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Sara Bell, Regina Hexaphone, Shark Quest

How would you describe your music?

Most all the bands I play with play rock and roll that wears its folk heart on its sleeve, and some are considered outright Americana or Alt-Country. Lots of what I write tends to sound like it has Eastern and Southern European or Eastern Mediterranean influences, but it's really all over the place.

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

I play with so many different bands so I have probably taken on every possible role at various times. With Regina Hexaphone I sing and write the songs, so I tend to have the last word in that band. Our drummer has a recording studio and we usually produce our records together. I have been the business manager for several of the bands I play in, doing payroll, taxes, etc. I'm terrible at marketing and promotion so I usually let someone else take over those tasks.

Describe your gear.

I have a Yamaha studio upright piano and a Wurlitzer electric piano at home, but use a Nord Electro for playing out. I usually play a Fender Jazzmaster but sometimes use a Gretsch Rock Jet for electric guitars, and have a Gibson J-45 acoustic that sounds great but is fragile so for shows I play an old Takamine that has a bridge pickup. For electric guitar I have a pretty simple rig: Boss Overdrive Pedal, Rat Fuzz Pedal, and a Danelectro Digital Delay through a Fender Princeton amp. My bass is a Gibson EB-2, and I am looking for an Acoustic B200 bass head to replace one that was lost... I have a Deering 5-string banjo, a mandolin custom made in the mountains of North Carolina by Paul Graybeal to emulate a Gibson F-5, and and a tenor banjo from probably the 1920s of unknown provenance! The acoustic instruments all have Sunrise pickups, and sometimes I play them through a Fender Twin Reverb amplifer.

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?

When I was younger, in the mid-eighties, the chasm was fairly vast, but it seems that it has closed up quite a bit over the years, though young women who play today do report some of the same kinds of challenges. The most obvious difference is that there continues to be a disproportionate number of men who play music compared to women. I think some of the differences that fall under an emotional category can be attributed to gendered socialized behaviors--like being intimidated in music stores (where in lots of places men still treat you as if you are waiting for your boyfriend than as a customer, especially if you are young). I don't see it as often as I used to, but the music business, especially as you lean toward the harder end of the spectrum, has a very old-boy code of ethics and behaviors that are (or were) very sexist. This kind of thing causes women, especially if they are not incredibly confident to begin with, to retreat from asserting their opinions in the studio and in business environments where they should feel free to have an equal voice. HOWEVER, I must say that in my personal experience I had nothing but encouragement and support from the male musicians who befriended me and played in bands with me. This was in the post-punk underground music scene of Raleigh and Chapel Hill so it was a pretty progressive atmosphere to grow up in. I had a lot of confidence issues (or lack of) when I was younger that severely affected how much I asserted myself in the business world of music. That's not something you can attribute to women in general, of course, but it was certainly affected by growing up in the atmosphere of second wave feminism in America.

Related Themes: She's Got The Look Off The Clock

Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

Absolutely. I love seeing young women songwriters and musicians today being tough and vulnerable in equal measure, being more emotionally honest and feminine and less likely to feel the need to adopt masculine postures to prove they can play on equal footing with the boys. There didn't seem to be so many choices in the eighties--you were either a super-feminine front person or an androgynous tough chick or a sensitive folkie. There are always exceptions of course, but it seems to me that everything exploded in the early '90s with Riot Grrls and Ani Di Franco and the Breeders and other popular and underground bands who came out of the 80s music scenes kind of shattering those old images and demanding more freedom for women playing now.

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?

Lots of people. Make sure you own your own songs. Educate yourself about your gear and about the business. Educate yourself about the history of the music you love and follow its trails. Always be true to yourself, your own voice is the best one there is, and if you listen to your heart and translate it into music everyone else will want to listen too.

Related Themes: Advice

Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

My mom played the piano and so it was the first instrument I learned to play. She became interested in learning tenor banjo when I was about five years old, so I started to pluck around on that when I was a teenager and listening to a lot of Irish music, and I loved old-time American music and got a 5-string banjo and a mandolin when I was about 18. I wanted to learn to play guitar when I was 11 or 12, so my mom's boyfriend helped me pick out the Takamine that I still play at a pawn shop.

Related Themes: The First Time