Meet A Few Artists That Were At FemFest!
This year’s Riverwest FemFest hosted an array of phenomenal female, trans, and non-binary musicians showcasing their talents from Club Garibaldi to Cactus Club to Company Brewing. Although we did not have the chance to talk to each and every one, we managed to hear from a solid handful.
Friday night’s Garibaldi bill had been kicked off by BananaFish, the stage name of Julien Parsons. His sound is described as emotionally-charged ukelele ballads that reflect love, loss, and interpersonal relationships. BananaFish’s latest singles “Cope With Love,” “I Can’t Love Anyone,” and “Abandoned Again” may be found on Bandcamp.
“It’s great to be playing a festival celebrating people and feminine energy…it’s a really big honor,” Parsons said.
BananaFish’s name comes from a J.D. Salinger novel.
“He was better known in his time as a short story author and wrote an anthology called Nine Stories…the first story in it is called “A Perfect Day For BananaFish,” and it’s the first work of his I ever read.”
He is currently working on more heavy-hitting songs about relationships.
“They’re not actually about breakups, it’s more about using the love terminology to describe the fear of love…as someone who’s adopted, I want to be loved but from the not-so-positive experiences I’ve had, I’m afraid of love…so it’s about the fear of something I want so bad.”
BananaFish is playing Cliffstock in July and is working on his debut full-length album with Kyle Kenowski of Oshkosh.
Ms. Lotus Fankh is the stage name of Dana Smith. With her powerful voice Fankh delivers soulful numbers that range from full-band instrumentation to minimalism; loop stations and violin are utilized in her set. Her debut album “Better Than This” came out in 2016.
“The organizers (of Femfest) are bomb and I wanted to be a part of it for awhile now. It’s nice to give back, especially for female leadership and organizations cuz it’s just needed knowing the way things are,” Fankh said.
She opened her set at Garibaldi with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
“I’ve been singing it at the gym for three days straight,” Fankh said. “Sometimes you feel like you just keep on trying but why, and then you have to remember the long lost dream you’ve been working on.”
Fankh has a six-song EP titled “Alignments” coming out next month. Much of her material performed will be on it. She additionally has her blog coming out June 10th and is putting on a play titled “Lost in Home” at No Studios on June 21st. The play is a musical touching on eating disorders and friendships.
Lauryl Sulfate & Her Ladies of Leisure also played Garibaldi Friday night. They are a dance-pop outfit infused with hip hop and new wave, explosive with feminine energy and anti-patriarchal attitude. The “Ladies of Leisure” are keyboardist/backing vocalist Monjca Bennett and keyboardist/bassist Mark Zbikowski.
“(Femfest) is a real community event; we played last year and I met so many great other fem artists which is something you don’t always get to do playing out shows. It’s definitely a lot better since I first started playing music – there’s a lot more diversity now when it was super dude-centric at the time,” Sulfate said.
They released an album “Dance Music Saves Lives” in March, which has a thesis inspired by Disco Demolition Night of 1979 at Comiskey Park in Chicago.
“Dancing is inherently anti-violence and anti-patriarchal by its structure so I went into the album thinking about that. So we wanted to create a disco-dance album to answer the new political spectrum that we’re in right now with this new oppression and rise of fascism…so we wanted to create a new disco to represent that,” Sulfate said.
Sulfate explains how the “Ladies of Leisure” came to become her project.
“Years ago I was in a band called Deep Donk, and we were very Le Tigre-punk rock. It was very DIY – neither me or my partner in the band knew shit about how to make music; we just wanted to have a band. That band broke up and my band partner moved far away. I was sad and missed having a band and wanted to have something like that again, but it was just me and I had all theses songs I wanted to get out…so I said “fuck it, I don’t have anybody but I’ll pretend I have all these people,” and I came up with this grandiose name for myself pretending I had all these backup singers and everything. When I first started I would just have an iPod and plug it in, basically singing karaoke over it…so the Ladies of Leisure “found” me after I had already named them.”
Sulfate talks about whom she hopes to speak most to through her music.
“An audience I’d really love to speak to is young queer women and genderqueer people trying to figure out their shit. It took me a really long time to start up in life. I’m a recovering shy person and it’s been a trajectory for me to find my voice. I want others to know they have a voice and can use it and choose your own destiny. Life is short and the older you get you realize that.”
Lauryl Sulfate & Her Ladies of Leisure play X-Ray Arcade on August 9th, among more shows this summer yet to be announced.
ANDII is a singer-songwriter that conjures her sound through a jazz-folk lens. She performed at Cactus Club on Sunday afternoon and has an EP coming out soon – the follow-up to her 2016 debut album “Life As It Goes.”
“In 2019 we’re making a lot of great strides in the music industry but there’s still a lot of ground to cover in terms of representing marginalized communities,” ANDII said about the importance of FemFest.
ANDII describes her evolution as an artist from her debut album to now.
“I grew up with a lot of different music in my house but as I started to explore music on my own, a lot of what I explored was folk…that’s kinda how I learned to write and perform. I still have a great love for jazz so over the years I’ve tried to develop a sound of jazz-fusion. The vocals are jazzier but there’s only so much I can do with a ukulele, which is where the folk comes in.”
Nature is a huge inspiring force for ANDII in her songwriting.
“I’m big into being outdoors and I love that spiritual connection,” ANDII said.
ANDII is performing at Pridefest this weekend, at Up & Under on June 14th, and at Summerfest on June 26th. She has an EP “What I’m Good At” coming out this summer.
Atheists and Airplanes are an all-female garage rock band consisting of vocalist/guitarist Jen Janviere, bassist Emily Kolcu, and drummer Beth Darcy. The band’s name comes from the 1973 feminist novel “Fear of Flying,” which speculates that atheism becomes abandoned by passengers on turbulent airplanes.
“A lot of people have this idea that women in music is its own genre, which is funny because you don’t ever think of men in rock as a genre,” Janviere said.
“I think as a female band we have a responsibility almost, because there aren’t many all-female bands and we have to show up and bring it,” Darcy added.
Their latest singles “Zipless” and “Spitfire” came out this past winter. Their FemFest performance on Sunday had been recorded on a Scratch Track by Riverwest Public House. They are hoping to record their debut full-length record later this year; in the meantime they play Pridefest this Friday and at the Video Dead EP release party at JC’S Pub and Grub the following day.
Ruth BBr Ginburg is an all-female neo soul-folk collective consisting of vocalist Danielle Renee, vocalist/guitarist Treccy MT, vocalist Katie Lyne, vocalist/keyboardist Steph Lippert, vocalist/upright bassist Johanna Rose, drummer/vocalist Quinn Cory, and vocalist/fiddler Ousia Lydian. They performed at Company Brewing on Sunday and use their myriad of voices to address various contemporary issues – feminism, police brutality, racism, and fascism to name a few.
“I felt we really captivated the energy of the people today,” Lippert said. “I felt the audience was very respectful and really soaked in what we have to say. I’m always sad when FemFest ends…when you have a week of music, comedy and poetry all organized by women six years running now, it’s just dope as fuck.”
Cory and Lippert explain how the band’s writing process looks like with seven members.
“Everyone brings their own songs to the table and then we write parts around the songs. Some songs require more collaboration, especially with harmonizing lyrics and stuff,” Cory said.
“We’ve played gigs without all seven members,” Lippert added. “Sometimes we can’t all be there and have to make changes. We have an ebb and flow, we know where our ranges are, we know where we’re most comfortable at and we work around that depending on the configuration of the band.”
Cory and Lippert share their feelings about why music is a powerful way to use one’s voice – socially and politically speaking.
“I think in general it’s difficult to know where to make an impact with the current climate. When we have that outlet to speak what we want to say, it kinda comes naturally to a lot of us to channel it through music,” Cory said.
“Music is one of the things that regardless of the circumstances or different opinions and stances, everyone connects through music. It’s been there since the beginning of time and it’s the most beautiful way for us to make change,” Lippert added.
Ruth B8r Ginsburg are currently recording their first album at Silver City Studios, which is challenged by coordinating all seven members’ schedules. Their performance from International Women’s Day 2018 is currently available on Bandcamp. They play Cactus Club with Haybaby on July 10th.
Tinyhands is an anti-folk duo consisting of guitarist Fred Kenyon and ukulele player Cora Jai Bequeaith. Their latest album “Who Said You Could Touch My Dog?” came out on May 13th; it is the follow up to their 2018 debut album “I Never Knew Taking A Shit Could Be So Sexual.” They are overtly political and unapologetically crude in their lyrics and song titles, thematically touching on trans rights, police brutality, anti-fascism, and gender in their songs. Taboo everyday subject matter is also regular territory for them.
“I think the “fem” in FemFest is a bit of a misnomer, because they definitely are supporting people who are nonbinary and all sorts of marginalized communities, not just women. But that’s also important,” Kenyon said.
Their latest single “Wisdom Tree” was written by Bequeaith about social issues in California.
“The state of California as a whole is held up as this liberal progressive place and so it’s kind of shocking to see how many people are still mistreated and how much violence there still is,” Bequeaith said. “The fact that homeless and marginalized people are regularly assaulted by police and that there’s an incredible amount of inequality…the song is pretty much about that.”
Kenyon explains the differences in their process behind the new album from their first.
“Our old album was recorded over the process of a year and a half in three states and in three different types of rooms…we had a basement, my grandma’s kitchen, and then a bathroom in Los Angeles. It was very patchwork because we kept going back and changing things and we did our best. This album we were very consistent and strict and got it done in a timely manner. The concept is also very consistent – we set out to make this our big gay country album and the songs are still based on our experiences but we definitely followed more of a flow.”
“Because we were in the same state and same space for the recording, we had a lot more room to play around with different instrumentation and so this more recent album had more complex compositional elements. We got some of our good friends to do vocals and feature tracks. It fit more of our vision of what we wanted it to be,” Bequeaith added.
Originally from Iowa, the duo has toured extensively throughout the Midwest. They embark on a more extensive tour into the South in August; in Milwaukee they play Riverwest Public House on June 27th and are holding their “Topless Family Reunion” at Quarters on July 30th.