Vancouver alternative rock band uses music to start conversations about respecting women
By Miranda Victoria
It was three years ago that Gabe Penner found himself in a situation familiar to many Canadian men in their early twenties: boarding a plane to an adventure.
Thailand-bound with a group of friends, the young musician was anticipating the warm sand and clear blue waters of paradise.
And while many would-be backpackers gravitate to the country — known for cheap accommodations and full moon parties — to find themselves, Penner found his little sister.
Standing face-to-face with a young Thai girl being offered to him for the night by an older man, Penner saw the eyes of 10-year-old Tiana, who was safe at home in Canada.
“All I could think of was, if that was my sister, I would have done something,” Penner said.
“And when I related this story to the group I was with, they said, ‘Oh you can’t do anything. Don’t think about doing it, it’s so dangerous.’”
“And I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
“If that was my sister, I would have had no thought whatsoever for danger. I would have just grabbed her and gone. And I would have done something to the guy as well.”
That young girl is only one of an estimated 2.45 million people forced to perform degrading, dehumanizing and dangerous slave-like work around the world everyday, according to the Canadian government’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.
And hundreds of those subject to human trafficking live right here in Canada.
It didn’t take long before Penner witnessed this, too.
Just one month after returning to Vancouver from his vacation, he was driving down Hastings Street with his family on the way to dinner.
“There was this girl that was about to cross the street — she was very attractive,” he said.
“And I turned to my brother Levi to say, ‘Dude, check out that babe.’
“When I turned to say that to him, I stopped when Tiana caught my eye. What really hit me was that, in that moment, I realized that every single thing I do as a brother is what will become her norm for the way men treat women. Not only that, but the way that I, as a man, treat women is what will become their normal.”
Since that moment, Gabe Penner, now 23, and his brothers Josh, 21, and Levi, 16, have set out to make respect an active conversation.
Using music as their tool, the band of brothers — Her Brothers — are spreading their messages one concert at a time.
“They want to start that conversation with other young men,” said their mother and band manager, Teresa.
“It’s a little bit ironic, because they tend to draw young women to their concerts. But they have felt really strongly — for some time — that once we change how men view, treat and think about women, we’re really going to make some headway.”
Playing a mix of alternative-punk rock, Her Brothers have performed at schools across British Columbia, and in 2015 told their story to an audience of 20,000 students at We Day Vancouver.
“It’s [creating a huge impact] when we do speak at a school,” Teresa said.
“Gabe asks the guys, ‘How many of you have sisters?’ And you see them raise their hands.
“’How many of you have mothers?’”
“And when you put it in that context, that this is who we are speaking about — your mothers and your sisters — the guys get it.”
The Penners liken the fight against human trafficking to the Civil Rights Movement, where the greatest impact happens when the oppressors stand up for the oppressed.
“There is something sensational about sharing the stories of human slavery, sex slavery, trafficking. It’s outside of the ordinary enough for the majority of average people to say, ‘That is horrible,’” said the band’s father and producer, Jonathan.
“But I think there’s another story that we need to talk about, too, and that is the one that goes on inside of the hearts of people that are all around us. The way we, as men, think about and treat women, and the way women believe they should be treated and teach the men in their lives to treat them.”
Although they admit that, first and foremost, Her Brothers are entertainers — the family has been playing music together their entire lives — Penner says they do not want to create more “noise” on the radio.
“There’s so many bands out there and so much music and so much noise,” he said.
“With these songs we’re putting hours of work and time into it, I think it should be something that is contributing to a greater good, somehow.”
The band’s first album, She, released in January, 2015 is a reflection of that. A collection of 10 songs, Her Brothers wanted to capture the angsty punk rock sound, without the angsty angry lyrics.
And arguably, the best way they do that is by playing their songs live.
“There’s an emotive connection that takes place,” Jonathan said.
“And being around music for most of my life (he’s spent 18 years as a producer), there’s a ton of great performers, but there’s not a lot of entertainers and performers that deeply and emotively connect with their audience, and that’s an unusual experience for me.”
Jonathan, who plays keyboard in the band, recalls with great pride the time his sons connected with a student with Down Syndrome and brought her up on stage.
“My favourite part, and I don’t want to say this to sound cheesy, is contributing to making the world a better place,” Levi said.
“Playing these shows and hearing the stories of people experiencing change — that’s probably the coolest thing. That’s something I’m passionate about. I don’t care if I get money for this, I want to do this. This is awesome. It’s not just music, but I’m using music as a way to change to world.”
“The number one question we ask ourselves at a concert, is how are we going to move people?” Gabe said.
Her Brothers is currently prepping for an Alberta tour, but will be back in Metro Vancouver for performances in the spring.
For more on the band of brothers, including music samples and videos, visit Herbrothers.com