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Interview with Holly Figueroa
By Sounni de Fontenay
(more articles from this author)
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Holly Figueroa: singer, songwriter, guitarist and feminist...Holly Figueroa has been making quite a name for herself, ever since she formed IndieGrrl in 1998. What was once a mailing list for women in the music industry, IndieGrrl has become a record label, non-profit group and vehicle for the promotion of hundreds of independent female artists. Spurred on by the sexism around her, Holly Figueroa, through IndieGrrl, has been redefining the role of women in the industry. Listen to what she has to say about her music, where IndieGrrl is headed next, the state of sexism in the music industry today and much much more.

[Sounni de Fontenay] First tell me about yourself and your musical career?

[Holly Figueroa] I started performing in high school, touring Europe with choirs and such...then in college I took a year of classical and opera training, but decided it was too difficult, so I went into medicine instead. I started performing in college, as a back up singer for a cover band. I learned a lot about how to blend in, be a part of a group. I did that for quite some time before I discovered blues...and when I did, it was all over. I sang blues for about 3 years, then I got pregnant, didn't go to med school, and everything stopped for a couple of years. When I moved to Seattle in '97 (from Columbus, OH) I met up with some songwriters, over the course of a year wrote my first songs, and put them on a CD. Voila, instant music career. It's been an amazing journey since I released that first record not quite a year ago...

[Sounni] How would you describe your music?

[Holly] Definite blues overtones, folk-rock performing songwriter stuff...raunchy, dirty, nasty, sex music every once in a while. (hey...its blues...)

[Sounni] Who are some of your influences?

Photo Credit: Susan Court/Lisa Johnson
[Holly] I grew up listening to Janis Joplin, all sorts of top mom used to blast Barry Manilow in the car (uh...thanks mom!) When I had more control over my radio, I listened to more classical music than any teenager should be allowed to listen to...then as I started performing more. I listened more to Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, Sippie Wallace, Aretha, etc... and as for writing influences, Bruce Hornsby was a huge influece on my songwriting. He tells amazing stories and I love story telling in songwriting. He has the perfect balance between intelligent songwriting and being too analytical in a song...meaning, that you can just sit back and listen to the song without hearing the words and the song is still beautiful...or you can really listen to it, and get a different meaning every time. That is what I aspire to.

[Sounni] What experience do you have in the music business other than as an artist?

[Holly] As most independent musicians are, I'm a record label owner, a booking agent, a publicist, a gopher, a stamp licker...I have a hand in every aspect of the business at one level or another.

[Sounni] When was Indiegrrl formed? For what reason(s)?

[Holly] Indiegrrl was formed in May of 1998. It started as a mailing list for women in the industry. I was on another music oriented, male dominated mailing list, and some of the members were excessively crude and condescending toward the few women who were on the list. When I told them about it (and I am often one to do such things) they said "why don't you start your own f$*#(%& mailing list. So I did.

[Sounni] What is Indiegrrl's primary mission? Do you feel that you have been succeeful at achieving that goal?

[Holly] The mailing lists primary mission was completed the first week it was up. We had about 50 members that first week, and we were all discussing our place in the industry and how to get ahead, so that mission was accomplished.

Since then, we have gone on to have 2 extremely successful tours (east coast, summer of '99, midwest going on right now) with 2 more in the planning (west coast tour slated for Jan.-March 2000 and east coast tour slated again for summer/fall 2000), 3 compilation CDs released by Indiegrrl Records (the third to be released in November), a non profit organization benefitting women in the industry and individual Indiegrrl Concerts, benefits and events going on all over the world as we speak. In addition, there is an ITA program that supports the non profit with a small donation, and the benefits far outweigh the cost.

So, the primary vision was to get women to network and make the industry playing field level. I think we accomplish that every time we play a show, or sell a record, or do an interview...

[Sounni] Already, in a year you have over 300 members. How did you achieve such growth?

[Holly] Word of mouth, excellent press by media outlets like Billboard and Seventeen magazine, extremely helpful DJs who play our compilations and tell people how to get is all a grassroots organization, and word of mouth is totally crucial.

[Sounni] Do the artists in Indiegrrl lean towards a particular genre?

[Holly] We embrace all different genres, but so far have attracted mostly acoustic singer/songwriters. I don't know why exactly, but believe it might be because they are the most "portable" of all entertainers...they can just pick up their guitar and go. We are open to all kinds of submissions, and encourage everyone to apply.

[Sounni] Indiegrrl has transformed itself from a mailing list for indie female artists to a record label with national tours? What else is in the works for Indiegrrl?

[Holly] Within the next year, we would like to actually sign artists to the Indiegrrl record label and release CDs other than the compilations.

[Sounni] Have you been pleased by the summer tour? How did it go?

Photo Credit: Danielle McGurk

[Holly] I was really thrilled with the summer tour. It was eye opening for me, because...well, I usually don't travel without a guitar player, because I am a very poor guitarist...I actually started playing about 8 months ago, just noodling really. Right before my first Indiegrrl showcase at the GBH Festival in Sherman, NY, my guitarist broke his hip while setting up the tent...all of a sudden, I had no guitarist. A friend saved my butt, and filled in on that stage, but she couldn't travel my whole tour with me...I had 10 dates. I either had to call it quits and go home to Seattle, or I had to learn how to play my songs really, really fast. So I caught a ride to Ohio to stay with my mom for 4 days, practiced guitar until my fingers actually bled, rented a car, and drove to Pennsylvania to play my first solo show ever. That was my summer tour.

Now, if you mean the Indiegrrl summer tour...that went much more smoothly. We got great press, had really good turnouts at almost all of the shows, and were asked back at every venue Indiegrrl played. It was an enormous success, and spurned us on to try our hand at tours in other parts of the country.

[Sounni] Tell me about the Indiegrrl non-profit organization?

[Holly] The non profit organization is pending the IRS approval (its a sloooooowww process!) but when it is up, hopefully this winter, it will support the educational aspect of Indiegrrl. will be erected, with tools for women in the industry to utilize.

[Sounni] How rampant do you feel is sexism in the music industry? Do you feel that the situation improved over the years?

[Holly] I am faced with sexism every day as a woman. Add to the fact that I am a woman in a male dominated industry, and it becomes doubly difficult to manage. Every woman in the industry is exposed to sexism, whether they own it or not. I know for a fact that sexism exists in the industry, and it really bothers and offends me when men try to downplay the severity of it. I've had men tell me that I am whining when I tell it like it is...meaning, I state the fact that sexism even exists. How do we change it if we can't even talk about it? How can we affect any change if every time we open our mouths to speak out, we are called 'opinionated bitches'? And why is it when women speak their minds, they are "opinionated" and "reactionary", but when men speak their minds, they are "decisive" and "goal oriented"? Don't get me started.

And yes, on the bright side, I believe it is improving. But not because we sit around and whine, or wait for someone else to improve it...but because we are vocal and active and supportive of one another, and we work very hard for change.

[Sounni] What benefits does Indiegrrl provide femal artists which they wouldn't find in a more generic competing site/service?

[Holly] Indiegrrl is a free service with an almost pure female demographic, meaning 90% of our list members are women. The Indiegrrl list, while not perfect by any stretch, is significantly more independent music oriented than many of the competing general lists...meaning that there is very little chit chat and no flame wars tolerated whatsoever. We have 3 moderators who will tell you right away if you are straying too far off the beaten path.

In addition to this main list, there are several peripheral lists geared more toward geographical areas and individual tastes.

[Sounni] How important is the Internet in Indiegrrl's strategy?

[Holly] Its totally crucial. The Internet is how Indiegrrl started, and it is how we all stay connected. Anyone who says that the internet is a fad, or a passing fancy needs to take a look at what the members of this organization have done by using email and websites to book tours and release records. This is the beginning of independent labels taking over the industry.

[Sounni] Where do you see the music industry headed, especially as it pertains to female artists?

[Holly] Women are in a really good spot right now in the industry as far as pop/top 40/mainstream/major performers are concerned. I hope that there isn't a backlash against women in the future. The Lilith Fair was a huge success and as with all things that create that much of a fervor, there is bound to be a backlash of some sort (see:disco). So, its tough to tell...we'll just keep doing what we have always done, and hope and work for the best.

[Sounni] Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently in your career?

[Holly] Absolutely nothing. Every mistake I made I learned from, so I can't imagine doing anything differently. I wouldn't know as much now! Bring on the mistakes!

Holly Figueroa

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