Death to all men! Men suck! Men are trash!
Okay, I’m kidding. But honestly, I’ve gotten those remarks when speaking to other women in the twenty-something Toronto independent music scene. In my life, I’ve been in four musical groups, three bands. In high school: an ambient metal band. When I was 18: a folk duo that never got past open mics. 19 years old? A half-female punk band that formed, played shows, and disbanded all within a month. And now that I’m twenty I’ve stopped joining other people’s groups, and with friends decided to start my own kickass all girl band. But that comes later, firstly I’ll give you a history of why being surrounded by women is important to me on this International Women’s Day. And to accompany this, a playlist inspired by my band that highlights some femme-fronted, all female, and generally nice bands that fit our vibe.
In my first band, an ambient metal group, I was the only woman and only queer person. This band was considered mildly innovative by those we played gigs with for we not only “had a girl”, we also had (you guessed it!) a single (one!) person of colour. This is apparently innovative? I don’t know. Anyway, I played bass, and despite having composed/written most of the material, I wasn’t vocal because female-lead metal bands are somehow viewed as a different genre than the male-lead equivalents. My bandmates were sympathetic, for they knew I wanted to do vocals, and apologized before saying “don’t worry you can still do backup”. I settled and we auditioned lead singers and eventually settled on just letting the lead guitarist sing, even though he couldn’t.
Now I don’t blame by bandmates for the bias in the Toronto metal scene when I was 15, but I am still sorta unsettled by the fact that I was so quick to back down when they denied me. I didn’t question my friends because they weren’t actively working against me, but looking at it now, they weren’t doing anything to help. I wasn’t confident in my musical abilities and back then the only band I had heard with a female lead that was remotely hardcore was Flyleaf and all I knew was that I didn’t want our band to fall under the same category as them. My band didn’t want to do a Gwen Stefani/No Doubt where everybody only knows the lead, and I, as a novice with a bunch of intermediate bandmates felt lucky to be in the band at all. Was I in the band because I was a girl? Maybe. Did people come to the shows just to hit on me, a fifteen year old girl? I sure as hell hope not, but I was bought far too many a drink for it to be considered a nice gesture. Looking back, although I wasn’t playing what I wanted, or doing what I wanted, I got to play some great venues at such a young age that I couldn’t even dream of playing now. My bandmates were my friends and they did their best to make me feel like one of the guys, and at the time I felt like blending into a crowd of men was all I could ask for, now not so much.
My second group isn’t much to speak about, it was a pretty damn ideal dynamic despite the fact that we sucked. My friend Alyssa had just broken up with her girlfriend/vocalist (that’s right! an all gay band!), and was in the market for somebody to belt her gay love songs at the local beanery and happened to find me sitting outside a Starbucks with my guitar eating a muffin. Now now, don’t get excited man, we didn’t fall in love and Fleetwood Mac it, we just started playing as friends. We were supportive of each other and sympathetic. We were called “Just Earp”, closed our shows with 4 Non-Blondes – What’s Up? and didn’t amount to much. We ended up breaking up the band once I moved out of my parent’s suburb and couldn’t make it back to practice all the time.
Punk rock man, PUNK ROCK! TO,ON kicked ass and gained fans and momentum FAST. We formed through a Facebook page called Punk Rock Lottery, and within two practices had a playable set. Two girls, two guys, one of each a professional solo artist. Musically we all meshed well and Caroline was fantastic at song writing. She was queer, fierce, and good at any instrument she picked up. If she hadn’t moved to Spain she’d probably be the lead in my current band, but alas, a masters degree calls the cool queer Cowboy Caro to the far-far away land where men wave red things at angry overgrown man-cows. Tom, the guitarist, quickly grew to be one of my closest friends, and now fills in for my lead guitarist when she’s not available. Tom is great and supportive and treats all the women in his life as people, not as women. He jams with my all girl band as a group of musicians, not as a group of women. Tom is not, and never will be a problematic person (kind, caring, and considerate!). But Cristian was.
Cristian was a 30 year old man who had recently immigrated from Mexico where he made a living as a professional drummer. For some reason, he refused to play drums in the band, and instead insisted that I do it. Looking back I realize it’s probably because he was learning bass and wanted to use this band for trial and error. Now understand this, I had never played drums for anything other than Pomp and Circumstance in high school orchestra, and was an utter wreck. Cristian didn’t know how to play bass, and I didn’t know how to play drums but he still insisted on telling me how to use my own instrument whenever I happened to grab my bass off him to show him a lick. “No, that’s not how you hold it,” he said. “You don’t get how the pickups work,” he’d tell me. Not only did he do this, he’d constantly criticize me on drums. Negative feedback, not constructive; telling me I was bad, but not telling me how to improve.
Now it may have been that Cris was just a dick, but not only would he Criticize me as a musician, he would bad mouth me to the other members. This has nothing to do with his gender, shitty people are shitty people. But he never once said an encouraging word or told a member that they were appreciated. That’s why I decided to start an all girl band. Not because what the male half of the species has done, but what they haven’t had to do. Coming from a place where I was always silenced and pushed back (that shitty metal band), I’d see a female doing well for herself and trying hard and I’d yell encouragements. Tell others about the great work she was doing! Show off how somebody like me could have success in such a male-dominated industry. Women are never competition, they are allies, and somehow Cristian saw me as an opponent within his own band. He had tried devaluing me as a bassist, because he was a skilled musician and didn’t want to be shown up by somebody much younger and somebody less experienced in general, although better at bass. In Cristian’s career as a studio musician he was always trying to compete against others and prove he was a better drummer so he could get a better studio gig and play on that big track. In my world, the world of women, there is a certain camaraderie that comes from knowing no matter how good you are people will still view you as your gender, and then your skill. And no number of successful females you show me will take away my experience, or change my opinion.
Long story short, I started an all-female band because I was seeking support within my band. I wanted a safe learning environment where I didn’t feel uncomfortable messing up, or trying something out. The girl I started SNUG with, Jenny Yu, is also in a far more successful band than our current one. She has toured the U.S. of A and released more than one record that actually makes money on Bandcamp. Our guitarist Emily “Keylime Pie” Jacklin was in one of my favourite bands of all time Garbagio, and I had heard of her long before I heard her music, met her, or had the privilege of playing with her. And despite both of these women being far more successful and far more talented than me, I’m not scared to fuck up around them; I’m not afraid of being mediocre. I know they will see what I can be, not what I am, and give me advice and lift me up. Suddenly, I’m not “good for a girl”, I’m a decent musician who needs to practice more but will get there. They see potential, not competition. And frankly, I’m in love with a concept that must have been there all along among the boys I had played gigs with as a teenager. I’m no longer an outsider who happened to pass as “one of the guys”, I am myself.
All our lives women have been trained to work against each other and compete for the acceptance of men. We want to be pretty, or talented, and we want to be accepted and let into their clubs. We’re told that there are only so many spots for women in a men’s world, and even less for women of colour, queer women, disabled women, ESL women, and women that are not societally attractive. We try to mouse our ways in to find a home within the walls that men have built, try to blend in because we know we’ll be judged more harshly. Most men as individuals are not the problem, it’s just the walls are glass and they can’t see the structure that separates us just yet. There are women on the inside! We let women in! But one or two tokens that have clawed and fought to get there are not the majority. If the men do see these walls they don’t want to be the ones to throw the rock and shatter the glass because for that brief moment they stand out and are the outlier, they become one with women for a moment and feel what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. Men can hide the women within the walls, and smuggle them in. They can be their allies and friends and defend them against those who threaten to call them out but they can’t change the fact that the others exist; the ones that don’t want us here. The ones that catcall us at gigs. The ones that buy us beers not because we played well and deserve it, but because we’re women. The ones that say “pussy party” when you tell them you’re in an all girl band. The ones who are surprised when you tell them you play an instrument well enough to book a gig. The ones that say you’re “too pretty” for something. The ones that let you join a band you’re not yet good enough for just because you’re a woman and will make them look good. The ones I want to fight.
I started an all girl band because I’m selfish. I started an all girl band because I wanted to be appreciated. I started an all girl band because I want to sleep in the same room as my bandmates when we go on tour and I started an all girl band because I want to say “I love you”, “I value you”, “you’re amazing”, and “you’re beautiful” to my bandmates without them being worried if I’m trying to sleep with them. I started an all girl band because I want to be friends with my bandmates not enemies, and because I want to build each other up rather than tear each other apart. Not that all men do that, no! Not all men. But because I seek the brotherhood men have always felt, and that women have been denied. Sisterhood is a relatively new concept (there are a lot of women who still don’t understand) that has been hidden from us for centuries for we have been oppressed for centuries. Trained to fight for the right husband, and trained to prove that you’re “not like other girls”. I want to be “one of the guys” but because I am the guys, not because I have disguised myself. And I want to be in a band where I am a musician. JUST a musician.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.