by Hilary Stohs-Krause
salon |səˈlän; saˈlôn |
historical: a regular social gathering of eminent people (esp. writers and artists) at the house of a woman prominent in high society.
“Today, I decided I was going to try [to make] some outsider techno,” says Rachel West, eliciting peals of laughter from throughout the room. “That’s what I’m going to call it, considering that I use Garage Band and Audacity, and I don’t care about anything else.”
“That’s so exciting!” host Amy Gordon says.
“Outsider techno,” West continues, “just throwing things together until I think it sounds good.”
Welcome to the Clawfoot House Women’s Music Salon.
Held roughly every other month at Clawfoot House, a house show venue in Lincoln, the salon was started by former resident and Clawfoot founder Ember Schrag as a way for women musicians to experiment, network and share their music in a safe, comfortable space.
The next salon will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 31 at the house, 1042 F St. in Lincoln.
January’s salon was attended by eight musicians:
• Pierce, who plays cello and sings “sea shanties” as Meaner Pencil;
• West, who plays accordion – previously, she and Pierce performed as Das Hoboerotica;
• Gordon, who sings and plays flute, Irish whistle and synthesizer for Two Black Cats, and who runs Clawfoot House with partner Bryan Klopping;
• Ashley Buck, singer, guitarist and pianist with the Golden Hour;
• Shaina Remboldt, singer, guitarist and violinst;
• Alanna Hoffman, singer and guitarist;
• Melanie Lynch, who plays fiddle;
• Nita Erickson, singer and harmonica player for Norfolk blues band Modoogus
Some, like Pierce, have been writing and performing music for years, while others are just getting their feet wet.
“I’ve never been in a band,” Lynch says during introductions. “I’ve never written a song before. But I really love old-time music, and I really love the fiddle, so I’ve been trying to learn really old songs, basically. I’m trying desperately to learn how to improvise, but I really haven’t been able to yet.”
Her cheerful confession was met with laughter by the surrounding women.
“I’m not going to quit,” she adds.
The night kicks off with a jam session, after which each attendee shares one of her recent creations with the group. They talk about bands they were in during high school — “We were high all the time,” one recalls bemusedly. “I don’t know that we really had a sound. We just listened to a lot of the Doors and stuff” — and challenges they face, both musically and otherwise.
Why just women?
“As a lady musician, you’re in situations that are really overwhelmingly male a lot, and so it’s nice to have the occasional vacation from that,” Pierce says.
“For a while, I was like, ‘I hate playing with guys, there’s no communication, they’re always talking about, ‘Yeah, this sounds like U2,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t want to talk about Rolling Stone [magazine].’”
“Yeah! No, that really is a big difference,” Pierce says. “They all feel like they have to show that they’re so well-informed and knowledgeable, instead of just talking about the music. Or even like feelings, right?”
“Oh GOD,” several women respond, followed by laughter.
“That’s something for me,” Pierce continues. “I really like to talk about music, and it seems like boys don’t like to talk about the music they’re making as much … I don’t know.”
Murmurs of agreement buzz around the room.
“Yeah, this song is really personal,” Ashley Buck says, mimicking a male voice. “It’s about a girl.”
She launches into fake thrashy guitar noises as all the women crack up.
At least in her experience, Buck continues, having switched from more of a singer-songwriter style to a full band, the guys always want to make music more rock 'n' roll.
“I think they were all mad at me last night [at practice] cause I was like, ‘I can’t hear myself play, I can’t find my pitch,’” she says.
“I know, right?” Pierce says. “Fuck that.”
“And they’re like, ‘We just wanna rock out,’ and I was like, ‘OK, well, the song is going to sound terrible to everyone else if I’m singing in a different key!” Buck says.
“I think maybe they have a hard time accepting the supportive role,” Pierce says. “Because mostly it’s you singing, and I think some of them are not quite as … when you’re playing a string quartet, your coach is always like, ‘OK, who has the melody? Now everyone else be really quiet.
“I feel like we need a coach like that,” she adds, laughing.
Though she’s enjoyed playing with men, Pierce says she’s glad she spent much of her musical development alongside a lady (West).
“I think I would have been way more intimated, especially when it comes to songwriting, if I had been doing it with a boy when I started out,” she says. “Because by now, I feel pretty confident in my ability to make weird shit. But at first it was really, really scary.”
Erickson had the opposite experience. Although her mother played guitar, it was her father who nurtured her musical interest, she says. She now plays in a band with three men.
“So most of my influence has been male, I guess,” she says. “Honestly, I’d like to know what it’s like to be in an environment like that, with women. I’ve never really experienced that. I’m sure it would be different. Because it’s intimidating for me, even with my band, sometimes.”
Which is where the salon comes in, Pierce says.
“It’s a really super supportive environment for working on new pieces of music,” she says. “That’s a really tricky moment for a songwriter, when your song is ready to perform, but maybe not ready to perform for people who don’t love you.”
Lynch and Erickson traveled all the way from Norfolk; Lynch had read about the salon about a year ago, and in January she decided to make the trek.
“I don’t know of another group that exists [like this],” she says. “One, that’s all female, and two, where it’s really just about bringing new music, and talking about music, rather than having a show or having a party or whatever.
“You use the term salon, which is not necessarily an in vogue or contemporary term, but it’s very fitting for what I’ve seen here today. It’s an educational experience and an enlightening type of experience.”
Hoffman has been coming to salons for a long time. She says she enjoys getting to see other musicians’ creative process up close and personal.
“It helps me evolve in a new way,” Hoffman says. “Or more broadly, it just makes me think about totally different genres of music. Everyone brings something totally different and unique to the table. Everyone has some creative aspect and element to share, and that’s really lovely.”
Pierce says getting to know other women musicians here has influenced her music.
"It’s made me want to be braver," she says. "Because that’s like the other big thing for women musicians. You know, like such a small percentage of the music you hear is by women, like if you listen to the radio. I mean, I don’t know what the statistics are, but it seems like maybe four of five are men, about. So you’re kind of blasted with this men’s reality, and it’s not counter-balanced with women’s understanding of reality.
“And even if you do hear women, maybe they’re singing a song that was written by a man, that’s some man’s idea of women’s reality,” she continues, “and I think women being honest about their experiences is like this powerful, powerful force that needs to be unleashed.”
For more, tune into the X-Rated: Women in Music radio show every Thursday from 1:05 to 3 p.m. CST at 89.3FM KZUM in Lincoln or streaming live at http://kzum.org. Or, if tumblr is more your style, check out xmusic.tumblr.com, or via Facebook at facebook.com/xmusicnebraska.