Written by Guest Writer Hannah Fairchild of Hannah vs. The Many
You’d think scheduling a rehearsal for a four-piece rock band would be easier. We’re not the Polyphonic Spree for fuck’s sake, and we’re all adults with iPhones and Google Cal and Facebook and any number of other technical advancements created for the sole purpose of keeping one’s shit together. However, every time I send an email to the three guys I play with suggesting a time to meet, one of them inevitably forgets to answer.
Two out of three (a different two every time, mind you), typically respond within 24 hours. I wait for the straggler. And wait. And wait. Days, sometimes weeks go by. I start to worry. Should I send another email? What about a text? Is a text too invasive? I’ll see him at Rockwood on Saturday, I can just ask him then. Right? RIGHT?
I discussed the situation once with my lead guitarist, who fronts a band of his own. He looked at me like I was crazy.
“Why don’t you just call them?”
Call them? What, on the phone? That’s worse than texting. They’ll hate me for sure.
Indie music is a tough scene regardless of gender. Bandleading-while-female, however, seems to come with its own particular set of challenges. My female musician friends have told me they share my struggles in leading bands composed of men. We worry about looking like a bitch or a diva, we worry that our songs will be “too girly” for them, we worry that if we ask too much of them they’ll leave us behind and find some dudes to play with. Whenever I contact my bandmates, I slave over the tone of the email, peppering it with emoticons and terms of endearment so as not to appear too demanding. These insecurities stem from a cultural dialogue so deeply ingrained that not even my badass feminist mother could drown it out. Women are to take up as little space as possible. Women are to be seen and not heard. Women exist to please others. My guys are a forward-thinking bunch who would likely be baffled by my paranoia. Still, I find myself going out of my way to make the band as easy for them as humanly possible, because I feel beholden to them for being willing to play behind a woman.
I stand at the front. I am the focus of any attention the band receives, and I struggle with outside opinions as much as I do my nervous inner monologue. People frequently assume I am sleeping with my bandmates (I am not). Men on the street want to know if I can play the guitar I’m carrying (No, asshole. I just like being encumbered). Men have introduced themselves to me as journalists and producers after our shows, and what I took for professional interest in the band turned out to be a sly attempt to hit on the redhead in the minidress. Other men have taken pictures during our sets without my consent, then asked for my email so they can “send me their work.”
I’m fortunate to live in New York City, a place where female musicians are generally accepted without prejudice. Sometimes I wonder, though, if my band is well received because I play with a group of men. Back in my solo acoustic days I frequented many open mic nights around the city, where “woman on stage” seemed to be cue for “time to chat in between Dylan covers.” I even caught myself adopting the attitude from time to time. “Please God,” I’d think, “not another girl with a ukulele.” How could I judge another performer based solely on the fact that she’s a woman?
Which leads me to a problem I am certain is unique to the female musician’s perspective. I worry constantly that I am not feminist enough. As a feminist in a highly visible leadership position, I feel I must be extra conscientious about my image and the songs I release into the world. Female artists have had a hard road, and are therefore subject to more scrutiny once we succeed, even amongst each other. The internet is rife with women speaking their peace about Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, leveling complaints that would never be tossed at a male performer. Granted, Swift’s blind adherence to traditional gender roles and Cyrus’ forays into casual racism have earned them some well-deserved feminist side eye.
Overall, however, women in music are held up to a completely different set of standards than their male counterparts. Does Justin Timberlake marketing his sexuality spark a war of concerned open letters? No. Does Justin Vernon penning an entire album about a broken heart make him a bad example for young boys? Of course not. I worry about the clothing I wear in promotional pictures being too sexy, because I don’t want to be seen as a woman who uses her body to sell her music. I worry about the number of torch songs I write, because I don’t want to sound like a woman who only cares about finding a man. The thing is, I like sexy clothes. And I’ve dated a lot of dicks. So why shouldn’t that be a part of my persona as an artist? Male musicians don’t perform with the weight of an age-old struggle for gender equality on their shoulders. Every lyric I write, every choice I make, I wonder if I am forwarding the movement or failing it.
I don’t claim to have answers to these problems. I feel the biggest problem of all is that we’ve been gaslit into thinking we’re the only ones with these issues, and that they are too small to matter. The more we build a community of chicks who rock, the more we talk to each other and share resources, the stronger we’ll become. I’d like to close, if I may, with a message for my bandmates: enough with the funk jams during practice. I love you. Get back to work.
About: Hannah Fairchild is the leader of Brooklyn based pop punk band Hannah vs. The Many. Their recently released disc Ghost Stories was named best EP of 2013.
Delayed by a series of events — life, hurricanes, and mild poverty— Ghost Stories was initially set for release in the fall of 2012. Eventually released over a year later (Nov. 2013), the five-song EP takes a new look at old songs, accompanied by a new band. The single “Poor Leander” (so called because of an unrequited love’s self-diagnosed Hero Complex) grew from a wistful hoedown into a sneering psychobilly kiss off, played at three times its original tempo. “Nicollet” was originally styled after Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, but now takes a turn towards Motown.
“The key’s in the name. Hannah VS. The Many. Not Hannah AND The Many… You wouldn’t want to be part of the “Many” Hannah Fairchild’s ferociously taking down – track by track…”
– The Deli Magazine NYC