As KEXP celebrates International Women's Day by playing female-identifying and non-binary artist throughout the day, we also wanted to shed the light on some of the folx behind the scenes as well. We asked women in the Pacific Northwest music industry to shed light on their experiences navigating a field that has been male-dominated in the past and where they see it going in the future. From artist management and publicity to magazine editors and rock camp organizers, these industry professionals give us a glimpse of what they've encountered in their respective fields and in the industry as a whole.
Since 2008, Rain City Rock Camp has provided a safe space for womxn, girls (cis and trans), and gender non-conforming individuals to learn how to write, compose, and perform music, under the guidance of local musicians to mentor the way. As of 2020, they serve 400 future musicians, helping to build self-esteem and encourage self-expression. (Throughout the day, KEXP is featuring in-studio sessions with some of these up-and-coming stars: youth bands What’s Up and Happy Camper House Band, and the Ladies Rock Camp band Bess & Amber.)`
At the helm is co-founder and Executive Director Natalie Walker, whose infectious enthusiasm for her work is inspiring. We chatted with Walker about the "gender" of instruments, the shifts in the Seattle music scene, and the most rewarding part about her job at Rain City Rock Camp. — Janice Headley
KEXP: You've worked as a musician and gender-equality advocate for your entire career. Did you always know this would be your path? As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Natalie Walker: As a kid, I wanted to be in a rock band, but it didn't really happen that way for me. I started with trumpet and then found my way, eventually, to electric bass, which was much more conducive to playing in bands. Everyone needs a bassist, so I highly recommend it. [ laughs ]
And then how did that evolve into working with non-profits and working as a gender equity advocate?
Well, my experience with music education also had a lot of barriers as it came to my gender and even from my first instrument choice picking trumpet. As a young person, I really wanted to choose whatever instrument I wanted based on what I wanted to play, and to find that there were these other expectations being placed on me that I somehow had to make a different choice based on my gender, it was just incomprehensible to me. So I experienced a lot of those kind-of setbacks along the way, but still just pushed forward and and made choices to continue playing and to continue sharing my opinions about what you should be able to do, whatever you want, no matter what. So, that was really kind of my calling from a young age and then joining a band in my early twenties, I was playing in a band that was all-women and continue to play in bands that are largely all-women. And it's not necessarily on purpose, but those are definitely the circles that I run in. And I just found that there were so many times that we were limited in what we could do because of our gender or it was just commented on, like expected that we somehow existed in a certain genre because of gender. And that just didn't make any sense to me.
So, I went to the Portland Ladies Rock Camp, where I first experienced the phenomenon that is the "rock camp movement." And I was in a space where people were being uplifted because they were being brave, they were sharing their voice, sharing their music. It didn't matter what it sounded like or what kind of experience they'd had on their instruments before. What was being cheered for and really encouraged was just the fact that people were being brave. And I was just so moved by that. I wanted to get more involved and figure out how we could have a program like that here in Seattle. So it really was this perfect marriage of my ideals and values and what I was also experiencing on a personal and professional level as a musician.
In the past decade since starting Rain City Rock Camp and since going out in the Seattle music world as a woman, do you feel like you've seen a shift in the way that women or gender non-conforming individuals are being treated?
I have seen a shift, and I think part of that has to do with the creation of intentional spaces and safe spaces for women and non-binary folks in the music industry in particular, just people having intentional community, creating bills that are inclusive, or they're excluding people who are racist or homophobic or misogynist. And I didn't really see that happening in the early 2000s. And there really has been a strong movement towards that kind of community activism. There was a lot more tokenizing around gender as far as putting together bills that were just based around gender. And now I see that there's just so much community, it doesn't feel tokenizing anymore. And I think that's a really positive shift. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done. There is still a lot of bias — gender bias, racial bias — when it comes to the music industry and just the local scene. So, we just need to be constantly aware and doing better.
What's the most rewarding part of your job at Rain City Rock Camp?
It is so rewarding to work for a cause that is providing hope. I feel so lucky that I am surrounded by young people who are working to make the world a better place. It is a pretty dismal world right now, just the messages that we are receiving that, you know, viral outbreaks and just the political circumstances. And to be in an environment where hope exists is just so encouraging. The fact that there is community support and personal and social change happening with this powerful medium of music. It is so rewarding for me to be surrounded by that and to be inspired by this creativity that is without any inhibition. It's just absolutely celebrated and authentic. And that's a world that I want to be a part of. And I'm going to spend all my time and energy to make that happen. That's what Rock Camp is.
What song do you think would be the best anthem for International Women's Day?
That is a very hard question because we at Rain City Rock Camp have so many awesome playlists that we play at camp that are incredible anthems for every nuanced aspect of International Women's Day or every day in the life of a person whose gender identity is often marginalized. But I'm thinking about this year's International Women's Day. I think "Queens" by the Seattle band Hotels is right in line with what we're talking about. So, the vocalist is local musician Adra Boo, who is also the latest Director at Rain City Rock Camp. And yeah, the lyrics have this message that I think is just right in line with what International Women's Day means, which is celebrating your own queen level of awesomeness and calling others in instead of calling them out, but calling them into your table and asking them to do the work themselves to join you at that level. And so I just think that's so cool. And I think it's there's also this message of self and community empowerment, which is what we're all about.
SassyBlack is a singer/songwriter/producer/engineer/actor and teacher. After graduating with Cornish College of the Arts, she was quickly signed to Sub Pop as a part of the groundbreaking hip-hop duo THEESatisfaction. She released two records with the project before venturing into a prolific solo career. On top of this, she currently teaches songwriting classes at Hugo House, and has appeared acting in shows like Broad City and VINYL. — Emily Fox
KEXP: Do you feel like you have faced gender discrimination in music?
SassyBlack: One hundred percent.
And do you have like examples of like, "man, this one time..."?
I mean, just my whole artistry right now as a solo performer, a solo electronic soul singer is very crazy and complicated. There's a lot of men and male-identifying folks that do the same thing, do something that I would even say is less because I, like, will trigger beats on stage live. I tell jokes, I sing, I rap, and I try to comfort people. Also, put them in check. So, I do like ten different things while performing, as well as produce my own music. And sometimes I'll create my own visuals. People who hear the music and go, "I don't get it. I don't get it." But there's stuff that's far more experimental. I don't have anything against any of these folks, but it's been harder for me to get gigs. I mean, naturally, as a black queer woman, I have to work like 10 times harder to be heard even in this space where I'm doing something that is revolutionary.
Do you feel like since you've been in the music industry, that anything has changed when it comes to like gender or even just racial equity and parity?
I think it's more of a conversation and it's less taboo to have that conversation. I think that people are like, "Oh yeah, totally, we're doing this and we're taking these steps to do these things." And I don't think that people are really incorporating into their lives as much as they should just yet. I think it's still very surface. So folks are like, yeah, we're taking these steps, but they're just taking steps there. They're not combining it into their life to fix their focus, to fix their mindset about it. It's definitely a possibility to remap your mind, to understand the nuances, the new things that are going on in the world, and the things that have been going on. The issues that have been going on in terms of inequities. But you have to really practice it so it's a part of your body, it's a part of your mindset. So you're not like, "Oh yeah, well, right now we're thinking it's this time we should do this thing." It's like, no, this is a constant and this is a constant effort that we're making because we know that there needs to be a change.
What advice would you have for people that are entering the music industry or entering this field?
Remember your passion. Practice. I've been talking to a couple people about it and people don't practice. I think that's like bizarre because I studied music, I went to school for music. I've been studying music in an academic sense since I was like 12. Reading liners and then like trying to read books and studying, being in choirs and study as much as possible to get to where I am. I think a lot of people make music on the fly and they're just like, "Yeah, I just do it." And it's just like another action. And I think practice is necessary. Create a regimen, whatever it is. And I'm not even dictating that. But that's necessary because you need to be grounded. Because let's say you do blow up on whatever and you don't have that groundedness. You just float away and then all of sudden it's not there anymore. For me, I was signed when I was like 22, 23, which I realize I'm like, "dude, you had kind of like the dream thing going on, right? Like you're like living like the rockstar life." Graduate, three years later, no biggie and just get signed. I did that. But I wasn't really grounded. I just kind of flowed in through the process thinking that one day something would sustain me and like pull me back and... no. I mean, everything had to kind of blew up in my face for me to even kind of get regrounded. And I'm grateful for that.
So I think creating a regimen is really important so that you can remember what you love about it. And then don't be afraid of grants, applications. Don't be afraid of rejection because there's learning in it. Even if you don't get any of the grants, you're a better writer now, which is going to be good for your lyricism, which is gonna be good for your bio, which is gonna be good for your interviews. It all pays off in other places. So don't be afraid to step it up. Go to that open mic and suck. That's been another conversation I've been having in my circle about sucking. Be wack. But then also be open to the criticism of being wack, be open to the feeling of being wack and like kind of hate being wack so much that you go practice again.
And then rest. It is not about like this crazy nonstop grind. You have to make sure you sleep. You have to make sure you know what you can and can't eat. You have to know what feeds you to move forward. Think about your circles to people you keep around. Are they blowing your head up? Are they tearing you down? Are they keeping you balanced? So I think those are some of the things.
Read contracts. People do not read contracts. You keep seeing these stories, especially right now in the news. I keep seeing like "I couldn't get out of my contract. Oh, I can't get these songs." Yeah, because someone else produced and wrote them for you. And whatever contract you signed said that you don't technically own them because you didn't really do anything. It's hip hop on the track and sing it, which is fine, but read so that you know what's going on. Don't be so quick to sign it or don't be like "ugh, 25 pages. Never mind. I'll just give to the back. Where's the money part? Where's the part they highlighted? I'm just gonna go to the highlighted parts." No, read that thing. Absorb it. Because it's only going strengthen you. Take two months with that contract. If the label doesn't want you after two months, then that's not your vibe anyway. You need somebody who's willing to wait for six months for you to learn how to read it, find a lawyer, take it to a couple [of] people. That immediacy is false.
Publicity, management, booking, creative consulting, podcasting — you name it, Mira Kraft does it. Bubbling over with creative energy, the entrepreneur has been forging her own path in the music industry since 2012 when she was running open mics. Since then, she’s worked hard enough to be able to quit her corporate job and live off what was initially supposed to just be a hobby. With an impressive roster of current and prior clients, including Scarlet Parke, whom she manages and runs the networking service Parke Ave with, soul singer Whitney Mongé, and indie pop artist Alina Ly, Kraft is working tirelessly to uplift the voices of artists of color, especially women.
KEXP spoke with Kraft about the hurdles women of color in the industry face, the differences between the UK and the States, and the importance of support and community. — Jasmine Albertson
KEXP: Do you think that the music industry is a male-dominated field?
Mira Kraft: I think that the spotlight in the music industry is male-dominated. I think one great thing in doing this work is really seeing all of the badass powerhouse women that are around doing the same stuff that might not be getting the same highlights. So that's interesting that you ask that because I think the ratios are probably very similar, but the stories being told are much more highlighting great male creatives as opposed to women of color especially.
Have you personally faced gender discrimination in the industry?
Totally. One hundred percent. Yeah. One story that comes to mind is when a higher-profile person outside of Seattle was in town and I was showing them around. I showed them a great night, got them connected with people, we did a bunch of great stuff in the city. At the end of the night, they were a little too aggressive and very much so were like, "Oh, you're a chick. You're gonna want to, you know..." Basically, they thought they were amazing and they thought I would think that, too. It was a big moment for me of learning how to be forward and direct of saying that that's not okay but in a professional way, where I still needed to...Like as a woman, you go through the battle of, "If I speak up for myself, I might be a bitch or if I don't know that I'm, for lack of a better word, a *little* bitch." So it was really a moment where I had to, in a split second, decide how am I going to react to this? Because I have every right to say that how they're being too forward is not okay but there's so many things as a woman in this industry you have to deal with where you'll be written off really fast in speaking up for yourself or in not fitting the mold of what they want you to be as a woman in the industry. I think there's a lot of time being behind the scenes where I'll take it very professional. But there's times maybe where they like that but they also want you to cater to other needs that they want. There's unspoken expectations with experiences in the industry that I found.
Were there any women who helped you carve your way through or navigate those complicated situations?
Definitely. I think just being around other creative women that we just share our stories and I get to hear how they might have maneuvered a situation like that. Definitely just being comrades for one another and being able to kind of uplift each other. It's not always just 100 percent on, I think sometimes if someone else is going through something, they might be able to uplift you in their struggle and vise versa. So definitely have some peers. I have a good, good friend of mine, Nikkita Oliver, and she's definitely someone who I look up to so much and really just see how she pushes through the circumstances that I can't even voice. Seeing really, really strong women around me do really amazing things is a constant inspiration to me.
Have you seen changes over your time in the music industry that have gone towards, you know, accepting women or making things easier for women?
Yeah. I think that there's times where the talent speaks for itself, as it should. And especially female MCs that I work with, seeing what they have to deal with in the industry as far as how they have to jump over so many hurdles to prove that their verse is worth hearing. Versus so many verses by men that are a waste of my brain space. [laughs] It's been really great to see when it might be much more earned and have taken a lot longer, but I am seeing a change where there's a shift of people saying, "Hey, we want to talk about the fact that there's an imbalance here." So it's nice to see that that conversation is starting on a larger platform. It's great to see you guys doing this article and seeing more stuff like that, because I think in the community we're all talking about it with one another but I don't think it's gone the full next step to other platforms that could be really starting a dialogue.
What advice do you have for a woman of color, who wants to get into this field?
One, always congruently feel free to get support and acknowledge when you're dealing with a lot. I think that there's a constant expectation that you can't break and you can't have moments where you're just completely stressed out about daily feelings of what it's like to be dealing with systemic racism and sexism. So I think reach out to your resources and also remember that what you're doing is speaking for itself. Having a really powerful art form speaks for itself and sometimes there's moments where you prove someone wrong anyway. And to just remember that there is a majority of people behind you who are completely rooting and trying to start a dialog to eliminate these barriers.
What projects are you working on that you're super excited about right now?
Getting ready to go to SXSW at the end of this month, we're going with Parke Ave. I manage Scarlett Parke and she founded Parke Ave so we're going down there to kind of bring the Seattle music scene to SXSW. Also working on some stuff for International Women's Day with artists over in the U.K. So just putting together some content that'll be coming out in a few days. And we are just getting ready for summer. There's going to be some exciting concert series and stuff going on. Very excited for that.
We knew we wanted to spotlight Fabi Reyna for International Women's Day. In her early 20's, she founded the magazine She Shreds, an inspirational publication dedicated to women guitarists and bassists. Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney was the very first "cover girl", leading the way for issues featuring Kim Gordon, Satomi Matsuzaki of Deerhoof, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Juana Molina, and features on "The Ins and Outs: Getting to Know Your Amp", "50 Influential Guitarists of the '90s", and "Gonna Be An Engineer: Breaking Barriers in Music Production & Technology."
And then, between the time we scheduled this interview and the time we conducted it, Fabi Reyna made a huge announcement: after 19 issues and eight years, She Shreds Magazine was ending its run, and in its place, She Shreds Media was taking the stage. We talked to Reyna about the future of She Shreds Media (but stay tuned, a bigger announcement will be made on their social media very soon), the shifts she's seen in the guitar world for women and gender non-conforming musicians, and what International Women's Day means to her. — JH
KEXP: It seems like a lot of local arts newspapers and print magazines are folding. How do you think that ultimately impacts musicians and the music community?
Fabi Reyna: Well, I think first and foremost, the focus here is to distribute perspective. And I think that if it was the only way to do that, to distribute news that we relate to, then we would need to fight for that medium, obviously. But it's not. And I think there's so many different ways to digest media. I feel like print is just really becoming an art form, you know? And I think that's why we stayed with it for so long, because we loved the art form and we loved the experience of holding something physical, and and the documentation, the historical aspect of it. And so I think in a way, that is the biggest impact that it'll have on musicians and in our music history and the music industry. We'll have 20 issues of documentation of who we are and how we speak and what we look like. And once that's gone, then it's... yeah. In 20 years, if the internet doesn't exist, then all we'll have is up until 2020 for our history, for our story. So we have to figure out other ways of saving that history and making sure that we're preserving it.
I love print because then it's like, people can hold onto those back issues, they can give them to friends 10, 20 years from now. And so it lives on. It has its own life.
Yeah, absolutely. I think for me, that's the biggest impact. And that's the biggest thing that's hard for me to let go of, because historically there has been such little representation for women in print media, and in media in general, that letting go of that, of knowing that it's gonna be documented and it's going to continue to exist, you know, that's the part that hurts the most. But other than that, I'm really, really excited. I feel like the vision is just way, way bigger now. We have a lot more room to grow.
I know the announcement is fresh, but can you talk about the ways that She Shreds Media is going to be expanding? Like, I read your Oregon Live interview last year where you talked about video tutorials, podcasts, and you've talked about opening schools in Mexico and South America. How or where can we find She Shreds next?
My goal is to really just be continuously creating tangible change, you know? And so, what I plan to do is to look at those places where it's missing and think, what can I do within the space to help that? We have relationships with really amazing guitar companies, and we've been having these relationships for years now. And if I can step into places like Mexico, South America, and anywhere that needs it and be able to provide instruments and be able to provide lessons, that's one way of doing that. But yeah, another way is to just evolve the ways in which we experience culture — and I'm specifically talking about the culture that exists for guitar players like myself. I don't feel like that has really been shaped yet outside of, let's say, Instagram.
So for me, it's really about continuing to create spaces physically in which guitar players like myself — who maybe learn differently and maybe have different values and visions for them, as opposed to what typical guitar culture sort of provides -- to provide those spaces in more ways than just Instagram and digital.
Since you founded She Shreds, have you seen a shift in the guitar world in the way that women or gender non-conforming individuals are being treated? Like at shows, either as a fan or as a performer?
Yeah, absolutely. I think the biggest difference that I've seen is just the sense of value and power that women in non-binary, LGBTQ, and women of color feel today, specifically with us as guitarists, kind of really owning the way that they want to approach music, the way that they that they learn, and vocalizing what they need. And I think that that confidence is just such a driving force in the change, because if if we can feel confident in who we are and what we need and and what our community looks like, then people are sort of gonna be forced to listen. They no longer have power over us.
I guess, let me talk about venues, first and foremost. That is definitely a place that needs help. You know, I think that the whole venue structure hasn't been necessarily reviewed in a long time. So that's another thing that I'm talking about — it's like media is one thing, calling it out is one thing, and then going into those spaces and offering solutions is another. So I think that, yeah, there's definitely a shift as far as people are willing to listen and people are willing to accept help, but, you know, there's still a long way to go as far as actually placing those kind of new rules or new guidelines, putting those into place.
What does International Women's Day mean to you?
I have this bittersweet relationship with these types of holidays, because I think that, on the one hand, it's so great to be bringing this attention and awareness to women's history. And on the other hand, I think that it can be an excuse for someone to say, "OK, I did my part this year," or you know, "I sort of talked about it, I participated in it." And that's that.
So, I feel like International Women's Day to me is a great starting point. It's a great time and a great day to pledge that you're going to — whether it's through research, whether it's through monetary support, whether it's the community engagement — you're going to pledge to becoming a part of whatever it means to push these agendas forward. So, I guess that's sort of my relationship with it. And as far as She Shreds, I kind of always say every year that we live International Women's Day every single day. For us and for our communities, it's a lifestyle. It's a way of life. It's just so much more than a day or a month.
What song do you think would be the best anthem for International Women's Day?
Dang, that's a really hard one. The song that started playing immediately when you said that was Violeta Parra's "Gracias a la vida." She's a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Chile. That's the song that came to mind. It's about saying "thanks" to life. And I feel like maybe because women are the ones that bring life into the world, that's maybe why that song came up.
Rachel Flotard is a musician and artist manager. She toured the country with her band, Visqueen, for a decade before transitioning to artist management. She now works for Red Light Management and manages Neko Case (whom she also tours with and sings backup vocals for) and Josiah Johnson, formerly of Head and the Heart. — EF
KEXP: Do you believe that that the music industry is a male-dominated industry?
Rachel Flotard: You know, I do in a sense, but I also don't walk around thinking about that because I would probably not get a whole lot done. But sure, if I were to take a step back, possibly. But I work with some incredibly smart and powerful, capable women in my field. From the artist to the tour manager to the engineers, there's a lot of women to kind of recognize yourself in. Has music been dominated business-wise by men? Sure.
But you're seeing more and more women, it seems?
I am. And it's becoming more and more frequent that I am talking to another woman on the end of my business call. I mean, my team for the majority is made of women. Ali Hedrick, who is Neko's booking agent at the last 20 years, is a fantastic businesswoman. There's ANTI- Records, who is our record label in Los Angeles. I mean, some incredible females on our team.
How do you feel like the music industry has changed since when you first got in it, when it comes to just seeing more women seem more female representation in the music industry?
I think it's changed. I think I have changed probably along with it and how I present myself or how I hold myself or how... When I was even just first starting to figure out how to play an instrument, there's an intimidation of walking into a music shop and putting a guitar on your body. There's intimidation as a young woman walking into a record store when record stores were a thing. So, yeah, I think that the changes are for the better. But it's still this, you know, the women before me that have had many more challenges. And I get to kind of reap the benefits of what those women have had to undertake. I feel like I'm definitely in a unique position where I can ride the line between musician and also jump over to the business side and toggle between the two. I still get to put on my musician hat and that is joyful and it's nice when I'm managing an event, but then I closed my computer and walk out and participate in the music, and it's always kind of a little shocker for some. But I kind of like it.
Do you have a moment or a memory or just feel like in general you ever faced discrimination in the music industry for being a woman, like earlier on or at any point?
Yes, but I also probably played into it because whether you're aware of being sexualized or not or, you know, will I book this show if I'm nicer to this... It's like this weird transaction that I look at it now as like a 20 year old kid trying to book a show and it's very evident that a lot of the people that were maybe in a position of power at a local venue were kind of gross. So seeing that now as a almost 48 year old woman, it's pretty obvious when I look back at it. Now it's a little different.
What we're important resources for you in this industry? How did fellow women help you?
Oh, well Neko is a huge example of another woman recognizing the talents of another and lifting them up. She brought my band on tour with her during the 'The Tigers Have Spoken' album and started to bring me up on stage during her set at every night to sing on "Train from Kansas City." And she'd have to do any of that. I've seen her do it for 20 years. She will lift up the woman next to her or someone that she admires and put the focus on them and in turn that really makes those women do the same. I used to hear a lot very early on about 'well, lots of female-fronted bands don't want other female-fronted bands on the bill, it somehow detracts.' That couldn't be any further from what we go after now as women who are performing but also in charge of our own businesses. Just learning from other women performers and just experiencing a camaraderie that when you find another woman doing what you're doing and you can look into that other person's eyes and kind of give the nod. Paying it forward with the next little lady coming up is important.
What are your hopes for the music industry as a whole?
Oh, man. To be a bit more equitable between not only women, women of color, just to be more of an even playing field. I know there's no shortage of people raising their voices to make sure that others are heard. And I hope that just becomes more second nature, that we're listening to many more women in music on all sides of it.
And how do you think we get there?
By listening to them. By saving our judgments for ourselves and opening doors and listening. Honestly. Stop interrupting and start listening.
To many, Sub Pop seems like the dream place to work for anyone starving to be in the music industry. After talking to Bekah Zietz Flynn, that actually might be true. Starting as an intern in the radio department at the storied Seattle label back in 2004, Flynn found herself trying on a number of different music industry hats — hawking records at Easy Street, booking shows at Chop Suey, label management at Suicide Squeeze — before circling back to Sub Pop. Her head must get very cold because she’s still donning many hats: A&R, Publicity, International Promotions and, now, mom.
We speak to Flynn, currently on maternity leave, 5 weeks after the birth of her daughter, Esther, about the badass women running the music industry, the jobs she’d like women to have, and the importance of asking questions. — JA
KEXP: Would you say from your experience that the music industry is male-dominated?
Bekah Zietz Flynn: Yeah. [laughs] I mean, I don't know, it's hard. I feel like it's hard because I work at a company like Sub Pop where it feels... like, half of the people that work at Sub Pop are female. The CEO of Sub Pop now is female. So it definitely feels like there's... and I've always been surrounded by super strong, awesome women. So to me, it is a very male-dominated field but because I know so many awesome badass ladies that work in music, sometimes it's hard to see it like that, because I just surround myself around the people that I want to surround myself around.
But I think that as I've gotten older... I've always had a sense of humor and been super crass and I think as I've gotten older, I've come to realize that maybe a lot of that was rooted in trying to be like one of the boys. And the older I get, the more I realize you don't need to...you know, it's okay to not say things that I've said. But also part of that is also just me, too. So it's hard to know. It's hard to know if I would say things differently now in 2020, as I would in maybe 2000.
Who are some of the women specifically that have helped you get where you are?
Susan Bush, who is the head of A&R at Domino Records and used to work in the radio department of Sub Pop, I always cite her as the first person to really kind of give me my start in music. She was the person who I worked under in the radio department at Sub Pop and really was supportive. At the time, Sub Pop wasn't ready to expand the radio department but she really tried to get me hired full time and really fought for me to be hired to help her because she needed the assistance. So, she is a really important person to my start in the music industry.
Obviously, I work at a company that, like I said, is run by a woman and I think that Megan Jasper is one of those people that is super important to the Seattle music community, but also just super important to just the overall music community in general. And I really admire her. I really feel lucky to work with these awesome, really strong women at Sub Pop. And also in general.
Hannah Carlen, who I guess she's the marketing director now of Secretly Group, has been a really awesome and inspiring woman that I've been friends with for a long time. I feel lucky that I am very close and still get to kind of not only work with her, when it comes to artists touring together or what have you, but also to have her as a friend and an ally. I mean, there's tons of more people I'm sure I could cite, but those are some powerful people that I feel really lucky to know.
Over the years, what have you seen change within the industry as far as whether there more females getting involved, especially behind the scenes, running labels, etc?
I don't know. I mean, it's hard to know because I've only been doing music for how long I've been doing music. but I definitely feel like there are more women that are kind of maybe present. Like more women groups that I know of, for women who work in music, both in Seattle or just like Facebook groups in general. Just people who want to connect because they have a shared common love and interest. I think that it's just the industry has kind of expanded and grown. I think that there's obviously more bands and more labels and there's obviously more female-fronted bands, which is amazing and awesome. Or just even just bands that have more women in them.
I have some awesome badass ladies that are working on the road, doing sound and merch and all different sort of things, tour managing, and I think that that is maybe an underrepresented field. I think that it would be awesome and I hope to see more female sound engineers and people that are producing records and what have you. I think that's one of the things that I wish that there were more women that did that, at this point. But I think that as people grow up and kind of see that that's an option and follow suit, I think that those are things that people will expand as well.
There are so many different things you can do in music and I think that really it's just getting a start and figuring out what you want to do. And I think for a lot of women, maybe they didn't know that, "Oh, I can produce records." That's one of the things that when I first started working in music, I didn't really even think about like, "Oh, you can get paid to talk about music all day long?" I didn't even think about that as a job, you know what I mean? And I think that that's one of the things that hopefully through interviews like this or just through places that are awesome, like the Vera Project or other more youth-oriented organizations, that people can kind of see that there's a plethora and a different spectrum of jobs that people can have.
Absolutely. So right now you're on maternity leave. I know for some women that can be really scary to be taking time off from your career and worrying about what's going to happen while you're gone. I'm wondering if you had any concerns or thoughts or anxieties about that or if you're just excited about the opportunity to take some time off and be a mom.
Yeah. I mean, you know what? I have never taken a break from work. And I've got to be honest with you, I'm still probably not taking a break as much as my coworkers probably want me to. [laughs] They're probably telling me like, "Hey, please don't email!" But I think, obviously, my job is in good hands with my temp that we have hired to help out while I'm gone. And I feel very lucky because I work at a company where I know that I'm going to come back and be supported. You know, I'm coming back and I know I can have a job. I think that there will be a change in how...obviously like I used to go to all the shows for every single band, but that's not going to happen probably as much as it did before, especially as she's getting older. I think that right now, since she's a baby, it's gonna be harder for me to be able to go to every single show because she is kind of very dependent on me and I'm okay with that.
But I think that I was really freaked out at first and now I'm kind of like zoned out, especially because, like I said, I've had so many of our bands, sent me texts and presents. One of our bands, Metz, I'm gonna shout out to Metz, even though there are three dudes, they're the best three dudes ever! They are going to stop by and visit when they're coming through town. So that to me, I think real emboldens why I do my job and why it's important to me to be a part of this music community and have these relationships that I have. I feel lucky that not only do I get to have a working relationship with these people, but I've been to their weddings, I've bought them baby gifts when they've had kids. It really is a friendship that I really cherish and feel like that I'm a part of it.
What advice do you have to a girl that's just starting out right now in the music industry?
You can do whatever you want to do. And I think that no matter what, one thing I always tell our interns is that one of the most powerful things that we have is the power of asking questions. And I think to not be afraid to. Like there's no dumb question. So if someone's really interested in publicity, they're like, "What is press?" And I'm like, "That's a great question." And I can walk them through what that means and how it's changing and evolving. I think really the only dumb questions are not asking questions and I think that that's something that's so subtle that people don't really talk about. But I believe that if you want something bad enough, you'll find a way to make it happen. I truly, truly believe that. And I really do think that there is power in knowledge and we kind of don't take advantage of that a lot, you know?
So I think that really for people who are looking to get started in music, like I have high school kids or people in college or whoever, just email me sometimes just to be like, "Hey, I'm really interested in maybe working in music. Can you take some time to tell me what you do." And I will forever and always take time to tell them about my job, because I think that educational interviews or whatever you want to call them are one of the most important things that you can do. Because like I said, there's so many different roles you can take. You can be a DJ on a radio station and you can write for a blog or you can write for a newspaper. You can be a music supervisor, you could be a show promoter, you can be a sound engineer. There are so many things you can do and I think that figuring out what you want to do is maybe one of the most difficult things.
I always say it's like making a lesson of figuring out what you don't want to do and then finding that thing that you truly love. Like, I know that I really hate booking shows. That's not something that brings me joy, it stresses me out. I'm not a good show booker. So I'm gonna be like, "Cool. I tried that out. Gonna let that stay with someone else." What I like to do is connect people. And I think that doing that through publicity is one of the most instantaneous connections, because I'm connecting artists with a press outlet or a radio station or whatever and it is immediate. That is happening whenever that piece runs. And that to me brings me joy. And so that is why I do what I do.
What's you're favorite female empowerment song?
That's a really hard one because there are so many but I'm going to say that today when I was hanging out with my daughter — shout out to Esther — we were just listening to Betty Davis' "Nasty Gal." I actually just watched a documentary on her and she's really lived a super interesting life, especially because she just kind of disappeared from the spotlight. I think that that song is really awesome. There's obviously a ton of other artists that I love, but I feel like "Nasty Gal" is probably high up on my jams.
KEXP's Cheryl Waters spoke with the Chicago artist about the tracks on her latest album, which were inspired by artists of color like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Octavia Butler.