Oregon State’s motto, “She Flies with her Own Wings,” was first adopted in 1854 as a nod to the “independent spirit” of the state’s first pioneers. In her new single by the same name, Kristen Grainger and True North spins the phrase into a modern feminist anthem.
An Oregon resident who for many years worked in state politics alongside her music career, Grainger says “She Flies with her Own Wings” is particularly inspired by her time working for Oregon Governor Kate Brown, who was swiftly ushered into office in 2015 after the sitting governor, John Kitzhaber, resigned amid a criminal investigation. During her time on the team, Grainger said she was dumbfounded by the amount of misogyny she saw directed at Governor Brown, and simultaneously inspired by her persistence and collaborative style of leadership. It got Grainger thinking about the generally sexist reception of women in leadership in this country, particularly during the era of Trump, who the song characterizes as a “bully with the megaphone/who threatens and annoys.”
“If she doesn’t immediately have an answer [they say] she’s a failure, she’s weak, you know, but she’s absolutely not. Kate Brown is cautious, she’s mature, she’s consultative, and she is collaborative, and these are not characteristics that are not necessarily associated with male leaders, and are often associated with female leaders,” said Grainger.
Grainger says she’s “done” with the misogyny, especially because she believes a consultative style of leadership could be transformative for the country. She channels her frustration, this call for change, and the myriad of positive experiences she’s had working with women leaders like Brown, into this new single with her band True North. This spirit lends a real fierceness and assertiveness to what is otherwise a pretty melody with simple acoustic accompaniment, as she sings—”She flies with her own wings/She’s on the look out for better things/She’s got her eyes on that western horizon.”
“This perception study from Pew Charitable Trust said the perception people have—it actually creates the double standard and it can make professional and economic mobility more challenging for women,” Grainger points out. “For men, being ambitious, decisive, that’s viewed as desirable, but it’s not necessarily viewed as desirable in women. You have to be approachable and likable in ways that men with similar aspirations need not be. Also, being physically attractive plays a larger role in being successful as a woman than being successful as a man, as does a woman’s age.”
“She Flies With Her Own Wings” appears on Kristen Grainger and True North’s new album, Ghost Tattoo, released in June. The album is one in a long line of vibrant bluegrass releases from the band, which was founded in 2003 by Grainger and her husband, guitarist Dan Wetzel. What’s fresh about Ghost Tattoo is the new personnel—in their tenure, True North has undergone several lineup changes, but they currently boast the talents of multi-instrumentalist Martin Stevens and bassist vocalist Josh Adkins, who lend the album an upbeat energy. Plus, Grainger says the more political focus is new for her. Beyond “She Flies with her Own Wings,” another song on the album, “Ghost of Abuelito,” explores child detention centers at the Mexican border, while “Light by Light,” tackles the topic of violence against women.
“I don’t know that I’ve had an album with three songs on it that could be considered political, and frankly I don’t consider myself an activist, per se – I think of myself as a person observing,” Grainger says. “I’m seeing these things around me and I’m moved by them.”
As for “She Flies with her Own Wings,”—and its video, recorded by Robert Richter of Local Roots Northwest in Portland—Grainger hopes the song will reach the ears of the gatekeepers in the music industry and create more parity for women on festival stages, as a wealth of talented women musicians, particularly in the bluegrass and country world, continue to emerge. Grainger said she’s played plenty of festivals – even a kids’ bluegrass festival, where she saw just how far the industry has to go.
“I’ll see the entire lineup has got 8-10 bands, 30-40 musicians total that are performing throughout the weekend, and one woman, or zero women, or two women, and they’re not necessarily a head of the band, they’re basically a fiddle player or whatever,” Grainger says. “I always nicely – because women have to be nice – write and say it would be great if you worked for greater gender parity on stage so that all kids, little boys and little girls, could see women performing.”