Over the past few years that I’ve been working in Austin as a photographer, editor, and booker (among a million other jobs), I have been drawn to many musical acts, but the ones who inspire me most have women as their driving forces. In the last year, I’ve been fortunate to shoot women who are nurturing the scene by being some of the most dynamic presences within it. While this list does include some of the most prominent women within the community, there are still many, many more out there who are also trying to make it in this industry in Austin and beyond. Here is some great advice from the women who are making it work.
Sabrina Ellis, Vocals, A Giant Dog and Sweet Spirit
Sabrina Ellis pulls a white piece of register receipt paper from a black apron in her backpack. She un-crinkles it, reads what it says and hands it over. “No one who spikes their hair should expect to be seen as sane.”
Though Sabrina is the leading vocalist of two different successful bands in Austin – A Giant Dog and Sweet Spirit, she still works a day job at a ramen restaurant in North Austin. While there, she constantly finds inspiration for both lyrics and jokes to tell on stage and uses scrap papers to write them down. Other than serving and bussing tables there, she also finds side-gigs to help her pay her bills.
“My friendship with Britt Daniel [of Spoon] has been so important to me because he’s really been able to give me some good advice,” she said. “One thing he told me is that I’m going to be more popular than financially stable and there will be a gap of a few years where I’m so busy working, but the money won’t come in until five years from that and I feel I’m in the thick of that right now.”
She said though the idea of artists struggling, having only $60 dollars in their pocket, is romantic, she just realized that she’s been in those shoes for almost 10 years. That struggle has made her have thoughts of giving up and finding a regular job working normal hours, but people around her have been there to tell her she can’t quit. With each project and passion, she’s run into problems with anger management and stress, and after getting into a rage-fueled car wreck has finally found help in therapy and letting herself take some time for her.
“Rock n’ roll is all about sex and drugs, yeah ok, but where’s the ice cream?” she said, moments before the interview ended. She then walked to Dairy Queen to get herself a dipped cone.
A Giant Dog was just signed to Merge Records last October and are releasing their next album on May 6, while Sweet Spirit is just about to record a new album in April.
Megz Kelli, vocals/rapper, Magna Carda
Megz Kelli grew up in New Orleans and was forced to leave when Hurricane Katrina hit, only a few days after her 13th birthday. School started back up after summer break on a Thursday, her birthday was the next Friday, and then by Sunday everyone was being told they either needed to evacuate, or they would be forced to stay because roads would be shut down. Kelli and her parents got out of New Orleans safely, but she talked about a neighbor who stayed and the flood forced him to his roof for five days with no food, water or shelter before help arrived. Her family moved to the Dallas- Fort Worth area to rebuild their lives.
“It probably was about a year or so before we were really back on our feet again,” she said. “But, you never really completely rebuild because you’re not really rebuilding the same thing.”
She looks at the hurricane as both a curse and a blessing, because while the flood was horrific, it took her out of a school and town where she wasn’t on a good path, to a completely new one that eventually led to her gaining her degree in English, Writing & Rhetoric from St. Edward’s University, and to meeting Dougie Do who helped her form Magna Carda.
The now five-piece hip-hop group just came out with their latest album ‘Cirqulation’ on Feb. 5th, and are currently planning a northwest tour with stops in Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco.
Sara Houser, vocals/guitar/keyboard, Löwin
When Sara Houser first moved to Charleston, NC at 11-years old, she decided she wanted to learn to play the piano. She had already taught herself how to play other instruments and read music by using a Disney book, but she wanted to learn how to play piano. She put this decision in motion on a Sunday morning at a new church service by walking straight up to the church pianist and asking for lessons. It wasn’t until the car ride home that she informed her parents this was going to happen. Later, in seventh grade, Houser attended a performing arts middle school and that was the year piano took over her life. She later gained a partial scholarship to the Berklee College of Music, where she studied songwriting and piano principle. Before starting her current band Löwin, she was in other projects including A House A Home and The Couch, and though those projects helped her to figure out how to write and actually “be in a rock band” she felt a lack of ownership that she longed for.
“One of my strong suits is songwriting and I no longer wanted to ask permission to play my own songs,” she said.
But leaving those projects weren’t as easy as just leaving. Deciding to leave those other bands was as hard, complicated and emotionally draining as deciding to leave a relationship, and the mourning process was similar too.
“Lyrically I almost always write from a personal place or experience. A lot of the songs on [Löwin’s first EP] Royal Jelly and even our first single “Heave Ho” were written about not being sure I have what it takes to pursue music/start a new band/continue to write. I was essentially writing break up and love songs about music.”
Löwin is currently working on their next EP and will release a new single and music video in early April. Houser also teaches at the School of Rock and is working with students on a Women of Rock concert, which helped inspire this very article.