What better band to speak to about all-female groups than Portland, Ore.’s All Girl Summer Fun Band. I e-mailed to Kathy Foster (drums, bass, vocals), Jen Sbragia (guitar, vocals), Kim Baxter (guitar, keyboards, drums, vocals), and Ari Douangpanya (bass, drums, vocals) for my story, but alas didn’t have the space to get in their responses. So here they are now.
By the way these women come with impeccable musical pedigree: Baxter played in the Young Astronauts, Cherry Ice Cream Smile, and One Two; Sbragia with Pretty Face, Kissing Book, and the Softies; Foster with Haelah, Hutch, and Kathy, the Thermals and Butterfly Transformation Service.
Bay Guardian: Would you say it’s harder to find all-girl bands these days? Is it a form of musicmaking that’s waning (thinking about prominent ones such as Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre that have called it quits)? Does the idea, associated issues, and the mode of working and making art among solely women seem irrelevant, for whatever reason, today?
Kathy: I think there are more and more girls/women playing music these days. It may seem like it’s less relevant because the mainstream media doesn’t pay much attention, but that’s mostly all crap anyway. On the more independent level, there are tons of great female musicians.
Kim: If it is harder to find all-girl bands these days, then perhaps that is a good sign. In the past girls/women were not always given a lot of respect in the music world, even within the independent music scene. I personally started my first all-girl band in high school because I felt frustrated trying to play with guys and not getting much respect from them. There are definitely more and more females playing music everyday, especially because of the onset and expansion of the rock camps for girls as well as all of the positive attention that bands like Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre have received. Perhaps the relationship between males and females in music is improving and female musicians are more spread out between all-girl and co-ed bands. I think this is the case, at least within the independent music scene. The mainstream music scene will probably always be stuck in their old-fashioned, unprogressive ways.
Jen: It seems there are always new female vocal groups that rely on their sex appeal, which is frustrating for me. I wish more women wanted to learn to play instruments. It seems lazy to me to just tart up and sing, especially when there’s the technology to fix less than stellar voices.
I don’t think female-based art and music is irrelevant at all, but I can see where the masses – hypnotized by shows like American Idol – see fame as the reason for doing it, and that it can come instantly if you’re lucky. Who wants to spend years perfecting a craft? Lots of people…but maybe it’s becoming less and less popular.
On the other hand, Sleater-Kinney and the Donnas have undoubtedly inspired a whole new group of girls that are still learning how to play, and maybe in a year or two there will be more all-female rock bands. I would love to see that.
Gus Van Sant shoots the girls.
BG: Do you find it disheartening or encouraging to have your gender emphasized? Any thoughts on the emphasis put on “women in rock” in the ’90s?
Kim: I definitely appreciated the emphasis put on women in rock in the ’90s. I was just starting to play music at that time and it allowed me to find out about a lot of great all-girl bands such as Tiger Trap, Slant 6, and Bikini Kill. I guess I find it a little disheartening that it is now 2006 and people are still treating women in music as “new” and “interesting.” Women have been playing music for so long now, it is ridiculous to me that we are still even having to discuss it.
BG: Why is it important to work in an all-female context today? Do you find that sexism in music, the music industry, or music subcultures still persists?
Kathy: I’ve never thought of it as important. I’ve never consciously made a choice to be in an all-girl band. AGSFB is the second all-girl band I’ve been in, and both times it was because I liked the people I was playing with and felt comfortable around them. I’ve played in several bands with guys for the same reasons. Any person who feels I’ll suck because I’m female is not someone I want to be around anyway. I don’t think I know anyone like that. And I don’t want to waste my time with that.
Kim: Although things are improving, unfortunately sexism and ignorance does still exist in music. Living in Portland, Ore., we do not have to deal with it as much, but I know that in other parts of the US and in the world it is still difficult for female musicians to gain the respect they deserve. Playing in an all-female context can be very protective and empowering and I personally love collaborating and creating music with other females. It seems like the goal, however, should be for women to feel comfortable playing with males or females without having the music scene and industry push them one way or the other.
Jen: I think as long as women are making music, it doesn’t really matter who is in your band. Being in all-female bands is great, especially when you’re all good friends. I have also been in bands with men, and I never found it oppressive or less than optimal. As far as sexism in music is concerned – I really think the whole idea of women not being able to “rock” as hard as men is a thing of the past. Who really still believes that?