Sunday, August 29, 2010

Faye's history of lady instrumentalists [part five: Skin, Jenny Lewis, Alison Mosshart, Meg White]

Hi everyone! Faye, popping in, with your weekly boost of female instrumentalists.

Have you not been getting your recommended supply of awesome ladies? Catch up: (1, 2,) 1, 2, 3, 4!

So, today's blog is slightly abridged as I am dealing with some pain issues. This might turn out to be a blessing in disguise, though, since I don't have to write as much and you guys get less rambling AND two blogs for the price of one! So bear with me :)

The first artist I wanted to talk about, Skin, is actually way better known for her talents as a vocalist, but she also plays guitar (not frequently on tour, however). She's probably best known for her work with band Skunk Anansie, which she dubbed a "clit-rock" band (a take off on their "britrock" designation), diving into feminist/socio-political topics lyrically with a punk and metal musical background. The band was together from 1994-2001. Skunk Anansie got back together starting around 2009, touring and releasing a greatest-hits album and are now set to release a new album, Wonderlustre, on Sep. 13, 2010. In the interim, Skin worked as a solo artist, releasing Fleshwounds and Fake Chemical State. Her solo work was slightly more starker and more introspective, and received a lukewarm reception from longtime fans -- however, in my opinion it's still awesome.

On that front, I've chosen one of her solo pieces to embed, but I encourage you to check out Skunk Anansie's music if you haven't heard of them before.

Lyrics Excerpt: Plain devil | Be careful | I can spit on your charm | Silly baby | Stone crazy | Can't you hear the alarm

Jenny Lewis is amazingly multifaceted: she started out a child/teen actress, and then formed the band Rilo Kiley with friends in 1998. (She is also known primarily as a vocalist, but plays keyboards, guitars, harmonica and bass on various projects.) Rilo Kiley began with a folk-country sound and moved toward a more indie rock sound on later records, which also emphasized Lewis' voice and presence more. They hit major success in 2004 and were picked up by a major label in 2005, opening for acts such as Coldplay. She also has a very prolific solo career: in 2004 Lewis was invited to cut a record for Conor Oberst's independent label Team Love, and, with The Watson Twins, subsequently released Rabbit Fur Coat, which had more of a soul edge to it. She also put out an album (on her own) called Acid Tongue and has a side project with her boyfriend Johnathan Rice called Jenny and Johnny which plans to release an album in 2010. Throughout her career she's also guested on a somewhat astonishing list of other bands' albums.

Lyrics Excerpt: There's blood in my mouth 'cause I've been biting my tongue all week | I keep on talkin' trash but I never say anything | And the talkin' leads to touchin' | and the touchin' leads to sex | and then there is no mystery left

Alison Mosshart is best known for singing lead vocals -- is there a weird trend today?? -- in The Kills (where she was known as VV) and The Dead Weather. She also plays acoustic guitar as well as percussion at times in The Dead Weather, and has played keyboard. She started her career in 1995 in the punk rock band Discount and formed The Kills in 2000; after meeting Jack White and Jack Lawrence through The Raconteurs, she joined their budding supergroup The Dead Weather in late 2008. (Like Jenny Lewis, she's sung with a lot of other bands, from Arctic Monkeys to Placebo.) She's sort of a perfect blend of our first two women of the morning - prolific, connected, and hardcore.

The vid I chose isn't a fantastic one in terms of quality, but it is one of the best that shows her as a guitarist. However, if you'd like to see an awesome medley of over 10 years of her influence and involvement in punk/alt rock, allow me to point you here.

Lyrics Excerpt: You know I look like a woman, but I | Cut like a buffalo | Stand up like a tower | But I fall | Just like a domino

Last but most certainly not least - and a good segue from Alison Mosshart - is Meg White of White Stripes fame. Meg plays drums! While she has sung once or twice, and plays timpani, guitar and organ as well, she is most memorable as a drummer. She began playing with Jack around 1997, while they were still married (he took her last name) and they started the band shortly thereafter.

Here's where I go on a small rant: I actually get very frustrated sometimes on Meg White's behalf. A lot of people don't understand that just because her drumming is simplistic and "primal", it doesn't mean she lacks talent as a drummer. Her role in the White Stripes is to keep the beat, to frame the melody, and to set the standard for the sound. This is true whether that framework is a simple metronomic one-two-one-two pound that might as well be on a pot, a marching war-like drumroll on snare, or a complex beat that slowly increases in speed (all of these are present in various White Stripes songs). And this is what she does! In a band like The White Stripes that not only conceptually (by examining innocence, simplicity, family, nostalgia, and to some degree storytelling and ritual) but musically (blues and punk) places value on a lack of pretention, her performance is exactly what is called for. But as she puts it, "That is my strength. A lot of drummers would feel weird about being that simplistic."

Lyrics Excerpt: I had an opinion that didn't matter | I had a brain that felt like pancake batter | I got a backyard with nothing in it | Except a stick, a dog | And a box with something in it

Next week, we'll be wrapping up this series with -- women who play more instruments than seems remotely plausible! A dischordant yet melodic, networking indie-folk extravaganza! And more things that sound like they're pulled from sideshow headlines!

I am VERY open to suggestion -- and continued posting, let's face it, I like this series! -- so if there's anyone you'd like to see PLEASE don't hesitate to let me know. :D

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  1. I saw Skunk Anansie live earlier this year, and Skin was absolutely amazing. Best gig I've ever been to.

  2. Jenny Lewis is amazingly multifaceted: she started out a child/teen actress, and then formed the band Rilo Kiley with friends in 1998. (She is also known primarily as a vocalist, but plays keyboards, guitars, harmonica and bass...

    I think she's really unheralded as a songwriter as well.


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