by Zohair Hussain
It was sometime back in September that I
stumbled upon the story of Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry, and her piece in The
Guardian about the unfortunate realities she faced as a female musician. Only days
later, I heard the stories of classical composers wearing their own diadems of
misogyny. All these forces were crumbling away at what I once believed to be
the most progressive industry we had at our hands.
With such revelations came a personal desire
for truth at a closer proximity. I honed in my lens and turned it on the state
of our own music scene, and the circumstances of female musicians in the Queen
I may have stumbled a bit the first time I saw Molly Sullivan perform. It could
have been the champagne. It could have been the wine. It could have been the
sheer, uprooting shock of such a sneakily sultry voice filling all the quiet
corners of a room.
It was 2011 and the setting was a birthday party at the neo-historic Marburg Hotel,
and local heroes Shadowraptr had just finished their set in the basement — a
lush and operatic performance of their usual brand of psychedelic Prog-Rock,
with Jazz sensibility. They didn’t disappoint with an expectedly raucous
presentation, and we didn’t back down as an ever energetic crowd. It was in a quiet
aftermath, among friends and fellows just as imbibed as our beer-soaked shirts,
that I wove my way through a hallway maze and sauntered into a living room with
an organ against its back wall. At its helm sat Molly Sullivan.
As she would come to tell me nearly three years later, “Going back to when I
first started playing out as a singer songwriter, I always felt this extreme
pressure and insecurity of being a female musician…whose music was tending to
be more on the delicate side of things, an emotionally driven side of things.
It required a little stillness from the crowd.”
But back looking back on that night in March 2011, stillness was inevitable.
Warm from wine and an approaching spring, the handful of us that sat in the
living room did so with an active passivity. But even as heads lolled against neighbors’
shoulders or against the walls at our backs, there was an intensity in every
pair of eyes that I glanced into; all were watching, focused, as Molly struck a
chord and then another, taking us through the coziest part of the evening with
two or three ballads of life, lovelorn.
It was an intimacy that couldn’t have escaped those of us even if it had tried,
and only a brief, drunken sampling of where Sullivan had started her story,
rising to the ranks of the recognized, respected and regaled. Before that, she
was front woman for the electronically infused No No Knots and a few months
after that, she would play out as a solo artist with a backing band, making a
stop at The Heights Music Festival and a New Year’s Eve show at the Southgate
House Revival in 2012, before a brief hiatus kept her choruses hushed.
Sullivan admits that a lot of the anxious cogs of her earlier years were
weighed on heavily by being a female musician in a primarily male-dominated
“I feel like it’s a lot
easier for men as artists,” Sullivan Says, “generally, because you have the
potential to be the heartthrob, and also it’s not necessarily a sissying thing
to go to for a guy. So I feel like there’s more of an audience inherently built
In the later months of 2013, however, she re-emerged, armed with a
loop-accentuated sound and a solo confidence that she speaks fondly of. Crafting
songs, sonically clad with vocal layering and solid to the string guitar work,
Sullivan took her one-woman symphony on the Cincinnati circuit, to high acclaim
— winning the solo artist bracket of FB’s local “Last Band Standing 2013”
battle of the bands, and earning herself a spot on one of the participating
MidPoint Music Festival stages.
Sullivan had dedicated time to playing earlier shows in spots she would
normally not perform, in venues and around crowds she would normally not
consider being her primary audience. She says she found new courage in taking
these risks. Though initially unsure about even participating in the event at
FB’s, Sullivan came to find her hesitation was unnecessary.
“I made some assumption about
the clientele there – it’s kind of known to be like a bro bar,” Sullivan
explains. “I was thinking, ‘They’re not gonna get my art.’ That ended up not
When asked about the
progression of her performance presentation, Sullivan says, “I think I’ve
actually come to learn — just by doing it when I’m in a bar and everybody is
silent — just like recognizing that there’s something captivating about the
simplicity and the emotion of being present with your songs. It’s a really
empowering thing when people are dedicated to listening and joining you in that
Sullivan also recognized the power of community, and the part that earnest
encouragement from within the Cincinnati scene played in her career as a
musician. One pillar in her support group is claimed by The Daughters of The
Midwest, an ensemble stage set of premier, female musicians dominating the
“I’ve definitely kind of
geared my energy towards being supportive of other female musicians,” Sullivan
says, “supporting Kelly (Fine), Mia (Carruthers), Maya (Banatwala). And now
that I’m back out there again, because of the support that I’ve been shown.”
“I think it’s a really powerful thing to have a female musician community to
support each other,” she continues. “And as soon as I got back into it, it made
it a lot easier to go with the flow and be excited for people wholeheartedly.”
And looking outside of the just the female musician community, Sullivan
vehemently recognizes the support of Cincinnati as a whole. Sullivan expresses
an appreciation for her time playing with The No No Knots, as well as the
support she received from the members of Cincinnati’s Marburg Collective. As
she explains, "There’s mostly positive reinforcement floating around. There’s
kind of this really solid to the earth community here that exists that wants to
She admits that what hides
outside of Cincinnati is what scares her most. We traded stories and
conversations about recent revelations of ignorance and misogynistic skeletons
in some of contemporary music’s most renowned scenes, tales of classical
composers saying woman have no place in conducting pieces.
Sullivan acknowledges being
weary of “the whole, big wide world,” with such possibilities floating around
in clouds of reality.
“Cincinnati scares me in its
own ways,” she says. “Almost what scares me more is beyond what’s Cincinnati,
just the competitiveness that can be fruitful if you’re successful in the game.
And I think part of me has been afraid of success, because with that success,
you know what’s gonna come: it’s gonna be that banter online, all those
anonymous people hemorrhaging bullshit…Why bother?”
Even with such uncertainty for outside markets, Sullivan exhibits an insight
and strength that propels her forward, even more so because of her
acknowledgements of the bad that can come with the good. She says she’s
learning to navigate her way around “the hemorrhaging bullshit.” Her awareness
of everything that can dampen an otherwise well lit stage is what makes her
voice so definitive on the conversation about the regressive mentality of
misogyny that can still exist in our present day music-scape.
There exists within Molly
Sullivan a partnership between community appreciation and individualistic
impetus. She acknowledges the power of community backing, saying it’s a “powerful
thing to have a female musician community to support each other.” And she recognizes
the groundwork that’s been laid out in years past.
“We’ve seen the rise of a few
female fronted bands come through,” Sullivan says, “and people are more willing
to be excited for that and support it.” (She cites the Seedy Seeds and Wussy as
pioneers for female musicianship.) Sullivan is aware of where we’ve been and
where we are. But what’s more, she’s ready to take us to where we need to be.
And she’s ready to do that with a self-made spirit.
“I’m getting to a point where I don’t give a fuck really,” Sullivan says.
It was with a new impetus
that she’s approached her musicianship. “I’ve grown stronger as a female
musician,” she says. “Now I’m just kind of like, well, if you don’t want to
listen to it then fuck you, you don’t have to be here. It took me a long time
to get to that point, and I still kind of have some insecurity about it. But
most of the time I’m just like, ‘Molly, grow a pair, get over it.’ ”
Sullivan also explains the intentionality behind her current solo-set
performances. Much in the same vein of playing in new venues, under possibly
uncomfortable lights, she exhibits a drive to explore her boundaries, and
expand past her limitations.
“I’ve chosen to do these
things by myself,” she says. “If I’m going to play with a band later, I need to
be OK playing solo first. It’s been really empowering, doing all of that.” She proves herself to be relentless and,
though hurt, unscarred by the outside forces of misinterpretation and
misogynistic pressures. It’s with a knowing, weathered paddle that she navigates these future streams. And
it seems she couldn’t be more pleased with the direction she’s headed.
“So far, it’s been really
lovely being back.” She takes a moment, at the end of our conversation, to
reflect out loud. “Would you look at that? I did that. And I don’t need anybody
else. I’m all about collaboration, but it’s really good to know that I don’t
need anybody. I’m capable.”
by Mike Breen
Posted In: Live Music
at 11:59 AM | Permalink
The nominees for the 17th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards were announced Wednesday and now the polls have opened and it’s time for you to vote for your favorite Cincinnati area musicians. The public is invited to vote (once per email address) in 16 categories ranging from Blues, Jazz and Folk/Americana to Electronic, Hip Hop and Metal/Hard Rock. You can also vote for the “Best Live Act” and in a brand new category — “Best Music Video.” Links to each of the videos are included with the online ballot, so you can watch them all before you vote. (If you’d like to check out all of the acts in each category, CincyMusic.com, the staff of which was a great help on the nominating committee, has provided a page with links to their CincyMusic sites.) The “Album of the Year,” “New Artist of the Year” and “Artist of the Year” categories are decided by the CEA nominating committee. With the annual slew of complaints about which artists were or weren’t nominated, the CEAs are also, for the first time ever, allowing music fans to vote for whomever they want, nominated or not. The “Best Band/Musician That Wasn’t Nominated” category is open to any active band/performer who has played shows locally in the past year and does primarily original material, regardless of genre. Or talent. Write in those artists we’ve so tragically wronged by not being able to nominate every single act in Greater Cincinnati; once an artist receives enough write-ins, they’ll be added to the drop-down menu. (We are vigilant about ballot stuffing and tampering, including in this new category. So don’t be an a-hole.)Another annual tradition is people contacting us to ask about the nominating process and how someone goes about receiving a nomination. Here is the still (and forever) applicable response we gave last year.
Click here to start voting for the 2014 CEAs now. The deadline for voting is Tuesday, Jan. 14 at midnight.On Jan. 26, the awards will be presented at our annual CEA ceremony/party, which is returning to Covington’s Madison Theater and will feature numerous live performances. Stay tuned for ticket and other info updates, including details on our “Best New Bands” showcase at Corryville club Bogart’s on Jan. 18. Happy voting!
Nominees for the 17th annual CEAs again demonstrate strength, diversity of local music scene
26 Comments · Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The 2014 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, now in their 17th year of honoring musicians from the Greater Cincinnati music scene, are coming up in January and we have the nominees. Study up and get ready to vote starting Dec. 13.
Plus, The Tempers release ballad collection, Buffalo Killers score a new record deal and School of Rock Mason preps pre-holiday shows
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Theatrical Cincinnati rockers Injecting Strangers promote their new EP release this weekend. Plus, Maurice Mattei and The Tempers celebrate the release of a new collection of ballads, Buffalo Killers sign with Sun Pedal Recordings and School of Rock Mason pays tribute to Neil Young, Van Halen and others with weekend shows.
Plus, Freak releases debut EP, Withrow's marching band gets some star-studded help and Grand Oversoul reunites for a great cause
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 4, 2013
The nearly decade old Cincinnati-based record label Phratry Records releases a new four-way split single featuring locals Mala in Se and Knife the Symphony, as well as Aperiodic and Joe 4. Plus, area Metal crew Freak celebrate its new EP, Blue Wisp hosts a fundraiser for an area high school marching band and Grand Oversoul returns for Transitions Global benefit.
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Composer Rick Sowash has a simple idea:
Anyone can buy any of his CDs for any amount they want to pay and he
promises to give half to the St. George Food Pantry. The other half goes
to cover the cost of producing the albums, which is considerable.
Plus, Healing Power (formerly Pomegranates) plays farewell show and Shake It reissues The Sacred Mushroom's 1969 debut/swan song
2 Comments · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Cincinnati "Tribal Rock" duo Acarya releases compelling new EP this Friday, Healing Power (the artists formerly known as Pomegranates) prepares to say farewell with a final show and new release this weekend and Shake It Records mines Cincinnati's musical past again with a new re-issue of the oft-bootlegged 1969 album from Larry and Danny Goshorn's Sacred Mushroom.
Cincinnati’s Foxy Shazam readies fifth album and final local shows of 2013
0 Comments · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Internationally successful Cincinnati rockers Foxy Shazam talk about this weekend's hometown shows and reveal just a few details about their forthcoming fifth album, recorded in Chicago with Steve Albini.
Nov. 23 • Southgate House Revival
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Manchester Orchestra is loud and
rattling, both from the volume the group can unleash and from the depth
and emotion in its lyrics. Whether filtered through computer speakers or
amplified live from the stages of some of America’s best venues, the
group’s music has a way of making “all the feels” come rocketing to the
Nov. 24 • McAuley High School Performance Center
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 20, 2013
The Texas Guitar Women are not merely a
badass group of women — they are a badass group.