Art & Activism: An interview with Rosie & the Riveters

Completing a triptych of Saskatoon performers Rosie & the Riveters captivated the Saturday audience of the 2016 Jasper Folk Fest while a full rainbow emerged from the grey gloom and hung over the valley. The upbeat tunes and tight harmonies of the vintage-folk inspired quartet stayed with me all weekend, and on returning to Edmonton I was delighted to get in touch with Allyson Reigh of Rosie & the Riveters to ask her some questions about female empowerment, social change, education and the Riveters’ home province.


During your live show in Jasper a story about the inspiring vitality of one of the Riveters grandmother’s was shared, and on your band blog there are mentions of other inspiring women. It seems obvious that you feel that it is important to model this empowerment of women, how is being an all female musical group important in your goal to share music about the empowerment of women?

Rosie & the Riveters was formed back in 2011 when Farideh Olsen had the idea to get a group of female singer-songwriters together who were interested in collaborating and building something unique and different. We initially came together to support one another and hone our craft and things sort of just grew from there.

On one hand, it works really well that our band is made up of all women and as a group we’re very vocal about the importance of women supporting women. We know lots of men who would be great additions to the band – in fact we did a big CD release tour last fall and brought three men from Saskatoon as our backup band – but arranging more than four individual schedules is tough so we’re sticking with just the four of us for now!dsc_0434

What do you hope to communicate to your listeners by portraying women in this way through your music?

One of our biggest goals in putting ourselves out there is to show that women can and do work well together. All you have to do is turn on the TV or read a magazine and see how common it is to criticize and tear people down, particularly women, rather than build them up. We’d love for people to see our band perform or hear our music and know that there is genuine love and respect for one another; that it’s possible to admire and be happy for another woman’s success without questioning your own value or talent.

We take turns singing lead while the other three sing back up and we’re having a helluva time doing it!
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Twenty percent of your merchandise sales go toward supporting women’s projects at www.kiva.org. Where did this idea come from?

We wanted to use what we’ve been given and help other women around the world, particularly those working in the arts. A lot of research has shown that investing in local female entrepreneurs can have the greatest social and economic impact because women play so many different roles in their communities. Essentially, the empowerment of women has the ability to support entire communities in the long run.


Do the Riveters get together to pick which Kiva projects to support?

We take turns choosing which projects to support. Generally speaking, they’re usually arts or textile-based businesses.

Have you seen first hand your support of Kiva makes a difference in women’s lives?

Kiva posts updates on projects fairly regularly, so in that sense we can all keep updated on projects we’ve lent to. I spent six months living in rural Ecuador a couple years ago in a community that has benefited from investment through Kiva. So I’ve seen some of the direct benefits of microfinance loan initiatives firsthand, also within the arts and textile sectors.

Education through music is another element that permeates Rosie & the Riveters online presence. What kind of music education experiences as young musicians did you have?

Between the four of us we’ve got all kinds of musical experience. Two musical degrees, countless years of picking up instruments in our homes and teaching ourselves, a musical parent who still tours and performs in different groups, semi-professional choir experience, classical vocal training, musical theatre training, years of jamming with other musician friends, and probably a million campfires where someone passes around a guitar and everybody learns the tune. We’ve got a pretty eclectic background but we all just genuinely love music.

As for education through music, we’re all big fans of songwriters with something to say. I definitely believe that art and activism go hand in hand and Buffy Sainte-dsc_0416Marie and Joni Mitchell are two of my personal favourite artist-activists who both just happen to be from the prairies!

Have you modelled your own teaching after any particular instructor/mentor? If so, how?

We like to say we take our inspiration from a lot of places – the sweetness of The Good Lovelies, the soul of Mahalia Jackson, and the vintage touch of The Andrews Sisters – combine all that with our very own sass and charm and voilà! You’ve got Rosie & the Riveters.
Music is often about universals. Song lyrics will typically speak about love, heartbreak, family and place. Rosie & the Riveters songs seem to focus on the positive as the universal, and not necessarily the scenario or situation of the song. Has this always been a conscious choice?

 

We choose to focus most of our energy and song writing on positive things in general. It’s so easy to feel sad for all the horrible things going on in the world, including our own backyard. The Husky Energy oil spill that polluted our beautiful North Saskatchewan River this summer was heartbreaking and incredibly maddening all at the same time. We do sing songs about the environment (covers and original music), and we have a song or two about ex-boyfriends, but in general we want people to come to our shows, forget their troubles, and leave feeling happier than when they walked in.
Does the Rosie & the Riveter approach to song writing differ from your solo music projects?

The overall goal with our solo projects and Rosie & the Riveters is to create meaningful art that impacts the listener in some way. So in that sense, writing and performing solo or as Rosie & the Riveters is very similar.dsc_0406

Rosie & the Riveters proudly hail from Saskatoon – what is your favourite thing about Saskatchewan and what place should we check out the next time we are in the land of the living skies?

One of the things I love most about Saskatchewan, other than the gorgeous sky, is that it feels like a hidden gem that hasn’t ever been really been properly appreciated, which means it’s not flooded with tourists. Whether you’re here in summer or winter you’re never far from an outdoor adventure – kayaking, camping, paddle boarding, skiing, snowshoeing – the list is endless!


Rosie & the Riveters have shows lined up through 2017, check out their tour dates here!

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