GUITAR GABBY’S GUIDE FOR BLACK WOMEN IN THE MUSIC BIZ
July 5, 2019
Being Black in the world of rock music can be a lonely experience. The mindfuck of being Black and feeling like an anomaly in a musical genre that Black people created is what inspired the 2003 Afro-Punk documentary itself. Now imagine what it’s like being a Black girl who rocks, trying to make a way for herself and women like her in the white and male-dominated worlds of rock and the music business.
Enter: Gabriella “Guitar Gabby” Logan, lead singer and lead guitarist of the Atlanta-based, all-Black, all-women indie-rock band, The Txlips. She’s got a creative and a business mind: when not writing, recording, or performing music, Logan’s putting the degree she earned at University of Vermont Law School to good use, by managing both her own band and other artists. For this month’s focus on those who are Living the Fuck Out Loud, we felt that it was only right that we talk to Logan about her experiences as a businesswoman, band-member, music fan, and, ultimately, as an inspiration to others.
When you think of black women in rock ’n’ roll, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
First and foremost, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I didn’t learn about her until college. When I learned about Sister Rosetta Tharpe and all the boundaries that she was breaking in the 20th century, it really motivated me and I can only imagine what I would’ve been like today if I had known about her when I first started playing guitar.
You started playing guitar as a young girl, right?
Yeah, at around 11 or 12 [years old].
When you’re that age and you’re listening to music and beginning to play it who are you modeling yourself after? Who are some artists who were influential to you?
I was really — and still am — heavily influenced by a lot of grunge music. Nirvana is hands-down my favorite rock and roll band of all time. I studied Kurt Cobain and what it was about his life that made him write the lyrics and the music the way that he did, and it was really powerful. I used a lot of that and listened to all different types of music. I studied classical music for a while because I liked listening to it, but I knew that I needed to understand it a little bit more than just listening to it. My inspiration came from all of those things together and just wanting to see more me’s [in rock music]. When I was that age, I wanted to see more Black girls that were just generally into something not “normal.”
Speaking of seeing other Black girls who are into stuff that is “not normal” I know it’s always important for people to have community and to find their tribe. When you were younger, how did you find your tribe?
That’s a really good question. I didn’t find many people of color — but especially Black people — in punk rock in high school. I didn’t find that [community] until maybe my freshman year of college. I started getting more into learning about my own identity: as a human, but and more importantly as a Black woman in America. I was learning the history of [people] like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, learning the history of me and my people, my personal family, law, all of that stuff. In middle school and high school I had great friends that were not of color but you know, as someone else of color, when I share what I’m saying you can relate to it a little bit more because, more often than not, we’re in those places in the world together.
Do you feel like Black women have been excluded from the conversation about rock and punk?
One hundred percent.
Tell me about that, what has your experience been like?
If we’re on a rock bill for a festival, most of the time the other bands that are on the bill with us are not of color. So nine times out of 10, we are the only band of color in those spaces. But even further than that, we are the only Black women in those spaces.
Even stuff as simple as the looks we might get or the type of questions that people ask us. We’ve learned to just let it roll off our backs. I think that Black women are intentionally left out of a lot of things in the world. I haven’t quite figured out why, but as it relates to rock and roll, when we get up on stage and we’re playing rock and covering songs from bands like Foo Fighters and then we might switch to a [cover of a] Kendrick [Lamar song] and then we’ll switch back to Nirvana it [the crowd reaction] starts like, “Wait! What are y’all? Are y’all supposed to be here?” And then by the time we get off stage everyone’s saying, “Oh wow, that was really dope! I didn’t expect that of you all!” or “I didn’t even think that you all would deliver something like that. I really love that Nirvana cover at the end of the set!” So I use [people’s assumptions] as a tool to advance the band and to advance all of our solo careers ‘cause I just see it as an opportunity to educate people instead of [having them] living in the intentional ignorance.
What’s it like navigating your career as a Black businesswoman?
It’s very stressful because there are a lot of moving parts. Managing one person can be a lot of work because there’s a lot of personality in one person. I manage Dara Carter, my keyboardist, she is an amazing vocalist, amazing songwriter, who does a completely different style of music [as a solo performer]. Managing her and managing other people around Atlanta in the past couple of years is difficult and then when I’m having to multi-task or switch gears to now coordinating a collective of band people’s schedules…that kind of stuff is stressful for anybody. But I think for people that are leaders or entrepreneurs — or who have specific long-term goals in mind — passion is what drives us and it pushes me beyond the stress. I’ve learned how to balance my work life with doing yoga. I’ve always been an athlete and in the gym and stuff like that, but I had to really learn how to change my eating, incorporate more intentional meditation an intentional yoga, to balance out the stress cause I knew it was going to come, that’s going to come with any industry, really. But the vision that I have that for the band, that’s what pushes me to go further. We’ve been told “no” 11,000 times, we’re still touring with Indigo Girls.
Persistence, that’s the path to success. Career-wise, how has your experience in the music biz been from the perspective of identity?
It’s definitely been challenging. When we all decided that we wanted to be musicians or songwriters or artists, we all understood that we’re asking to step into a cut-throat industry that’s dominated by white men and so with that it takes it takes a lot of self-love, knowing who you are, endurance, and not being to be moved easily.
I think a lot of people, especially in the music industry, see Black women and we’re automatically hyper-sexualized. And when it comes to women on instruments, more often than not, you’re going to see Black women on keys more than you would Black women on guitar or bass. Seeing Black women on those instruments has become more prevalent now because I think Black women are like, “You know what, we’re just about to step out. We’re not waiting for nobody to give us a turn anymore.“ I have friends that are playing for everyone from Beyonce to Janelle Monae. It’s challenging, but I think endurance and knowing yourself are two of the best things that’ll get you through the challenges of being a Black woman in music.
What inspired you to get a law degree and to know that part of the business?
I remember being younger and my dad constantly talking to me about copyright. That was one of the first major things from a legal perspective. That was the first thing that my dad and mom really wanted to drive home. That’s why today anybody who knows me will say, “Gabby is 100% going to tell you to copyright your music because that’s your moneymaker.” You know, if you can write music, in any capacity, in any form if you have that gift and you have it harnessed, you’ve got to protect it and the copyright is one of the main ways to do that.
What do you think the future holds for Black women and Black girls and you know, guitar music, rock music, punk?
For young girls now who see us and listen to us, I hope that it’s giving them or helping them realize that you don’t have to wait for somebody to give you something that was quote-unquote promised. Or, you know, you don’t have to wait for somebody to open up the door for you. Sometimes you might just need to go and kick the door down. I hope that people everywhere are getting that from seeing The Txlips and seeing we’ve been moving. It’s bigger than playing guitar or being a Black girl rock band right now in 2019 for me. I want my daughter in the future to come out knowing that she has the possibility of being a rock star if that’s what she wants to do.
You never know how much impact you might be having on people because yeah, there’s probably some girl in the Midwest right now, who saw Txlips on AFROPUNK. And is like, “Yo, I feel seen.” You’re her Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
I’m getting emotional now, that’s super powerful. It means so much to me. I get emotional because it really does mean life to me. It’s not a game at all.