Our article on the women’s movement within the Houston music scene, this week's Houston Press cover story, had more voices demanding attention than a Wall Street trading floor. You can sell on the premise if you choose, but we are wholeheartedly investing in the rising stock of these talented ladies. Because there are so many doing so much to advance Houston as a music city, not everyone we reached out to was included in the article, just as still others deserved a spot in this companion piece.
But in the past few weeks alone, we’ve spotlighted artists like Whitney Rose, Lita Styles and LOE; in the weeks to come, others still will follow. But we couldn’t move forward without taking one more look at even more sisters who are doing it for themselves and others right here and now:
Kristal Cherelle wasn’t born in Houston — she made her way here via Georgia and Oklahoma — but it didn’t take her long to become a true Houstonian. You can see it in videos, like last year’s HPMA-nominated piece for “Only Love,” from her album Fighter. And you can hear Houston, in all its glorious diversity and passion, in her songs. Cherelle is riding some noteworthy highs these days, the sorts of good things that come to those who make their breaks, the way she does. She just returned home from a set of road dates with fellow songbird Charity Ann, and, just a couple of nights ago, opened for Ms. Lauryn Hill at Revention Music Center, a moment she says she’d dreamed of. With an abundance of talent and the will to make those dreams a reality, she’s a Houstonian to be proud of.
Allison Fisher Band
Singer/guitarist Allison Fisher has long played in genres where women have been historically well-represented, like blues, swing, roots and jazz. “I guess I play the kinds of music that have no beauty standard," she says. "But even in 2016, every now and then somebody will come up to me after a show and say, ‘Wow — you’re a really good guitar player for a woman. It used to get to me a little bit, but now I just assume they’re surprised and what they really mean is 'You’re a really good guitar player.' Fisher believes that Houston has a great music scene because local audiences are enthusiastic no matter who’s playing. For younger female musicians, Fisher offers these words: “Play the music you love, even if you’re the only girl doing it. Trust yourself — you know what’s good. Make your mistakes onstage, not in your living room — you’ll get better and more confident faster. Promote yourself fearlessly. Record just about everything.”
Lead singer, songwriter and guitar player of PuraPharm, Tessa Kole is also a vocal and guitar instructor at Sessions Music on Bellaire Boulevard and host of the radio show Musicians’ DIY Fight Club on stilettobroadcasting.com. “I never made a conscious choice to become a musician," Kole says. "I always just was. Both my parents were musicians, and music was always a part of my life. I’ve been playing and singing since I was four. I’ve never stopped.” As a teenager, Kole says, she was inspired by Siouxsie Sioux, Sinéad O'Connor and the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser. My private vocal instructor, Debbie Beinhorn [and] — plus "hanging out at Numbers a lot as a teenager and listening to the great music they played.” What continues to inspire her — and should inspire us all, she says — are "the other amazing musicians in this city [and] having a powerful platform to express my creativity: my music, my blog and my radio show.” (Note: PuraPharm's drummer, John Seaborn Gray, is the brother of Houston Press Music Editor Chris Gray.)
This Mo City songstress and multiple HPMA nominee is one of the leading ladies of Houston’s R&B scene, which is quizzically scarce when it comes to soul sirens. A noted boxing fan whose musical career stretches back to 2009, Love Dominique has knockout vocal chops, too. There’s the outer beauty that’s landed her professional modeling gigs representing Oprah magazine, Reebok and Victoria’s Secret, to name a few. The inner beauty comes through on self-assured songs that were informed by her influences like Tina Turner, Brandy and Beyoncé. Dominique's confidence is the real thing, too, not just a persona to sell songs. As she told the Houston Press's Brandon Caldwell a couple of years ago, "when the biggest pop star in the world is from Houston, if she can come out of Third Ward, why can't I?"
Despite her documented abhorrence of MCs being noted by gender, no discussion of Houston’s best-trending femme acts should exclude Lyric Michelle. "You always hear, 'Who’s the female MC representing Houston?' You never hear, “Who’s the male…” because no one cares!" Michelle told Noisey earlier this year. That’s the sort of honesty she shared on her unflinchingly personal new album, Miss Direction. If you need only one track to introduce you to this gifted poet-turned-rapper, choose “My Pain.” Listening is like watching one of those old Animal Kingdom programs about gazelles: It takes off with impressive speed and grace, then leaps into a slo-mo meditation on survivalism of the fittest. Frame by frame, Michelle depicts how we survive the thicket’s thorns and predators’ attacks to evolve into creatures of majesty.
We took a couple of punk rockers along to last Friday’s Eazy Three gig at Shakespeare Pub, mostly so they could see what Alisha Pattillo does with a saxophone. Lots of Houstonians know already, thanks to the plethora of projects she’s associated with, from her involvement in the jazzy Thursday Jam Session at Dan Electro’s to her own eponymous group and as side player for Houston bluesman extraordinaire Ezra Charles. She’s an Antigua artist who’s been featured in national music industry magazines. Best of all, she’s insanely talented and incredibly accessible. She’s got regular gigs at least twice a week and can be seen over the next month at spots like Emmit's Place (this Friday), Karbach Brewery (May 11) and Petit Café (May 27). When we left Shakes, our musician friends were amazed by Pattillo’s skills, and jazz had won over a couple of new fans from the punk ranks.
War on Women
Shawna Potter, a Houston native and front woman for War On Women, is also the founder and board member of Hollaback!, a Baltimore-based campaign aimed at ending street harassment. Sadly, Potter says she didn’t always believe that being a musician was an option for women, but as a young kid, the first time she saw a woman play guitar on MTV was transformative. Before that, Potter believed that only men played guitar and women had other things to do that didn’t include music, but now she leads one of the most radical protest bands in punk, no easy task. “I stay inspired by all the women and queers that play music in my local scene, that there are so many of us that our gender can't be tied down to a genre," she says. "I am inspired by people who take down racist flags from the flagpoles, literally and figuratively.”
Potter offers these wise words for young female musicians combating everyday sexism: “Being taken seriously on an individual level is tough sometimes," she says. “Honestly, I've gotten more respect as I've aged and once I found a home in punk. Being so outspoken about what matters to our band, you find out pretty quick who supports you and who doesn't.” Potter adds that she thinks young female musicians should work with each other and "make shit happen," because no one else will do it for them.
Luna Lunacy; Raised From Nothing
Formerly the front woman for Silenced Within, Sloan Robley started her singing career in California in 1997, only to return to Houston years later. Currently she sings in Luna Lunacy, which she describes as, well, "lunacy": "At times we can come up with a riff, beat, melody or even a bass line, and we all four start collaborating like fiends and within minutes come up with a song," she says. "It is the craziest thing.” Robley, who says she believes expressing herself through music is second nature ("it's part of my DNA"), also plays bass and a little guitar alongside husband Dave in Raised From Nothing. When encouraging other young women in the music scene, Robley says, “Within everyone is a voice — don't be shy; find that voice and use it. Never give up; keep trying.”
Pure Peach Live Entertainment & Event Marketing
Marissa Saenz parlayed years in corporate advertising to form her own company, Pure Peach, which provides experiential marketing and promotion for music clients like the Madness on Main and Yes, Indeed! music festivals and the East End Street Festival. Her work helps showcase the city’s best musicians, female or otherwise. It’s also tireless, behind-the-scenes and often misunderstood work. “The resistance didn’t come so much from within the music industry but from my family and childhood friends,” admits Saenz of her early struggles. “I’m a 35-year-old Latina single mom of three kids. Promoting local concerts just looks like you’ve been out partying until 3 a.m. four nights a week. The music industry is not meant for a woman, let alone a woman with kids. I started to feel guilty after hearing my daughters retell what others said of my work — everything discredited and summarized as a big, fun party.”
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In addition to playing in Bang Bangz, keyboardist/vocalist Elizabeth Salazar also works for local label Wonky Power Records. Founded in January 2012, her band (“electronic, dark-pop and Latin”) recently released the single “Young Boy.” “What was daunting at first has become a life-changing and rewarding experience," she says. "As a woman, we run into many obstacles that can often cause us to stray from our calling.” However, Salazar says she feels "fortunate to live in a city that glorifies and empowers women. There have been instances where I've felt I needed to speak up in a conversation of men just to have myself heard.
“Thankfully, I'm surrounded by musicians that don't think of me as just a 'female musician' but as a musician in general," she adds, "thus making it that much more enjoyable to be a part of the Houston music scene today.”
Written by Kristy Loye and Jesse Sendejas Jr.