In honor of International Women’s Day, it seems only right to highlight new Seattle projects specifically designed with the interests of womxn musicians in mind. One great example of such an effort is the new self-titled 15-track compilation from the Womxn in Music Collective, which officially drops on March 8; you can purchase it digitally via Bandcamp today, while the streaming platform is waiving its revenue share (as it does the first Friday of every month).
Womxn in Music Collective was formed in 2018 by two Seattle-based womxn involved in the local music industry—Sarah Gerritsen and Nikki Barron—who were looking for more opportunity to network with other womxn musicians and for the same pay and access to opportunity as their male counterparts. The compilation’s producer, Seattle’s Ailisa Newhall, who also contributed her song “Until The Robins Sing” to the project, was one of the collective’s early members and volunteers.
“Right when [it] was evolving into an actual thing… I was like, this is something I’m passionate about,” says Newhall. “I was really excited about having this safe space.” Newhall spent many hours volunteering and began managing Womxn in Music’s Facebook group (of which I am a member, though I was not involved in putting the comp together), the hub where most of the members have come together regularly during the pandemic. Often posting performances from group members, she found herself more inspired than ever to highlight womxn artists in Seattle and beyond.
Then, in January 2020, Newhall caught wind of a local theater, The Seattle Repertory, that was planning to put on a play about the story of a fictional womxn musician who had gotten her start at one of the area’s most beloved venues, The Tractor Tavern.
“I reached out to the Tractor through Womxn in Music and I was like, can we do a show, and have the Womxn in Music artists come perform and highlight like, real life women who are doing the scene?” Newhall says, adding that the plan was to partner with the Seattle Repertory Theater on the show. “The Rep would send some of their actors to come out and be a part of the show, and the bands would learn some of the music from this show and play their own.”
While everyone was whole-heartedly onboard with the idea, the pandemic had other plans, and the show, which was to occur in June of 2020, never happened. Instead, Newhall decided to coordinate, curate and produce this compilation, which she says is a representation of what she had hoped that show would be.
“That [theater show] just got me thinking… of highlighting the fantastic women that are really kicking ass in our group. During lockdown everyone was struggling, so I was like, how can we lift up the people and get a project going?” she says. “I started applying for money and stuff and finding a way to make something happen. I thought, people are writing music at home – how about we do a virtual idea of that concert through an album?”
After applying for grants for months, she procured a $5000 grant through the Ms. Foundation for Women and dove into getting as many womxn involved with the project as possible – not only the 15 artists who contributed tracks, but also the production crew, which included mastering engineer Rachel Field at Resonance Mastering and Tacoma-based visual artist Ava Wadleigh who designed the cover. The performers found ways to record their tracks at home or in a COVID-safe way, then sent them to Newhall to put the package together—which couldn’t have gone better.
“As I was putting the tracks together, they sort of took on a life of their own,” says Newhall, adding that each of the tracks speak to each other “in a really fantastic and amazing and organic way.” Sure enough, the songs, all of which are originals by women from the group, each muse on this tumultuous time in the world in their own unique but complementary ways. And the compilation also contains a plethora of styles—from jazz to blues to pop to country to folk.
Shaina Shepherd’s rousing piano-pop track, “The Virus,” directly considers the pandemic, Kat Bula’s bluegrassy “Nobody’s Woke,” addresses political polarization and the downsides of the “cancel culture,” and Stephanie Anne Johnson’s “American Blues” addresses the country’s baked-in racial injustice.
Meanwhile, other tracks, like Rani Weatherby’s R&B-infused “Where Can I Run,” gives voice to that general feeling of stuck-ness we all can relate to as we attempt to get up and face the complexity of these times. “It’s a struggle to get out bed/When I feel trapped inside my head/My dreams no longer bring me joy/When I can’t sleep through all the noise,” Weatherby sings.
The album packs a few surprise appearances, too. Sara Gazarek, a notable Grammy-nominated jazz singer who grew up in Seattle, contributes a gorgeous, swingin’ tune called “Easy Love.” And Lady A, a veteran Seattle blues singer who had her stage name stolen by the country-pop group formerly known as Lady Antebellum in June 2020, appears on the compilation to share her matter-of-fact conclusions about the state of the world with “The Truth is Loud.”
Despite all the different approaches and styles of each of the performers involved, Newhall says she’s in awe of how seamlessly it all knits together. She credits that partly the inclusive, open, and supportive energy of the Womxn in Music community.
“It feels whole. There’s blues and there’s jazz and there’s pop and folk; you wouldn’t think that all these genres would fit together so well but they do,” she says. “I’m just proud of the work that these women are doing. I’m blown away by the talent and how humble they are.”
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