Saturday, 19 January 2013

Syren


Syren is the pseudonym for award winning singer-songwriter Erin Bennett. The name originally referred to the alternative/rock band, Syren of which Erin was the front-woman, guitarist and songwriter. However after death of Jo Heeley (Erin's wife and Syren drummer) and the retirement of bassist Amanda in early 2012, Erin reformed the band with an all new line-up and began a new approach to music under the Syren name. She describes their sound as 'definitely gay' pop-rock. The band are currently recording a new album which is due out in the summer, and you can catch them at the Big Burns Supper festival in Dumfries and Rainbow Kilts festival in the Borders.

Listen here
Syren website here
Erin Bennett website here
  
What are your influences?

In particular, Alanis Morissette and Heart, but there's a lot of Queen and Motown in there.

You've been playing for ten years. Have you experienced much sexism in that time?

In the very early stages, when I was a teenager, it was just [perceived as] really 'hot' that there was a teenage girl doing it – they were more attracted to the 'angst' than the music. Later on in my career, when I would do interviews, male journalists would sometimes try to finish my words for me. Almost like they try to tell you how they think you should fit into the music scene.

The thing about us (Syren's previous line-up), not to sound egotistical, but we were very good at what we did. Jo (drums) and Amanda (bass) were absolute virtuosos.  And they got that way from hours and hours of rehearsal. They were tired of being compared to men.

Once, during sound check, the sound engineer said 'Oh I just put a bit of bass in your monitor', and when I explained why I didn’t want any, they were patronising.  Some fans watching sound check even mentioned it to me afterwards, so I knew it wasn’t just me.  And there's been times when we were playing, I’d make hand signals for monitor changes (makes 'can I get more vocals in the monitor' gestures), and it wouldn’t happen. So I would stop playing, put my guitar down, walk off stage, go right behind the sound desk, change my levels and get back on stage to carry on.


I think, with some male sound techs, they have two issues. The first one is that you're women, and they unconsciously expect you to not know what you're doing, or what you need and the other is that a lot of sound people are musicians themselves, and they can get a bit jealous of the skill level. But I’ve also met some male sound techs who have been very accommodating and lovely.

How about back when you were learning guitar?

I taught myself to play when I was 14. I would often invent chords and styles of playing for my songs and guys would take my guitar from me and show me how ‘its meant to be done.’ I would never listen to them. I hate people telling me what to do.  At the end of the day (and not tooting my own horn) I’ve developed my own unique rhythmic style of playing. That was recognized by RainSong guitars who offered me an endorsement when I was 20. I’ve had many guys who have been a bit snarky because I don’t play ‘widdildy-diddildy’ like they do…surely they should have a deal?  But it isn’t about what you play, it’s about your skill level. Perhaps that isn’t strictly sexist, but I’ve never heard a bad or jealous word from a woman about it.

Have you noticed any positive changes since you started playing on the music scene?


I have noticed a difference, but it's only because MY attitude has changed. When I notice guys getting a bit territorial, or self-righteous, (sometimes in an unspoken way) I either just ignore them completely or say, ‘Okay then….you try and do it better’ I mean, I've had 'you're not bad for a girl', but no one has ever been verbally ‘abusive’ towards me. My approach to it now is a bit more aggressive. I refuse to give people the opportunity to treat me differently because I’m a woman.


As in zero tolerance?

Yeah, I mean, when I'm at home, I'm really very shy. But when I'm on stage I do not tolerate any shit from anybody, men or women. This is my sacred space. I don't let anybody tell me how to do my job.

These days my bass player is a man, and he's my producer as well. I'll write a song, and present it to him, and he's well aware of my aggressive, slightly moody way of doing things. We'll work together towards what's best for the song. I trust his judgement and opinions because I know that he doesn't care if you're a man, a woman, a fish or a giraffe. He just sees the music like a diamond that needs polishing. And that’s where his whole focus goes.


Watch 'Dehumanized' video

Have you ever felt a pressure to sexualise yourself on stage?

No, I've never felt pressured. It comes down to how people think about the music business. On one side of my character I’m a songwriter who is highly emotional and wants to be noticed and respected strictly for my songs. But on the other side, I want so badly to succeed in the music business (and it IS a business) that I look at what aspects of myself that I think will draw people in. Its like when you go to buy a car. The very first thing you notice is the car itself. How it LOOKS. That draws you in to find out more about it, how it performs, gas mileage, etc. So whether it’s my big knockers or big hair I base my philosophy on what Dolly Parton said, ‘If you got it, flaunt it’. I'm just taking the things that are most obvious about me, and making them louder in the mix.  I don’t care if men look at me and find me sexually attractive because I know that MY body and my soul and my heartbeat are for women. I want to empower women to recognise their strong points and not be afraid to utilize them. If a woman is good looking, she shouldn't have to hide it.

What would you say to a 16 year old girl just picking up a guitar now? 

It sounds like a cliché, but to stay true to yourself. And when I say ‘true to yourself,’ I don't mean what you think you SHOULD be – I mean who you are.  A lot of young girls (and older women, for that matter) feel pressured to look like the models and women from the television. Just be yourself, know what you want and let it burn in you, and don't let anybody take that away.

Watch 'Seasons' video



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