This month our exciting series on Women in Rock’n’Roll continues. Our final contributor on this topic is Natalya Terekhova. She is the lead guitarist of the Moscow-based rockin’ group Magic. She is a real star on the scene here and despite her youthful looks has been performing for quite some time. Natalya’s article is a little different from the other “Women in Rock’n’Roll” articles in this column. For example she has lots of advice for other female rock’n’roll performers, based on her long experience. Although some of her advice is directed at would-be women performers, it makes for a delightful read for all of us. The contents of her writing below also indicate that Natalya truly believes in performing on the wild side.
Having seen Magic perform live in Moscow I can testify to their real quality, as well as Natalya’s ability and charisma on stage. They play lots and lots of rock’n’roll, but also include others genres of music in their performances. I will write more about this next month. In the meantime, here are Natalya’s exciting and controversial words on what it’s like to be a woman in rock’n’roll. Over to you, Natalya.
From the many years of experience of playing in rock groups with the musicians of the beautiful (but not weak!) sex, I have amassed some very interesting observations.
It is the live show itself on stage of course that is the most important thing. And fine performance of the musical material (which of course is beyond doubt) and fine-tuned sound, should be virtually the most important elements on the night. And the show, as they say, starts with the cloakroom. This is where all the hang-ups manifest themselves: “I will not be able to stand like this, I will not be able to lie down like that, my arms are fat, my head is square, my legs are bandy”, etc. Have you ever heard anything like this from men? They have no problems at all. They would take to the stage wearing the same outfit they had on when taking the trash out earlier in the morning. But, the most important difference between a girl and a guy on stage is that, no matter how awesome a musician you are, you are firstly perceived as a Girl ! They evaluate your figure, eye colour, chest and waist. And only half an hour later they notice, “Whoa, look at her, she can play also !” The audiences’ response to women with musical instruments is often the same, as in a zoo, “Look, a monkey and a talking one to boot !”
Hence my conclusion – since they love to watch, let’s do it right. Think through your concert outfit. Make sure it conforms to your style, your image – the image and behaviour you are planning to present the audience with. Avoid looking silly and ridiculous. Choose your image: Are you a cool lady or a girl-next-door ? A naughty chick or a mysterious lady? Are you a definite predator or someone enigmatic and hard-to-classify ? Your image usually reflects your inner world. A woman (unless she is a very talented actress) who feels like a queen will never be able to play the role of an ugly schlump. This is what makes a person look ridiculous and silly. Your image should reflect your true self !
OK, so we’ve got dressed. Now what ? You should be visible on stage. There is a purpose to all those handkerchiefs hung on the microphone racks and then waved by vocalists, the various rags and strings sewn on the costumes and flickering to movement. The musicians also go for wide, exaggerated movements.
It is advisable to rehearse simultaneous movements of the whole band together, in the same way that it’s done in pop artists’ performances. This has a tremendous effect on the audience. And be sure to fill your own image with a rich and diverse programme. Having personal experience playing in all known rock poses, I can recommend the following list for guitar players; lying on your back, one leg on the monitor, playing your solo behind your back, jumping from the bass drum, dancing with the audience in the room (for the latter you need a ten-meter-long cord or a radio transmitter), jerking your whole body to the extreme, engaging your facial muscles, rolling your head (very effective if your hair is long), dropping on one knee, hitting the guitar neck against the stand or your face against the table. Yet, all those tricks should look natural and spontaneous, so that no one has even a slight suspicion that at that moment you are trying to remember exactly which leg you have to jump off – your left or your right one.
And importantly ! – the audiences never appreciate even the finest musicians if they are standing still on stage, or if they have an emotionless face. What the audience expects from the artist is action. If a band stiffens on stage like marble statues, the lighting artists come into play. Everything is worked out, directed and thought through. That’s why we are so fascinated with the “western” concerts. The video editing will transform a scene with a standing still Eric Clapton in such a way that it will look as if the whole world is madly dancing around him. One remembers the live performances of our Western colleagues in our country; if, of course, one attended not for getting into a frenzy but really wanted to analyse and learn from our brothers from the other hemisphere.
I get so troubled by the primitivism of those half-baked and misinterpreted imitations of some performers ! We women are too hang-upped to be capable of sincere expression of our emotions. We have been brought up on the notion “Oh God, what will the neighbours say?” or “Do you want to make your mother a laughing stock for raising a fool like you?”, etc. When I shaved off the hair on my temples, old hags on subway and buses began to mistake me for God: Yes, that’s what they would say, crossing themselves, “Oh Lord!” Be prepared for the fact that society will never accept you being different in any way, be it in your looks, clothing, or doing something that has not been traditionally associated with your gender.
Here’s a story from one of my stage performances. As a band, we were thinking out a presentation for a particular song. We made a collective decision: We would play a musical phrase eight times, slowing down with each repetition, after which I would jump up, thereby giving a signal for all the rest of the band to break out with the lyrics “Whatever way you go”. We all agreed. We were on stage, the song comes to that point and everyone stops and waits, but I am in a stupor: I forgot what exactly we had agreed upon. Then, in my deep subconscious I recalled – the Jump! And I did jump having tucked my legs in – and forgot to straighten them out. And with the beak of my guitar face down (it was a miracle it didn’t split) I crashed with all my weight on the floor near the drum rack. The fall was so bad that, after the band sang “Whatever way you go”, I had a hard time getting up. The bruises remained on my body for nearly a month. But my friends, you should’ve heard and seen the indescribable glee of the audience at that moment – it was the culmination of the whole evening!
At the next rehearsal, we decided that I would go on falling like this. When my knees had healed, I began to repeat my “fall”, although with more consideration for my joints. The audience would become happy, animated. As a result I destroyed the fabric on the knees of all my stage pants. Once we played on a very dirty stage and I was reluctant to destroy my black trousers, especially considering that white dust would have glowed on my knees. I was finishing my solo and at the same time yelled in the vocalist’s ear, “Place a newspaper in the middle of the stage!” That’s Rock’n’Roll for you !
The ability to communicate with the audience is crucial. You have to talk to them. It also comes with experience, and it’s an art in itself. There are artists who can speak through the two parts of the concert for 40 minutes with considerably reduced playing time and yet you will not even realise it and will leave the concert in full ecstasy. The audience has to sense your energy while you, accordingly, have to give yourself to your listeners.
Once you jump off of the stage to the audience, they all light up, their eyes sparkle, their mood gets elevated. Of course, a vocalist has it easier to walk around the room with a microphone, “flirting” and being part of the party together with the guests. As a guitarist, I rarely manage to do it: Sometimes the stage is too high (remember that you need to jump back onto it gracefully and not like you are climbing into a freight car), or the cord is too short, or the song does not allow you to move away from the suitcase with gismos (you need to constantly switch the sound and sing back-vocals). But whenever I have a chance, I pop out to dance rock’n’roll with the crowd or sit next to men (or else, in their lap) with my head on their shoulder (while not forgetting to play the chords of the song). All these maneuvers turn the whole audience on. If you show the abundance of energy, the audience will work for you. Show even the slightest tiredness – and the crowd in front of the stage will start thinning. You have to learn to keep up the drive to the end.
But here’s the thing. After you have performed to the limit of your musical abilities, including lots of jumps and other eye-catching moves on stage, done choreographed moves together as a band on-stage, something completely different can happen that can make the audience remember you forever. Something unexpected and never done before happens. I can sketch out the following options (I was even advised to patent them). Imagine, the concert is over. After a while, the audience will forget your faces, the quilts made of rags you wore, will utterly forget your arrangements (which were the result of many years of hard work). But, if during the show a brick suddenly falls on someone’s head from the ceiling – believe me! The name of your band will go down in folk history and will be passed on from generation to generation !
Once, when I was with the group Lamia, Blackie, one of our band members, threw a dismembered raw chicken into the audience. Due to the fact that, in our country, meat can sometimes be expensive a suggestion came up to bombard the audience with cucumbers, tomatoes and various canned products. My thought on this was, “Well, with this a sold-out first row, filled with old ladies carrying string-bags, is guaranteed. Moreover, they will accompany us on all our concert tours !”
And here’s another tip. Watch more video clips of your favourite artists; more concert clips as well. Borrow the movements. Remember, this is choreography. And it does not come out of nowhere. These artists also rehearsed constantly before a mirror.
Thankyou Natalya, for your take on what it’s like to be a woman in the rock’n’roll world. As advised above, Natalya is our final contributor on this topic in this column. But her story is not finished ! Next month she will continue to giving us her insights into the female rock’n’roll world. Don’t move that dial !