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Modern Nun Band Shows Being Queer ‘Doesn’t Inherently Make You Unholy’

Edie McKenna, Lee Simmons and Haley Webster "love playing music" and "love being queer." They want their LGBTQ-friendly spiritual music to bring people together.

From left, Lee Simmons, Edie McKenna and Haley Webster.
Grace Coudal/Provided
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CHICAGO — A young Chicago band is out to show it’s possible to make “queer music holy.”

Modern Nun is a small band committed to showing being queer “doesn’t inherently make you ‘unholy,’” singer and guitarist Edie McKenna said. The musicians want to show music has a spiritual dimension that must be recognized and celebrated. 

McKenna, 23; Lee Simmons, 23; and Haley Webster, 25; played together for the first time in 2019, brought together by friends and the desire to play music that spoke to the LGBTQ+ experience. 

“We love playing music, we love listening to music, AND we love being queer,” their website says.

Three years later, after rehearsals, gigs and endless reviews of their songs, they just finished recording their first extended play record, “Name.”

The record is being mixed and mastered, and the band plans to release it in January. It will contain four tracks of lesbian rock about identity and the ability to find yourself, McKenna said. 

The band’s name, Modern Nun, was born as a joke about the diverse religious backgrounds of the three musicians, but it became a statement about their goals.

McKenna grew up in a Roman Catholic family, went to a Catholic school and attended church three times a week.

“I even had a phase when I wanted to become a nun,” she said. “But now, I’m just spiritual, and I find music to be my spiritual experience. So, somehow, I still am what I wanted to become as a kid.”

Simmons, the lead guitarist, was raised in a Southern Baptist community.

“Growing up, I went to a lot of Christian concerts,” they said. “They were very emotional, and everybody around me told me it was the presence of the Holy Spirit. But, for me, it was the music.”

Webster, the drummer, had a similar upbringing, but in a suburban, evangelical Christian community. Their family is religious and was not supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, though they now completely accepted Webster’s queerness, Webster said.

“It wasn’t until I moved out that I felt a sense of relief,” they said. “Here, I’m surrounded by a much more supportive community.”

Modern Nun’s popularity has grown over the past two years. With more gigs, they had to get a manager, Shay Halvorsen, 23, who takes care of bookings and communications. 

Younger fans who are happy to feel represented send them positive feedback, they said.

“Sometimes, we receive messages on Instagram saying things like, ‘Your music helped me come out,’ and that means a lot to us,” McKenna said. 

Modern Nun’s members said they make music to bring people together and create a sense of community, similar to what religion represents for many.

Simmons, Webster and McKenna want to stress that being queer doesn’t mean you’re unholy or unworthy of your own spiritual community.

“We also have a lot of privilege, and we want to use it to bring people together and effect change,” Mckenna said. 

While awaiting the release of their record, Modern Nun will be busy with a full slate of gigs, starting Oct. 31, when they’ll perform Abba music at the Golden Dagger, 2447 N. Halsted Street. 

You can get updates about the band on their Instagram and Facebook accounts. For bookings, you can send an email to modernnun@gmail.com

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