Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Arts + Culture A swell wave of female talent rolls in with...

A swell wave of female talent rolls in with TIDES

Vibrant showcase of local, women-led bands and visual artists with a charitable twist comes to El Rio August 29.


ALL EARS It makes sense that Suzanne Galal wants her new monthly party to be inclusive.

A professor of pharmacy by trade, Galal started writing and playing music just four years ago, after her husband (Andrew Laubacher of Con Brio) gave her an electric bass for her birthday. The local music scene has instantly embraced her band, Suzanimal, and debut EP, Body: El Rio, the storied, 35-year-old venue, hosted the EP release show, and approached Galal right afterwards about starting a monthly residency. 

Suzanimal’s EP release party at El Rio was a big success. Photo by Andrea Kash

Galal turned around and invited five Bay Area women from different fields (collectively, the BAYbz) to help her pull it off. The result is TIDES: a showcase of women-led bands and visual artists with a charitable twist. The series kicks off August 29 with the music video release for “I Am Woman” by Cava Menzies, performances by Suzanimal and Future Twin, and an arts market with work by Menzies, L. Herrada-Rios, and Deb Leal. A portion of the evening’s proceeds will go towards Access: Women’s Health Justice, an Oakland-based reproductive rights organization.  

From the genre-defying lineup, to the panoply of artforms, it’s clear that TIDES is a reflection of its multifaceted creators. Galal and Tracey Holland (one of the BAYbz, and a bandleader in her own right) explained how the pieces came together, starting with Galal’s most humble roots in a band of non-musicians. 

Tracey Holland. Photo by Kyle Garrett.

48 HILLS Suzanne, I can’t believe that you didn’t even consider making music until your husband gave you a bass for your birthday. I think it’s easy for music appreciators to look at the people onstage and think, “Wow. I could never do that.” Did you have that feeling— or other doubts—and if so, how did you get past them?

SUZANNE GALAL Music has always been a huge part of my life, and I was always very passionate about it, but my role was as a fan, not the performer. A few weeks after I got my bass, my longtime friend Laura Thornton decided, “It’s time for us to start a band.”  She had played drums for fun in college, but was never trained or in a band. So the first rule in forming our band was that no one can be a “musician.” 

That’s when our band, Sub Sub Par was born, made up of five women with no real musical experience. Our slogan: “Exceed expectations.” That was our only goal. We were very committed to playing at least once a week. We jumped on any opportunity we could to perform: friends’ birthdays, talent shows, house parties. We had fun, no pressure, low expectations, a lot of heart and commitment, and most of all, the most wonderful and supportive friends and musicians from the Bay Area. The support we received made all the difference and inspired me to just keep at it!    

Emma Silvers. 

48 HILLS Do you think you approached making music differently after so many years as a fan? Did you have a clear idea of the sound you wanted? 

SUZANNE Definitely. While I appreciate music of all kinds, my favorite live music to see will make me want to move my body. When I started to make songs for Suzanimal, I started with a basic drum beat to keep me on beat and then played around with a bass line until it made me want to dance. From there, I added the instruments and layers to finish off my own personal dance party. I even stand up while I play the music back to make sure that it makes me want to dance. 

48 HILLS I remember you saying that the TIDES series grew out of your Suzanimal release show at El Rio. What happened that night that created the impetus to do it again?

SUZANNE That was one of the most magical nights of my life. It was a packed room full of friends and musicians to support these three female-fronted bands. Everyone that I got to play with and share the bill with was so incredibly influential in allowing me to get over those doubts and fears and just go for this dream. I think the love and support was so strong in that room – everyone felt it, including the El Rio staff. They wanted more nights like this. Lynne Angel reached out to me shortly after and asked if Suzanimal would be interested in doing this monthly residency, and if we could use the night to specifically showcase women-fronted bands and musicians from the Bay Area. 

Future Twin. Photo by Stefan Aronsen

48 HILLS Tracey, your band, The Old Grey Whistle Test, were also on the bill that night. What do you remember? 

TRACEY HOLLAND I was! I was so honored and excited to be a part of Suz’s special night! I opened the night with my solo project, The Old Grey Whistle Test, and another one of our fellow female musicians, Katie Day, also released her new record at the show. We were joined onstage by more Bay Area female powerhouses: Kendra McKinley and Kelly McFarling with Suzanimal, and Molly Kozma with OGWT. Simply put, there was just this really palpable, powerful female energy coursing through the room that night. We all go to and/or play a lot of shows, but this night just felt different. Everyone was there to rally around Suz, who’s done something really inspiring, frankly: within a few years’ time, she taught herself to play bass, put a band together, and wrote and released this record that is really just so damn good. 

As a female in the music business, you’re frequently the only woman in a room amongst a ton of men. And I love my fellow male musicians, but it absolutely is still a boys’ club, and we really do still deal with a lot of sexism. So to be on a bill of three powerful women who are captaining our own ships – it felt really powerful. The three of us collaborated on some songs together: there may have been a rendition of “All I Really Want” by Alanis Morrisette, as well as some choreographed dance-action to “I Love You Always Forever” by Donna Lewis, just saying. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever gotten to play. 

Laura Thornton. Photo by Emily Sevin

48 HILLS What needs were you looking to fill with a monthly series, either for music-makers or fans? Why did you decide to include a visual art/merchant component?

SUZANNE After getting the news of the opportunity, I reached out to some amazing female friends—Tracey, Emma Silvers, Laura Thornton, Sara Gerstel, Emily Sevin—in different fields, with different strengths, to get this thing off the ground. At our first meeting, we all decided we want this to create a community space to highlight and showcase women of all types and talents. We want it to be inclusive, for both artists and fans. We do not want to limit it to a specific genre or even art form.  

Emily Sevin, self-portrait

48 HILLS What was the idea behind the name TIDES?

TRACEY After a hilarious brainstorm session, we settled on TIDES because it seemed to be the right confluence of pieces that are integral to what this event is going to be about. TIDES is a nod to the Bay Area. It is also a nod to the idea of cycles – cycles we all go through in life, from month to month, and also, more specifically, as women. The idea of planting new seeds throughout the months of our lives, watching them grow and reach fruition, and eventually, die or give way to new endeavors – this seemed to resonate with each of us, both personally, and as artists. We really wanted to touch on femininity but without being exclusionary to trans women or non-binary people. TIDES felt like a way to touch on that, and honor it, but also leave it open for interpretation on an individual level.

48 HILLS Why was it important to donate some of the proceeds to nonprofits? 

SUZANNE We all felt it’d be a disservice if we didn’t use this opportunity to also bring awareness to needs and injustices that many women face. It’s important for us to make sure we support the artists and the cause. 

Sara Gerstel. 

48 HILLS Which nonprofit are you supporting this time?

TRACEY Access: Women’s Health Justice. Access is Oakland-based but provides reproductive health care and abortion access across California, specifically for lower-income communities, who may have more barriers to receiving this kind of care. Planned Parenthood is amazing, and we love them, but Access goes a step further to ensure all women can access safe, legal abortion. They provide the pieces that most people don’t think about, coordinating transportation, lodging, and sometimes even financing for girls or women who might not have a support system to help with those considerations. They are an amazing team that works so hard, and they deserve every bit of help and recognition they can get!

Doors 8pm, show 9pm, $10
El Rio, SF. 
More info here. 

Joanna Ladd
Joanna Ladd is a writer and affordable housing developer in San Francisco. She has been following the Bay Area local music scene since 2014.

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