Her Name is Calla Interview May 2011

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We were fortunate enough to caught up with Sophie Green from Her Name is Calla who gave us a detailed insight into sexism within the music industry…

MTTM: Sophie, you play violin and are on vocals with Her Name Is Calla.  Is it tough being the sole girl in the band?  Is it particularly hard when you’re touring?

Sophie Green: It’s not tough within the band at all – in fact, it’s hugely enjoyable! I get looked after like a little sister, I get away with doing less of the heavy lifting, and I never have to do the horrible “sleeping in the van” stint to protect the equipment! Sometimes it’s tough, but that would be true of any group of people, male or female: long days, late nights, uncomfortable travelling arrangements, lack of showers, feeling generally grubby and run-down at times… but it’s easily balanced out with the feeling of a successful gig.

Sexism only comes into it from people outside of the band; by people who underestimate me or patronise me. If I’m standing with the boys, most people assume I’m a girlfriend or some sort of hanger-on, and so I’ll be completely missed out when people introduce themselves. There are few things more awkward than when a stranger shakes hands with everyone in the band except me! I think people are also surprised that I’m in charge of all of the admin and financial side of things – I’m often the last person the promoter will approach in order to discuss business.

MTTM: Some argue the music industry today is still largely male dominated.  What is your view on this statement?

SG: I think it’s considered male-dominated from the performance side of things… But this is domination in terms of the sheer ratio of men-to-women, rather than any intimidating sense of male leadership.

I’ve met lots of amazing women who are journalists, press/PR managers, photographers, promoters, engineers and so on – people who are helping the music industry from a different angle. That definitely takes any edge off the idea of male-domination – there’s a whole wealth of women involved in every area of the industry.

But as for the bands themselves, it is quite rare for me to meet many female musicians who play a similar sort of music to us. It’s not impossible, by any means, but out of a whole tour, I might only meet a handful of women in other bands. This can lend itself to a sort of “boys’ club” mentality in some – but not all – of the music industry.

MTTM: Do you feel sexism is still a prevalent problem in the modern music industry?

SG: I do – but perhaps that is because a girl in a band is still quite a rarity! Perhaps the biggest problem I’ve come across is the assumption that because we’re women, we don’t know as much as men, or that we’re not as integral as our male counterparts in the groups that we perform in.

Before I played with bands, I spent years in these really academic and serious orchestras (which were actually pretty female dominated!). When I started playing with HNIC, though, the biggest barrier was having such little knowledge about technical equipment and electronics. That’s nothing to do with my gender – I just never had a need to plug my violin into anything before, or to know anything about recording my music.

But I think some people still view the technical side of things as being very boyish or simply not interesting for girls – it’s definitely the view quite a lot of sound engineers have shown to me, as they think I need the boys to plug everything in for me. That can be really frustrating, but at one point I genuinely didn’t know much about that sort of stuff, and the best I can do is show the engineer, and anyone else that I meet, that I do know what I’m talking about.

MTTM: Do you think it is more difficult for women musicians to be taken seriously and break into the music industry?

SG: I’d really hope not – in our genre of music, I don’t think it would be a problem at all. The main issue is that there just aren’t a lot of us, and perhaps that balance could be redressed at some point. But in pop music, I hate when every female singer has to be pitted against each other  – I know that’s a classic gripe, but if a lot of us feel that way, I’m not sure why the press continues to fuel it.

MTTM: Are there any artists or bands in particular who you feel have helped the cause of women in music?  And who have inspired you personally as a musician?

SG: I’ve never really been inspired by a musician purely because they are a woman and so it’s pretty hard to single out someone who’s really helping the cause. I’d like to hope (perhaps naively!) that other people have a similar view to me – that a musician is inspiring purely because of their talent, and the way they make you feel.

I’m always drawn towards other violinists, and so seeing Sarah Neufield in Arcade Fire perform is always a pleasure. And along those lines, Régine Chassagne is absolutely breathtaking live. Her singing, drumming, accordion-ing, dancing – everything she does is hypnotic for me. I’m inspired to perform with the same intensity as her, but equally, I’m just as moved by the men in the band, too.

MTTM: What improvements or changes would you like to see happen in the modern music industry to make it more accommodating for female artists?

SG: Within our genre of music, perhaps more women simply need to perform or get involved with music, so that the novelty of seeing a woman in a band wears off a bit! It would also help if the certain men who do find it difficult to avoid patronising women in bands could tone down that sort of behaviour, too. But maybe it goes hand-in-hand with the lack of women performing in bands, and with time, it might improve.

On the other hand, there’s a sort of reverse sexism that needs to be addressed, as well – the idea that all men in the music industry are a certain type too. I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of this at times. There have been a few occasions where I’ve thought a guy was really rude and took it as a slight against my gender, only to realise they were just shy. But it’s difficult to tell the difference sometimes between someone who is not willing to talk to you, and someone who is actually unable to talk to you.

Additionally, something that comes up a lot when people talk to me about playing in a band is that they assume it’s awful spending so much time with four boys. I get a whole range of questions – from how dirty it must be, how I must get treated quite badly, to even how my boyfriend trusts me being away for weeks at a time with four men. On the one hand, it’s quite sad that people think I would be willing to spend weeks of my life with a group of people who didn’t care for me, and on the other hand, they are really flattering my ability to attract every man in my vicinity! I think a lot of people outside of the band assume there’s some constant awareness that I’m a girl, when the complete opposite is true – you become quite sexless when you’re on the road for weeks!

From the point of view of both men and women, we need to become more comfortable with the idea that gender isn’t a choice, and we didn’t choose to have more men in the band than women. I’ve got to stick up for my brothers in the band – and any other misunderstood men – who are unfairly tarred with the macho, masculine music industry brush!

MTTM: Her Name Is Calla released the new album, ‘The Quiet Lamb’, towards the end of last year.  How has the response to the record been so far?

SG: It’s been really overwhelming – we thought we would get mainly negative reviews, as the album is so intense and well over an hour long! But the response has been so amazing, and word of mouth is continuing to spread – we’re still getting messages from people who are just discovering it. I’m always so flattered to hear someone has taken the time to listen to our record, and then to get in touch and tell me that it means something to them – it’s such a great feeling.

MTTM: Her Name Is Calla have a series of shows lined up in the forth coming months.  How are you feeling about touring the new record?

SG: I love playing the new songs live, but I’m also enjoying playing Maw – the title track from our new EP – live… it’s so much shorter and visceral than our longer songs, really loud and fun to play. 

MTTM: Finally, what are the band’s future plans?  And how do you think Her Name Is Calla plays a part in the abolishment of sexism from the music industry?

SG: We’ve got another record pencilled in for the end of the year, as well as a show in London in July, another tour in November, and playing Swingfest, a great instrumental/post rock festival run by our label, Denovali, in Germany, towards the end of the year.

I would be really thrilled to hear that seeing me play live would inspire other women to take part in music, but I would love more for them not to take their gender into consideration at all. I never thought before I joined the band that it mattered that I was a girl – and it really doesn’t. It just matters that you connect with the other people in the band – whether they’re male or female – and that you perform the very best you can. People might remember that you’re a girl, but it’s more important that people remember your music.

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