Equality is running rampant these days in most aspects of our society. Women are doing better in the majority of job markets than ever in history. Yet, it seams like an unwritten rule that, unlike male performers, female singers have to be ascetically attractive, with talent and charm being a nice bonus. Wasn’t that what triggered the collective reaction of millions when Susan Boyle stunned the audience; bringing many to tears, not just at her angelic voice, but because of their previous judgment of the older woman?
While it is standard on tour to get clean shirts by swapping merch with other bands (No, you can not dig into your own merch bin for a clean T.), women in music tend to be expected to be dressed in fresh, clean, and sexy clothes like silver prom dresses, even when on the road; have good hair; celebrity quality make-up.
I talked to the women of indie bands Andale! and Goodbye Gadget; metal band Oblivious Signal; and rock bands Hydrovibe and Ten Year Vamp about life as rocker chics. These 5 bands each have various experiences and musical styles, but they share one quality: dynamic female ‘frontmen’.
Questions answered by:
Heather St. Marie – Hydrovibe
Debbie Gabrione~ Ten Year Vamp
Cristina T. Feliciano~ Oblivious Signal
Memorie Morrison and Natasha Sebring~ Andale!
Ana Isabel and Jess Loberstein~ GoodBye Gadget
How is it really different being a female lead in a band? Are their extra pressures placed upon you as a woman?
Heather: I think some people have lower expectations performance-wise from female lead singers; in general, a great number of female singers (mostly the diva-types) are worried about the hair and makeup and the facial plastic surgeon Sydney offers. So when fans see me keeping up with the boys and flinging my hair around… sweating on stage… they are really a bit shocked. Also, there’s way more attention paid to what I wear onstage than the guys; fans will comment if they see me the same piece of clothing later in a tour. haha! But, for the most part, I think it’s liberating to be a girl in a band. The world needs more strong female role-models out there, and I’m happy to be a part of that movement to prove to the younger girls that they can do anything they want!
Cristina: To be honest, in some ways being a female lead in a band makes some aspects in regards to catching attention and marketing a little bit easier. It’s easier to appeal both to male and female demographics because you are the eye candy for the guys, regardless of whether many like to admit it or not, and in turn the girls look up to you. With these two elements though, I do have more to think about then the guys. For example, though I’d hate to admit it, I do have to worry about my looks and being healthy is always an issue. I can’t go out and eat all the fast food with the guys as much as I’d love to sometimes. I have to be careful with what I say or do, because unlike the guys…people tend to remember what I say a lot more clearly. I also have the pressure of attempting to remember who is who at shows, unlike the guys, because I tend to stick out more in the metal scene as a female singer. There are a lot things that come with being a female singer, but to be honest none of it matters in the end because it’s a kick ass career.
Ana: Having some semblance of a stage presence is required of any lead singer. I guess if I was the only girl in the band, I would probably feel an intense kind of pressure to ensure the rest of the band doesn’t get swallowed in the typical chick focus shadow (Don’t Speak video, anyone? Ha). Because I am in Jess’s band (she hates when I say that), because I do what she says, because she is WAY cooler than I could ever hope to be, because the boys are the ones the girls are going nuts for, the pressure to be everything, is basically reduced to wanting rainless good hair days and fishnets with no holes. Wait. That makes no sense.
Jess: Though it’s not the case with every band, I do think that in general there tend to be some pressures with being girls vs. being guys…I’ve seen guys go up on stage with greasy hair and they’re smelly and haven’t taken a shower in weeks, and girls in the audience are drooling. Take that same show with a lead singer chick that smells and has greasy hair and it definitely doesn’t come across the same.
Oh, and it’s NOT my band lol. (Why does she always say that!?)
Memorie: I can’t say if it is different, because i have never been a guy fronting a band.
Tasha: I’ve never been the male or female lead in any band…. The pressures that others may put on us are nothing compared to the pressures we put on ourselves, I think that is more because we’re musicians, and musicians are crazy.
Debbie: Really….there’s an up side and a down side to every situation. It’s nice getting treated like a lady at times…someone will offer to carry my guitar for me or get me a drink. At the same time though, I’m thinking that I don’t need help and I can carry my own stuff just like the other guys. There are time we’re over looked for gigs because they assume we’ll be ‘lame’ or boring because we’re female fronted. Then there are times when we’re selected just because we’re female fronted and they wanted to have at least one female on the bill or they wanted some “eye candy” …the bottom line is that when we get on stage there’s no hiding behind genders.
Are you the person in your band that is expected to keep up the business end of things, or is it a shared responsibility?
Memorie: I guess that I’m in charge if that stuff and I am terrible at it. The band had an intervention and told me to get on medication, because I’m obnoxiously OCD about the whole thing. With minimal therapy i have since been able to relinquish some control. Now everybody gets to experience some of the joys that come with turning fun into work.
Ana: Jess is the boss. I have no further comments.
Jess: Daaaahhhhhh. Lol. Yes, I handle a lot of the ‘business’ side. Booking/promoting/marketing. I have some experience with sales & marketing which I think helps a lot. But we each have our ‘areas’ in the band that we handle. For instance with contracts…I always send them to Ana. I suck at reading legal jargon (is that a word?). Design stuff like fliers tends to be Pave.
Heather: Hydrovibe definitely shares responsibilities; we’re a team. Our guitarist Mat usually does business at the end of the night if we don’t have a tour manager with us. I handle the finances and accounting. But that’s more because I’m a computer geek than because I’m a girl!
Cristina: Our PR girl at our management company told me a funny story once about having a client who felt like she was dragging the boys in her band along in a picnic blanket. I could not stop laughing and have had the mental image for my band members since. But in all truth, though I take care of the business aspect of my band, the guys do a lot in the band that I myself can’t really do. For example they go out and randomly flier, they create the demos, take care of the website and so much more. Our band business aspect has grown so much that we had to break up responsibilities at one point or I would have gone crazy!
Living out of a van must make fixing your hair and makeup a nightmare, yet you are expected to look a certain way at shows. How do you get ready to go on stage while on tour?
Ana: We actually live on people’s living room floors on tour. (sunflower seed shells in our hair. Yay!) Showers can still be a dream and the term wrinkle release takes on a whole new level of the divine, but we manage. Sometimes though, I’m sure Queen Elizabeth 1 herself would be grossed out.
Jess: I think Ana forgets the time we were changing in the car before a show and told the guys ‘whatever you do, do not unlock the car-the lights will go off’…
Cristina: Aside from hearing “hurry up”, “you look fine”, “you should unbutton that”, or “it’s not that big of deal”…after all that from the guys, I get ready in the van/car on the way to a show. Oh, and it also depends who is driving …I don’t want to be on the news for driving on a busy road and poking my eye out with eyeliner. Luckily though picking out an outfit is not that hard…I’m an all black kinda girl. It’s just attempting to make all my clothes look straight after being in a suitcase for hours that drives me insane. As far as hair goes, I have an adapter for my car that allows me to plug in my hair straightener.
Debbie: I think I self impose the chore of looking good. No one ever told me I have to look hot….but I certainly feel more confident when I do. I carry a blow dryer, straightener, brush and makeup in my backpack at all times.
Tasha: we plan on taking an support vehicle dedicated to our wardrobe and toiletries, so we expect it will be just as frustrating as it is at home to decide what we are going to wear.
Are you really any different than the guys when living in a van? Do you eat nothing but taco bell for days and wear your jeans until they walk away from you?
Ana: We joke about Slim Jim’s and pistachios for breakfast but that was literally what we resorted to somewhere deep in New Mexico. Breakfast of champions! P.S. Baby wipes are a hot commodity and tour jeans aren’t meant to be smelled. Ever.
Jess: I don’t think it’s very different. It’s really hard to eat healthy on the road. It’s cheap, and you don’t have a lot of money. Then also you’re in the middle of nowhere so your options are limited. We’ve learned that there are certain items that are great to have on tour, like the baby wipes for instance. Also baby powder (my friend calls ‘show ass powder’).
Tasha: I only own one pair of jeans and I do constantly chase after them.
Memorie: Although I change my jeans often, I tend to not shower, does that count?
Debbie: I def don’t eat fast food like the guys do…..but I will wear my jeans a little longer then I probably should. Eating right is def something I need to do….for staying in shape, for having the HUGE amounts of energy I need to perform, and just to feel confident with my appearance. Clothes, however, is another story. We just don’t have room for me to bring a million pair of jeans. I’ve learned that Fabreeze does the trick just fine.
Heather: As a girl, I’ve found my own little ways to live out a van comfortably, and because of me (and Lysol and Febreeze) we have one of the cleanest vans on tour. haha!
We’ve got so many great fans who have become friends that we usually stay at people’s houses on the road. So, I am able to change, clean up, etc. in the comforts of their homes. I am on a restrictive diet due to allergies, so I have very specific things I eat. And actually, everyone in Hydrovibe eats as healthy as possible… And my jeans have never walked away from me, either.
Cristina: Okay…so lets just put it this way. I do things in front of band that I would never EVER do in front of my regular friends haha and so do they! Fast food is something I try to cut down on, and the guys are conscious of their intake too…I mean we have to make room for all the bean and cheese dip, Doritos, and energy drinks we consume on the road. I will admit, I am the first one to wear my crocs, jeans, and one tee consecutively while away… the rest is all for performances and appearances. But, it’s when it matters I need to look my best.
Do you ever worry about your writing being called ‘too girlie’? Do you ever reconsider a line based on whether or not the guys in the band or fans might label it ‘chic music’?
Cristina: YES! All the time. But, I look at it as being respectful to my band members to an extent. The music composition is something we all take part of, and when it comes to lyrics I try to run it by them also. The band is “us” not “me” and I like to write lyrics that are based on things that portray our thoughts. I write the lyrics so they are open to interpretations, but also mean something to me and the guys. …to comprise, I tend to write the lyrics to something we can all say represents us individually. It took a lot getting to know the guys in the band to really achieve this type of lyricism. It’s not easy thinking on behalf of everyone.
Ana: When Jess and I were in IHG there was a song called I Wanna Be that did make me wonder if it was too anthemic and cliché girl powerish. Then I said f it and wrote it anyway. Take that, Spice Girls. The funny thing is that relationship songs are what men and women write about. It’s the navel gazing ones that tend to maybe seem more feminine. If people complain I’ll just kick their ass.
Ok. Just kidding. Jess will.
Jess: Yes, but honestly I think no matter what lines we write or how hard we try there will always be someone that labels it ‘chic music’ just because there’s a female lead singer. Sucks but it’s true.
Heather: No, I maintain that songs usually write themselves. If I’m hearing a particular phrase or word… I go with it. If I start to over think the music, then it becomes less sincere. And that is the elemental foundation of Hydrovibe: making sincere, passionate music!
Tasha: I don’t worry about it, Mem worries enough for the whole band, but probably not about being too girly.
Memorie: yeah I worry so much about sounding stupid or trite that i cant even write a girly song, I cant even write a bad song right now.
Debbie: Me ?!?! Too girlie. Hells no. I’m def a new generation kinda gal. I value independence, strength, beauty, confidence with sexuality, etc.. I sometimes worry about whether or not women will be able to identify with my writing, because I write from a dominant position, rather then submissive.
Each of you has slightly different styles, but in general all of you have the attitude that you aren’t girls in a band as sexy eye candy, but musicians who just bring an added female flair to the mix. Which celebrities do you think uphold those ideals, and which ones just make you cringe for playing up their sexuality over their talent?
Ana: I will forever love Shirley Manson of Garbage. I like Maja Ivarsson of The Sounds too. Though I have full respect, I think I couldn’t be comfortable with the uber sexy card played by Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil. I actually laugh at some of the magazine spreads I see many actresses and pop stars do and wonder who told them it was a good idea. I mean, dressed like Aeon Flux and being photographed licking a melting ice cream with a snake on my leg as I frolic in a bath of mineral oil in a sudden chilly windstorm is nothing short of my worst nightmare.
Jess: I agree with Ana on Shirley Manson. She was hot and held her own. And I don’t think anyone can say shit about Hayley from Paramore. She has such an amazing voice-and when she plays live it’s jeans, a t-shirt and Nike’s. And she is still hot –not many can pull that off. Sexuality over talent? Brittany Spears. Maybe that’s unfair. She’s an easy target.
Heather: The female artists I most admire are: Janis Joplin, Imogen Heap, Pat Benetar, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Sia, Stevie Nicks, Bjork, Aimee Mann, etc.
I’m not gonna name any who make me cringe… My mama taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say… you know the rest!
Debbie: I’m def a fan of Ani Difranco, Missy Elliot, Tori Amos, Lady Gaga, and Haley (from Paramore) (to name a few).
As much as I’d love to name names off the endless list of women who I feel give the rest of us a bad name…I’m not one for putting down other artists.
Memorie: katy perry is a poser. Other than that I don’t really care what body parts anybody chooses to exploit to get attention. I guess I would do it if I wasn’t severely dysmorphic, is it considered sexy to wear a burka while performing? That would be keen.
Cristina: Everyone has their own preferences and their own lifestyle. I am so tired of wasting my time getting upset over who I feel doesn’t have talent and only has looks. The truth is, we never really know how much work that specific celebrity really put into attempting to break out. Talent now a days not only is reliant on looks or skill, but on a great marketing team. Anyone can really make something of themselves if they really try and play their cards right. I personally started doing music back in my tomboyish stage… I was not very attractive, but I gained the respect of a lot of guys, who eventually came to find me attractive… Soon I realized what power marketability had in the music industry. It sucks to say this, but the more marketable you are to a company, the easier it is to get the hook ups in the industry. You don’t have to be a skanky slut, but the music industry is what it is, and looking presentable goes a long way. It’s the same way the world outside of music. …So, over time, I myself started playing the part. I fixed myself up (make up and good clothes go a long way), and now everyone pays attention to me, and I am able to put my music out there and make a difference.
Do any of the guys in the band ever dare to ‘advise’ you on what to wear or how to dress?
Ana: I used to perform in jeans and converse and have a problem with getting my makeup and hair right. Pave advises ME what outfits he prefers, when to get my hair done, and even when I should burn a dress shouting obscenities at the designer that dared will it into existence.
Jess: In all fairness, sometimes it’s US advising them 😉
Debbie: No. Thankfully they leave me to me. Every now and then they’ll start up (jokingly) that my shirt should be lower cut in the front…but it’s truly all in jest.
Heather: You know, the guys in Hydrovibe are so awesome. They don’t ever tell me what to wear, but they DO notice my outfits, hair, and makeup each night. And they often compliment me on the stuff they especially like. And I appreciate that they notice and take the time to comment… It makes it worth the effort of getting ready in a van cruising down the road at 70mph!
Cristina: On occasion I actually rely on them to help me pick something out prior to a show, or even when shopping for a show outfit. They usually help me determine the metal/sexy factor for my outfits. For the photo shoot outfit, I spent 3 hours in the mall sending them pic texts until my guitarist finally told me what he suggested and liked, which ends up being what will be on the album photographs.
Memorie: That’s probably why we need a support vehicle dedicated to our wardrobes.
For more information and to listen to each of the girl’s bands check out the links to their websites which are listed below!