For guitarist Victoria Almanzan, being in an all-woman band was a “childhood dream.”
She grew up in Las Vegas and attended the Las Vegas Academy of Arts high school, where she was a guitar major. After attending the University of Nevada, Reno, she found herself spending time with musicians and decided to start a band.
“And I knew that I wanted it to be all women, because I hadn’t really seen any all-women bands in Reno,” she said. “I’m sure they’re out there, but I hadn’t really seen any. … I’ve always looked up to women who play music and women who are really strong onstage. I’ve seen countless DIY bands with just a bunch of boys.”
In January of 2016, she reached out to Courtney Mayer and Bijou Bell, fellow Academy of Arts grads at UNR. They had been acquaintances in high school but had graduated different years. Still, Almanzan had a hunch that three of them would connect well musically.
“I thought we would all vibe together really well,” she said. “At first, it was just to jam together. I didn’t have any solid plans for an upcoming show. I just wanted to see what the sound was like.”
“It was the easiest, most laidback jam I’ve experienced,” said Mayer. She also studied guitar in high school, but primarily plays bass in Stirr Lightly—although Almanzan and Mayer sometimes switch instruments. “Sometimes when you jam with new people in different environments, it can be a little stressful or—at least for me—anxiety provoking. It was just easy and comfortable.”
“I was just like this girl drummer with all these super burly, weird guys, and they would all just hit on me,” said drummer Bell. “It was really uncomfortable all the time.” Playing in an all-female group, she said, she “felt more safe, and more able to express myself, which is what you do in a band—express yourself.”
“And not to be totally exclusive—there are some guys who are totally awesome and open and fun to play with,” Mayer said. Almanzan was in the Reno post-punk band Pry, and she and Bell both also perform currently in the group Mutual alongside songwriter Cameron Beck and Holland Project musical director Brigdon Markward.
Alto Mayer is the group’s lead vocalist and main lyricist, although all three members sing, and Bell contributes lyrics. The music sounds like three musicians who play well together—not just one shut-in with a looper pedal. It’s dynamic and startling, even when it sounds delicate or ethereal.
“We’re all super quiet, and I think that translates into the music as well,” Almanzan said. “I think even our loud song, ’Eat my Skirt,’ is still introverted and quiet in a way. And I don’t know how that’s even possible because it has a punk beat to it, but it just is.”
The group has found a home in Reno.
“I’ve really learned to appreciate a lot of things about Vegas—the music scene, however, is garbage,” Almanzan said. “There’s been some great sounds to come out of there, but there’s no support. … I loved the house shows in Vegas, but it’s only emo bands.”
“And everything is at least 30 minutes away,” Bell said.
“Reno is really community-based compared to Vegas,” Mayer said.
For example, the group recently recorded a new song—and a new video—that local community radio station KWNK will premiere on its website early next year. The band considers the community-oriented all-ages arts venue the Holland Project its “homebase.”