Most girls flirt with music aspirations in childhood, forming Jem and the Holograms tributes at recess and abandoning them at lunch. But very few of us go on to join bands, seriously or for kicks, no matter how much we secretly want to.
That’s where Ladies Rock Camp Vancouver comes in. Taking place May 25 to 27 at the Waldorf Hotel, women aged 19 and over will have only three days to form a band, learn an instrument, write a song and perform it.
No one ever played rock ‘n’ roll without getting a few blisters.
But it’s all for a good cause, the weekend being a fundraiser for the longer-running Girls Rock Camp Vancouver, geared towards Joan Jetts and Janis Joplins aged eight to 18.
Although the Girls Camp is only in its fourth year, and Ladies Camp only in its second, the programs have spanned generations—at least, in June, Christa and Astrid Trueman’s case.
Ten-year-old Astrid, her mother, and her grandmother all attended the Girls and Ladies Rock Camps last year as a Mother’s Day celebration. Astrid herself hasn’t missed it for the past three years.
“I really love that you get to express yourself and your feelings,” said Astrid, her mom nodding beside her. “You get to meet people and make friends, and try out different instruments even though you’re placed with one.”
The last two years, Astrid used her voice as her instrument. Christa sang too, in punk band the Star Whackers, while June mashed the keys for her band The Lunettes.
Astrid now fronts a band with her own friends, currently unnamed. But she probably wouldn’t have gotten it together if not for her history with Girls Rock Camp.
“I wouldn’t have known how fun it is to be in a band,” Astrid said.
Astrid (middle) in her 2011 band the Believing Hearts.
Practise until you cry
“When you think about being in a band, it’s, ‘Oh, it sounds so complicated, how do I get started?’” Christa said. “But [at the camps], they lay it out for you in a really logical way.”
“You decide what kind of music you wanna play, look at the structure of writing a song—just like writing an essay, you know?—and then you practise until you wanna cry,” she laughed.
Campers have pretty full schedules, between writing, rehearsal, and workshops for everything from merch-making to the more specialized craft of stage presence. At Girls Rock Camp, attendants get a week, unlike the grown-up version’s three days.
“You go through phases of feeling stressed out, but then your bandmates go, ‘Hey, you’re doing great’—or you feel great and they feel stressed,” Christa said about the helter-skelter of the weekend.
“The band coaches and instructors know how to make you feel like you are a rock star.”
Astrid agrees, “They’re like therapists.”
“It’s important for girls”
Kathryn Calder, of famed Canadian collective The New Pornographers, Immaculate Machine and a recent solo career, doesn’t know what to expect when she volunteers as a mentor at Ladies Rock Camp this year.
“I think it'll be fun; I guess that's what I'm expecting.”
Being so entrenched in music for so much of her life—as she said, “Music is in everything”—Calder has her fair share of wisdom to impart.
“In my experience being a woman in music, I always felt really cautious trying things. I always wanted to make sure I had it right before showing it, and I do still,” Calder said. She described the many men she’s worked with over the years as much more spontaneous and readily daring.
“I would like to inspire people to try things. You don’t have to be perfect.”
Calder admits that throughout high school, she “just wanted to be invisible.” This manifested in her music career as a fear of fronting a group herself.
When she finally decided to suck it up and do her idols proud—solo female musicians like Joni Mitchell and PJ Harvey—she did it because, “I don’t want there to be anything I tell myself I can’t do.”
Calder also said that the sense of community programs like Girls and Ladies Rock Camp give female musicians—and musician wannabes alike—is invaluable.
“It gets people who may have the same insecurities together. And its important for girls to have role models. Women in music speak to me more than men do—just in terms of how they live their lives,” Calder said.
Living the dream
Although Christa recalls some inner conflicts with her band—“That’s rock and roll for you, baby," she jokes—she never regretted marking her name down for the weekend.
“Not everyone has dreams of being a star or whatever,” she said, “but if you’re going into this camp because that was one of your dreams, look at this as maybe your only chance to live that dream through to its logical conclusion.”
What Christa learned most about herself was how much she loves the limelight. When she screamed at the crowd and watched them scream back, it felt like a really good high, she recalled.
“Even though I was really nervous beforehand, the exhilaration that comes from getting up on stage is just an amazing experience,” she gushed.
“Just go, give it your all, and you will get back what you put into it.”