Liz (vocals, bass) is preparing for her 23rd show. Rummaging in a booth filled with glittery fabric and makeup, she tosses her sleek auburn hair across her forehead and over her emerald-lined eyes. “I can’t find my black tanktop,” she says nervously.
Leia (guitar, keyboard) smiles comfortingly. It is her 7th show. “You look fine.” Her long, dark waves cascade almost down to her patterned bellbottoms. She has a dusting of blue sparkles on her lids. She is impossibly tall.
Elana (vocals, bass) is focused on me, eager to answer my questions about women—and, thanks to the School of Rock, girls—and rock ‘n roll. It is her 12th show. Her outfit, a tribute to Prince, is dramatically purple and full of ruffles. Together with her masses of dark curls, the ruffles give her a regal shape.
“We love Prince now,” Elana tells me. “And Heart. We HEART Heart!”
I asked Tim Garry, owner and general manager of the School of Rock in Mason, to speak with Women in Rock about how the school inspires and coaches its girl students. “We’re more than just music lessons,” he says. “We’re performance-oriented. There’s something about working in a group and putting a show together. That’s the real rush of performance, not just being onstage.”
In the five years since Mason’s School of Rock opened its doors, instructors and students have put together several “Women Who Rock” shows featuring all female-fronted bands. They’ve also performed Fleetwood Mac, No Doubt, and, most recently in September, Paramore. “Our students come in and do music and get accepted,” he tells me. “Here, they find a place.”
Based on my conversation with Liz, Leia and Elana, that assessment is correct. The girls are supremely self-confident, onstage and off, and they are excited that someone is asking them about women in rock. “People always assume that great rock is written and performed by men,” Liz points out. “And that rock written and performed by women is not great. We’re sometimes told ‘you’re good …. for a girl.’ We’re here to disprove that whole sexist idea.”
Leia agrees. “When people find out I play rock ‘n roll they assume I’m a singer,” she says. “And there’s nothing wrong with singing but I don’t sing. I play guitar. That surprises people.”
I ask the girls their favorite thing about attending the School of Rock. Leia says it’s meeting new people and learning new music. Elana says she likes the experience she gets and the chance to work with local musicians. I ask them who their favorite women in rock are. They list them so fast and with such energy and enthusiasm that I lose track of who suggests which name: Heart! Joan Jett! Fiona Apple! Joni Mitchell! Chrissy Hynde! Carole King! After each name is spoken, the other girls shout their agreement.
“We never would have known who Heart was if it weren’t for the School [of Rock],” Leia says. “Or maybe we would have heard of them, but we wouldn’t have known how rad they are. There’s something about playing their music that makes you realize they’re geniuses.”
Elana says the same is true of Prince, whose music they “barely knew” until they prepared for the tribute show. It is time for me to let them go so they can get onstage and perform for the eager audience. The auditorium is packed: standing-room-only. So I stand and watch as the girls rock out, experiencing the rush of performing great music together.
None of these girls played the Paramore show, but I did speak with Olivia (drums) there. It is her 4th performance. She loves the song “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic” best. She talked about how inspiring it is for her to play music written and performed by women. “Just because I’m a girl, doesn’t mean I can’t be a rock star. Playing Paramore make me feel I have something to look forward to.”
Catch Liz, Leia, Elana, and Olivia, plus other talented students, at the School of Rock, 755 Reading Road, Mason Ohio 45040. For details about upcoming shows, see http://locations.schoolofrock.com/mason .