Girl rock is not dead. Though radio may have you believing otherwise, there are still some female fronted bands on the local and national scene that will still shake, rattle and roll you. The problem is getting them heard over the clamor their male counterparts are making.
So, Greensboro's Dalloway Records has taken it upon itself to rectify the situation with its first Girls Who Rock Showcase at the Brewery on Friday, Nov. 7. The event features five local, regional and national bands fronted by female rockers.
Shalini, frontperson of the band of the same name, believes the lack-of-girl-rock-frontwomen problem is two-fold. The death of radio when Clear Channel bought up most of the radio stations and limited the format to the homogenized pap that currently floods the airwaves was the first nail in the coffin. "The second thing is, as some females got older, I think they saw the only way they thought they could keep a career going was to become a soft rock or folk artist," the singer says. "They want to be the economy diva. So out comes the acoustic guitar, out comes the bandannas, there goes the band. They want to be solo stars. And it's usually bad. Bad, boring, exhausting, fake '70s AM radio music, and suddenly no more bands."
Shalini's theory of the death of girl rock is that the '90s rock scene "unfortunately turned into Lilith Fair." She admits to being a big fan of Sara McLaughlin's voice, but says that the genre of music in Lilith Fair really puts her to sleep. Singers like Liz Phair, who Shalini calls "a huge talent," now "make cheesy records because they just don't know any better, and they want a career." She rates Phair's hit "Why Can't I?" as "unlistenable radio pap. I can't believe that such a brilliant, original and witty person would put that out and think it's okay. So I really am a big Liz Phair fan, but she's a very good example of what I'm talking about."
Shalini got her start with Vinyl Devotion in the '90s while living in San Francisco. When she moved to this area, she formed Shalini, which she describes as a bar band, featuring producer Mitch Easter on guitar, Eric Marshall on drums and herself on bass and vocals. She, Easter and Marshall also make up The Fiendish Minstrels. "Mitch has a little bit more of an art bent to his band. He's probably a more original composer than I am, but it's fun for me," she says of her songwriting role in Shalini. She is currently working on a Shalini record to be released in 2004.
Greensboro's Little Miss Messy guitarist Dan Hill describes the band's sound as modern rock with sort of a punk attitude. The guitarist says he tries to "walk this fine line of sounding a little bit sophisticated and interesting and just kind of being raw and fist pumping." Front woman Carlotta Valdez's interpretation of the band is a tad different. "It's not really modern, just straight up aggressive pop rock. It'd be rock if it wasn't fronted by a girl," she says. "Put it that way."
Valdez says that, to her, the music feels refined but aggressive. "It's not necessarily the simplest routes through a song that get taken by us in the end. So in that way I think it's refined. But it has its aggressive points where I think there's a great deal of emotion in there." Their debut release, Boring Stories for Naughty Children came out in May.
Milwaukee's The Lovelies have a new wave sound like Blondie on speed. The breathless girl vocals are like cotton candy wrapped in barbed wire. The group has the jaded rock star look down--two thirds of the band, the girl part made up by Liv Mueller and Barb Endes, looks like the Hilton sisters after they've been up for a week or two. Drummer Billy Backes, alone in his maleness, looks like a tranquilized Billy Idol.
Tulli is not just fronted by a girl, but entirely made up of them. The Canadian quartet has more of a punk bent than the others, but these punks can actually play their instruments and sing with actual harmonies and everything. So much has been written about the pulchritudinous aspect of the band that it's caused bassist Claire Blake to start dressing down on stage. The band has been signed to Warner Music and released Here We Go. The quartet says their only message is "to make music that people like and we like."
Knoxville's Jag Star (the name is an acronym for Just A Girl Singing To A Radio) has the most unusual sound of all the showcase bands, combining hip hop with '70s guitar and '80s synth string sounds overlaid by Sarah Lewis' little girl vocals. Lewis won runner-up in the 2001 John Lennon songwriting contest for her song "Mouth." She gave the band a big financial boost by winning the 2002 USA Songwriting Competition and its $50,00 prize for the same song, which was also featured on an episode of MTV's Real World. The band's debut album, Crazy Place, is a mix of hip-hop, pop new wave, reggae and grunge some critics have said is reminiscent of No Doubt and the Cranberries.
The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8, $10 for under 21.