Last weekend we settled down for a chat with Suzy Harrison.
Suzy is in the process of putting together a documentary about women in music called ‘So, which band is your boyfriend in?’.
Take a look at the trailer below:
- How’s the documentary-making process going?
It’s almost two years now since I started the project. I started off by interviewing about 8 people, just as a test to see how willing people would be to be involved… and work out the questions I wanted to ask etc. Then in December 2014 I decided to do a crowdfunder to raise money to fund the travel costs and so on to take the project a bit further afield and interview more people. I finished interviewing in March this year. I’ve done 31 interviews altogether. So now the editing process is just starting, following transcribing all the interviews. I’m doing it old school – printed interviews, with real life cut and paste.
Then I’ll start getting the clips I need and organising them on the computer. It’s a massive job!
- Sounds it! So the documentary is about women in music – are you focusing on any particular scenes or particular issues?
It’s about women in music (but there’s also one gender-fluid individual included). I’ve tried to focus on UK DIY punk/reggae/indie pop type scenes mainly. I wanted to find out what it’s like in those scenes because they are rarely included in documentaries. I didn’t want to include anyone too well-known either because I felt it would detract from the story.
I didn’t want it to be “the music documentary with [insert well-known celebrity name here]”. I want to give real people who are working hard in music scenes a voice that they don’t usually have.
In terms of issues… I asked people whether they feel there is an imbalance in the scene in terms of gender and then explored their thoughts and the possible reasons for it, and also have tried to look at what could be done to change it. Sexism came up in the conversations, but I also wanted to ask about the positives of being involved in music – that’s something I think is really important to tell people.
- Have you discovered anything particularly surprising in that respect? Any gender imbalances/ inequalities that you didn’t expect?
There have been some interesting stories from people about situations they have experienced, for sure. Sometimes the experiences are quite small instances of sexism like just not being acknowledged as being able to be in a band… but then there are other stories of people not being able to get into shows they are working, because ‘a woman couldn’t possibly be a sound engineer’ or similar attitudes.
Prior to starting this project I knew about some of the things people might speak about, because I saw elements of it first-hand both in a band and working as a photographer. So none of it was massively shocking to me, personally, but I think that people who aren’t as familiar with those experiences in the scene might be surprised.
- What inspired you to make this documentary? Was there a eureka moment of inspiration?
It’s a bit of a long story… and a combination of things.
I’ve been playing music since I was 5 years old and over the years I’ve noticed that a lot of my female friends weren’t really into music like I was. I was often in a minority at shows and in the bands I played in – I was the only girl in an 8-piece ska punk band for some time at uni.From 2009I played in a ska punk reggae band called Copasetics for five years and before we got Toop on bass, I was the only female in the band. I’ve never been angry about it though, I just wondered “why?”, because I get so much out of music and I love it so much. I don’t have many close female friends who are obsessed with music as much as I am.
I’d been thinking for several years about doing a Masters or PhD to look into the subject. But it’s really hard to get funding for social research and having met with a few academics, I didn’t think I would be able to get money or explore it in the way I wanted. I was worried about having to come up with a research proposal that would end up constraining the topic too much. I didn’t want to apply theories to it, I just wanted to document it and let the people I spoke to, lead the direction of the research.
Shortly after I’d almost given up on the idea again, I was watching ‘The Other F Word’. It’s a documentary about dads in American punk bands.. It was interesting, but aspects of the film actually started to annoy me. I started thinking “what about mums in punk?” and “why is it always about Amercian punk? or punk from 1970s?” – So I decided that if I didn’t like the documentaries out there, I should just make my own.
And that’s what I started to do.
- You mentioned feeling like a minority in music crowds – it definitely seems like girls are less likely to get into certain genres of music. Did you come across any interesting explanations for that trend while documentary-making? Do you have any possible explanations of your own?
It’s a lot of things I think. There are so many factors all working together… like the dominance of men in the scene already I think can just result in things just continuing that way – it’s harder to fight against something that’s already so ingrained into the scene. And role models are often harder to find – you have to dig a bit deeper if you want to have someone that’s doing what you want to do and is the same gender (but whether that’s important – same gender role models – is something that was discussed in the interviews). Then the idea that the scene is geared towards men in terms of behaviours at gigs like the aggression… and how women might not feel comfortable… but then again why does it have to be like that? And who says women don’t want to be in the mosh pit or crowd surf? There’s also the idea of things happening when you’re at school or growing up too – like encouragement to learn at instrument or being pushed towards certain scenes or instruments.
It’s pretty complicated and having started editing now, it all seems to interlink a lot.
- Does the experience of women differ depending on the part of the industry?
I think it does. There seem to be differences in terms of genres with some scenes leaning more towards safe spaces and inclusivity. There are also differences in the roles people do in the music industry and the types of roles that they are expected to adopt just because of their gender. This can be anything from the type of instrument they play, to whether they choose to become a venue owner, promoter or tour manager. Having edited a webzine, I always thought there was more of a balance in terms of PR agency and journalism roles for men/women in music. I could be wrong though!
- That’s really interesting. Do you think that, for example, a female pop singer might get less trouble than a female sound engineer?
I think we see more female pop singers out there so it’s easier to accept that as a norm. We don’t see as many sound engineers who are female so it’s not perceived in the same way – it seems more unusual (even though it shouldn’t be). However I do wonder whether these female pop singers are actually in control of what they’re doing entirely… they have a lot of people around them working with them.
- Given everything you’ve learned whilst making the documentary, what do you think needs to change?
Even over the past two years I’ve noticed things changing very gradually, which is positive, but I think there’s still some way to go. I think it all needs to start earlier – at school for example or at home – encouraging both girls and boys to get involved with music… all types, all instruments, all roles. Workshops like School of Frock in Exeter and rock camps in the UK and America are really good initiatives and more investment into those would be good. There’s also a need for more role models for young girls and women to relate to – in all areas of music. It’s about encouragement and empowerment.
But at the same time, we need to remember that we can’t force people to do things they don’t want to do. And if you don’t want to play an instrument or be in the music scene, that’s ok too. I’ve thought a lot about the whole line-ups thing – like Leeds fest not having bands on the bill with women (or fewer) and I’m not sure where I am on that because I’m not sure about all-women stages or line ups just for the sake of it.
I can see the positives and negatives of them… which is probably the sign that I’m being objective in my documentary research!
You can find the documentary [information and trailer] on Facebook – search for “So, which band in your boyfriend in?”. The Indiegogo project is still online too and I’m posting updates when I remember to… I don’t have a website yet for the documentary but the intention is to get one set up soon. I have loads of behind the scenes and other photos I want to share at some point.
Oh and if anyone is interested in working with me on the edit… I’d love to hear from you! Or anyone who can fix audio levels and stuff like that as I might need some help with it soon…
And always looking for awesome music I can include or extra general footage from gigs and festivals!
- What’s your favourite thing right now?
I’ve been enjoying learning to use Ableton! I know that’s a geeky answer. I went to a talk the other night by Rob Tissera (DJ), and he was talking about remixing and making music using Ableton and it inspired me so much! I met him after the talk and he was so enthusiastic and encouraging. Last night I was working on a song using it and it was so much fun.
Suzy can usually be found taking photos of bands – of which there is evidence on her website, instagram (@suzyskaphotos) and Flickr – and making music of her own.
She is also in the process of putting together a website, which you will find HERE once it’s up.