Queens of noise
Girls Rock Reno teaches confidence as well as chords
Playing music is more than just the craft itself. It can give you a sense of belonging and direction in life—and it’s a crazy amount of fun.
It also evokes insecurities and fears, especially for new musicians who might bring a certain amount of baggage to the stage: “What will people think? Will they like me or like my song?”
The campers who attended Girls Rock Reno likely experienced all of these emotions and more. For the first time at the Holland Project, this week-long camp brought together 16 young women between the ages of 8 and 17 to form rock bands, write a song, and then perform it in front of their peers and parents at a week-ending show.
There was more to the camp than three chords and the truth, though. There were workshops that covered subjects beyond music, such as gender identity and hearing health. The young musicians were also learning tools of the trade, such as making their own screen-printed T-shirts and appearing in interviews on the community radio station KWNK.
All of this was organized by volunteers from the Holland Project, and most of the instruction and managing was done by women musicians, who definitely saw some of their own journeys through the eyes of the campers.
“When I was a teenager, I loved bands and going to shows, but it didn’t even occur to me to play music,” said Rosie Zuckerman. She was one of the main organizers of GRR and plays drums in the bands Okay Urge and Shit Metaphor. “Even if none of the kids here pursue music, I know going forward that this was an important time for them, and that makes me hopeful. And kids today are smarter than we are. They’re a little more enlightened.”
Bring the noise
Zuckerman told the story of one camper and how she came face-to-face with issues of gender identity: “Someone once told her not to go into the girls’ bathroom because they mis-gendered her as a boy, but she was like, ’What’s it to you? You can look any way you want.’ They get it. They are all smart and sweet kids, and we’ve seen a lot of growth in a lot of different facets.”
Zuckerman said that the idea for a girls’ rock camp has been floating around the Holland Project crowd for quite a while, and the circumstances were just right for it to happen this summer. She was involved mostly in the pre-production of GRR, helping to get the musical instructors, workshop leaders and other volunteers so it would be a smooth and memorable experience for the kids.
She was also surprised at the progress the girls are making musically.
“I didn’t understand how this would be possible, for kids who never played an instrument before to learn to play a song in five days,” she said. "But I’ve been blown away with how much the kids have been able to do. Kids who have never played drums before are holding down the beat for a whole song. I’ve played drums for 10 years, and I can barely do that.”
Volunteer Jamie Hemingway, of the solo project Solterona, was the band manager for the oldest camper group. Like the other three bands, they picked their own name, and it’s certainly memorable: Sorry I Forgot to Shave.
“I think having this be a mostly girl or female event is really empowering,” Hemingway said. “Today, for instance, we had [Sacramento band] Dog Party play, and they are a duo of two girls, and I think seeing them play really inspired the individual campers.”
Sorry I Forgot to Shave’s members range in age from 15 to 17, and Hemingway said they had more experience as musicians than some of the other groups. They also were able to share about more than just verses and choruses.
“They are getting a lot from each other, sharing their personal views,” Hemingway said. “They’ve talked about gender and what it means to be girl that plays in a band, that whole idea of being the band versus being with the band.”
Elizabeth Ramos, who was in the Holland Project-staple band Boys, was the band manager for Sci-Fi, a group with girls ages 9 to 13. They definitely had a strong band identity, with matching capes and a song that was about their own journey as musicians called “Famous.” Ramos believes that her group learned something a bit different from what some of the older kids did.
“I think, for me, the group is in the age range where they don’t really see the gender connection, with how it is to be a woman and feeling like a minority,” Ramos said. “Right now, they are in the phase of not realizing how important that is, but they do realize that they are women and that they love playing music.”
Elements of style
The campers also got to see women musicians who turn their own love of music into something beyond a hobby. The camp’s Thursday lunchtime performer was Jamie-Lee Dimes, an Australian musician who played at Holland later that evening and jumped at the chance to be a part of GRR.
“Being a woman playing music helped me make life decisions and kept me on track when I was a kid, and it was worth it for me to be here and inspire even one person to do music when they were going through a challenging time,” Dimes said.
Dimes definitely had struggles finding her way as a musician. She said that when she was 17 she had “family members telling me that I should be cooking and cleaning for a man instead of doing music.” She persisted, and now is on her first American tour and has just finished recording a new album with Mick Turner, the revered guitarist with the band Dirty Three.
“I used to be a massive pushover and now I’m not,” Dimes said. “Music actually helped me be able to have a voice.”
She also wants to help other women with their music careers, and said she wants to start a woman-focused label called Queens of Noise to pursue that goal.
“Like with today, I just want to influence girls in a way that makes them choose music over distractions and put them on a path that’s positive and ripples throughout their life,” Dimes said.
Reno singer Phuong Tran was the voice instructor for GRR and has been singing since she was 5 years old, including some training in opera. She said she emphasized personal style over note-perfect performances in her teaching.
“Being good performers is really where their strengths are going to lie,” Tran said. “I talked about male singers and how some don’t have the biggest range, like Bob Dylan. Their performances really matter.
“I know there’s a lot of stigma for female performers to be pretty, to look a certain way, to sound a certain way. But you can have people who really rock on without adhering to conventional ideas of performance. I just really want them to stand out.”
Tran worked with a wide range of singers, from those with a lot of experience to pretty much zero. She said it was great to see the more experienced singers mentoring their younger peers.
“I definitely think that all of them will stay with music, maybe just as a hobby, but for some people, they really see it as a career,” Tran said. “One of the girls, Graciela, has a lot of experience and has even taken voice lessons, and I know she really wants to do music for a living. I’m really excited to see what they might produce in the next couple of years.”
If you want to
Graciela Squier, age 16, confirmed that she wants to be a full-time musician. “At least as a side hustle, but probably as a main hustle,” she said on the final day of camp.
Squier sang with Blue Boots, the second of the groups with teenage musicians.
“I love empowering women and other people who are marginalized, so that really spoke to me,” she said. “Also, I really love rock music. So, it’s like two of my favorite things: ’Yes, please, sign me up right away.’”
Blue Boots had a real odyssey with their song, which has an awesome title: “You Kick-Flipped Into My Heart.” Squier and bass-playing bandmate Margaux Mauldin said it was a challenge to write, with lots of changes right up until the day before it premiered.
“I came up with the name, but we ended up writing new music for the bass just yesterday,” Mauldin said. “We decided we needed something to fit better with the guitar. And our great drummer [Ruby Nixon], we’re so proud of her, she contributed so much to it. We’re so proud of her.”
The camaraderie of Blue Boots was well on display on performance day. At one point, they gathered in a circle and chanted, “I am beautiful! Woo hoo! We got this!” and then ran in place with each other. The whole experience was an eye-opener for Squier.
“This camp was great for teaching young girls to have passion for music and to realize that no matter what anyone says, you can do whatever you want, especially music,” she said.
Lenore Silva, 17, had a similar revelation. She’s the bassist in Sorry I Forgot to Shave and has been playing different musical instruments since she was age 7. She’s hoping to play more with what she’s learned as part of GRR.
“I learned a lot more about the bass than just playing it all on my own,” Silva said. “I think it’s really reached us all in our own way, for sure. I’m someone who isn’t exactly confident, and I spend so much of my life just going, ’I don’t know, I don’t know.’ But it even reached me, which is kinda crazy. I really appreciate my time here.”
Some of the younger campers showed signs that music is going to be a lifelong choice. Take Kylie Lazzarino, for instance. She could be seen on one of the camp days walking around twirling her drumsticks even when she wasn’t prepping to play.
Lazzarino, 11, has been playing drums for a year and was part of Sci-Fi. “Our band is awesome,” she said. “Everybody is awesome. Obviously, it’s normal to be nervous, but I’m also really excited.”
Lazzarino said that it was great to experience band life and to also expand her own taste in music beyond rock and into genres like hip-hop and country during the drum lessons.
“I’m definitely going to keep playing,” she said.
The young drummer’s bandmate, singer Francis Hunt, found out about GRR through a flier given out at the local Doral Academy. In fact, Francis and her sister, Lovely Hunt, are both part of the camp. Lovely is the frontperson for the youngest band, charmingly named The Shehuahuas.
Lovely and Francis’ mother, Diana Sawyer, was front and center on the last day to see her daughters’ work. Sawyer said that Lovely and Francis have been talking a lot about their experiences to her—and teaching her a thing or two about music.
“Lovely used words like, ’We did the hook today,’ or ’We worked on the chorus,’ all of this terminology about music,” Sawyer said. “And I know nothing about music, so it’s been great for me, too. They’ve been super excited about all of it, including the radio show and the other bands they met.”
Sawyer shared that she was “concerned at first, not that they wouldn’t fit in, but how content they would be here. Usually in a new environment, it takes them a long while to acclimate to what’s happening and warm up to people. But from the very first day, they were very comfortable. I think that’s because of all of the individuals in the program, that they were all girls, and they were OK with that. It relaxed them.”
Another young musician, Blue Boots drummer Ruby Nixon, was like Lovely Hunt in that she learned a completely new instrument for her performance. Her mother, Melissa Hafey, said that the goal was just to see if Ruby could find her own way in music with other girls in the same boat.
“It was not easy on the first day, or the weekend before, because she was really nervous to get started,” Hafey said. “It was all new people, and she was doing something new and challenging in front of people she didn’t know. But, she seems to be doing great now. She hung out with her bandmates last night at Food Truck Fridays, and I think she’s going to be sad that it’s over at the end of the show tonight.”
The parents of Sorry I Forgot to Shave singer Grace Smith said their daughter also wants to continue on with music, maybe even with the band that formed at GRR. Brett and Tracy Smith came down from Alpine Meadows to see their daughter’s band close the show.
“She went last year to the Rain City Rock Camp for Girls in Seattle and had a fantastic experience there,” Brett Smith said. “She was hoping to find something to do that was local so she could connect through the community throughout the year. She comes to shows at the Holland Project quite a bit.”
Tracy said she’s noticed a definite transformation in her daughter during the week of the camp.
“I’ve just seen a lot of confidence and her being comfortable with herself,” Tracy said. “I don’t know if you can even ask for more as a parent of a teenager, for them to be OK with who they are. It’s been beautiful.”
‘Girls rock Reno Camp Song’
At the start of the final performance, all the members of Girls Rock Reno—from campers to volunteers—sang this song onstage:
We’re here to rock, we’re here to roll
We can be strong, we can be bold
’Cause we’re Girls Rock Reno!
We’ve got the beat and our guitarsWe’ll bring the noise—No, we won’t stop’Cause we’re Girls Rock Reno!
And it’s okay to play like a girlLoud and proud, we’ll show the world
That we’re Girls Rock Reno!
We’re not with the band, we are the band!
Stand with each other, hand-in-hand
’Cause we’re Girls Rock Reno!
Having a good time with all of our friends
We are the voice of a generation
And we’re Girls Rock Reno!