Kelly Alvarez, women in the punk scene

Last week Citybeat ran a feature on Kelly Alvarez, the San Diego vocalist who has done backup vocals for many, many San Diego bands tangentially associated with the Art Fag scene. I first heard her voice via her contributions to the Plot‘s first record, Dissertation Honey. I remember thinking that she sounded like a 5000-pound version of Betty Boop–very powerful yet cutesy. Reading the article, I was struck by something that Andrew Miller of the Prayers had to say about working with her.

“When Kelly opens her mouth, people are just blown away by her voice,” Miller says. “So it wasn’t hard to believe that people would like the music we did with her.”

Miller was especially struck by the differences between working with men and writing music with Alvarez.

“It’s obnoxious that every band is four guys, and so redundant,” he says. “To work with a woman who has a huge creative contribution was refreshing and fun. It takes a more special girl than it does for a guy to make music. And Kelly is definitely that.”

Good points get made indelicately all the time: in this case, I’m referring to the comment about it taking “a more special girl” than guy to make music. I’m fascinated by the imbalance between women and men in punk music. In many ways, it’s far more dramatic than the racial imbalance between everyone else and whites in the scene, though more gets made of that angle. I’ve spent time talking to a variety of women musicians who are down in the trenches, so to speak, touring with bands and playing instruments. True, there aren’t many women working in the punk and indie idiom (though there are more now than when Kim Deal was getting started), but it’s even more rare for them to get out and tour. I think it does a musician with a trained voice like Alvarez something of a disservice to insinuate that she’s more special not for her obvious vocal skills than for her sex. But, as much as I hate to do it, I have to recognize that it does apparently take a special kind of woman to spend months on the van circuit.

Variously I’ve posed the question of why there aren’t more women in touring bands to musicians like Sarah Balliet from Murder by Death, Carla Cherry from the Lovekill, Genevieve Tremblay from Fifth Hour Hero, Maria Brink from In this Moment, Marie Litton of Ghost Buffalo, and my good pal Emily Francis, who has tour managed bands like Planes Mistaken for Stars, the Forecast, and many, many more. The answers range from things like perceived and actual misogyny in the scene to things like less emphasis on playing “rock music” instruments in high school band and orchestra (my experience with the drum line was such that the women were cymbal players, guys manned the drums) to issues like the filth associated with life on the road and the lack of comraderie–i.e. more women would do it, they believe, if more women would do it (side note–the majority of the women discussed here are married to or linked romantically with other members of their band). How to bring about that tipping point is the question.

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1 Comment

  1. If I had any musical talent (and we all know I do not), I think deciding to tour would be difficult. Personally, less so for the real or perceived misogyny in the scene (though I can say I’ve experienced that misogyny just as a blogger) than for the realities of road life, namely, YOU can piss in a water bottle. It’s kinda the same reason I try to avoid the Zombie Lounge. in my opinion, bathroom issues are significantly more challenging for a chick.


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