It has been over ten years since Lilith Fair, the all-female music tour, hit festival stages across the country and, like its namesake, the tour has experienced a significant fall from grace. Unlike the Lilith Fair of the late 1990s, the 2010 version has reportedly suffered from low ticket sales, griping about less-than-stellar lineups, and date cancellations. In an era where female acts, both mainstream and indie, have gained much more exposure and respect, is there really a need for a festival devoted solely to women performers?
Sarah McLachlan and company say yes and, despite the problems mentioned above, were able to corral a surprisingly diverse group of talent. Yes, you still have your Indigo Girls and your Sheryl Crows, but the second stage is littered with a sundry lineup that includes indie darlings like Brooklyn’s Chairlift (fronted by Caroline Polacheck) and Los Angeles’ The Submarines (fronted by Blake Hazard).
We caught up with five ladies performing in the festival for the first time — check them out in a city near you.
1. Blake Hazard of The Submarines Performing in: Seattle, WA and San Francisco, CA
Along with co-band member John Dragonetti, Blake Hazard has created some of the best indie pop this decade. Once a couple, the duo used the pain and tension of their break-up to create their debut album Declare a New State! Their second album, Honeysuckle Weeks, enjoyed wider exposure when two of its tracks were used in commercials for Apple’s iPhone.
Flavorpill: The first album deals with your break-up with John and, especially on songs like “Brighter Discontent,” the lyrics are very raw and real. During the recording process, was it awkward to have John hear your most intimate thoughts on the break-up?
Blake Hazard: I think we’ve both tried to make a sort of leap when we present songs to each other. We try to hone in on their merits as songs and not whether we like what the other was saying in them. But of course it would be impossible to ignore and unwitting states-of-the-union. Because we worked so closely on this latest record, we sort of wrote in character a bit and opened up by fooling ourselves in that way. Playing the songs night after night is another story. Sometimes you just lose yourself in the performance and other times it feels like we’re singing right to each other.
FP: It’s been over two years since your last album
— when can we expect a new Submarine’s album and what new ground would you like to cover with a third record?
BH: We’ve been mixing tracks with the fantastic John O’Mahoney, who has worked on some spectacular records, so to be sure the sound is a bit bigger this time around. We’re only just now getting used to the songs themselves. We let ourselves sink a bit deeper and to explode with joy. It’s a dynamic record and I can’t wait to play the songs live.
FP: You’re getting ready to play the 2010 Lilith Fair festival — are there any other performers that you’re most excited to meet or see perform?
BH: Well, there are different people on each bill so there are some that I’m sad not to possibly encounter backstage. But some of my earliest influences are playing Lilith like Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Mary J. Blige, and Beth Orton, as well as some acts I just really love like Metric, Tegan and Sara, and Cat Power. It’s an amazing lineup.
FP: As a duo, how does John feel about playing a festival dedicated to female performers? Will you be performing any of the songs that he sings lead on?
BH: He’s totally into it. I think we both see it as, above all, to play with bands and artists that we’re honored to share a bill with. And I’m sure he won’t mind the multitude of ladies. We both think the Lilith mission is an excellent one from the start. And yes, he’ll sing!
2. Janelle Monae Performing in: Raleigh, NC, Charlotte, NC, and Atlanta, GA
Janelle Monae’s ambitious debut full-length LP,
, is a daring concept album that picks up where her EP
left off. Both tell the story of Cindi Mayweather, an android who is on the run in a 1984-esque utopia because she has fallen in love with a human being – strictly forbidden in this world. Quirky but filled with catchy hooks and melody lines, it’s the perfect blend of the familiar and the obscure.
Flavorpill: The Archandroid is a pretty diverse mix of styles, from the tribal sounds of Tightrope to the dreamy retro-pop of Sir Greendown. What were your influences?
Janelle Monae: A lot of the songs came to me in my dreams. Also, Salvidor Dali; surrealism was a huge influence. I thought of the sounds in terms of colors. The main producer and I would speak to each other in colors. Like, I would say that I wanted to hear more bright red in some spots or bright green — soften it up, or darken it.
FP: As a woman of color in the music industry, do you think there’s an expectation for you to produce a certain kind of music or kind of sound?
JM: Absolutely but we live in an iPod generation. People are not just listening to one kind of music so I’d never do a completely hip hop album or a completely classical album. I mean, my iPod ranges from Jimi Hendrix to Madonna to Rachmaninoff to Lauryn Hill. We’re lovers of music no matter what the genre. We weren’t trying to be different just for the sake of being different, we wanted to create timeless music. The kind of music that will be around for generations.
FP: You’re going to be doing some dates during this summer’s Lilith Fair festival — do you think it’s important nowadays to have festival that’s dedicated solely to female performers?
JM: Yeah, why not? I think it’s important as women to celebrate our differences. That’s the most important thing, that there’s a lineup of women in the industry that are doing their own thing. There are young girls out there who are trying to decide if they are going to be comfortable with who they are or if they’re just going to live a lie. And I’m always about individuality so I’m honored to be part of the festival because I get to contribute to how amazing the woman is.
FP: The Archandroid has been really well received, with some people comparing it to the most creative works of artists like Michael Jackson and Prince — how do you respond to that praise?
JM: I don’t get too high on praise or accolades. I’m very appreciative of critics’ support, but I’m jut enjoying my journey. This is just the beginning of my career, I have many more creations to make. I’m very proud of The Archandroid and the music I’ve done so far.
3. Lissie Performing in: Raleigh, NC and Charlotte, NC
, the debut album from folk/rock singer Lissie will be released later this summer in the States, but has already garnered heaps of praise from critics across the Atlantic. It’s a smooth blend of blues and rock are perfectly complimented by Lissie’s grainy voice. Her much-buzzed-about cover of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” highlights her imaginative interpretive skills but is no match for her original material, especially on tracks like “In Sleep” and “Oh Mississippi.”
Flavorpill: Many of your songs are so rooted in distinctly American imagery – you talk about LA in “In Sleep” and mention Appalachian farmers in “Little Lovin.” Do you think non-Americans will be able to relate to your music?
Lissie: I think it’s especially romantic in Europe actually just like we romanticize England and the rest of Europe here in the States. So they really seem to like it I’d say. My spirit has a bit of wanderlust so the references to American locations has been a way of feeling experiences and marking them, so to say.
FP: You covered Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” in a video on your YouTube channel – do you think, underneath the crazy costumes, she has something real to say in her music?
Lissie: Lady Gaga is an extremely talented lady – all the more power to her. Her lyrics are great, her melodies are great, and she can sing and play the piano like a bad ass. She also seems genuinely appreciative of her fans so yeah, she’s got it going on.
FP: Musically, you seem to have such a clear point of view but you’ve said of the recording process that you weren’t sure how the “entire picture” of your debut LP would turn out in the end. How did it all come together?
Lissie: It came together the more I did it, you know? Musicians, engineers, and producers – they all colored the picture. Getting the trust and connection with all of those folks and having trust in them just led to things happening naturally. I know so much more now than I did and I can’t wait to make album number two.
FP: You’ll be doing two dates of Lilith Fair this summer – what most excites you about being part of the tour?
Lissie: Well, I went to the Chicago show when I was 16 and I just got goosebumps and shivers thinking that this is what I had to do with my life. What these amazing women were doing inspired me to keep writing, keep performing, and embrace my fierce femininity.
4. Ashley Koley of Ash Koley Performing in: Montreal, QC and Toronto, ON
Canadian duo Ash Koley is Ashley Koley and Phil Deschambault and their quirky pop hit “Don’t Let Your Feet Touch Ground” has slowly been climbing the charts in their home country of Canada. The two signed with Terry McBride’s Nettwerk Records, a co-partner in the Lilith Fair tour, and are currently putting the finishing touches on their debut record.
Flavorpill: This summer, the Lilith Fair is going to be your touring debut — are you nervous?
Ashley Koley: I’m more excited than anything. We’re both just so excited that we’re lucky enough to have Lilith Fair as our touring debut. That’s pretty amazing. I’m sure we’ll be pretty nervous when we get there, but for right now we’re both really excited.
FPL Are there any other Lilith performers that you’re most excited to meet or see perform?
AK: I’m excited to see Erykah Badu. I don’t think anybody is performing at the same time so we’ll be able to see everybody we’re performing with. From what I understand they’re going to be video taping everyone and playing it from screens in the front of the stage, so we should be able to see everyone.
FP: You have an EP out now — are there any plans to release a debut LP in the near future?
AK: Well, we’ve officially finished all of the recording and writing for our debut album. So now it’s just about doing all of the mixing and mastering. We plan on releasing it sometime later this year, we just don’t have a date yet.
FP: Can you tell us anything about what it will sound like?
AK: We’re both pretty silly people so it’s pretty uplifting and about not taking yourself so seriously.
FP: We read on your Twitter that you were having some technical difficulties recently — what happened?
AK: Phil backs up all of our stuff in Winnipeg on his computer and there was a storm going on for a while and I guess he left his computer in the studio and there was a power outage. It basically fried the hard drive and there were two songs on there that we’d just finished recording but that were backed up yet so we have to redo them both. He called me and I could just tell how upset he was. And I told him it’d be OK and not to worry. He got a new hard drive — we’re good to go.
5. Anya Marina Performing in: Salt Lake City, UH and Denver, CO
After trying her hand in acting, comedy, and as a DJ, Anya Marina decided musician was the best fit — and it seems to be working out for her so far. After her debut album Miss Halfway
was released in 2005, Anya was named one of the Best Unsigned Acts by a San Diego newspaper. Since then Anya has released her second album Slow & Steady Seduction, Phase II
and had a song featured on the wildly popular New Moon soundtrack.
Flavorpill: You hail from San Diego — is there a San Diego sound? What classifies it?
Anya Marina: I don’t think there’s a distinctive San Diego sound as much as there’s an attitude like don’t sweat stuff too much. Whether its Pinback or Jason Mraz or Blink 182 or Wirepony, it’s not too angsty or cerebral lyrically. Maybe neurotic is what I really mean. Nobody’s over-thinking stuff in San Diego or being too wordy. Like, The Decemberists aren’t going to migrate south to write their new album, you know?
FP: In terms of your sound, who would you say are your greatest influences?
AM: Probably all of the records I grew up with pressed key buttons in my musical skeletal system. I had a Beatles love songs anthology, The White Album, a bunch of YES, Air Supply, Chicago, and Prince. My parents always had jazz or some Stan Getz or Elis Regina on. I think I know every word to every Barbra Streisand record and the Cabaret soundtrack.
FP: You’re doing Lilith Fair this summer — any artists on the tour you’re particularly excited to meet or see perform?
AM: I hope to see every single woman I can squeeze in, especially Sarah McLachlan, Metric, Ingrid Michaelson, and, of course, I’d love to see my pal Erin McCarley who I used to hang out with a lot in San Diego.
FP: The first time Lilith was around was 1997 and you were working for a radio station. Has music always been your passion — we hear you also tried your hand in acting and comedy, too.
AM: Music as a career never really occurred to me until after Lilith when I moved to San Diego and started playing some open mic nights. Once people keep showing up, you know you’re probably doing something right. I was doing radio and music simultaneously and radio was my day job for about 10 years up until I got signed and had to go on tour. I had the best of both worlds for a really long time.