Most people would rather do almost anything than repeatedly relive their most cringe-worthy moments of adolescence and young adulthood. But writer, bassist, and storyteller Chelsea Ursin has done just that in her podcast “Dear Young Rocker,” a tell-all, diaristic recount of her time growing up and feeling like an outcast as a female bass player in a very much male-dominated space. Her eight-episode first season is a brutally honest, witty, and sometimes hilarious coming of age tale that deals with issues like body image, imposter syndrome, and hormones.
Ursin says she took a break from playing music while studying writing but was reinvigorated while volunteering for the Boston chapter of Girls Rock Camp, an organization formed to empower young female and non-binary youth through playing music. Instructing for Girls Rock inspired Ursin to start up her own fuzz-rock band, Banana, and share her journey of the ups and downs of being a female musician. Since releasing the podcast, she’s also started a Youtube channel that addresses topics like self-esteem and friendships. We talked with Ursin about the making of “Dear Young Rocker” and navigating music in a man’s world.
Audiofemme: You say on the DYR site that “this is a story for the weirdos. The loners. Those who felt alone and found a home in music.” Besides offering solidarity to other people going through what you went through, what prompted you to make this podcast?
Chelsea Ursin: It was kind of a culmination of a lot of things. I had been playing in rock bands since I was like 14 years old. That was a way for me to connect with people when I couldn’t because I had pretty severe social anxiety and body issues and everything else. I was the only girl I knew of anywhere that played in a rock band and I just always tried to be “as good as the boys.” I tried to be really good so I don’t look like a stupid girl and misrepresent my people or something. But I never put it together as a problem with the patriarchy or other people that were going through that. I just thought “I’m messed up, I’m a loner, so I have to fight really hard for myself.” When I got older and started taking feminist theory and women’s studies, I started to realize that being marginalized in this way has a lot to do with why I played rock music in the first place and why I got so much out of it, and I was part of a way larger community of people that felt left out or othered in the music community.
And then, it wasn’t until Grad school, when everyone was writing about these terrible things that happened to them and I was like, “I just want to write about rock music because I miss it.” I thought it was important and I hadn’t been playing. Then, someone told me about Girls Rock camp because they read my writing and then they told me about riot grrl, which I had somehow never even heard of… I had this new teenage-dom when I was like 25 and I was like, “Wow, there’s so many other people that felt alone like me, this community of weirdos is huge and I want to bring them together.” So, I decided to write a memoir about my time as a musician. Then I started volunteering at girls rock camp, and I saw these little kids going through the same stuff I had gone through as a teenager, and then being able to rock out on stage in front of hundreds of people. I thought, “If they can do this, I can start my own band.” Then I had this confidence renaissance where I started my own band, I wrote a book, and then publishing a book seemed like this archaic impossible thing. I studied sound engineering in college for a couple years, even though I dropped out because all of the boys intimidated me, so I was like, “I’m gonna make a podcast.”
AF: How were you able to remember all of these stories and events from high school in such great detail?
CU: I mean, a lot of it has to do with anger. I think anger lights up your brain because when I first started writing about this stuff, I just got angry. I had never been angry at the people who had made me feel like crap as a kid, I had always just accepted it. I had always been like, “oh this guy’s playing this crazy riff in front of me, it’s not because he’s trying to make me feel bad, it’s because I am bad and I’m not good enough.” So when I started writing about it, I felt so bad for my teenage self. And felt like “you thought you sucked but you were amazing!” And all this anger prompted me to remember all these things that happened, and in the finished product, it reads as one story, but when I was writing, I would remember one detail. I’d go back and listen to a certain Pixies song and I would remember the smell of the paint when me and my band did this painting project together. Then, I would remember someone singing a Queen song. I just put down as many tiny details in as I could, then I’d put myself into that state and put more details.
AF: Was it painful to revisit some of these memories? Especially the ones that deal with self-esteem and body issues?
CU: Yes, a lot of the time I’d write about this stuff and I couldn’t even leave the house after, because it just became so real again. I’m still processing this, because this is so much a part of my life now telling this story, that sometimes even now, if I go to a party and I don’t know a whole lot of people and I end up sitting by myself for a minute, instead of being mature me and going and making a friend, I just sit there and think “No one likes me.” I bring all this stuff up to the front and sometimes it still hits me.
AF: You talked about having a “confidence renaissance” prior to writing the podcast, but before that, did some of the feelings of social anxiety and self-esteem that your younger self deals with in the podcast carry on into adulthood?
CU: Oh yeah, they are still there all the time and I still fight them every day. A lot of this project is talking to my (current) self, too. When I give advice at the end and it’s for my teenage self, it’s still very much for me. Sometimes, I’ll complain to a friend about being bummed or whatever and I’ll see things sort of in a skewed way, and my friend will be like, “You need to listen to your podcast.” Once those triggers are set in, they don’t ever really completely go away, but I can see them now for what they are and I can fight them.