Say Hello to Fen Rotstein

Fen is a Latinx Jewish Trans woman making music and organizing shows in the greater Boston area. Known for a diverse body of work and a penchant for the weird, she’s found Boston to be immensely supportive, with a great deal of potential growth for its various scenes.

She got her start in the music industry at a young age playing to audiences around the country during the early days of the Brony fandom. Despite reservations and difficulties in a notoriously conservative scene, she was ultimately inspired by this burgeoning global creative network, and made use of her talents as a multi-instrumentalist and her years of classical vocal training to produce a wide body of work for the community in a variety of genres and styles.

Fen would go on to build a home and a network in Boston, MA, precisely the environment needed to spark a new burst of inspiration, both musically and emotionally. Through her Berklee education, Fen further developed a wide breadth of expertise covering composition, arranging, studio production, and engineering. And through her involvement in the local Rap, Rock, and Electronic scenes in Boston, she continues to explore vast musical landscapes, and hopes to increase her creative output and uplift the Boston music scene, a community that has supported her for years.

Photo by Echo Harris

QWIMB Q&A with Fen Rotstein

What brought you to Boston?

I originally headed out to Boston for school, but I’ve stayed here for the incredible music scene and the lovely queer community. It feels incredible to live in a city large and diverse enough for real connections to be made across various social, sexual, racial, and class-related boundaries; even more incredible to live in a city that’s also small enough for cross-city communities to become tight-knit, to grow while remaining close. Of course, the city and its various scenes have a whole lot of problems to work on, but there’s already such incredible momentum towards a better Boston; I’m overjoyed to get to stick around and see things develop!

Have you experienced a strong scene for Queer women in the city in terms of music/performers etc?

While it may not be the biggest scene in the world, queer women are absolutely leading it! Boston music and queer women are inextricably linked; the best organizers, the busiest and most successful musicians, the hardest working and most stunning artists…they’re all queer women out here! To see someone like Brandie Blaze, or Dez Decarlo, take off and really shine…it’s just incredible; their hard work in the Boston scene makes that possible. It feels like we’re at the start of a new chapter for queer women in Boston.

Photo by Totem Fahey

Do you have any sense of a history of a Queer scene in the city?

I’ll be frank, being a relatively newer voice in the Boston scene, it’s hard for me to draw upon my own personal experience to give an idea of the history of queer music in Boston. However, I think its safe to say that a relevant chapter in this history is being written right now. More queer women are standing up every day, more black voices are being heard and celebrated, more safe spaces are opening up. An explosion of rap, rock, and electronic music lead by queer women is waiting to happen as we speak!

What made you decide to join a band?

While I’ve been working as a musician in one way or another, either solo or in a band, for around 10 years now, I found myself primarily doing solo work from the get go here in Boston. After a few years of solo work, I eventually came to the conclusion that collaborating and exploring music with a team of people might be exactly what I needed to progress, both within the scene and within the narrative of my own musical development. I started joining and/or starting bands here and there, and now I’m happy to say that I’m playing with Violet Not, and Pregnancy Mask; 2 rad bands filled with lovely people~

Photo by Sheri Furneaux

Are there any artists that you look up to or who have inspired your own music?

Oh most certainly! it’s easy to rattle off obvious influences, I mean I could hardly avoid mentioning Nine Inch Nails, or The Gorillaz, or Phy Life Cypher, or Aphex Twin, but ultimately, I think it’s always a bit more interesting to talk about what someone’s listening to when they’re walking home from work, or going to the grocery store. To that end, I’ve been listening to a lot of The Garden, Japanese Breakfast, Soweto Kinch, Ollie Byrd, and Pieta Brown— Really solid releases, songs that bring a sense of healing that I think is somewhat lost from a lot of what’s on the radio these days.

Do think things are getting better for Queer performers or are there still barriers to overcome?

I don’t really think those two things are mutually exclusive; there will always be barriers, but things are improving! More and more queer people are finding themselves accessing fame and mainstream artistic success that has never been known by the out queer people of generations past. Large parts of the US government are, on a federal, state, and local level, fighting hard to reduce our liberties as members of the LGBT community, and the damage being done is undeniable. From the place of privilege that many of us, myself included, find ourselves in, it can be easy to forget that countless queer people are living day-to-day, facing homelessness, poverty, starvation, constant and active threats…the struggle is absolutely real, particularly for the Black people and POC that make up the most significant parts of our communities. But the tide is turning, and legitimate positive change is being made on a societal level; bigotry is increasingly difficult in a world wherein people are personally familiar and supportive of queer people and the LGBT community. This is the role that music and other forms of art and media can play in our liberation.

Photo by Sheri Furneaux

What has been your proudest moment performing music or as a musician in general?

That’s definitely the toughest question for me out of all of these. For me, my musical career has felt and continues to feel like a never ending quest of growth and creative output; proud moments come and go, good performances are followed by bad performances are followed by great performances. Playing to crowds of a thousand or more, going on national tours, these are all definitely accomplishments I’m proud of, but I think my favorite moments in my musical life have been found while teaching. Teaching music and having the chance to feel like I’m helping people better understand music, even themselves, is possibly one of the most cathartic things I get to experience. Is it super corny? Oh most definitely.

What advice would you give to a queer woman thinking about starting a band or learning an instrument?

Photo by Sheri Furneaux

Pick something up, anything that speaks to you. Block out naysayers, build your support network. Find your home, your family, and your practice space. Once you’ve got that, all you need to do is practice, and to build your relationships. The best thing about being queer, about being a woman, even in these tough times, is plain and simple: you have every reason to be friends, partners, bandmates, and family with your sisters. We can build, but only with each other; there’s nothing that will help you more than reaching out to the people around you, building relationships, and giving yourself to the art you love, no matter what form it takes. The first, most difficult step is allowing yourself to love something without shame. Once you’ve got that love, nothing can stop you.

Are there any other current or former bands or solo artists you would like to see featured by QWIMB?

Oh for sure; right off the bat, y’all should contact Dez Decarlo and Brandie Blaze, and the bands WIMP and Ansonia! They’re lovely people and performers all around, and they most certainly deserve the attention. There’s a whole lot of amazing and talented queer women in Boston; people with real roots in the scene, like Dez for example, act as an inspiration to many of us. There may not appear to be a scene packed to the brim with queer women, but there are so many of us slowly rising to the surface. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see things blow up in the next year or two. If you’re at all concerned about finding great queer artists, I can confidently say, you’ve got nothing to worry about~

Photo by Echo Harris

For more on Fen, read Fen’s Interview with Boston Hassle

You can find the FEN Instagram and Facebook here: https://www.instagram.com/ohfenfen/  |  https://www.facebook.com/ohfenfen/

You can find the Pregnancy Mask Instagram and Facebook here: https://www.instagram.com/pregnancymask/  |  https://www.facebook.com/pregnancymask/

You can find the FEN soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/f3nning

FEN’s band, Pregnancy Mask has a new album coming out soon! Buy the album on Bandcamp! You can find the Pregnancy Mask Bandcamp at the following link here: https://pregnancymask.bandcamp.com/

Pregnancy Mask has a show coming up 2/16/20: https://www.facebook.com/events/122825892324624/

Flier by Fen

Introducing Amber Sage

Bio: Amber Sage is a singer/songwriter, as well as visual artist from Boston, Massachusetts. Sage’s style is occasionally categorized as ethereal wave, but consists more so of signatures found in Neo-Goth Pop. 

Inspiration is often drawn from her experiences with romance; occasionally involving both sapphic and heteronormative themes. Depression/PTSD are also  topics woven in throughout Sage’s discography. 

Amber Sage by Joseph Ramah

QWIMB Q&A with Amber Sage:

What brought you to Boston?

I am from Massachusetts originally! I grew up here and have lived here for most of my life. The LGBTQ community here is very much a strong community locally and I’m lucky to live in a place where people are supportive for the most part.

by Joseph Ramah

Have you experienced a strong scene for Queer women in the city in terms of music/performers etc?

I feel like we are lacking representation of queer/trans/poc women in the local music scene and just women in general really. I do feel like the majority of LGBTQ representation is for white queer men and it would be a beautiful thing to see everyone be given the same amount of opportunity. I have been turned away from certain opportunities in the music industry that were then given to a man. 

Amber Sage

Do you have any sense of a history of a Queer scene in the city?

From what I have known, the queer community in boston was mostly underground around the 90’s and only in the 2000’s has it been a more widely known and supported thing. I feel like for a while there was not too many opportunities for queer folk.

What made you decide to join a band?

It was mostly my influence from 90’s grrrl bands that got me interested in doing music. I was in a few bands in highschool but none that were long term. My first real band was KK Slider (named after the animal crossing character). We were a band for about 2 years and then our guitarist moved to LA and things got a little complicated and I decided I wanted to pursue a solo career. My old bandmates are still in bands though that are really good!

Another reason why I make music – growing up I was always pansexual. I would fall for girls (and boys) and feel like I had no one to relate to and no love songs that felt accurate for me. I wrote a lot of my own songs about my first girlfriend at the beginning of my music career. And it was healing to write about that breakup.

Amber Sage by Joseph Ramah

Are there any artists that you look up to or who have inspired your own music?

So growing up I listened to a lot of “riot grrrl” music that was from the 90’s, a time when women’s rights were trivialized. Some of those bands were bands like L7, Babes in Toyland, and Hole. I found it to be be so empowering to see women out there being badass and fighting for equality. The only thing is I wish that there was again more representation for queer women and women of color. Was it progress for women to have that movement in the 90’s? Hell yeah. But there is still a problem where the narrative is mostly coming from women that are white or cis, and I think in 2020 we absolutely need to see more variety 100%. Also I love Kim Petras.

Do think things are getting better for Queer performers or are there still barriers to overcome?

I absolutely think there’s still barriers to overcome. More shows that feature LGBTQ people in general is needed in my opinion. 

What has been your proudest moment performing music or as a musician in general?

It hasn’t happened yet honestly.

by Daniel Nyman

What advice would you give to a queer woman thinking about starting a band or learning an instrument?

Do it! Life is too short to feel discouraged or to let fear hold you back

Are there any other current or former bands or solo artists you would like to see featured by QWIMB?

Lusus

by Joseph Ramah

Interviews with Amber:

http://bostonvoyager.com/interview/life-work-amber-sage/

Interview in Boston Voyager

Interview in Underground Vampire Club
Amber Sage
Amber Sage
Amber Sage

Check out Amber Sage’s music on Spotify.

The Legend: Thalia Zedek

Thalia Zedek was born and raised in Washington DC and Silver Spring, MD. She moved to Boston in 1979 and shortly thereafter began performing and recording with bands on the local punk/post-punk scene. In the 80’s she played with White Women, Dangerous Birds (Propeller Records), Uzi (Homestead Records, reissued on Matador) and the New York based Live Skull (HomesteadRecords, Caroline Records). After her stint in New York fronting Live Skull she returned to Boston in the 90’s and formed the band Come. Come lasted until 2000, releasing records on SubPop, Matador, Beggars Banquet and Domino and touring with Nirvana, Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., Hole, Swans and many others.

At the turn of the century she formed her own group, the Thalia Zedek Band (Matador, Kimchee Records,Thrill Jockey) who are still active to this day and whose 7th release will be out this August on Thrill Jockey. She also recently formed a new band called E, who are currently recording their first LP for Thrill Jockey and she performs live as a member of Dyr Faser and Animal Hospital Ensemble.(Bio courtesy of Thalia Zedek)

Thalia Zedek by Lana Caplan - TZ9260bwcrop
Thalia Zedek by Lana Z. Caplan

Thalia Zedek is truly a living legend and one of the finest voices in rock music today. Boston is lucky to have such a talented musician gracing its many stages. Thalia took the time out of her busy schedule to answer QWIMB’s questions on Boston scenes, Queerness, and being a musician. 

What brought you to Boston?

I initially came to Boston to go to school at Boston University. I lasted all of one semester before deciding that college was not for me, but in the meantime I had already joined 2 bands.

Have you experienced a strong scene for queer women in the city in terms of music/performers etc?

My very first band was called White Women. The other 2 women in the band Dolores Paradise and Judy Jetson were both lesbians and in a relationship together. Dolores Paradise was also the wife of, and had a child with, the infamous Lou Miami of Lou Miami and the Kozmetix, a well-known Boston queen who fronted a great rock and roll band.

Thalia Zedek by Lana Caplan
Thalia Zedek by Lana Z. Caplan

Do you have any sense of a history of a queer scene in Boston?

Because of my association with White Women and Lou Miami I was thrown right away into the queer punk scene. The music scene that was based around Cantones and Maverick’s was full of queers, trannies, lesbians etc. Human Sexual Response, Plastic Warsaw, Mark Thor, Lou Miami to name a few. I also kind of remember all of those bars being managed and booked by lesbians. Joan Martin who later managed my band Dangerous Birds booked The Space, and Marlo MacDonald Nagy managed Cantones, to name a few. When I first saw Nan Goldin’s book “The Ballad of Sexual Dependancy” I recognized a lot of those people. I think those photos were from that same scene but probably 5 or 6 years before I was there.

A few years later Marianne Peacott and some others started Rock Against Sexism as a response to the Rock Against Racism movement that was happening in England. I would go to their monthly Tea Parties that were held at a gay bar called the 1270 and loads of local feminist bands would play and the DJ would play punk and post punk music. Most of the women who went were lesbians and there was a really big punk lesbian scene that came out those “Tea Parties”

E by Hanna Rose Shell
E by Hanna Rose Shell

What made you decide to join a band/start performing?

For as long as I can remember I always loved playing music and wanted to be in a band. So I was always trying, but hearing Patti Smith sing Gloria on the radio at 16 was a HUGE moment for me! I went to high school in Silver Spring and I started a band with a girl I met in high school who is now known as Azalia Snail. We bonded over Patti Smith in art class. She was also a huge punk fan and she also turned me onto a ton of other cool bands like Xray Spex and Sex Pistols.

Are there any artists that you look up to or who have inspired your own music?

Patti Smith, Leslie Woods from the Au Pairs, The Raincoats, Pat Place (guitarist for the Bush Tetras and The Contortions) Lydia Lunch, Nick Cave, Velvet Underground, The Birthday Party, Circle X…

Thalia Zedek by Lana Caplan
Thalia Zedek by Lana Z. Caplan

Do think things are getting better for queer performers or are there still barriers to overcome?

I think that things are a lot better these days for queers in general, but of course there are still barriers and prejudices to overcome. Especially for women, because there is till SO much sexism in “rock” music.

What bands are you currently performing in?

Thalia Zedek Band, E, Dyr Faser

Thalia Zedek Band by Tamara Bonn
Thalia Zedek Band by Tamara Bonn

What has been your proudest moment as a musician?

There has been a lot of them, but there have also been some embarrassing ones!

What advice would you give to a woman thinking about starting a band or learning an instrument?

Do it because you love it and not for any other reason. But if you really love it don’t give up, even when it gets tough. There will be a lot of ups and downs if you really want to do this music/band thing, and you just have to learn to roll with them.

 

2-25 The Lizard Lounge
2-25 The Lizard Lounge

Check Out Thalia on Tour In 2016:

  • Feb. 25th at the Lizard Lounge, Cambridge- Thalia Zedek Band with Brian Carpenter and the Confessions
  • Feb. 27th at Troost, Brooklyn NY- Thalia Zedek Band
  • Feb. 29th at Charlies Kitchen, Cambridge- E with Far Corners
  • March 12th at Midway, Jamaica Plain- E with Fur Purse, Geoglyphs and Medical Maps
  • March 15th at The Sinclair- E with Tortoise and Mind Over Mirrors
  • March 18th at Cake Shop, NYC- Dyr Faser with Minibeast and Platinum Vision
  • March 26th at Out of the Blue Too, Cambridge – Dyr Faser with a zillion others!

For More Info:

Say Hello to Solo Sexx

Bio:

Forged deep in the psychedelic undertow of UMass basements, sticky floored queer clubs, house parties, porches, and backyards, Solo Sexx has been serving rude and riotous Salt-n-Pepa-meets-Buzzcocks-meets-Shangri Las realness since 2008. Since then, they’ve glittered and grinded all up over New England and beyond, performing at the Boston Freedom Rally, touring the East Coast, rocking festivals and events for the likes of Girls Rock Camp Boston, the Human Rights Campaign, Yes All Women, and more–all while bringing their unique brand of fearless flavor to audiences who leave wondering how they ever survived sans-Sexx. With a fearless sense of humor and a no-holds barred attitude, Solo Sexx turns the hip-hop hypocrites on their head and leads fans to a whole new horizon: with home cooked beats and outta sight rhymes covering everything from being broke (not for long), being white (last they checked), and being free to perform the self pleasure their name is shouting, Solo Sexx proves that the alternative to the add-water-and-stir rap chumpitude is funkier, fresher, and just plain sexxier than ever before.

QWIMB Q & A

What brought you to Boston?

Heather Mack: I grew up in the ‘burbs, moved out to Wild Western Mass to get weird for 5 years, then when I graduated from UMass decided it was time to take my chance on the “big” “city” of Boston. I’ve been here ever since!
OBriensBestJPG

Have you experienced a strong scene for queer women in the city in terms of music/performers etc?

Heather Mack: I think Boston is incredibly lucky to have a fierce faction of queer feminist badasses involved in all aspects of artmaking, from promotions to production to burlesque to punk rock and everything in between. The best part is, although the queer scene is relatively small, people are LOUD about it–in one week you might have Queeraoke, WTFQueerlesque, and Pink Noize, all unapologetically loud and raucous queer, feminist events happening at all different parts of town. And for the most part it’s pretty inclusive, like a big weird rainbow family you just might not have met yet. We freaks tend to stick together, and it makes a big difference.

Do you have any sense of a history of a queer scene in the city?

Heather Mack: The first “queer” event I ever attended in the city was probably Rocky Horror back when it was in Harvard Square–I was just a little tyke back then! Since then I’ve felt incredibly blessed by all of the opportunities I’ve had to be involved in the queer scene, as a performer and as a fan. I’m not so sure about the scene’s “history”, since I didn’t really start identifying as queer until college out in W.Mass where I frequented queer events for the first time, and only since coming to Boston about 5 years ago have I gotten really involved in this scene in particular. Either way, I’m pumped to be out here making new queer history with so many awesome artists and visionaries, and I gotta say, the future’s looking bright!
Julezcloseup

What made you decide to join a band?

Julez:Being around creative people during those crucial college years who were also experimenting with music and constantly producing art of all genres. For me, the beats came first and I owe a lot of my early inspiration and motivation to that core group of creative friends.

Heather Mack: Julez really says it best, we were just incredibly lucky during our college years to have been part of a chaotic cotillion of psychedelic musicians, artists, visionaries and weirdos that had our own unique culture and community where everyone was not only free, but encouraged to experiment with everything, especially art. I had started a punk band when I was in high school called The Bush Administration and even though we didn’t take ourselves seriously I was really addicted to the feeling of shocking people onstage with something they didn’t expect, or would otherwise dismiss. I also already had an instinct for having a fully female fronted band performing songs that were filled with innuendo, and that riotous, raunchy energy provided the foundation for my later music.  In college I was part of a crew of dudes who were into hip hop and freestyling, then Julez transferred to UMass and everything got kicked into overdrive. She went home for winter break and taught herself to make beats, by the time she got back we were writing songs for just the two of us. That’s when we created “Solo Sexx”–the name is a reference to going solo, pleasing yourself first, and knowing that sometimes you just gotta do it on your own, you know?

Are there any artists that you look up to or who have inspired your own music?

Julez: DJ culture has always been a big influence on me. I was always trying to recreate the way DJs mix different sounds and samples together. So our beats reflects that.

Heather Mack: AAAH! So many. Rupaul, Kate Bush, GG Allin, TT The Artist, Rye Rye, Santigold, MIA, Buzzcocks, 90s house divas, Cakes Da Killa, PWR BTTM, David Bowie, Amanda Palmer, Missy Elliott, Downtown Boys, Mykki Blanco, Big Freedia, the Shangri-Las–bands who challenge the status quo, defy gender roles, and just make badass music that challenges you to think critically while also having an absolute blast on the dance floor.

Do think things are getting better for queer female performers or are there still barriers to overcome?

Heather Mack: The internet is bringing things to a whole new level in a really positive way–I think queer female performers are getting much more visibility, and more and more celebrities are coming out as genderqueer and trans and sexually fluid, so that’s helpful in terms of breaking down old narratives and stereotypes around gender and sexuality. I also think there’s been a push to create intentional queer DIY spaces where those artists are not only welcome, but explicitly sought out and celebrated. The more visibility there is, the more we are able to give permission to other queer female or trans or genderfluid artists to be fully, wildly themselves–and to support one another in the process. I’m also pumped that venues tend to be really open to having queer events or having queer identified bands perform, and I’m happy to be able to host events like that too–like our upcoming Queer Women in Hip Hop night.

closeupHeatherYAW

Are you in any other bands?

Heather Mack: Nope! But I am in the Boston League of Women Wrestlers.

What has been your proudest moment as a member of a band?

Julez: Performing on stage at the weed rally in Boston a few years back! Such a huge crowd- felt like a rockstar.

Heather Mack: My favorite part of being in a band is the reactions we get from the crowd. Although every single show we invariably have some crew of (usually) dudes come up and say some version of “I thought you were gonna suck, but you were amazing!” and it’s always satisfying to know that you smashed a stranger’s perception of you, that’s not what makes me proud. What’s really incredible is when young women come up to us and tell us that we showed them that it’s possible to be a woman who raps and rocks crowds, and that we inspired them to try to make music too. As much as we do it for ourselves (hence the name, again), those moments are what sustains us and make us really proud of what we’re doing. That’s why we also love to do events for badass organizations like Yes All Women, Human Rights Campaign, and Girls Rock Camp Boston–because we know we’re offering up our art to help contribute to a positive, supportive community where people of all genders and sexualities have the resources they need to rock out in whatever way they choose.

What advice would you give to a woman thinking about starting a band or learning an instrument?

Julez:YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE! Seriously don’t be afraid to take that first step, and don’t doubt yourself too much. And if you’re lucky and the ideas and creativity starts flowing early on DON’T SLEEP ON IT! Make the most of it- it’s a precious commodity.

Heather Mack: DO IT! Make mistakes. Write a song, then scribble it out and start over 20 times. Then stop scribbling things out and embrace every flaw as a foundation for something fabulous. Go see local shows and discover new heroes. Make friends with your heroes. Book shows with your heroes! Don’t wait for other people to do things for you–learn everything you can by throwing yourself into it. If you feel like there aren’t enough cool venues in Boston, create one. If bookers don’t want to book a hip hop show, bypass them and book shows yourself. Make other amazing friends who create weirdo art and love you for it and hold you accountable to your aspirations. Be reckless, fearless, and bold–even if you’re terrified. There’s no time like the present–and life’s too damn short to be boring!

Are there any other current or former bands you would like to see featured by QWIMB?

Heather Mack: Check out Afro Panther (iamafropanther.soundcloud.com) and Billy Dean Thomas (facebook.com/billydeanslist), two artists who will be performing along with us at our upcoming Queer Women in Hip Hop showcase at the Lilypad, January 30th!

For more from Solo Sexx:

An Interview With Kristen Ford

What brought you to Boston?

I had moved back to Western Massachusetts, (where I grew up) to work on an album on Many Doors records. I would commute 2 hours to Boston to go busking, and was dating a girl out there. Eventually it was like, this is ridiculous, let’s pull a U Haul and move in. It didn’t work out with the girl but it did with the city. That was 6 years ago, and I’ve been on the road full time the past year.

Have you experienced a strong scene for queer women in the city in terms of music/performers etc?

kristenfordportrait
Photo credit: Menelik Puryear

I think the answer to that is yes and no. There is a really big DJ scene with the weekly dance parties, and I find certain musical genres are really friendly to queers and you’ll find your people at those shows. However having a specific place to go and see queer women play, or a consistently gay ladies live music scene is not something I’ve encountered.

Do you have any sense of a history of a queer scene here?

Boston is the land of history! Depends how far back you dig how far into the closet they may have been, but there are vibes.

 What made you decide to start performing?

kristenford
Photo credit: Menelik Puryear

I didn’t have a choice. Just loved being a ham and getting attention since I was tiny. When I was 16 I saw an Ani Difranco show at the Avalon (now the House of Blues) and something struck me like​ a lightning bolt. That’s it. That’s what I have to do. She wielded so much power over us all with just her voice and a guitar. One of the greats.

Are there any artists that you look up to or who have inspired your own music?

I was mentored by June Millington; she was in the first all-female band to be signed to a major label called Fanny- absolute bad ass and she has transformed my music and my life. I also am a huge Radiohead fan, and recently as a one woman band I’ve been very inspired by Audrey Ryan and the way she changed the game.

Do think things are getting better for queer female performers or are there still barriers to overcome?

kristenford
Photo credit: Menelik Puryear

I was at SXSW recently, and it’s pretty appalling how few women there are onstage or working the technical aspects of the show. It’s not even a queer issue, it’s a women’s rights issue. And I do think there is a lot of external pressure for gay performers to be “pretty” and stereotypically femme in order to get ahead. I mean even Ellen has a makeup sponsorship. Long way to go- but that’s why we must fight for the kind of performers, clubs and scenes we want to have, until the mainstream is ready.

Are you in any other bands/performance acts?

Currently living out of a van and touring full time keeps me busy only playing my own stuff. But in the past I played drums in Tilt-A-Whirl and The Grooves Moons- you can find us on Spotify and iTunes.

What has been your proudest moment as a performer?

Hard to choose just one, so many great experiences. Last summer I played mainstage at National Women’s Music Festival, and that was pretty grand. To have this incredible (all woman) tech staff making us sound and look great, a huge stage to bound across and being given the space to be really appreciated as a rock star from the audience was huge and really fun.

What advice would you give to a queer woman thinking about starting a band or learning an instrument?

Do it! Work hard and make friends with other people out there in Indy bands. I think too many people get caught up in being competitive, how many Facebook likes do you have and such, and come to my show blah blah blah, without going out to support other local acts, nurturing your own scene and giving as much as you hope to get.

Are there any other current or former bands/solo acts you would like to see featured by QWIMB?

Bethel Steel, Laura Grill, What time is it Mr Fox, Jonny Blazes, Jade Sylvan and as a promoter, Kristen Porter.

Thanks for the interview!

I also would like to say I’m having a very gay show at Club Passim Sunday August 16th, with Bern & the Brights from NYC and What Time is it Mr Fox. You can get your tickets at http://clubpassim.org/

Call Me Doxy

Call Me Doxy is an angsty, feminist interpretation of classical motifs in a Cabaret coated, rock n’ roll context. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Call Me Doxy may be better described as the musical equivalent of an unlaced corset, or a cacophonously sultry orchestra of ne’er-do-wells. Prompted to action by misogynists everywhere, Call Me Doxy often explores (and dispels) the concepts of gender roles, sexuality, and empowerment with the combined musical forces of five unlikely partners in crime.

What brought you to Boston?

Initially, college. But good friends, good music, and the warmth of the Boston community have kept us (Call Me Doxy) here.

Have you experienced a strong scene for queer women in the city in terms of music/performers etc?

Yes, to a certain extent. Most people in Boston are incredibly welcoming and tolerant. That being said, I don’t personally feel like I have enough of an awareness of/connection with other queer musicians. I would like that to change. Our band has been playing together for a little over a year at this point, but we rarely play shows with fellow members of the queer community. We would love to play a stronger role in advocating for the freedom to express sexuality and gender in less binary ways: it’s a huge part of why we make the music we make.

What made you decide to start performing?

We share the same ideals and the same message: people are people. All of us have been pigeon-holed at one time or another because of our gender or sexuality. All of us (regardless of whether or not we all identify as queer) want to advocate for social change, feminism, and a heightened awareness of the way bigotry has crept into cultural normalcy (and how to stop that.)  And it just so happens that all of us wanted to communicate this through classically influenced, cabaret-rock music.

What has been your proudest moment as a band?

Honestly, every moment we play together is the proudest moment. We rehearse twice a week, we play at least once a month, and yet the novelty of being able to share space with each other has yet to wear off. Just being in the same room as them makes my heart feel all warm and fuzzy, it’s pretty gross.

What advice would you give to a queer woman thinking about starting a band or learning an instrument?

Do it. If you have the slightest inkling to do it, DO IT.  Music should be music, regardless of your gender or sexuality. So do it. Worst case scenario, you’re learning something new. That’s a pretty innocuous worst case scenario.

Q & A with Reba of the Kitschenettes

reba
Reba

The Kitschenettes are a 4 piece, “quiet grrrl” band based in Somerville and Jamaica Plain. All four band members are long-time volunteers for Girls Rock Camp Boston and all have been active in the Boston music scene for many years. Band member, Reba Mitchell, was kind enough to answer some questions about Boston and queerness for us.

scene? Has it changed over time?

RebaI’m not really sure how to identify the queer music scene. I mean, I know a lot of local musicians who identify as queer, but I’m hesitant to slap that label on their bands because of it. I’m also not super in touch with local music. I am, however, in touch with cable tv, snacks, and going to bed early on weekends. Is there a Queer Women in Pajamas blog?

What brought you to Boston? Are you local?

RebaI came to Boston because New Hampshire is terrible. Kathleen went to school in Boston, and she is from New York. Ashley is from the area. Slamber has lived in California and Texas, but has been in Boston for some time.

Artists inspired you personally or musically?

RebaWhen I was 15 or so, I was fortunate to have been introduced to a lot of riot grrl/queercore bands. The Internet had a lot to do with that– I was really into Lookout! Records and pop-punk stuff, and somehow that lead me to riot grrl chat rooms on AOL. I met a lot of people that way– some of whom are still my best friends. I was hugely influenced by Team Dresch, The Third Sex, Helium, Bikini Kill, Excuse 17… but at the same time I was also listening to like, Steely Dan. So I can’t pretend that I was ever really that cool.

What do you want people to remember about your band in the years to come?

RebaWe all met as volunteers for Girls Rock Campaign Boston, which –I think it’s safe to say– has inspired all of us to play music. Personally, I had a few years where I stopped playing music… for stupid insecurity reasons. Playing music with Slamber, Ashley, and Kathleen has allowed me to relax a little bit and just have fun. For once I’m not thinking about how I look on stage, or if the audience is dancing or not, or if the audience even exists in the first place. It’s just fun. I hope that people pick up on that and are inspired to start a band of their own, the way that GRCB bands have inspired us.

Why did you join a band and what instruments do you play?

RebaAfter a session of Ladies Rock Camp (a GRCB fund-raiser) had ended, I found myself inspired but also kind of restless. I saw a lot of talent and was given this new energy during Camp, and I wanted to keep it going. So we (our original drummer: Tanya Palit, Ashley, Kathleen, and I) just got together and played some cover songs one evening. We didn’t have any expectations other than to challenge ourselves and maybe build some new friendships. Tanya (<3) had to step away from drums to focus on some other projects, so Slamber joined us just after our first show.

We rotate vocals and instruments in the band. Ashley, Slamber, and I move between guitar/bass/drums– for selfish reasons… so we don’t get bored. Kathleen keeps anchor on keys because she is better at it than any of us. I’ve learned a ton from watching Slamber play drums and guitar. And Ashley is always encouraging us to move around and loosen up on stage. Kathleen has pipes like woah. It’s great to be able to try new things and learn from each other.

female members we should know about?

RebaI’m hesitant to pigeon hole anyone if they don’t feel comfortable with the label. I guess I’d just encourage people to support women in music in general… or just support women in general… and we’ll all benefit from it either way.

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Cuisine en Locale on Highland Ave in Somerville.

The Revolutionary Marcia Deihl

It is not often that one gets to sit down and talk with an icon of the Women’s Movement, but I had that opportunity last week during my interview with Marcia Deihl. Marcia has been a fixture in the women’s movement in Boston since the late 1960s. It is hard to visualize a time with no women’s centers or GLBT rights. Deihl was part of a generation that gave these and many other things that we often take for granted. This was a time when the words “lesbian” and “feminist” were used with pride and often met with significant cultural resistance. She was at the forefront of the movement that not only normalized these terms, but helped define them. The word “queer” was used at that time to denote those belonging to the counter culture as well as to describe G&L peoples. It later expanded to include LGBT.  The movement in support of queer women began as a lesbian feminist movement and has expanded to include a broader spectrum of folks in the last 2o years. In any event, a view of the lesbian feminists of the 1970s would show Marcia Deihl at the forefront.

marciaPink390
marciadeihl.com

Marcia Deihl has been committed to activism since she came to Boston in the late 1960s to attend BU as a music major. She is a classically trained harpsichord player, but she felt boxed in by the traditional and elitist nature of her training. This led Marcia to pursue more radical alternatives, which she found in the Goddard School of Vermont. The school was offering feminist music courses in Cambridge, MA, influenced by the grassroots nature of the folk movement of the 60s and 70s. Marcia earned a Master’s Degree at the Goddard School in Feminism and Folklore. The school was also offering accredited Master’s programs in film making, left wing organizing, and children in the revolution.  This was a time when much of academia was not offering courses on women’s studies or radicalism and interested parties had to find places to educate themselves. It was only through the hard work and dedication of these activists did the larger academic community finally catch on to the need for an exploration of women’s history, popular culture, race and gender studies, and many other areas.

c. www.marciadeihl.com
c. www.marciadeihl.com

In Cambridge in the 1970s, there were Lesbian Feminist Music Collectives and women’s bars within which to showcase their talents. Bars like the Marquee in Cambridge, Sneakers in Somerville, and Somewhere Else in Boston. Imagine having a bar in the city exclusively dedicated to serving gay women? Boston has not had a women’s bar in over two decades. There would have been a ready -made venue for all of the bands QWIMB features. Women would not have to wait for their one night a month at male establishments and could have Monday-Sunday to plan events!

smash
www.marciadeihl.com

It was in this atmosphere that Marcia founded her band the New Harmony Sisterhood Band. Marcia’s website, www.marciadeihl.com showcases the band history as well as the history of other women’s groups during this time. Her Music in History workshop on the lesbian feminist movement is “Still Aint Satisfied.” She also has a program on gender and the representation of women passing as men throughout history entitled “She Dressed Herself in Sailor’s Clothes.” These workshops are the best place to start an understanding of the history of queer women in music since the 1970s. Please look forward to more features on Deihl and her experiences in the near future.

c. www.marciadeihl.com
c. www.marciadeihl.com

Q & A with Unstraight

Unstraight formed through a blaze of social media and dyke marches and friends of friends. Their music, simultaneously introspective and ringing with clarity, beckons you to connect and wills you to ponder the tenuous nature of relationships and all that you want from life. Unstraight coaxes the wishes out of your imagination and channels them into instruments and amplifiers, pouring sound into your ears until you’re moving your body not knowing why.

Jen on drums, Emily on bass, Katie on guitar, Lizzy on synth, and Madeleine on vocals: together they push the boundaries of alternative rock to the edges, with intertwining ribbons of electronic, punk, and garage. “Clarity” owns the first love song lyrics that Madeleine ever wrote, which pull at you, leaving you wanting more. “Not Close Enough” and “Show Me” tangle with hidden desires, and “Make Up Your Mind” simply wishes certain people would just make up their damn minds and expresses that through a variety of time signatures. And “Words to Seduce You,” well, music is going to save your soul and this song knows it.

The meaning of the band’s name is two-fold; one is blatantly queer and the other that Unstraight does not walk the common path. Walk with them–they already love you for it.

Unstraight is all women, all queer, and all you ever wanted. (bio courtesy the band)

Q&A WITH QWIMB

What brought you to Boston?

Madeleine: I came here for grad school in psych and stayed to pursue music, which is what I’m actually supposed to be doing with my life! Emily came for work as well I believe (she is a post-doc in math at Harvard), and Lizzy and Katie grew up in this general area. Jen has lived all over the country and finally found a home in the Boston area, where two of her siblings also live.

Have you experienced a strong scene for queer women in the city in terms of music/performers etc?

Madeleine: When I first moved to Boston and right up until I formed Unstraight, I was in the punk rock band The Furiousity. In that band I had my first taste of what a sense of community in the music scene could be like. When I put together Unstraight, having had that experience I actively sought out a queer music community. While it does exist in some ways it could always be stronger and more present. That is part of the reason that I put on the Big Queer Show (next one: June 6th—Pride Kickoff Party!) collaborating with Mad Femme Pride; I want there to be events in Boston (and beyond?) where the focus is queer music and musicians.

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Do you have any sense of a history of a queer scene here or is the past a faded memory?

Madeleine: I’ve only been in Boston about 6 years and was just fully coming out when I arrived, so I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question. However, I’ve found a really fantastic network of musicians, queers, artists, performers, queer organizations, and other awesome queer people and allies since I’ve been here and I think they and the events they are involved in really make the queer scene what it is.

Beyond dance nights, like many of Dyke Night’s events, Queeroke, and Zuesdays which I love and are absolutely necessary and appreciated, I think there is a need for other queer spaces and performances which many large events like Big Queer Show, The Femme Show, Genrequeer, Traniwreck, and smaller events like book clubs and discussion groups and craft nights try to fill. As far as history goes, event organizers of the past and present have one very formidable enemy: the couch. Come out and do things, queers and friends!

What made you decide to join a band?

Madeleine: I didn’t just want to join a band; I wanted to make one. I wanted to find musicians who could help me take the music that is in my mind and heart and release it to the rest of the world. I wanted my bandmates to be dedicated, passionate, honest and forthright, and more talented than me. And queer. I basically wanted the (nearly) impossible and got it, and I think anyone can, really, with perseverance.

I’m really grateful to now have a talented platonic musicwife in Katie, who basically has the same music brain as me. We write songs collaboratively and we just both kind of know when our parts (and sometimes when the other person’s parts) are right. We agree 98% of the time, and it’s kind of magical. Jen, Emily, and our new synth player, Lizzy, also seem to really understand the music in a way that I’m continuously amazed at; we give feedback openly, but so much of it seems to be instinctive. I’m lucky. Really lucky.

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Katie: I was extremely impressed and inspired when I first heard Madeleine sing. As the lead singer of her previous band The Furiousity, I immediately noticed her talent, technical ability, and the pure quality of her voice—how it stands out and shines.

Perhaps love at first note?

We both spoke about how we are both classically trained and enjoy the opera. I think I asked her “Want to jam sometime?” and she invited me on her conquest to form an all-women all-queer band. Best decision ever.

We began writing music together and we’ve been creating some of my absolute favorite music in existence. Yeah it’s pretty awesome to be a member in one of your favorite bands! Jen, Emily and Lizzy are all such incredible musicians with improvisational skills and natural instincts, so everything just flows nicely. Madeleine continues to impress and inspire me with her beautifully crafted vocal melodies. I am beyond blessed to make music with all of these lovely ladies.

Jen: This is the second “lesbian” or queer band I was “recruited” into. This one, by Madeleine, who knew an acquaintance of mine, who had heard me play drums with the former band. I knew Katie beforehand, but I only knew of her impressive DJ skills – not that she was also a phenomenal guitarist who pulls Santana-esque riffs out of thin air, noodles Nintendo worthy segues and writes songs that Tool would be honored to perform, due to multiple, rapid-fire time signature and tempo changes.

And yet, I have a very hard time answering the questions “Who do you sound like? What is your style?” The first thing I noticed about Madeleine (besides her Harajuku girls style, for lack of a better term), was her Amy Lee of Evanescence style ethereal vocals which float over our much harder (though still not hardcore) music. And Emily – well, Emily impresses constantly. I call her the “band genius”. I learn new things about Emily all the time, and at this point, I’m no longer shocked, though I am continually impressed. Her skills seem to know no bounds, AND, bonus point, she keeps us on point during practices! Lizzy – let’s just say she fills out the band both with music and personality and I’m happy to announce we have decided to be music-wives. Emily will have to decide if she wants a music wife – we may have to have a wife threesome. When I heard Lizzy’s synth with our music – it was the “Aha!” moment – with eyes bugged out, and screaming “YES!”. The way that we practice, the way that we endeavor to perform, the way that we record – it is with the intent to be as professional as we can be. We mean to be taken seriously, but we are also having a lot of fun doing it!

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Are there any artists that you look up to or who have inspired your own music?

Madeleine: For sound influence, I love Sahara Hotnights, Garbage, and Florence and the Machine, among many others. I also really look up to The Shondes, Amanda Palmer, and Melissa Ferrick—they are really making it DIY style and I really admire that.

Katie: I am inspired by many different styles ranging from classical to indie rock to metal to electronic to folk and more. Notable artists for me are Mozart, Tool, Bjork, Arcade Fire, Pantera, Rodrigo y Gabriela, DFRNT, Fleet Foxes, Juana Molina, The XX and Florence and the Machine.

Jen: I’ve never been into names: brands, celebrities or otherwise. But there have been a few artists that really get that sound that tugs at me and compels me to look them up (at different points in my life). I would say Juliette Lewis, MSMR, The White Stripes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Flyleaf, Bush and Gossip are a short list of bands/musicians that I look up to. I have a lot of respect for any artist that writes his/her own music and sounds great live, though. Shoutout to Kristen Ford and her amazing band, who are writing and performing amazing, original music live right here in the Boston Metro area!

Emily: I’m rarely able to identify an artist I hear on the radio – and this is even if I “know” the song well enough to sing the harmony. When Madeleine recruited me, she included links to music by three artists I’d never heard of. I love it when my bandmates share music with me. I’m learning a lot.

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Do you think things are getting better for queer female performers or are there still barriers to overcome?

Madeleine: It’s better, but I feel like I/we live in a sort of bubble here in Boston. There are still many, many barriers to overcome; when I toured with my last band I got kind of sick of hearing “Oh man, you are pretty good for girls.” In this band we are both all women and all queer; double the chances for some sort of disparaging homophobic or sexist comment. I just like to think of it as double the opportunity to really unexpectedly blow someone away and change their minds and hearts, if just a little, in how they feel about queers and women in general.

Are you in any other bands?

Madeleine: No, but if I could quit my day job and do music exclusively I probably would at least have a side project or two. Or perhaps not be so terribly behind on band promotional work!

What has been your proudest moment as a member of a band?

Madeleine: I have had so many proud moments, but I think my next proudest moment will be when we can finally release our EP to the world this fall. Right now we have some great demo tracks, but to finally have a tangible item that people can purchase and hold in their hand, to finally have something I want to send to everyone I’ve ever met and just say—hey LISTEN, that will be my proudest moment yet.

What advice would you give to a woman thinking about starting a band or learning an instrument?

Madeleine: You want to? Start. Learn the instrument that resonates with you. Learn it and study it and love it. Find others who share your passion, they are out there. I volunteer for Ladies Rock Camp Boston for just that reason—women belong in music and queers do too. There is space for everyone; this is not a competition. Go to shows, say hello, meet people, be part of the world you want to be part of. The only thing stopping you is you.

Listen to some of their Music:

Clarity:

Words to Seduce You:

Show Me

Not Close Enough

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Unstraight Has a Big Show Coming Up:

BIG QUEER SHOW: PRIDE KICKOFF PARTY–6/6/14

It’s all that you ever dreamed of in a show, and now it has come back as a fabulous kick off party to your Pride week! This show/party will not only start with some friendly Mad Femme Pride-led mixing and mingling, but will follow with four fantastic queer bands, dancing between sets and after the last band until 1 a.m.!

Featuring:

GLBTAQ-loving and friendly. 21+, 8 p.m., $10 advance, $12 door, Copperfield’s: 98 Brookline Ave., Boston.

June 6th BIG QUEER SHOW full 2

Want More From Unstraight:

Q and A with Johnny Blazes

So just who is Johnny Blazes? (Bio Courtesy www.johnnyblazes.com)

Named “one of Boston’s rising stars” by Stuff Magazine, Johnny Blazes is known for their  genre-bending, gender-blending, tongue-in-cheek performances.  They draw from their category-defying brand of vaudevillian performance that incorporates drag, burlesque, comedy and clowning.  In recent years, Johnny’s work has moved away from vaudeville and into live music, and their focus has moved to fronting their 12 piece soul band, Johnny Blazes and The Pretty Boys.

Photo by Eowyn Evans 2014
Photo by Eowyn Evans 2014

After graduating from Oberlin College in 2007, where they founded and directed OCircus!, a 95-person student group with whom they created five original shows, Johnny returned to their hometown of Boston and immediately dove into the nascent local circus community.  In 2008, Johnny co-wrote and directed Mischief in the Machine, an evening-length circus theater production, in collaboration with Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band.  This show served as one of the seminal moments for the founding of The Boston Circus Guild.  Johnny served on the board of The Boston Circus Guild for several years, and directed and performed in a number of shows with the BCG, including Reign of Revelry, Threshold, and Vaudevillainy.

From 2007 until 2011, Johnny was a corps cast member of TraniWreck, Boston’s all-gender, all-genre drag cabaret mess.  During that time period, Johnny frequently performed at drag, burlesque and variety shows in Boston and New York City, and emceed for Rogue Burlesque, The Boston Circus Guild, Vadalna Tribal Dance Company, as well as for professional and student drag shows at colleges across the United States. They toured with The Tranny Roadshow, The Femme Show and Gender Queeries and collaborated with Big Moves Boston, The Theater Offensive, The Extra Terrestrial Circus Experiment, and many other performance groups.  They created an experimental cabaret show with collaborator Madge of Honor called Hypothesis, which ran from September 2010 through September 2011.

Photo by Derek Kouyoumijian 2013
Photo by Derek Kouyoumijian 2013

In April of 2010 Johnny forayed into the Boston theater scene to collaborate with The Performance Lab (now Liars & Believers) to curate and host the opening act to Le Cabaret Grimm, a punk rock fairy tale. In July of 2011, Johnny joined the cast of Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera in the double role of Tonya’s and Nancy’s mothers.

Johnny is currently on the editorial board of Salacious Magazine, a radical, anti-racist, feminist, queer sex magazine with a focus on art and comics.  Johnny has co-authored several comics with fabulous queer artist Katie Diamond, as well as with long time friend and collaborator David Brown.  Johnny’s work has been published inGender Outlaws 2: The Next Generation (Seal Press, 2010) and Encounters in Contact (Oberlin College Press 2010).

Johnny’s wo(n)man show, a one-person, evening-length vaudevillian performance that incorporates theater, drag, dance, opera and circus arts to explore gender stereotypes and the performance of one’s daily gender, toured intermittently from 2009 until 2012. wo(n)man show has played in small theaters, universities and colleges in Boston, New York City, Hudson Valley, NY, Schenectady, NY, Baltimore, Portland, ME, Philadelphia, Richmond, Washington DC, Vermont and New Hampshire.

QWIMB asked Johnny some questions and here is what transpired:

What brought you to Boston?

I was born here.  I went away for college, but once I was done touring with the circus troupe I had founded, I ended up back in Boston for a summer teaching gig and then just… stayed.  I love to travel, but I always come back to Boston as my home – it’s my favorite city, and my family is here.

Have you experienced a strong scene for queer women in the city in terms of music/performers etc?

Queer community was really important to me when I moved back to Boston.  I was in The Femme Show, TraniWreck, The Tranny Roadshow, doing a lot of identity politics art.  Drag, burlesque, performance art that related to gender and sexuality, and was intended for a queer audience.  Then, as I started to move away from that type of art-making and towards music (or back towards music, I should say) I found that my choice of community was revolving more and more around musicians – musicians of all different sexualities, orientations, and genders.  What unites us is more our relationship with Boston’s cabaret scene, and our weirdo-ness, I suppose.  I also think that these days, in Boston especially, while there is still very much a need for queer community, queer music isn’t just for queer audiences any more.  I can rely on my queer community for support, and while being queer is integral to who I am and the content of my music, I know that it will be received well by other musicians, regardless of their own sexualities and orientations.

Do you have any sense of a history of a queer scene here or is the past a faded memory?

I moved back to Boston in 2007, and while I lived here before college, I was a kid then, so I don’t have a great sense of what was happening in the 90s and early 2000s.  At least in the over 21 scene – let me tell you, those BAGLY dances were killer. 🙂  My dad used to play with Ryan Landry, so I would go to Machine with him when I was a teenager/young adult to see his rock musical send-ups.  And I’ve talked a bunch with drag kings and poets who are 15-20 years older than me about what stuff was like when I was too young to be paying attention.  So yes — I have some sense of Boston queer history, but mostly revolving around drag rather than music.

What made you decide to start performing?

I don’t think it was ever a decision, it’s simply who I am.  I was in school plays, ballet recitals, choir concerts as soon as I could talk – you couldn’t keep me from stealing the spotlight.

Are there any artists that you look up to or who have inspired your own music?

Susan Tedeschi is always the first name on my lips when talking about my inspiration.  Hearing her album Just Won’t Burn in high school had the biggest effect on me of any album I’ve listened to before or since.  Others in the pantheon include: Bonnie Raitt, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone.  And of course, They Might Be Giants, Beyoncé, P!nk, Teresa Tudury.

Photo by Eowyn Evans 2014
Photo by Eowyn Evans 2014

I’m also immensely influenced by my dad, J. Johnson. While we don’t have exactly the same taste in music, growing up with a musician dad that I adored made a huge impact on what I do and don’t like, what I’m a little snobbish about, how I think about music.  I’m also spoiled because he has that exasperating, wonderful talent where he can listen to a song once and then play it for you. On any instrument. Some of that is innate, and some of that he had to work for, as I understand it, but I am still constantly in awe of him and wish I had inherited that particular talent.  What I did inherit from him is the mockingbird ear.  He can play any melody or chord progression he hears, but he can also imitate tone quality and feel, particularly with his guitar.  I’ve got that with my voice and inflection.  As a clown I can imitate people’s mannerisms, and I can manipulate my voice to fit a lot of genres and styles.  The challenge has been in finding my own sound that feels genuine.

Do think things are getting better for queer female performers or are there still barriers to overcome?

There are still barriers for queer females to overcome in every industry, certainly.  And disabled females, and females of color, and even rich white females from the suburbs.  Just look at how many more men than women there are in music – especially instrumentalists.

photo by Justin Moore 2010
photo by Justin Moore 2010

The particular issue that comes up often for me is more related to my gender rather than my queerness, but I think it’s relevant, since it’s a problem that my queer community is more equipped to handle.  To wit: I prefer to use the pronouns they and them, rather than she and her, since they fit better with who I am.  This is easy enough to implement in exclusively queer spaces, but in musician communities, there are a lot more straight people who’ve never even thought to ask someone what pronoun they would prefer to use. So I get a lot of lady, girl, sister, she, her, because people simply don’t know better.  This puts the onus on me to either be constantly speaking up and asking people to change their language, or to just be silent and take it.  I’m blessed to have some amazing friends in the Boston music community (of all orientations) who call me by the correct pronouns and set an example for others, but it’s slow going getting everyone on board.

Are you in any other bands/performance acts?

I sing with my project, Johnny Blazes and the Pretty Boys, and with The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library.  I also sang on John Surette’s Tomorrow the World, and on Mission Creep’s upcoming album, so I’ve played live with both of those groups a couple of times to promote and celebrate those albums.

What has been your proudest moment as a performer?

That’s a really tough one! I take a lot of pride in what I do, and I try to take a moment after each and every performance, no matter how large or small the set or the venue, to truly feel proud of what I have just created and shared.  The most magical moment I’ve ever experienced was when I was singing at my sister’s memorial service.  I was singing a song that my dear friend Bethel Steele wrote, Blue Skies, and I was looking up at the rafters of the church where I grew up singing in the choir, and I realized that my voice had been forever changed by the tragedy of my sister’s death.  It was a feeling of *rightness*, that I was doing the right thing with my life. Tragedy has a way of stripping away everything that is unimportant and leaving you as your purest self – if you let it.

What advice would you give to a queer woman thinking about starting a band or learning an instrument?

Advice that I’d give specifically to a queer woman, as opposed to anyone else?  I would say: you have a unique opportunity, as someone who already does not fit into what society-at-large expects and wants from you, so use the bravery and stamina and fuck-you-ness that you’ve had to learn all your life and apply that to music.  You don’t need to play acoustic guitar and sing like Ani.  (Though of course you can, if that’s what gets your juices juicing.) You can play any instrument you want, in any genre, and write songs about anything you want.

For more info on Johnny Blazes, check out:

Johnny Blazes