Do a search for Saskatchewan-based trio Rosie & the Riveters in your favorite search engine and you’ll see this meta description under the link: “vintage-inspired folk anthems that paint a portrait of a woman’s voice in a man’s world.” If this is the band’s manifesto, they succeed brilliantly at it. While you may expect music à la the Andrews Sisters if you judge them by their promo pictures, you can anticipate being surprised – you’ll get fabulous harmonies and superb singing, but you’ll also get a thoroughly 21st-century take on a woman’s place in a man’s world. (Although, come to think of it, the Andrews Sisters were likely a bit tangy for their time as well – but that’s an article for another day…)
The group released their newest album, “Ms. Behave,” yesterday, and it’s a humdinger. The album of course will largely have been written before the onslaught of #MeToo headlines, but its timeliness within the context of the ongoing conversation about the issues women continue to face – inequity of pay, the risk of harassment in the workplace, the difficulties female musicians experience in launching their careers, just to name a few – is undeniable.
The title track starts the album off with a saucy, soulful ode to our right as women to behave as we choose, not as society’s expectations dictate. The next song, “Let ‘Em Talk,” continues this theme with a slow swing and an earworm-worthy string orchestration; the song begins with “I go high, They go low, Won’t let them run my show…”
“Good to Me” slows the pace down with its gentle rhythm and its theme of giving oneself the space for self-care – an issue which is problematic for so many of us, especially as we struggle with the expectations articulated in the earlier tracks. “Gotta Get Paid” addresses the question of equity in pay head-on; this is a terrific example of this group’s skill in spotlighting challenging social issues and making a listener think without being too heavyhanded.
As you’ll see in the interview below, “Ask a Man” is one of the record’s highlights for me – its delightful snark conveys the (hugely important) point together with a chuckle… probably a rueful one on the parts of women who hear the song.
The powerhouse song of the project, however, comes at the end of the album with “I Believe You” – this delicately orchestrated and harmonized song is an anthem for those everywhere who took the risk of reporting what happened to them and suffered mightily for it, and is an important reminder of how much farther our society has to go in creating a safe space for women (and men) who are sexually assaulted and harassed, and are not only denied justice but also are discredited and stigmatized for going public.
“Ms. Behave” is a superb album, start to finish – musically and lyrically deep, with songs that not only entertain but also enlighten. Highly, highly recommended.
We’re delighted that Alexis Normand (who we originally encountered via her self-titled 2016 solo album) took the time to talk with us about the album.
The very first words of the press release for this project read: “Rosie and the Riveters never planned to get political.” For many of us, I think, it’s been impossible not to in recent months. In what ways did recent events (the #MeToo movement, various news headlines about the demeaning of women, political events on this side of the border) alter what you might have been planning to do for this album?
When we started writing this record we had two main objectives: the first was to write about topics that were close to our hearts and the second was to write as many songs as possible! Our producer, Joshua Van Tassel helped us narrow down the album selection from the total of 40 songs we had written. Only then did it become clear that there was a feminist theme interwoven in our music.
We wrote “I Believe You” in February last year, before the #MeToo movement took flight. At the time, we started hearing more stories of sexual assault in the media and we were compelled to write something to honor the courage it takes to break the silence and the importance of believing survivors. We are happy that this song can contribute to a conversation that is happening more broadly on a national and international level.
“Good to Me” really captures some things I’ve often thought about… how we so often go along with things that aren’t really true to ourselves, how we spend so much time looking out for others’ needs at the expense of our own. Was there a particular event or experience (or set of experiences) that inspired this particular song?
Self-care is something that we hear a lot about. We see so many recipes for the best essential oil-infused baths and articles that illustrate the importance of exercise, meditation and time with family. However, we have learned that self-care includes the importance of being conscious of who we let into our inner circle, who we let into our hearts. We heard a quote once – “We accept the love we think we deserve”. We’ve seen significant changes in our lives when we started putting that idea into practice in our lives.
Billboard premiered your song “I Believe You” earlier this year (to coincide with International Women’s Day)… as I was listening to it, it occurred to me that while there’s a lot of conversation about the ways in which women have been silenced, harassed, and otherwise minimized, but other than a number of very public outings of men who have been some of the worst violators, I’m uncertain whether concrete change is on the horizon. Sensitivity, yes, change, not sure. As musicians, what do you think needs to change in your own profession in order to make it a safe place for all?
Change can only come through awareness and there is a growing awareness in all industries on how power and privilege are not always being used responsibly and how and victim blaming is unacceptable. We feel empowered that our music and message can contribute to conversations that help raise awareness and believe that can and will inspire change.
I must admit that, as a thorough lover of all things snark, I nearly laughed until I cried listening to “Ask a Man.” More seriously, it brought home to me that while it seems as though we’ve made progress on the equality front, ‘mansplaining’ and its corresponding attitudes make it clear there’s still a long way to go. Listening from this side of the border, there’s plenty of context for this song here; do you see much difference in the attitudes in Canada in contrast?
One of the creative challenges we took on when we wrote this record was to discern when and how to be cheeky and funny VS when and how to be sensitive and heartfelt. “Ask A Man” was born out of a desire to laugh. We thought to ourselves: “What if we took gender stereotypes to the next level? What if we made it over-the-top?”. We found that the best way to poke fun, was to laugh at ourselves. Sexism and gender stereotypes don’t stop at the border and we’ve found audiences on both sides of the 49th parallel laugh along with us!
There may in fact be some people who don’t know about Kiva – could you talk a bit about Kiva and how it’s part of your work to empower women?
Our ultimate goal is to uplift audiences and empower women! As a testament to this, we invest 20% of our merchandise profits to a microfinance initiative called KIVA. We have helped over 200 women bring their own projects to fruition including Maria, from Ecuador, who needed to buy a new sewing machine for her tailoring business. So far, we’ve invested over $9600!
It didn’t click for me that Alexis Normand is part of this group until I saw the picture… any chance of Rosie & the Riveters doing some songs in French? (Or are they out there and I just missed them?)
Right now, we perform one song in French! “Le grand gosier” by Rocky McKeon – Alexis’ friend from Louisiana. It’s a song that talks about the devastation of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
…and yes, there will be more songs in French on the Riveter’s horizon! We’re currently collaborating with Gaële – another friend and singer-songwriter from Montreal. Ça s’en vient! 😉
You have a fairly extensive tour planned over the next several weeks – any highlights to which you’re especially looking forward? Any hints about your summer (festivals, touring, etc.)?
The tour in support of this record is the most extensive one we’ve ever done. It will take us from Vancouver to Newfoundland and from New York City to Los Angeles. We are really looking forward to connecting with fans from all those places… and to the tacos in Nashville 😉 …and the oysters in Atlantic Canada! We’re also looking forward to resting when we’re back home in June.
Photo credit: Crystal Skrupski