Post-punk/grunge power trio currently causing a bit of a stir in Belfast...touring Scotland next week!
Upcoming Scottish tour
Tues 2nd July - Bloc Glasgow
Wed 3rd July - Cafe Drummond Aberdeen
Thurs 4th - 20 Rocks Dundee
Fri 5th - Bridge Inn Galashiels
Sat 6th - Wee Red Bar Edinburgh
Sun 7th - Slouch Bar Glasgow
Shannon (guitar/vocals): Vanilla Gloom started with myself and Megan; we've always played music together and we'd previously been in a band called Puerile Honey, but when that finished we knew we wanted to get another project going. We went through a few drummers but it wasn't until we found Grace that we finally had our line up. We arranged to meet up with her and jam a few songs we'd already written and everything just clicked into place after that first practice.
We say our main influences would be the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, Pixies and The Breeders but collectively we all have quite a broad taste in music - I'm a Kate Bush fanatic, Grace is a dedicated Travis Barker student and Megan is in love with Tom Waits!
As musicians, have you had any experiences of sexism?
Shannon: My first experience of sexism in music was in my first band when I was banned from singing because 'we can't have you singing, you sound too much like a girl.' I was 13 at the time and it was very confusing to me to be stifled due to my gender - up until then I had believed that art and music were completely free form and equal.
As a female guitarist I've always faced a certain level of sexism from people; this usually comes in either blatant 'wow, you're good for a girl' or just transparent, sycophantic compliments - my upbringing has gifted me with a very good bullshit radar! I don't think it is naive to assume that there are some people who might be attributing our doing-well to the fact that we're an all female band and to them I say, people don't tend to buy music based on the gender of the musician but on the quality of the music. In general though, I believe that the majority appreciate that music is genderless; that a performer is measured by skill and passion, not sex.
Grace (drums/vocals): I don't think I have experienced any kind of bluntly obvious sexism in music, apart from this one old male bouncer who refused me entry into a venue because I was a girl and he didn't believe I could play the drums! This happened every time I played this venue and every time I greeted the bouncer with a "Hello, Now Fuck Off" and loaded my gear in.
From a young age I have always played in bands with boys who have never treated me as male or female .. just as a musician. I do get vibes now and again with bands we are playing with that they are not interested in talking to us, not even a hello at sound check and I can only conclude that this is because I'm a female musician in an all female band. After we play they do tend to make eye contact and pluck up the courage to say hello or "good gig". This never bothers me it is more of an observation I make and I just get on with what I'm doing. I feel if they have any negative feelings towards me as a musician it is down to their own insecurities. I know a lot of male musicians who are very close friends of mine who include me in their projects because they know I'm good at what I do, so I believe this gives me the confidence to ignore or challenge (depending on what mood I'm in) those sexist remarks.
Photo by Diarmuid Kennedy
Megan (bass/vocals): Being in an all-female band, we've all experienced sexism to some extent. I've had another musician approach me after a gig and tell me to change my style of bass playing, for no apparent reason. I knew it was totally out of order for him to tell me that, and I just put it down to him being a total tool, but when I think about it, I really don't think he would've said that to another male musician. And even if he did, he's still a tool. There was another instance where a guy in a local band was quite bitter about Vanilla Gloom getting a support slot at a G Session with (Belfast band) And So I Watch You From Afar, and the only reason he thought we got the slot was because we were female. In the words of (Distillers vocalist) Brody Dalle, we don't play our instruments with our vaginas, so what's the difference! I also remember once on a night out, some guy walked up to me and said "Hey, you're in Vanilla Gloom," and then began to caress his moobs. I didn't take offense from it though, because all he did was make himself look stupid. In relation to my band, sexism isn't something that overly bothers me. It's never going to stop us doing what we do :)
Why do you think this kind of thing happens so often to female musicians? There's a school of thought that it's down to fear, and another that says its due to a lack of visibility of female musicians...
I would agree with Grace that it's largely down to insecurity (as it is with most forms of people being rude to each other). I also think that on a more primal level, people tend to try and assert their dominance a bit too much and such is the case with some people in music.
Grace: I think this kind of behaviour happens to all female musicians. Unfortunately I don't know any other female drummers personally to know if they have shared the same experiences. They do say that drummers are as fit as athletes so maybe subconsciously some males feel this is a more masculine instrument? My last gig I broke two pairs of new sticks in a row and threw them to the crowd who crawled on the floor squabbling over them. A result of me liking to hit the drums hard - maybe that's why the fellas tend to stay off my case - haha. But hitting drums hard doesn't make you a good drummer. For me it is playing something complicated but making it look effortless.
Do you feel that there's a pressure on women in bands to look good, more than there is for men?
Shannon: I think there's a constant pressure in western society for women and girls to look 'good' but from a personal point of view, I don't wear a lot of make up, I don't often wear skirts or dresses unless I want to and I never dress to impress anyone but myself! I think all girls should think this way.
In terms of this in music, I've always loved the visual eccentricities of the likes David Bowie, Kate Bush and Lady Gaga and I'm totally devoted to the fact that music performance is one in the same with dramatic performance; so if you want to use that time on stage to be another person, dress/look a certain way to make a creative point, go for it whether you're male or female!
Grace: I wear make up and have my own style which I feel 100% comfortable in. I have never been manufactured to look the way I am and fortunately no one has told me to look a certain way either. As this band is pretty new who knows down the line what a label would say to us. For me it is all about the music and the cosmetic side of things can run on. I'm sure the pressure is on for both males and females to look good especially where major labels are involved. I would say they are all about the looks (as you can auto tune any clown) which is shallow and sad, but that's why there are hard working rock bands out there - to give those shallow labels the middle finger salute with their punk attitude and play music it all its raw glory!
Photo by Diarmuid Kennedy
Grace: I really dunno, I'm sure everyday female musicians are proving to sexist male musicians that we can play our instruments very well. We can write melodies, compositions and songs that will play on repeat in your head! Things can only get better, though I do feel that a lot more can be done to encourage young girls to pick up instruments and recognise its beautiful gift! I was the only girl In high school to sign up for drum lessons, it didn't put me off it but this is just an example that maybe these things could be advertised to both genders more equally.
Shannon: I can't say if things are getting easier for women in music but there has been a resurgence in all female bands and strong, proud female musicians; Savages as one example. I just think that the more girls picking up guitars and drum sticks, the better! Imagine living in a world when nobody has any preconceptions about a musician based on gender; what a rockin' utopia that would be.
Lemons and Wine (acoustic) at Hollaback Belfast