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: Becky Gebhardt and Mona Tavakoli of Raining Jane and founders of Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles
By Gabriella Steffenberg
Becky Gebhardt and Mona Tavakoli are determined to make the rock world better for women in music, and they have already made waves. From being in the band Raining Jane together, who have toured with the likes of Sara Bareilles and Jason Mraz (in addition to him producing and co-writing multiple tracks of theirs), and co-founding Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Los Angeles, these ladies are already paving the way for fearless women in the music industry.
Read below to find out more about these talented and inspiring women.
WiMN: How did your band, Raining Jane, form?
BG: Raining Jane formed before I was a part of it. It all started with a couple of undergrads at UCLA who wanted to put together an all-female band. I didn’t enter the mix until a little while later after they had already been playing gigs. I was introduced to the band through their drummer, Mona Tavakoli. Mona and I became friends while working together in the residence halls. She taught me important social skills like how to hi-five, and she brought me in to Raining Jane.
MT: When I was living in Sproul Hall at UCLA as an undergrad resident assistant I was approached by two girls across the hall. They had seen me play cajon at a flamenco dance class recital and were wondering if I also played drum kit. They wanted to start an all-female folk-rock band and play around Los Angeles. Santa Monica local, Mai Bloomfield (vocals, guitar, cello, women studies major) was also recruited. Over the course of the next few years band members changed. We added Chaska Potter (vocals, guitar, captain of the UCLA bruins volleyball team) and Becky Gebhardt (bass, sitar, cheese lover). Our first show as Raining Jane was at UCLA’s Spring Sing talent show where we played at the Los Angeles Tennis Center performing a medley called “A Tribute to the Women of the Eighties.” Raining Jane took home trophies that night for Best Band, Best Director and Grand Sweepstakes.
WiMN: What have been some of your most memorable shows?
BG: One of the most memorable shows I’ve had the honor to be a part of is “Live Art,” a fundraiser for SPARC (School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community). What’s amazing about this show is that it integrates about 200 kids of all abilities, and 50 adults into one big theatrical performance. All kinds of art – music, dance, spoken word, puppetry and even painting – are involved. It’s all about how art breaks down barriers and builds connections between people. It’s a magical experience that has changed me forever.
MT: The best part of being in Raining Jane is all of the opportunities for sharing it has given me. I am grateful for all of the beautiful/weird experiences we have had to share music around the world. There was that one time we drove to a college gig in western Pennsylvania and instead of looking at our technical rider they decided that we were an a cappella group so they only set up 6 vocal mics and nothing else. Don’t worry, we used all the mics- AND IT WAS MEMORABLE. Then there was that time we played in Daegu, Korea and the crowd was so spirited and responsive that we gave them singing parts. Never in my life could I imagine an entire venue in Korea singing along to a Raining Jane song.
WiMN: Who are your biggest musical inspirations and why?
BG: Different musicians inspire me at different times. Two artists that come to mind right away are Kaki King and Anoushka Shankar. I appreciate that they both are such excellent players of their respective instruments and also are doing very innovative things with them. And I just love the sounds they make. Their music is beautiful, interesting, and engaging.
MT: My first musical inspiration was Madonna. As a tiny, hairy 10 year-old I would rock a lace headband bow, draw in a fake beauty mark and sing “true blue” at the top of my lungs. I remember being so moved by her confidence and willingness to engage. Throughout my high school marching band/drum line years I was turned on to Neil Peart, the drummer of Rush. Neil Peart’s creative and musical drumming inspired me to think differently about the role of a drummer in the band. Thank you to Prince, Bjork, Paul Simon, Missy Elliott, Ben Gibbard, Gloria Estefan, Ani Difranco, Tori Amos and Peaches for being some of my favorite writers/performers on the planet as well.
WiMN: When did you know that you wanted to be in the music industry?
BG: I don’t feel like I ever knew I wanted to be in the music industry. I’ve found myself in it because I love being in a band and I love playing music – I wanted to see how far I could take it. I knew I wanted to be in a band when I was 13 years old and it basically progressed gradually from there. Where I’ve been able to go with it has surpassed all of my dreams and expectations.
MT: I don’t think I ever thought I would be in the music industry. I thought I would go to Business School and become a real professional business lady. I just loved playing music with my friends. I loved playing the drums. I loved sharing and singing and laughing. And it all seemed to come together when Raining Jane would play a show. And the shows became a tour and the tours became my life. And now I am playing music as my job. I can’t even believe it. I am so grateful I get to do something that I love with people that I love. And don’t even get me started on the fact that I get to connect and share with people all over the world through music – it’s just too much!
WiMN: What influenced you to found Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles?
BG: Mona and I had heard about the original Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls which started in Portland, Oregon in 2001. We went up there to volunteer in 2005 and kept going back after that. The experience of mentoring girls while also being inspired by their bravery and brilliance was super powerful. We knew we needed to start something similar in Los Angeles. L.A. can be so fame-focused sometimes, we wanted to create something that was explicitly not about fame or “making it in the music industry.” It’s really about harnessing the power of music for personal empowerment and rocking at life. However, for girls who do want to consider a job or career in music, this summer camp would be an incredible resource as well.
We really wanted to build a non-competitive space where girls and women could feel safe to fully express themselves and support each other. Now we have a really awesome community of like-minded people that’s sort of a haven. And it’s a reminder that it is possible to effect change and create the world that we wish existed at least for two weeks out of the year, and take those high vibes into the rest of our lives as best as we can. The volunteers end the week as pumped and inspired as the campers do, if not more.
MT: Becky Gebhardt and I had heard about this movement in the Pacific Northwest called the “Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls” from a publication called Venus Zine. We got in the car and drove from Los Angeles to Portland in the summer of 2005 and spent the week volunteering and teaching girls how to play music TOGETHER. It moved us so much that we knew we wanted to bring this magic to our community in Los Angeles. After Raining Jane took a break from touring full time we were able to get started. We are now in our sixth year of Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles!
WiMN: What’s the most rewarding part about working with young women in the music scene?
BG: Young people are brilliant and hopeful and creative and when I get to work with them some of that rubs off on me and I am so grateful for that.
MT: I think the most rewarding part about working with young women in music is being able to witness through them how much is changing in the world. I am watching girls of every background come together create together and sing together. As a young girl, I never saw a Persian woman playing the drums. Now I see every kind of woman and girl expressing themselves in ways I never imagined. Rock Camp has helped me discover how passionate I am about creating a safe space for expression and personal growth. Our mission is to create an environment where girls are encouraged to take risks, be loud, take up space, express their true selves and collaborate with their sisters. I am grateful to be a part of this work and movement. It informs my music and the way I engage and approach the world.
WiMN: Have you two ever faced adversity within the industry, just because you’re women?
BG: I don’t feel like I’ve faced adversity just because I’m a woman, but I’ve often wondered how my gender identity has affected how people treat me and perceive me. A lot of times you just don’t know. Sometimes people are just assholes, and as women we have the burden of wondering if it’s because of our gender. Systemic biases are much harder to pin down and point to than an isolated degrading comment, for example. Gender discrimination isn’t always a conscious act and nor is there always tangible evidence to prove it’s happening.
Also my gender presentation isn’t typically feminine so I think that also affects how I am perceived and treated by others too. I’ve definitely heard messed up stories from other women. But I don’t go on auditions and I’m not trying to fit in to other people’s visions of videos or bands, and I’ve never had to work on a team with a lot of men. I roll with a pack of ladies almost all the time (Raining Jane) and since we’re an indie band we make our own choices.
MT: There have been times where dudes were just rude. We have walked into venues and have been asked if we were the girlfriends of the band. I have friends that have had incredible challenges based on their gender identity and the way they look. However, I can see that the landscape is changing and I have a lot of hope for the direction that our industry is headed in.
WiMN: What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned throughout your careers?
BG: Don’t be so afraid of making mistakes. My fear of messing up has held me back and it hasn’t been until fairly recently that I’ve really let go of that fear – it’s incredibly freeing.
MT: The most valuable lesson I have learned in my career is to take every opportunity to keep learning and evolving within my craft. There is no substitute for hard work and growth. It helps you lean in deeper into creation and gives you the confidence to share whatever you make. I have also learned that kindness always wins. Work your ass off and be nice while doing it.
WiMN: Do you have any advice for women looking to break into the music industry?
BG: My advice to anyone is to stay true to yourself, be great at what you do, work hard and find mentors. Also be nice and show up early but not too early. There’s definitely no blueprint for how to find success in the industry. Everyone’s path is different.
MT: Dolly Parton said it best: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
WiMN: What does it mean to you to receive a She Rocks Award?
BG: I feel very honored to receive a She Rocks Award. It’s really inspiring to see how the She Rocks Awards have grown over the years. Last year was my first time attending the event. It was an oasis of much-needed acknowledgement and celebration of women by women. It means so much for it to be happening during the NAMM Show and I’m grateful to everyone who has championed it.
MT: It is such a badass honor to receive a She Rocks Award! I am so grateful that this event exists and that we have a place to celebrate the accomplishments of women doing good work in the music industry. Yay She Rocks!