WomenROCK the SF Independent June 16


WomenROCK, the Bay Area’s all-female musician, artist, and activist collective, continues to get bigger, better and more visible. On June 16, WomenRock stages its fourth year anniversary concert at The Independent, featuring a stellar line-up of Bay Are acts. *bernadette*, Stripmall Architecture, Ziva, and Conspiracy of Venus along with some burlesque and comedy for good measure. Expect some of the best rock, pop, indie and vocals the accomplished community has to offer. Which is saying a lot. I asked several of the acts about their work and what audiences can expect on the 16th.


A true original, Israeli born and classically trained Ziva draws on her adventurous, globe-trotting past to compose passionate piano and vocal driven tunes that merge rock, pop and jazz. Backed by a band that includes strings and elements of good old rock and roll, Ziva is currently working on her debut full-length CD.

Q: How has WomenROCK influenced you as a musician in the SF music scene?

Z: WomenROCK has played a key role in my life ever since joining the group in January 2009. The support and resources have been invaluable to my progression in the SF music scene. The community driven ideology has been an ongoing inspiration for producing and taking part in meaningful events, giving back and nurturing this community, and also led to wonderful collaborations.

Q: How has, or is, the San Francisco music scene influenced your sound?

Z: The SF music scene has not influenced my sound as much as it has influenced my personal life. Most of my friends are active musicians in the Bay Area. I have learned a lot from them about showmanship and knowing my way around.


Conspiracy of Venus

Yes, it’s an all-women’s spin-off of the all-men’s a’capella choir, Conspiracy of Beards, who popularly pay homage to the work of songwriter Leonard Cohen, but it’s a disservice to CoV to leave the comparison at that. Boasting 50 members and a songbook that covers a range of material from Hildegard von Bingen to Tom Waits, CoV has its very own serious musical business to do. Directed by Joyce Todd McBride, CoV will wow you with its own brand of a’capella awesomeness.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your song selection for the WomenRock set?

CV: We chose a set of songs with powerful texts by original creative forces such as Joni Mitchell, Bjork, Tom Waits, Iris Dement, and Leonard Cohen. Joni is featured most prominently. Why? Her music has evolved over her long career, she doesn’t stick with one style, and her songs have a directness and honesty that makes them worthy of singing hundreds of times (which we do when we are learning them!). Bjork represents nature and technology as co-conspirators rather than antagonists. Iris Dement is also a songwriter of great intimacy and spirit. She too is not afraid to speak difficult truths. Leonard Cohen’s ‘I’m Your Man’ is a song about the high altar of what is possible when a heart is truly open. Finally, Waits’ ‘Jockey Full of Bourbon’ celebrates the disequilibrium of a good bender.

Q: How does one join the Conspiracy? Can you talk about working with such a diverse bunch of vocalists?

CV: Joining Conspiracy of Venus requires commitment, first and foremost. Auditioning for Conspiracy of Venus is casual compared to other performance groups, but does require being comfortable singing an a’cappella version of your own or another artist’s music. The artistic director, Joyce Todd McBride, likes to hear a potential Venusian sing something of her own choosing and then runs through some vocal exercises with her. This allows Joyce to become familiar with each singer’s unique voice. After the audition, Joyce allows the singer to sit in on our weekly rehearsal. This process allows all parties to determine if the potential member would be a good match.

It is great to work with a diverse group of vocalists, because everyone brings something unique and valuable to the table. With each new member and season the choir is recharged with new energy and enthusiasm, allowing us to grow and adapt in a challenging industry. It is also nice to have a diverse range of vocalists, because they produce a rich and textured mix that would be more difficult to achieve with a less diverse group.*bernadette*

One of the flag bearers of the Mission arts scene, *bernadette*’s musical evolution knows no bounds (see Interview here). Collaborative, community-centric, individually questing and generous of heart, count on *bernadette* to continue expanding her sound from folk to rock to funk, to…?

Q: Talk about your writing process?

b: Writing music is a very simple and easy process for me. All I need to hear are a few chords and a melody and ideas start flowing out of me. I’ve always been a poet, so lyrics are omnipresent. The newest song that I co-wrote with my music collaborator, Pamela Parker came out of an idea that I had to write a song about California, and as my experience goes, the song wrote itself from beginning to end. We sat in the music studio, laughed, drank a glass of wine and the song unfolded in several hours and was finished at 5:59am when I immediately sent it to my guitarist and music mentor, Garrin Benfield who emailed back, ‘I like it, let’s do it!” I tend to write rhythmically, and a lot of the chorus’ that I write are catchy but I’ve written in various genres like a psychedelic surf-punk tune, a droney Neil Young-ish number, a slightly more indie song and some folk rock. I love songwriting and am now working on recording my first record—I can’t wait to finally share my musical expressions.

Q: How do you work together as a band?

b: I have had the unique and privileged experience of playing with professional, touring musicians on the national level since beginning to play music four years ago. A few friends encouraged me to take the songs that I had written in Bonnie Hayes’ songwriting class and form a band to play out in San Francisco. I was deathly afraid and filled with performance anxiety and stage fright but felt that I really needed to conquer this fear. My friend invited a few players, among them, Garrin Benfield. Garrin is the musical director of my band and has really helped me to learn how to work with musicians, material and mentored me over the years. I consider him the star of my band as he is an incredible musician and singer and I consider myself the visionary and ‘contextualizer.’ We’ve only played with friends and people that I really love and care about so working together as a band for me is like family. It’s always been a very professional experience as well but mostly, its just fun as hell.

Q: Who are your musical heroes?

b: Thom Yorke is currently my biggest hero. I got to meet him and spend a good amount of time backstage with him for his Atoms for Peace show this past April. We talked as if we’d been friends for years and could just drink a glass of wine and discuss music, wheat grass and important things like the environment—something that I truly admire in him. For me, doing something great with your art is the most important power we possess as we have the power to positively impact, influence and change the lives of others for the better—it’s our responsibility. Thom is doing it and it was so great to laugh with him and share his intellect and humour—he’s just a great guy and a great performer… charming, authentic, energized and personal. …I [also] listen to the music of my immediate peers: the folks that I play music with who have album after album under their belts already. I’m listening a lot to my own music and really paying attention so that I really know what sounds I want for my upcoming record. I’m really excited to be in the studio and record my first album!

Stripmall Architecture

Featuring Halou members Ryan and Rebecca Coseboom, guitarist Tim Hingston and drummer Patrick Harte, Stripmall Architecture boasts both a great band name and impeccable musicianship. Critics have compared the quartet to the Cocteau Twins and Siguir Ross. Stripmall Architecture captivates audiences with evocative vocals and lush and slightly urgent musical soundscapes.

Q: What is it like to be a DIY, entrepreneurial band and what does that entail?

SA: In the past we’ve been on a really, really big label, as well as a couple of small indie labels and we never really thrived under either of those kinds of relationships. When we started Stripmall Architecture, we decided to do absolutely everything ourselves. It certainly removes ambiguity around who is responsible for what; it’s always us! I imagine this kind of setup could be a bit lonely – we were a little afraid we’d be working in a vacuum. We decided to actually involve our fans in a lot of the things we do.

Our first album was completely funded by those who pre-ordered it, which was a really positive thing for us. We were a little surprised by that. For this album, Feathersongs For Factory Girls, we decided to take it even further by explicitly asking our fans to invest in the album. This was right around the time that Kickstarter got going, so we used that site to fund the album and reward our fans for their backing the project. (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stripmall/fund-the-new-stripmall-architecture-release) We offered custom songs and other, more experiential things that we would be interested in as fans of a band. Doing this really helped to open our eyes about the kind of band that we would have to become, versus the kind of band that we were. We’ve since come out of our shell and have been more interactive with our existing fans and more creative about seeking out new ones. At first, it felt really unnatural, but now it’s just part of what we do. We love making music and we love meeting new people and turning them into listeners and friends.

Our live shows have been building into something quite extraordinary that we’re really excited about, and we have been trying all sorts of new things onstage. A couple of weeks ago, we arranged several of our songs for strings and we performed half our set with a violin/viola/cello trio accompanying us, which I thought was quite beautiful. During a lot of our set, it was hard not just stand there and listen to what was coming from the other side of the stage.

Often times we will incorporate non-traditional instruments such as typewriters, crystal glasses, and choirs into our live shows. This past winter, we did an entire performance of the music of This Mortal Coil, which involved a 10-piece ensemble, which included a string quartet and three vocalists. The show sold out quickly and generated one of the most emotional responses I’ve ever seen to a live performance I’ve done. People were coming up to us with tears in their eyes saying they never thought they’d hear that material live. It was a lot of work, but really rewarding.

Q: Where did you get the inspiration for your latest record release? Artwork?

SA: The songs on Feathersongs For Factory Girls are some of the most eclectic we’ve recorded to date. With the production, Ryan tried to conjure all sorts of atmospherics around the songs, which, at their core, were really quite stark and simple. Once we recorded the basic guitar tracks, for example, we would spend most of our studio time turning knobs on effects pedals and loopers until we got some unique textures going. In the past, I would have mostly used synthesizers or samplers for this, but it’s much more exciting and chaotic to do on the fly.

[as far as inspiration for the songs] “Pripyat” is about Chernobyl. The story of Chernobyl has always amazed and terrified me (Rebecca) because I lived through the end of the cold war and so am still jumpy about all things nuclear. (I think all of us cold war kids are.) So, when I saw pictures of the town of Pripyat, I became obsessed, as I do, and just wanted to learn all about it. “Radium Girls”… In 1917, Orange, NJ, there was a factory that produced glow-in-the-dark watch dials. The people who painted the dials were young local women and they painted with these teeny tiny camel hair brushes which lost their point after a few strokes. So, the management (which, of course, this being 1917, was all men) encouraged the women to point the brushes with their lips and tongues to keep them sharp. The male owners, managers, and scientists knew the effects of radium and used lead screens, masks and tongs to avoid contact. To the girls they said “If you swallow any radium, it’ll make your cheeks rosy.”  This is a classic tale of the man trying to keep you down. It has all the elements, evil corporation, conspiracy, sexism. All the great stuff. And honestly, this is classic Howard Zinn-esque material. The US Radium Corporation is now a Superfund site, number NJD980654172.

Women Rock! Wednesday, June 16, 2010 8:00p at The Independent, San Francisco, CA



Deborah Crooks
Deborah Crooks (www.DeborahCrooks.com) is a writer, performing songwriter and recording artist based in San Francisco whose lyric driven and soul-wise music has drawn comparison to Lucinda Williams, Chrissie Hynde and Natalie Merchant.

Singing about faith, love and loss, her lyrics are honed by a lifetime of writing and world travel while her music draws on folk, rock, Americana and the blues. She released her first EP "5 Acres" in 2003 produced by Roberta Donnay, which caught the attention of Rocker Girl Magazine, selecting it for the RockerGirl Discoveries Cd. In 2007, she teamed up with local producer Ben Bernstein to complete "Turn It All Red" Ep, followed by 2008's "Adding Water to the Ashes" CD, and a second full-length CD "2010. She's currently working on a third CD to be released in 2013.

Deborah's many performance credits include an appearance at the 2006 Millennium Music Conference, the RockerGirl Magazine Music Convention, IndieGrrl, at several of the Annual Invasion of the GoGirls at SXSW in Austin, TX, the Harmony Festival and 2009's California Music Fest, MacWorld 2010, Far West Fest and many other venues and events. She toured the Northwest as part "Indie Abundance Music, Money & Mindfulness" (2009) with two other Bay Area artists, and followed up with "The Great Idea Tour of the Southwest in March 2010 with Jean Mazzei.
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