Tag Archives: indie music

I don’t wanna be a cheerleader no more.

by Rebekah Goode-Peoples

St. Vincent, Coachella 2012. Image by Jason Persse

St. Vincent, Coachella 2012. Image by Jason Persse.

Earlier this year, I made my high school students listen to “Cheerleader” by St. Vincent during a free writing exercise. They were supposed to write anything at all while trying to match the tone of the song. As I listened with them, I realized that almost without exception, I’d been exclusively listening to this song for months—different female vocalists, different lyrics, different instrumentation, but the same tone, same song.

I’ve recognized many images and pieces of my own writing from the past year in these songs: wells, water, boats, waves, divers, lighthouses, ghosts. In more romantic moments when I mix metaphors with abandon, I feel like we’re all mirroring something to each other, a form of musical smoke signals or Morse code. Square by square, I’m watching a quilt of our collective unconscious come together to keep us warm in the night.

But those are my more romantic moments.

Seven of the Billboard top ten albums last year featured solo female artists, and this year is shaping up similarly. While airplay on commercial radio stations has been dominated by the likes of Katy Perry, Adele, Rihanna, Pink, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and, god forbid, Ke$ha, fans of more independent artists were often exposed to more status quo fare—four guys with unkempt hair and tight sweaters.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a fine appreciation for musical boys (see: the guy I’m married to), but I believe musical variety makes everything sound better, more itself.

While female artists have always been on my radar, the last time my musical landscape radically changed from listening to albums by women was in 1992-1994, the roaring years of Tori Amos’s “Little Earthquakes,” Bjork’s “Post,” PJ Harvey’s “Dry” and Hole’s “Live Through This.” Though a newly minted teenager full of stereotypical angst, it is no coincidence that I started writing in those years. Notebook after notebook, I found I had something to say.

Now, twenty years later, I feel a similar awakening.

Fiona Apple. Image by Chickey.

Fiona Apple. Image by Chickey.

From Fiona Apple and Emily Wells to St. Vincent and Bat for Lashes, I hear strong, non-babygirl vocals, sonic experimentation, poetic phrasing and playful imagery. Listened to as a group, I get a strong sense of women coming into their own. Emerging from the shadows of big boys, big loves and big troubles. Trying to piece out just who they are and just where they belong. Knowing brokenness but forging ahead.

On St. Vincent’s “Cheerleader,” she simply states, and then radiates, “I don’t know what I deserve…I don’t wanna be a cheerleader no more” while Emily Wells lilts in the hypnotic lullaby “Passenger,” “I’m a passenger, I’m a passenger/ Give me the keys I wanna drive.” But it’s not all floaty wisps of empowerment.

These ladies do not shy away from the barbaric yawp on their latest releases. Their stark, guttural growls and piercing wails take us right into the ugly bits. On “Deep Sea Diver,” Bat for Lashes expresses their comfort with going vulnerable and raw.

You came running out of the dark

With the tears in your eyes

This time I’m not afraid

Cause my heart’s in place

Baby let your scream come.

Bat For Lashes - November 2012. Image by Rockzoom.de.

Bat For Lashes. Image by Rockzoom.de.

Most of these stepping-out and see-me-now sentiments are closely balanced with lines of fear and self-doubt. These aren’t perfect people. They are sometimes needy, crazy, antisocial and sappy (read: normal) and completely up-front about it. Unlike many of the commercial stars, there is no perfect package or the expectation of one. There is consciousness and reality in all of its sparkling starlight and dangerous dinge.

The combination of wild and wooly woman-talk, tribal rhythms and fierce, reaching vocal arrangements fill me with a real sense of anticipation. Of being on the brink of a brilliant dive. Of being a little afraid of it too.

It’s scary to branch out, to be something new or create something new and your own, but lately I’ve had the urge to create more deliberately for myself. There are many factors contributing to that urge: a need to cleanse a palate overwhelmed by social-media but lacking in real human connection, a need to redefine my identity post-marrying and breeding, and the realization that while I’ve always been a pretty terrific nurturer, cheerleader and advocate for others, I’ve never really been those things for myself.

I can’t help but think that the music I listened to this year opened the door.

And maybe similar doors are opening up for others. Maybe something is in the water.

I read the posts of dreamwarrior women on Facebook who want to start making music together, to just gather and play like the boys who find it a matter of routine to gather in basements, garages and barns to jam. Or Anna Chandler, co-founder of the now-defunct Savannah band General Oglethorpe & the Panhandlers, who wrote recently in a blog post (personal album of the year: Live through This, Hole), “I pushed myself to write more openly, to break out of my standard of cryptic, hiding lyrics and be blunt.  I didn’t want to sing quietly, I wanted to wail, to howl and seethe, and suddenly I could. And I did.” And my bold-as-hell daughter who sits in her car seat belting out every single word of Fiona Apple’s “Every Single Night,” her tiny throat straining to match Apple’s rolls and calls, a giant smile on her face.

Sharon Van Etten. Image by Weekly Dig.

Sharon Van Etten. Image by Weekly Dig.

All of that feels like a promise. Like the one I’ve made to myself.

And though a year of self-discovery and voice-finding wasn’t easy, I had Sharon Van Etten whisper in my ear that “I’m All Right/ It’s ok to feel/ Everything is real.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In no particular order, except for Apple who was certainly number one for me, here are eight albums that opened the door for me this year.

Fiona Apple “The Idler Wheel…”

St. Vincent “Strange Mercy”

Emily Wells “Mama”

Bat for Lashes “The Haunted Man”

Sharon Van Etten “Tramp”

First Aid Kit “The Lion’s Roar”

Julia Holter “Ekstasis”

Tune-Yards “W H O K I L L”

Check out Rebekah’s Spotify playlist containing songs by these artists: no cheerleader

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rebekah Goode-PeoplesRebekah Goode-Peoples is a mother, teacher and writer in Atlanta, GA where she lives in Grant Park with a bunch of superfreaks: Ryan, Sebastian, Izzy and Johnny Cash, the family chihuahua. You can find her at @goodepeoples and her band, Oryx and Crake, at @oryxncrake.

Spotlight: An Interview with Nerdkween

Monica Arrington

by Melissa D. Johnston

I remember the first time I saw Atlanta-based Monica Arrington, who performs under the name nerdkween, play. Two of the friends accompanying me, both musicians who had seen her before, were already giddy and starstruck. They had good right to be. Monica is a rarity. She is a classically-trained singer/songwriter/composer who freely experiments in both songwriting and performance, blending multiple styles effortlessly and elegantly into a spare and stunning lo-fi sound. Nerdkween released her debut full-length recording, Synergy, in 2008 with Stickfigure Records, which puts out recordings of acts such as Snowden, Deerhunter and Xiu Xiu.  She released a second CD called Profitandloss in November 2010 with Fieldhouse Recordings , a branch of Stickfigure. I got an opportunity recently to ask her a few questions about music and life as an artist.

Even before I heard your music, I was already in love with the name nerdkween. Is there a story behind the name? 

It goes back to high school for me. In school I associated with the smart kids and I guess secretly to myself, I imagined myself the “queen”.  As I started in college, I wanted to start my own label and I was going to call it  Nerd Queen Records.  The lettering has evolved over the years  into the official  (nerdkween)* .

Your music pulls from multiple influences and musical styles. Among your influences you’ve mentioned P.J. Harvey, Sonic Youth, Lisa Germano, The Sundays, Mazzy Star, Low, Cranes, and the early Liz Phair among others. Which were your earliest influences? In general, which do you think have proven or will be proven to be the most enduring in their effect on your writing and performing?

I love noise.  I think I will always find inspiration in it. I love vibrations and it recharges me.  I feel as though the music is born out of that haziness as in from chaos comes order and understanding. I also find the light airy and smothering  voices of Hope Sandoval and Lisa Germano to be  feminine yet strong all at once. My voice is similar and I also find the lyrics from them resonate with me. They celebrate their pensive and uncertain natures which I can also relate to.  It inspires me to dig deeper and not to be so afraid to express myself.

You’ve called your music postmodern pop. One of the interesting characteristics of postmodern music to me is that it can challenge barriers between “low” and “high” styles of music as well as “elitist” and “populist” values. You are a classically trained vocalist with a degree in musical composition. Do you see yourself as purposely playing with the cultural boundaries of pop and classical training either in attitude and/or in the actual creation of music?

Oh yes, my interests in music crosses over to many genres and it continues to grow. I think any creator or performer does themselves a disservice by not exploring  all there is in the world.  And with technology our world is becoming smaller and we can reach out to anyone anywhere. The cultural exchange is amazing for personal growth for anyone.  Yet, people would be surprised how much and often pop music “borrows” from  classical music.

What musical project or projects are you working on now? What most excites you about it? How does it relate to the work you’ve done in the past, particularly that in your last album Profitandloss?

Right now I’m in writing mode, I want to see what I can create just for the sake of writing. I would like to release another recording but I want to make certain I have good material and the best resources  to release under. I am listening to more world music and roots music and I want to find ways to incorporate it into my sound.  Simply songwriting can be very exciting if you are struck with inspiration.  So I’m kind of just enjoying the process without a clear agenda  or goal.  The last album I recorded and released something  within the year and it was a  great growth lesson for me.  At the time I needed to do it. Now, I want to take a bit more time and better myself.

You’ve been very candid about your struggle to live the dream of being an artist. Recently you’ve been putting your gifts and training to “practical” use by teaching music and voice lessons. About that you’ve said, “I have been fearful that finding a practical outlet for my craft equals failure of childhood fantasies” but also “Now, as an adult, I am working on helping my dream to also grow up.” Could you say a bit more about this journey? 

I think I actually surprised myself once I started teaching and coaching.  I am reminded that we as artist ARE teachers  even if we don’t have students. I love  being involved with music so that is what I have come to understand , not just the pursue of  being a so called recognized artist.

The craft of singing is something very dear to me so I don’t mind sharing what I know and experienced over the years.  In fact, I’m very excited when a have a student who displays a yearning to learn as much as possible about music and singing.

Recently you wrote, “I think it’s the ultimate role of an artist: to guide oneself and others through the process of living, to make connections with our ideals and the real world, and to find beauty and peace in conflict.” Do you have some hard-won advice to give to other artists aspiring (but also struggling) to live this role? 

It’s important to listen to your heart., and realize there are many avenues to take your dreams.  Life can get into the way but you can use it to challenge yourself and learn more about who you really are.  Just know that there are other people going through similar struggles in life, your art can help them cope.  Don’t stop creating, you never know who is paying attention. You never know you will need your art.

Thank you, Monica! 

%d bloggers like this: