Try not to catch yourself on fire: scary songs and gender equality with Spirits of the Red City

Will Garrison plucks a page from his sheet music and feebly searches for the correct fret on his guitar.

“Do you guys want to hear a scary song?” Garrison asks the audience at Denver’s Leon Gallery. It’s a wet November evening. PBR and red wine sell for five dollars per mason jar amid hand screen printed t-shirts and EPs.  A makeshift stage framed by antlers and flickering tea lights sets the band apart from its audience. Most are seated around the floor of the gallery.

Before the night’s opener began, one artist set her shoe ablaze. This is the crowd that wants the scary song; they let Garrison know with shouts of enthusiasm.

Garrison looks to the seven golden glowing bodies on his left and right. His foot taps the beat as his bandmates wait patient and knowingly; some visibly inhale as if on cue. Their eyes lock onto their leader and each other. A minor chord grows stronger on Garrison’s guitar as his body rigidly rocks on tempo with the beat.

This is Lie to Me, a song from the band’s most recent album Jula, and the word “scary” doesn’t do it justice. Lie to Me walks straight into the dark forest of terrifying and leaves the listener wandering out breathless.

Garrison’s lyrics speak of love and betrayal; of a hurt so deep one would rather face obvious deception than the painful truth of that deception.

Spirits so beautifully solicit raw, emotional, unadulterated fear of a real kind. They’re powerful, passionate and they know their instruments as if each were a piece of themselves.

Metamorphosing moments of graceful, frightening and harmonic melodies break silence apart when this band plays. Songs like Halfway Poem speak of love and isolation; of belonging and partnership. Lead Us is a stripped down, ardent call to motion.

Video courtesy Sarah Megyesy, Side Pocket Images

Spirits of the Red City refer to themselves as a collective. They’re musicians who come from differing backgrounds of music: classically and professionally-trained cellists and bassists; guitarists, woodwind and brass players. All are vocalists. Folk, jazz and classical upbringings string the eight musicians together. The band calls everywhere home and they’re constantly adding and exchanging players. Everyone brings something unique to the table. It’s a strategy the collective embraces.

Spirits of the Red City is family, both by blood and in the bonds created as touring artists. It’s a trait that’s special about them. Their familial bond is projected in their music, their live performances, and in their collective ideology and attitudes.

In November I visited cellist Danah Olivetree’s home in Boulder to speak to the women of Spirits of the Red City before their Leon Gallery show.

In Danah’s backyard, chickens roamed and pecked at disregarded birthday cake left on the ground. Danah and sisters Alyssa and Rachel Overby talked about touring with the band, busking on Pearl Street, and what it’s like to work as women in independent music today.

How do you feel about being women in the modern day music industry?

Alyssa: As a group, we work really hard in the production end of it. We’re really team oriented. This group in particular is more about family. We have such a mix of gender and such a mix of sibling blood in our group that it definitely brings on a different aspect than a normal band would. There’s the main singer and then the backup guys, that’s pretty typical. I love to see girls taking it on ‘cause it is more male dominated. Rachel and I are sisters. This past summer we started a girl band, just because.

Spirits of the Red City at the Leon Gallery in Denver. December 7, 2014. Photo by Lauren Maslen.

Spirits of the Red City at the Leon Gallery in Denver. December 7, 2014. Photos by Lauren Maslen.

What was it called?

Alyssa: No Chance Charlies. It was a country band. We played one festival in Alaska.

Rachel: It was kind of a joke band.

Ayssa: It’s kind of different with this band.

Rachel: I never feel like there’s an imbalance. There’s never anyone taking a dominant role or anyone disrespecting anyone else.

Alyssa: Especially because our singer, Will Garrison, he’s kind of the leader in a way. It’s definitely been a learning curve. We’ve been around since 2009. We’ve been on the road for five years now.spirits copy

Do you ever experience different reactions depending on where you play your music?

Alyssa: There’s a difference in the bar scene versus a house show. Our music doesn’t really encourage a party.

Danah: Our music isn’t fun.

Rachel: The change I’ve seen is more individual for myself. When I first started getting into music, I was all, ‘Women power! There has to be a women in the band for me to appreciate it.’ But it’s completely changed since then. I feel like I’m way less rigid. But it’s more so the changes for me individually.

Alyssa: I feel like we’re in a subculture of music genre, not in the mainstream. The mainstream media definitely creates a whole other feeling toward women than our underground thing. There seems to be just balanced feminine and masculine energy in this subculture between women and men. There almost doesn’t seem to be that dividing line.

danah copy

Rachel: Looking at feminism in the same way as racism, it’s still very prevalent but it’s not something we have to experience on an everyday basis. Feminism is something that’s very up in the air. We can be very aware of. Racism is allowed to fizzle out by not being aware of race. The same can go for gender too by not being aware of gender. That helps me a lot when I’m like, ‘Oh this person is being a chauvinist to me.’ No, they’re just being nice, they’re going to open the door for somebody else, too. Little things like that.

spirits copy

Alyssa: That’s a good point. How you hold yourself has a lot to do with how you’re treated, in any circumstance. The awareness you have of your position and not really caring if people are judging you because you’re a woman. You have to not think about that anymore and not give that power anymore. It’s hard, but we’re the change. We’re the next generation. I feel like a lot has changed already.

Do you feel like the Colorado music scene is unique in any way?

Danah: The music community here is definitely more supportive and integrated than pretty much anywhere else. I just moved here a month and a half ago because I met this amazing music community and it just made sense to me. This is support in a sense that the scene does allow women to be awesome. It’s not a scene that asks you to prove anything.

Not THAT kind of feminist

Late on the night of Thanksgiving Eve I received a call from a friend I hadn’t spoken with in several months. Since it was Thanksgiving and all, it was time for family, indulgences, and honesty. He texted me the next day apologizing for the drunk dial, but I thanked him. Despite his inebriated influence in calling, it was refreshing to have an honest and open conversation with this friend.

This friend was telling his musician sister how he’d met a girl in Colorado who was a feminist. His sister’s reaction was immediate objection and shut-down.

“Oh gawd!” she said.

“No, not that kind of feminist. She’s a real feminist,” my friend said he explained to his sister.

Working on a story about women in music and having the privilege to interview so many genuinely talented, hardworking, and kind people over the past two months has made me realize many things, the least of which is that I love interviewing people. In a world which seemingly promotes less communication and genuine human connections as it creates bigger divides, the feedback I received in reaching out and speaking with everyone involved with this project was immense. The process allowed people to open up on the issue and I have learned so many different sides to this story; however I often had to stifle my own opinion in the process.

The author in Albuquerque, N.M. Photo by Rachell Ellerbeck.

The author in Albuquerque, N.M. Photo by Rachell Ellerbeck.

My friend went on to tell his sister about the project I was conducting. I don’t know whether he convinced her that what I was doing was a positive thing or not, but herein lies the rub:

Feminist is often construed as a dirty word in our current media-infiltrated world. Its purpose and meaning has been sullied over time. The demanding political, social, and physical work women have done for centuries and continue to do today is vexed by the natural progression of linguistics and convoluted modern day politics.

In conducting my research for this project, I looked into numerous scientific studies regarding biological differences between genders, societal expectations and media influences, and the resulting effects on girls’ and women’s self-esteem. In a world of internet trolls, critics, and feminist-bashers, showing scientific evidence for the need for equality should not be necessary, but it is. It’s necessary in a world where women are begging and screaming to be heard because they are told they are wrong – that they’re part of the problem. In our world of excess, the media has certainly gone overboard in its finger-pointing and blame-gaming; however, that certainly does not diminish the fact that inequality exists across a wide spectrum.

There are women screaming to be heard in a society that is selling their souls for cheap, degrading sexual lewdness and indecency. It’s a society telling them they are worth less than their abilities, minds, and goals.  In modern day Western economies, businesses and industries are willing to give less than equal pay to different genders and races. Instead of talking about this, we bury the issue within the recesses of our societies. We shake our heads, scoff at the word “feminist” and say, “Ugh, not another one!”

Feminism is not a bipartisan issue, yet the media and society have fashioned it into one. Instead of looking at this word as an us-against-them term, why not approach it for what it means rather than what it sounds like. Etymology is interesting, but creating media warfare out of the issue of equality – especially out of a belief that women should be treated the same as men  – is obscene.

“If you’re someone who genuinely believes that women don’t deserve or aren’t as much as men, you’re like the plague. On the big history chart, you’re the plague. It’s just pointless and deadly,” filmmaker Joss Whedon said at an Equality Now speech in November 2013. He opened that speech by saying “I hate feminist. He meant the word, but clearly he’s not the only one.

Not the merch girl, groupie, girlfriend, or someone’s sister.

My facial reactions have prompted many ex-boyfriends to tell me they don’t know how to read me. They’re a topic of conversation among my friends and family. A guffaw, shake of the head, and under-the-breath remark of, “Your face!” amounts to me laughing off my twisted brows, knotted forehead, squinty eyes, and a possible visage of horror, disgust, or bemusement.

"I can't read you," is something I get quite often and never understand.

“I can’t read you,” is something I get quite often and never understand.

I don’t usually realize I’m making these faces, but one fall night in 2010 around 1 a.m. after loading an opening band out of the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado, I’m guessing I was making quite the warped expression of disgust when I heard the following words:

“What’re you, someone’s sister?”

I looked up at whoever this rude person was, unsure of what to say or how to react in the moment, but thinking, yes, I am a few someones’ sister. What’s it to you? 

I’m sure my face said more than this, though. Rude Dude’s band mates stepped onstage from the green room below. “Sorry, he’s drunk,” said Opening Band Singer.

I ignored this comment as well – or maybe gave a slight smile and a nod –  and continued feeling as though I was in the way of the men towering above me. I hadn’t yet realized that my physical stature was not as big as my personality. The people around me clearly didn’t quite understand that fact yet.

I never did anything about interactions such as this. This wasn’t the only one of its kind, but this one in particular stuck with me. I’ve pushed hundred pound cases down back alleys in Boulder, broken fingers, been the first to show up for call times, missed class to help work shows (there was that one time the Killers played a secret show at the Fox with an 8 a.m. call time), and stuck with an unpaid internship for years just for the love of it. I paid my dues the same as everyone else. I was probably supported by more people than those who didn’t support me along the way, but I also made sure not to stick out. In the end, I knew I didn’t want to be roughing it with the men backstage my whole life; it wasn’t for me to be proving myself in that way every day (I do that in other ways).

Women who do this job deserve more, though. They’re intelligent, hardworking individuals.

Some artists bend to the whims of the mainstream; they fit themselves into the mold of what’s popular. They argue that they’re naked because they want to be; that it’s empowering. But it’s still what sells. It’s what the public wants to see and it makes money. It’s giving the record labels what they want. So are these artists doing what they want because of what society wants, or are they doing what they want because they are being true to their art? Only each individual can say for his or her self.

Whether the next big thing is fully clothed, naked, or demure; whether they’re twerking, or preaching feminism – what role does today’s music and the music industry play in teaching the next generation about what it means to be true to ourselves? To stand for what feels right and what it means to hold ourselves to a standard of self respect?

I don’t have the answers to this question, although I know plenty of university studies look into the matter after children have been affected by the media. Our society can offer positive role models, but infiltrating the media with those role models and getting the media to speak well of them is a whole other issue.

Talking Sexism Backstage

Back in September, I started speaking with women working in the music industry in Colorado. My first interview was with Lindsey Dubey, the assistant production manager for z2 Entertainment in Boulder, aka the Boulder Theater and Fox Theatre. Lindsey’s duties range from hiring and managing production interns at the Fox (my own old beloved unpaid internship throughout undergrad), to being the stage manager and point of contact for bands; loading equipment in and out of the venue; setting up the stage; and managing crews and the house (meaning the whole venue, more or less).

Lindsey does just about everything imaginable in the music venue. That means if a band specifies no brown M&Ms on their rider, she’s the person who’s either picking out the brown M&Ms or telling the band to go suck it and eat their chocolate.

Lindsey’s a badass in essence. She deals with absolutely everyone imaginable and at 26 years old, that’s quite a lot of pressure. She’s surprisingly humble and down to earth while maintaining the confident air of someone who has everything under control, and that is her job. Even if older, physically bigger men around her undermine her on a daily basis, Lindsey keeps everything under control.

Those often physically bigger men and the issues they tout around with them were the topic of our conversation when Lindsey and I met up. As a production intern at the Fox, I dealt with backhanded compliments and outright sexism on occasion. But as an intern, I also got to hang out in the shadows at times.

Lindsey gets it more in her face:

“I definitely have many days when the touring crew will walk in the back door and they see myself and three other crew guys. They almost always go to the male and I’m like, ‘Hi, I’m your stage manager. I’ll be your point of contact. Anything you need comes through me. I also advanced the show with you we’ve been emailing for weeks.’ And then they’re like, ‘Whoa. OK.’

I get that all the time.”

Is this a specific type of music or band? Not at all, says Lindsey.

“Maybe those guys are just insecure; maybe they just don’t like seeing a girl on stage?” she suggests.

Because Lindsey deals with everyone in the venue, including hiring the newbies, she tends to hire more female interns. She lets them know about the road ahead, she says. It’s not easy, but it can be worth it.

“When I hire female interns, I give them a heads up right away and I tell them, ‘This is extremely intimidating in this industry, but if you can hold your own and basically absorb everything they’re saying and just keeping learning, you’re only going to go up. Because you are a female on your own on this stage, surrounded by men who’ve been in this industry for thirty years who are all doubting you at every turn… Don’t be afraid to jump in. Keep going and don’t quit.”

I was admittedly one of those women who quit on production. I was working as an intern throughout college and by my senior year, I eventually transitioned into doing office work for z2‘s production staff (or as the production crew called it, the “Dark Side”). I didn’t know what I wanted out of the industry at the time. I knew it took a tough skin to be there, though; it still does. And I know I’d like to see more women step up and do the work they love without being cast aside or asked if they’re someone’s sister by a drunk opening guitarist (my own personal experience – nothing unique).

“We all have a huge part,” Lindsey says. “And there are some men who are so caring. There are tons of men who are so supportive, but of course you’ll have tons of people stuck in their ways, just like any other industry.”

I’ve gone through bouts of “maybe I’m crazy”s throughout this project and maybe it is just me, but are women in any other field constantly asked to prove their right to be in a location or career based on a boyfriend/brother/husband/etc… ? (p.s. The answer I’m looking for is a big fat yes.) Is this seriously a legitimate question to be asking in the current Western world? And why is Time suggesting we ban the word feminism in a day of blatant sexism (even in the arts – a medium that is supposedly liberal, open, and carefree)?

Each time I return to my initial conversation with Lindsey, I get worked up about this issue. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.

Esme Patterson gave me the best advice ever

Society’s awareness of gender is often brought up in my conversations with artists. It’s an awareness we just can’t seem to get over as a collective whole, and when it comes down to gender inequality, many artists and music production professionals I’m speaking with say that pointing out gender is society’s main crux. The issue becomes one when we give it power, people have been telling me; however, gender inequality in music – as in any industry – has always existed and it still does. The question is: how do we change that culture of inequality?

“To point out the fact that an artist is a woman… shouldn’t even be part of that discussion,” Boulder-based artist Esme Patterson said when I talked to her earlier this week. “Gender shouldn’t even be a factor in it, but sadly, especially in music which is a very male-dominated industry, it is novel to have a woman doing many aspects of this job.”

This awareness has led to the current feminist trend in mainstream media. It’s also led to a dichotomy in the music industry: men dominate production overall and the small community of women who do hold the same positions as men have respected reputations. Th awareness led to the 1990‘s riot grrrl movement; it led to feminist music festivals like Lillith Fair and Denver’s Titwrench Festival; it’s led to Ladies Rock and Girls Rock camps across the country, and to Beyonce’s Big Moment in August.

People often don’t understand the ways their prejudice is sneaking into conversation, explains Esme. “It’s easy to disregard the amount of work it takes to be a singer,”

“It is common to see a woman as a singer, and as a focal point. And it’s easy to disregard the amount of work it takes to be a musician and a performer. And I often get people assuming I don’t write my own songs.”

Saying, “No, you’re just an artist,” is one of those sneaky prejudices.

Video courtesy Tedx Talks.

Esme told me that people ask if her album, Woman to Woman was written in a feminist context or if she is a feminist. The album is feminist, but it wasn’t written in a feminist context, she says. The album is also a lot of other things.

In Woman to Woman, famous songs written about women, including Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta,” and The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” are re-examined from the woman’s point of view.

The work was meant to take unapproachable songs off their pedestals and to reexamine them from a human perspective. The record was meant to have a more raw, unpolished work; it was meant to open up a conversation about the characters, their stories, and the relationship listeners have to music. The album was recorded over the course of a day to “capture a feeling of urgency, energy – it’s conversational,” Esme says.

With so much artistically going on in Woman to Woman, Esme doesn’t want to stick her art or her image into a box by labeling it as one thing or another. It becomes easy to dismiss something when you don’t like its label, she explains.

Unfortunately that’s today’s polarized stigma with words like feminism, a word that has worked for decades to do good is often villainized by political parties and uninformed tumblr groups. I tell Esme how the word feminism can be alienating as I’m talking with so many strong and creative women in the music industry for this thesis project; people do think of the word negatively and dismiss the project.

She gives me the most badass and empowering advice I’ve needed throughout this whole semester.

“People are afraid of standing firm in a positive… you expose yourself to attack. You become a lighthouse that any ship can find. It takes courage to stand for something. Fuck everybody who wants to tell you that’s a dirty word.”

Women in the music industry are strong, powerful, and creative individuals. They form a tight knit, yet expansive community and they’ve reached in ways I hadn’t imagined. It’s made me question why I’m having to do this project and why I’m doing it at all. This isn’t necessary I’ve thought at times. But that’s the scary thing: the general public doesn’t consider what happens behind the scenes. Misogyny is neglected, yet it’s right in front of our eyes. That is why albums like Woman to Woman are getting the response they’re getting. It’s why someone created this trending video (race is a completely relevant topic, but let’s talk about that another time). It’s why this kind of stuff makes me furious. It’s one of the many reasons feminism has come to the forefront as an issue in our society right now (again). It’s why we need to stop disregarding things as one side of the political spectrum or the other when they are elements of simply being human.

Take some advice from a musician: Take the issue of labels and apparent everyday inequality off a pedestal. Take the spark of anger seen in the media’s obsessions or everyday irritations. Use that spark to create something meaningful. Have courage and take a stance on something you believe in. The rest will follow.

Kato Kronen on the drums

The allure of the female frontline drummer

This concert is full of woo-girls. It’s not my scene, but I “respect” it. Actually, I can’t stand it. But I respect the venue and a member of one of three opening acts playing at tonight’s show. Kato Kronen is the drummer for the aptly named Kronen, a band I’ll be seeing live for the first time tonight. As Kato walks out onto stage left, two middle aged men call out her name.

Kronen at the Bluebird Theater

Kronen at Denver’s Bluebird Theater on October 30, 2014.

“She’s ignoring us,” one says. Kato adjusts her eighteen-inch feather headdress. She hand crafted the turquoise feather headpiece along with her outfit and the bird costumes three models are wearing while dancing around the venue during tonight’s show. The men who shouted now have their iPhones out; they’re taking pictures of Kato as she plugs in cables and rushes around stage. The Bluebird Theater’s dance floor is filling up fast. Kronen is five minutes late for soundcheck.

Two cellos, two guitars, a keyboard, bass guitar, microphones, and Kato’s drums line the stage. The men are still trying to get Kato’s attention along with the numerous fans now filling up the dance floor, but the drummer can’t hear them. She’s busy sound checking.

As an offstage voice uncouthly shouts for the band to hurry up – they’re five minutes late to start – the lights dim and two girls on the dance floor excitedly shout to Kato that they love her. The drummer gives a shimmy of her shoulders and a trill of excitement as she hammers out the band’s opening beat. When I spoke to Kato several weeks earlier, I was not expecting this kind of reaction from the Bluebird crowd. Kato told me it was difficult for her brother Caleb, Kronen’s frontman, to have girls yelling his name with a fiancé at home. She didn’t say the same thing about her own adoring fans. Maybe she doesn’t realize her affect on her fans or maybe she was being humble; maybe it’s a mixture of both.

Either way, this is a female drummer who is holding her own. This drummer has not been shoved to the back of the stage as drummers typically are. She’s front and slightly off-center, making room enough for the half dozen other people and instruments. She’s photographed by the most photographers I’ve ever witnessed at a local concert (five, including the one straddling all the amps on stage throughout the set. Stay classy, dude). This is a drummer who owns her art and performance with confidence and humility. She’s a drummer who lives in the moment and realizes that moment is temporary. She realizes who she is and why she is involved in music. She knows why she is following her passion despite the warnings of plausible failure from family, critics and the naysayers who never cease to exist.

Kato Kronen is stealing the show and I think she knows it. But she doesn’t let it get to her head. She flaunts it with sincerity and a giant feather headdress instead.

Badass goddesses eat demons whole: talking feminism with yogis

Kirtan is a call and response style of singing. It’s traditionally performed in Sanskrit and sometimes uses an accordion-esque instrument called a harmonium. Why are middle class white people in middle-America learning Kirtan? And what could chanting in Sanskrit possibly have to do with feminism?

Video courtesy

I learned a few things when I asked a yoga teacher these questions.

Kali is the Hindu goddess of time, change, and destruction. Yoga and Kirtan instructor Steph Schwartz describes her as the wave crashing over a sandcastle on the beach, destroying the sandcastle and carrying its remnants out to sea. Or perhaps more notably, Kali is, “like a tsunami.”

Kali’s purpose isn’t to destroy us, though. She’s more like the natural force of the wave; her purpose serves in lifting the veil from our eyes, exposing us directly to our fears and forcing us to deal with life beyond our comfort zone. The fear may hit us hard, but Kali is merciful, keeping our best interests at heart. Like jumping out of an airplane – one of Schwartz’s favorite activities – Kali forces us to confront fear so we can experience life to the fullest.

Kali’s unrelenting nature is like the love-hate relationship some of us experience with our favorite teachers or trainers. They push us to our limits, making us curse their seemingly cruel-heartedness. It’s difficult not to be grateful for the torture our teachers may evoke on us in the end though, because without the experience of pain, we may never know pleasure. Without expanding beyond our perceived limits, there is no growth. If we sit stagnate and wait for the next best thing to come to us, we may very well never see it. It’s up to each of us to show up to the drop zone of life.

Kali is not a simple representation of feminism, but maybe she should be. She’s known as the dark mother goddess. She drips blood. Her serpentine tongue lolls out of her mouth as she carries severed heads of demons in her four hands and wears their hands as a belt. Kali perches Captain Morgan-style on the fallen body of Shiva, the Mahadeva, or Great God. She saved the universe, explains Schwartz. She’s the epitome of a badass is what I’m getting.

What do yoga and stories from the Bhagavad Gita have to do with modern day feminism? Plenty. They transcend the ego and ideas of pairing the words “I am” with a label imposed by society, our parents, teachers, friends and lovers. Labels imposed by unsavory relationships. Labels imposed by ourselves.

Schwartz explains how we’re in a period called the Kali Yuga. It’s a period of 75 percent negativity. The demon Kali reigns supreme. This Kali is not the same as the goddess Kali, though. The demon Kali rules over this apocalyptic period. He represents suffering, grief, and confusion. This time period called a yuga, will last until the year 3102. Basically: we’re all screwed unless we change our ways.

Schwartz is a devoted yoga and Kirtan teacher, an avid skydiver, and a sushi chef. She’s an enneagram type seven – an enthusiast – and the primary goal of her work in Kirtan and yoga is to serve, she says.

Kirtan is a powerful way to transform the world, explains Shwartz. The fact that it’s typically sung in Sanskrit is irrelevant (Schwartz also mixes in some Western music, such as Bob Marley, with her traditional Sanskrit Kirtan). It brings people closer together through the power of song. Research has shown that when people sing together, their heart beats synchronize. Anxieties fall away about how your neighbor may be judging your singing voice and it’s easy to fall into the moment, explains Schwartz,. The physical act of yoga asana is the same.

These are qualities of feminine energy: of allowing, softening, and accepting. Getting into nature, embracing your creativity, and finding ways to laugh all evoke this feminine energy, Schwartz says.

Five years ago, the Dalai Lama said, “The world will be saved by the western woman.” It was a balance of resilience, hard work, and most importantly, feminine, nurturing energy that he was referring to in this controversial remark (the fact that it was controversial is mind blowing, but that’s a blog for another day). The Goddess Kali personifies this. The act of Kirtan shows us this when it allows us to show up, notice our imperfections and throw them to the wind. Yoga and any other physical activity are proof of this, allowing our willingness to show up as well.

Positive change takes effort: not only effort in community working together, but allowing our hearts to beat in synchronicity.  In doing so, then maybe, just maybe, our society can begin to shift as a whole.

Music is my boyfriend

I never meant for this blog to become a personal narrative, but all it takes is one clumsy misstep to cross over that ominous and imaginary line in life. In the past month, I’ve garnered a concussion via kitchen cabinet, allowed my heart to be broken more than once by the same dude, fallen up the stairs countless times (not at all out of character for me), and slept far too little. After accumulating multiple self-induced injuries, I think I just double-dutched the line into getting “too personal.”

These broken fragments of life are personal, just like another side of life that is near and dear to my currently mending heart. I’m promoting music – independent music, more notably – through my academic career. It’s also extremely interwoven into the personal. It’s there with the heart breaks and headaches. It’s often there when you don’t want it to be (y’know when you can’t get those five words of a song out of your head?). Music is there for inside jokes with your best friends, holiday memories with your family, and moments alone to be introspective; creative; mopey or energetic. Music is extremely personal and it’s extremely public; it’s communal and it’s interpersonal. It’s all about perceptions.

So why share my perceptions of music? It might allow us to communicate a little better and in my Miss America grand plan for world peace, if people felt the ability to share, it might make the world a better place.

My life is dictated by music. Broken records of harmonies and choruses frame my days, seasons, and years. I know who I was with, what was happening in my life, and how I was feeling based on what song I was listening to. Music creates mantras in my mind. Choruses are constantly on repeat and create stories for my personal history.

The first time I remember hearing the Doors was on a road trip to the Oregon coast with my dad and brother. I was eight or nine years old. I couldn’t stand Jim Morrison’s voice. When my mom called to tell me my sister’s white blood cell count was low and more tests needed to be done, I was listening to Iron & Wine’s “Boy with a Coin.” I can’t listen to that song anymore. “World Sick” by Broken Social Scene will forever remind me of sitting on the top deck of a bus in Brighton, England headed home from my first yoga class ever. “Alive with the Glory of Love” by Say Anything is a Route 66 road trip in a December 2010 snowstorm with a boy I just met.

Beach House plays Seoul

Beach House plays Seoul

Whether it’s a band that framed a stressed-out bike ride to work; an artist my best friend introduced me to or one a dude and I saw live; a jam I sang my heart out to in the car, or one that followed me everywhere around the world, music has always played a crucial role.

Music is one of the most personal experiences on the planet.  So is my favorite hobby and other topic of discussion: yoga. Unless you understand these experiences on a personal level, how can you understand them at all?

Having your heart broken is a lot like Kirtan and a lot like yoga. Throughout an hour-long yoga class, you often have to repeat the same few poses over and over (and over and over and over) until you’re either sick of them and never want to hear their uncomfortable foreign namesake again, or you crave them and the desire to perfect their most minute physical intricacies.

The Virabhadrasana, or Warrior, series in yoga is like this for me. I will never perfect it. I might make it look pretty, but I will always repeat the words of my first teacher in my head.

“Sacrum in!” she would yell as she poked my tail bone under my butt with her hand, raising both my arms level. Vira II is a love hate relationship, complete with my legs burning and my drishti floating across the room.

Love is like that. Heart break can be like that too. Joy is the pain of the broken record repeating in every tendon and fascia of the being, willing it to shift and change; to evolve. That’s the mind and body changing. Is that the same as what love, yoga, and music are, in essence? Movements that shift, change, and evolve with time, attempting to be perfect? There is no perfection, though. That’s the pain of it; that’s the beauty of it. In the end, we find beauty in that pain.

After a 3 a.m. flight from Portland, maybe this is the exhaustion, airplane fumes, and coffee talking, or maybe I’m onto something. I’ll let you tell me.

Because feminists aren’t all bra-burning man-haters

That’s What She Said is an open notebook for social commentary, research, and musical meanderings.

As I work on my master’s professional project and prepare to graduate with an MA in journalism this winter, this blog will serve as an open-notebook of thoughts, ideas, and facts to bridge conversations between the gender equality debates currently picking up steam in today’s media, roles women play across the music industry, and in-depth conversations about music.

A small minority of the world’s music industry is composed of females. As of 2010, less than five percent of producers and sound engineers were female.

Many of the women and girls well-known for their contributions to the industry are musicians – an issue worth exploring on its own – particularly as it concerns body image and lyricism. As I gather research and interviews for my project, I’ve asked questions such as:

Why is the industry run primarily by men? Is there any room for women to step in? What do people in and out of the industry think about this? Where does the music fit? How does the history of feminism and music’s role in past feminist movements play into what’s currently occurring in music and music production?

In an essay written earlier this month about authenticity in music, Meredith Graves of the garage punk band Perfect Pussy remarked on the male/female divide in the industry:

“Worst of all, they might compliment you, and tell you that you’re good — for a girl. Regardless, you’re never considered ‘real,’ you’ll never meet their idea of what a real musician or real music fan should be, because the standard is male.”

Kathleen Hanna, the founder of the 1990s riot grrrl movement wrote in the movement’s original manifesto:

“BECAUSE we want and need to encourage and be encouraged in the face of all our own insecurities, in the face of beergutboyrock [!!!] that tells us we can’t play our instruments, in the face of “authorities” who say our bands/zines/etc are the worst in the U.S. and BECAUSE we don’t wanna assimilate to someone else’s (boy) standards of what is or isn’t.”

The divide in masculine and feminine roles in the music industry need to be addressed. This blog will be the place to do it. Each week I will explore the role of women in music and the debate surrounding feminism today.

Although I’m focusing on female issues in culture and music industry workplaces today, as the current debate urges, feminism is not simply a female “problem.”

As I explore the sub-culture of Colorado-based music venues, musicians, and entrepreneurs, this blog will serve as a platform for conversation about feminism and how our culture can change. I hope you will join in on the conversation.

This author is a feminist.

This author is a feminist.