By day, Lauren Calve is an examiner at the United States Patent Office; by night, she is the lead singer and guitarist for the Lauren Calve Band, a Washington, D.C.-based americana-folk, roots-rock band.
She released her first EP, Between the Creek and the Tracks, in the Fall of 2014. Calve’s bluesy four-track album was well received by critics, but the talented singer-songwriter’s recent musical endeavours have not stopped there — Calve just launched Her Roots, “a concert series that features, supports, and grows the female music community in the DC metro area.” Developed in conjunction with Calve’s musical residency at Gypsy Sally’s in Georgetown and Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA, Her Roots celebrates and promotes female musical talent, a community that is often overlooked within the city’s music scene. I had the chance to chat with Calve and Ben Tufts, the co-founder of Her Roots, celebrated drummer, and percussionist for the Lauren Calve Band.
What prompted you to start Her Roots?
LC: After playing in the DC metro area for a couple years, I was ready to try something new with my band. Residencies are useful to musicians not only because they offer stability, but also because they allow the musician to grow a fanbase and connect with the community. It just made sense, then, to build in a service within our residency, especially one that was really close to my heart, and Ben’s, too.
BT: We were looking for a residency, and we were brainstorming about a theme, something to make it a little more interesting than “Lauren Calve Band’s gonna play here every month.” As it turns out, the angle with Her Roots is something we both believe in very strongly, and clubs seem to be really into the idea as well.
Tell me about the name. What’s the story behind it?
BT: The name was Lauren’s idea — she had mentioned a couple, but as soon as she said it, I thought “That’s it!” Initially we’d thought we might just focus on bands with female artists that play roots music–blues, folk, etc. But we’ve started to realize that this is an event that can speak to the music community at large, not just the roots segment. Not to speak for Lauren, of course, but to me, the word Roots in the name means “beginnings.” I believe we’re trying to be a part of those beginnings for younger musicians.
LC: At first, we thought “Her Roots” was going to primarily showcase the DC women who play American roots music; however, once we broadened the vision to include all genres of music, and, thereby, even more female-led bands, musicians, and singer/songwriters, the name still fit. For me, “Her Roots” is synonymous with “Her Source.” This series celebrates women in music, but it also celebrates the individual with unique passions and interests, and the fount from which she draws inspiration.
Her Roots explicitly seeks to involve and engage younger audiences. Why is making this an intergenerational endeavour so important to you and the mission?
LC: Taylor Swift said something during her Billboard’s Woman of the Year acceptance speech that hit home with me: the next Woman of the Year is sitting in a piano lesson, or at a choir rehearsal, and we need to take care of her. In order for us to do that, we need to provide an inviting scene, which is why we’re starting the shows earlier in the day, and charging less money so that whole families can attend and not spend a ton. I think it is so important for girls just starting out in their musical pursuits to have tangible, real-life examples to look up to– not ones they see on the red carpet, or who have one million Instagram followers. That’s the whole idea of a “role model”: the “role” the “model” plays is active, relatable, and attainable. Therefore, we have to keep the stage diverse, and cover as many styles, genres, instrumentation as we can; and, trust me, we can.
BT: The future of any music scene is the young people. I recently played a show where an older person remarked “When was the last time I heard good original music in DC? The 70s?” That made me sad for her, because there is so much great music happening here, but it also illustrated that there can sometimes be a generational gap between the working musicians in a city. We all benefit when we reach across a divide like that–and it’s easy!
I’ve toured the country a fair amount these past few years with a band called Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray. When I first started touring with them, we would often play clubs on the weekends, but during the week we filled our schedule with restaurants, coffee houses, community co-op spaces, and other non-traditional venues. When we played those types of venues, we would see young people, old people, and entire families in the audience. Some of these shows were my favorites — and the STORIES! We met folks from all walks of life — not just the typical demographic at a Friday night concert. At one event, a young woman left a note in our merch case that she had been struggling with thoughts about suicide, but after our show, she said she felt empowered to work past these feelings. Very humbling, very real. I believe a strong community is built on intergenerational ties, and what better way to strengthen those ties than through art?
Her Roots is still in the formative stages — what sort of reception and response have you seen thus far from the musician community in DC? Do you sense that there is a hunger for this?
LC: Almost immediately after creating the Her Roots Facebook page, we received messages from women who wanted to be included in the series. And we’re still receiving those same messages today, which makes me think that, yes, there is a real hunger for this type of intentional community.
BT: The folks I’ve mentioned it to, men and women alike, are really excited about it. There’s really nothing quite like it happening. We’ve had musicians message us out of the blue and ask how they can help, how they can get involved. It’s very encouraging.
Lauren, what are some of the challenges you personally have faced as a female musician?
LC: I’ve always wanted to be taken seriously in everything I’ve done, so when I started actively pursuing music, I wanted to be judged based on my skill as a singer-songwriter/singer/musician alone. And largely, that is the case. However, because woman is the minority on stage, she has to play by the rules that be. For example, I’m always consciously aware of how I dress for a gig, and not just “this is my brand” sort-of-way. Unfortunately, the objectification of women is real, and in theme with being taken seriously onstage, I choose to draw attention away from my body because I want people to focus on the music.
Another challenge I’ve more recently faced is branching out of the acoustic guitar realm into the more male-dominated lead, electric guitar role. The most common music role for women is the solitary singer/songwriter, acoustic guitar, or piano player, so when a woman wants to pick up an electric guitar, she has to confront the male-dominated scene head-on. And, in my opinion, you have to be twice as good to be noticed, so as not to get the common– “She’s good for a girl”– type-comments. It’s really important to me to be good at the guitar. Really good, actually. I don’t want to settle into just being a singer. In my opinion, I’d be selling myself short if I did.
Ben, you teach drumming to young girls; what challenges do you see them face as they enter the music world playing an instrument where females are traditionally underrepresented?
BT: Many of my female students are the only drummers in their class, the only drummers in their marching band. Middle school and high school are social pressure cookers, and it’s a hard enough scene to navigate without choosing to engage in an activity that’s stereotypically not a favorite of most women. I’ve watched very promising female students reach a point where they observe their situation, and they might think “Boys are paying attention to girls for reasons A, B, and C, and playing drums is not one of those reasons.” And if they haven’t had a strong, encouraging upbringing where they are taught that they should pursue happiness for themselves, not for others, they sometimes decide to ditch drums or even music entirely. It’s really unfortunate, because I’ve heard lots of folks tell me they regretted that decision later. It’s a fragile time, and I believe that strong female role-modeling can help young women weather that storm. There are plenty of images blasted into homes through TVs, YouTube, etc., of boys and men playing guitars and other instruments. I think music would benefit if there were a balance.
I think the challenge is double-edged sword. Not only is there typical prejudice “Oh, girls don’t play drums”– which is something educators STILL say, and it is ludicrous — there is also a weird passive-aggressive prejudice that some female musicians face where they are afforded opportunities not because of their talent, but because of their gender, which is something that male musicians never have to contend with.
What advice do you have for younger female musicians who are just starting to pursue and develop their musical craft?
LC: Don’t be afraid to take chances. There is a whole world full of bright, shining opportunities just beyond your front door. Whether that’s taking lessons, trying a new instrument, starting a band, performing at open mics — every opportunity is a chance to grow and discover new things about your gift.
BT: Work hard, and if you encounter prejudice, just turn it into positive energy. Feed off of it. If someone tells you you can’t do something, prove them wrong.
[bctt tweet=”Work hard, and if you encounter prejudice, just turn it into positive energy. Feed off of it.”]
Looking ahead, what are you most excited about for Her Roots? What are your hopes for the residency?
LC: I’m really excited to have young people at the shows. Live music should be more accessible than it currently is. Most clubs in the area are 21 and up, which means young people starting out in their musical pursuits can’t be involved. We’re not only going to encourage young women to attend the shows, but also have them perform. In doing so, we hope that the younger attendees will be that much more inspired by seeing a young woman around the same age performing on stage.
BT: I just can’t wait to see the looks on the faces. There is something really special about seeing a young person in the middle of a formative experience where they’re watching something unfold that they didn’t previously consider possible, and imagining themselves being part of it.
Where can people go if they want to learn more, get involved, or catch a show?
BT: Well, the next show is on March 29th at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia. Advance tickets are just $5 cash. It’s such a cheap ticket price, the best thing people can do right now is 1) Put your body in the room! and 2) Talk about it — talk about it to anyone and everyone that will listen.
LC: I second everything Ben said! Also, we’re all over social media! We have a Facebook page, Twitter, and an Instagram account, so please follow, like, share, retweet, and regram in order to help spread the word. And, if you want to get involved in the concert series, email Ben and I at email@example.com.