Tanya Pearson has a goal, and it’s one that is pretty awesome: “I’m determined that five years from now, every girl or genderqueer kid playing in a band will know who or Julie Cafritz or Alice Bag or Phranc is.”
To help bring this to fruition, the singer/guitarist for Western Mass rock band Drab and Ada Comstock scholar at Smith College has created the Women of Rock Oral History Project, a living archive that combines digital interviews and written transcripts, housed at Smith’s Sophia Smith Collection, one of the oldest women’s history archives in the country.
Pearson’s collection is already impressive, with interviews with Bag and Cafritz, as well as sessions with New York City No Wave pioneer Lydia Lunch, Nina Gordon and Louise Post of Veruca Salt, Helium’s Mary Timony, Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses, L7’s Donita Sparks, Le Tigre and MEN’s JD Sampson, and others.
The goal is to give a voice to women in rock and roll for those may not have been properly represented over the past few decades, and to create a more complete narrative of musical contributions. By shining a light on the past, and especially music’s underground, Pearson hopes to change the male-dominated context of rock and roll.
“It’s important that women’s voices are heard beyond the usual figureheads — Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Courtney Love, Kathleen Hanna — because acknowledging the same handful of people only reinforces women as novelty acts, and they’re not,” Pearson tells Vanyaland. “On a personal level, I remember how hard it was for me to locate my predecessors, and I really feel like that’s a form of censorship and gender discrimination. It’s important to know whose shoulders we’re standing on.”
To keep the vault growing, and to help Pearson spread some of the workload around, a fund-raiser has been launched within the site, where any and all contributions are welcomed. Pearson says The Women of Rock Oral History Project has so far survived on small grants — and the unpaid labor of her friends and colleagues — and hopes to secure roughly $30,000 to create a 10 additional interviews. The money, she says, goes to travel expenses (previous interviews have taken place in Los Angeles, Providence, and Brooklyn), as well as filming, editing, web and flyer design, photography, promotion, transcribing, and other costs.
“Rock music and culture, including scholarship and journalism,” she adds, “is a gendered occupation like any other and I kind of got sick of waiting for it to be more inclusive, so I’m trying to change it through this project: By asking them about musicianship and influences but also questions pertinent to their experiences as women in rock. By talking about them publicly, by booking shows and pairing them with younger musicians and bridging the generation gap, by disrupting the male supremacy inherent in rock discourse — for instance, bands with men are male-fronted or all-male bands, not just ‘bands.’ I’m not the first person to be documenting or writing about women in rock, but my focus is on the underground and I’m pretty insufferable.”
To view some raw clips from the first videos from the Women In Rock Oral History Project, as well as video from an October panel discussion at Smith College, use the slider below…