Front and Center: Saxophonist and Two-Time GRAMMY Nominee, Mindi Abair

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Saxophonist and Two-Time GRAMMY Nominee, Mindi Abair

In the video below, the WiMN’s Jenna Paone catches up with two-time GRAMMY nominee and saxophone siren, Mindi Abair. 

Abair—along with her band The Boneshakers—recently unveiled their latest record, The EastWest Sessions. Named for the iconic EastWest Studios where they recorded the album alongside legendary blues-rock producer Kevin “Caveman” Shirley (Led Zeppelin, Joe Bonamassa, The Black Crowes, Aerosmith), this LP features blues and rock songs about adversity, triumph, and life lessons. 

Among the album’s eleven tracks is the female-empowerment anthem, “Pretty Good For a Girl.” Along with the this track—which turns the too-often-heard backhanded compliment on its head—Mindi has launched a new women’s empowerment initiative, Pretty Good For A Girl, and is inviting women everywhere to participate in the music video for her song.

Check out the interview below, which kicks off with a special live performance of “Vinyl,” the first single from The EastWest Sessions. Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers are touring extensively in support of the album—to view the dates and find out more, visit mindiabair.com.

Front and Center: She Rocks Summer NAMM Showcase and Interview with Julia Jordan Kamanda

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: She Rocks Summer NAMM Showcase and interview with Julia Jordan Kamanda

By Leslie Buttonow

On July 13, 2017, the She Rocks Summer NAMM Showcase took Nashville by storm!

Held at the Listening Room Café and hosted by The WiMN founder Laura B. Whitmore, guests were treated to an enjoyable evening of performances by talented musicians from all over North America, each offering their unique stories and messages.

The WiMN was also pleased to welcome some first-time She Rocks performers to the stage. Featured performers included:

First-time She Rocks performer Southern Sirens is a female duo that calls Louisville, KY home these days. Together, the pair puts an Americana twist on a wide variety of musical genres, performing both originals and covers.

Singer-songwriter Laura Clapp hails from New England, has a love for life, and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. Her diverse career experiences include a stint as a backup singer for an 80s synth legend, to demonstrating music technology products, to performing her own original music and recording her upcoming fourth album.

Sisters Charlotte and Sarah perform as Command Sisters, a unique Canadian duo the delivers lush vocal harmonies and guitar stylings that make their live performances stand out. To date, their career has included a winning entry in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, a collaboration with a platinum producer, and a private performance for Prince William and Princess Katherine.

Laura B. Whitmore and songwriting partner Jenna Paone also joined in the on-stage festivities, showcasing new original songs such as “Pretty” from their upcoming Girl album, which is a project featuring empowerment songs for girls.

Another first-time She Rocks performer was singer-songwriter Julia Jordan Kamanda. Not only is she a dynamic musician and performer (having toured the world with her father, guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan), but she is also a teaching artist and an author of children’s music books. We asked her to share a little about her musical background, current pursuits, and what music means to her.

The WiMN: How did you enjoy your experience performing at the She Rocks Showcase?

JJK: I really enjoyed playing at the SheRocks Showcase! It was my first time playing in Nashville, so it was a real treat to have it be in connection with such a great organization like WiMN. I met some amazing other female musicians and left with a sense of excitement for the future.

The WiMN: Tell us about some of your song selections for the evening and why you chose them.

JJK: The songs I selected were a combination of up-tempo, groovy songs and a few mellower ones that are introspective. Depending on where I play, it’s sometimes hard to play the quieter stuff because you’re not always in an environment where the audience is listening intently enough.

For a place like The Listening Room Café, I figured I could bring my voice and vibe down a bit and connect with people on a more emotional level. Of course, I always like to play the songs that are upbeat and filled with positivity. When people hear my music, I like for them to leave with a sense of optimism. There is a lot of sadness and uncertainty in some people’s lives, so I want them to experience my music as a breath of fresh air.

The WiMN: Our readers may not realize that you’re also very involved with children’s music education. Please share a little about that and how our readers can get involved in this great cause.

JJK: There is no way I would be where I am today without the encouragement of phenomenal music mentors and access to a safe creative space while I was growing up. Now that I get to make my own way through the music world, I try to create the same safe space for other young musicians. So, I founded J3 Music Studios (www.j3musicstudios.com), which offers a private lesson program for piano, guitar, voice, and songwriting.

I am also developing a series of children’s storybooks that introduce music concepts to young children. Each book introduces a different musical concept through original stories and globally-inspired music. There is a supplementary teaching guide available that can be used for classrooms, homes, and community programs. You can find out more about the series on my website, www.juliajk.com.

The WiMN: In addition to your music education advocacy and playing solo performances such as the She Rocks showcase, I see you also sit in on some dates with your father. It must be quite an experience playing your original music with him!

JJK: I do sometimes sit in with my dad! It feels very full-circle when we do shows together. You know, my parents never pushed me into music, they both just cultivated a creative environment where I could find my own voice. And as I grew, I found that voice through songwriting.

When I play with my dad, we do a combination of jazz standards (which we’ve been doing since I was a kid), classics like “City of New Orleans,” and some of my originals. The originals are always fun because we do them a little differently every time. And we are very in tune with each other on stage in ways that other duos sometimes aren’t, just because of our connection. It’s really fun for us!

 

Front and Center: Guitarist and Vocalist, Jackie Venson

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Guitarist and Vocalist, Jackie Venson

By Lina Bhambhani

Soul/pop guitarist and vocalist Jackie Venson hails from Austin, TX. As the daughter of musician Andrew Venson, she was born into a musical family that motivated her to study at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. It was at Berklee where Venson picked up the guitar for the first time.

In April of 2014, she was chosen from over 2,000 entries by retail chain Belk for their Fashion Lounge concert series. Throughout the series’ five amphitheater performances, she supported well-known artists like Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw and James Taylor. Venson released her debut The Light in Me in 2015, and Jackie Venson Live in 2016.

To find out more, visit jackievenson.com.

The WiMN: How has your father, Andrew Venson, influenced you as an artist?
 
JV: I definitely have a lot of his influence and my taste in music does resemble his. However it wasn’t just the music, he also was the leader of his band and he just gave me really great advice on how to keep a band going and how to hustle and stay alive in this crazy industry.
 
The WiMN: What attracted you to guitar over other instruments?
 
JV: Guitar players always look like they’re having so much fun! I wanted to be able to tilt my head back, stick my tongue out, and play some rockin’ lead.
 
The WiMN: Your music is described as soul/pop. Can you tell us about any artists that have helped shape your sound or style?
 
JV: Stevie Wonder is my biggest influence when it comes to songwriting and arranging. He really is just incredible and I feel so blessed to be sharing the earth with him right now.
 
 
The WiMN: How was your experience performing on the Belk Fashion Lounge Concert Series?
 
JV: it was really incredible especially considering that it was my first real tour. I learned so much and had somewhat of a safety net to catch me. Since then I’ve done tours and have definitely run the gamut of experiences. However, those first dates were extremely eye-opening.
 
The WiMN: Have you experienced any struggles or hurdles as a woman in this industry? If so, how have you overcome them?
 
JV: People like to make a lot of assumptions about who I am, who I am not, and what I sound like. It can be a struggle to constantly be judged or labeled something. However, I just use it to inspire me to work hard, and to always be in a position to bring my all and do my best.
 
The WiMN: Can you tell us about any projects you’re working on currently?
 
JV: I just finished a new EP called Transcends. The EP explores genres from funk, to rock, to soul, and pop
 
The WiMN: What’s next for you?
 
JV: I’m starting a new project in September and I’m excited for that. Other than that, I am excited for more dates coming up with Gary Clark Jr, as well as the release of the EP. More music, more tours and more fun!

 

Front and Center: Artist and Multi-Instrumentalist, ZZ Ward

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Artist and Multi-Instrumentalist, ZZ Ward

By Laura B Whitmore

Critically acclaimed artist and multi-instrumentalist ZZ Ward is set to release her second full-length album, The Storm, on June 30. The Storm summons the ghosts of ZZ’s chief inspirations such as Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, and Big Mama Thornton, while echoing over soundscapes situated between gritty hip-hop bounce and moody guitar-and-harmonica riffs.

With a soul-shaking voice and incendiary guitar and harmonica chops, ZZ Ward has consistently delivered powerful neo-blues steeped in hip-hop swagger since the release of her breakout mixtape, Eleven Roses.

2012’s full-length debut, Til The Casket Drops, boasted raucous bluesy anthems like the title track and “Put The Gun Down,” which racked up over 7.4 million Spotify streams and counting, claimed a spot in the Top 10 of AAA radio for 10 weeks, and landed high-profile syncs in the box office smash We’re The Millers, among others. The album also featured standout collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs.

Ward is currently on tour in support of this new release. Here we sat down with the supremely talented ZZ to talk about the inspiration for The Storm and more! 

ZZ Ward’s latest album, The Storm, will release on June 30. Find out more at zzward.com

The WiMN: So this album was a very personal direction for you. Was this a cleansing of the demons?

ZW: Yes, it really was for me. I had found inspiration through some of my past relationships and things that didn’t work out. You know, you break up with people, and I had been moving so fast that I hadn’t really had a chance to address a lot of stuff. So this album really was a cleaning out my closet and facing my demons.

The WiMN: Do you feel like, ok, even though you are going to have to play these songs for the rest of your life, that now you can move to a new place?

ZW: Yeah, I’m sure I’ll be in a different place, but the good thing about me is that I do make more out of less. There are pros and cons to that. When you’re a songwriter it’s good because you think about things so much, and they become kind of monumental in your mind. And with that comes the ability to capture a moment.

The WiMN: The songs are so personal but they feel so universal. Do you keep a journal?

ZW: I don’t keep a journal. But I think that sometimes things get stirred up after a relationship is over. You see that person, or you are reminded of all the feelings you once felt for that person. It might be different with each song, but usually if I feel something like that I quickly go to write the song, because I know that you have to capture it when it’s that raw feeling. Because if you wait too long then you are not in that moment any more. So with this things were just stirred up, and as soon as I felt something I tried to capture it.

The WiMN: Your groove is an important part of what makes your songs feel so different. What is your songwriting process like? Do you start with a groove or work on lyrics first?

ZW: It’s different with every song. Sometimes I’ll start with a lyrical idea and a concept. Once you’ve figured out the concept for a song I think the rest is downhill. Because really you can have a great melody, but if you don’t have a feeling or an emotion behind the song, then it’s not special enough for me. So for me it’s usually concept first, but sometimes it will start with a melody that just gives me a certain feeling that will connect with me to tell a certain story over it. I think that’s the beauty of songwriting. You really never have full control over it. You’re almost out of control when you’re writing, and that’s what’s so challenging about it. It’s not like a skill that you get down so good that you’re like, “Oh, I’ve got it.” It keeps you on the edge of your seat! And that’s the highs and lows of being an artist, too.

The WiMN: Let’s talk about gear for a minute. What’s your go to guitar?

ZW: I play two different guitars. I play a Collings acoustic/electric. I love it. It’s the best guitar I’ve ever played. It has a really nice, deep sound to it and I love the way it feels on my hands when I play it. It’s a beautiful guitar. And then I also play a Fender – it’s a white Stratocaster – which is also just a great guitar. I love the sound out of it. So those are my two babies.

The WiMN: Tell me a little bit about how you got into playing guitar and writing.

ZW: Songwriting I got into through my dad. He was a songwriter and always encouraged me to be creative and supported that. I started writing pretty young, maybe 12 or 13. I used to sit at the piano at my aunt’s house and come up with melodies on piano. I was encouraged to be creative and as a kid, and when you are encouraged to do that, that’s all you need to just kind of go for it.

I got into guitar a little later. I started learning to play when I was 17. My guitar instructor was in the blues band that I was in growing up. He was a great teacher. I think he was also the vice principal of my school. So instead of going to lunch I would go into his office and get a guitar lesson. He was a really cool guy. And I tried to learn everything that I could, really knowing that I use a guitar to help me write songs. It gives me a foundation to help me be creative.

The WiMN: I was thinking about why your songs sound so special. You took the blues and brought it to a new place. Who are your more modern influences?

ZW: I would say my modern influences are people that are influenced by older music and have a way of making that contemporary. And have a way of keeping it authentic. I think some examples of people that have done that are The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes. I think I’m most influenced by people like that because I think that’s kind of where I’m at. I’m very into the blues, and so how do you make that work with a very old form of music and make it work for what’s going on right now? And so I think that anyone who can do that and also keep it authentic is a real influence on me.

The WiMN: Do you write a song that feels more traditional and then just funk it up? Or does it come out that way?

ZW: It depends on what it is. Sometimes if I’ve written a song that feels good in a traditional sense I can sit down and play it on guitar or I can play it with a band, and I know that it would feel good, then I know that when I go in with a producer that I need to make it special. That’s where I add my hip-hop flavor or whatever it is. If the song is good by itself with just guitar, vocal, piano, then the rest is just a calculation of finding the right person to produce it and makes the most sense in bringing your vision to life.

The WiMN: I love how your music introduces a new generation to this classic genre of the blues.

ZW: I did a Son House cover of “Grinnin’ in Your Face” on the last tour and someone came up to me and they had a tattoo of “Don’t You Mind People Grinnin’ in Your Face” on their arm. And I was like, “Woah, great tattoo!” And they said, “I got it after you introduced me to Son House.” And that was a really cool feeling!

Front and Center: Americana Singer and Songwriter, Shannon McNally

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Americana Singer and Songwriter, Shannon McNally

By Myki Angeline

Sometimes, the greatest gifts are born from our lowest points in life. It’s often said that there can be no light without darkness. Songwriter Shannon McNally lives out these ideas with the amazing talent and strength displayed on her latest album, Black Irish. 

The album concept began back in 2013 during personal struggles for McNally who experienced both a painful divorce, and having to care for her terminally ill mother all while raising her daughter, Maeve. She had difficulty writing and found solace in playing songs by artists she found inspiration from. It was when McNally connected with producer and Americana icon Rodney Crowell that the album began to take off.

McNally was raised in Long Island, NY and has lived in Los Angeles and even New Orleans, but makes her home in the Mississippi hill country. As an activist, she lives her life as the change she wishes to see in the world by bringing awareness to it. I reached out to her and learned more about this inspiring artist, mother, and activist.

To learn more about this inspiring woman and purchase Black Irish, visit her website: shannonmcnally.com

WiMN: When did you become interested in music and what led you to a career in this industry?

SM: My folks played a lot of music around the house. They weren’t musicians but they had a great record collection. So I’ve always listened to music closely. I got a guitar when I was twelve and discovered the blues. It didn’t occur to me to try to be a professional musician until I met and saw the band Los Lobos just after college. Something just clicked. I got signed shortly after that.

WiMN: Would you tell us a little more about your new album, Black Irish which is set to release June 9?

SM: Black Irish is my tenth album. It feels like with it, a lot of personal circles are completing. The phrase “Black Irish” means different things to different people. To me it conjures images of the Irish immigrants who left Ireland in droves for the new world of whom I am descended. They brought with them the verse/chorus song structure and story telling traditions that we associate with folk and country music as well as the blues. When that was mixed with African rhythms it made that incredible art form known as rock and roll. As an artist I feel tied to both the future and and the past. I try to draw from both in the present.

WiMN: Do you have a song that really stands out to you from this new album?

SM: ”Banshee Moan” is about the power of the subconscious female voice waiting to know itself fully. Everyday we get closer to it. When it blows it will change our collective consciousness for the better. Right now our culture is still dreadfully afraid of female power because it’s misunderstood. As humans begin to be truly honest with themselves on a deep primal level beyond fear (of women) we will know peace.

WiMN: Can you share your experience as a woman in the industry? Have there been challenges?

SM: Well, I’ve played clubs where the green room was actually the men’s room (yes, a bathroom with urinals on the wall and everything). It was as though it never occurred to anyone that there might be a woman in the band, and if it did occur to them, they didn’t give a damn. It has felt to me many times that the industry (like many industries) has so over looked our existence that I wondered if in fact I was invisible.

Male-centered society has felt nearly impenetrable to me most of my life. The challenge for me has been to find myself as an adult woman with very few role models. Being a woman can be a challenge to camaraderie with other artists. As I get older the subtleties of being a straight female artist with a strong streak of male energy gets easier to manage but it takes a long time and a super human determination to stay in the ring sometimes. It also helps to stop caring who likes it and who doesn’t.

WiMN: Tell us more about your role as an activist and any current projects you have in the works.

SM: Being an activist is as much about embodying the change you want to see in the world as it is being politically active. I do both. I try to bring my whole spirit, sense of right and wrong, sense of truth and humor, poetry, sensuality, my sense of song and history to the stage with me. It’s a tall order that I’m still working on. I don’t think of saying my truth as a kind of conflict. I don’t like conflict so I try to approach subjects from a common beginning and humor.

The top of my list right now is bringing people’s awareness to the planet as a living and sacred organism. Of utmost importance to me as well, is the idea that women and only women should have control of their own bodies. Motherhood is highly misunderstood to be something more like a simple vessel when looked at through a patriarchal lens. Having been pregnant I assure you that mother and child are a single being for an incalculable length of time and that forced pregnancies and forced abortions are equally cruel and wrong.

WiMN: Describe a day in the life of Shannon McNally. 

SM: I spend as much time as possible being still, being quiet and being grateful. I am very sensitive to noise, smells, visual order and energy. As such, taking care of myself and my child by eating clean and getting good sleep take up a good bit of my day. Waiting for songs to strike, feeding my soul with good music and putting my hands in the garden dirt are my hobbies.

WiMN: What are some positive changes you aspire to make in the industry?

SM: I would like to see more humor on stage. I would also like to see the words “content provider” be replaced with “artist.” Art is not “content.” To be reduced to content or filler is degrading and demoralizing. The system is backwards.

WiMN: How many instruments can you play?

SM: I play guitar and sing as well as little bit of violin and even less piano.

WiMN: Let’s wrap up with one of your favorite quotes…

SM: “There’s two kinds of music; the blues and zippity do dah.”

Below, watch the video for “Banshee Moan.”

Front and Center: Drummer, Vocalist, Songwriter and Roland Product Specialist, Jordan West

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Drummer, Vocalist, Songwriter and Roland Product Specialist, Jordan West

By Leslie Buttonow

Once in a while you meet someone with so many abilities you wonder if they snuck back on line when the talents were being handed out. Jordan West is one such woman. In her LA-based band Trackless, West makes use of her talents as a drummer, vocalist and songwriter, and she uses her business savvy as the group’s manager and booking agent.

Her original music has been featured on a handful of radio stations, and she has won several music industry songwriting contests. The band’s newest, self-titled album can be found on iTunes and Spotify, and they are currently recording their first single with Bob Clearmountain (Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen) in LA, scheduled for release in summer 2017.

West also travels to festivals and trade shows as a product specialist demonstrating Roland drum and percussion products, and conducts clinics. Her gig as a Roland product specialist has taken her to the NAMM Show, CES, Starry Nights, SXSW, Gearfest, and PASIC. She also recently traveled to Roland’s headquarters in Japan to perform and demonstrate new products, and participate in some research and development meetings.

For more information, visit jordanwestdrums.com.

WiMN: You’re a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist. Please share with us the progression of things—how and when you came to discover each of those talents and interests, and what musical training you had.

JW: I went to a fine arts magnet school where they made each student choose an instrument to begin playing in third grade. I wasn’t sure what I wanted my official instrument to be, so my parents took me to a musical aptitude test. Basically, there was one of every instrument in a room and I got to try everything. The woman running the test told me I should highly consider playing drums and percussion. So naturally, I chose french horn! After a year of whole notes and running out of breath, I switched to a drum set. I was lucky enough to continue on to a middle school with an excellent music program. I was trained mostly in jazz throughout middle and high school and began gigging professionally in college, all the while taking private lessons once a week.

Around the time I was 21, I enrolled in a songwriting class for fun. I didn’t really know music theory at that point, but the class forced me to go outside of my comfort zone. I started my band Trackless so we could play original music, and now that is one of my main professional focuses. I drum, sing, and write songs in the band, and I love how it utilizes different aspects of my musicality. I also play piano and guitar – mostly to accompany myself at solo gigs or to write.

WiMN: Did you have any musical influences growing up, either from people around you, or through musicians you admired?

JW: My parents have always loved a wide variety of music. I grew up listening to everything from System of a Down to Cher to Bob Marley to Tool and everything in between. Much of my training on drums was centered in jazz, where I learned about legends like Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Joe Morello, and Tony Williams. I love listening to innovative drummers like Steve Gadd, Jeff Porcaro, Mark Guiliana, Sput, Steve Jordan…the list goes on forever. In terms of songwriting, I love Bill Withers, Carole King, Karen Carpenter, Amy Winehouse, and countless others.

WiMN: When did you clearly know that music was what you wanted to do for a living?

JW: I think I was 12. Middle school was really where I felt like music was something I wanted to center my life around.

WiMN: Drums are your main instrument. As there are considerably fewer female drummers than there are male ones (although they seem to be catching up slowly!), were there ever any instances where you were faced with discrimination, and if so, how did you overcome it?

JW: There have been plenty of times over the years where being a woman seemed to matter more than anything I played – for better or for worse. Some people are impressed that I know how to hold sticks and play quarter notes; others accuse me of being (or use me as) a novelty item. It used to make me mad — really mad. I was letting it get to me and forgetting about the fact that when it comes down to it, all I care about is the music. If I am working hard on what I love, and proud of what I’m doing, that’s all I can do. And other musicians who are focused on being their best will gravitate to that. The rest is just noise.

WiMN: You’ve had a wide array of performance experiences, including recording sessions, live club dates and jazz festivals, and trade shows/clinics. What do you like about each? Any favorite(s)?

JW: To me, there is nothing better than playing live for a great audience. Whether at a huge festival or a club or hole in the wall show, I love that feeling. The energy is amazing. I really enjoy being in the studio, too. It’s fun to build a song and add what you can to it; that can be a really creative atmosphere.

Clinics and trade shows are fun because they challenge me — it’s half performance and half public speaking and teaching. I love interacting with other musicians and showing them cool stuff they can use. I think I like the combination of each of those experiences. It keeps me on my toes and forces me to think in different ways.

WiMN: As a Roland product specialist, you demonstrate percussion products and teach people how to use them. What do you enjoy most about teaching others?

JW: I especially love teaching young people who are just starting out. Their excitement is contagious and they’re like sponges. They don’t have any preconceived opinions so they are usually open to trying everything and come up with some really creative stuff. I also like showing drummers how to integrate technology into their setups. It can be intimidating to try to enter the electronic world, but it opens up a whole new set of possibilities.

WiMN: What advice would you give to young girls who are looking to possibly pursue a career in music, either as a performer or in some other aspect of the industry?

JW: Stick with it. Music isn’t an easy career choice and can be unstable and discouraging at times. There is no one way to be successful, no clear path to take. But that’s also exciting and freeing. If you want to be a player, focus on the music, work hard, and always stay true to who you are as a musician.

My private instructor told me, “You’re never going to be Steve Gadd, and he’ll never be you.” If you want to be in the industry, know your stuff! Be up on the latest products, music, festivals, etc. Whatever aspect of the industry you’re interested in, know about it. Live it. Breathe it. Become a part of that world.

 

Front and Center: Singer and Songwriter, Kate Mills

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Singer and Songwriter, Kate Mills

By Lina Bhambhani

No stranger to the stage, singer-songwriter Kate Mills has been performing in front of audiences since she was nine. As a pre-teen, her voice carried her to multiple musical theatre opportunities, including performances with Debbie Gibson at the Merriam Theatre in Philadelphia, leading up to the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day parade. Throughout her adolescence, Kate developed her piano and vocal skills while writing original music and performing in local showcases.

In college, Mills was a founding member of the band Drive Thru Parking, where she fell in love with the recording process. The group toured the Northeast U.S. for several years, including a performance at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. After five years with the band, Mills felt it was time to pursue her solo career in New York City, and the group parted ways.

While Mills was transporting her large keyboard to and from rehearsals and performances, she was also juggling a rigorous course load at the University of Pennsylvania to earn a Master’s in Social Work, working towards the goal of raising awareness for emotional and mental health issues. .

Kate has made her presence known in the NYC music scene with the release of her debut EP, Little Bird. The record showcases the versatility of her smooth, buttery vocals and well-crafted songs ranging from the soulful and sultry “Little Bird,” to the fun, romantic single, “Cherry Tree.”

Kate Mills will share her talent at the upcoming ASCAP Expo She Rocks Showcase in Hollywood, CA on April 14, 2017. Find out more about the showcase at thewimn.com/ascapshowcase, and visit Kate Mills online at katemillsmusic.com.

The WiMN: What inspired you to choose a path in music?

KM: The more I do music, the less if feels like a path that I “chose.” It’s more like a mosaic of lots of little decisions coming together to form a bigger picture of my career. As I look back, I can see that I was continuously drawn to singing, performing and writing. And I can see the moments where I chose to be in a band in college, or chose to go play a festival instead of taking a trip with my friends, or chose to spend my money on recording instead of buying a car or house.

There have definitely been some decisions that were bigger than others (like leaving my social work job in favor of waitressing because it offered more flexibility for touring). But there was never one big lightning bolt moment of inspiration that happened. My relationship with music continues to grow with each small investment I make, each intentional step in the direction I want to go.

The WiMN: Tell us about the writing and recording process of your debut EP, Little Bird.

KM: The songs on the EP were a small collection of tunes I had written while I was in a band, but they were never right for the type of music we played. I was happy for the chance to share them with my audience. Recording Little Bird was a very exciting and nerve-wracking process! I was doing social work in NYC at the time, so I wasn’t exactly rolling in disposable income. So each decision about how to spend money, as far as studios and things like that was stressful. I think, like most artists doing their first solo record, I also put a lot of pressure on the EP to be this big launching pad into the inner circles of the music industry. In reality, it was a large, personal, stepping stone.

I learned so much about the recording process and how I personally respond to being in the studio. I became a bit more acquainted with some of my personal demons, which was frustrating but good. I can be better prepared to manage them for this next record.

The WiMN: Tell us about your decision to pursue a Master’s in Social Work. How are you working to bridge your passions of music and emotional/mental health issues?

KM: Part of that decision was that I felt the need to get a “real” degree, so I figured I should choose something I felt was meaningful and that could enjoy doing. I had always been involved in mentorship programs (mostly through my church) and had really grown to love the process of walking with my students as they dealt with some of the shadows in their own life. I really loved the idea of being a counselor, and in some ways I still do. But, after doing the work for several years I began to feel a little burnt out.

The weight of the work we were doing was starting to affect me – it’s a lot of responsibility when you are helping a person manage their mental and emotional health! I needed some time away, which was the perfect open door for me to re-find my music and invest more deeply into that part of myself.

I’m always on the lookout for ways to merge music and social good. I’ve gotten to partner with the Happiness Project in DE for a few events that raise money and awareness for mental health issues, and those have been great experiences. I have a few other entrepreneurial ideas on how to merge these two worlds buzzing around in my brain, but I have to keep them on the back burner at the moment. Part of mental health is knowing my own limitations and respecting them!

The WiMN: Have you faced any challenges being a woman in the music industry? How did you overcome them?

KM: I have. Though I am EXTREMELY fortunate that my experiences have been subtle, thought strong – more like a cultural undercurrent that I need to manage. I have not really had to deal directly with the harassment or violence some of my peers have, and for that, I am very grateful. From a touring perspective, I know I have to be careful. I have to be that much more cautious when deciding where to stay on the road, when it seems ok to travel alone, things like that. From a business perspective, it’s disheartening to see so few women in executive positions. I definitely feel like an outsider sometimes when so many of the decision makers are men – It’s like I’m not a member of a certain club.

The WiMN: Who are some of your musical heroes?

KM: I feel like my list changes depending on what I’m listening to! But Sara Bareilles has remained at the top of my list for quite a few years now. Her voice and writing is a standard against which I try to hold my own performances and songs. I’ve recently fallen in love with the work of Dan Fogelberg. His writing and arrangements are nothing short of magical. He, as well as some of the classic artists of the ’70s like Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, and the Eagles are a huge influence on hits next record.

The WiMN: Any words of advice for young women looking to pursue a career in music?

KM: It’s super hard not to give vague, ambiguous, “don’t be afraid to be yourself” kind of advice. I think some important words of wisdom I could offer would be to always keep moving forward – even if there are periods of time where the movement is slow, or even when it feels like you may not be moving forward at all. Overnight success is never overnight. Success is a bit of a game of “last band standing.” Also, never stop growing and learning. Don’t become complacent with your art. Look for ways to improve and work towards being the best.

The WiMN: What are you looking forward to most at the upcoming She Rocks ASCAP Expo Showcase?

KM: I am really looking forward to seeing all the other artists and getting to meet them! It’s always super inspiring (though sometimes intimidating) to see other female artist really excelling at what they do. And hopefully some of their fans will like my music and vise verse and we can really help each other out on a career level.

The WiMN: What’s next for you?

KM: My record! We’ve got the first single in the mixing process. I’ll be releasing that exclusively to people on my mailing list as a free download first before I make it available on other platforms. People can join the mailing list at katemillsmusic.com.

While I’m in California for the She Rocks ASCAP Expo Showcase, I’ll be doing some recording with my friend Matt Appleton (saxophone player for Reel Big Fish). I’m really excited about the vision and direction of this record and I’m aiming to have it released by the end of 2017.  Me and a few other female artists (Kasey Williams and Carrie Welling) are planning a big West Coast Tour for August/September so I’m also really looking forward to getting back on the road and coming back to California to perform.

Front And Center: Blues Rock Guitarist, Samantha Fish

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Blues Rock Guitarist, Samantha Fish

By Laura B. Whitmore and Myki Angeline

Guitarist Samantha Fish, best known as a blues player, ventured into a different sound with the release of her fourth solo album, Chills & Fever (Ruf Records). The record was released on March 17.

Collaborating with members of the blues/punk band Detroit Cobras, and adding a New Orleans horn section, Fish puts a new spin on classic soul songs from the ’50s and ’60s including covers of “Hello Stranger” by The Capitols, and “Hurt’s All Gone” by Irma Thomas.

The album has already received rave reviews from The Huffington Post and more. Guitar World said, “Chock full of swampy guitars, New Orleans-style horns and fronted by Fish’s powerful, blues-tinged vocals, I can’t think of a better representation of this story of regret.”

We caught up with Fish to discuss her inspiration behind the album, and find out what it was like to move into this new direction. She also shares her experiences working as a woman in the music industry, and the steady rise of women in music.

You can purchase Chills & Fever on her website here.

WIMN: Let’s talk about your new album. What prompted you to move in this direction?

SF: To me, it was a logical evolution of the band. I have so many different influences that make me who I am as a musician, and right now in the trio, soul music has played such a big part of my vocal style. My favorite singers are soul singers – it’s the stuff I try to emulate when I am singing, so it made sense to me to pull more of that into an album. We had the opportunity to pick from really great songs!

WIMN: How did you select the songs for the new album?

SF: It was a mix of songs between me and the producer, Bobby Harlow. Bobby knew of all of these incredible ’50s and ’60s girl groups like the Ronettes, and he pulled together some really incredible material – obscure stuff that I hadn’t heard before. We sent music back and forth for months saying “check this out!” before whittling it down. I am a huge Nina Simone fan, so a Nina song got on the record. “Crow Jane” by Skip James is on there as well. I know that’s not soul, but to me It felt like a cool song that needed to be redone. Not to make it sound like we were rigid in our perimeters in picking material; we wanted great songs we could redo with a horn section and keys. We featured members of the Detroit Cobras, so the sound is like Detroit soul/punk rock band meets New Orleans horns, and whatever the hell I’m doing. It was just fun!

Not to make it sound like we were rigid in our perimeters in picking material, we just wanted great songs we could redo with a horn section and keys. We featured members of the Detroit Cobras, so the sound is like Detroit soul/punk rock band meets New Orleans horns, and whatever the hell I’m doing. It was just fun!

WIMN: Do you think there is a growing appreciation for this style of music?

SF: I think so. I definitely think people are digging back into the older class of music like this because it’s good, it’s timeless, and it doesn’t go out of style. Over time it seems like people end up going back to the things that are tried and true, so if there is another resurgence of that, it makes sense to me.

WIMN: Your guitar sounds amazing. Can you tell us a little about the gear you are playing with?

SF: I am in such a gear transition right now! I have so many cool guitars, but my main axe is the Delaney guitar, which is a custom build that I have been playing for years. I have also been playing a new model SG which I am really in love with. For my acoustic sets, I play with a Taylor guitar, and then of course I have my favorite cigar box guitars – they’re a mess! My favorite one I am holding together with duct tape. I have people come and give them to me all the time. It’s the coolest, sweetest thing, but I am so attached to the one that I play, that I just keep taping it back up. Right now I am looking at getting a Jaguar, and I am getting another Delaney custom made (a 335 or 339). This is the year I am expanding my guitar arsenal.

WIMN: Would you say your approach to what you are playing and your tone changed for this new album?

SF: We were doing it all on vintage gear for this album, like Supro amps and really crazy old tube amps I had never even heard of before. They had tiny wattage and we would just crank them up. We had a lot of fun using vintage amps. I used my guitars and just dialed them to different tones. I got a guitar tech last year, and I had never used pedals before, EVER. I just wasn’t a pedal person. I would just plug into a tuner, and then into a big amp.  It was just about the amp, and the guitar for me. Slowly but surely my new guitar tech would say things like, “oh, you should try this Octave pedal. It’s going to sound bad ass!”  I fell in love with it because it was fun. I used Tremelo and Octave pedals on this album too.

WIMN: Will you be touring with the Detroit Cobras? Are you trying to get your touring band together?

SF: We are piecing it together at the moment. Kenny Trudick, who played drums with them for a long time, and had played guitar for Kid Rock years ago, is joining my trio, which includes my bassist Steve Nawara. We are working on the horn section and the keys out of New Orleans.

WIMN: Do you see more girls coming out to your shows now than you have in the past?

SF: I do! I see more women and that makes me feel good. I am seeing diversity at our shows, especially with the blues crowds who are generally a little bit older. I am seeing the numbers of male and female evening out, which is great.

It’s really cool to see young girls at a show. We played in Columbia, Missouri and there was this 15-year-old girl who came out. I felt bad because I popped off with a couple of bad words, and she was right in the front. I didn’t realize at first and I was wondering what she was doing in a bar. But she had me sign her guitar! She was a fan of mine and it was cool to see a young woman excited about guitar and just music in general. I remember being 13 or so – that was when I first starting seeing other women playing guitar. It shocked me because I didn’t know that was a thing, which is really odd. It definitely has its challenges, but I like being a girl and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

WIMN: Have you experienced challenges as a woman in the Blues genre?

SF: I’d say yes, there are definitely challenges, but I think it is challenging to be a woman in any field of work. It’s a little tougher; it’s kind of a boy’s club in a lot of different ways. In many ways it has been challenging, but at the same time it has added a bit of interest to what I’m doing. People will say, “oh, a girl playing guitar?”, and I hate that because you have so much more you have to prove. You really have to work a lot harder to prove that you’re not just here because you’re a woman. It does pique people’s interest and I think it’s just because it is not the norm yet, it’s not something that people always see. There are so many things that a female artist has to worry about that a male artists doesn’t as much. The aesthetic is so ingrained in us to work a lot harder on that, and sometimes it is a bit distracting from the music. I just try to stay focused on writing and becoming a better singer, becoming a better guitar player…that is all you can really do.

Watch Samantha Fish’s new video from her latest album, Chills & Fever below!

Front And Center: Artist and Activist, Madame Gandhi

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Activist and Artist, Madame Gandhi

By Myki Angeline

Madame Gandhi is a prime example of young women who are dominating the music industry. Not only is she an accomplished singer, pianist, and drummer (formerly with M.I.A.), Gandhi also studied mathematics and women’s studies while attending Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. During her junior year, she landed a weekly gig drumming with DJs from Thievery Corporation at their legendary nightclub, Eighteenth Street Lounge. After graduating in 2011, Gandhi became the first ever digital analyst for Interscope Records; assisting artists like Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga so they could gain a better understanding of marketing and selling their music.

Gandhi is also an activist and feminist; she gained major recognition as the iconic ‘free bleeding’ runner combating menstrual stigma at the 2015 London Marathon. The marathon was a success and her story went completely viral, sparking a global conversation about how we treat menstruation in various cultures. After graduating from Harvard University in 2015, she traveled the world writing and speaking about menstrual stigma.

She released her Debut EP Voices in the fall of 2016, a collection of electronic songs which reflect her journey as a woman, featuring Gandhi on drums, vocals, percussion, and backed by the intricate electronic soundscapes developed by her collaborator and co-producer, Alexia Riner.

You can purchase her Debut EP Voices on her website here.

I was so inspired by her story and wanting to learn more about Madame Gandhi, and reached out to her for this exclusive interview.

The WiMN: You grew up with a passion for both music and mathematics, studying math in college while touring as a drummer. You also served as Interscope Records’ first-ever digital analyst upon graduating. Do you implement these studies into your music career now?

MG: Of course! Absolutely. Very few artists have the privilege to be exposed to the business side first; we usually start our careers as artists. Because of how I grew up, which was in a traditional academically-minded household, I cut my teeth studying mathematics at Georgetown and studying business at Harvard thinking that my job was always going to be in an office. But, the more I would spend time in an office, the more I felt that my resources were better used as someone who is making art instead.

I used to think, “Wow, how empowering would it be for me to be able to know the business side so that I could never be taken advantage of?” – and, moreover, for me to be able to run my own business in a way that I felt was responsible, financially sustainable, honest, and not greedy. The thing that happened with the music industry is that it became corrupted by greed. It’s like when you find a gold mine and you just want to tap into it and exploit all of its lust and resources, instead of being grateful for the one nugget, and saying, “what can I do with this one nugget of gold?”

When I manage my project, I tell my team that we are not greedy; our job is to make the most honest art and let the world decide what to do with it. If we are getting enough money for our shows, for our licenses, and for our merchandise and other sources of revenue…if we are getting just enough to be able to get by, then this is the right amount.

It feels good to be empowered to say no, to be able to read contracts and analyze them intelligently and understand what is a good fit and what is a bad fit. It feels good to say no to businesses that might have a huge check for us, but ethically are not on brand with what I am about. It feels very empowering especially to be a woman and manage my own career, instead of being at the mercy of larger stakes; larger powers at be. I think it’s mostly because people have a sense that that cannot take advantage of me, and secondly because I am working mostly with a team of extraordinary women and very woke men whose missions align with mine.

The WiMN: Based on your own knowledge and experience, just how important is it for an artist to brand their business via social media?

MG: Social media is a communication tool, the same way I may pick up the phone and call you tomorrow to tell you how I feel. It’s not about doing social media for social media sake, it’s about having a message to deliver and having the choice to decide which is the best medium for my message. So, if it’s a quick thought, maybe Twitter is the best way. If it’s a beautiful photo from an event I did the night before with extraordinary, and I want to show the power of what it looks like to hold space for like-minded, talented women, then I will put that photo up on Instagram. If it’s a video, and I know Facebook video integration is the strongest place to get the most eyes, I will upload that video to Facebook. If I think it’s a song that needs to be made, I’m going to make a song.

That is how I think of social media. I think of it in tandem, in parallel to my music, and to my speeches. My thoughts start first, then I decide which of those outlets to go. So, it’s a parallel to my music, to my speeches, and to my writing; whether it’s a long form blog, post, etc. That is the best way, in my opinion, to use social media and the most authentic.

The WiMN: What was the first instrument you learned to play, and how did you fall into learning others?

MG: I first learned to sing play the piano, and then drums, learning sound design and music production out of necessity. I was depending too much on other people to come in and lay in the backing vocals, or the sound design and production. I am in a phase right now where I am trying to learn as much of it on my own so that I am in full control of my voice and my artistic expression. Then, when I bring in other people I understand better how to direct them. But, until that moment, I am definitely learning on my own.

The WiMN: Can you tell us about any current projects?

MG: You know, this whole Donald Trump election, and each nightmare that comes into my email box from CNN about what he’s done next is what fuels my music. Having a common enemy, and having very tangible, problematic decisions that the Trump Administration is making that directly threatens the well-being of women gives meaning to my work. So, while I cannot share any of the immediate songs I am working on, what I can tell you is that I have been very deeply inspired in the studio recently, writing a lot of music that I hope only will serve as the soundtrack to the next, sort of fourth wave feminist movement.

The WiMN: You launched your debut EP Voices late last year. How well has it been received?

MG: I can tell you this: after the Women’s March, my song, “The Future Is Female” went viral on Spotify. It hit at number 8 on the Top 50 U.S. Viral Charts, and now it is trending in Australia and Canada. As I said earlier, our job is to make the best and most honest art and hope the right people find it and that they decide what to do with it. I made “The Future Is Female” almost one year before it was found on Spotify, but it was found at the right time, because the Women’s March happened and we needed an anthem. So, I would say it has been received well and it was received at the right time.

The WiMN: Please share with us your experiences after touring the world in 2015 to speak and write about the stigma of menstruation.

MG: Absolutely! I think for me, the journey that I have experienced over the past two years since my marathon went viral, was figuring out how I take the various talents and passions that I have (singing, drumming, speaking, or writing) and merging them into one cohesive experience. That is really my goal – how I design a live experience, because those are my favorite where I am actually connecting with people on the road. Sharing my ideas such that, it sparks them, sparks their ideas, and sparks each of the people in my audience to find their own voice, and be leaders in their own community.

My mom always taught me that leaders inspire other leaders. Our job is not to get a following so that people love us. Our job as artists is to simply be a mirror and a source of inspiration to get everyone activated in their own communities; to be their best selves. This is what that tour was about. It was about me getting better at speaking and performing, such that I can live my purpose even better of elevating and celebrating the female voice.

Below is Madame Gandhi’s video for her song, “The Future is Female”!

Front and Center: It Rocked! The 5th Annual She Rocks Awards was Bigger and Better Than Ever

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Fifth Annual She Rocks Awards

By Leslie Buttonow

all photos: credit Kevin Graft

On Friday, January 20, 2017, the fifth annual She Rocks Awards rolled into the Anaheim Hilton hotel and rocked the night, inducting this year’s honorees, showcasing the talents of many female rockers, and placing female role models in the spotlight. The star-studded evening was streamed by Parade magazine, and also featured a silent auction, with part of the proceeds benefiting Soundgirls, an organization that trains young women for the audio industry.

More than 800 guests were treated to a number of memorable performances throughout the evening. Brandy Robinson, winner of the #SaveAGuitar contest sponsored by Breedlove, kicked off the evening with her soulful guitar and vocal stylings. Next, Jenna Paone, She Rocks founder Laura B. Whitmore and house band Rock Sugah, delivered a fist-pumping performance of an original song by Paone and Whitmore, titled “I Like It Loud,” with guitar solos by Gretchen Menn and Nita Strauss.

FOX KTTV anchor Christine Devine and Daisy Rock Girl Guitars CEO Tish Ciravolo co-hosted the evening and helped WiMN founder Laura B. Whitmore announce this year’s honorees, who were inducted by a who’s who from the world of music and media. Here’s how it went down:

  • Tracy Leenman, owner of Musical Innovations music retailer, Enterprise
    Award, presented by Rand & Cindy Cook
  • Dani Markman, Director, A&R, Disney Music Group, Vision Award,
    presented by Christine Devine and Radio Disney DJ Lela Brown
  • Charyn Harris, conductor of music programs at A Place Called Home,
    Motivator Award, presented by Asya Shein
  • Beverly Fowler, director of artist relations and events at PRS Guitars, Spirit Award, presented by guitarist Kat Dyson
  • Leanne Summers, president/CEO of LAWIM (Los Angeles Women in
    Music), Achiever Award, presented by Gayl Murphy
  • Shirley Manson, lead singer from multi-award winning band Garbage,
    Powerhouse Award, presented by journalist Brad Tolinski
  • Karrie Keyes, founder of Soundgirls and sound engineer for Pearl Jam, Mad Skills Award, presented by Heather Rafter
  • Monique Boyer, director, global artist relations/PRO membership at M.A.C. Cosmetics, Champion Award, presented by Samantha Maloney, drummer and Vice President of A&R for Warner Bros. Records

  • Esperanza Spalding, Grammy® Award-winning bass player,
    singer/songwriter, Inspire Award, presented by bassist Divinity Roxx
  • Rebecca Eaddy, marketing communications manager for Roland
    Corporation U.S., Excellence Award, presented by Guitar Player magazine editor-in-chief, Michael Molenda
  • Lisa Foxx, radio personality at My FM on the iHeartRadio network,
    Dreaming Out Loud Award, presented by Lisa Loeb
  • Ronnie Spector, iconic artist, Legend Award, presented by the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus
  • Sarah Command, singer/songwriter and half of The Command Sisters, Next Generation Award, presented by She Rocks founder Laura B. Whitmore
  • Lita Ford, legendary rock guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, Icon Award,
    presented by Nick Bowcott of Marshall Amplification

NAMM – She Rocks – 01192017

Later in the evening, the Command Sisters played a rousing version of Ronnie Spector’s “Be My Baby,” which was an audience favorite.  Lita Ford tore down the house during the evening’s finale, singing her top hit, “Kiss Me Deadly,” along with rockers from the She Rocks Vol. 1 CD that debuted that night.

The spirit of the evening and all that the WiMN and She Rocks Awards embody can be summed up by a portion of honoree Shirley Manson’s speech, in which she said, “By not disappearing, but by thriving, that’s how you have the last word.”

Many top name journalists attended the She Rocks Awards, so be sure to check out all of the great stories, memories, photos and social media highlights in the weeks ahead!