Salt Lake bar's Ladies That Rock puts Utah frontwomen in the forefront
It's no secret that Utah is a hub for talented musicians. Locals have moved their way into coveted spots on talent shows, and bands like Imagine Dragons, The Killers, Neon Trees and The Used all claim some form of Utah roots. What the state has not seen much of is woman-fronted bands breaking through to the big leagues.
Ischa Bee, vocalist and frontwoman for the electro-indie duo MiNX, is striving to break the gender stereotypes surrounding bands by hosting Ladies That Rock. The monthly event takes place on the first Friday of every month at The Woodshed in Salt Lake City. Next Friday, Dec. 6, Ladies That Rock celebrates its 10-month anniversary.
"Ladies-night bands are always female-fronted; that's the rule," said Bee.
Bee has been performing music locally for four years. She began as part of the four-piece band called Uncle Scam. After a few years and three albums, she and guitar player Raffi Shahinian split off to form MiNX.
Her biggest difficulty since starting Ladies That Rock in February has been finding bands that meet the criteria.
"It's a lot easier to find women in the back of the band than it is to find them at the front," she said.
But the challenge is a welcome one for Bee, who says that one of her favorite aspects of the event is meeting new bands and their fans.
"It's really cool to meet a group of people, the audience that they bring; it's a way for us to all share audiences and meet new friends. A band's vibe and the audience's vibe is part of the package."
The monthly event also introduces women musicians to local fans. For many Utah women, being taken seriously as a musician is a struggle.
"Being a female musician in Salt Lake has not been a breeze," says Amber Taniuchi, a veteran of Ladies That Rock and frontwoman of Lady Murasaki, a four-piece lounge-rock band that has been making music for nearly three years. "I think people tend to trust male musicianship more, and in terms of collaborating on shows, there have been a few bands or venues who obviously had little interest in working with me because I'm a girl which was tough for me to swallow."
Brittney Shields, of the pop-duo Oh Be Clever, agrees.
"Not many people take a female 'frontman' of a band very seriously, in my experience. Dudes that play in a band get a lot more notice." Shields describes Ladies That Rock as a "powerful atmosphere" for women.
Bee's attempts to strengthen women's presence in the local music scene have not gone unnoticed.
"Ischa is a strong backbone to the community for women musicians," says Crystal Pistol, lead singer for indie-rock band ESX. Pistol and her bandmates (all women with the exception of their guitarist) return to The Woodshed on Dec. 6.
"Even though I find that most local musicians are very kind, nice people, and are generally very supportive of each other, in a social way, generally the guys tend to go with the guys," says Bee.
"I think the reason why there are less women in music locally is that I don't think women necessarily feel like that is what they can do with their life. As a person who wants to be fearless, who strives to be fearless, I want to give people permission to do what they want to do."
For Bee, who grew up dreaming of performing, it was not until she met Shahinian that she felt empowered to explore her love for music. Now, as MiNX, Bee and Shahinian produce, write and perform all of their music, occasionally collaborating with others.
The ability to perform has also enabled Bee to bring another passion to the stage: "I love having a venue to wear the wearable art form."
Bee's costumes, sometimes perceived as risquÃ© and pushing the boundaries, are a visual representation of her artistic passions, her love of the human body, and, Bee hopes, a visual way of encouraging women to face their fears.
Pistol, who forced herself to sing karaoke 11 years ago to overcome her shyness, advises that women interested in performing just go for it.
"We need you," she says. "Try it and fail, and try it again and again and you'll wake up one day on a stage, playing a song you wrote. There will be that moment when you're onstage and think to yourself, 'When did this happen? I did it.' It's the best feeling in the world."
Frontwomen onstage at The Woodshed
The Woodshed bar hosts Ladies That Rock next on Dec. 6 featuring Merchant Royal, MiNX and ESX. Admission is free for women 21 and older, but the bands encourage those getting in for free to buy their guy pals a drink with the $5 they save.
When • Friday, Dec. 6; 9 p.m.
Where • 800 S. 60 East, Salt Lake City