Women rock musicians have always had a notoriously hard time being taken seriously-and that’s still true today. Just ask the members of the all-women band Sick of Sarah. The Minneapolis-based band, winners of an MTV virtual battle of the bands and the Emerging Artists award from Milwaukee’s huge Summerfest music festival, released its first, self-titled album last August. Bassist Jamie Holm, who’s 27, has been asked if she’s part of the band or just a groupie, and other members tell similar stories.
The band members may have found a home in an all-girl band, but they still have to fight stereotypes in the male-dominated rock business. They continually have to prove that they are real musicians. Holm said that people have come up to her at a show and told her, with surprise, “You guys are actually good.”
Holm, who joined up in January 2008, is the newest member of the band, which formed in 2005. The band members come from varying locations-rural Minnesota, the suburbs, Japan-but the four original members stumbled upon each other in the Twin Cities through mutual friends. “After the first practice, it was over,” said Abisha Uhl, 26, the band’s vocalist and rhythm guitarist. “Right away, there was chemistry.”
They landed a record contract two years later-“practically overnight” in the music business, said lead guitarist Jessie Farmer, 28, The band’s been on a series of mini tours, mostly regionally, since Holm joined.
So what kind of music do these wunderkinds play? “We don’t quite fit,” Farmer said. “We’re the bastard child of the music industry.” The band’s sound, she said, comes from its eclectic musical influences. When pressed, she describes Sick of Sarah’s musical influences thusly: “If you took Joan Jett, Michelle Branch, ’70s classic rock, a shot of Riot Grrl, and put it in a blender, you would get Sick of Sarah.” Uhl agreed, but only if you add a tiny bit of [piano pop musician] Vanessa Carlton-she could be the straw, band members agreed.
Although the band collaborates on songwriting, Uhl calls Farmer the “music master,” saying she’s the one who comes up with the chord progressions that lead to melodies and music.
“When we signed [our contract], it was past the part about chasing the dream,” Farmer said. “It helped to push us to the next level.” The band’s other members are guitarist Katie Murphy, 25, and drummer Brooke Svanes, 24.
“Up until two years ago, I was living the dream in my head,” Uhl said. “Now to actually be doing it, I’m on a cloud [being fed grapes.]”
What works, Farmer and Holm said, is that all of the band members are equally motivated and driven toward the goal.
“None of us are pulling the others,” Farmer said. In her former band, Holm said, other work or school took precedence for some members of the group, whereas for Holm, it was about going on tour, about being a musician.
“It makes a difference, what people are willing to sacrifice,” Holm said.
The band’s feelings about life, love and being women in the music industry come out in the songs-just look at the song titles, Uhl suggested. “Not Listening,” “Fall” and “Bittersweet.” But it isn’t angry girl rock-they manage to make heartache and frustration catchy and original.
Some of the members are open about their sexual orientation, and the band is definitely queer-friendly. It has played at Twin Cities Pride events, and its video of “Daisies” is featured on NewNowNext, a music program on the Logo channel that features queer and queer-friendly musicians.
Ultimately, while the band may be gay friendly, Uhl said, it plays for everybody, and it’s about the music. And if it wasn’t labeled as the chick band or the gay band, it would be labeled something else, she said. But at the end of the concert, “Usually, the music speaks for itself,” Farmer said.
What doesn’t speak for itself is the band’s name. Who is Sarah, and why are they sick of her? They’re not actually sick of anyone named Sarah, Uhl said. In fact, they like the band’s namesake a lot. The name comes from Uhl’s former roommate, Sarah, who was sick of what she thought of as her too-trendy name.
The band plans to continue touring, and hopes that next spring it’ll be opening for some bigger names. The hope is to have a second album out in September 2009. As for now, all the members have day jobs, though they’re hoping by this time next year, it will be all Sick of Sarah, all the time.