Girls with Guitars

Alex Scott's brother never let her touch his drum set. Heather Tucker played guitar for a while with another girl in her bedroom, but it never went any further. "She said we'd suck," Tucker says, "so why bother?" But now, on a dusty Sunday afternoon at Koo's Art Cafe, the room is humming with amplifiers and feedback and someone is calling out, "1-2-3-4!"

Scott and Tucker are in a band together, but this roomful of girls with guitars isn't it. It's something more: once each month, Scott's SoapboXX Sessions sets up a space specifically for girls who play music, who want to learn how, or whose brothers won't give them a chance—for every young woman who doesn't know how to get her band out of her bedroom.

"I didn't know who to play with," says Scott. "I was told I wasn't good, and I felt like I should sit in my room and practice. It seemed like a hard thing—like to be in a band, you had to be touched by God. But with three chords, you know an unlimited amount of songs already. You can write a song with three chords that you can play badly. It's okay. You'll get better. Just start."

So they do: a half-dozen girls on an array of instruments, crunching through a rumbling, pitch-perfect version of Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl," followed by the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" Sometimes, girls bring broken instruments for repair, improvise songs of their own, or just work on mastering power chords. Today, they sing along.

"Some days the jam sessions are great; sometimes they fall apart," says Tucker. "But that's what makes it great. It's for people like us: I played in my bedroom and never left. But it's more fun when you get together."

"Tired of sitting around," Scott launched SoapboXX in July 1999 and started advertising for "people, specifically girls, in my position: shy, embarrassed, or who had been told they couldn't do it." E-mails and phone calls trickled in at first, but soon she had a core of SoapboXXers who'd lug their equipment over to her house once a month. After several sessions, she says, she knew she needed a new space. "It was like a turnstile in my house," she says.

"I don't think there are a lot of places in Orange County that specifically look for or reach out to young women," Scott says. "From my own experience, I needed to find a place where girls could be together—and I couldn't find any. It's about having available resources."

She moved SoapboXX to Koo's in August, attracted by the Santa Ana nonprofit venue's longtime commitment to encouraging the arts, and Tucker pitched in to help with organization and publicity.

"We're experimenting now," says Tucker. "We don't want to be dictators. We're not SoapboXX. Everyone who shows up is SoapboXX. We want an open environment, but we also want things to happen with it. We're just going to try things and see how they fall."

Right now, erratic attendance is keeping Scott and Tucker discussing why some girls don't come back and why some girls don't show up at all. Their fliers, posted in select record stores and tacked onto certain college bulletin boards, usually bring a brief flurry of new attendance, but it's unpredictable. Sometimes only a few girls are playing inside and sometimes a few dozen, with some dressed in simple sweat shirts and jeans and others in spikes, studs, camo pants or combat boots.

"There are lots of girls out there—we've seen 'em—but we want to get them out of their holes," says Tucker. "We've realized in order to make it what we want, we have to deal with social issues ingrained in people's minds."

Music, says Scott, isn't as accessible for young women as it should be—the myth of the male guitar hero still persists. And trying to make a place in a mostly male music scene—on top of dealing with everyday life—can be powerfully intimidating.

"When you're 15 or 16, you've got a lot of problems and issues that teens deal with already. Add in gender, the sexual-orientation question and other things, and then you want to be in a band, too?" Scott asks. And in talking to SoapboXX participants, she hears echoes of her own sometimes frustrating attempts to find a support network.

"Guys have more places to find camaraderie," says Tucker. "That's why it's not geared toward them—we're not trying to exclude guys, but we are trying to provide for a minority group that has been excluded."

Scott has plans to grow SoapboXX beyond music into other creative endeavors she says will be co-ed. But for now, she says, it's important to preserve the all-girl jam-session format.

"SoapboXX is about emphasizing and showcasing female artists," she says. "By coming together first as women, socializing with each other and working with each other, it's easier to go out into the world. It's a lot easier for girls to relate to each other. You can be a novice artist, a novice musician, in a warm environment with less intimidation. We're going to have events and programs later in which guys can be involved and show their artwork, so we can bridge that gap."

Melissa Boren has been a SoapboXX regular since the first meeting. "I'm all for jumping in with both feet," she says. "You learn faster playing with other people than playing alone, and there's nothing worse than intimidation keeping people from starting in the first place."

"This is the first step," says Scott, returning home with her car crammed full of drums and amplifiers, as well as a stack of zines published by SoapboXX participants. "Last time, the room was filled with a bunch of girls who otherwise would never have been in the same room together—but now that they know each other, who knows? You come to SoapboXX and take your instrument and your voice and go out into the world and make a difference."



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