pentagram. What made you decide to do that?
Hether Fortune: Well, for starters, we were really excited to do this tour. We all are fans of Pentagram. And yes, we’ve seen the documentary about Bobby and knew that he’s a wild card and a character. But that’s rock ‘n’ roll. And, granted, there are crazy things I’ve done in my life that might make me seem like I’m crazy. So I didn’t want to go into it assuming anything about him or the band or anything. I just assumed it would be a tour like any other tour, where we show up and do our jobs and maybe have some funny conversations and get to know them and it’d be a cool thing. We’d play to new audiences. You know, do our jobs. Do what we love.
Kristina Esfandiari: We wanted to do it because Pentagram is a legendary band. And we were like, “Fuck yeah! We should meet them before they’re not touring anymore.” And me and Hether really wanted to bond and do a trip together, so we thought it was a good idea. It was just not.
Fortune: When we showed up in Seattle, day one, Bobby did not show up. He was not there. The band played without him, and that kind of set the tempo of disorganization and total chaos. Right off the bat, no one communicated anything with us, no one was speaking to us; the environment was not conducive to the kind of standards I hold for myself and my bandmates. We were treated really shittily by the sound guy, and it was just not pleasant at all. But we were just like, okay, whatever, shit happens, we’ll make the best of it because we’re here. That set the tempo for the entire tour, basically. Day after day, we were just disregarded, treated like we were silly girls who didn’t know what we were doing. We weren’t considered at all for sound checks, showing up on time, and making sure that we were in some way treated with respect even though we were just the openers—none of those things were happening.
So we’re just going to do what we came here to do, and play, and be on our merry way. We are super low maintenance. We aren’t used to things going well, you know? [laughs] We were just like, “Well, whatever! We’ll make it work.” So that’s what we tried to do, and kept doing, and the audiences were great! And people were really respectful to us, we played really well, we had a good time as much as we could.
As things progressed, and once Bobby was around as well, weird things started happening that were making us feel really uncomfortable. Comments were being made toward the girls—I mean, I’m a pretty statuesque, tough-looking person, so I wasn’t messed with as much as the more petite, supposedly non-threatening-looking girls in my band, but they were really getting a lot of inappropriate comments directed at them and touching, and stuff. They were getting increasingly more and more uncomfortable. And things escalated to the point where promoters were telling us that there was money being mishandled for our buyouts, and we should have been getting things that we weren’t getting, and finally, on the last night we were on the tour, I went to try and talk to the person in charge of Pentagram about the problems we were having, and how we were feeling, and he just laughed in my face, and basically told me that how I feel doesn’t matter. And that was it. We were like, “Alright, we’re done!” because at the end of the day, the only thing that’s important to me is taking care of the people I care about who are supporting me in my band, and my integrity as a human being, and both of those things were compromised.
So I had a choice: It was either continue to show up after this person and several other people involved had blatantly disrespected me and my band, and basically say, “It’s cool, you can treat us however you want and we’ll put up with it because we’re that desperate,” or walk away from the last three shows, because we’re not desperate. And that was the choice we made. I’m not going to say, “Hey, it’s cool. Treat me however you want and I’ll put up with it.” That’s just never going to happen. No amount of money or success or attention is worth more to me than the comfort and happiness of my band, and my integrity. So that’s why we bounced.
Esfandiari: Every day, something new would happen. And we’d go, “Okay, let’s just try to ride this out. Let’s just try and stay positive.” But then, by the last three shows, it was just too fucked up. We were like, “Yeah, we can’t do this.” So we sat and talked about it for awhile. Because, of course, we didn’t want to be unprofessional. My biggest thing was that I didn’t want to cancel on our fans that were looking forward to seeing us play.
What sorts of comments were Bobby and others making?
Fortune: Bobby made several absurdly gross, inappropriate comments to all of the women on the tour, but the worst thing was that a fan told us that she left the Pentagram show and was super disgusted because he was making rape jokes onstage. And he was. He did. He makes jokes onstage about how the legal age of consent is only 16, and I don’t know what the rape joke was this time, because I wasn’t even watching them. At that point, I didn’t watch them anymore. But people were writing to us and King Woman expressing their disgust with the shit that he was saying onstage about rape. So I was like, “Alright, I can’t do this. It’s just too much.”
Esfandiari: I didn’t personally hear it, but fans were emailing me, and I was like, “Oh, shit. I didn’t know it was like that.”
Fortune: We were also told that Bobby said the only reason he green-lighted the tour with us and King Woman was so that he could have “a lot of options with women.” And the way we were treated, and the things that Bobby was saying to us, reinforced that. And made it pretty easy to believe that was true, because that was the way he treated us. I personally never felt unsafe or violated. I just felt grossed out and disrespected. My other bandmates, however, were often basically hiding from Pentagram. They wouldn’t go in the green room, they would hide in the van—they didn’t want to be around at all because they were that uncomfortable.
So to be clear, knowing Bobby’s reputation, and Pentagram’s history in general, did you expect this behavior at all?
Fortune: I want to make this clear: We all were aware of his vibe and reputation. We just didn’t want to be judgmental. I don’t like to judge people who have rumors spread about them because I’ve had people judge me prematurely without actually knowing me and giving me a chance in person. So I do unto others. I wasn’t going to be like, “I’m not gonna tour with Pentagram because he’s probably a sexist, gross creep!” I wasn’t going to say that, because I didn’t know him! I don’t like to treat people like that.
I also have respect for people who have paved the way in music or art for the things that I do. I have respect for the fact that in the 60s or 70s or whatever, things were different. Women were treated differently. He was probably in an environment where people didn’t tell him that his behavior was uncool, and it just got reinforced.
Esfandiari: Basically, we all know people in Pentagram are insane, especially Bobby, but we didn’t expect anybody to invade our space the way that they did, or be so disrespectful to fellow musicians. I don’t care if people are fucking crazy. That’s their fucking prerogative. But I just felt like they were disrespectful and gross. We stayed on the tour as long as we could, but towards the end, the level of disrespect and the way were being treated and ignored was just like, why are we doing this? We’re not desperate. We don’t have to do this.
Even if it’s not directed at your band, if your fans are being made uncomfortable, and you’re being associated with that, that’s not what you guys are about in any way.
Fortune: No. And the most important thing I want to express, more than I want any of the details of what they said or did published, mainly I want to express what I am about, and what my band is about. And we are a band that just wants to exist as musicians, as artists, in the world, where we can do our thing, do what we love and express ourselves. And if other people respond to that, or if it makes them happy, or it makes them feel good, that’s great. That’s all we care about. We just want to be treated with a basic level of respect. I treat other people with respect that I work with, and I expect the same in return. If I don’t get that, I’m not going to fucking play ball. And that’s it.
Or to watch them have to hide from their own tour.
Fortune: Yeah. We didn’t expect red carpet, or personalized catering, or money that we weren’t contractually obligated to, or anything. I know that I am not some famous rock star, and my band is not super successful, and I know that I am not entitled to anything other than a decent level of respect and consideration as a human being. And those things were denied from us, for the most part.
You said that promoters told you that money was being mishandled. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
Fortune: We were told by promoters that money and hospitality were being mishandled, and that we weren’t getting what we were supposed to be getting. So when I tried to speak with the person in charge of the tour, the tour manager for Pentagram [Greg Turley], I was met with dismissal and a weird attitude.
How did the tour manager treat you when you brought that to him?
Fortune: I said, “You don’t know anything about what’s going on in the contracts about how you’re supposed to be distributing buyouts to us.” He said, “I don’t know anything about that.” And I was like, “So, you don’t think in any way that package payouts include our band?” And he said, “Oh, you think you’re owed something, I guess.” I was like, “Man, this is bullshit. We’ve been treated like shit this whole tour and all I’m trying to do is be treated with a basic amount of respect and do my job.” And he was like, “How have you been treated like shit?” And I listed all of the ways, and that included all of the stuff Bobby and other people in their camp were doing. And he just laughed in my face and smirked and said, “Well maybe you’re not cut out for this.” I was like, "Ohh. Fuck. You."
“Maybe you’re not cut out for this.”
Fortune: I’ve been in touring bands for ten years—in bands with men and women, on tours with all men, and on tours with girls. I’ve worked with men and women. And I have never in my life been treated this badly on a tour by anyone. Never. It was shocking. I know I’m not a famous rock star or something, but I have been doing this long enough to know what I’m doing, and to know how things should be run in a professional, respectful manner, and that is not how this tour was run. It was a joke.
How are you feeling about things now?
Esfandiari: The positive thing is seeing how supportive our fans are, and seeing how supportive our community is, and how much they back us. And how pissed they all were. They were just like, “No, not here. Not in our community, and not to our girls.”
We all feel very resilient because there have been so many obstacles on this tour: small things that were annoying that happened, or big things where we thought we weren’t going to be able to do the tour anymore, and we just found ways to navigate it and overcome it. We’ve all been bonding super hard because of that. So overall, I feel really good about the fact that we dropped off that tour. Because it was bogus.
It seems like you’ve received a huge amount of support from the Internet community, too.
Esfandiari: Yeah! They’ve all been so awesome. I guess Cedric from At The Drive-In and The Mars Volta was also like, “Right on, ladies.” He thought it was cool that we did that.
Are you concerned about any professional repercussions from this situation?
Esfandiari: What are they gonna say? “Oh, these girls respected themselves. We’re not gonna work with them anymore!” No, fuck that. We’re gonna do things our way.
Noisey reached out to Pentagram for comment, and were sent the following statement via their manager:
From Pentagram as a band:
We’ve been professionally performing and recording music for close to 50 yrs and this is one of the most unfounded and grossly opportunistic situations that we’ve ever encountered. These bands didn’t communicate to Pentagram or the tour manager about wanting to leave the tour. A few nights into the tour, they simply disappeared, posted negatively about us on social media and then headed over to the show that was previously set up for them that very night.
Our mutual agent had set up a separate deal with the promoters for the opening acts. Pentagram’s contract and all inclusions / exclusions were between Pentagram and the promoter.
Bobby Liebling offended someone from one of the opening bands. He said something to the effect of, “I approve of you being on the tour because I want options”. Pentagram as a band sincerely apologized for Bobby’s comment. Bobby verbally hit on this girl, that’s as far as it got. It’s no secret that he’s attracted to women and that’s not a crime. He’s a single man. He may have been uncouth but there was no touching. We tried to be nice but these openers gave us no real chance to interact, avoided us at all costs and made us feel uncomfortable on our own tour.
Catch Wax Idols and King Woman on the rest of their Noisey-sponsored US tour:
June 7: Philadelphia, PA – Boot & Saddle
June 8: Washington DC – Songbyrd DC
June 9: Richmond, VA – Strange Matter
June 10: Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506
June 11: Atlanta, GA – The EARL
June 12: New Orleans, LA – Siberia
June 14: Dallas, TX – Red Blood Club
June 15: Austin, TX – Mohawk
June 17: Tucson, AZ – Club Congress
June 18: Fullerton, CA – The Slidebar
June 19: Oakland, CA – Starline Social Club
Cat Jones has seen Pentagram four times on two continents and still finds this shit unacceptable; she's on Twitter.