Sick of Sarah on Tour: “Pretty Good for a Girl”

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This is a monthly column by Sick of Sarah — whose music can be heard weekly on Brunch with Bridget, and on a recent episode of South of Nowhere — about their experiences as an up-and-coming band.

My name is Jessie Farmer and I play guitar for Sick Of Sarah. I’ve never been a very good “blogger” but I’ll give it a shot. I’d like to begin by saying that being in an all-female band is the greatest blessing and the biggest curse.

Why do I say that? Well, being in an all-female band provides more opportunities, but you get less respect. There’s that whole mentality that girls can’t play, don’t know their gear, or anything about music for that matter.

Fortunately for us, the guys that we work the closest with don’t have that mentality at all. As a teenager, I always played music with guys, had guy friends, just overall was kinda “one of the guys,” so I guess I don’t get it as much or as bad as my lovely band mates. 

I am also the token “Boi”/”Butchie” of the band (with Katie at a close second).

We’ve traveled all over the country and encountered many “unique” experiences related to this topic, like one time at one of our shows, Jamie went outside for something and upon re-entering the venue, she got stopped by the bouncer. He told her that she needed to pay, she told him she was in the band.

“Are you ‘in’ the band or ‘with’ the band?” he asked her with an overwhelmingly sexist and condescending tone. “Um, I play bass in Sick Of Sarah,” she answered, and he promptly apologized, saying, “OOOHHH! I’m so sorry, right this way, let me get the door for you” with his pride shriveling up like a raisin.

Most sound guys in general think we’re idiots upon arrival, which is pretty rude, but attitude of the staff at a venue drastically changes after we play. 

One thing I don’t really mind is when dudes want to load our gear, which any person in a band totally despises. We are fully capable but lift away, my man!

I’ve always been attracted to all-female bands. I grew up listening to Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, The Go Go’s, then as a teenager getting into the riot grrrl scene with Bikini kill, Brat Mobile, 7 Year Bitch, L7, and my favorite all female band Babes In Toyland.

I must have gone to at least 20 Babes shows growing up. I always thought how cool would it be to jam with Kat Bjelland.

Little did I know that a few years later she would be hiring me to play bass for them and take me all over Europe. True story: I was a 20 year old girl living a dream. I learned so much from Kat and Lori Barbero (drummer). They really showed me how to be a strong woman in the male dominated music industry. And what it’s like out there. And how to get what you want. Still to this day, one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced.

So after the Babes experience, a couple of years went by. I was working at this bar in Minneapolis and one Monday afternoon, I get a phone call from Lori Barbero telling me about a friend whose band needed a bass player. But the audition was in Maui. I was like, “Ooookaaayyy?”

The audition was for Courtney Love.

I almost dropped the phone. I hesitated only because I was always more of a Nirvana fan than a Hole fan, but it was such a great opportunity.

So she flew me out to Maui and I auditioned. I got to witness the making of her solo record America’s Sweetheart, with Linda Perry helping her out. It would have been cool — I had a great time and got to see some things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise — but I almost felt like that wasn’t the best place for me. So all in all, I’m kinda glad I didn’t get the gig.

A few years pass and I met Abisha. The worst day of my life! (Just kidding.)

She told me she put this all-girl band together, but they needed a bass player. I wasn’t super down with the idea of playing bass again because I’m a guitar player. She told me they had a show coming up and that I should check it out. So that’s exactly what I did.

And there they were: Sparkle Motion, four girls with four acoustic guitars. I told Bish that I was down for a jam session on the condition that we downsize the number of guitars and get a drummer.

So we got Abisha Uhl, and Katie Murphy, myself, then Brooke Svanes, and a few years later, Jamie Holm. We got together and jammed and it just felt natural. We started playing in public almost immediately (three weeks after forming as a band) — too soon, in my opinion.

Our first show was a complete and total disaster. One song was so bad we attempted it twice. But we just kept on playin’. I guess you could say we learned how to assemble the training wheels while the bike was already in motion. (Do NOT attempt at home!)

After playing out our first year, we noticed a pattern: We generally played with bands made up of guys. And over and over again, the same things started happening. First there were the “looks,” then the “you’re girls, so you don’t know how to work your gear” assumptions, then the sound guys acting like we had no idea how the boxes in front of us made noise, then “oh, I’m just too weak in my feminine physique to possibly lift that box that makes noise.” You get the picture.

All female musicians know what it’s like: People in the industry judging you first by what’s in your pants, not how you play. And even when they are impressed by your talent, they give you that whole “you’re pretty good for a girl” sort of “compliment.” How are you supposed to even take that? 

“You’re pretty good for a girl” kind of makes me want to come back with “you smell pretty good for an a–hole.” I think I may try that one sometime.

But seriously, it’s no shock that the music industry is a male-dominated place. You just have to grow a thick skin, be articulate and knowledgeable, and get on that stage and rock your ass off. That’s how you get respect as a female in this scene.

And when some dude says “let me help you with that” lift your 100 pound amp off the ground and say, “That’s cool, I got it.”

I feel very proud and privileged to play with such inspiring and talented women, to have such a great and supportive management team and label, and most of all to have such loving and devoted fans.

Learn more about SOS at MySpace.com/SickofSarah.

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