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: Rock n’ Roll Singer and Songwriter Solvej Schou
By Lina Bhambhani
Born and raised in Hollywood, Solvej Schou delivers high energy rock ‘n’ roll, blues and Americana with influences including Janis Joplin, PJ Harvey, X and Patti Smith.
Now based in Pasadena, California, Schou has been singing since she was a kid, and began performing and writing songs since as a teenager. She has been a member of various bands including Bitch & Moan, The Lassiebeat, Racquet, and Naughty Bird in cities such as Los Angeles, New York City and Copenhagen, Denmark.
With the help of producers Dan Heck and Mark Mastopietro, Schou released her self-titled solo album in late 2014. In 2015, Flavorwire premiered Schou’s video for “Cruel Hearted Woman,” directed by Alex Godinez. She later released the single “Friendship,” which was recorded at Medley Studios in Copenhagen. Schou performs along with band members Sarah Lundeen, Eric Hasenbein and Chelsea Jean Speer-Guzman.
With big vocals, a little bit of sexuality, and a lot of rock ‘n’ roll attitude, Schou is not afraid to bring the roar. And as a strong female artist, her music reflects her character.
WIMN: What are some challenges you have faced as a songwriter?
SS: I love words, melody, authenticity and soul. That feeling of having to get music out of your system because it needs to come out, because you’ll combust if it doesn’t. I’ve always cringed at songs that seem fake, pretentious or that they’re trying too hard, trying to be too “cool.” Music, for me, has never been about being “cool.” It’s about music as therapy, necessity, explosion, sweat.
One challenge as a songwriter is how to capture an emotion, a mood, or a thought with meaningful words and music. The lyrics for a new song I wrote paying tribute to David Bowie, called “Stardust Hero,” poured out of me the night he died. But I had to go back and make sure the words felt true and real, and not too forced. My song “Friendship” started as a song for a close friend – acoustic, alt-country, pared down – and then expanded into a much bigger soulful song, electric and loud. It’s always a process. What you first write can shift and change into something different and better, and that can be a quick process, or take time. My songs usually start with lyrics and vocal melody, and then I set everything to guitar. Loud, soft, indie rock, blues. It all starts with lyrics and vocal melody.
WIMN: How has journalism influenced you as an artist?
SS: Over the years, I’ve interviewed Aretha Franklin, Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith – three of my musical heroes – plus other artists. Meeting your heroes as a journalist, you have to keep it together and be professional. I couldn’t fangirl out with all the fireworks erupting in my heart, meeting them. Their words, their presence, their strength, their vulnerability did sink in. I was able to tell Patti Smith, who I first started listening to and being inspired by in high school, growing up in L.A., that I wrote a poem for her in high school, and gave it to her in person when I saw her play at NYC punk club CBGB when I was 18, in college in New York. That was her first time playing CBGB in about 15 years.
Journalism hasn’t influenced me, per se, as an artist, because singing and playing guitar are so absolutely physical, emotional and personal for me compared to journalism and writing as cerebral and both unemotional and emotional. But the artists I’ve interviewed have had an impact, and working with words all the time – I also wrote poems and short stories starting in elementary school, and was an English/creative writing major in college, before I went into journalism – has also had an impact.
WIMN: How was it working with different bands as opposed to one?
SS: With the bands I’ve been in in the past, such as Racquet in NYC, Bitch & Moan and Naughty Bird in L.A. and The Lassiebeat in Denmark, even though I was either the frontwoman or one of the lead singers and guitarists, I didn’t write all of the songs. Throughout being in those bands, I also played separately solo, alone. I now play with other, great musicians in a band under my own name, and write and sing lead on all the songs we play. There’s something powerful about having my songs that started off as scrawled lyrics on a page, and me stomping and singing alone in a rehearsal space, become bigger than myself with my bandmates on guitar, bass, sax and drums. I’m grateful to play with them.
WIMN: What sparked your interest in getting into songwriting?
SS: Loss and music have always been a big part of my life. My late mom, the daughter of a Jewish-Polish Holocaust survivor, died when I was 9. She sang and played piano. My Danish dad plays guitar and sings. I grew up in Hollywood always surrounded by music at home. I soaked up my mom and dad’s playing, and listened to my dad’s albums, by X, Talking Heads, Pretenders, Aretha Franklin, Lead Belly and a ton of other rock, blues, soul and jazz musicians. The very first recording of me is when I was 4, wailing Prince’s “Lady Cab Driver.” So when my mom passed away of cancer when I was a kid, I channeled my singing and poetry into writing songs, and getting out all the pain, grief, sadness and anger I felt through singing LOUD.
I wrote my first songs in junior high, picked up a guitar in high school, and started playing in Hollywood solo and with a band. Many women have inspired my songwriting, from PJ Harvey, who completely blew my mind with her voice and gut-punch lyrics when I first heard her in junior high, to Patti Smith. My teen feminism and grief also coincided with the riot grrl scene. Listening to and seeing Bikini Kill in L.A. empowered me to express even more. You can never be TOO loud, TOO emotional, TOO angry, TOO sad, TOO soulful when writing songs, and especially as a woman. Just be – and feel true to – yourself.
WIMN: What are some of the next projects you have planned?
SS: My solo indie debut album came out in late 2014, kind of in the vein of PJ Harvey’s 1993 album 4-Track Demos, in that it’s just me on layered vocals and guitar. I recorded it with two engineers in Southern California. I put out “Friendship” as a single last summer, in 2015, recorded with musicians in Copenhagen, Denmark at a studio Prince once recorded at called Medley Studios. Next up, I plan to launch a Kickstarter to raise money to record an EP of my newer songs, with my bandmates, and make some videos. We’ve been playing these songs around L.A. and Pasadena, California, so it would be great to record them.
WIMN: How can listeners find more about you?
SS: Listeners can buy my album and single via CD Baby. They can also check out my Facebook music page for photos, videos, info and show info. I have show videos and the official video for my song “Cruel Hearted Woman,” from my album, on YouTube. And finally, follow me on Twitter.