R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (Baby I Got It)
November 29, 2007 | Author: Kathy McCabe
Kathy McCabe’s piece on female artists for the Clare Bowditch edited all-female issue in 2007 was another acclaimed article.
Whether survivors of a lifetime in the trenches or thrust more recently into the mainstream music industry, these women have done it their way. And luckily, with some good men on the sidelines. Kathy McCabe talks to Marcia Hines, E.J. Barnes, The Veronicas’ Lisa Origliasso, Operator Please’s Amandah Wilkinson, Abby Dobson and Jade MacRae about being performers, songwriters and roadies.
Marcia Hines often gets asked if it has been tough being a woman in the Australian music industry. In her fourth decade as a performer, recording artist and more recently again a television personality, Hines epitomises the survivor.
“I never thought it was tough being a woman my whole life,” she says. “I think it’s as tough as you want it to be. Work with the difficulty, I say.”
While she has been married four times, the men in her musical life have been steadfast, including manager Peter Rix and agent Tony Grace. “It’s a great think tank. We just sit around a table and yell at each other.” Hines may be accused of being the “good and gentle” judge on Idol but her steely determination and old fashioned manners are not to be trifled with. Bandmates have been dressed down for rudeness to roadies and she will leave business meetings when she starts to feel like “a piece of meat in a butcher shop”.
“You have to earn respect and you earn it by standing shoulder to shoulder. I am a great believer in taking good care of my band and we all take great pride in having a great gig, no matter what. Gender doesn’t come into that, it should always be a team. And team doesn’t have a sex. “And you know when to leave the room when they get blokey. By that time, the singer should be getting some sleep.”
Hines says the highlight of her year was being inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame, only the eighth female solo artist or band member to be honoured since it began in 1988. “It really made my year. That’s the first and only ARIA I had ever received. But it’s a good one,” she says. “And there are a lot of other women who deserve it. What about Dinah Lee? She was a rebel, man. She was hardcore.”
Growing up in the Australian music industry has given EJ Barnes an insider’s view of its colourful characters and seedy underbelly. As a child star with her siblings in the Tin Lids, the second eldest daughter of Jimmy and Jane Barnes was too young to appreciate the considerable success of selling 100,000 copies of their Hey Rudolph debut album. But as she readies her debut solo release, There And Back, EJ is armed with her childhood experience and the two and a half year apprenticeship she served with her father’s band after leaving school. “I think it is definitely a male-dominated industry, especially in Australia. But I have had a sheltered experience of things because my Dad would bash anyone who messes with me,” she laughs.
“I toured with him for two and a half years so everyone was looking out for me and since I’ve toured with great friends like Liam Finn.”
She says most men on tour are of the gentleman variety and she has to insist to literally carry her weight. “I make a point of lugging the kick drum around,” she laughs. “They are always trying to be gentlemanly. Half the fun is setting up and packing up, I enjoy it, it’s therapy and it’s good to know which lead is going where when something goes wrong.”
The 22-year-old singer songwriter said she completed a SAE course after school in double time to prepare herself for touring and recording.“It was to help make me feel more comfortable in the studio. I don’t like not knowing what’s possible and what’s going on. I didn’t go to university so this was a shorter option.” Recording There And Back with family – her uncle Mark Lizotte – and her co-writer Richie Goncalves made the process even more enjoyable. “It was the ultimate easy first album. Richie was the first person I showed any of my songs too and Mark was the first person to show me how to play guitar so it was warm and protected, a womb-like environment in the studio,” she laughs. “Yeah, I don’t know how they’ll feel about that.”
AMANDAH WILKINSON – OPERATOR PLEASE
Silverchair managed to escape any suggestion that they were not the authors of their smash hit breakthrough song Tomorrow and album Frogstomp. But young teen bands now – particularly those fronted by women – are immediately assumed to be the products of a manager or producer svengali.
Operator Please’s frontwoman Amandah Wilkinson is shocked that their well documented formation at high school to compete in a Battle Of The Bands competition seems to be ignored by the less media savvy members of the music industry or fans.
To many, their ARIA award and impressive performance of their breakthrough hit Just A Song About Ping Pong at the ceremony last month were revelations.
“Some people think we have been plucked from somewhere and all this has happened overnight,” Amandah says.
“It’s highly insulting that anyone would suggest we are manufactured. After you see us live, you quickly find out that’s not true. I do kinda laugh at it because all you can do is laugh.”
Despite their teen years, Operator Please have managed to serve their time on stage, thanks to Wilkinson’s persuasiveness and the undeniable catchiness of their sound and look.
“We got up there at the ARIAs and did what we’ve been doing for two and a half years.”
Amandah said the band have treated the learning the business of showbusiness like cramming for exams.
“We’ve had to learn quickly,” she says.
“People can be quite condescending to us and assume we are clueless. When we first went into contracts, it did our heads in.
“So we took time out and went to talk to as many people as we could and paid total attention to the fine print to make sure our best interests were at hand. That’s probably why it took so long for us to sign something.
“It’s hard working with young people and five opinionated young people is harder.”
On tour with Leonardo’s Bride, a support band and associated crew often meant Abby Dobson was one woman among 18 men. So she adapted.
“I didn’t understand at the time; it was only after I left Leonardo’s Bride that I started to become really girly,” Dobson laughs.
“I guess I subverted that so as to not be treated any differently. Now I am celebrating my femaleness. But sometimes I look at radio airplay or music magazines and it will just occur to me that ‘Wow, there’s no females,’ Sometimes it strikes me there are still a ways to go. There’s still a bit of an antiquated gender divide.”
Like the majority of the Australian music sisterhood, Dobson has found plenty of like-souled blokes to make music with. Her former Leonardo’s Bride bandmate Dean Manning, Paul Mac and Jackie Orszaczky guest on her debut solo album Rise Up which was produced by Sarah Blasko’s chief collaborator Robert F Cranny.
“I have been very lucky. Like all work situations, it’s about the relationships you build with people and one on one relationships are the ones I work on,” Dobson says.
“I have great relationships in my orbit. I’m sure there are dickheads out there but I don’t have anything to do with it.”
And she is happy after enough years in the business to admit her limitations when it comes to adapting to life on the road again.
“Oh, I used to lift everything; I really wanted to be seen to be as strong as them. Now my strength doesn’t lie in that place,” she laughs.
“I have pulled muscles heaps of time and for me now, loading gear would be sheer stupidity. I am happy to sit there in a pretty dress.”
LISA ORIGLIASSO – THE VERONICAS
Lisa and Jess Origliasso are two of the sweetest people you’ll meet on a red carpet, but they are fiercely proud and incredulous in equal measure that the word “difficult” has been bandied around boardrooms among those who would impose their will on the twin sisters.
Signed as teenagers to a reputed million dollar deal with Warner Music, they were adamant their opinions would be heard when it came making their second album, Hook Me Up, released this month.
“We were two young girls from Brisbane signing this big international deal and we felt we had to listen. We were prepared to compromise and take on board other people’s opinion but the one thing we have learnt going through the whole thing of being The Veronicas is to grab everything by the horns and realise your opinion is as important as the head honcho in the big office in New York,” Lisa says.
“We were once told to just shut up and sing!
“It’s insane that they sign you and are telling you how awesome you are and the next minute they are running through a list of things they want to change.
“We have had to fight quite strongly for what we believe. If they want to sign puppets they can go find someone else.”
And that includes fighting for their guys, their beloved band members who have toured the world with the girls since the release of their hit debut record, The Secret Life Of The Veronicas.
Lisa and Jess had to insist their band members be flown to Los Angeles to appear in the video for Hook Me Up when it was suggested actors play their roles.
But the girls admit that sharing the tour bus with a bunch of blokes has its limits.
“There’s absolutely nowhere to change except for this tiny cubicle toilet. When you are on the tour bus, you turn into a dude,” she laughs.
Any young female Australian singer songwriter working in the pop milieu, long dominated by beautiful young femmes thrown up by the hitmaker factories, can expect a barrage of cynical questions about their songwriting and musical abilities. Or did they grow up singing into a hairbrush?
Jade MacRae has heard them all being young, female and pop.
“To be honest, in my experience, it hasn’t been that bad for me. The one thing I have had happen is dealing with men who are surprised or shocked you have skills to back up what you are doing,” she says.
“When I was working with Jimmy (Barnes), you meet some of the old rock guys from the old school and they would express huge surprise when they find out you write your own songs. ‘Oh you co-write the lyrics, right?’ That was another common misconception.
“I have encountered that from some producers and songwriters too but it seems to be less in America. I found they were more open-minded.”
MacRae said she did find it disappointing that a female artist with producer and songwriting credits was a “novelty”.
“There are so many of us out there who are active in the whole process, not just in writing but in producing,” she says.
“In some interviews people comment on the fact I did the vocal production for my record. I’m a singer so of course I am interested in how the vocals are going to sound. It’s great people are excited by women doing these things but it shouldn’t really be a novelty.”
Like her fellow frontwomen, MacRae said her male peers were always respectful. And she said the Australian press continued to strongly support female artists who might struggle for notice in commercial electronic media.
“I am constantly reading about multi-talented female artists. You would think that all that good promotion would get it out there to people,” she says.
“But in the end, you just have to do what you do; you don’t want to get in people’s faces. I’m not going to wear a T-shirt that says “I Write My Own Songs And Play My Own Instruments.”