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Hannah Lew, Grass Widow

Photo of Hannah Lew, Grass Widowcourtesy of the artist

How would you describe your music?

Impulsive. Intuitive.

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

I play bass and sing in Grass Widow. Grass widow has a triangularly equal way of doing everything, from song-writing to business. We collaborate on songs, each writing parts and all singing. We have band meetings where we make decisions together. We don't have a band leader. It's a very empowering project and it takes a lot of work.

Describe your gear.

I play a shitty Ibanez Bass that is the only Bass I have ever owned. I've been wanting to upgrade for the past 7 years. I play an Ampeg combo amp that I love, which I bought for $80 at a flea market 6 years ago.

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?

Being a female musician means that when people describe us-they often call us a girl band, or identify us as that before recognizing anything else about us. That can be very frustrating since we spend so much time conceptually and musically making challenging music. It's a bit reductive and insulting when gender is the first thing people comment on. It's unfortunate that a lot of women feel that they need to assume men's roles to feel empowered about what they are doing. I would like to think that we as women can help foster new positive female identities that don't rely on dusty gender stereotypes. We are very focused on a non rock star approach to our performance and general attitude in the way we put ourselves out there in the world, putting the emphasis on song writing. I don't think there was really a defining moment when all this became clear to me. Anything we ever do is being done within a patriarchal context,using a patriarchal language to create context-so in that sense i feel that we as a band of female musicians we have an opportunity to create a new context for experiencing and discussing music. In terms of being a female performer,specifically- I feel that we are constantly confronting the way that people use our image-discuss it. We spend a lot more time working on songs than we do working on our appearance, and it does bother me when people objectify us in the spirit of centuries of patriarchy. This is not to say that performing in front of an audience isn't part of what we do and I feel aware of how our image as three young women plays into that. Women shouldn't have to hide their confidence and celebration of themselves because men can't control themselves. That attitude seems to be in the service of men-excluding women from the audience.

Related Themes: Behind The Music

Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

Well in terms of women performers- it seems that early female punk bands ,riot grrls, had the position of reaction in a feminist context, and at this point- since there are so many female bands- we are functioning in a sort of in a post- feminism context, where we don't really need to complain about how everything is misogynistic, and react- we can instead act in a feminist realm, past a struggle,utilizing a female language and a context for women in bands that is outside of image or representation, and based in talent and integrity. If is weren't for the riot grrl scene paving this path-we wouldn't be in the position we are in now. I'm not saying we don't have tons of shit to be pissed off about, but I am saying that I feel we have the opportunity to decide what context we want to thrive within. We're really glad to be aligned with the woman run Kill Rock Stars, and their dedication to politically consciousness.

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 had very few role models to tell you the truth. My advice to a woman starting out would be to find friends who have a similar belief system as you and just play! Ability has very little to do with being in a band. Everyone gets good at their instruments by playing with other people. Most of what being in a band is functioning on pure belief and genuine love for what you are making,outside of any external influence. Also I would say that we as women have the opportunity to represent ourselves with artistic dignity and manufacture personal confidence not in relation to our appearance. We have the opportunity to thrive in our community first as musicians, then as women.

Related Themes: Advice

Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

Well In my first band-The Insides -I was the only girl. I didn't play any instruments, besides Moog on some songs. I mostly just sang and jumped around a lot. I really didn't feel very empowered to play any instruments. Then years later I moved back to SF from the east coast and met up with Frankie Rose. She and I were in a similar place of jadedness and depression and decided to start a band,although neither one of us could play any instruments. We convinced our friend Wu, who knew how to play guitar- to jam with us. We really had no pre-conceived notions. The three of us got together and I decided, pretty arbitrarily, to play the bass. It just kind of stuck.

Related Themes: The First Time