Grrl Friday

Local girl-rock showcase puts a tangible face on the music industry's "Women in Rock" hysteria

Late last year, the American music press declared 1997 to be the Year of the Woman. Rolling Stone founder/editor Jann Wenner stated in RS' "Women in Rock" issue, "It became obvious to us that the major music story of 1997 was the rise of women artists," while Spin's "Girl Issue" proclaimed, "Pop music is dominated by young women artists, and the male artists who do reach the top are there in large part due to their adoring female fan base."

Female musicians flooded the airwaves, MTV and record stores. From overseas the Spice Girls took their processed, reconstituted dance music to all corners of the world, preaching and selling their plastic, Barbie-esque brand of "girl power." Ani DiFranco continued practicing her own self-styled girl-power philosophy and was deified by critics and fans as the "Ani Lama." Luscious Jackson brought its white-girl Brooklyn funk to the masses via its WNBA theme song ("We Got Next"). Meredith Brooks proved that a middle-aged "bitch" can sell a lot of albums. Sleater-Kinney brought new maturity to the formerly volatile and reactionary riot-grrl scene.

From the lesbian battle cries of the Michigan Womyn's Festival to the somewhat more subdued crooning of the Lilith Fair, it was clear that women had broken through into the traditionally male-dominated world of rock 'n' roll. But what does this all mean to the average Phoenician girl learning guitar in her bedroom? Does millions of people (myself included) enjoying watching Fiona Apple writhing half-naked while singing about criminals make it any easier for her to pursue her rock 'n' roll dream?

These mainstream female artists aren't tangible role models, just polished images on TV and blurbs in magazines. Who do local girls have to inspire them to go from their bedrooms and garages to the stage, to give them the courage to break down the doors of the Valley's rock 'n' roll boys club?

Enter "Girls' Night Out," a girl-rock showcase/show of force the night of Friday, January 16, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe. Four bands (all containing at least 50 percent girls) from around the state are coming together to grab the Valley's boy-dominated rock scene by its collective nuts and twist until they hear the magic words, "Hey, those chicks know how to rock!"

New Times assembled girls from three of the four bands playing the "Girls' Night Out" show (Lake Havasu City's Post Toasties couldn't make it) to get to know their bands and discuss girl rock in Arizona.

They offered a variety of perspectives on the difficulty of starting bands, winning over audiences and inspiring other female musicians, and they shared the blueprints for their own successes.

The three bands cover a broad spectrum of styles--Tucson's Shoebomb plays catchy guitar-pop reminiscent of the Breeders; Tempe's Mad At 'Em plays angry but humorous pop-punk; and Phoenix's Jerome plays complex, melodic, often grating emo-core. There were no uniform answers to our questions, but their insight and enthusiasm offer inspiration to all of the Valley's aspiring girl rockers.

New Times: Are you girl musicians or just musicians? And are you feminists?
Jency Rogers (drummer--Jerome): I guess I'm a girl musician 'cause I'm a girl. I don't know, it's so weird right now, there's this huge thing about girl musicians. I'd like to think I'm just a musician but I happen to be a girl.

Natalie Espinoza (guitarist--Jerome): Any way you look at it, I think everyone who sees us is gonna see girl musicians. We're always gonna be compared to what guys can do and what guys are doing in bands, regardless of whether we think of ourselves as musicians.

Kim Smith (guitarist--Mad At 'Em): I would definitely say I'm a feminist.
Melissa Manas (guitarist/vocalist--Shoebomb): Yeah, to a certain degree.
Espinoza: People are scared of that word; nobody understands what it really means. It's just empowering women to do things that we should be doing. I think most women are feminists.

Smith: We're just basically into empowering women who want to rock. Because most likely the guys aren't going to give them a chance, we want to do that. When I wanted to play guitar and I asked the guys I knew that played, they just never took me seriously and wouldn't take the time to teach me.

NT: Was your gender a hindrance to your musical goals?
Espinoza: Sure, for a while I thought that being in a band was something that I could not do. That it was something I wasn't supposed to do. And it took a little time for me to get used to how a band works, 'cause it takes work. You've got to go through a lot of bullshit with everybody else in your band, but if you can kinda just get through that, then you're okay.

Smith: I think it took a long time for us to be accepted--we kinda had to prove ourselves, and it's just starting to come around. Now we get a lot of compliments from guys, and we're like, wow.

Manas: I think the initial response is kind of a novelty thing, that there's so many girls in a band, but then they stay and they buy our CD because we're good. All the questions we get, on our Web site and stuff, are about music and questions about lyrics. To date we've really only had one psycho, like, "I'm whacking off looking at your picture right now" kind of guy. I think that's a pretty good ratio.

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