In the spring of my sophomore year at Grinnell, I had just started playing out, and I was pretty new to it, pretty bad at it, and in need of suggestions, support, role models (male, female, whatever) and advice on how to gain confidence and become a better musician. I went to an organizational meeting for the all-girl rock show, excited to be a part of such a thing and looking forward to meeting all kinds of awesome women who might be able to help me out. I've never told this to anyone, but to be completely honest, I was shocked by what I saw and heard when I got to the meeting. Instead of the strong role models I had imagined, there were a handful of cowering, giggling girls saying things like, "Well, I sort of play drums a little bit" and "I wrote this song, but it's pretty bad and I'm not sure if I can do it in front of people" and "The only thing I know how to do is a cover of such-and-such by such-and-such, but I can't sing and I need other people to play guitar and piano". It made me want to scream. Where were the songwriters? Where were the women with bands?
That fall, I met my guitarist, Tanny, and he and I started practicing and recording. I'd never really played my own songs with another musician before, and it was a learning experience in every way. We gradually got better and extended our repertoire. By the time we played our first show together in February 2003 at Bob's, we knew that we wanted a drummer, but we didn't have a practice space that would accommodate one. I didn't think it was feasible to practice at Music House or anywhere other than my dorm room, because my keyboard is hard to move around, and I didn't want to have to move it once or twice a week for band practice. Nobody had much advice for me because I was, as far as I could tell, the only person on campus who wanted to play rock shows but did not have the upper-body strength to move her instrument around. (With the stand, accessories and soft case, my keyboard weighs about 50 pounds; with the hard-sided case, 75. I'm more muscular than I was then, but it's still not easy.) We finished the year having played a couple shows together and having recorded some songs I was proud of. We experimented, playing a couple songs with a bassist, Ariel, and a violinist, Ellie, and I also gained my first experience with co-writing songs. It was the end of my third year in our college choir, the Grinnell Singers, and my voice was steadily getting stronger and more confident. More importantly, I had started listening to rock bands with women songwriters like Mates of State and Denali and especially the Reputation and I had a new vision of how I wanted to do this band thing long-term. I was still looking for those female, songwriter, band leader, musician role models in Grinnell, but at least I was starting to have them outside of Grinnell.
When Tanny returned from Grinnell-in-London this year, we decided that we wanted to rock and that it wasn't worth continuing if we couldn't practice with a drummer in a space that permitted drumming. I went to a meeting of Freesound, an organization for campus bands, and said, extremely selfishly, "I want to play rock shows, but I have this problem. What can you do to help me?" Since that moment, Freesound has done nothing but help me. The Freesound guys got me in touch with a woman who generously let me borrow her keyboard for all our practices, which saved me because it was already right in our practice space at Music House where I needed it to be. The Freesound guys walked me through the process of signing up and practicing at Music House, something I had never done and was kind of scared about. The Freesound guys found us a drummer, JP, who learned my songs really fast and who rocks and who's good at finding opportunities to play. When we'd been practicing for a few weeks, the Freesound guys helped us make a really good recording for the Freesound compilation. The Freesound guys had nothing but good things to say about "Chase" which I wrote and which Tanny and JP helped me bring to life. The Freesound guys are the reason we got to open for John Vanderslice a couple weeks ago. The Freesound guys go to our shows and help us sound check and help us move our gear around and stand in the front row and clap for us and feed us and give us beer.
And you know what I've decided? Screw finding female role models for campus musicians. I don't need them because I've grown into my own role as a musician. As far as I know, I'm the only woman on campus who leads a campus band. As far as I know, I'm also the only woman on campus who's in more than one band at the moment (although Industrial Theme Park probably won't do another show in its current incarnation -- but even if you don't count ITP, there's my regular band and then there's the quasi-departmental jazz ensemble that I also lead). I'm graduating in three weeks, working hard this summer, and starting a band this fall wherever I land. If you're a campus musician of any gender and you're looking for suggestions, support, role models, and advice, I can recommend two groups of people with whom I've found those things. One is the guys in my bands. The other is the Freesound guys.
I'm on the mailing list for the all-girl rock show. It's just like it was two years ago. They're throwing groups together at the last minute to giggle and cower and play one or two cover songs or sing over a CD. It's stupid anyway to cut yourself off from a lot of good music by making it an "all-girl" rock show (which itself is inaccurate, since some men will be in the show, too), but what's really stupid is the fact that I've worked for three years and finally gotten it together enough to be able to write good songs and be able to perform them well, but despite several emails, I still can't get the organizers to please just email me and tell me and my band when to show up and how long to play. That's all I want, but they're happy with ignoring me and focusing on people who haven't gotten it together as well as we have, but whom I guess are a better fit for their artificial "all-girl" mold. Assuring them over and over that there's no pressure. Hey, no pressure! Just because you're performing in front of people doesn't mean you have to be, you know, good or anything! You are, after all, new at this, 'cause you're a girl!
We won't be playing at the all-girl rock show. However, the campus bands show on May 7th will feature, among other genres, rock. And at least one girl.