Being a girl is tough. Being a girl in the music industry is damn near impossible, so it would seem. Or at the very least, fucking annoying.
The young women of Lillix, which was formed six years ago in Cranbook, British Columbia, by sisters Lacey-Lee and Tasha-Ray Evin, now aged 19 and 17, were blessed with good genes and plenty of musical ability. Which means that from the time they assembled their band and started taking it seriously -- in this case by playing gigs in old folks' homes and video stores -- they were pretty much doomed to a heaping helping of the bullshit piled onto the young and naive at the hands of sharks wearing suits.
Take, for example, the request made of singer Tasha-Ray, a luscious blond with pouty lips and eyes that belie her tender age, when the band was preparing to make its first video, "Tomorrow." The powers that be at Maverick asked her, a mere size eight, to go to a fat camp to slim down before stepping before the cameras.
The Girlz Garage Tour, featuring Lillix, Brassy, the Start, Lennon and Northern State
Thursday, October 30. Tickets are $12 in advance, $14 at the door. Doors at 7:30 p.m.
"I'm totally anti-that," she says, barely audible on the line from Japan, where the group's debut album, Falling Uphill, has just gone gold. "It's so difficult in this industry that you have to look a certain way -- it frustrates me so much. I hate it when I look at Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera or all those anorexic-looking models. God, it makes me feel bad about myself and I hate that. I'd hate for someone to look at me and think that."
Given that Lillix's highly feminine, slightly edgy power-pop is barely tolerable to adult ears, it is indeed a problem. To project the idea that to be even slightly curvy is to be ugly and unpopular to impressionable 13-year-olds seems downright evil. After all, they're already mimicking Spears's highly sexualized image, provocatively baring their midriffs before they can even define "provocative," much less perform it. And in their doomed attempts to mirror their icons, these girls are the victims of the cruelest joke of all: Their self-esteem is often sacrificed at the altar of commerce.
"Image is such a misconception, especially with us," says Tasha. "We're all just normal girls who don't exactly care what we look like. It's just really frustrating to see all those little girls seeing someone like Britney Spears and wanting to look like them and the only way they can do that is to have some sort of eating disorder or plastic surgery. That's really sad."
Even sadder is that this size-ism was leveled by the folks at Maverick, the label headed by Madonna, of all people, a woman who has made a career out of deconstructing and reshaping cultural perceptions of femininity.
"I just wish it was more about the music," Tasha gripes. Her interlocutor points out that only if an artist is on an indie label, and has little to no money, can life be more about the music and less about image.
"Sometimes we wish we hadn't signed," she sighs. "It would be so much harder, which would be fine. You have to go through so much more when you're signed, you have to compromise on so much and figure out what's best for you and what's best for the band. It's really difficult either way.
"I wouldn't mind tooling around on an indie label. At the same time, it would completely suck. We wouldn't be in Japan right now."
And as far as Lacey-Lee and Tasha and their bandmates -- bassist Louise Burns and drummer Kim Urhahn -- are concerned, Japan is where it's at right now. "I think Japan really understands our band," Tasha explains. "When we come to Japan, the interviewers are so knowledgeable, they know everything about us, so we can go into an interview without having to defend ourselves all the time. When we go to the States, we always have to defend ourselves. No, we do write our own music, we did start the band in grade seven. They know everything about us, and there are just no misconceptions of us here."
Seems reviewers in the States are a little too eager to draw lazy comparisons: Alanis, labelmate Michelle Branch, and -- most irritating to Tasha-Ray -- Avril Lavigne, all crop up with mesmerizing predictability.
"People say, oh you're just a rip-off of Avril, which is clearly not true because we started this band at the same time Avril started listening to music," she huffs. Then again, it is a bit easy to draw those comparisons when listening to "It's About Time," the most recent single from Falling Uphill. Like much of Avril's work, this song was produced by that heinous production entity the Matrix, and it bears a striking resemblance to Lavigne's "Complicated." And, like much of Lavigne's and Branch's creative output, Lillix's music has just the right degree of presliced commercialism; to wit, the group's contribution to the Freaky Friday soundtrack -- a sassy, girlish cover of the Romantics' "What I Like About You," which now serves as the theme to the WB sitcom of the same name. It's not hard to imagine that it's just a matter of time before the teenage masses will be seeing Lillix performing at a prom on an upcoming episode of The O.C.
It's this tension between being an artist and a product, too, that really gets under Tasha-Ray's skin, as evidenced by her thoughts on being a part of the Girlz Garage Tour, coming to Houston on October 30. "I'm so excited. It's going to be so much fun!" she enthuses.
But doesn't she think that an all-female junket organized by the founder of the Vans Warped Tour is a blatant ghettoization of women in rock? What about the tour's hot-pink Web site (www.girlzgarage.com), which reflects the usual attitudes about women -- excuse me, girlz -- with its lipstick scrawl and corporate sponsorship by Nippies, the butterfly-shaped nipple patches that can substitute for a bra in a pinch?
At first, Tasha-Ray toes the party line.
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"I think it's to say here's a whole bunch of girls rocking out. I think in general, there aren't that many female-fronted bands. I think it's a good thing, it sends the message that yes, girls can play, girls are very powerful. Sometimes after people hear us play, they say, 'Wow, you're really good for a girl.' That's an insult! What are you trying to say? We are good, I've been playing guitar for nine years! How much longer do we have to do this to show you that we can play? It's disappointing to hear that. It's not a feminist thing, it's just music."
But then she changes her tune.
"Why's it so different? Why do all the girls have to gang up together? There are all these tours that are mostly men and nobody says anything, but when we do it, it's because we have to prove something."
Perhaps girl bands that haven't been engineered by a corporate entity do need to prove something, though. Maybe they need to prove that they can make good music as a size eight, that they can make meaningful art, that sometimes it sucks to be a girl, but it doesn't always have to.