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Garrison Starr



Where are the female rock stars in mainstream music? Where are the female rockers who make music on their own terms and don’t fit the pop or folk music mold?  (No, Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson don’t count.)    We’re talking about the women who will storm onto the scene and be the next Chrissie Hynde.  Well, Way Cool Music has managed to find one such woman, Garrison Starr, in the country music capital of the world, Nashville, Tennessee.  Ironic, isn’t it?  In a sea of mediocre, cookie cutter, female musicians, Starr stands out as an original, pushing the boundaries of what we think of when we hear the phrase, “rock star.”



Way Cool: 

Tell us a little bit about your background, how you got started in music, and how you ended up in Nashville.
Garrison Starr:

Well, I’ve been singing and playing and entertaining people ever since I can remember.  I’m an only child and grew up in Mississippi, right outside of Memphis, Tennessee.  I’ve always been doing it.  Music has always been in my blood.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been singing and playing music.  I started playing in high school with a friend of mine and had a couple of little acoustic bands.  Then I played in college. And after college, I got signed to Geffen Records, kind of as a fluke.  I had a manager who worked in a record store and he had dealings with a lot of retail guys at labels.  He happened to send a guy a demo of ‘Superhero’ that I recorded for an EP I was going to put out.  The guy at the label fell in love with it and passed it around and I got signed to a development deal with Geffen when I was 20.  The record came out when I was 22.  I’ve sort of been jumping from label to label ever since. 

I was in LA right before the deal with Geffen was over and they merged with Interscope and all that craziness happened.  I had moved from Memphis to LA and was there for 7 years, and then a few months ago, I moved to Nashville.  I love LA and I enjoyed it esthetically.  I thought it was pretty laid back; you had the opportunity to do what you wanted to do and the freedom to be who you wanted to be.  But it was so busy and so crowded and I just missed the aspect of growing up in a smaller town where you can just drive up to the front door of the drug store and leave your car unlocked to go inside and when you come out, it’s most likely still going to be there with everything still inside.  I missed that.  I just wanted a more convenient, stable style of life for myself.  Also, LA is pretty expensive.  So, I just wanted to live for cheaper and downsize.  It was too busy and hectic for me.



Not to mention that Nashville has Grimey’s (record store).  That’s reason enough to be there.



That’s exactly right.  Not to mention that my family is really here.  Neilson Hubbard is my best friend and is an amazing singer and songwriter and producer.  He’s making quite a name for himself here in Nashville.  And there are lots of great musicians here.  It’s a wonderful circle of people here, sort of an underground rock community.  When I was living in Memphis, I even came to Nashville to find people to play with.




From your first CD (18 Over Me) to Airstreams and Satellites, you seem to have really grown as a songwriter.  You seem to be more comfortable with writing more personal songs.  Talk a little bit about how you have grown over the past few years.




When I wrote 18 Over Me, I was at Ole Miss, and I was in a sorority.  My family is from Mississippi; I grew up in a conservative, Republican, Christian household, a very legalistic environment.   My mom and grandma were in sororities at Ole Miss and all my friends were in sororities, too.  I did all that stuff because it was what everybody else was doing.  It wasn’t because I was a follower, but it seemed like it would be fun.  I thought we’d hang out and have a good time.  I was also getting involved with the first relationship I had ever been in with a woman and that became a scandal on campus.  I became very angry and bitter and it was a really confusing time.  That’s where all the songs from 18 Over Me came from.  I was so angry.  But at the same time, it wasn’t OK for me to openly write about it.  It had to be disguised somehow.  I just wasn’t in a place where I was comfortable and could just come out and write about it. 

So, I was angry and upset. That’s where all the songs came from.  I didn’t really feel the freedom to go there in my songs.  I don’t think I was as evolved as a person, or as aware as I am now, that I could even share that with anybody.  I think that’s one reason.  I think you can definitely see as the records go along in my personal growth, how that effects my songwriting.  My identity has never been defined by my sexuality.  And that’s what was so confusing in college when everyone made such a big deal about it.  I was like, “Come on!  Like anyone really thought I was dating guys because I wanted to marry one.  Ya’ll don’t be stupid!”  The thing I don’t understand about sexuality is why people take it so personally.  No, I take that back.  I do understand that people struggle with their own sexuality so they put their shit on other people.  Because people have issues with their own sexuality they’re like, “Oooo, that person is gay!  I hate them, they’re gross!” 

My identity has never been wrapped up with that.  I’ve always had trouble putting people in a box and I could never understand why people wanted to do that with me.  In my immediate circle, my family and friends growing up were always asking, “Why do you do that?  Why did you say that?  Why do you think that?”  I always felt that people were trying to pigeonhole me to be something else.  I just wanted to be me and have the freedom to do what I wanted to do and be who I wanted to be. 

I’m probably in a place where I accept that for myself and I know that definitely is exposed in my writing now.  I feel that I’ve grown up, spiritually and emotionally.  I was so crippled at that period of my life.  I had feelings for women, but felt that I had to date men and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about.  And the people that did want to talk about it only wanted to tell me to shape up or get shipped off to hell.  That sucked.  So, the only outlet I had was my writing. And I couldn’t really be honest there, either, because it wasn’t accepted.  I was basically in a straight jacket for a while. As I grew as a human being, I started to poke my head out of the turtle shell. 




‘Inside Out’ almost didn’t make it onto Airstreams.  Why were you so hesitant to put it on there? 




I was afraid to be honest.  That’s the most honest song about my sexuality that I’ve ever written and I knew that.  People who heard it thought that it was amazing, basically because it was so vulnerable and open.  One of the producers for that record was like, “Dude, you have to put this on there.  It’s the most exposed you’ve ever been.”  Neilson agreed and asked, “Why have you been hiding this from us?”  For the same reason I hid my feelings about things for a long time.  The best I could do at that time was put it on the CD as a hidden track.  I used the excuse that it was unfinished and the production was so minimal.  It made the song really different from the rest of the CD.  So, I thought we should put it as a hidden track because it really didn’t make sense with the rest of the record. 




Now that people have been hearing the song and reacting to it, how do you feel about it being on the CD?

I’m so happy and thankful that it’s on there.  So many people have come up to me and been so accepting of it.  They’ve said how much it’s helped them and how thankful they are to me for writing it.  That makes me happy.  The older I get, the more records I make, and the more life experiences I have, I’m beginning to realize that people care about a story.  They want to know your story.  They want to know about relationships and friendships.  That’s what we’re here for!  We’re here to connect and communicate and learn.  If we’re not putting that out there, that’s stifling for us and no one is learning anything.

I really believe that it’s important for us to share our experiences with others so it can be a source of hope and strength for another person.  We all have similar circumstances that happen in our lives and we all have the same feelings.  It makes me sad to think that there are people out there who feel they can’t be accepted for who they are.  Obviously, I grew up feeling that I can’t be accepted for who I am.  Now I know that I can be and that there is love out there to be found.  No matter if your Christian or Muslim or Jewish or whatever your religious belief, if you believe in a God who loves people, and if you really believe in the God of the Bible… you know how all these Christians with their little arrogant hats on telling people how to live their lives. If you really believe in the God of the Bible, you don’t treat people like that.  You don’t tell people that they’re unacceptable because that isn’t your job.  The more I get out there and sing that song and the more I remember that feeling of shame that I have to this day sometimes… I don’t know if you can remember that feeling of shame you may have felt as a kid when you’ve done something you think is wrong.  That’s how I feel sometimes.  And when I feel it, it makes me so sick.  I can be having a really good time and something happens and I feel ashamed and I feel like I want to disappear.  That makes me sad.  And when I sing that song, sometimes I feel sad, knowing that I used to feel that way all the time.  I had so much fear of not being loved and I know there are people feeling that way right now.  It just makes me kinda sick.



Well, hopefully you’ve written something that inspires people.




Yeah.  As a music fan myself, I think of the artists I loved growing up.  I listened to those songs with such focus and I hung on to every word.  I wanted to know more about their experiences and what they were saying.  I was drawing inspiration and hope and strength from every word.  They were always there in times when I needed them.  It was pretty powerful. 




In your bio, you make a point of saying that you’re a rock musician, and the CD is pretty rockin’ at times.  So, when you’re playing a solo acoustic set, how do you convince your audience that you do rock and that you’re not just another girl with an acoustic guitar?



I guess I can’t really try to do that.  It’s frustrating to always have to tour solo because of finances in the first place.  I prefer to tour with a band for the sake of the music.  It’s the big picture I’d like to convey for each song.  Of course there are songs that are mellow, but for the rock songs, it’s great to be able to play them as they are recorded. 

The best I can do when I’m up there is be in the moment and play the songs how I feel them.  I don’t know if there is a way to convince people.  I think some people aren’t convinced.  Some people simply can’t see the big picture.  I think some people who don’t know music just don’t get it and they probably see me as folk artist.  My hope is that they’ll hear me acoustic, love it, and then buy the CD and see what I’m really about. 





What role does the audience play for you when you’re playing a live show?




The audience is really there to bounce off of.  I look to them for support and ideas.  I never make a set list.  I really read the attitude of the crowd and where the vibe is.  I look to them for ideas; do they want to hear something slow or fast, what can we share that’s fun and inspiring for everybody?  I don’t really feel that I’m up there just for me.  I used to feel that way, that it was just performance and I had to be this rock star badass.  Now, if I get to a show and people aren’t nice and I’m not having fun, then what’s the point?  That’s not fun for me.  I want to know that the audience is into it and they’re glad to be there and they’re learning about me.  The idea when you’re opening for someone is that you play similar styles of music or they have fans who love music and will get what you’re doing.  But, sometimes there’s the occasional show and the people just don’t get it and they’re not into it and they’re talking.  At that point, you just have to dig deep.  You have to find your own reasons to be there.

For the most part, I like it be mutual participation with the audience.  For them to feel the freedom to yell out something or ask questions.  Sometimes I like to tell stories and share my experiences if it’s a really safe environment. 




Do you find that there are different types of people who react better to your songs than others, whether they be male or female?




No.  It’s been interesting that I haven’t had that.  One thing that I’m really glad about is that at my shows, the crowds have been really diverse.  There have been a lot of guys, straight guys that are into my music.  That’s great!  In a perfect world, that’s the way it should be, to appeal to a diverse audience. 




What has been one the more surprising inspirations for a song that you’ve had?




In terms of style, I’ve written a song that will be on the new record called, ‘Sing It Like a Victim.’  I was watching A&E one night and there was a show about an 8- or 9-year old kid who committed suicide.  They were reading his journal on the show.  He committed suicide because he was so unhappy.  He was overweight and he was depressed because he didn’t have any friends and people always made fun of him.  I wrote that song, which is very different stylistically for me.  I guess it was a surprising inspiration because I hadn’t written a song like that, where I had been moved by someone else’s story, in a long time. 

The way the song started was very inspired, I was lying in my bed and I just started singing lyrics.  That’s never happened to me before.  I started singing stream of consciousness in my bed and knew I had to write all of it down and I just started writing this song.  It was pretty different from me.  I connected with the kid’s story.  While I never thought of killing myself, I could identify with feeling trapped.  He would talk about, “in the shadows” I can be this; “In the shadows I can be happy,” “In the shadows people don’t make fun of me, I’m a regular kid just like everyone else.”  It was just really moving.  I guess “in the shadows” represented his dreams and hopes and it just made me really sad. 




What are some of your favorite venues to play?



I love the 400 Bar in Minneapolis.  Minneapolis is one of my favorite cities to go to.  And I love the Fine Line there, too.  I’ve always had good experiences at First Avenue as well.  But the 400 Bar is a room that I’ve headlined and always had a good time.  I love it.  I love playing the Mercury Lounge in New York.  That’s always fun.  I love Room 5 in Los Angeles and The Mint.  That’s a great venue.  And The Basement here in Nashville is a great place.  I used to play 12th and Porter a lot before it closed down.  I loved that room.  I don’t know if it’s ever coming back.  I love The Tractor Tavern in Seattle and Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco.  I played at this place in Chicago called The Elbo Room and loved it.  I also like Park West in Chicago.  I’ve played there a couple of times and they actually treat you like you’re artist.  That’s so nice!  There’s also the Phoenixville Tavern in Louisville.  You gotta give props to that room. Louisville is a great town for music.  You wouldn’t think it, but they have this record store called Ear Ecstasy, that’s just fantastic!  They bring a lot of great artists in.  And there’s the Red Light Café in Atlanta.  The guy who books that place also books the Variety Playhouse, which is another great room.  Jammin’ Java right outside of DC in Vienna is great.  I love playing there.  




You’ve mentioned before that there is a big under-representation of women in the rock realm.  How do you see that changing through the years, or do you see it changing?




I don’t know if it’s going to change.  I don’t know why it is, but there are so many women rock musicians who have been overlooked over the years.  Maybe part of it’s because there’s a certain formula that labels follow to get women played on the radio.  It’s like making a doll.  You just put a head on it.  It always looks the same.  The closest example we’ve had for a real rock chick on the radio in a long time is Melissa Etheridge.  Melissa Etheridge really knocked down a lot of walls and open up a new format for women on the radio.  She represented an artist who was singing her own songs and had her own band.  She’s a rock artist and that’s great.  But who else is there?

I don’t really have an answer to that question.  We go through these phases in music.  For a long time, it was the Lilith Fair phase.  There were these female folk singer/songwriters like Jewel and Sarah McLaughlin who did their thing.  Me, and a lot of other artists, got lost in that phase.  We got pigeonholed as that type of artist.  I remember when my record came out, people wanted to throw up, they were so sick of the Lilith Fair music.  They were like, “Oh here we go.  Another fucking Jewel.”   I thought, “Have you listened to the record?  I don’t think so.  If you had, you’d know I’m not Jewel.” 

I think the radio-play format is so narrow and there just isn’t enough room for everyone.  I feel that has a large part to play in what gets onto MTV and VH1 because they follow what’s on the radio.  But the fist is clinched.  There are more artists out there doing it on their own, making their own records, getting the music out over the Internet, and flipping the middle finger to the music industry.  The only real way for musicians to make money anyway, outside of publishing, is through touring.  I don’t know any artist who actually makes money through record sales and that’s a joke.  That is a raping of an artist’s talent.  The music industry literally rapes us of the stuff that provides us food.  It’s our job and the way we make a living.  It’s so frustrating!  So, artists are looking for new ways to see a profit.  People are starting websites and doing iTunes and MySpace and those are really powerful tools.  And you don’t need a label behind you to do it. 

Most people just associate "rock" with guys.  It's historically just been so male dominated and testosterone driven. I think, in a way it's stereotypical; people think of men as tough and hard and women as beautiful, sexy and soft. I think the focus on most women in the limelight is on their looks: are they fat, too skinny, hot enough? I mean, I think that's what society looks for. I think society has been conditioned by the industry to expect a certain type of successful female pop artist. The industry perpetuates the belief that tits and ass sells records. It sucks, but that's the way it is. And for the most part, that's true. People don't want real artists, they want to be entertained.

Why aren't there more female rock stars? I don't know. Maybe it's a prejudice. Maybe it's just too crowded. But, I'm excited about what I see happening and the new avenues available to get music out there.






7 Questions




What's the worst job you've ever had? 


Working in the car tag department at the DeSoto County courthouse in Hernando, Mississippi.  It was a 9:00 to 5:00 desk job handing out car tags.  I hated it.  They were really nice people, but I hated it.


What's your favorite movie quote or song lyric? 


Well, I have a favorite quote from the story of my hilarious life...does that count? My friend Neilson is producing a record for an artist named Emily Deloach. After hearing from Andy Hunt, the mix engineer, that she should absolutely feel free to be honest about her feelings regarding all the mixes she'd be hearing and that there is no "i" in team, she replied, "Yes, Andy, that's true, but there is an "i" in mix." I'm sorry, but that's fucking funny.



Who would you want to star in the movie of your life? 


Mary Stewart Masterson.



What's your favorite TV theme song? 


Sanford and Sons (sings it).



If you were a superhero, what would your name be? 


The Disciplinarian.



What do you want to be when you grow up? 





Finally, why are there so many songs about rainbows? 


Because rainbows are happy.



To find out more information about Garrison Starr, visit her website at www.garrisonstarr.com.