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Friday, May 27, 2005

Dyan Speaks!

Ben Lee has been asking me for weeks to write a blog entry about what it’s like to be a girl on the road with a bunch of boys. I didn’t write it at the time because I knew that it would consist of in-the-thick-of-it complaints like “God, this van stinks to the high heavens!” and “How the hell am I supposed to read my book with all of this shouting and wrestling?!” But now, with a few days of boy detox and the continued encouragement of Ben Lee, hopefully I can provide a little more insight than just “Why is it so difficult to throw away a beer can when you are finished drinking the beer?! I’m losing my mind!!!!!!” So here goes…

Traveling in close quarters with six boys was made easier by the fact that my bandmates are true gentlemen (and I mean this only somewhat sarcastically, they really are a stand-up bunch). But I wasn’t just the only girl in the van; the music industry in the U.K. seems to be so overwhelmingly male that sometimes I felt like no matter where I was, I was surrounded by boys all month long. As you might imagine, it got quite lonely.

Here in Los Angeles, we have been fortunate enough to play with many great bands that have female members (Midnight Movies, Mika Miko, Hot and Heavy, the Tints, Tsk Tsk, Behind Her Back the Horribles, Dreams Go Disco, Giant Drag, just to name a few). While in the U.K., on the other hand, we have played with almost entirely male bands. Out of the 27 bands we’ve played with in the U.K., only two of them had girls (those two – The Research and The Flying Matchstick Men were two of the best bands I saw over there…coincidence?). That’s a lot of backstage toilet seats left up.

Don’t get me wrong, I mean no disrespect to the U.K. music scene – there are many, many great bands out there right now – but flip through the pages of the NME or go down to your local Barfly, and pay attention to how many women you see. When we were in Stoke, sitting at a pub next door to the venue, a girl asked our sound engineer if we were playing that night. Our sound engineer said yes, and said that he wasn’t in the band but pointed at Nathaniel, Zachary and I and told her that we were. She proceeded to take camera-phone pictures of Nathaniel, Zachary and our sound engineer (???) and then walked right past me as if I were invisible. She clearly assumed that I wasn’t in the band, even though our sound engineer pointed at all three of us…it made me realize that U.K. rock is such a boy’s club that this girl couldn’t even imagine that another girl (dressed to the nines in show clothes, no less) would be in a band.

Fortunately, I got a much better response from most of the other women I encountered. It was extremely encouraging when girls came up to me to say how nice it was to see a fellow female onstage – my favorite was a girl in Oxford who told me that she now wants to go out and get a keyboard – I’m glad I’m not the only one who is painfully aware of the absence of female musicians.

And it’s not easy being one of them…a lady needs her privacy, especially when preparing for a show after traveling long hours in a van. Backstage is kind of like a gym locker room – a bunch of filthy and exhausted people are thrown into a cramped area with very little personal space and no privacy where they have to get ready to perform. Most boys seem to be content with changing out in the open, for the more reserved ones, a simple “turn around, guys” will suffice. For me, however, this is no good - there is no way on God’s green earth that I will change into my dresses and get ready in a wide-open room full of boys. I got very adept at changing in whatever places of refuge I could find – sometimes inside the van behind tinted windows, other times in locked production offices. Most often, though, I just went out into the venue and got ready in a stall in the women’s bathroom. I learned how to put on a dress and do my hair and make up with just a tiny compact mirror as my guide – quite a useful talent!

With the exception of myself and a few wonderfully brilliant and talented female journalists, the only other women backstage were – ugh – groupies. Now if you’ll forgive me a brief rant, I have to take issue with this unfortunate phenomenon. Ladies, why are we still doing this? It may have been empowering to leave your father’s house to follow the Stones around in the ‘60s, revolutionary and punk rock to give the finger to sexual mores by blowing Steve Jones in the ‘70s, and wildly decadent to have Axl Rose snort cocaine off of your butt cheek backstage at some arena in the ‘80s…but now? It seemed like at every show, no matter who the bands were or how big or small the gig was, women were blindly throwing themselves at any band boy who would pay attention to them. Come on, we know better. Like music? Start a band. Write about bands. Play bands on the radio. Promote live shows. Work at a record label. There are many, many ways to get involved in the music scene without sleeping with some drunk boy caked in three layers of stage-sweat who won’t remember your name in the morning. Like boys in bands? Chances are you’ll have a lot more luck in love if you approach them as people instead of indiscriminately approaching them all as gods who, if you’re lucky, will let you worship at the altars of their greatness (or at least let you follow them back to the hotel or bus). I can’t help but wonder if this culture of male musicians/female groupies is part of the reason why there are so few girls in bands…there’s no place for us in that world.

All in all, despite the biohazard that was our van, the absence of female companionship, the lack of backstage privacy and the depressing flow of wasted groupies, it wasn’t that bad being the odd woman out. Like I said, my bandmates are top drawer, and fortunately our touring mates Maximo Park were extremely gentlemanly as well. And after spending some much-needed quality time with my dear lady friends here in Los Angeles, I’ve pretty much recovered from the Month of Boy. By the time we go back on the road in August, I’ll be ready to once again face the wonderful sights, sounds and smells that go along with living in close quarters with a bunch of lads. In the meantime, all of you boys out there, support your female friends who are into music; and all of you girls out there who have any interest in rock, get involved in the scene…and hopefully I’ll see more of you next time around!

-Dyan Valdés


Anonymous FP said...

Dyan, I think you're my hero... Well, you do rock, and more power to you for being around such groupies, smelly boys, and the like, and still being a lady.
;-) Keep up the amazing work!
See you at your next LA show.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous cuckoogirl said...

thankees for that dyan. you are very right about groupies, i abhor them and would much prefer to have a nice drunken chat with you (me drunk not you af course) than to, say, sleep with nathanial. whatever, well done! xoxo

5:23 AM  
Anonymous francine said...

ah, fucking great post. some girls really need to hear that. from one girl in a "boy's world" to another, you are awesome.

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dyan, you rock!

3:05 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Cheers Dyan, Aceness :-)

Ben's stil MY hero though ;-)

2:25 AM  
Anonymous Nic said...

thats so harsh that that person thought u werent in the band. thats damn rude. your keyboard playing is awsome. cant wait to see u guys again.

5:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on sister!

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dyan. you rock!

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Jo said...

I only just looked at this on the off-chance that there'd be something about that Oxford gig, and I whole-heartedly still want that goddamn keyboard/synthesiser/something of that ilk ...

7:53 AM  

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