It’s Tuesday night at some seedy, local bar and the floor is sticky with spilt beer. Two bands have already played their sets and the final band, Mother, is setting up its equipment.
The sound is thick and loud, and the guitar riffs and driving bass lines are obviously influenced by ’70s heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. Center stage is lead singer Stefanie, a young woman who doesn’t quite seem to fit with this aggressive, loud and hard rock outfit … until she opens her mouth. She has no trouble staying on top of the loud wall of sound behind her, and she does it with a dazzling presence. Stefanie knows how to rock, even if she is a woman.
Albuquerque has a rich and diverse local music scene. And, as the national scene breaks open to more and more female performers, so too does the local scene. Some of these women have been around for some time, such as Amy Clinkscales of the former Jenny Clinkscales Band or Debo of Alpha Blue, and some, such as Stefanie, are new to the scene.
How have these women worked their way into a rather male-dominated area and made their presence felt? It’s pretty simple, really, and it’s all outlined below in six easy steps. So, read this article carefully, pick up your instrument and go take over the world, girl. Or at least the town.
Rule #1: You Have To Love It
One thing musical women have in common is that they love music and performing. Most of them started singing and playing music at a young age.
Clinkscales, for example, didn’t pick up the guitar until she was 30, but her roots go back to the second grade, when she first experienced the thrill of making music with a flutophone. She went on to play the french horn in marching and concert band in high school.
Stefanie also started early. For her, it wasn’t musical instruments that attracted her; rather, it was her voice. She started singing at a young age, although she didn’t begin formal voice training until age 18.
Formal musical training helps, but it’s certainly not a prerequisite to rocking onstage.
Rule #2: Don’t Be Shy
Clinkscales recalls her first performance at a bar — it was just her and a friend and their two guitars.
“It was like time just stopped, I was so afraid,” she said. “You and a guitar in a bar — I was naked.”
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She remembers her fear — the butterflies in her stomach, the nagging self-doubt. And, even though no performance has ever terrified her quite as much as that first one, she admits the nerves never go away.
Performing is not for the timid, the weak of heart or wallflowers. It’s fine to be nervous, perhaps even terrified, but you can’t let it slow you down or trip you up.
Jil Langham knows how shyness can hinder the emergence of women rock stars. She started open mike Wednesdays at Sprockets Pub to serve as a venue specifically for women.
“I thought it would be fun,” Langham said. “There’s no place for women to go to see other female musicians.”
Langham said most women respond to her urgings to perform with comments like, “I only play at parties after a few beers.” This is not the path to rock stardom. You’ve got to get out there and play, put yourself on the line and be courageous.
Rule #3: You Have to be Able to Play With the Boys
It takes more to be a girl rock star than just having a passion for music and having the courage to get up on stage. The business end of things — getting booked and paid are also important. This is the side of rock ’n’ roll of which men often have an edge over women.
Rachel Heisler knows all about this side of performing. She has been playing music in Albuquerque for more than three years, and also covers the local music scene for the New Mexico Daily Lobo and the Weekly Alibi.
“You have to do what the guys do,” she said.
This includes making those tough phone calls to get the band booked and following up after a show to keep contacts with bookers.
Female musicians must be taken seriously.
“It’s easier to get people to pay attention to you if you’re a woman, but it’s harder to be taken seriously,” said Joni Rhodes-Ori, Feels Like Sunday’s lead singer.
Debo, who sings and plays accordion in Alpha Blue, has been performing locally for the past 15 years, and says there is a skill and timing to getting booked. Promoters want to know you’re going to show up on time, be comfortable and not incite a riot. She even confesses that one or two men have accused her of having an easier time getting booked because she’s female. But she scoffs at the idea.
The truth is that promoters, both male and female, are more accustomed to conducting business with men than women. Be professional, assertive and don’t back down.
Rule #4: Get to Know Your Fellow Local Musicians
If you want a helping hand in getting your music out there, no one is better situated to give it than the musicians already performing on the local circuit.
“In the local scene, it’s who you know,” Heisler said.
And if Albuquerque’s music scene has one thing going for it, it’s camaraderie.
So, go to shows — lots of them. Play at open mike nights and talk to your fellow performers. Be a common face in the crowd and be friendly. You’re bound to make connections — and perhaps a few friends, too.
Rule #5: Have a Strong Stage Presence
If you’re going to be a rock star, you’re going to have to command attention on stage. Sure, it’s really about the music and not what a woman looks like as she bears her soul for all to see. This may include playing the role of the sexy woman.
It does for Stefanie, although she gives it her own personal spin. She is both sexy and aggressive when she takes the stage.
But the sexy thing doesn’t work for everyone. Heisler tried that route when she first began performing. She would get all decked out in little, sexy dresses. She’s observant enough to know that sex sells, but insightful enough to realize that maybe this wasn’t the image for her. She said the little dresses sometimes made her feel silly.
There’s no formula for finding your presence. All you can do is try on different personas. Sometimes they won’t fit right, but, eventually, you’ll stumble upon something that works perfectly for you, and if people notice you, they also notice your music.
Rule #6: Have a Role Model, Be a Role Model
We all need role models. We all have a rock ’n’ roll hero or two who have inspired us to pick up a guitar or sing our hearts out. And, for most women, we take our cues from other women.
“I mostly listened to men in the beginning,” Rhodes-Ori said. “I paid more attention to women when I decided I wanted to do it, too.”
Some have been inspired by the poet-rock of Patti Smith and the edgy, blues-touched songs of Chrissie Hynde, while others have taken cues from the multi-colored hair and soprano range of Cindy Lauper and the in-your-face sexuality of Madonna.
The female rock stars of yesterday have inspired the female rock stars of today. And the women rocking today may inspire another woman to pick up a guitar tomorrow. That’s the cycle of rock ’n’ roll. So don’t be afraid to have heroes, and don’t be afraid to be one, either.
As Clinkscales puts it, “If we all just keep doing our things, who knows where we’ll be in 20 years.”