Posts tagged ‘women guitar’

January 12, 2012

Interview: Marissa Paternoster!

photo by Rebecca Wilson aka Saucy Salad via flickr

Let’s face it.  A lot of the best indie bands today are… mellow.  Even some of my favorite acts, people like Will Oldham and Fleet Foxes, or the New Pornographers.  They have a  certain quality that could never be confused with the mind-blowing balls-to-the-wall sounds of the punk of the 70s.  For lack of a better word, they are folky.

Not so with the Screaming Females.  The Screaming Females are the kind of sexy, gritty, annoying punk rock guitar band that was prevalent in the late 70s and early 80s.  They are noisy, in-your-face, warbling, annoying, and just out-and-out rock and roll.

This is in no small part to the guitar work and vocals of Marissa Paternoster.  Paternoster has an incredibly diverse guitar style.  I listen to her dirty, crunchy, gritty style, and players like Neil Hagerty, Judah Bauer, Greg Ginn, Carrie Brownstein, and Tom Verlaine all come to mind within the course of an album.  But this isn’t to say she’s a flake or a copy-cat.  She has her own style, and it is incredible.

Paternoster performs as guitarist and lead vocalist of Screaming Females, along with drummer Jarrett Doughtery and bass-player King Mike.  She has an equally interesting side project named Noun.  Screaming Females have four studio albums, with another on it’s way.  And Paternoster has released two solo albums as Noun.   These call all be found on Don Giovanni Records.  She’s also an impressive visual artist, and has created album covers and t-shirts for Screaming Females.

Here’s what she had to say for Guitareste.

When did you begin playing and why?

I began playing guitar when I was 14.  My Dad played guitar a bit, so we had one lying around the house.  I was sitting in my bedroom drawing and listening to Nirvana (typical!), and my Dad walked in and said, “This song is really easy, do you want to learn how to play it on guitar?” I said sure, and consequently became addicted to learning how to play songs that I liked.  That’s how I learned how to play.

What was your first guitar, and how did you get it?

My first guitar was a Fender Musicmaster.  It’s my Father’s guitar.

What equipment do you prefer now?  Which guitar?  What amps or pedals?  Anything unique about strings or cables?  Why?

I play a G&L strat.  I’m not much a gear head, but I do like to  use my equipment in particular.  I just bought a 410 Kustom Hustler, but for most of my time in Screaming Females I played out of a dinky solid-state Hughes & Kettner Attax 40.  I still swear by it, it’s loud, it’s light, and I think it sounds good enough for a live show.  My main overdrive is by an NJ-based company called Earthbound Audio.  The pedals are made by a terrific fellow named Mark.  I use two of his pedals, one is called the Supercollider and the other is a fuzz called the Centurion.  They are fantastic pedals, they sound amazing and I have yet to have either of them crap out on me during a performance.  My cables are made by a lovely young man named Andrew in Philadelphia.  His company is called Cameltone Cables, perhaps an unfortunate name but the cables are terrific, I’ve had them for nearly two years and haven’t had a single problem.

 Has this changed over time?

For sure…until I discovered Mark and Earthbound Audio I went through a lot of different distortions.  I tried the built in overdrive on my Hughes & Kettner, plenty of Big Muffs, and I even used a Rat pedal for a long time…but the Earthbound pedals give me exactly the sort of sound I’d like to hear.

What is your songwriting process like?

Well…when Screaming Females writes songs, we get together in a basement and riff around a bit until something sounds right.  It sounds silly, I suppose, but a lot of the songs seem to come together organically.  Once we have some basic parts we’ll start discussing details, structure, yadda yadda.  We’re pretty flexible…if someone has an idea they’ve been knocking around for a while, sometimes they’ll bring it to practice to we can all weigh in on it.

What are you working on right now?

Screaming Females just finished our 5th album.  It has 14 songs on it, and I think it’s safe to say that we broke our backs working on the songs for well over a year.  I haven’t touched the guitar too much since then.  It’s good to take breaks from playing so I don’t obsess.  It also helps me dissolve bad playing habits.

Which artist or artists do you find inspiring?  (It doesn’t have to be a musician.)  Why? 

Gosh, I don’t know, there are just so many.  I was just about to go out to purchase a new biography on the great lady painter Alice Neel…so I guess I’ll name drop her!  I could go on and on, I’m a real sucker for hero worship.  Edith Piaf, Patti Smith, Exene Cervenka & John Doe, Frida Kahlo, Phillip Guston, Darby Crash, Courtney Love, Robert Crumb, Joan Crawford, Dusty Springfield, John Fahey…just to name a few.  Not to mention that so many of my contemporaries & friends are also artists that I would not hesitate to consider heroes, like the bands Shellshag, Hunchback, Double Dagger, Punch, Magrudergrind, P.S. Eliot, and Tenement…just to name a few of those too…

November 25, 2011

Interview: Jen Trani

photo courtesy of the artist

I first discovered Jen Trani while looking for videos about soloing and lead guitar on Youtube.  I was pleasantly surprised to find she had an entire series on soloing.  I also found a wonderful tutorial of hers for beginners on how to play Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car.  Jen has some of the best online tutorials I’ve seen online.  They’re concise, easy to follow, and fun to watch.  Enamored of the videos, I had to learn more about Jen.  I found her website, got to listen to some of her music, and instantly became a fan.  The stories and advice I gleaned from our interview are inspiring.  Check out what Jen had to say below.  And then you can hear some of Jen’s music here.

Your bio says you started playing guitar on your mom’s old acoustic.  Can you talk a little about that, and about why you decided to start playing?

I always had a love of music from the time my grandmother bought me my first record player…that’s right..i said record player.  man, i must have been 5 years old… i would listen to cyndi lauper ‘she’s so unusual’ for hours and just dance and sing.  melodies would go through my head non stop during the day but i had no way to express myself musically.  i tried a couple different instruments before the guitar found me.  i tried taking lessons with those first instruments but i couldn’t stay motivated.  i always knew my mom had her old college guitar but it did really interest me until i was 12 and me and my mom were watching a movie.  there was a quick scene of a guy sitting on the edge of the bed playing guitar.  the scene was small and pointless but something clicked in my head the and i though ‘i could do that’.  i asked my mom if she still had her guitar and if i could have it.  she said she did but it needed a bunch of work done to it…(it only need new strings but we didn’t know anything about the instrument at the time).  i insisted that she get it down from the attic but she said no.  then, to my surprise, for my 13th birthday she hid it under my bed with new strings and a newly decorated case (my initials in musical note stickers) and a video…that’s right VHS tape of how to play guitar.  she told me that since she really didn’t have to spend any money on it that it was up to me how much i wanted to practice.  she wasn’t going to force me to take lessons…i could do my own thing.  i watched the video and learned a little but it was C and G and D7….it was all too happy sounding to me so i stopped.  i couple months later i was bored, as teenagers are a lot and thought i would give it another shot.  i fast forwarded past the all the major chords and got to a new song called “scarborough fair”.  that was how i learned about dark, depressing minor chords and i have been hooked ever since. : )  just had my 17 year anniversary of playing.

What equipment do you prefer now?  Which guitar?  What amps, cables, pedals?  Why?  Has this changed over time?

Jimmy Vaughn Signature Strat

ESP ltd delux

Martin dc16-gte

ovation set up in nashville tuning

fender hot rod deluxe amp

Lots of pedals, boss trem, tuner, line 6 echo park, tube screamer, big muff, ernie ball volume, wah, micro amp, xotic ac plus, pedal power, akia head rush, line 6 m13

cables i have mainly monsters and george L’s

my taste in gear has changed a little but not much.  that set up will get me through any gig/studio session that i’m called for.  so while it’s not the most interesting to read about (since it’s all standard equipment) it has definitely paid for itself several times over.  i got lucky when i first started buying gear that i got some great advice from people that i really trusted.  i have only sold one guitar and maybe 3 pedals.  the stuff that i have now will stay with me.  but you know i’m always looking to add to it.  i’ll probably get a blues jr to take to smaller venues and i’ve been eyeing a fender jaguar for about  a year now.

Do you have any go-to techniques?

Honestly, this may sound totally cheesy, but my go-to technique is to play with confidence (or at least fake like i’m playing with confidence) hahahaha  when i second guess what i’m about to do it always comes across like i’m scared…because if i’m questioning myself that means i am.  i have to get myself into the mentality that every note is right and i can make anything work on the fly.  it doesn’t always sound as ‘pretty’ or ‘clean’ as i would like but i comes off a lot better then ‘pretty’ ‘clean’ notes with hesitation or no feeling.

What is your songwriting process like?

it’s a totally different experience each time.  sometimes a melody or riff comes to me (usually while i’m driving or in the shower….are i guess anywhere where i can’t get to my guitar or a recording device hahahaha)  i play off a lot of the other musicians/songwriters that i work with.  i mold myself to their writing style to try and make it as easy for them to get what they want out of me.

How and when did you decide to start teaching online?

about a year and a half ago a friend of mine saw an ad on craigslist for a female guitar instructor to do 10 videos.  i wanted to eat that month so i decided to take the gig…which is usually how i pick all my gigs hahahaha.  i went in did the 10 vids, the company ( liked what i did and a couple months after they were uploaded i got great numbers on youtube soooooo i just kept making more and more and more.

What projects do you currently have in the works?

right now i’m writing with several people.  eps for a couple new artists, a possible showcase at the sundance film festival…oh and abby ( and i have started on a concept album which we are hoping to debut as a theater show sometime in the middle of next year.  we are super excited about what we are creating.  it’s going to be very very different from what we have done in the past.  it’s too soon to say what direction it’s going to fully take but we have committed to getting it done.

Name one or two (or more!) artists (musicians, writers, visual artists) you find inspiring.  Why?

well my brightest diamond is one of my all time favorites.  what i like about her is that even if i don’t particularly care for something that she is doing, she always challenges me to think outside of the box harmonically and with her choice of instruments/arrangements.  right now i am crazy, crazy, crazy about the new florence and the machine album ‘ceremonials’.  that album has hit me in the right place at the right time.  it’s dark and uplifting, strong and vulnerable, driving and delicate.  and if i ever need to remember my roots as a songwriter and have a good cry i just keep it simple with a little patty griffin.  there is so much more but we haven’t got all day have we ; )

October 23, 2011

A Little Vaselines For Your Sunday Morning

Shhh!  It’s still very quiet this morning around here.  But you would still like to hear some music, no?  Do you listen to the Vaselines?  Yes?  Good for you.  If not, you should.  Why?  Well, for one, this is Frances McKee, the woman Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love named their daughter after.

My little student group has a performance today at a local bar.  We have to wait for the football game to be over before we play, though.  Stupid Bears.  Hopefully they win so that our crowd is happy and not irate.

October 19, 2011

St. Vincent Interview In Vancouver Sun

Ok, so I went on vacation during one of the worst two week periods possible in Chicago.  I managed to miss St. Vincent, Zola Jesus, and Wild Flag while I was gone.  But sometimes you just have to leave, you know?  Luckily for me, they are still all on tour in North America.  All three have released new albums.  And all three are doing interviews.  I haven’t been lucky enough to snag any of those interviews (yet!), but they are being published all the same.  There was an excellent one this week in the Vancouver Sun with St. Vincent.  Check it out.

May 24, 2011

Interview With Kristin Hersh


photo via flickr by nicihares

With her unique voice, her wonderful guitar playing, and her special ear for poetry, Kristin Hersh has been one of my favorite artists for some time now.  She’s a performer and a writer, a mom and a philosopher.  She’s a co-founder of, a website that allows fans to help artists fund and distribute their music. With everything on Kristin’s plate, I thought it was a long shot that she would be able to answer my questions, but it turns out she’s a hell of an interviewee too. I hope you enjoy reading Kristin’s answers as much as I did.

When did you begin playing and why?

My father taught me a few chords when I was six years old and I started taking lessons a few years later. I was absolutely driven to handle that guitar, wanted desperately to tame it and make wonderful noise, but I was frustrated to learn that there were rules associated with the instrument (and music in general!). In the interim between learning the chords with which my father was familiar and taking classical guitar lessons, I invented chords, shifted from time signature to time signature, and just generally broke rules. Taking lessons separated me from this musical vocabulary that had moved me so when I was younger and it took years to get it back. I had to “forget” the rules in order to speak my own language again.

What was your first guitar, and how did you get it?

My father gave me his nylon-strung Yamaha when there was nothing more he could teach me. I was still frustrated, trying to make the guitar sound the way I wanted it to, and he knew I’d be restless unless I was allowed to explore the instrument until I found the sound I was looking for, so he just handed it to me one day, told me to “play colors.” My first electric guitar was a Strat knock-off, “Lake Placid Blue,” as I recall. It served me well until I could afford a real Strat and then a really lovely Les Paul I bought at my favorite guitar shop. Aerosmith was supposed to buy it, but they hadn’t picked it up yet, so the guy sold it to me.

What equipment do you prefer now? Which guitar? What amps, cables, pedals? Why? Has this changed over time?

I play a Strat and a Telecaster with Throwing Muses; SG’s and a Les Paul with 50FootWave; and Collings C-10’s solo.

In the studio, I use whatever vintage amp is sounding wonderful that day, but on tour, I bring more reliable, standard-issue amplifiers, the make depending on the sound I need for the record I’m touring. Because I’m the only guitar player in my bands, I need versatile amps that will allow me to play both rhythm and lead. I’ve been through hundreds of amps, but never stayed in love. I’m still searching for that perfect combination of character and reliability.

My pedals are all over the map. My favorite is an ancient Electro-Harmonix fuzz-wah that I used for Throwing Muses and now have moved over to 50FootWave. It sounds so wrong–crushing compression and wooly lows. I used the one at Kingsway, a studio in the French Quarter of New Orleans, years ago and loved it, but couldn’t manage to find one as fucked up as that one for myself.

Last summer, a friend who’d toured Europe with us and heard me lamenting this fact, found me an ancient, fucked up, Electro-Harmonix fuzz-wah and sent it to me for my birthday, which is how I can use it for 50FootWave. I am now complete!

Mudrock, 50FootWave’s producer, has a collection of Japanese effects pedals, but he doesn’t play guitar and doesn’t read Japanese, so he doesn’t actually know what they do. When I play a 50Foot lead, I plug a mound of them in and Mud crawls around on the floor, pushing pedals down with his palms. It’s hilarious and almost always sounds wonderful.

Can you tell me a little about your songwriting process?

I seem to turn ambient noise into songs. Sounds are replaced by instruments and voices. I hear all this and copy it down, usually at 4 a.m.

I don’t have much to do with my songs. My job is to listen, really. And that’s good, because it keeps evils like cleverness and ideas out of the process. My songs can be pure because I have so little to do with them.

Initially, this made me sound crazy. When I was younger, people really seemed to think that my songs were psychotic, and they may have been. Now that I’m older, I don’t believe we’re here to puke art fits at each other–you aren’t supposed to say EVERYTHING, you know? The only things I didn’t say were lines that’d freak me out too bad to include. So now I edit a little more. But I censor less, if that makes any sense. If the song wants to say something, I no longer freak out and suppress it. I figure the song knows best, whether or not it embarrasses me.

On Cats and Mice, you have this amazing version of The Banks of The Ohio. Before I heard yours, I had never heard a version from the perspective of the woman. Can you tell me a little about how you came across that version, I think it was your grandmother’s?

My family is from Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and that’s where I learned all the Appalachian folk songs I know. My father taught me most of them; I guess he learned them from his parents. My grandmother was a freaky Jesus lady, but a great example of what the American south can turn you into. She was nuts and gentle and democratic and oddly violent, like the songs she sang.

What are you working on right now?

I’m mixing a new Throwing Muses record with 38 songs on it (nobody can tell us what to do anymore! or, more importantly, what NOT to do!), and helping sequence a Throwing Muses anthology. 50FootWave is about to begin its second session for “With Love From the Men’s Room,” a record that will be released as a film, and this summer, I’ll begin recording another solo album that looks like it’ll just be guitar and cello.

I’ve spent most of this year doing promo for my book (“Rat Girl” in the U.S., “Paradoxical Undressing” in the UK and its territories), plus live readings in a multi-media show from the same book. WAY outside of my comfort zone. So I’m writing another book–two books, actually, can’t decide between the two–but I’m so enjoying being in the studio again. It’s like a warm bath after all the grown-up literary events I’ve done this year.

Name one or two (or more!) artists (musicians, writers, visual artists) you find inspiring. Why?

I love Natalie Angier, the science writer, because her poetic nature so compliments her concrete subject matter. I feel more like a scientist than an artist; measuring and serving the messy music beast in my laboratory/studio. Natalie Angier’s books and articles remind me that that is a fiery role to play. You never wanna get cold when doing what you love.

May 5, 2011

Interview: Amy Klein

Amy Klein
I’ve talked about Amy Klein before.  In addition to being a guitarist for the popular indie band Titus Andronicus, she is in an amazing two-piece called Hilly Eye and has released a solo album. And that’s just music. She’s also a writer whose blog has gotten mentions online on The Village Voice, The DCist, and Flavorwire.  As if all that weren’t enough, she is an organizer for the NY activist group Permanent Wave.  In short, she’s a one-woman juggernaut.  The interview…

When did you begin playing and why?  

I was friends with a guy who played the guitar in middle school. Before that, I was really into listening to music but had never thought about starting a band, even though I could play several instruments already. When I heard about his playing guitar in a band, I just had this sudden epiphany that it was possible to write your own songs and perform your own music, and the idea struck me as something very special and magical.

After that, whenever I listened to my favorite bands, I would imagine myself playing along to the guitar parts and totally ripping the solos. It was always the guitar parts that stood out to me, and not the other instruments. Radiohead was one of my favorite bands, and I could sing along to every solo that Jonny Greenwood ever played on guitar because I was utterly fascinated by the intense variety of sounds he was able to produce from the instrument. The guitar struck me as the instrument that was capable of the widest diversity of expression, and I would always wonder when I heard some sound in a recording, “Could that really be a guitar?” I was hearing a lot of effects pedals I think, and was totally confused but also excited by the range of sounds that were possible from the instrument. The guitar also struck me as the most passionate of all the instruments and I felt as a teenager that I had so much intense love and sadness and rage inside me that I had to learn to express it somehow. I also was really excited by the idea of “the guitarist” as this totally cool, rebellious, confident figure in popular culture. At fifteen, I was a shy, insecure, quiet nerd struggling to fit in and the idea of the guitarist symbolized everything that I was not, but also everything I ever wanted to be.

Whenever I saw the jazz band at my school perform, I would get this really nervous and jealous feeling in the pit of my stomach because they had an electric guitarist, and I really wanted to be up there on stage doing what he was doing.

I finally got my first guitar when I was fifteen. That was the year I really started going to local shows and seeing other teenagers perform their own music. From watching other bands around town, I knew that it was possible to get good at the instrument one day, even though I was struggling to get better at home.

What was your first guitar, and how did you get it?  

My first guitar was a black and white Fender Stratocaster with blonde wood (maple?) My parents got it for me for my 15th birthday. They took me to the music store on the highway and I picked it out.

What equipment do you prefer now?  Which guitar(s)?  What amps, cables, pedals?  Why?  Has this changed over time?

Right now, I play a black 1978 Gibson L6-Series. People are always asking me what kind of guitar it is because it’s a real vintage model! It looks a little bit like an SG, but it’s asymmetrical, smaller, and curvier.

A lot of famous musicians have played the L6 series though, including Carlos Santana (!) Although the L6 isn’t actually that obscure, it’s still pretty fun to confuse some people with this instrument they’ve never seen before. When someone knows what kind of guitar it is, I feel like, damn they know their stuff. They get a little extra respect in my book.

I like this guitar because the neck is really slender and I feel like it plays super fast. I also really like that there are six different settings on the pickup selector. You can make all kinds of crazy tones from the same instrument. When I was hanging around the used instrument store playing all these different guitars, I kept on coming back to that guitar, for weeks really, and thinking “This is the one.” I just couldn’t stop playing it and it felt easy. That’s how it should feel, I think, when you have the right instrument for you.

I use a Fender DeVille amp, which has “drive” and “more drive” settings. This is important for when I play with Titus Andronicus because we are a very loud, messy punk band that nevertheless pays close attention to things like dynamic contrast. I like to get super loud and distorted by halfway through the song, and then, just as you think it can’t get any louder, do some enormous crescendo that adds even more volume and distortion.

Basically, I use the foot switch to my amp to control the big dynamic shifts at important parts of the song. I also use an OCD pedal made by Fulltone for even more overdrive and distortion. So if I’m doing a big crescendo, I usually start with little to no drive on the amp, then move to the drive setting, then move to the “more drive” setting, and finally kick on the OCD pedal. At that point, the sound is just crazy and ear-splittingly loud. I love it!

As far as other pedals, I use a Line 6 DL 4 delay and loop station. It’s cool because there are a ton of different delay settings that you can play around with and then you can save the ones you like. You can get weird space noises, or reverberant echoes, or even something like a chorus effect from making a lot of delayed notes happen really close together. Then you can use the loop station to play over yourself. This is important for me in my band Hilly Eye where there is only one guitar. We use a lot of loops to make our sound fuller and more textured. The loop function is also great for practicing a solo over chords (record the chords and keep playing them back to yourself as you solo) and for writing a harmony (play the original line as a loop and then improvise over it until you find a harmony you like.)

I also use a volume pedal to control dynamics, a Boss tuner, an AB foot switch (to switch from my guitar to my electric violin) and a MXR 10-band EQ pedal for my electric violin. The violin has a lot of high end and can be sort of ear piercing when it’s run through an amp, so I use the EQ pedal with the low and mid range turned up and the high end turned down. As far as pedals, I’m using those Fender ones that are supposedly unbreakable and come in a lot of different colors. It helps me keep the ones for the violin and the ones for the guitar straight if they’re in different colors. Also, I like the idea of having a lot of colors around me at all times.

My set up has changed a lot over the past year as I’ve started touring. First of all, the sheer wear and tear has broken a lot of my poor quality pedals and equipment. I had to invest in a really good, much more expensive EQ pedal, for example, when the old crappy one just died on me. As I’ve become a better musician, I’ve also become more aware of how to control my sound and how to produce the kinds of sounds I want at important points in a song. So that’s why I’ve ended up with more pedals over the past year or so, I think. About fifteen months ago, I didn’t even know how to use a volume pedal and now I’m pretty good at switching between my various pedals and using them in unison, etc.

Also, as you see start to feel better approaching other musicians and asking them questions, you can start to copy the effects that other people use that you really like. I got my OCD pedal after watching a post-hardcore band and really enjoying their sound, and then asking the guitarist what sort of pedal he was using. I wouldn’t have had the guts to do that when I was fifteen, but now I wish I did. You can also just learn a lot from observing other musicians’ set ups, if you’re too shy to ask questions directly. I just got a DigiTech Whammy pedal after noticing that Marissa Paternoster from Screaming Females and Annie Clark from St. Vincent (two of my favorite guitar players) were using the same red box.

How and when did your band hilly eye form?

Catherine (the drummer) and I went to college together, where we were both involved in the college radio station, playing underground rock and punk music on the air. We met up again in NYC at a Lightning Bolt show when we were both done with college. We both had a common love of noise rock and experimental music and DIY aesthetics, and she had just started playing the drums, and I was looking to start a band, so we started practicing in the basement of our friend’s equestrian store (surrounded by horse saddles, whips, chains, and other interesting goodies.) I think we’ve been playing together for a year and a half now, and we recorded our first EP over the summer. Catherine and I work really well together and are actually both interested in literature as well as music. She’s just finishing up the first draft of a novel on punk culture. We were both students in the creative writing program in college (her fiction, me poetry.)

I know you lived in Japan for some time, and were influenced by female musicians there. Can you tell me about a few of those groups?

I got a research grant to study women making experimental music in Japan, and I spent about 13 months after college living in Tokyo and going to the most amazing shows and conducting interviews with many, many inspiring musicians. My personal favorites are Afrirampo, who have recently disbanded, but still perform solo and in other projects. (The drummer is touring soon in a new band with a member of the Acid Mother’s Temple.) Afrirampo symbolizes what significant gains can be made in art by people who come from a background of pure feeling, unadulterated by social norms and conventions. The two girls in that band created some of the most genre bending, craziest, most beautiful rock and roll music in this really pure, primal form that had to do with exploration of the borders of sound and language. A lot of the time you felt like you were watching some religious ritual devoted to female sexual energy and power as opposed to just a concert. Watching them, you would get lost in this alternative world where anything was possible.

I also saw Metalchicks (guitar shredding meets dance music!) and OOIOO (very Japanese and utterly entrancing band fronted by Yoshimi, the drummer of the psych-noise group the Boredoms,) and the spazz-rock trio Tsushimamire, and the classic garage punk band Melt Banana. These are all all-female bands by the way! I also saw Emulsion, a noise/electronic band from Tokyo, a great breakcore DJ named DJ NYU, a female rapper named Doddodo, and some great hardcore punk bands, The Happening, Screwithin, and Unarm. And of course, my friends The Suzan who have a 70’s soul meets ESG-flavored funk feel, and are currently living in NYC trying to make it in America.

Can you tell me a bit about Permanent Wave?

Permanent Wave is a feminist group that combines art and activism to build community among girls and women worldwide. We got started this past winter when I posted an essay on my blog about the need for a modern feminist movement that would bring girls and women together the way riot grrrl did for some girls in the 1990’s. A group of girls and some guys too (most of whom came because they heard about the group on the internet) all got together at my house to talk about what is wrong with the world right now, and how we could start to make change in our communities. We were inspired by the riot grrrl principle that anyone could participate in the movement just by declaring her (or him) self to be a part. We’re not all in bands but some of us are. We just want to create an alternative popular culture that is focused on girls’ feelings and ideas, a place where girls feel safe and encouraged and validated. Right now we’ve had two benefit events with concerts and art shows and presentations from different political groups, and we’re planning a third this month, a well as a film festival this summer. Anyone can join the group if they have an interest in finding a community of other girls and women and exploring feminism in the 21st century. All you have to do is get in touch with me via my blog or twitter (@AmyAndronicus.)

It seems like you have a ton going on.  I know you’re working on your blog, on Permanent Wave, and making music with Titus Andronicus. You’ve also got a solo album and a hilly eye album available on bandcamp.  Is there anything else you’re working on right now?  Anything new we should watch for on the horizon?

Well, Hilly Eye is gonna record a full length album over the summer. We’re really excited about that. And we might go on tour some time after we’re done with that! I’m trying to do more freelance writing lately—not just for my own blog, but for other sites and publications as well. And I’m playing some shows in NYC—with Hilly Eye and solo. I’m totally confused at the moment and I’m trying to figure out what my life is really for, and it is not at all clear to me, but I hope somehow that by exploring these different paths, I might eventually figure it out.

Name one or two (or more) artists (musicians, writers, visual artists) you find inspiring.  Why?

Well, right now I am totally inspired by Ellen Willis. She is easily the best music writer I’ve ever read, and the most intelligent. When she was only 26 years old, she was picked to be the pop editor of the New Yorker on the basis of a single essay that she wrote about Bob Dylan. And if you read that essay, it’s easy to see why. She had the ability to see outside of music to culture as a whole, and to pinpoint exactly why certain music was significant at a certain time in our intellectual history. She was a translator of music into cultural significance, into historical value, and so even though she has passed away, her words still remain vital to our understanding of the place of music within culture. There’s a new anthology of her music writing out right now called Out of the Vinyl Depths, and I can’t wait to read it. My friend has been telling me that there’s a really awesome essay on Janis Joplin and what it takes to construct a persona as a female pop star.

I’m also really inspired by Patti Smith. Her memoir, Just Kids, is a must read for anyone who secretly knows that he or she is an artist. Patti Smith knew this from the time she was six years old, and she never made apologies for her artistic sensibility. She just treated it as an aspect of herself to be honored, and not to be ashamed of, and you know what, people responded to that—even when she was pretty much the only woman in a world of all-male beat poets and painters and playwrights and bohemians and early rock stars. She stood out because she was an individual with a very deep faith in herself and in the utopian potential of art that would not be shaken by any desire for success, validation, or fame. She has always been committed to living her life on her own terms, and that is what I really respect about her. That’s how you become a true innovator in any artistic field, I think: Live for the magic of artistic creation, create on your own terms, and never compromise who you are.

April 7, 2011

Laura Ballance Interview

photo via flickr by Marcelo Costa

I had already been thinking of asking Laura Ballance for an interview when I posted this question on the blog, and was answered by none other than the woman herself.

I’ve had more joy watching Superchunk shows than just about any other band. Their energy and tunes are infectious.  And Laura has a captivating stage presence, jumping around and dancing while playing her bass and singing.

In addition to being an amazing bass player, Laura is the co-founder and co-owner of Merge Records, the incredibly successful independent label that is home to such popular indie bands as She & Him, Arcade Fire, The Mountain Goats, and Wild Flag.

I asked Laura about her bass, about Merge, and about, well, life.

When did you begin playing and why?

I began to play in 1988 I think. I really did not want to as I was really introverted and the idea of playing in front of people did not appeal to me at all. I was convinced to by my boyfriend at the time, who needed a bass player for the new band he was starting. Actually, we maybe had not actually started dating yet! It was a ploy.

What was your first bass, and how did you get it?

The first bass I bought was a black Fender short scale. I think it was a Mustang. I bought it at a used instrument store in Chapel Hill, where I was living.

What equipment do you prefer now?  Which bass?  What amps, cables, pedals?  Why?  Has this changed over time?

I moved up to a full scale Fender Precision a little while after Superchunk started getting serious, because I thought it was wimpy to play a short scale. I got lucky and found one from 1977 that is the lightest one I have ever laid my hands on. I have owned a few others but they are way too heavy. I have no idea if the body is original. It is unusually light. My favorite amp is an Acoustic 370 from the 1970’s, two 15″ EV speakers in an ancient Ampeg cabinet (I bought this thing in 1990 probably, and it has stood by me ever since. It was probably also built in the 1970’s). I adore my rig, it sounds great. Overdriven. I can’t turn the Acoustic past 2.  I have a Hotcake distortion pedal custom built by Crowther Audio out of New Zealand. I found out about the Hotcake because Denise from the 3d’s used one, and I loved the way her bass sounded. Recently, when we have been touring, we have been flying a lot, so I had to come up with something that I could fly with or that could possibly be provided to me by a rental company. The gear I usually use is pretty much never rented out by anyone. So I hooked up with Orange Amps, and they have a very portable bass head called the “Terror Bass.” It’s tiny, and I have been putting it in a suitcase with my clothes, or in a road case, and Orange has been really great about providing me with a cabinet to play through. In some instances, it was not practical to fly with the Terror Bass, and they provided me with a head remotely as well.

You’re a musician.  You run one of the longest running, most successful independent record labels.  You have a family.  What is a typical day like for you?

My daughter gets up at 7 every morning, and so do we. I get to the office by 10 am and go back home by 6 pm. We play a little, have dinner, and get ready for bed. Running Merge is definitely a full time job. Squeezing the Superchunk tours in has been a little nuts. I try to not leave for more than 7 days at a time, so I am not away from the girl for too long.

I’ve read in several other interviews that you paint and sculpt.  Can you talk about that a little?

I have been drawing, painting, taking photos and sculpting since I was a kid. I really enjoy it. I don’t have time to do it as much as I would like. Typically, since we started Merge and Superchunk I only manage to produce something when I have a deadline. Like if I need to do an album cover or have an art show that I have been asked to participate in. My forms tend to be very organic and animal inspired. I also really like to use detritus to build things. As in, take what might be considered garbage to build something new. I went through a rat phase. I might still be in it. I did the covers for Foolish, Here’s Where the Strings Come In, Come Pick Me Up, Cup of Sand, the Late Century Dream Ep, the Leaves in the Gutter Ep, and a bunch of 7″s.

What are you working on right now?  And by “working on,” I mean almost anything.  Music?  Business?  Art?

Lately I am mostly trying to keep up with Merge while still doing Superchunk shows. I have some commitments to do some art shows, so I need to get back to making art soon.

Name one or two (or more!) artists (musicians, writers, visual artists) you find inspiring.  Why?

Recently these artists (among others) have been on my mind, I am not sure I can explain why: Joan Miro, Otto Dix, Akio Takamori, Leonard Foujita, Enrique Chagoya, Francisco Jose de Goya, Yellena James

I recently read “The Killing of Crazy Horse” followed by “In the Heart of the Sea” and now I am reading “Moby Dick” and I feel like these books have given me a lot of fodder for some new art.

Lately I am totally in love with Telekinesis. The new album is just fabulous and it’s so much fun, in spite of being a break up record. It makes me want to sing along and do harmonies.

Do you have any advice for young women who are just now learning an instrument and think they want to start a band?

Just jump in and do it if you want to. It can be a lot of fun. Don’t be afraid.

Has digital music changed how you do things at Merge?  And if so, how?

It has changed everything. The internet has changed everything about selling music, and people’s discovery of music. And it changes every day. We have to be very flexible and change with whatever new technology is developed or whatever new ways arise that people like to enjoy or discover music.

March 6, 2011

Ruadhan Ward Interview

I recently saw Ruadhan Ward play as the opening act for a Girls Rock! Chicago benefit, one I mentioned earlier here on the website.  Ruadhan (pronounced like Row-an) is an alum of the Chicago-based rock camp for girls ages 8-16, and she’s an amazing example of what can happen if you encourage young women to pick up an instrument.  Her playing is passionate, honest, and unpretentious.  And at just 16, she has tremendous guts and ability when performing. I expect we’re going to be hearing a lot about Ruadhan in the future.

Here’s what Ruadhan had to say:

How did you get involved with the Double Nickels benefit?

I got involved with the Double Nickels benefit through Girls Rock! Chicago. The guys in the band wanted a girl from camp to open for them, and the organizers at camp immediately thought of me. When they asked me to do the show, I couldn’t answer yes quick enough!

I read that you were inspired to start playing guitar at the age of 12 by a Chemical Romance video.  Can you talk a little bit about that?

I was inspired to play guitar by MCR’s video for I’m Not Okay when I was about 12 or 13. The video is basically these guys at a prep school, who are the nerds and they’re getting picked on by the jocks. The video ends with a giant showdown scene where the two groups run at each other, and after the video ended, I was certain I’d never seen anything cooler in my life. The part that really got me was the guitar playing though. The video has scenes where the band is playing and the middle of the song has a crazy guitar solo. I watched the lead guitar player, Ray Toro, play that solo, and afterwards I was like, “I want to do that.” Funnily enough, once I picked up the guitar I realized I didn’t have much of a mind for lead guitar playing, and so my skills went to the rhythm guitar playing/songwriting bucket. Still, without that video, I’d probably not be doing what I’m doing now.

Ruadhan Ward

Ruadhan Ward Performing At The Metro

How did you get involved with Girls Rock! Chicago?

I got involved in Girls Rock! Chicago in a fairly typical way. My mom and I heard about the organization, found there was one in Chicago, and I decided to sign up and be a camper. I only wish I would have found out earlier! Last year was my last year as a camper, but I’m excited to come back as a counselor.

What was the camp experience like?

The camp experience was really great. It’s such a creative environment where you can be yourself. You learn a lot, make new friends, and make some really awesome music. The end of camp show is the best part, because you get to hear what everyone’s been working on during the week completely finished!

Music critic Jim Derogotis name-dropped you on his blog after watching the rock camp performances.  Were you surprised?

The Jim Derogotis review was insane. It was so cool reading what he said about all the other girls, but I was speechless with what he said about my and I. It was hard to believe that a renowned journalist in the music scene compared me to Arcade Fire. I mean, it’s Arcade Fire! They won the Grammy for best album this year! After I recovered from my speechlessness, I called my mom and cried. It was such a great moment for me. If I ever meet Mr. Derogotis, I’m going to thank him for that name-drop!

Tell me about your setup.  What guitar(s) do you have?  Which do you prefer?

I just got a new amp that I really love. It’s a little Vox, and it’s got so much power for a little amp. I’m really lucky to have a lot of guitars. My first guitar was a red and black Fender Stratocaster from my uncle. I also have a white Stagg hollow-body. It’s an electric acoustic, with a really great sound. My two pride and joys though are my acoustic and my electric. My acoustic guitar is what I do almost all of my writing on. It’s a 1960’s Airline that I got in Northern Wisconsin for $30. It’s has such a beautiful sound, that’s really full and resonant. Instead of the usual circular soundhole, it has two f-shaped holes. It’s probably the best $30 I’ve ever spent. My other love is my alpine white Gibson Les Paul Studio. I saw it in my local guitar shop. I wasn’t looking for a guitar at the time, but I fell in love with it. I spent three months in debt and most of my free time was spent babysitting, but when I finally bought that guitar, it was worth the work. There is nothing that sounds like a Les Paul, and it’s my amazing to play. I treat it like my child.

You are a songwriter as well as a guitarist and singer.  Can you tell me about your songwriting process?

My songwriting process is really natural. A lot of my songs start with a chord progression I really like or a melody in my head. Then I sit down with my guitar and see what happens. Once I get started, the rest of the song usually comes fairly quickly. I also keep lyrics in my phone. I don’t always have time to sit down and write when good lyrics pop into my head, so I save them in my phone and come back to them when I’m at my guitar. I never push the songwriting process. If the song isn’t coming together, then I walk away from it and start again later. I’m very much of the thought process that the song will write itself.

March 6, 2011

Ruadhan Ward On Youtube

Ruadhan Performing a cover of Wilco’s Reservations

Ruadhan Performing at the Girls Rock! Chicago showcase with Zombie Masquerade

March 3, 2011

Le Tigre Documentary and Pitchfork Rumors

A Le Tigre tour documentary is premiering at SXSW on April 4th, and rumor has it Superchunk will headline Pitchfork. It’s looking like it will be an exciting Spring and Summer on the music front. I just keep waiting for that Wild Flag record.

**Update 3/4/11: Pitchfork tix went on sale, and as of today, Superchunk is not on the list of scheduled acts.

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