POST-ROMANTIC STRESS DISORDER: An Interview with Soul-Jazz Artist Hanorah

Hanorah

Hanorah hails from Montreal, Canada and is releasing the first part of her second album, Post-Romantic Stress Disorder, on August 30th. The depth and beauty of her writing is arresting and staggeringly personal, and her voice is a raw, glorious instrument. I got the chance to preview the new album (it’s crazy good) and ask Hanorah a few questions about her work in the interview below. You can preview a song from the album, “Clementine,” here on Hanorah’s Reverbnation page, and stay tuned on her social media for updates on her album!          

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You released your debut album, Unstuck, in 2015. What inspired you to start writing and releasing your own music?

Three years before I recorded anything, I was sexually assaulted. It completely ripped me apart from the world and I felt so completely alone and crazy. I lost friends, alienated myself from my family, and stopped leaving the house except for school (I was studying fine arts). It was a really difficult time, and I think my feelings were just spilling over into poems because I couldn’t talk to people about them yet.

I always sang around the house when everything got to be too much, and my mom always encouraged me to do something with music. I always had doubts and was also terrified of going out in the world, but one day I saw that Shia Laboeuf “Just Do It” video and realized that I was the only thing standing in my way. So I found a producer, Sookz, and improvized melodies over my poems and the music we created together.

How do you feel your sound has evolved in Post-Romantic Stress Disorder?

I’m much more sure of my voice now, and have found what I’m good at. I gravitate towards certain harmonies, melodies and phrasing, so I try to change it up if I find myself getting repetitive. Most of what I do is just listening and allowing myself to feel and respond.

The music itself is also more polished, and I’ve become more aware of how one can challenge pop song structures without disregarding a structure completely. “Clementine” is probably the best example of that.

Your voice is so bold, raw, and mellow, and I love how you layer it almost like an instrument in your work. Who are your major vocal influences? And how do you approach your vocal layering in the studio?

I learned a lot about singing by listening to Etta James, Joss Stone, Adele (her album 19 changed my life), Amy Winehouse and Ella Fitzgerald. I used to listen to my favorite songs like “Fool That I Am” and sing them over and over again, trying to find different tones in my own voice that were pleasing or interesting.

When it comes to vocal arrangement, it’s hard to say where that came from. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the rock stuff my dad played when I was a kid must have given me an ear for harmonies. Looking back, as young as 8 years old I was trying to pick out all the different notes in songs by Yes, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and The Beatles. I also had a Bob Marley phase and a gospel phase thanks to mom. I think I just liked the feeling of adding something to the songs I loved so much.

I also took piano lessons briefly as a kid and thought the only “good” harmonies had to be do-mi-sol; but my dad would show me stuff like “I Don’t Mind” by Moke, for example, where they sneak in extra notes to give it a different flavor. Then I learned about tritones and that was a whole other discovery! I have a long way to go.

You collaborate with a lot of talented musicians–how do those collaborations inspire your work?

Aside from my short stint playing piano rather badly, I don’t have musical training. Everyone I work with is a teacher in some way, whether it’s music theory or more abstract philosophical thinking. They inspire me so much; they’re like endless libraries of information and inspiration. I believe they move me forward and don’t allow me to get stuck on any one thing. They’re also incredibly supportive of my catharsis.

 

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I find your story so personal and so important–do you find that sharing yourself so openly in your music helps you connect with listeners who may have gone through similar situations?

I’d say the most important thing for me is that people hear the music and go, “Oh wow I feel the same way.” It’s not necessarily that my story involves rape that makes it important, although it is important, but it’s my quest for honesty and understanding that keeps me going. When people hear my stuff and know where it stems from and approach me saying a similar thing happened to them, it’s almost like looking in a mirror– I know I’m not alone, they know they’re not alone. But I think anyone can find something for them in these songs.

I imagine it must be difficult to be so straightforward about a traumatic event in your life and make sure that it doesn’t become the ONLY focus of your work in the minds of others–how have you dealt with talking about your rape but presenting yourself as a whole?

The rape was the “élément déclencheur” for me, but it is not my entire identity. Some of the songs are literally about the incident itself, but most of them describe my life and how I’ve been changing since it happened. They are snapshots of a personal revolution. People can write songs because they were cheated on, or lied to, abandoned, physically abused, or high on acid. I don’t think the specific origins of the content are necessarily the only way to appreciate or relate to a song. A good example is “13 35” by Dillon. It’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful and sad, and you don’t need to know that it’s about a miscarriage to love it. Knowing why she wrote it just closes the circle.

For me, I will talk about the assault whenever people ask because I remember how awful I felt during those years. I know it happens so often and affects more people than we can imagine so I’m happy to come forward with it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want anyone else listening to my music.

I want to know a couple of rapid-fire favorites! Tell me:

Peanut butter: creamy or chunky?

Creamy! It’s easier to spread.

Vinyl or digital? Or both!

Vinyl is great because listening to music becomes an active experience. Every note, every lyrics, every beat becomes an essential part of a message across time.

Beyonce or Rihanna?

I’ve never really been a huge fan of either. Beyonce’s got crazy vocal chops, and Rihanna has a unique tone in her voice. I admire them both as entrepreneurs.

R&B: Old-school or new-school?

That’s hard to say! Old school embodies an organic approach to expression and music-making that I really relate to. But because I’m making music today, the programs and techniques a lot of us have available makes for pieces of music that are like bits of art.

Old Star Wars or New Star Wars?

Old!

Finding Nemo or Finding Dory?

I loved Nemo but I haven’t seen Dory yet! Looking forward to it.

Finally–what is the main thing you hope listeners take away from your album?

Just that there’s always someone out there who understands, and everything will be okay no matter how bad things may seem. There’s always a way to heal or to make the best of a situation.

HUMMINGBIRDS AND HEARTHSTONES: Searching for Home, HMS Creates a Sonic World of her Own

HummingbirdsCover art by Nataly Ortega-Sommerlad

Vermont-based artist HMS, who spent most of her childhood moving and never lived one place longer than a year, grapples with the idea of home on her third full-length album, Hummingbirds and Hearthstones (released by Subtle Soup Records). The deeply personal album details HMS’s struggles with home and heartbreak while simultaneously inviting the listener into her world—a rich melding of Latin-influenced nylon string guitar, ethereal vocals, and Romantic string quartets.

Lending to the album’s personal tone is HMS’s craft and control in all areas of the album’s production. She plays every single instrument on the album, from classical guitar to drums to strings, and she produced and engineered the album herself. According to HMS, this was at least partly a feminist move, saying, “Controlling the sound production empowered me as both an artist and a woman. As an artist, I was able to comply with my original motivation for writing songs, to free myself from needing others in order to make music. As a woman, I was able to navigate the male dominated process of recording music, which I feel is an important thing for women musicians to do in today’s patriarchal society.” It is certainly inspiring to see a woman produce her own work, but even more inspiring to see it done with such success—the uniqueness of HMS’s perspective shines on this album in a way that it might not have, had she yielded to outside influences.

The main standout features of HMS’s music are her prodigious classical guitar playing and harmonic structures, which are always adventurous and unexpected. In the album’s first track, “Raíces” (“roots” in Spanish), her layered, Latin-influenced guitar is supported by sparse, tasteful drums and a bevy of ambient sounds, including strings, clean electric guitar, and recorders. She continues this trend in “Moonbeams,” while the beat chugs ever forward and she gives us one of her most poignant lyrics, “Time only stalks us continuously.” Tracks like “White Horse, Dark Horse” and “Disappear” introduce us to her darker side, with complex rhythmic layering and beautifully ominous choral voices. I especially love her groove changes and her almost diabolical violin on “White Horse, Dark Horse.”

It’s a sad fact that a male name as a producer on a woman’s record somehow lends credence to its artistic value; clearly, HMS did not need any help to make these adventurous harmonies and compelling grooves happen. She’s incredibly adventurous with her sound worlds, characterizing her images sonically. Her lyrics are poetic, though at times obscure; but her music always illustrates her point of view with utter clarity. She evokes her themes and images in her sound, whether it’s a desire to disappear, a juxtaposition between the light and dark of love, or a simple hummingbird; and these are always clear. In this way, HMS ends her search for home by inviting us into a richly realized sonic world of her own creation.

SOUND: Chamber folk–think Joanna Newsom, if she played guitar and listened to a lot of Jobim, plus a Romantic-era string quartet

LISTEN TO: White Horse, Dark Horse, Raíces, Moonbeam, Hummingbirds (short but wonderful)

You can preview and buy Hummingbirds and Hearthstones on Bandcamp: https://subtlesouprecords.bandcamp.com/album/hummingbirds-and-hearthstones

And you can get to know HMS better here: https://youtu.be/EoVJs-1M0LQ

MAJOR LABEL: Good Feminist, Bad Feminist

goodwitch

Last week for women in music was one of those lil’ of column A, lil’ of column B weeks. Taylor Swift became the first woman to win Album of the Year twice, and used the opportunity to make sure Kanye and everybody else knows that women work hard and are responsible for their own successes. Huge plus in the A column!

Then, on Friday, Kesha tried to nullify a contract that would force her to produce up to six more albums with Sony and Dr. Luke, her longtime producer who she says raped her when she was 18, and has emotionally, physically, and sexually abused her since. Kesha seemed in utter disbelief and openly wept as the verdict was announced. I think most of us were, sadly, not surprised that the court ruled in favor of a corporation rather than a human—it seems the $60 million that Dr. Luke alleges he invested in her was enough for the court to rule that he owned her, fair and square. It is worth mentioning that Sony has offered to let Kesha record with a different producer, but she and her lawyer, probably correctly, assert that the company wouldn’t offer her proper marketing support if she did that, especially since she’s spent so much time and money suing them. Plus, Dr. Luke would still legally own a piece of her work with other Sony producers while the contract is valid. So, column B.

It has been inspiring to see so many people support Kesha on Twitter, and it’s good to know that at least these people recognize the tried-and-true tactics Dr. Luke’s team has used to discredit Kesha’s claims—if he raped her, why didn’t she report it? She’s just trying to defame him!!—as victim-blaming defenses. She likely didn’t report it because she—crazy thought—wasn’t sure anyone would believe her and didn’t want to jeopardize her career. ‘Cause we see how well that turned out for her now that she HAS reported it, right? And even if you truly don’t believe the rape allegations because of the lack of physical evidence, let’s consider her assertion that he abused her for years; Kesha was diagnosed with an eating disorder and feels that because Dr. Luke commented often on her weight, calling her a “refrigerator,” he is at least partially to blame for her development of that disorder. Do we at least see why she might feel unsafe working with this man? Thankfully, many people do. #FreeKesha.

So the support was rolling in on Twitter when Demi Lovato tweeted her support of Kesha while condemning women who seem to be feminists only when it’s convenient for their careers—and EVERYONE assumed she meant Taylor Swift, because Taylor had not tweeted #FreeKesha. Demi clarified that that’s not who she meant, and that she’s just pointing out the hypocrisy of women aligning with feminism now that it’s more popular, seemingly to further their careers.

You know what I say to that? SO. WHAT.

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I’m thrilled that feminism is so popular now! Who cares why people are becoming feminists? Promoting equality and a voice for women is all that matters, whether you’re doing so for selfish gain or not. I honestly think Taylor believes what she’s saying and wants to help young women succeed (and for the record, she made a $250,000 donation to Kesha and offered her support). But even if you don’t believe her, why does it matter if she’s supporting other women out of the goodness of her heart or to help herself? Either way, she’s supporting women!

Feminism means a lot of different things to different people. It can mean bra-burning, man-hating, sexual liberation; it can mean girl power, Powerpuff Girls, girly-is-great attitude. Most recently, with our Emma-Watson-era feminism, it means inclusivity. It means anyone and everyone can and should be a feminist. It means we recognize the way that the patriarchy is structured and the ways that women are still undervalued and underpaid in society, and sometimes disbelieved like Kesha. It means we realize the ways in which men are also harmed by a strict adherence to gender-normative behavior (Get tough! Don’t talk about your feelings! But men are more likely than women to suffer from certain mental illnesses so…). It means we acknowledge that non-white women have not felt included in feminism in the past and would like to make sure we address their issues now. It means we agree that gender is a social construct and that there is room in feminism for transgender and gender-fluid individuals as well as cis-men and –women. In short: there is room for everyone in feminism.

The feminist movement is now, and always has been, about raising women’s voices and making sure they are heard in a society that can sometimes suppress them. So I officially do not care if you think Beyonce is a bad feminist because she shakes her ass onstage, or, leaving music for a minute, if Gloria Steinem thinks young women are bad feminists because statistically they tend to support Bernie over Hillary. These are women voicing what they want and who they are—that’s feminism. And I don’t think the people crying “bad feminist”—Gloria Steinem, Annie Lennox, Demi Lovato—are themselves bad feminists for questioning other women’s true motives in their feminist actions (although they could check the high-and-mighty tone for me, thanks). They contribute to an on-going conversation about what has changed in feminism and what remains the same.

So Taylor, Demi, Beyonce, Gloria Steinem, take heart—you’re not bad feminists, because there are no bad feminists. There are only feminists. We may disagree about the best way to do things, but that’s not as important as the big picture. If you’re for gender equality, then you’re good, and you’re a feminist.

Album Review: “Picking Up the Pieces” Has Jewel Picking Up Where She Left Off

Jewel

Jewel released new music in the vein of her earliest work. And it’s AMAZING.

Picking Up the Pieces is Jewel’s latest album, released in September of 2015, and it features new songs, including collaborations with country veterans Rodney Crowell and Dolly Parton, alongside songs she’s been performing live since her seminal debut album Pieces of You was released almost 20 years ago. Jewel self-produced the album, recorded it entirely in Nashville, and released it on Sugar Hill Records, primarily known as a bluegrass and Americana label. Since Jewel’s last few albums have ranged from country to children’s music, the album represents both a departure for Jewel’s recent work and a return to her roots.

The entire album is a showcase for Jewel’s immense talents in singing, songwriting, and production. In the spirit of her debut release, which was recorded live at a café in San Diego where she often played, Jewel recorded much of the album live at The Standard in Nashville. Her vocals capture the energy of her live performances in a way that none of her other releases have, literally ever. She transitions effortlessly from powerful growl to whisper to clear soprano to almost spoken word, propelling her audience through the emotional journey of her stories. Particular standouts vocally include “Love Used to Be,” in which her mellow, speech-like vocals build and give way to an exasperated shout at the climax of the song; “Everything Breaks,” where her patented flips from chest to head voice offer text painting to the “break” idea; “My Father’s Daughter,” which features sublimely clear vocals from both Jewel and Parton; and “Carnivore,” in which Jewel demands her voice demonstrate the pain and power in her lyrics from beginning to end. Her vocal performance on this entire album is just incredible, and is undoubtedly her best to date.

In terms of the songs themselves, Jewel blends the old with the new seamlessly by focusing on inventive yet simple arrangements and on several common themes. Among these themes are family (the traits inherited and the sacrifices made), loss of love (at least partly inspired by her divorce), and brokenness. It is the last theme that interests me the most, as it’s the one that has followed her through her entire career (there’s that line in “Hands:” “I am never broken”) and has probably changed the most. It’s evident even within this album, since “Everything Breaks,” a heartbroken acknowledgment of an ended relationship, has been around since the mid-90s while “Mercy,” the final song on the album, is a new offering. In “Mercy,” Jewel attests that she will “keep being broken until [she] remain[s] open,” a stark change from her resistance to brokenness in “Everything Breaks” and “Family Tree,” (“If I don’t learn to bend, I know I’m gonna break just like you did”). It seems Jewel has discovered her true strength as an artist, which is her bravery in sharing her darkness; she is a pure, raw nerve seemingly unburdened by any fear of expressing her every emotion, and it is utterly cathartic to experience these emotions with her.

Her arrangements are well done, mixing simple acoustic guitar ballads with fuller, more groove-oriented numbers. I love her choice to keep many of her older songs, like “Carnivore,” accompanied only by acoustic guitar to keep the live-performance feel. On “Love Used to Be,” which is the strongest track on the album in my opinion, she tastefully builds the arrangement from acoustic guitar to militaristic drums to keys and electric guitar adding just the right touches as her voice reaches its apex. “His Pleasure is My Pain” blends sitar and Eastern influence with folksy, spoken poetry reaching a disarmingly dissonant conclusion (and I’ll point out, her chorus of “Yes, it’s true I’m too sensitive, but he takes pleasure in my pain” seems like the inevitable outcome of the chorus “I’m sensitive, and I’d like to stay that way,” from “I’m Sensitive” on Pieces of You). “Nicotine Love,” Jewel’s ode to addicting love, uses strings marvelously inventively, with playfully taunting staccato juxtaposed with arduous tremolo. There are some misses—“Here When Gone,” another of Jewel’s live-performance staples, develops her best groove of the album in the verses only to drop it for a stilted country shuffle in the choruses, and “Plain Jane,” while lyrically inventive and musically playful, suffers from lyric scansion problems in chorus that cause it to fall a bit flat overall. Nevertheless, the album flows well and represents Jewel’s musical as well as lyrical evolution.

Jewel has had a lot of time since Pieces of You was released, when she was just 21 years old, to grow and experiment as an artist. And she certainly has, though not always to the delight of her fans; while her songwriting has remained strong throughout her career, her various stylistic incarnations, from country to children’s music to dance pop, had left her fans wondering who she was trying to be musically, and when she’d find herself again. She’s been a personal inspiration for me, as a little girl who played guitar, and I remember when she released “Intuition” from her foray into pop music 0304. I felt like I’d lost her to the Britneys and Christinas of the world. I cannot adequately express how fulfilling it is to me to see her journey come full circle and to hear her embrace her true style as an artist.

Returning to her folk roots was surely not as easy for Jewel as it might sound—I have no doubt she worried that the record might sound dated, or that it might seem like she was trying too hard to repeat her greatest success. Thankfully, Picking Up the Pieces honors the spirit of Pieces of You without copying it or pretending that Jewel hasn’t evolved in 20 years; her growth as a singer, songwriter, producer, and artist is evident in examining the two. Picking Up the Pieces presents a wiser, more contemplative, more somber Jewel than her first album depicts. Her lyrical style is less the gushing, earnest ingénue and more the thoughtful, evocative storyteller, even in songs that she’s been performing since her Lilith Fair days.

But really, the greatest triumph of this album is the tenacity and strength Jewel finds in raw, unfettered emotion. Her voice soars with every growl, whisper, croon, and crack, and her lyrics demonstrate the beauty she has found in brokenness. This is her gift to her fans, this is who she is, and it is thrilling to see she has finally found it.

The Indie Pop Voice Phenomenon, Part 2: So What Do We Do Now?

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To read part 1 of The Indie Pop Voice Phenomenon, click here!

Okay, so here’s the big question—what do we do about indie pop voice? The trend is clearly very popular and not showing signs of letting up anytime soon, and as such exerts a huge influence on young singers and their vocal habits. As singers, should we use it? And as voice teachers, should we encourage it in our students or quash it? You’re about to hear my opinion, so I’ll openly admit my bias—I’m not really a fan of the accent in its current form, especially when I hear certain words, like “one” or “just,” repeatedly getting the exact same strange treatment from singers. So I came at this article fully expecting to condemn it. But I won’t, at least not completely—and here’s why.

As a voice teacher, I like to let my students craft their own sound as naturally as possible. So, I don’t really impose a lot of value judgements on them, but I let them make their own decisions about how they sound, provided they do three things:

  • Sing healthily—meaning without extra tension and with adequate breath support. Pretty much everything else is not really considered health for my students and me, but style/aesthetic.
  • Allow the way they speak to influence the way they sing—usually in terms of pronunciation and phrasing. From there, if they’d like, they can change things up and experiment to find the sounds they like best and that they feel are most beautiful and evocative in their voices.
  • Eschew imitation at all costs—a singer’s bread and butter is her uniqueness, which usually springs from allowing her speaking voice, which is uniquely her, to be slightly heightened to become singing.

So let’s examine indie pop voice using each of the above points—I can’t find any signs that it’s unhealthy, as it’s purely a pronunciation/resonance issue. It may not comport to the classical-derived standards of singing on the purest, most open vowels possible, but we’re not singing classically, so we’re good there. As to the second point, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that we speak this way—except there MIGHT BE. It’s tough to find recordings of people speaking and pinpoint examples, so this is purely anecdotal evidence, but I have noticed lately that when I ask people how they’re doing, sometimes they say, “guoid!” just like Selena Gomez. What if we do talk this way? Who am I to say we don’t? And if you talk this way, sing this way, by all means!

The third point is the most important—if you sing this way in order to sound like someone else, or because it’s becoming so popular, you should stop. Your voice is your honesty, your point of view—your voice is you, and it’s not believable coming from you if it sounds like somebody else. And maybe you’re subconsciously employing indie pop voice, possibly because you’ve heard it so much, and there’s nothing exactly wrong with that… except now you know. So notice whether you employ this accent, and if you do, ask yourself why! Do you do it because you talk that way and it feels very you? If so, great. Do you do it because it’s kinda fun and you can honestly say you do it differently than everyone else? That’s cool too. Do you do it because you’re trying to sound like Adele or Amy Winehouse, or because you think it makes you unique? If you sound like any of the above people, it certainly does not make you unique, and that should give you pause.

There’s another major reason that I won’t issue a blanket statement that people should stop using indie pop voice, and it’s that there is inherent sexism in the way a lot of people talk about this trend. The mere fact that so many people online call it “indie girl voice” is a clear indicator of that, but that’s just the beginning. Except for the Buzzfeed article, I’ve only seen discussions of women using the trend with no mention of any men. I’ve seen it condemned as annoying, fake, and often babyish in various message boards; even Carson Daly said it reminded him of baby talk. I can’t decide if he’s reacting to the treatment of vowels or to the prevalence of breathiness and head voice in this style; it might be a combination. But I’ll point out that baby talk can be consciously done and a powerful, influential tool, as Paris Hilton will tell you. Some commenters even say indie pop voice reminds them of vocal fry—I’m honestly not sure how that could be possible, unless they’re getting it mixed up with another technique like breathiness or rasp. Vocal fry is a register that occurs below chest voice, and though some voice teachers use it as an exercise to combat hyperfunctional singing, I really can’t think of any singers that actually use vocal fry when they perform. The only link I can see is that it’s another speech trend that people condemn women for using and not men. So yes, indie pop voice is more prevalent among women than men, and yes, it is everywhere—but if those facts alone make it more annoying than, say, every male punk singer trying to sound like Billie Joe Armstrong, who was trying to sound like Joe Strummer, then that’s probably caused by a sexist undercurrent, because they’re very similar phenomena.

In short, I really hate to be another person telling women how they should speak/sing—between uptalking, vocal fry, and now “indie girl voice,” we really get harped at from all sides. So I won’t tell you, if you sing this way, whether you should continue or not; as with all my students, I leave it to you to craft your own sound. Clearly, indie pop voice comes from a long line of employment by incredible singers, so if you use it, you’re in good company. Bottom line: you should be do what feels the most naturally, honestly YOU. If that’s indie pop voice, well I think that’s all “guoid!”

The Indie Pop Voice Phenomenon, Part 1: Where Did It Come From?

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Pop music vocalists have always had their share of unusual pronunciation and accents, and the most recent trend is so-called “indie girl voice,” or more generally, “indie pop voice.” This vine star parodies it, and even Buzzfeed has noticed it. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, definitely check out the above links—I think you’ll recognize it once you hear it. I notice this accent A LOT in artists like Taylor Swift, ZZ Ward, Halsey, and Adele, as well as in the young singers I teach. All this leads me to ask: where did this trend come from? What should we call it? And what should we, as singers and/or teachers of singing, do about it?

I first noticed the trend a couple of years ago, and it seemed to only affect certain words. Notice the way Kesha and Joy Williams of the Civil Wars each say “one” in the following, each from 2013:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHUbLv4ThOo (start at about 0:18)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnkM_ebv9BI (start at about 0:56)

What you’re hearing is a diphthong, which is essentially two vowels one right after the other within the same syllable. There are lots of diphthongs that occur naturally in the English language, like the “ah-ee” of the word “I” or “oh-ee” of the word “boy.” In fact, most American English speakers would treat the vowel “oh” as a diphthong of “oh-oo,” especially at the end of a word (say the word “hello” while looking in a mirror, and notice how your lips close to an “oo” shape at the very end).

But the word “one” as sung above contains what you might call a manufactured diphthong, or one that doesn’t occur naturally in our language. A lot of diphthongs may be brought on by accent, a southern twang or a Cockney clip. This accent, the “indie pop voice,” is a product not of a geographic region, but of the virtual, musical region of “indie.” Mostly, indie pop voice is characterized by sustaining the second vowel of an existing diphthong as opposed to the first (the way Adele says the word “hello” in her recent hit of the same name), and also by adding an “ee” or “ih” sound to the end of pure vowels like “oh,” “uh,” or even “ae” like “back.” This would explain words like “good,” “just,” and “touch” mentioned in the Buzzfeed article above; “good” becomes “guoid,” “just becomes “juist,” and “touch” turns to “touich.” The accent also calls for closure to “ee” before and after singable consonants like “n” and “r,” which explains the words “one” that I noticed or the “stare” and “care” examples in the Buzzfeed article. Adele also exemplifies the “ee and r” phenomenon in “Hello:” listen to the way she sings the very last word of the song, “anymore,” and it’s almost “anymoreeeeeeeeee.”

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As for the origins of this trendy accent, there are a few good theories that I’ve mostly culled from other voice professionals and random commenters online—it’s not a well-researched topic thus far, to be honest (by the way, it seems most people online are calling it “indie girl” as opposed to “indie pop”). The one that pinpoints the most recent possible origin is the Adele/Amy Winehouse theory, and it makes sense. Those two singers cropped up late in the last decade, when the singers who are coming up now would have probably been in middle or high school. Thus their popularity may have profoundly influenced the next generation’s singing style. Adele’s recent use of the accent is well documented above, and you can hear it in her earliest hit, “Chasing Pavements” and throughout her work (start at 0:20 and listen to “lust” and “I”).

Amy Winehouse preceded Adele, and uses indie pop voice in early hits like “Stronger than Me” (start at 0:33 and listen to “through” and “care”) and later ones like “Back to Black” (start at 0:15 and listen to “regret,” “wet,” and “bet”).

Others claim Regina Spektor, Bjork, or Kate Bush are the cause of the accent’s inception, and I think it’s important to note that all these women have very particular natural accents in their speech that may influence their singing (Adele, Winehouse, and Bush are all British, while Spektor is Russian American and Bjork is Icelandic). But perhaps the most important similarity to note between these women is that they all count jazz among their main influences, especially Winehouse and Spektor. Indeed, I hear little evidence of the “indie pop voice” as it exists today in Bjork’s sound except in her version of “It’s Oh So Quiet,” a Betty Hutton cover. So are these more current singers the originators of the totally invented “indie girl voice” accent, or did they adapt it from the jazz/big band singers who influenced them? Listening to Betty Hutton’s version of “It’s Oh So Quiet” lends credence to the idea that she influenced Bjork’s pronunciation, and the way the White Christmas crew sings the word “snow” is a toned-down version of the current accent. Even Ella, in the way she closes to the “ee” in “skies” and the “r” in birds, seems to have been an inspiration for this trend, along with Billie Holiday, with her long “l” on “I’ll” and her “ih” at the ends of “you” and “through.”

So it’s most likely that this is less of a current trend and more of an evolution, through jazz and blues to singer-songwriter through the years and now, to so-called indie girls. At this point, I think it’s important to note that the trend is not limited to women; Shawn Mendes, mentioned in the Buzzfeed article, has maybe the most exaggerated version of this accent I’ve ever heard, and Great Big World (starting at 2:26) does the same thing to “one” that the female artists do. But it does seem particularly prevalent in women, perhaps because of the Adele/Amy Winehouse influence. Still, I’d really prefer not to call it the “indie girl voice,” since guys can and do use it. “Indie pop voice” seems like a slightly better, or at least more PC, term for it. The term still doesn’t really acknowledge the trend’s likely jazz origins, but it speaks to both to the fact that this is an accent, rather than a vocal technique like vibrato or voice breaks, and the accent’s main current use in indie pop.

There’s the origin story of indie pop voice—stay tuned next week as I discuss how we handle the phenomenon as singers and voice teachers!

To read Part 2 of The Indie Pop Voice Phenomenon, click here!

MAJOR LABEL: Is “Groupie” a Bad Word?

GTOs

Nobody likes to be labelled, especially in the music industry. Major Label is a series that takes the often-negative labels and stereotypes attributed to women in music and reclaims them in a positive way.

 

I, like many others, was deeply saddened to hear about David Bowie’s death a few weeks ago. I mourned by listening to my favorite songs and albums of his, by checking out and contemplating his work in “Black Star,” and by reading countless articles and watching interview videos about the man and the legacy he left us. For a beautiful, brief couple of days, everything written or posted about Bowie was overwhelmingly positive.

And then I read this article, which I found through this one.

I guess when you’re a classic rock enthusiast, you have to learn to tolerate the fact that probably every male rock star of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s had sex with hundreds, maybe thousands, of groupies, and that many of these were likely underage girls. Or more accurately, as Stereo Williams points out in the Daily Beast piece, we learn to ignore these instances of clear statutory rape in favor of venerating talented rock stars. The fact is, both exist simultaneously—yes, these men were and are extremely talented and deserve their places in rock history, and yes, they raped young women. We can assert their grievous wrongdoings while still loving their music. That’s about all I’ll say on that matter.

My area of interest in this subject, instead, is the women (or girls) who call themselves groupies and how they view themselves. How do these women conceive of their place in rock and roll history? Are they contributors, historians, fame chasers, liberated feminists, exploited victims, or just women having a good time and doing whatever they want?

First, a definition, because the term “groupie” means slightly different things in different contexts. A Google search led me to a standard dictionary definition, which says a groupie is “a person, especially a young woman, who regularly follows a pop music group or other celebrity in the hope of meeting or getting to know them,” and an Urban Dictionary definition, saying that a groupie is, “a young woman, often underage, who seeks to achieve status by having sex with rock musicians, roadies, security, and other band-related guys.” The Urban Dictionary one is the meaning I’ll explore here, as it’s both the most common and the most negative.

I don’t think I need to explain the negativity associated with groupies—they’re seen as slutty, manipulative, opportunistic, and worst of all, devoid of talent beyond their looks. What’s interesting is that these stereotypes surrounding groupies seem to spring more from women than men.

Most of these female fans and women who date musicians are quick to distance themselves from the “groupie” moniker, and some even admit to assuming women in attendance at a concert are there more to ogle the musicians and not to listen to the music. There’s some obvious assumptions and slut-shaming happening there, but nevertheless, there is a distinction to be made between these different types of female fans and women who date musicians. Most female fans are not groupies—it is a distinct subculture that emerged with the nascence of rock in the 50s and flourished into the 60s and 70s. (For a very brief groupie history overview, read this.)

almostfamous

Most people’s concepts of groupie culture begin and end with the movie Almost Famous, which is certainly a good place to start. Penny Lane is reportedly an amalgam of several highly sought-after groupies of the late sixties and seventies, including Lori Mattix, Sable Starr, Pamela Des Barres and the rest of the GTOs, and likely countless others. But Cameron Crowe’s website claims Penny Lane is mostly based on a woman named Pennie Trumbull, whose story you can read here. It’s clear from her story that the film embellished some elements, and completely created some like the overdose. Nevertheless, we see Pennie Trumbull emphasize her commitment to supporting the music, and similarly, the “groupies” in the movie disdaining the term “groupie;” according to Penny Lane, “Groupies sleep with rock stars because they want to be near someone famous. We’re here because of the music…we inspire the music.” However, Penny Lane and the others also claim that they don’t have sex to avoid exploiting their bodies and hearts, which is neither true of the movie nor of groupie culture in general—as we’ll see, they did have sex, and they really didn’t feel too exploited about it. But the first quote is the most relevant—to groupies, it is all about the music.

Groupie culture was very much a way of life in the 60s and 70s, with its own philosophy and aesthetic. Magazines devoted to groupie culture, like Star, taught young girls the groupie way of life, with features on beauty tips, how to find your own SUPERFOX and avoid the “going steady trap,” comics and fanfiction about romantic encounters with rock stars, and, perhaps surprisingly, interviews with prominent musicians focusing entirely on their music and creative processes. Read all five issues of the magazine here for a good introduction to the groupie movement.

pameladesbarres

My most eye-opening window into groupie culture came by way of Pamela Des Barres’ insanely funny and revelatory memoir called I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie (note that Des Barres embraces the “groupie” label!). Dave Navarro wrote the preface, and mostly got it right (although his advising girls not to be jealous and guys to read the book with a box of tissues handy—not for crying, obviously—made me physically ill). He points out that Des Barres is a rock and roll historian, and that although the book you’ll read is written from her personal perspective, she details events in rock history from the inside. Des Barres herself recounts how she wanted to be close to rock music because of how deeply, in a raw, emotional, sexual way, it made her feel, and she wanted to support the rockers who made her feel that way. And in sharing her story, she offers a window into the true, naked (pun intended) culture of rock and roll, and how the music was about far more than just the musicians who made it. Still, as I was reading her self-assured, unabashedly pleasure-seeking memoir, I had one overwhelming thought—why didn’t it ever occur to her to pick up a guitar and make music herself? Was she settling for sleeping with rock stars when really, she wanted to BE a rock star?

To be completely fair, Des Barres was a member of the short-lived music group the GTOs, or Girls Together Outrageously, made up entirely of groupies in Los Angeles and curated by Frank Zappa. The women read poetry and sang their lyrics while Zappa arranged sparse rock instrumentals for them (listen here if you’d like; it is, in a word, unique). She was also an actress, and for a while designed and sewed outfits for rock stars, so she did have creative outlets. And although she spends much of the book looking for one rock star to support forever, and ends up hugely disappointed as each one inevitably leaves her or cannot commit to her (or she can’t commit to him!), she expresses few, if any, regrets. She views herself as inspiration for the music, and thus a heavy creative influence, refuting any “talentless” stereotype. And now, she chooses to share her perspective on rock music and what it meant to its fans as a sort of participatory historian. So really, she didn’t become a rock star because she didn’t want to—she was doing exactly what she wanted to be doing, and nobody, including myself, has the right to judge or pity that.

The running thread between the different groupie accounts I’ve encountered thus far, including Lori Mattix’s interview above, is that these women largely did not feel exploited or taken advantage of. They really felt incredibly in control of their sexuality, proud, powerful, desirable, and free. Des Barres writes in her book about how it was empowering to her that these influential, famous rock musicians were cowed by her sexuality, her body. They wanted her badly and she loved it! For these reasons, groupies have had a tempestuous relationship with feminists; groupies emerged within the second wave of feminism, when some feminists would criticize their reliance on their looks and sexuality for success, and some would applaud their free-love, sex-positive attitudes. Some sex-positive feminists even argue that statutory rape laws are inherently sexist, as they imply that teenage girls are naïve and pure and must be protected from evil older men. I certainly can’t support that line of logic completely, though I see where it’s coming from. But I’ll point out that statutory rape does not exclusively apply to female victims or to male rapists, and that teenage girls are legally free to sleep with as many teenage boys as they want. The age gap is the source of the predatory tone here, regardless of gender. But any implication that consenting adult groupies are somehow innocent victims of experienced rock stars and their drug-heavy lifestyle grossly ignores the groupies’ perspectives. They wanted sex with rock stars, they got it, and they got it exactly when and where they wanted it. This is just mounting evidence that the groupies of the sixties and seventies were pioneers in sex-positive feminism, with its merits and flaws, at a time when it was still controversial.

And so, I confer no judgements on young groupies, or on consenting adult groupies and their rock star lovers—or at least, I try my best not to. The term “groupie” is a badge of honor for them—they contributed to a liberated sexual movement that influenced the creative outpouring of rock and roll in its early days. Not everyone obsessed with music wants to be a musician; and, I hasten to add, not all women who sleep with or date rock stars are groupies. It’s a specific, sex-positive, music-appreciating, cultural identity, and one that is crucial to understanding fully the nuanced history of rock and roll and of women’s involvement in that history. The worst thing we could do would be to ignore them, or tolerate their existence while lauding the rock stars they accompanied. The groupies were an integral part of the music and the culture; they saw it all, and they’ll talk about it unabashedly. That’s definitely a perspective worth hearing.

 

For more on groupies, check out these blurbs about different groupies and their lives: http://learni.st/users/4054/boards/67310-some-girls-a-guide-to-the-classic-groupie

And for another positive groupie perspective, read here: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/we-support-the-music-reconsidering-the-groupie