When people ask me, “So what’s it like being a girl in the male-dominated world of rock music?” I tell them it’s a double-edged sword. At first glance, it could seem an advantage—but in reality, it’s less of one when you approach what you do with it being more about the music than your gender.
When I first started out doing music, I never thought anything different about my being a girl. My dad was the one who first encouraged me to do something with my guitar playing since I already had been playing on my own for around six years.
Finding little interest in the extracurricular activities that my university offered, I decided to start a a gutter punk band called, The Explicits. I wrote everything, sang and roped in a few people I knew from my dorm floor to play with me. From our first show, I knew something was different. The looks I would receive from the other musicians in the area were a tad bit different than the male fronted bands that would go on before us. Comments like, “I didn’t expect you to play guitar so well…for a girl,” and “I didn’t think that voice would come out of…a girl” seemed to be at the forefront of every conversation after our set. It was only then that I realized the category that we were about to get grouped in, that I was about to get grouped in, for the duration of my music career.
I never capitalized on my sexuality. Managers and band mates that I had throughout the years always asked me why and I think it all stemmed from those first few shows. People see it as an easy way to get ahead and I think that’s another reason why I never wanted to exploit it, along with my natural tomboy personality. It just wasn’t for me. I wanted to be known as a musician who had something to say, a guitar player who could hold up next to the dudes, and a singer that could sing just as well as anyone regardless of gender.
I, partially knowingly and partially unknowingly, made my life more difficult. We showcased for labels for years and to people who I could tell just didn’t get it. They’d see the already established female-fronted acts overflowing with femininity, make up, the whole nine yards—and then would look at me with confusion as it didn’t add up to the already proven formula. Signing a band these days is taking a huge risk since there’s way less money to go around than there used to be. I was a risk, and looking back, I don’t blame them for having that type of attitude, although they were tragically wrong.
I stuck to my guns of who I was. To say I didn’t play around with being more feminine after hearing dozens of “no’s” would be a lie, but I knew if I went that route I wouldn’t be happy with myself at the end of the day, which was more important to me than signing a deal just for the sake of being signed. I believed in myself enough to know that I was never going to stop no matter how many times I was turned down, and that it would eventually work. Someone would get it and embrace what I had to offer.
Now that I am in a band putting out music that I believe in, that I like to listen to, that when I perform it means something to me, I’m so glad I made the decision to stick with who I am. Regardless of gender, if I were a guy doing this, I’d feel the same way. It comes down to it being about the music and bridging a connecting between people. I’m not saying that I’m a role model by any means, but I do hope kids can take away from what I’m doing a sense of it’s OK to be who you are. You don’t have to do something because it may seem “right” to others. It’s about writing solid music. It’s about having fun and it’s about making others feel good.
I’m happier than I have ever been. I get to go out on stage the way I want, say what I want to say and be 100% me. Granted I do enjoy playing dress up every now and then. I mean who doesn’t and I’m not saying it’s wrong to do so. What I am saying is that it’s important to be proud of what you are doing. That you can go to sleep at the end of the day and feel good about the message and things that you are putting out into the world, no matter what they may be.
After all these years, I’m finally confident in saying that I’m on the right track. I’m happy and that I’m proud to have stuck to what I believed in.
Renee Phoenix is the frontwoman of the rock band Fit for Rivals. Their new album, “Freak Machine,” will be released in 2015.