Front and Center: Singer and Songwriter, BeLL

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, BeLL

By Lina Bhambhani

Singer and songwriter BeLL started her career by writing for other artists, including Natalie Imbruglia and The Script’s Danny O’Donoghue. She has collaborated with renowned producers/songwriters Giorgio Moroder and David Hodges (Kelly Clarkson, 5 Seconds of Summer), and has had songs placed in a Volkswagen Super Bowl commercial as well as popular TV shows The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars.

BeLL recently debuted a haunting cover of REM’s “Losing My Religion” that reached #1 on Hype Machine and has earned her plenty of industry and blog buzz. Since then she has taken another massive step forward with the sizzling original “Bang Bang (Remember My Name).” The powerful song has already made its way into the new trailer for ABC Family’s Famous In Love and is destined to build BeLL’s rapidly growing fan base.

BeLL spends her spare time volunteering as a keys instructor in the Los Angeles Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls and Awaken Arts, teaching songwriting to at-risk youth girls. She is currently donating proceeds from “Losing My Religion” to the National Center of Victims of Crime.

Get to know more about BeLL at iambellofficial.com.

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

BeLL: I grew up listening to Paul Simon and was inspired by artists like Michael Jackson, Queen, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and Stevie Nicks. I started writing songs on piano at age seven, and it was a passion I just never outgrew. When I realized there was absolutely nothing else I’d rather be doing, I moved to Los Angeles and hit the ground running.

The WiMN: Tell us about your cover of REM’s “Losing My Religion.” Why did you choose the song?

BeLL: I collaborated on that one with talented female producer/songwriter Adrianne Gonzalez; we’re both REM fans and thought the song and it’s message was haunting and powerful. The song always struck a chord in me. I interpreted it as a portrayal of the heartbreaking effects of religion being used to justify violence and ignorant hatred. It was an honor working with female director/photographer Jen Rosenstein on the music video for it as well.

The WiMN: Any other musical projects you can tell us about?

BeLL: I’m honored to be collaborating with some top-notch producers and songwriters, including the amazing Paul Williams. I’ve been a big fan of Paul’s work for a long time and it’s been a dream come true cowriting with him for my new releases.

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

BeLL: First of all, I’m grateful to have the privilege of working with great men in the music industry who respect women and aren’t threatened by strong females who know what they want. I also have the honor of working with talented women who are supportive and see me as a teammate rather than competition. That being said, I have had my fair share of challenges.

I’ve had writing sessions that were uphill battles, especially at the beginning of my songwriting career. It felt like I needed to jump through hoops to be heard and seen as a peer. Often my ideas were more questioned and second-guessed than my male cowriters.

When approached by producers or managers interested in working with me, it was discouraging whenever I found out too late that their motives were not business-related.

Specifically, I was once told that my choice in drum sounds were too “masculine” and that my voice would be more attractive if it wasn’t so “bass-y.” I’ve been in sessions where if the song didn’t literally turn them on, they said it was a waste of time.

In a male-dominated industry, we can either choose to let hardships make us bitter or wiser; either one is a choice. I would not have survived this long in this industry if it weren’t for my healthy, supportive relationships. I just kept putting myself out there and learned from mistakes as I went. Setting healthy boundaries helped. As I worked with more people, I started seeing red flags right away and started developing relationships with talented, trustworthy people. I try not to let bad experiences taint the good ones. It’s a weeding-out process finding relationships with mutual respect. Just keep in mind that you’re not alone and don’t give up!

The WiMN: Who are some of your musical heroes?

BeLL: Sia, Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton and Nancy Sinatra.

The WiMN: Tell us about your experience volunteering with L.A. Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls.

BeLL: I’m so grateful to be a part of it. I volunteer as a piano instructor. It’s so important for young girls to see women in the music industry working together and supporting each other. The media cultivates and encourages women to be in competition with each other. It’s organizations like this Rock Camp for Girls that allow young girls to be inspired and see teamwork among women played out. Also, they are encouraged to be themselves; It’s pretty cool seeing shy girls come out of their shells when they have a safe space to improve at something they love doing.

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

BeLL: Be willing to learn and grow in your craft, but listen to your gut. Regardless of where you are in your career, be humble. It will take you farther than you think.

The WiMN: What’s next for you?

BeLL: I’m getting ready to debut a song that is airing on an episode of Freeform’s new TV series Famous in Love on May 16 and will be booking some shows along the West Coast in the meantime. Very excited to release the new material I’ve been cowriting with Paul Williams as well!

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: Drummer, Singer-Songwriter & Composer, Nicole Marcus

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, Singer-Songwriter & Composer, Nicole Marcus

By Lina Bhambhani

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Nicole Marcus is a Los Angeles-based drummer, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer. She holds a Bachelor’s degree with honors in studio music and jazz drum set performance from University of Miami’s Frost School of Music.

After completing college, Marcus moved to New York City and launched her career as drummer for the original off-Broadway production of Dear Edwina. In addition to playing drums for other artists, Nicole began performing her original music around the city, singing and playing guitar in various venues.

She later moved to Los Angeles where she played drums, guitar, keyboards and percussion on the first season of Glee, and moreThroughout 2013, Nicole travelled around the United States, Canada and Japan playing drums for the international tour of Hair.

Upon returning home from tour, Nicole started recording her self-titled EP, which was produced by Fernando Perdomo and mixed/mastered by Grammy-winner Zach Ziskin. Marcus played all the instruments and sang lead vocal on every track. She is currently performing around Los Angeles in support of the release, as well as drumming with many other artists.

In addition to her drumming and songwriting career, Marcus is a composer and producer, available to score projects for film, television, theatre, commercials and more. She delivers the product complete with lyrics, melody, arrangement and instrumentation. Her recent credits include scoring a scene in the web series Words With Girls and composing an original song for the Hollywood Fringe Festival play, The Load-In.

Check out Nicole Marcus’s interview below to find more, and visit her online at nicolemarcusmusic.com.

WiMN: Where is your hometown?

NM: I was born and raised in a little town called Tamarac, Florida.

WiMN: Can you tell us about your introduction to music?

NM: You know that line from the ABBA song, “she said I began to sing before I could talk?” That was me. My parents always had music playing in the house growing up. The Beatles, Beach Boys, Carly Simon, Judy Collins, CSNY, Bob and Ziggy Marley, Carole King, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen. Always something great coming through the speakers in the Marcus household.

WiMN: Who are some of your biggest influences?

NM: Joni Mitchell is at the top of my list. To me, she exemplifies what it is to be a musician and a writer. Her lyrics, melodies, harmonies, arrangements, performances on the records and on stage are all incredible. Everything I value most in a musician, she does at the highest, most sincere level.

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

NM: The first instrument I played was piano. In fifth grade, we were allowed to join the school band. Since there isn’t a piano in concert band, I decided to pick a new instrument. I chose drums and fell in love with them. I picked up the guitar in college when I started to get really into songwriting and playing my original music live. And all the other instruments spawn from the songwriter/producer side where I want to play whatever it is I’m hearing in my head. Also, I love the sound of a mandolin!

WiMN: How would you define your style?

NM: The album I have out now is in the alt-country/folk-pop genre.  Anyone who likes Sheryl Crow, Maren Morris, Cam, Michelle Branch would probably dig my music. I love every genre of music and am always writing in different genres and playing drums for others in different genres, so the audiences I’d like to attract are anyone and everyone who enjoys the music!

WiMN: Any last comments?

NM: Thank you so much for choosing me for this interview! You can find me on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music and at the following social links:

nicolemarcusmusic.com

facebook.com/nicolemarcusmusic

instagram.com/nicole_marcus

twitter.com/nmarcus

youtube.com/nicolemarcusmusic

 

 

Front and Center: Pianist and Singer-Songwriter, Anjali Ray

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: Pianist and Singer-Songwriter, Anjali Ray

By Lina Bhambhani

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She Rocks Showcase performer Anjali Ray was raised in New Delhi until the age of ten. As an artist, Ray draws on her extensive training in classical piano, Indian Hindustani classical vocal training, and occasional moonlighting as a jazz pianist to create emotional and haunting melodies.

Learning piano through the British school of music at the age of four, Anjali’s early musical foundation was later strengthened by the contrast of her Indian vocal training in Chicago, enabling her to begin writing her own songs and communicating in a way words alone never could. Her songs are sonically captivating, blending rhythms and music from East and West, and her track “Indigo Boy” was considered for a Grammy nomination in 2015.

While balancing an engineering career and motherhood, Anjali Ray continues to perform worldwide, having taken her music to India on tour in 2016. She has performed for numerous programs and benefits including the South Asian Helpline and Referral Agency (SAHARA), Indian Pharmacists Association, and the Doug Flutie Foundation, and is one of the most groundbreaking Indian artists today in Los Angeles.

To find out more about Anjali Ray, visit at www.anjaliray.com.

WiMN: When did your musical career start and how did you get there?

AR: It’s difficult to define the point at which the hobby became the career. Music has been in every corner of my life in various forms and avatars, and there was a point in my early 20’s after I had recorded my first album that I tried to make it a career. It didn’t last long and was unsatisfying both financially and emotionally. But even subsequent to rejoining the engineering workforce and becoming a mother, I never stopped writing.

Many years later, when a producer chanced to hear one of my songs, that’s when things got serious, I wrote and recorded the Indigo album, and began playing out again. When I look at that story from a distance, I basically slogged at a hobby that I was extremely passionate about for almost 30 years before it began resembling a career.

WiMN: Who have been your biggest influences throughout your career?

AR: They are varied and disparate, though the one thing they all seem to have in common is an organic sound. Some are obvious, such as Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos. Others, such as Mark Knopfler and M.S. Subbalakshmi are less so. I’m lucky to have had exposure to a diverse range of music, from classical Indian songs to rock and roll, but every time someone moves me it’s usually one signature thing.

For Sarah, it’s the way she sings and phrases her words, which I feel are so respectful and elegant. For Tori, it’s the way she can make a piano sound both delicate and powerful at the same time. Mark Knopfler can make a guitar sound like a human voice. I will actually be performing at an M.S.Subbalakshmi tribute concert in Chicago this December, and her singing inspires me to just close my eyes, not worry about who is listening, and just sing with devotion and abandon. (That being said, I’m frightfully nervous about that performance.) These are just a few examples – it’s a truly brilliant musical world, and ever changing.

WiMN: How did you come up with the idea of mixing classical Indian music with jazz?

AR: I would be the first to admit that I’m not an expert in any one thing. But I’m a Jill of all trades: a decent pianist, singer, and songwriter, and it’s the combination of the influences that actually sets my product apart.

When I was a teen, my Hindustani classical vocal training was constantly competing with my piano lessons and “western” music interests, so it wasn’t a far leap for me to find a way to combine them. The first time I solidified the combination was for my mother’s 60th birthday present, when I took a bunch of songs from her youth and recorded them with piano. It just seemed to work, and was satisfying in the divide it healed.

WiMN: How do you handle being a mom, an engineer, and managing a music career all at the same time?

AR: Poorly. I have this internal fire that makes me want to keep going all the time and every project I take on needs to be done perfectly, but that’s just not possible with everything I have going on in my life. I’ve had to live with this feeling of constantly having loose ends everywhere and making sure when I drop something it’s not catastrophic. It’s difficult to adjust to that new normal. But I cannot give any of them up. I survive with the help of a wonderful husband and extended family that supports me and lifts me up. And I’ve learned to compartmentalize better: to start leaving work at work and being more present with my kids when I’m around them. It’s all still a work in progress.

WiMN: What exciting projects have you worked on recently?

AR: The writing and recording of Indigo was life changing. My producer, Chris Bolden, introduced me to a world of music that was far more serious than anything I had come across before, and I learned the value of collaborating, and planning every note and lyric carefully and purposefully. It was humbling and built my confidence at the same time.

Being able to take those songs to places I call home, such as Chicago and India, did my soul good, even while it was hectic. The Indian community in Los Angeles has also been extremely supportive and receptive to my sound. I’m not sure I’ll get these experiences again, but every year seems to bring new opportunities and challenges, so I intend to keep my eyes and ears open to absorb it all.

WiMN: Can you tell us about any projects or events you have coming up?

AR: Through the remainder of the year I’ll be performing at Couture for a Cause, which is a benefit for acid attack survivors. In December, I will be participating in a concert to honor M.S. Subbalakshmi where I’ve been asked to present a different take on what is a traditional form of singing. My hope is to get back to the drawing board and continue writing more music so that I can eventually do a new album. I probably have about half of it done.

WiMN: Can you share any advice for those looking to make a career in the music industry?

AR: “Making it” is a dangerous phrase to me, because it suggests a destination. I realize it’s important to be goal-oriented, but when I was shooting for the stars, so to speak, I was always distressed by how far off they seemed. Every time I tried to contort myself to be more marketable or more current or more youthful, I just felt awkward and compromised, and it was not a winning strategy.

My own satisfaction came from just doing what I loved, no matter what the audience or external reward. And one day I woke up and realized that even though I wasn’t immensely famous or selling out the Staples Center, I had something better: balance, 100% control over my art, and the opportunity to do what I love on my terms with people that I care about. So that would be my advice: stay true to yourself, and just keep doing what you love. It will find its destiny, even if that destiny doesn’t look like exactly what you though it would.

 

 

 

Front and Center: Singer and Songwriter, Savannah Lynne

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, Savannah Lynne

By Lina Bhambhani

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Savannah Lynne grew up by the Hawaiian waters, but couldn’t ignore the tug of country music. Inspired by Reba, Johnny Cash, and Loretta Lynn, she and her parents packed up and moved to Nashville when she was 14 to help her realize her dream of becoming a country singer and songwriter.

Success didn’t come overnight, but Savannah kept building her audiences and was selected as Indie Music Channel’s “Female Country Teen Artist of the Year” for three consecutive years (2012-2015). We’ve seen her perform at NAMM and at our own She Rocks Showcase. You can see her video below.

To learn more about Savannah, check out her interview below and on her website www.savannahlynne.com.

WiMN: How did you get into music and how has the journey been so far?

SL: It’s hard to name one specific reason I got into music… I’ve been surrounded by music my whole life. I used to sing my mom lullabies to put HER to sleep at bed time. When I was younger I would sing in school musicals and I started taking vocal lessons and before you know it, I was doing small talent shows and solo performances. My parents surprised me with my first guitar when I was 13 and it really helped my songwriting. Once I could play a solid song, all I wanted to do was perform them for people. Share my music with the world.

WiMN: Was it hard for you to move from Hawaii to Nashville?

SL: We didn’t move directly from Hawaii to Nashville… We spent a short amount of time in California along the way. Leaving Hawaii was really hard for me, especially having lived there for so long. When we decided to move, the hardest part for me was leaving my family and friends, but I absolutely love Nashville, and I am so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had solely because I live here.

WiMN: Who are your inspirations and why?

SL: I find inspiration from a lot of people in different ways. One person who stands out to me is Taylor Swift. As a songwriter, Taylor is able to connect to her audience through her music by singing songs about what she has gone through in her life. I feel that if I’ve gone through something, someone out there has gone through the same thing, and if they can hear how I got through it, maybe they can get through it, too. Taylor’s music always made me feel like I wasn’t alone, and I want to do that with my music.

WiMN: What famous artist have you played with and how was the experience?

SL: That’s a funny question because I just got back from my most recent tour a few weeks ago and I opened for Tyler Farr in Austin, Texas at an event sponsored by Marriott Rewards, Chase Bank, and Reverbnation. The overall experience was unreal and I had a blast hanging out with the band.

WiMN: What have been your biggest challenges so far?

SL: Overall, my journey in the music business has been a blast. I always try to keep a positive attitude and learn from my mistakes. I strive to make each performance better than the last. One of the challenges that comes to mind is being underage. A lot of venues won’t book people under 18 and that has been a challenge in booking my tours.

WiMN: What are some next projects you have coming up?

SL: I am currently recording an album titled The Ghost of You, which I am extremely excited to share with the world! We just released a music video for “Melted Candle” and are about to release the track as the first single.

WiMN: What advice would you give other young artists?

SL: It’s crazy to think about giving advice to young artists, being so young myself, but if I could say anything it would be… make the music you want to make. It’s your journey and your art. But most importantly, have fun! If you lose the fun, you lose the passion.

Find out more at www.savannahlynne.com.

 

Front and Center: Singer, Songwriter and Guitarist Laura Clapp

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 Singer, Laura Clapp

By Lina Bhambhani

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Growing up in Connecticut, Laura Clapp started her music craft as a young child where she wrote her very first song at the age of 11. After graduating in 2001 from Berklee College of Music where she taught herself the guitar and created her first album Where Are You Going?, Clapp moved to Nashville, where she was able to network with some of the most prestigious writers in Music City. After creating her second acoustic album, Simply, Clapp toured America with the support of CD sales and fans.

Clapp’s career did not stop growing there. As she made more connections, she eventually became a backup vocalist for Howard Jones and was able to travel across the U.S. as well as internationally to countries such as Japan, Europe and Australia.

Clapp is also a well-known musical instrument product demonstrator and marketer, and spent years sharing the hottest products and tips for effects and audio manufacturer, TC-Helicon. She has been seen on many YouTube videos and has gained over 1 million views to date.

Her bubbly, passionate, and thriving personality as a singer and guitarist brought her to where she is today. Recently, at Summer NAMM 2016, she demonstrated effects for Roland at their trade show booth. Check out her video below.

Clapp now currently lives in her hometown in Guildford, CT. where she is happily married with two beautiful daughters. With her family she is still able to promote her music nationwide and is excited to build her fan base internationally. Check out her interview below to find out more about Clapp’s upcoming projects and how she became part of the music industry.

Learn more about Laura Clapp at www.lauraclapp.com.

WiMN: When did you start singing and what made you want to get into the music industry?

LC: I’ve been singing all of my life, but I really developed a love for it when I was 10.  I landed my first solo in the select choir in school and I was hooked.  As far as wanting to get into the industry, that probably came when I began playing for people more regularly – either in my living room or in venues – and saw that people responded to my music.  I loved that and realized I wanted to learn more about how to fine tune my voice as well as my writing.

WiMN: Who influenced you the most throughout your career and why?

LC: Throughout my career, my family has been my biggest influence.  From the beginning when it was my parents to today where it is more my husband and girls, I’ve always drawn heavily on their input and support to keep me motivated and focused. 

WiMN: You write, sing, and play guitar and piano. Does creating music just come naturally to you? What has been your biggest challenge musically?

LC: This answer really depends on the day.  There are certain times where I’ll be inundated with ideas and then other times when I am screaming for ideas to come and they just won’t.  When this scenario happens, I have learned to just give myself some time to let it come naturally.  Any time I’ve forced music, it has usually not ended well. 

As far as creating music, that came naturally as my piano skills started to improve.  The two – melody and piano – went hand in hand for a long time, but now I often find the melody strikes me first.

WiMN: How did you get into being a product demonstrator? Did you ever encounter any challenging situations, as so few women follow this path?

LC: I was offered a job as a demonstrator thanks to a wonderful woman named Lori Maier.  She is the founder of Chick Singer Night, the longest running showcase for women.  I was co-directing the Nashville chapter of CSN at the time and her husband was looking for a female demonstrator to showcase the VoiceLive at the 2006 NAMM show.  Lori put my name into the mix and the next thing I knew, I had two weeks to learn and develop a demo for a wildly complicated vocal processor.

TC-Helicon liked what I did, so they hired me as their full time product specialist.  From there, I traveled the world for the company.  This led to some interesting situations like setting up and tearing down booths with my bare hands, fighting off the not-so-subtle advances of sales reps and customers, and constantly assuring people I really actually knew what I was doing and could physically carry my guitar/plug in the processor/sing/etc.

WiMN: What is your favorite thing about being part of the music industry?

LC: My favorite part of the music industry is the feeling of community.  Everyone knows each other.  That can be a good thing and a bad thing, but for the most part it’s amazing.  I’m always overwhelmed by how many familiar faces I see at trade shows and industry events.

WiMN: Since you’re so involved with gear, tell us about your go to gear setup and how it’s served you when you perform or record.

LC: My go-to mic when playing live is a Shure Beta 58, although a KSM9 would be a dream.  As far as effects, I like to switch it up, but I’m never without a looper of some shape or form.  For keys, I play a Casio Privia which I adore because it’s lightweight, plays like a dream and sounds killer.  My guitar is a Yairi WY1K that feels great in my hands and doesn’t dwarf me.

As far as recording, I love that today there is so much flexibility.  For example, the interface I’ve been using for the past 6 years died out of the blue the other day.  Instead of running out and buying a new interface, I’m able to use one of my vocal processors as my mic pre and then add post effects directly from Logic until I can find a replacement.  Crisis averted!

WiMN: Do you have any upcoming projects, events, or tours you’d like to share?

LC: I am always working on something.  At this point, it’s a new album.  I’ve got so many songs that I’m dying to share, I just need a little more time and a lot more money.  Hey, that sounds like a song!

WiMN: Can you share any advice for those who are trying to make it in the industry…

LC: My advice to anyone joining this crazy family called the music industry is to hang in there and don’t be afraid to reach outside of your comfort zone to try new things – like demonstrating.  Every gig you take has the potential to lead to bigger and better opportunities you would never think to try.

Keep pushing.  Keep writing.  Keep practicing and learning.  And don’t let anyone tell you what does or does not constitute success.  That is up to you!

 

Front and Center: Award-Winning Artist and Dancer, Rachael Sage

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: Award-Winning Artist and Dancer, Rachael Sage

By Lina Bhambhani
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Awarding-winning artist and dancer, Rachael Sage, released her video “I Don’t Believe It” on Wednesday, May 25. 2016. This video is the first of her album Choreographic. Sage’s goal is to represent her connection with dance and pop music together, via her self-described “ballet-pop.”

Sage’s video featured choreography from Megan Carvajal and 3-time national dance champion, Kaci King. Sage was also formerly a dancer as well and attended The School of American Ballet. She had experience with The New York City Ballet in ballets such as “The Nutcracker” and “Coppélia.”

The result of the video is a combination of piano, chamber-pop orchestral elements with a mixture of folk, pop, and rock.

Her music reached a large audience after being placed on Lifetime TV’s “Dance Moms,” which helped her grow her fan-base on YouTube with over 9.5 million views. Her first single off the album, “Try Try Try,” is #13 and and climbing on the AC Top 200 charts.

Get to know Sage a bit better in her interview. Find out what made her who she is today and the challenges she faced as an artist, musician and dancer.

You can find out more about Rachael Sage at www.rachaelsage.com.

WiMN: Dance has been quite the passion throughout your life time. What made you get into singing, aside from dance?

RS: Actually, I have always sung and played piano, even before I danced. Once I started dancing, the two areas merged very naturally, in the sense that while I was teaching myself to play by ear and write songs, I would incorporate classical influences from dance class, and lyrical ideas and emotions from my experiences as a dancer. As a kid, I always wanted to be a “triple threat” i.e. act, sing and dance and my idols were people like Bette Midler and even older film stars like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Later on, I watched a lot of Solid Gold on television where I saw tons of pop stars singing (or rather, lip-syncing!) and also the dancers they had interpreting pop songs, and I simply wanted to be part of all of it – however I could, and for whomever would listen, or watch! Initially that comprised my family, then my peers at camp and school, then talent shows, and eventually producers like Andy Zulla who helped me learn to make polished demos and taught me about studio production. All along, I never stopped writing songs, and once I was in college I got a regular gig singing them at my local coffeehouse. That was the beginning of my career as a singer-songwriter, because it was also my first paid gig!

WiMN: This video is quite an art piece. How long did it take you and what were some challenges you faced making it?

RS: It only took us two days to shoot, and another to rehearse; but then there is the process of editing and revising, and going back and forth with the director giving feedback and making adjustments. All in all, it took a few weeks from start to finish. I think the most challenging thing about it was probably just making sure we got all the footage we wanted, within a short time frame. Our cast was wonderful and the crew was so skilled. Everyone worked very hard, and up to the last minute, until the studio had to close for the night. Our lead dancer Kaci King had incredible stamina, and made the dancing look far easier than I know it was!

WiMN: What made you want to put this song out first compared to others on your album, Choreographic?

RS: The most uplifting, energetic track on the record, I felt “I Don’t Believe It” would hook people in who may not otherwise know my work, and I also wanted to create a visual for a song that addressed the idea of rising above naysayers, bullies and whatever adversity may threaten an artists’ vision. It’s so challenging to stay focused and rise above criticism and bullying, as a kind of artist but particularly, as a dancer…and to truly find one’s own expressive voice. It’s a message I feel is important to convey not only to young people, but to anyone pursuing a craft, a dream or a challenge that is extraordinary and requires the courage to ignore self-doubt or others who may doubt your abilities.

WiMN: What do you want your audiences to understand from this video?  What is the awareness you are trying to build and why?

RS: I want audiences to really feel a kindred spirit in our dancer-heroine, Kaci, and to follow her journey within the video from tentative, insecure student to expressive, joyful and confident performer. I think many people can relate to the concept of self-confidence having the power to transcend most of life’s hardships and negative energy in general, and I wanted the adult dancers in the video – who span all ages and ability levels – to bring an element of hopefulness and exuberance that reminds us that dance is not only something for the professionals, but something human and unifying, that can help us create transcendent moments where we can become our best, most expressive selves. I hope people dance around at home when they watch the video, and that they also glean some extra “chutzpah” and empowerment from the repetition of the lyric “every time that you tell me I’m not good enough / I don’t believe it”!

WiMN: You have shared the stage with amazing artists such as Sarah McLachlan, A Great Big World, Judy Collins, Shawn Colvin, Mark Cohn, Jamie Cullum, The Animals and Ani DiFranco. How did you feel with those experiences, and will there be possible future collaborations?

RS: Honestly, each of the artists you’ve mentioned with whom I’ve shared the stage has been an idol of sorts for me, prior to me sharing the stage with them…so predictably, each occasion was a thrill, but also sometimes overwhelming or just plain scary! It depended upon the frame of mind I was in and how prepared I felt. For example, Sarah McLachlan’s record was on such heavy rotation in my life that I was just ecstatic to be in her presence and grateful to be part of Lilith Fair and her extraordinary vision of community between female musicians. With The Animals, I was more nervous because it was first time riding on a tour bus, Eric is older and has had such an incredible career in rock ‘n roll and I wasn’t quite sure how my much mellower music related, so I worked very hard to rise to the occasion every night, and it was a huge learning experience on how to lead a full band and play to large crowds. Judy Collins is always a pure pleasure, and puts everyone around her at ease. When I open for her, I just watch and learn, and it’s a continual honor that she supports my work so generously. I can’t predict the future, but one can always hope! I share the stage with many other artists who are lesser-known night to night, and discovering new talent and supporting emerging artists is also a passion of mine, which is much of why I still run my own label, MPress Records.

WiMN: What are your next upcoming projects? Where can audiences find out more about you?

RS: I will be doing more shows throughout the US this summer, and then will be touring in the UK and Europe in the Fall. In the meantime, I’m working on a new video for my single “Try Try Try” (featuring dancers from the Joffrey and Houston Ballet companies!), and will also be recording a brand new song in honor of the victims of the Orlando shooting.

People can keep in touch with me at facebook.com/rachaelsagepage, at twitter.com/rachaelsage and instagram.com/rachael_sage. You can also check out my official website for ongoing news, tour dates and more! www.rachaelsage.com

 

Front and Center: Recording Artist and Singer, Kacee Clanton

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: Recording Artist and Singer, Kacee Clanton

By Pauline France

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Only a handful of artists worldwide can boast working with renowned acts like Luis Miguel, Joe Cocker, and Beth Hart.

That’s the case for Kacee Clanton, an immensely talented recording artist, arranger, producer, stage actor, vocal coach, live performer and commercial singer originally from Northern California.

Clanton’s journey has taken her many places, including Broadway where she’s performed on A Night With Janis Joplin.

Her latest endeavor has been a blues-rock collaboration with guitarist Adrian Galysh, where Clanton lends her sultry vocals on Galysh’s latest release, Into The Blue.

Read about Clanton’s experience while on the road, her biggest tips for success, what she considers some of the biggest challenges for women in music are, and more in our interview below.

Visit her website here for more information.

WiMN: You’ve shared the stage with huge acts, played the lead in Love, Janis, and have performed on Broadway in A Night With Janis Joplin. Aside from your extraordinary talent, what did it take for you to get these high-level gigs?

KC: I have been incredibly blessed! It’s kind of crazy. I’ve always felt like it was a combination of talent, hard work, peers, reputation, and a little bit of luck. I’ve been a teacher for many years and I always tell my students to work hard to stay on top of their game and work with as many people as possible, because their peers are the most likely source of further work.

In my experience, if I step into multiple circles of artists and industry people, when those circles connect, I get a call. It’s not something I can force; it just happens when it’s supposed to happen. Reputation is everything. When people know you have a strong work ethic, you come prepared and on time, and you’re easy to work with, they’re more likely to hire you than the other 497 singers or actors in the building.

WiMN: Culturally, what was it like to tour with Latin music juggernaut Luis Miguel? How was it any different from touring with, say, a U.S. artist, if any different?

KC: It was an incredible experience on so many levels. He is an extraordinary singer and his catalog was full of gems, many written by legendary Latin composers. And touring with his band was a blast. They were not only gifted players, but really nice human beings who became family. I’ve never laughed so much on a tour! I didn’t know much about Luis Miguel when I started working with him, but I quickly fell madly in love with his voice and the music, not to mention the long-time fans who embraced me and made me feel welcome in that world.

I think the main difference between touring in the States – as opposed to touring in Central/South America or Europe – are the audiences. Speaking generally, Americans tend to be more reserved with their praise. I think the American market is so saturated with tours, events, artists, press, etc., the audiences often take an “I’m going to sit back and see if you impress me” approach to concert going. In most other countries, it can be storming and the traffic can be at a stand-still, and people will still slog through the mud, show up, and sing at the top their lungs with passion in their hearts. This is of course not true everywhere, but it has been my general impression as I’ve toured all over the world.

WiMN: Tell us about your most recent collaboration with Adrian Galysh in Into The Blue. How did that come to fruition?

KC: I’ve known Adrian for years, but have never actually worked with him. I was reading an interview he did the other day, and he said until he saw me sing at a local club in L.A. last fall, he had never heard me sing before. I didn’t know that! Ha.

Anyway, he approached me after hearing me and asked if I would be interested in collaborating on a blues record. I just so happened to have a window of time where I wasn’t in a show or on the road and thought it would be great to get back to the grounding, “rootsy” feel of writing and singing blues.

WiMN: Aside from performing, what other opportunities in the music industry are there for singers?

KC: I make what I like to call a “patchwork living.” My career has never been one solid canvas. It’s a collection of interests woven together. I tour as a background singer, lead vocalist, and a stage/theater singer; I am a vocal and performance coach, working with label artists, theatrical casts, and other private clients; I do session work for labels, film, TV, publishing catalogues, and jingles; I am a recording artists and I produce other artists; I write with various publishing teams for commercial placement in film, TV, etc.; and I teach.

Many singers would rather focus on one path: becoming a recording artist or a published writer, for example. But my interests are pretty widespread and I find that I can make a better living as a singer if I’m open to walking multiple paths. I would rather be really good at a lot of things than the best at one thing. It’s just who I am as a human being.

WiMN: Which singers or bands have had the most impact in your career?

KC: I believe I was about 4 or 5 years old the first time I heard Nat King Cole sing. I knew then and there that I wanted to be a singer. Without really understanding it, I knew I wanted to move people the way he moved me.

I grew up in church and in a household where there was always music playing or someone practicing. I think black gospel had the most profound effect on me as both a singer and even today, as a vocal arranger. Andrae Crouch & the Disciples and the Edwin Hawkins Singers were a huge part of the soundtrack of my childhood. And once I heard Karen Carpenter, I knew what kind of voice and tone I wanted.

When I hit junior high, I started getting into funkier stuff, like Earth, Wind & Fire and Mother’s Finest (Joyce Kennedy of Mother’s Finest is still one of my favorite singers on the planet.) That’s when “groove” became one of the most important things to me as a singer and performer. I got more into rock in high school and college, and since I was studying classical voice, I got really into technique singers like Ann Wilson of Heart and Ronnie James Dio.

I think singer/songwriters, however, were the constant thread through it all. When I’m out walking, or taking a long drive, or cleaning my house, it’s safe to assume I’m listening to some singer/songwriter. That is a very long list: from old-school writers like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Jime Croce, and The Beatles, to the newer stuff from Patty Griffin, John Mayer, Rob Thomas, Jonatha Brooke, James Bay, Adele, The Fray, Gavin DeGraw, India Arie, Imogen Heap, Jason Mraz, Marc Broussard, KT Tunstal, Ray LaMontagne, and Alanis Morissette.

And I haven’t even talked about the Motown sounds and people like Etta James and Big Mama Thornton, or the newer rock sounds of bands like Evanescense, Soundgarden, Radiohead, and Linkin Park, or the amazing soundtracks of so many Broadway shows. GAH! There are so many writers and performers woven into the fabric of my life and artistry, it’s sorta mind-blowing.

WiMN: What sort of prejudice do you think there is toward female vocalists? Feel free to share a personal experience you’ve had, if any.

KC: Oh boy…how much time do you have? Ha. As with all forms of prejudice, some are more subtle than others.

I started dipping my toes in the industry back in the ’80s, when things were pretty rough for women. I negotiated and ended up turning down multiple record and production deals because I was being told to just record the vocals, shake my booty, and look sexy. No one would let me write or have an opinion, and since the industry was run almost entirely by men, I was reduced to a number on some sex appeal scale set up by bean counters and pimps who cared about the bottom line and not about the art.

I was once chased around the top floor of a major label by a VP who would have raped me had another employer not made a surprise visit to that floor. And that wasn’t even the crazy part. It was the look of shock on his face when I told him in no uncertain terms, NO. He said he couldn’t fathom why a no-name artist like me wouldn’t want his “help.” I have other stories, but the theme is the same. I am thrilled that labels no longer have the god-like power they once had and every time I see a woman calling the shots as an industry exec, I throw a little party in my heart.

But the blatant forms of prejudice have taken a backseat to the more subtle forms. Women as a whole still make less money than men, and that virus still lingers in all areas of labor and commerce, including the music industry. There is also still the underlying suggestion that you must be thin and beautiful and young to be a successful female singer. This of course does not apply to men to nearly the same degree as women. And to be fair, many female artists don’t help our cause much when they don’t know the difference between being sexy and being sexual, and when they buy into the industry hype that you can’t sell units unless you sell your body, or that fame is the end game. It’s all a B.S. machine built by men from back in the day, and when women don’t know who they are and what their real worth is, their fear and desperation fuel that machine.

There are many other forms of subtle prejudice against female singers. All you have to do is talk to a room full of male musicians to hear the jokes and innuendo about “chick singers” being high maintenance and difficult to work with. Because we all know if you’re a man and you’re a focused, tough, no nonsense music director, you’re a genius. But if you’re a focused, tough, no nonsense woman running the show, you’re a cold-hearted bitch. I continue to hear this ridiculous innuendo all the time. And I grant you, I’ve worked with some difficult, high-maintenance women, and it annoys me just as much as the next person, but I’ve worked with just as many men who behave badly. Bad behavior in the entertainment industry is a widespread bacteria infecting all who don’t arm themselves against it, male or female.

WiMN: What’s the best professional advice you’d give to a young girl wishing to pursue a career in music.

KNOW THYSELF: Before you even think about diving into the business of making art, know who you are and who you are not. Understand the difference. Know that your worth lies in your gift and your character. Know that your happiness comes from within, not without.

KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOOD AND GREAT: Practice your art. Be responsible. Do your homework. Be on time every time. Practice wisdom and compassion. There are thousands of good singers out there so decide now if you just want to be good or if you want to be great. It’s entirely up to you.

IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START BUILDING A LEGACY OF ENCOURAGEMENT: While you may be competing against other women for tours, gigs, shows, etc., decide now that you will see competition as a healthy form of growth. See women as your sisters and not your enemy. Encourage them. Build them up and allow them to help you grow as well. Celebrate with them and understand if you do not get the gig, you were not meant to, not because life is unfair but because life knows what it’s doing. If you are prepared and you do your best and someone else gets the job, that job was always hers. So celebrate all of it because it means you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

NEVER BELIEVE YOUR OWN PRESS: Keep your head down and do the work. Do not be distracted by the opinions of others. You will never be as good or as bad as they say you are. Marcus Aurelius once said, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

LEARN TO SAY NO: Not every opportunity is a good one. Not every door needs to be knocked on. Not every industry contact you make will be a fruitful one. Exercise wisdom at all times and surround yourself with people and work that will take you in a positive direction and help you grow as an artist and human. If your gut says no, believe it and have the courage to stand by it.

YOU ARE AN ISLAND: You have everything you need to be complete and at peace. Embrace those who love and support you but understand that when no one is around, you have everything you need. Fall in love but understand if it ends, you have everything you need. Pour yourself into your art but understand if your path doesn’t go in the direction you thought it would, you have everything you need.

“The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is, there’s no ground.” — Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

WiMN: Are you working on new material or any new exciting projects we should know about?

KC: I’m coaching the cast of a local production of Spring Awakening, which will run in late June at the Malibu Playhouse, and I’m producing a young singer/songwriter, Michelle Ariane. Her debut release should be out by the end of the year. Hopefully, Adrian and I will be out doing some live work, supporting the new record throughout the year. I am also negotiating a contract for another run of “A Night With Janis Joplin,” which will happen this summer. But overall, I’m in a bit of a repackaging mode right now. I’ve played Janis on and off for the past 15 years so my agent and I are working on reinventing my image, particularly in the theater world. I’d like to dig into some other roles and see where else I can go as an actor and singer.

In the end, I never know where my path will take me one week to the next. That’s what I like most about my patchwork life. I have absolute faith that wherever I go, I’ll be exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Front and Center: Guitarist and Vocalist, 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: Guitarist and Vocalist, Samantha Fish

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By Gabriella Steffenberg 

Born in Kansas City, Mo., blues and rock musician Samantha Fish immersed herself into the music since picking up a guitar at 13. With a fear of performing in front of audiences, Fish pushed through her doubts and realized years later that this was a career she wanted to pursue.

With three albums released to date, Fish has overcome the obstacle that once blocked her creative outlet, and has been working on new music for an upcoming album.

Read on below to learn more about this week’s Front and Center, and check out Fish’s official website here.

WiMN: When did you know that you wanted to be a musician?

SF: I started playing music when I was 13, but I didn’t know that it was going to be my life until I was 17/18. I remember it was a pretty definitive moment. I was a really shy kid and I was thrown onto a stage for my first public performance – it was the scariest thing, but it changed me. I kind of knew after that moment that I wanted to keep chasing down that feeling; I wanted to be a performer.

WiMN: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since entering the music industry?

SF: You learn things everyday if you are looking for them. Really the biggest thing I’ve had to learn to do is to trust my instincts. Being young and female in a male-driven industry – there’s a lot of second-guessing yourself. Any decisions that are made, I have to wear them. So I’ve had to start trusting my gut and also be humble enough to keep seeking out education.

WiMN: Have there been any women in your life that have inspired you and your music? If so, in what ways?

SF: My mom and my sister were always singing when I was a kid. When I started hearing females playing instruments that really changed a lot for me. I saw Sheryl Crow early on, just seeing her run all over the stage playing various instruments was really inspiring. It opened the door for me to get into Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, etc.

WiMN: Are you currently working on new music?

SF: Yes, always. I just finished an acoustic album in December. Not sure about an official release date yet. I am writing again, and I’ve been doing demos; I’m always working on new music.

WiMN: What piece of advice would you give to women looking to be in the music industry?

SF: Hone your craft. Be a bad-ass. Don’t ever stop learning. It’s hard being a female in this industry, so you have to work really hard to prove yourself as a contender. Work hard, find your voice.

WiMN: What are your musical goals that you want to accomplish over the next year?

SF: I want to get out to as many people as humanly possible. I also want to find more time to be creative and write music, and I want to continue growing my business.

Front and Center: Singer, Guitarist, and Drummer of Ultrahazard and Melomaniac, Violet Staley

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

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Front and Center: Singer, Guitarist, and Drummer of Ultrahazard and Melomaniac, Violet Staley

By Dawn Perreault

There is a bit of a movement happening on the south side of Chicago. A group of younger bands that have rejected their peers love of computerized music are embracing the old school styling’s and methods of playing real instruments; writing songs that echo some of the best of our punk and alternative musical history.

It was said that rock n’ roll will never die, but while those of us who love the genre are waiting for it to either gasp its last breath, or resurrect like Lazarus, the heart of Punk Rock has not grown weak. Like the Tell Tale Heart, it’s under the floorboard letting you know it isn’t dead yet.

One unique twist to this little group of bands in Chicago is that the driving force behind many of them are the women that play in the bands. Nothing replaces the raw and brutal energy of youth than Violet Staley, and “Bruised Violet,” as she calls herself, is letting nothing hold her back. Check out both Facebook pages for Ultrahazard and Melomaniac, as well as the Band Camp pages for Ultrahazard and Melomaniac.

WiMN: Tell me about both Ultrahazard and Melomaniac, and why two bands?

VS: Ultrahazard is a Chicago-based political punk band. We would describe our sound as being ska punk crust-pop fun. We stand for unity and equality. We sing about topics ranging from feminism, solidarity amongst artists, class war, roller derby, and revolution. All four of us come from different musical backgrounds such as Riot Grrrl, jazz, punk, and reggae, but our music sounds like a mix of Star F*cking Hipsters, Bomb! The Music Industry, The Distillers, and We Are the Union.

The lineup of Ultrahazard is Eli, Nick, Saffron and I. I play guitar and sing, Eli plays bass and sings, Saffron plays guitar and sings, and Nick plays drums. The band started in a Girls Rock! Camp, which is a super amazing camp that I recommend every girl between the ages of 8 and 16 go to while they can! You form a band, learn how to play the instrument of your choice, write a song and then perform it at the end of camp show (all in one week). After camp we decided to keep the band going and take it further. The band has been growing up with us and it’s really cool to look back and see that.

The more we expand our taste and knowledge of music the more you can hear that in the music. It’s been one of the greatest things ever in my life – to be in a band with my best friends, grow up with each other, have our music to listen back to, and hear and feel that change.

Melomaniac is a 3-piece horror rock and roll band based in Chicago. We have been a band since December 2015. We formed because our friend Jessica was telling us about how she missed playing music after being done with her time at the School of Rock in Chicago. The thought of being in an all-girl band with two of my best friends was super exciting. So far, we’ve been writing songs about horror movies and true crime bass.The lineup of Melomaniac is Saffron, Jessica and I. I play drums and sing, Saffron plays bass and sings back-up, and Jessica plays guitar.

WiMN: What has been your experience in the music scene as a woman? Do you feel an advantage/disadvantage?

VS:  I’m grateful that my interest in playing music sprung out of attending Girls Rock! Camp, because that really prepared me for the experiences I have encountered in the music scene as a woman. I learned about Riot Grrrl and the history of women in rock and beyond.

Learning about Riot Grrrl and feminism opened so many doors for me. It made me stronger as a person and as a musician. I have experienced discrimination at shows, because of my gender. Guys assume I’m just the “merch girl” instead of one of the actual band members, being asked stupidly ridiculous questions like, “How do you play guitar with your finger nails?” by some guy in one of the bands we were playing with, or watching guys in other bands greet the two guys in my band all excited and bro-like, but then looking past me, as if they can’t talk to me the same because I’m a girl.

I don’t want to say that being a woman in the music scene is an advantage or disadvantage, but I will say that I have been ignored or thought of as lesser of a musician because of my gender.

WiMN: If you could change anything about being a woman in the scene, what would it be?

VS: If I could change anything about being a woman in the music scene I would make it so that it doesn’t matter what your gender is! Whatever you identity with, you have the right to express yourself and make the music that you want.

I wish that I wasn’t ignored or thought of as lesser of a musician because of my gender. I don’t want the main focus of my music to be my gender – I want the main focus of the music that I make to be the passion and love that drives it, and I want the outcome to be filled with unity, equality and fun.

WiMN: Who is your main musical role model and what made you want to be a musician?

VS: It’s really hard to pick one person as my main musical role model. I think my biggest musical influence isn’t a role model, but a movement. Riot Grrrl really changed the way I think about music and the way that I play music. It was really empowering to discover all of these amazing all girl bands, because most of the bands that I listened to when I was younger did not have women in them.

I am a musician because I want to make a difference in the world, and the best way that I know I can reach people is through my music. Through my music I can share ideas, I can express my feelings with more than just words, and I can show the world that girls can do anything.

WiMN: What does 2016 hold for you?

VS: Ultrahazard’s biggest goal is to finish recording our first full-length album. Melomaniac is also working on recording, so we can put out an EP. I think the biggest goal that both bands have is to just really get our music out there and play even more shows. Both bands have yet to tour, but we have been talking about making a tour happen really soon, especially with Ultrahazard because of our new album coming out soon.

Dawn Perreault lives with her husband Mark and their boxer Scooby, in a suburb of Chicago. When she is not busy chasing her grandson around, she loves to write about local bands and musicians and also sings and writes original music.