November 29, 2007 | Author: Danielle O’Donohue

vanessaamorosi_normalAs part of our all-female issue edited by Clare Bowditch, Danielle O’Donohue explored the issues facing girls who play in bands with guys

So girls, hands up who wants to be in a band?

All you need is an enthusiasm for music – plenty of boys just bash around on their instruments so no particular musical ability is required although it will help. You’ll need a couple of cooler-than-cool influences to name-drop in interviews and an ability to sit in a tour van for hours and hours on end.

There’s always struggle and tedium when you’re in a band, but when you’re a girl in a band the struggles you face can be of a completely different nature to your band-mates, or the same struggles can take on a whole different outlook. There’s plenty of fun to be had but you’ll also have to deal with a constant diet of late-night truck-stop and take-away food, getting dressed in half-dark venue toilets, and having four or five over-protective newly adopted brothers shadowing your every after gig move.

Lisa Gammaldi from Melbourne band Capeside had never been in a band until she started playing music with a work colleague last year. The pair were going to form a covers duo but starting writing songs and decided to start an ‘originals’ band.
Now Gammaldi is the only female in a band of six. Playing keyboards and sharing vocal duties with the band’s lead singer Simon Blangiardo, Gammaldi is slowly adjusting to life on the road.

“I’ve had to learn they are really unorganised and nothing is guaranteed,” Gammaldi says. “I am the only organised person. I pretty much now have given up. I just have to let things happen and realise we may be sleeping in the van. It’s scaring me because it’s like, what am I going to become?

“I’ve learnt to be a little bit more cruisy about it all. I’ve come to terms with hearing the phrase, ‘Aah, we’ll sort it out,’ so when I say ‘So, where are we going to actually stay when we’re in Sydney?’ ‘Bah, she’ll be right,’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean? We’re leaving tomorrow. We’ve got nothing.’’’

And it’s not just members of new bands starting out who spend countless hours shuffling around trying to find a comfortable position in a tour van. Natalie Bassingthwaighte, singer with Rogue Traders, may have debuted at No 4 on the album charts in October with her band’s latest album Better in the Dark, not to mention selling a lazy 280,000 copies of last album Here Come the Drums, but like any other band, Rogue Traders have been spending time in the UK this year, travelling around in … that’s right, a van.

“I slept for most of it because I can sleep anywhere anytime,” Bassingthwaighte admits. “James (Ash, Rogue Traders founder and keyboard player) was really frustrating because he had his video camera out documenting everything. Really boring! ‘Now we’re going past the church of blah, blah, blah’.
“James sits in the front because he gets car-sick. But by the end of it we all started to get car-sick.”

For Bassingthwaighte a long day in the van is balanced out by the time she gets to spend onstage performing, but it isn’t always easy to transform from someone who’s been cramped into a van for hours on end into the vamp-ish singer selling the band’s energetic electro-pop.

“Getting onstage that’s when you feel, ‘yes, this is cool’,” Bassingthwaighte says. “That’s when you’re in your complete element. It’s kind of a blessing at the end of a day of driving. In Australia because we’ve had success it’s all sorted. I’ve got my hair and make-up person. I’ve got my stylist. But overseas you’re carving your way and you’re starting from scratch.

“There was one time when we got to an Entertainment Centre and there wasn’t a dressing room for us. The only thing they could get was this little dingy Holiday Inn place and we get back to the arena after getting ready and there’s still no dressing room but there’s a little table just before you go onstage so I put my make-up down and this guy goes ‘Excuse me? You can’t use that table’ and I just went, ‘WHERE DO YOU WANT US TO GO?’ I don’t know if I was that forceful but internally I was yelling.”

Karina Utomo from emerging indie noise rockers Young and Restless is used to putting her make-up on in the toilets of venues her band plays each night but Utomo is starting to get this touring caper sussed. Recently she made a purchase that makes live in the van just that tiny bit easier. When you’re on tour you’re constantly seeking comfort,” Utomo explains. “There’s this Indonesian chili sauce called Sambal and I’ve discovered you can buy it in these plastic squeezable bottles so I’ve been carrying that around and everything just tastes really good. You stop over at Hungry Jacks and get Onion Rings, with sambal. Put sambal on your Whopper or sambal on the pies, or sambal on your Subway. Having the sambal on tour just makes everything better.”

Bad food on tour is unfortunately part of the life of a touring band. At the age of 26, Vanessa Amorosi is already a veteran of the industry. The pint-sized singer with the powerhouse voice has been living part of the year in a tour van for most of her life. She’s used to grabbing a couple of sandwiches off the rider before a show to avoid constantly eating junk food after gigs.

For Amorosi life as the sole female member of her band means always having the constant presence of protective band-mates shadowing her every move.“I can’t go anywhere without all the boys going, ‘Who’s going with Vanessa? And where’s she going now? Is she over there? Who is she talking to?’,” Amorosi laughs. “It’s like that all the time and I’m not used to it because I’m the oldest one in our family. I usually do that to my sisters. So now it’s happening to me, it’s like ‘Guys, I’m grown up. Back off. I’m tough.’”

Utomo says she’s been pleasantly surprised by the respect shown her by the predominantly male mosh-pits at Young and Restless shows around the country. “A lot of people ask if I get groped when I go into the mosh because sometimes it’s been pretty brutal,” Utomo says. “People wonder if there’s hands everywhere. That’s why I always wear tights – just keep everything safe. When I went to my first concert, which was Big Day Out, when I wanted to get out of the moshpit this guy helped me out and was being really inappropriate. That was as a punter but now being on the other side there’s just too much respect for that to happen. Everybody’s looking out for each other. They’re not going to try and step over the line.”

In fact, keyboard player Gammaldi says she’s even seen her band-mates and members of other  bands Capeside have shared a bill with, show chivalry and she’s impressed. “Let me tell you what the best part is about being the girl in the band with all the boys … they insist on carrying your stuff,” Gammaldi laughs. “It’s awesome. I don’t want to be that… ‘Aw, I’m such a girl.’ So I always try. But the fact is, I couldn’t carry most of the stuff that’s in there. I really couldn’t. I’ll end up carrying one of the cymbal cases and even that’s a bit heavy.
“I’ve got no upper body strength whatsoever but I will try and struggle through it and carry that damn keyboard that weighs like a ton, but they’ll see me and be like, ‘Lise, give me the keyboard.’ I’m like, ‘You sure? Nah, don’t worry about it guys.’ But it’s even guys in the other bands that we play with. I’ll turn around and they’re there rolling off my keyboard. There are advantages. I guess I have to be compensated for all the crap …”

Ask Bassingthwaighte, Gammaldi, Utomo or Amorisi and they’ll all confess to growing up as tom-boys, being one of the boys is as natural to each of them as getting up onstage is and and though there’s sacrifices and discomfit, there’s no place they’d rather be.

“We’re all so passionate about what we do on stage and it’s such an experience, a bond you don’t make with other people,” Amorosi says. “There’s just stories that if I tried to tell the girls I grew up with back home or the guys I do motocross with they’d be like … so! You come home and it’s so lonely. I can’t wait to get back on the road so I can have that conversation. It’s such a different life, road life.”