Women in music strive for fair treatment

Photo by: Eliza Hill
The Smoky Mountain Sirens performing at Salvage Station in Asheville, Saturday, August 31, 2019.

Eliza Hill

Arts & Features Staff Writer

ehill4@unca.edu

I stuff a pair of drumsticks inside my black studded boots, pick up my suitcase and scan my apartment for anything else I may need in West Virginia before I lock my door and head out. The band, as usual, is late to pick me up so I rest on my stoop and take a breath. As the warm April air fills my lungs and the afternoon sun pierces my eyes, I fantasize how brisk and cool it will be tonight in the mountains of Fayetteville, West Virginia. I cringe as I realize how sweaty and boggy tomorrow night will be in Charleston located in a valley along the oily and coal-infested Kanawha River. 

I scan over my mental list of extraneous items I should have packed for this trip, including several changes of clothing and a hairdryer so I don’t have to awkwardly traipse around a bar full of strangers dripping in sweat after the shows. While male musicians can play a show, sweat their ass off, go to bed, wake up looking totally normal, throw on a new pair of underwear the next day and get on to the next show, I cannot say the same for myself. 

In late high school I began playing bars regularly with my what is still my current band, Andrew Scotchie & the River Rats, and I realized people take differently to a greasy, sweaty young girl. The boys receive comments about ‘how hard they were working,’ or none at all. My post-show commentary usually follows the lines of: ‘honey, don’t you want a towel to dry off? Don’t you want to change? Don’t you want to go to the bathroom and fix your makeup?’ As if I’m not allowed to show proof of hard work or evidence of physical exertion. 

Aside from people constantly assuming I’m a groupie and the occasional sexual harassment, this is only one small difference between touring as a male musician and female musician. 

Finally, our white 12-passenger Ford rises over the crest of the hill and I eagerly stand up and grab my belongings. Bass player Keith Harry stretches out on one of the back bench seats of the van napping, our guitar player and fearless leader Andrew Scotchie sits at the wheel. His shaggy blond hair hangs in his face and one lanky arm dangles from the window holding a cigarette.

“Got everything? You ready?” Scotchie asks, hopping out of the van. 

I nod and assume position in the driver’s seat because I know how much Andrew hates driving. One time he insisted on driving the van to a show in Johnson City, but only made it to Weaverville before he lost interest and forfeited the wheel to me, retreating to the back seat where he resumed emailing venues and taking care of business. 

With Keith snoring lightly behind me, Andrew shuffling through a road trip playlist to my right, I slide my seat back to accommodate my long legs, put on my sunglasses, tilt the side-view mirrors and hit the gas. 

Driving the band van keeps me sane and allows me to reflect on my past and present life. Long driving hours give me an excuse to clear my mind and find moments of solace before an evening of beating drums, sweating and meeting people followed by a morning of ringing ears. Aside from Keith’s light snoring and faint music from the stereo, all is peaceful as I merge onto I-26 toward Tennessee. 

Starting at age 15, traveling and playing music with a group of boys for 10 years gave me a thick skin and plenty of street smarts. Through my experiences with the band, I’ve learned it’s important to create a sanctuary for myself among chaos and to remember that I am not just one of the guys.

My years as a teenager were filled with swimming holes and band practices in an old, dusty barn where Scotchie’s father used to keep horses. Until my senior year of high school I was content with hot summers in the band, kicking up dust and drinking warm alcohol we would stash in the barn loft. With age came an ability to discover and appreciate my femininity, learning I could rock and embrace my femininity at the same time. 

As I became a woman and professional drummer, the difference between myself and my male counterparts in the music industry seemed vaster than before. Suddenly, horsing around and playing music wasn’t the epicenter of what fulfilled me. I realized I had a greater duty: to represent female musicians in the best light possible by holding my own, sticking up for myself and others gracefully, and becoming the best musician I possibly could to inspire other musicians and other women.

As the women incorporate themselves into the music industry and continue to build momentum, female artists must continue to set an admirable example for women who step into the industry after us by advocating fairness and the abolition of toxic patterns through words and actions. 

At a young age men made lewd comments toward me, assuming I was at least old enough to drink, which I wasn’t. They peppered their words with double entendres having to do with ‘beating’ or ‘banging’ the drums. I would blush and cower into the corner where I sipped a Coca Cola by myself. 

“Aw come on! It’s a compliment. Don’t you know how to take a compliment?” they would say to me. 

Now, at age 25, I notify bouncers who will happily remove these types of people from the bar without question. Retreating in response to sexual harassment won’t do anyone any favors because they will never learn. 

I love speaking and making connections with people who come to my shows. However, I still find myself in conversations with people, only to realize the nature of their banter is usually evaluative. They often quiz me about drum gear, music history and knowledge of my own self-taught craft, as if they represent the judge and jury of musical worthiness. 

The van crosses into Tennessee, reminding me of a show in Maryville where a man was hovered in front of the stage snapping pictures of me with his flash on, as if I were a fossilized alien on display at a museum. I felt helpless, as I am the drummer and can’t get up and move out of the line of fire of his camera. Once Andrew and Keith spotted the man, they began stepping in front of me and in front of his lense until he lost interest and mosied to the bar for shots. I never doubt Andrew and Keith’s loyalties and understanding of my unique tribulations in the band.

The usually boisterous and excited boys are especially quiet this trip. Keith is probably mute because of his road-sickness, while Andrew stews in thought after his breakup with a woman who didn’t support his musical nature and lifestyle. Musicians commonly struggle with relationships, due to spending time on the road. Amusingly, their significant others seem to have wild mental manifestations of their boyfriends constantly drinking and doing drugs in a van, surrounded by groupies who want to sleep with them. While musicians do spend hours in a van, hot groupies, drugs and sex don’t fit into the picture when the band is sleeping and taking driving shifts in order to be rested enough for the next show. 

Winding through the mountains and down into Unicoi County, I suspect Keith will wake up and Andrew will have to pee. Like clockwork, Keith springs up in the rear-view mirror looking quite green and Andrew requests a bathroom break. I could use a moment to stretch my legs and grab my favorite road snack: a small bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and a blue Gatorade. 

I pull off exit 37 in Erwin, Tennessee where my friend and fellow drummist Amanda Gardner grew up. Amanda and I frequently rehash war stories from tour and enjoy sharing our sentiments about the treatment we receive based on our gender and instrument choice. 

“At the show last night, a photographer told me I had ‘resting bitch face’ and scolded me like a child for not smiling,” Amanda told me after one of her performances last year.

“It’s ok, last night I tried to order a drink at the bar and put it on the band’s tab. The bartender looked at me and said the band tab was only for the band,” I replied in solidarity. 

“You know, I’ve realized it’s not helpful to yell or get mad in these situations because it’s not necessarily a negative experience. It’s an opportunity to educate people,” Amanda said. 

This conversation remains imprinted in my mind because of Amanda’s beautiful outlook she provided.

As the band piles in the van and we descend from the mountains of East Tennessee onto I-81 through Virginia, I tell of my conversation with Amanda to Keith, who is now lucid and less green. 

Keith is wise. So wise, that his band nickname is ‘Dr. Keith’ because he seems to know and have an answer for everything. As much as I love to think, hours through the mountains without conversation cause my mind to spin and think a little too hard.

He rubs his eyes and sits up, running his fingers through his wily brown hair and lifting the veil of his queasy delirium. 

“Some people act out or make lewd comments to demean you because they were never taught it was wrong, in which case it is your job to teach them without getting angry. Then, there are the assholes who know they’re wrong and choose to be a dick anyway, in which case you make a public example of them by calling them out and giving them the treatment they deserve,” Keith explains as we cross through the East River Mountain Tunnel between Rocky Gap, Virginia and Bluefield, West Virginia. 

The van approaches Fayetteville, dropping off the interstate onto small, winding roads lined with rickety little houses, which I find beautiful and suspect are full of stories. I roll down the window and take a cool breath of mountain air as we cross over the New River Gorge Bridge, hovering nearly 900 feet in the sky, and I feel excited for this weekend of travel, music, and all experiences attached. 

We roll up to tonight’s venue, The Grove, and swiftly begin unloading our equipment. 

While I feel beaten down by comments, degradation and misconstrewals of my musicianship, I also feel empowered and excited to be a female drummer. My job does not only require me to practice, travel and perform. Women musicians must educate and set a positive precedence in the music industry and the world at large.

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