The Ladies of Sister Lip Turn Backhanded Compliments Around on Stage

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By Jeff Moses

Sister Lip brings the spirit of jazz to the rock scene, and local rock fans are feeling the music. And the year-old band (the current lineup has been together since April) is starting to land coveted slots on high-profile bills.

For instance, on Saturday, October 19, the local quartet will take its jazz-infused soul/rock sounds to the annual Apache Lake Music Festival to perform with Kongos, Future Loves Past, The Sugar Thieves, and more than 30 local acts. "Being the baby on there will definitely help us for next year," says lead singer and guitarist Cassidy Hilgers, who says the band has high hopes for the coming year, including an East Coast tour.

A full-band East Coast tour, that is -- Hilgers and drummer Ariel Monet hit the road in July, playing acoustic shows on a tour that briefly hopped over the border into Canada. But come next summer, after bassist Cheri French turns 18, the band envisions heading east together.

Plans aside, Sister Lip must fight more of an uphill battle than the average local band. Being an all-female group with an average age of 20 -- 23-year-old pianist Jenny Rebecca is the elder statesman -- is both a blessing and curse. It makes the act unique in the Phoenix scene, but it also occasions some passive aggression.

"I don't think we run into too much outward hostility from anyone," Rebecca says. "People just seem totally disinterested when we show up, sometimes. But then we play, and people who were kind of disinterested or mean at first just pretend they were never mean to you."

Rebecca isn't the only band member catching a glimpse of the more sexist side of the music scene. "It's just backhanded compliments: 'Oh, I thought you would suck. It's good that you don't,'" French says. "And I'm like, 'Thanks, don't talk to me.'"

re than just fans; Sister Lip has gotten them from its musical peers. "We get a lot of guys -- especially musicians -- who will say, like, 'Oh, you guys are actually pretty good,'" Hilgers says, while Monet is often regaled with the ultimate back-hander: "I always just get, like, "'Wow, you drum like a dude!' and I'm like, thank you, I guess."

Rebecca says that finding female lead singers in the music scene is becoming more common. "You have it a little easier than us," she says, motioning toward Hilgers. But she also acknowledges that Monet might catch more scrutiny than the rest of them. "I feel like someone looks at specifically a girl drummer differently. You look at a girl drummer and you're like, 'You're just gonna hit that one note five times.'"

But even the members of Sister Lip admit they've been guilty of doing the same thing. "I think everyone looks at a band and they're like, 'Oh, she's a girl, she must be bad or something,'" Hilgers says.  

"It's like a subconscious prejudice against female musicians," French says, joining in. "You're like, 'Oh, they must not know anything about playing music,' even if they're good. You have that mindset before you even hear them."

But the preconceived notions change once Sister Lip actually takes the stage. Their demo EP and acoustic recordings -- Monet points out that neither's an album -- will make it clear the band has the chops. But the best way to catch Sister Lip is live and in person.

Sister Lip is scheduled to perform Monday, October 7, at Long Wong's in Tempe.

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