I came across a post on Tumblr with a list of trans women on BandCamp and let me tell you: it’s an A+ list of music.
Social media and independent-music-publishing platforms are a wonderful combination. Self-publishing for independent artists who just want to make cool music combined with a way to spread their songs across the ether? The big issue to an organizational freak like me is that there is simply so much good music out there and so little time to listen to it all.
It’s not a bad problem to have, actually.
A different problem is how to label yourself as an artist, especially if you’re struggling with labels of gender identity and sexuality. Are you a Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans Musician or a musician that happens to be gay/lesbian/bi/trans? Are you catering your work to the LGBTQ+ community or to the music industry? What kind of music maker are you trying to be? Especially since you can count on your fingers the number of LGBTQ+ musicians cranking out mainstream hit songs.
But can you name any popular trans or nonbinary artists?
Other musicians don’t face these identity issues if they’re singing about straight people loving straight people. Or if you’re Katy Perry singing “I kissed a girl and I liked it.” In a world full of hatred and violence, it’s scary to put your work and yourself out there when you feel apart from the norm.
And then there’s BandCamp, where people are making music and getting it out there. Some have found their niche of listeners, but what justice do we, as an audience, do by labeling things as “this kind of niche-genre” music or simply as good music?
I reached out to some of my favorite artists from this list to chat about their life, identity, music, and how they all intertwine to create something unique.
How do you identify and what pronouns do you prefer?
Audrey, Little Waist: I’m a trans woman and I use she/her pronouns.
Ash, Ashby and the Oceanns: I identify as a transfeminine person. A trans woman? I definitely have nonbinary feels, so let’s just say femme? I use she/hers or they/them pronouns!
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
Audrey: I think it sounds like someone trying to make alt-country and kinda accidentally playing pop punk. I like making loud guitar sounds.
Ash: I’d say bedroom pop feels right as a descriptor. I record everything in my apartment and have always been 100% DIY. I love old casios and harmonies, and I try to make my songs as diverse as I can within a limited budget and skill level haha. So bedroom pop? Yeah.
Which artists or bands are you influenced by?
Ash: As far as direct influence, I think you can hear a lot of Daniel Johnston, Jeffrey Lewis, 80s pop/rock, and a lot of folk. As out-of-fashion as it is to say, The Beatles were a big influence! Only because I owned a chord book of all their songs, so I learned a lot of their progressions and it’s kinda in my musical DNA, I guess. I try to keep growing and pulling from new things, so hopefully my influences are always fluctuating.
Audrey: My favorite musician is probably Lucinda Williams. Influences are tricky because they change a lot, but it’s honestly mostly friends’ bands like Cayetana and Aye Nako. I also got into songwriting through indie/“college” rock like Pavement or Throwing Muses, so stuff like that.
How much influence does your gender identity have on the music you create?
Audrey: I think it varies– in terms of lyrics it definitely is an underlying part of everything. I write more explicitly about mental health and trying understand connections with other people, and gender obviously shapes both those things. I tend not to write too much stuff primarily about my gender, though. I feel like trans people are demanded to explain our narratives constantly, and it’s personally not that interesting for me to talk about!
Ash: It probably has 100% influence on my music and my art. In songwriting, I’m always writing how I’m feeling, so of course that time I got misgendered on the train is going to creep into my lyrics haha. I do try to keep that in mind and write about an array of topics, but my fanbase is 80% trans women for a reason, and that’s cos my art is 80% about trans women.
And when I perform, it’s intensified, regardless of the music I’m playing. I can’t be on stage and sing without people knowing I’m trans, so theres a jarring level of visibility and that always pushes me to be more confident and expand and defy expectations a bit, when I can.
How did you get your start in music?
Audrey: I’ve been playing music for most of my life in various ways (piano lessons, high school bands, jazz and classical guitar), but I kind of resisted writing my own songs for a long time. Eventually, I got kicked out of a band I was playing guitar in because they wanted to go in an electronic direction, so I figured I might as well try playing my own music. That led to Little Waist kind of gradually forming over a long time after using it as a reason to hang out with some friends.
Ash: I got my “start” in music in Franklin, KY. I was 18? 19? I was in community college and kinda flailing a bit. I started playing guitar to just write songs and make awful stuff for my friends. They started out as joke songs and I really didn’t learn “proper” songwriting for a while. I just borrowed easy chords from Weezer songs and made songs about robots, talking cats, and sushi. There’s still a myspace with some of those old songs, but I won’t send the URL, haha.
After starting, I never really quit writing songs. I was instantly obsessed with recording and making CDs of original songs. I used to make like…. 12 albums a year of really bad, loft music. I only let one friend even hear most of the songs, so I had a very limited audience.
Then I transitioned, and kinda lost touch with my high school friends. I also thought playing guitar and writing songs was something I’d leave behind because of dysphoria with my voice. It took a bit of time after transitioning to realize I still wanted to make music and I started writing a lot of really depressing, trauma songs that ended up being my album Dead Names. Up until that point, I really didn’t play live, and nobody had ever heard my music, so I was really surprised people started buying it and messaging me and the whole reaction to that album was really cathartic.
After that, I just kept making music under Ashby and the Oceanns, and the response has always been very positive and friendly. I really enjoy the little niche I have found that started on blogs on tumblr in 2015! It’s been great!
Besides BandCamp, where can people find your music online or see you live?
Ash: Beside BandCamp, where you can find all of my releases, my newest album Future Summers is on *most* online stores and Spotify! It’s a very good jumping point for new listeners! (I also have a Patreon for people that want to regularly support my music/art)
Audrey: I’ve got music with Mal Blum and my old band Worriers up on Spotify/anywhere else music is. I play live with a lot of different people– the next main thing coming up is a tour in February and March with Mal Blum and Jessica Lea Mayfield where I’ll be playing in both bands.
What are you currently focusing on with your music?
Ash: Currently, I’m enjoying a bit of down time after releasing my last album! I’m usually very prolific, putting out several releases a year! Having said that, I have a couple ideas for bigger concept albums! Both deal with queer relationships! One is very RPG-influenced and the other is like… a scuff expedition into a dream world. I dunno if I’ll finish them, but that’s my current starting place for the new year!
Audrey: Honestly, I’m having more fun playing with other people again after a few years of fronting a band. It’s cool to collaborate! In 2018, I should be releasing albums with Little Waist, Mal Blum, and a newer band I’m in with my partner called Lucky Cat. I also played on some songs on a record by Loone, a lovely band of lovely friends. Plus catch me playing live with a ton of people I don’t even know yet!
So in addition to Little Waist and Ashby and the Oceanns, I also have to recommend She/Her/Hers and Listen Lady. BandCamp is such a cool place for discovering new and unsigned music, so I’ll definitely be making regular trips to the site when I need my indie music fix!
Let me know in the comments which band is your favorite! Are you someone making cool music? Submit your content.