Image courtesy of Towanda
Interview by Auriane Benabou
Last weekend I trekked through the snow to chat with the DIY punk/metal band Towanda. The all-female (and fun fact: all Aries!) band began in Montreal with singer/songwriter Rosie, and has made its way to PVD. It is now taking on a new form with the addition of Irene and Starr to create quite the power trio. In the echoing corridor of the Westminster Arcade we had chance to talk their first experiences playing music, breaking into a traditionally white, male scene, and the band’s future plans as they continue to play local shows. It is really inspiring and exciting to be able to watch the journey of a group of such powerful and kind women grow in the Providence community. Their music is heavy, angry, energetic, and will have you moshing all night long!
Starr Harris: drummer/backup vocals
Irene Beauregard: bassist/backup vocals
Rosie Gripton: singer/songwriter/guitarist
How has it been getting into the PVD scene? It can be a pretty interesting mix of genres.
Starr: I don’t even feel like I’m part of it yet.
Starr: I mean we’ve technically played two shows, so I don’t even know if Providence knows [about us] yet. The band has been around for a while and has a lot of great recordings but like, at least for Irene and I it’s still really new. So were just trying to make friends with the scene.
Irene: I don’t really have much context because I played in a band for a little bit when I was in New York but that is a very different type of situation. This has been a fun new adventure for me and I’m enjoying making friends through it.
Rosie: The other thing I would add is partly what’s defined playing music in Providence for me has been that immediately upon moving here, I got involved with Girls Rock. So our first show was pretty decent ‘cause I already felt like I built up a little bit of community with people there. Also a lot of the attitudes and philosophies about music that they have there have kind of solidified some of my values and approach to making music here in Providence so that’s been good. And then for me moving from Montreal it’s really nice to be in a smaller place. This is sort of halfway in between the first community that I started playing music in, which I would sort of say parallels an Olympia, a really really small college town, and then moving to Montreal I found it a little bit snobby. So I find people in Providence to be a nice sweet spot where there’s a lot happening but people are still sort of down to earth because it’s considered a little bit off the beaten path.
Was the inspiration behind the name from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes? Why did you pick it?
Rosie: Mhm…yup. *laughs*
Irene: Well, I could reflect a little bit. I’m a huge fan of Fried Green Tomatoes and when you [Rosie] presented me with your band I was like “this was meant to be!” *laughs* Because I love that movie and the “Towanda” part of the movie is like an underexplored mystery of it which I kind of enjoy, was the main thing you pulled out of that.
Rosie: I guess it’s like, “Towanda!” is supposed to be her mantra sort-of when she’s like takin’ no guff anymore and I like that feeling of taking no guff. Partly because you know, I think it’s —
Starr: And I’m totally the Kathy Bates of the band! Like 100%.
Rosie: You don’t have a terrible husband though, so…
Starr: Yeah, dodged that bullet! *laughs*
Rosie: But yeah that’s what she says when she has her midlife crisis and I don’t really necessarily— that’s not actually my personality and approach in real life but I like that character when I’m writing music and I think I get to be someone that I’m not when I make music and I like that.
How did you all get into playing music?
Irene: We were talking earlier about how the guitar is a really hard thing to learn with, I learned piano first when I was kid and I had this 60-something year old woman who was teaching me piano, Mrs. Convoy, and she had a heart attack a year into it…
Rosie: Oh wow.
Irene: It was just like this funny thing where it was like this older woman who has having a hard time with life while she was teaching me. But I went from that to having guitar lessons and drum lessons and in high school we had a pretty awesome band, our teacher was a kind of like a famous saxophonist from around here. His daughter was in band too. I learned a lot there in high school, it was an all lady band and we would do Dashboard Confessional and Goo Goo Doll covers and Brand New and some Alanis Morissette— yea it was pretty good mix of stuff. So that’s how I kind of got started, and one of my friends who actually saw last night, Gabby, was the person I played with in New York for a little bit. But I feel like this is the most fun I’ve been having with music in all of my life
Starr: I didn’t really play when I was younger, I was kind of a jock and I like broke everything.
Irene: You broke all your legs! *laughs*
Starr: Yeah, I broke both my legs and my knee and just sort of stopped doing the fun stuff and was like “I need a new hobby!” I lived in New York for a little while after college and like one of my roommates had a drum kit and she hoarded art supplies and was running out of room in her bedroom for the drum kit so I was like “we can put it in my room.” But it was New York and you’re never home, you were out all of the time, but occasionally I would come home and play this drum kit. But when I left New York I moved back in with my parents for a little while to save money to move to Seattle and I was like “not only am I twenty-something and moving home but I’m going to get a drum kit for myself for Christmas, hope you guys don’t mind.” *laughs* Then when I was out one night, I met this dude and I was like “this guy’s coming over and we're gonna jam in the basement!” *laughs* Then all of a sudden friends were like “heard you guys are a band, want to play this chick’s birthday party, or graduation party,” so we played this graduation party and then the booker at the local club was like “heard you guys slayed the graduation party want to come play the club?” *laughs* Then two weeks later I moved to Seattle and Justin moved to Vermont.
I moved to Seattle with my drum kit, that was pretty much the only thing that I brought and um— I was really bad, I was terrible ‘cause I was new and had no idea what I was doing. I auditioned for this band and after a month and a half of auditioning for them I ended up being their manager *laughs* instead of their drummer. So, I just started booking a lot of shows and then ended up joining this all girl band, the Hot Rolls, they were like a sixties garage rock band. Then the dude from Vermont moved to Seattle and we started a project and played for a while. I was probably in like 6 different bands and then I moved here, and I was like “where am I? what is this scene?” So yeah, I’ve been playing for a little while
Rosie: Ok so I guess growing up I did singing in choirs, singing in church, singing in musical theatre this kinda stuff and uh, I did that. *laughs* I did that all through middle school and high school and I took my first guitar lessons when I was twelve, but I didn’t go that deep with them. The person who taught me was like this brilliant, really great blues country, like a bluegrass guitar player but a terrible teacher. Like heart of gold but we would basically just sit together and play cowboy chords and “pick-strum-pick-strum” *laughs* to Country Roads. I remember jamming out to that one a lot, me and this old man.
Starr: *sings* “…is the place I belong!”
Rosie: So that didn’t inspire me a bunch actually *laughs* surprisingly. I do love that song.
Irene: Yea I love the Brandi Carlile cover.
Rosie: Yea so then all through high school I got an electric guitar, I learned a bit of the Ramones and all that stuff but then I never went for it. I was more into fashion and art and drawing and wanted to go to art school and that kind of thing. So I just sort of put it down, but I always stayed very, very passionate about music and going to a lot of shows. Then during my undergrad, I was really involved with campus community radio and I just sort of stepped up my involvement as I went through my degree. Also the music scene had this tiny inner revolution while I was there between it being mostly “beers in your tears” singer songwriter males, like just guys singing folk country that kind of stuff, and then the last year people that I was living with in my friend group were making punk and we thought it was the heaviest music in the world. Although now I look back and I’m like “it was just like bubblegum garage rock.”
Rosie: Cause we were used to people just using xylophones and acoustic guitars. After a year of that and after being involved in the radio station, I saw my first all-girl punk band. Isn’t that crazy— at the age of like 22 was the first time.
Starr: What band was that?
Rosie: They’re called Old and Weird.
Oh yeah, I heard you mention them in another interview
Rosie: They’re actually a really brilliant art punk band and quite sophisticated.
Starr: Were they old and weird?
Rosie: No! They were like cute and young.
Starr: Fuckin’ liars *laughs*
Rosie: And now we’re old and weird oh my god! *laughs* We are actually old and weird. But I saw them and I was like “this sucks” which is so misogynistic but again it’s been a journey *laughs* but I was like I can do this better. At the time I probably didn’t even realize that was partly what was inspiring me but me and my pals started a garage rock band that winter and then the rest is history.
That was my first band. We played like five shows, they were all disastrous. Like, our singer would just stop the song if she didn’t like the tempo. Anyways, then I moved to Montreal and I played bass in that band, but I wanted to get into guitar more. It’s interesting cause a lot of people have accused me over the years of being in a girl band because it’s trendy, but women were the only people who gave me chance and ever wanted to play with me when I started.
Irene: That’s so annoying though! ‘Cause dudes are in bands, like all-dude bands, and you don’t call them a “dude band” because it’s like gimmicky or something.
Starr: We should start being like “are you going to see that boy band, heard your boy band’s playing…”
Rosie: So yea that’s just kinda who I’ve played with and then the first constellation of Towanda was people learning their instruments and then people dropped off for different reasons. It’s almost like a feminist collective over the years in that I’ve taught basically almost everyone whose joined how to play their instrument since then. Not so much in this case.
Starr: You’ve definitely given me guidance because the songs already existed, but I can play them. *laughs*
Irene: It’s totally true for me. I went into this being like “oh bass that’s easy. That’s the one where you just go like bum-bum-bum *laughs* but it’s a lot of some real difficult things that I’ve been enjoying getting to know.
Rosie: So yeah, getting into music was really awesome for me cause it met all of my needs. It’s politics and theatre but also there’s a literary aspect and I get to write lyrics. Also getting into music has been awesome for me cause it’s a technical skill set which is not something I had. I grew up with only girls in a pretty stereotypical way and like, a guitar is a machine and I like that, and I like figuring it out.
It can often be intimidating for women, queer folks, and POC to get into creating/playing in a band while dealing with mostly white male dominated scenes especially in the realm of punk rock and metal— any advice?
Irene: Do the girls rock camp!
Starr: Totally do the girls rock camp, but you know, if you want to do something you should do it. In Seattle, one of my favorite bands it was an all-female black punk like rock band called NightTraiN, they’re not together anymore but they’re some of my favorite people that I’ve met while being in the music scene. But they met because the four of them joined a play called “Hot Grits” and part of the play was that they need a band to play the soundtrack to the musical. They did a call for artists but none of the women really needed know how to play their instrument cause they were gonna learn in the process of creating this play. So they all did that for a while, and then had some issues— and I might not be telling the history of the “Hot Grits” play, I might not be doing it total justice— but they were like “Fuck this were gonna keep doing this!” And they started NightTraiN and what those women accomplished in, I think they were together for 7 years, they’re just so fucking good. It’s like magic. And hearing their story that they didn’t really play their instruments before and seeing the progression that they made and that they were adult women, they weren’t young kids, it was inspiring to see their progression over the years. And their motto is “choo-choo mother fucker!” *laughs* They’re just so fun. Definitely check out NightTraiN. But you know, if you want to do something do it.
Rosie: I would also say that a motivating factor is that people are really hungry for it. And do Ladies Rock Camp and everything will be explained.
You’ve awesome album Freak of Nature came out last April, any upcoming plans for Towanda?
Starr: I don’t really like to plan, I don’t make plans *laughs*
Rosie: Our sort of goal was to start playing local shows on the reg. We’ve talked about touring and we’ll see, but part of definitely something that I’ve learned this tendency to think when I started music that is sort of like “were going to be the biggest band, were going to do this” or it’s like “we got to do this and if you’re not on this tour then we’re not playing,” sort of like a scorched earth policy *laughs* of working with people. But I feel like sometimes you’re just burning bridges unnecessarily when you do that and then also it’s good to just take it one step at a time. And it sort of took awhile for me to connect with Irene and Starr, so I’m really happy just to be playing local shows again right now. That’s a lot better than having no band at all which was what most of last year was, that was pretty depressing *laughs*
Starr: Also trying to find my place in Providence, in a town this size it’s not the easiest thing. Especially musically. For me I probably spent eight months reading ads that were like “must be under 21 and a dude!” And I totally don’t fit that.
Irene: For real? On what?
Starr: On Craigslist. But I would hear a song and be like “that’s cool that’s what I want to play but I’m not welcome, so…” I don’t know. So it’s been a huge relief honestly to have the opportunity to play with you guys, like to meet some badass ladies who want to fucking shred.
Rosie: And we are working on new material! So, at the bare minimum we’re gonna record soonish. *laughs* So yeah, jamming on the reg, playing some local shows, and working steadily on new material.
Catch Towanda playing at AS220 on March 23rd at 9:30 pm!