Ladies First

Is the local music scene a level playing field for male and female musicians?

It’s not that we’re man-haters or feminist zealots. These bras are way too expensive to burn. Let’s get that fact — this is merely a pointed Q&A and not some prelude to she-war — straight right away.

When we started thinking about the local bands we cover in The Inlander, we started to realize our music scene is a reflection of the national landscape. And because of that, we tend to cover lots of dudes in vans, cocky rappers and all-guy rock bands, with the occasional sensitive fellow thrown in here and there.

But this past May, when we had our Bands to Watch issue, we were pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of a local female emcee and a female-fronted punk band. And then in July, we saw the female-based Lilith Fair resurrected on the Gorge Amphitheatre stage. Clearly, women — both locally and nationally — have some different takes on what it means to make music. And being chicks, we kinda wanted to pick their brains about how being female helps, hinders, infuriates and empowers them as musicians.

National Public Radio did a similar story on its website, polling 700 female musicians nationally on that same topic: What does it mean to be a female musician? And like the NPR piece, we found that to some local female musicians, being a woman means everything. And to others, nothing at all. (LS)

lf_heather_villa.jpgAssociated with: Six Foot Swing, Lush, Villa Blues Trio, Villa Blues Duo
Instrument: Vocals
Years playing music: 10
In big band and swing music: “I feel like that is a big part of the big band and swing era — to have a female vocalist. It’s a part of the glam and the drama.”
Female musicians vs. male musicians: “I think it’s probably pretty rare for a male singer to get grabbed and have someone want to dance with them while the band is playing. But I’m a hostess up there. And I’m six feet tall, so it’s not like I’m a pushover.”
What people might not know: “In the end and very beginning of every gig, I’m hauling equipment … and it’s heavy as shit.”
Advice she would give to a female musician just starting out: “The two words that come to mind are ‘humble’ and ‘strong’ — the two things that work for me. I get in the door with my sweetness and my sugar, but I get re-booked with my skills and my power. Once they hear me, it’s a sealed deal. … And I think it doesn’t hurt to work it. I want to dress really pretty and I want to be a sexual object that they respect.” (LS)

lf_sara_jackson_holman.jpgAssociated with: Herself
Instrument: Vocals, piano
Years playing music: 16
Singing over a piano: “It’s probably more friendly to females, I guess. Judging by the comparisons I’ve had with people — Norah Jones, Feist, Regina Spektor — it means people are comfortable with this sort of music being played by females.”
Female musicians vs. male musicians: “I feel like male and female musicians are judged differently based on appearance. … If you were on the road, a guy could sleep on the couch, wake up the next day, get in the van, roll out and play a show. A female had better find a place to shower, put your makeup on, make sure your eye makeup is dark enough.”
Advice she’s heard: “To dress sexier. I think a couple of people have told me that.”
What would be too girly: “I wouldn’t ever want to seem too needy in a song because that’s not who I am.”
Try being really young, too: “I feel like age is another huge issue. I feel like there are more pressures centered around age [for women]. To be successful earlier. There’s more of a window of opportunity centered around age for women. I think men may be able to be successful later because of age. It’s like there’s this expiration date.” (LS)

lf_caroline_francis_schibel.jpgAssociated with: Mon Cheri
Instrument: Vocals
Years performing: 2.5 years
Female musicians vs. male musicians: “Not really. It hasn’t made much of a difference for me. The only thing that makes a difference is comments I get on what I decided to wear.”
What’s funny is: “I used to really dislike female music. I don’t know what it was about it. Until recent years, there were only a select few artists I liked. Now there’s more out there. …I think [women] are willing to try something different now.”
When she started: “When Pat [McHenry] and I started singing together, it was because he had been in a band forever, and I’d always wanted to be onstage doing stuff. … I think people noticed the harmony that I brought in — not that I was a girl, but that I added something to Pat’s voice.”
It’s OK to be girly: “I’ve always just enjoyed dressing up. It [doesn’t] feel as good to be up onstage in jeans and a T-shirt. It makes me feel better. And if I’m feeling good, I feel like I perform better.” (LS)

lf_adrienne_hitchcock.jpgAssociated with: The Swallows
Instrument: Vocals
Years playing music: Three, locally
She chose the mic: “Because my favorite thing in the world is my freedom of speech. That’s one thing where being a female is weird. Being a girl, I can’t say certain things. And I don’t believe that’s true.”
Girl power: “I’ve always wanted to have an all-girl band. I got my first Velvet Pelvis record when I was 14.”
Before she gets onstage: “I would say the most challenging thing about the band thing is being a mother and trying to balance that. We can’t just run out the door and go play — we’ve got kids to take care of. I just had a baby and I played a show two days before I had her. It was difficult, but it was worth it.”
Procreation punk: “At one point both the guitarist and I were pregnant at the same time. It was quite a spectacle.” (LS)

lf_cameron_smith.jpgAssociated with: Silver Treason
Years playing music: 30
Why she chose drums: “I liked Peter Chris more than I liked Ace Frehley.”
Drums are the anti-chick instrument: “It’s not your traditional feminine instrument. I mean, you put the snare drum between your legs. There’s nothing about it that screams, ‘This is a girly thing to do.’”
“Drums” do not equal “domination”: A lot of drummers just don’t get it. “Never over-play. People don’t come to see the drummer unless you’re Neil Peart. Your job is support.”
Advice for all musicians — not just women: “You gotta love [playing music]. Unless you love it, you know, there’s really no point in doing it.” (TH)

lf_sarah_berentson.jpgAssociated with: The Terrible Buttons
Instruments: Keyboard, accordion, glockenspiel, drums, vocals
Years performing music: Two
Only natural: As a third-generation pianist whose mother performed in pizza parlors, it was almost expected for Berentson to carry the torch. “I was just kinda next in line to take lessons.”
Mother knows best: “My mom has always warned me about the music industry. My grandpa was a musician in the ’30s — when it wasn’t cool to be a musician.” Oftentimes, she says, it’s hard to tell if you’re making progress as a musician. But if you do become successful, “You’re one of the lucky ones.”
Harsh reality: “A lot of people don’t want to listen to you. You gotta make them want to listen.”
Her advice: “I would say just no fear, no shame.” (TH)

lf_colleen_rice.jpgAssociated with: Herself
Instruments: Guitar, vocals
Years playing music: 10
Necessary equipment: While she’s been involved with music since she was 15 years old, she eventually realized “if I was going to take it anywhere, I was gonna need to play guitar.”
Different strokes for different folks: Rice contends not all shows are created equal — sometimes there’s a bias against singer/songwriter types. “It’s harder to get people interested in and coming down to check it out. It’s not super jumpy like a rock show would be.”
Recording is an art, too: Rice was able to learn how arranging guitar and vocal lines on her recordings made the end product much more dynamic, “so it’s not just one monotone from beginning to end. It’s like a story.”
A slice of reality: “It’s harder to get in front of people than it is for them to listen to you.” (TH)

lf_olivia_kintzele.jpgAssociated with: Real Life Rockaz
Instruments: Piano/keyboards, vocals
Years playing music: “My whole life, pretty much.”
The male/female dynamic is absent: “I don’t see as many groups who are mixed with both men and women.” She says male bands aren’t always looking for a female front, either.
What seems to work: “I see a lot of girls with guitars.”
Despite being a musician: Kintzele says she’s only ever bought one CD. “I’m really out of the loop,” she said. “I’ve never downloaded music. ... I don’t listen to the radio.” She instead gets her musical fix from friends and scoping out live performances. 
No advice is good advice: “I’m hesitant to offer up advice.” She maintains she is a better musician today because she never had life-changing words of wisdom pushed on her. “I’m glad no one ever gave me any advice, because then I might not be where I am now.” (TH)

lf_hillary_susz.jpgAssociated with: Herself
Instrument: Vocals, piano, guitar
Years playing music: Three years locally
This is what she does: “Music is like breathing. It’s just something you do.”
Sex isn’t a booking gimmick: “I don’t find as many female performers as men, but I don’t know if that’s a gender issue or not. If you’re good, you get shows regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman.”
Gendered audiences: “There is less of a male draw in the crowd if you’re a female, but usually females target female audiences. I try to get a variety at my shows.”
Boobs have perks: “Even as a female, I find things are easier. Guys will set up stuff up for you, people will give you cigarettes.”
Advice she would give a female musician starting out: “Get shows, make lots of friends. I wouldn’t give female singers any special advice over a man. If a label isn’t interested, keep trying and find one that is. It’s mostly about perseverance, getting show and making connections.” (JB)

lf_liz_rognes.jpgAssociated with: Herself
Instrument: Vocals, piano, guitar, trumpet
Years playing music: Seven
Female musicians vs. male musicians: “You see more men than women in general performing. … There are a lot of reasons for that. I think there are still careers women are more steered into.”
Pretty face but nothing to say: “I think sometimes women are less likely to be taken seriously as musician and more likely to be seen for their body or how they look onstage rather than what they can create. I don’t think that’s always the case, but it’s a special challenge for women.”
Worst experience: At a gig she played in another state, the owner of the bar tried to get her to play inside a cage used for go-go dancers. He said it was a joke. She didn’t think it was funny.
Big picture: “The difficult part about being a woman is bigger than a community- or music-centered thing. It’s more of a societal issue.” (JB)

lf_kari_marguerite.jpgAssociated with: Kari Marguerite and the 76
Years Performing: 24 years
Female musician vs. male musician: “It’s not necessarily harder to be a woman. You’ve just got to be smart about your offering to the public and who your audience is.”
Girl, understood: “I don’t feel misunderstood or underrepresented. If you were a female performer still searching out those questions as a musician, then yeah, you might have to make a few stumbles before you figure out the whole key to the game.”
Perfect little boxes: “As a female performer, there are views and expectations as to what you’re going to be like. You know, the stereotypical folk singer girl with a guitar like Jewel or some badass chick like Joan Jett.”
Under pressure: “Not only do you have to play great, but you have to look great. You can’t be some fat, sloppy guy that plays guitar in a rock band and still get all the girls.”
Girly advice: “If you’re going to play on a huge stage in a dress, wear bike shorts underneath!” (JB)

lf_jesi_b.jpgAssociated with: Jesi B and the All Rites
Instrument: Vocals, keys
Years performing: Between church choir, community theater and hosting/singing karaoke, she hasn't really left the stage.
It's not necessarily a song and dance: "The whole showman thing has come pretty late to me. Only within the past year have I taken on the role in the band to make it more of an act. I feel like we're really able to build our own image with the music."
Human Behavior: "Being a woman in the music scene means you are dealing with men and playing with men. Have the right attitude, the right temperament and be a friendly human being."
Advice she's heard: “Kari Marguerite is my sherpa. She gives me these inspiring musical quotes like, 'Someone said it takes 20 years of practice to become a master of your instrument.' So when I get frustrated I think of how many people put their entire lives into their music."
Breeding grounds: “There are ton of girls who have left Spokane and they continue to be successful wherever they go. Spokane has a lot of room for female musicians to grow." (JB)

Kari Marguerite & the 76, Hillary Susz and Olivia Kintzele play the First Annual Lilac Fair at Empyrean on Saturday, Aug. 28, at 3 pm. Tickets: $5. All-ages. Call 838-9819. Heather Villa plays with Six Foot Swing at Coeur d’Alene Park on Thursday, Aug. 26, at 6 pm, and with Villa Blues Trio at Catacombs Pub, at 9 pm. Free. Caroline Francis plays with Mon Cheri at the Seaside on Thursday, Sept. 2, at 7 pm. Tickets: $5. All-ages.

Zephyr Dinner Theater ft. Blake Braley @ Zephyr Lodge

Tue., April 20, 6 p.m.
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About The Authors

Jordy Byrd

Jordy Byrd is The Inlander's listings editor. Since 2009, she has covered the local music and arts scenes, cruising with taxis and canoodling with hippies. She is also a lazy cyclist, a die-hard rugby player and the Inlander's managing cat editor....

Leah Sottile

Leah Sottile is a Spokane-based freelance writer who formerly served as music editor, culture editor and a staff writer at the Inlander. She has written about everything from nuns and Elvis impersonators, to jailhouse murders and mental health...