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Beth Tacular, Bowerbirds

Photo of Beth Tacular, BowerbirdsKrista De La Rosa

How would you describe your music?

Acoustic, polyrhythmic, anarchistic, melodic, folk music with lots of vocal harmonies.

What is your role in your band? In the studio? In business or marketing decisions?

I write most of my parts. Phil, my partner, is really the sonwriter. I help some with lyrics, but not much. I do most of the marketing, business side of things, visual aesthetic of the band, blogging, answering emails, creating the online store, designing tee shirts, posters, look of the merchandising and merch table, etc. I was already a visual artist and designer when I joined the band.

Phil and I make almost all our decisions together, by consensus. We recently hired a new drummer and tour manager/ mandolin player. In terms of the sound of any song, live or recorded, I usually defer the final say to Phil, because he has been writing music for ten years, but for our other decisions, we each have equal say.

Describe your gear.

Vintage Italian accordion with electric microphone pickup, Nord Electro keyboard, microKorg keyboard.

Related Themes: Gear

Do you think being a woman and a musician is different from being a man and a musician? If so, how? Was there a moment that made a difference clear to you?

People are probably affected by prescribed gender roles in our society, in terms of what kind of ways they feel comfortable expressing themselves. So in terms of how it feels to be a female musician, I probably feel more comfortable expressing things like delicacy, sensuality, and sensitivity than the average guy might feel. But at the same time, I know that's what's expected of me as a woman, so I almost have to fight the urge to rebel against that. I actually think I am pretty consciously trying to express my gender honestly in my performing, and I think of myself as strongly identified as a woman, although my concept of womanness is different than our larger cultures normal definitions of femininity. I don't want to be up there acting macho, but I also don't want to act demure or anything.

But the fact that I have thought this stuff through is probably testament to the fact that I am hyper aware of what it means to be a woman performing on stage. On tour, I don't encounter many women in bands or as sound engineers or promoters, compared to the millions of guys, so I can't help but be reminded of my sex all the time.

I've been on probably 16 months of tours, and on only one of those was there another woman playing in a band we toured with. That can be very exhausting. I love guys, but I also love women, and I miss the conversations women have together, the different ways we deal with stress, how we communicate and look out for one another. I just miss female friendship when I'm on the road.

Also, people in venues often mistake me for a groupie or some guy's girlfriend, and I've been condescended to several times by sound guys. Also, I've noticed on online blogs and other websites that women get a lot more criticism of their personal physical appearance than men do. That's just residue from the patriarchal culture at large, but it really pisses me off. It makes it a lot harder for a plain looking woman to make it in the music industry than it does for a plain looking guy. This focus on appearance also makes people post in the comments section on a blog post about the relative value of a man's musical abilities and about the relative hotness of a woman.

I think that has dual effects on women who play music. Some put extra effort into their looks on stage, compared to guys in the band, and some purposely try to look androgynous or tough. Others just say fuck it, I'm going to do what I want and ignore what people think. It's hard though, to not ever think about those things, because you know people are judging you differently because you are a woman. And they are probably going to assume you are a bad musician if they find you attractive. The old idea that pretty women can't also be smart.

But I don't know if the music world is as sexist as the corporate world is. Because artists tend to be less sexist than people who choose a more conventional career path.

Related Themes: Onstage

Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

"It's a hell of a lot easier now to be a female musician in the rock world than it must have been 30, 20 or even ten years ago. I feel really lucky that all those women paved the way for me, and that all the other feminists through the years have worked to change the way people see women in general.

Women have more power now, and more of us have grown up with mothers and other female role models who were creative and who didn't allow themselves to be dominated by the men in their lives. "

Related Themes: Off The Clock

Did anyone ever give you any valuable advice about making your way in the music industry? What advice would you give to a woman musician just starting out?

"I didn't really get any female-oriented advice. I just watched what the women did who I admired, and tried to learn from them. I'm lucky there are so many female musicians playing in the triangle area, mskbg some of the best music coming out here. Come to think of it, there is a woman in every one of my favorite local bands who also tour, save maybe two. "

Related Themes: Advice

Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

I picked up an accordion belonging to a member of my boyfriend's band, while they were out on tour and had left some instruments in my apartment. I just started fooling around on it and was blown away by how beautiful it sounded, and how right it felt in my arms. I had always dated guys in bands, probably because I just love music so much, but sort of felt like I had missed my chance to be in a band. I was 29 years old, so I thought it was late to start playing guitar or something. But then the accordion wasn't as overdone in bands, so I figured I could just decide how I wanted to play it, and that there wouldn't be as much of an expected level to achieve before starting to play live. There aren't many accordion players around here who could tell how bad I sucked at first.

Related Themes: The First Time