Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and in 2019 Belles and Gals has decided to dedicate the day to those women in the industry and beyond who have made a difference and inspired us. In this first article about the event tomorrow, Belles and Gals team members each give us an insight into why they have been inspired by their own particular choices. Look out for something pretty spectacular coming on International Women’s Day itself (tomorrow).
Laura Klonowski (lauraklonowki.com) is inspired by Shania Twain
On International Women’s Day I choose to celebrate the woman who paved the way for female artists in the Country Music scene to be brave enough to take risks with their sound: Shania Twain.
The undeniable Queen of Country-Pop is the reason I am a Country Music fan today. I first discovered her music aged 9 when I heard the Up! Live In Chicago DVD playing from my brothers bedroom. I was instantly hooked and quickly purchased her back catalogue out of my pocket money. My love for Country had began.
Those days of playing the Up! album on my discman are some of the happiest childhood memories I have and Twain’s music connected to me like no other artist’s had before. She ignited a love for the genre inside of me that burns brighter with every day.
Her musical output changed the landscape of Country and she is a true pioneer of the crossover sounds we hear regularly today. Her music led me to other artists such as Leann Rimes, then Taylor Swift and years down the line even Ward Thomas whom I discovered through a Twitter search looking for artists like Shania back in 2016.
When Shania Twain left the industry due to voice problems back in 2004 I thought my chances of ever seeing my musical idol in concert were over. I was 10 at this time and remember going to Asda to purchase her single Party For Two on CD which was taken off her Greatest Hits record, and then for years that was it from an artist who changed my musical tastes forver.
But then years later in 2012 she announced she was on the comeback trail with her Las Vegas residency, these performances were played back by me on YouTube continuosly until the DVD release then she confirmed her Rock This Country Tour and I thought that I would finally get the chance to see her live but then it was dubbed her farewell US tour and once again I felt my hopes slipping by.
However this all changed in 2017 when Twain made her triumphant and permanent return to music after she finally got a handle on the voice issues caused by Lymes Disease. Her first LP in 15 years Now was released and became one of my most played albums of the year.
Then aged 24 I finally got the chance to see her live as she brought her world Now tour to the UK in October 2018. I was lucky enough to be able to attend both London dates and it was an absolute dream come true.
It cost around £1,000 with tickets, hotel and travel but oh my was it worth it. The first night I was up high in the arena but to finally see her in the flesh after waiting 15 years was absolutely insane and surreal. But it got even better on the second night for which I had floor seats.
During this night she walked right in front of me and I was able to get to the B stage where I was at the barrier for her sublime rendition of You’re Still The One. This is a moment that I will cherish for my entire life and the true highlight of all the many concerts I have ever attended.
To be so close to a living legend and to witness my musical idol in the flesh is a memory I will forever hold close to my heart. She was absolutely phenomenal live and put on a killer show full of old and new hits and rolled back the years with ease as she lit up the O2 arena with her magnetic personality and timeless hits.
Shania Twain is an artist, trailblazer and all round icon who showcases that heartbreak, loss and betrayal do not have to be the end of you. You can use these feelings of loss as a starting block for amazing things.
So on International Women’s Day I celebrate the wonderful woman and artist that is Shania Twain.
Craig Brooks (twitter.com/swindonforever) is Inspired by Kalie Shorr
For a female artist that inspires me I had to go with somebody who I consider to absolutely be leading the fight for equality for women in country music, Kalie Shorr.
Kalie is a leading figure of the Song Suffragettes, a female-only singer-songwriter showcase taking place every Monday night at the Listening Room. I don’t think I would be alone in having the opinion that is the top writers round in Nashville, evident by the room full of attentive listeners packing the sold out venue every week. This gives female artists a wonderful environment and a safe space to perform and perhaps even more important than simply being a writers round, it provides a vital community and support network for around 200 female artists. With the lack of women getting airplay on country radio, the Song Suffragettes showcase has been so important in helping multiple members gain publishing and record deals. A big moment for the Song Suffragettes came with the girls teaming up for the release of the single ‘Times Up’. The song was inspired by the #MeToo movement and pointedly address gender inequality and sexual misconduct against women, proceeds from downloads of the song were chosen to go towards Time’s Up Legal Defence Fund. Although the movement is about female empowerment, Kalie wants to remind people that men have been affected too which I think says a ton about her as a person. On the subject of female empowerment, Kalie’s most successful track to date is ‘Fight Like a Girl’, a spirited and uplifting anthem for any girl that has ever been made to feel like they were a lesser individual because of their sex.
Something I really feel that fellow artists and fans look up to Kalie for is the fact that she isn’t writing music to fit some formula or direction that somebody has given her, she writes music for herself and her fans and it’s really true to who she is an artist. I think it’s really inspirational for others to see that you can gain success as an artist and be happy by walking a path that’s comfortable to you. Kalie is definitely a country music girl but is never somebody who is going to be boxed off into a specific sound; she loves pushing the boundaries of country and is always evolving. Her music has even been described as punk country before. A quote I love from Kalie in a recent interview is “They say you need to learn the rules before you can break them,”.
In conclusion, for me Kalie is the biggest reason I can give for why I know women will win the fight for equality in country music (and furthermore other areas of life). Even though she’s making big waves in her own career she isn’t fighting against other women, she is fighting for them. She is lifting them up and showing them what they can achieve when they belief in themselves.
Let the Girls play.
Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings) is Inspired by Leslie Fram
My choice for this piece isn’t a country artist who’s in the spotlight but someone who is working tirelessly to help promote so many of the genre’s females musicians we love here at Belles and Gals, and is looking to help redress the inequalities we talk so much about. In addition, in an industry that is a predominantly male domain, she has already achieved so much not only in Nashville (where she now lives and works as CMT’s Senior Vice President of Music Strategy) but while working in rock/pop radio in her native Alabama and later in Atlanta and New York. Holding prestigious positions such as programme director and operations manager while also hosting shows, her radio achievements have been acknowledged with several awards and she has surely been a massive inspiration to other women working ( or thinking of working) in this field.
Her passion for country music actually began when she was working in rock radio in New York where there was no country station at the time. Contacted by a former Sony Nashville executive who asked if she’d interview a young female artist called Miranda Lambert, Leslie went to see her live that evening (she was opening for Eric Church) and that was it!!
Relocating to Nashville in 2011 was a real eyeopener for Leslie. She fell in love with the city’s music and its songwriters but her pop/rock background hadn’t prepared her for the uphill struggle faced by the ladies of country these days. She is the driving force behind CMT’S “Next Women of Country” (NWOC) initiative which started up in 2013, as Leslie says it was originally conceived “to say hey, we are going to support you by playing your videos “ but it has since expanded into supporting their content (including helping unsigned artists make videos to share online) and has also grown into a tour, recognising the cycle of “if you don’t have a song on the radio, then you can’t get on a tour”. This year’s tour is headlined by Cassadee Pope, alongside Clare Dunn and Hannah Ellis, while previous headliners include Martina McBride and Jennifer Nettles. The NWOC Impact Award was started in 2016 ( it’s title is self explanatory), recipients to date being Brandy Clark, Kelsey Ballerini and and Maren Morris.
If all this isn’t enough for you to understand why I find Leslie so inspirational, she and two more of Nashville’s female music industry executives (Tracy Gershon and Beverly Keel) came together in late 2014 to launch the “Change The Conversation” initiative, which started as a discussion group between the three as to why female artists face a significantly struggle in the industry compared to their male counterparts. Since its inception the group ( which is open to all) has grown significantly in size, among it’s many laudable goals being helping more women get label and publishing deals, encouraging songwriters to write more songs for women and of course getting more women artists played on country radio and booked on main stages at high profile festivals and events. The group had only been formed for six months before the now infamous “ tomato gate scandal” kicked off thanks to the well documented comments of radio consultant Keith Hill , which of course only helped further motivate them! Their long term goal is that young girls dreaming of a career in country music are not having to battle the current myths in the years to come.
If this turns out to be the case, which I’m sure all who read this will be rooting for, then Leslie Fram will definitely have played a major part in creating a level playing field. And if for whatever reason the conversation hasn’t been changed, then it’s not through her lack of effort.
Megan Roberts (twitter.com/megwritesalot) is Inspired by Taylor Swift
I think for me, the only way I can show how I am inspired by this person is by telling the story of how they’ve influenced my life over the past decade.
It all started in November 2009, when my mum picked me up from school. At the time, I was being badly bullied by a group of girls in my class. She took me to the supermarket where I was allowed to pick a CD I liked as a treat. After hearing a clip of Love Story on Nickelodeon, I picked Taylor Swift’s Fearless album without hesitation.
I had a pink stereo in my bedroom and almost every day after school I would come home and listen to it. My walls became flooded with posters from tween magazines and I fell into fangirl culture.
(My childhood bedroom, circa. 2015)
When I got into high school, like every teenage girl I started to develop crushes. The only way I could really process this was by listening to Taylor’s music to find something that really mirrored how I felt. Looking back, I laugh at how emotionally invested I was for a 12 year old, but I began to realise my lyrical connection to her songs.
I think we all remember our first concert, It’s a special moment in our lives. Mine was The RED Tour. This was super special for me, as at school I was nicknamed the “Taylor Swift Girl” as not many people liked her after she dated someone from everyone’s favourite band at the time: One Direction. Looking around an arena filled with thousands of people in costumes and sparkly posters, celebrating someone that I thought I was alone in admiring was such a surreal experience.
I have suffered with Anxiety since I was 14 years old, and in times where it was hard to channel my thoughts I would again turn to Taylor’s lyrics. A lot of people criticise her for writing such raw and personal music, but I think her vulnerability and honesty in her songs is what has made her so successful. I found a strength as a listener, from the sad ballads being like a sympathetic hand on the shoulder, to the happy ones picking me back up again.
In 2014, I made a Twitter account so that I could keep up to date with what Taylor was doing. About a year later, I stumbled across another fan, and started chatting like we were best friends on Skype every night. Now, in March 2019, we have been together for 4 years. Without her music, I wouldn’t have met my boyfriend.
The same goes for friends, too. So many of my friends I have met through Taylor and gone to other country gigs with them. What I love so much about making friends through music is that you may have absolutely nothing in common, it may be completely unlikely that would have met in another circumstance, but you all connect through a love of the same thing – the music. Even before you’ve met, you’ve experienced the same things too, like the release of an album or a tour. The majority of my friends were all in the same room together, even in the same block at a concert, but at the time, we were strangers!
Nowadays, my walls aren’t filled with posters and admittedly, I’m not the biggest fangirl like I was, but she still inspires me with everything she’s done.
So how has Taylor inspired me over a decade of listening to her music?
She’s inspired me to write. I’ve always had such a strong connection with Taylor’s lyrics, the speeches on tours and her magazine interviews. No matter the type of writing I do, (poems, articles, stories) I write with the aim of being able to emotionally connect with somebody.
She’s inspired me to be a thoughtful person. Taylor always donates to charities, surprises fans with presents and interacts with them on social media despite her incredibly busy life. She’s taught me there’s always room to be kind.
She’s inspired me to play instruments. Seeing this very talented musician play guitar, ukulele, banjo and piano made me want to learn to play for myself. Playing ukulele and guitar is now one of my favourite hobbies!
She’s inspired me to be determined, or in her own words, Fearless. There are times in my life where I could have given up on my career path and my anxiety has got the better of me, but I kept going. Taylor never gave up, despite all the bad press and criticism, and is now at the peak of her career. I really admire her resilience and evolvement.
And most importantly, relating back to International Women’s Day, She’s inspired me as a woman. Taylor isn’t afraid to be herself and open up about her emotions. I think she’s a fantastic role model for women, simply because of her attitude and honesty.
Yours Truly, ‘Taylor Swift Girl’.
Emily Weall (twitter.com/EmilyJ_Weall) is Inspired by Cam
When the idea of writing a post about our female inspirations in the music industry, I couldn’t NOT pick Cam.
Over recent years, when the gender gap in the country music industry has become more prevalent than ever, and with there being very few female artists nominated at country only award shows, let alone all genre, Cam is the shining list we all need! She takes to her instagram and twitter to spread awareness, speaking out against the boards on these shows and generally, being a really good egg in the industry.
Cam stepped up to the plate and joined a taskforce, after it was suggested by the Recording Academy president Neil Portnow that if women wanted Grammys then they would need to step up and earn them – focusing on women in music and how they can have their voices heard, when they are just as deserving, and as good as men, but are constantly being overlooked.
On top of this, Cam is a straight up singing-songwriting-superstar, every single song she has evokes true emotion that is often lost when it crosses cultures and genres, but she consistently writes songs that are of absolutely the highest calibre, and has proven this by not only writing hit songs for herself, but also for other artists such as Miley Cyrus and Sam Smith.
Her stage presence is phenomenal, and openly announces that some of her songs are about one night stands, or getting exceptionally drunk with her band off of fireball whiskey, something which is often deemed as ‘not classy’ or ‘not feminine’ and she absolutely owns it,
She is also the only person I know that could open and close their set with the same song – and if it isn’t for everything that I’ve already written, that would be enough to make her my inspiration this International Women’s Day, and every other day!
Mike Ross (twitter.com/rossmike15) is Inspired by Stephanie Quayle
Known for her songs Drinking With Dolly, Selfish, Love the Way You See Me, and her newest, If I was a Cowboy, Stephanie is an accomplished artist making some serious waves in the industry. In the past year, she has performed in the Golden Circle of the Grand Ole Opry (twice), C2C, Huercasa Country Festival (Spain), and recently showcased her talents at The Bluebird Café in Nashville. In celebration of International Women’s Day, though, we thought we would share her inspiring journey.
Born and raised on a ranch in the beautiful mountains of Bozeman, Montana. Stephanie began playing piano under the tutelage of her grandmother at the age of 4 and picked up her first guitar when she was 15. To say she was not the most popular girl in her high school would be an understatement, sharing painful stories of being bullied and excluded from the “in crowd.” At 17, she had the opportunity to study abroad. While in Europe, she got her first real taste of the stage life when she auditioned for, and won, the chance to join a local band as the lead singer – even writing and recording an album with them.
Upon graduating from high school, she moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of her dream of making and performing her music. While in LA, she became involved with Maria Shriver’s annual Women’s Conference; first as an attendee, and then as a speaker for several years. It was also during this period that Stephanie’s longtime boyfriend passed away in an accident, an event that turned her entire world upside down. Pushing through the anguish and confusion, she used the tragedy to focus her energy on using not just her music, but her entire career, to make a real difference in the world.
In addition to the LA Women’s Conference, Stephanie invested herself heavily in activities and events dedicated to advancing opportunities for women and other social causes. She was the keynote speaker at the Girls Conference for Change at Montana State University, she participated the Art of Humanity Event hosted by Laura Bush to honor Bibi Aisha, a survivor of domestic violence under the Taliban, and was the only independent artist to perform for former Presidents Obama, W. Bush, Clinton, H.W. Bush, and Carter for hurricane relief efforts in 2017.
In 2011, she said good-bye to California and made her way to Nashville where she immersed herself in the culture of the town, learning all she could about the industry and establishing relationships with those who shared her passion. After four years of the Nashville hustle, playing gigs, attending songwriter showcases, making connections, and continuously soaking up any knowledge anyone would share, Stephanie founded “The Little Rebel Engine that Will,” Rebel Engine Entertainment (2015). Since that time, the only direction has been up, including a marriage (2016) to the most perfect partner for her journey.
“If I can in any way inspire and empower someone on their journey to discovering their own dreams, then I feel truly blessed.” Stephanie Quayle
“Nothing could stand in my way. I live my dream, I love what I do, I’m never going to quit. Quitting’s not an option.” Stephanie Quayle
Nick Cantwell (twitter.com/nickbelles_gals) is Inspired by Lindi Ortega
When talking about influences in country music, I have to speak about the artist who inspired my starting of this very website. Three years ago I headed to Cambridge to see Lindi Ortega, an artist who I’d been a fan of for a couple of years at the time. I’d seen her live in London the year before and she was simply outstanding, and for a reason I can’t recall I couldn’t make the London leg of her 2016 tour. Rarely for me, I decided to make the trip to Cambridge to see her and it became a night that literally changed my life.
I’d arranged to meet a couple of (non-country) friends in Cambridge and we headed into the gig together. The memory of the gig itself isn’t that clear. I do remember that Lindi was on fire, and I also remember that there were a few technical difficulties – the lights went out at one point, and I seem to remember Lindi Ortega having to sing without a mic at one point. She handled all of this with true professionalism, which in some ways made the night even more enjoyable.
What I particularly remember about the night was the drive home. It was a long, hour and a half drive home in the dark listening to my now signed copy of ‘Faded Gloryville’, Lindi’s current album at the time. That drive was when I decided I needed to get more involved in the music industry. I’d been through an incredibly tough couple of months personally as I’d lost my dad very suddenly – but in a strange way this gave me a resolve to go ahead and do something that I wanted to. I’d learned the hard way that life is too short not to.
The next day I applied to write for a UK country music website as a reviewer. They asked me to send a test piece, so I did. A week later I hadn’t heard back, so slightly annoyed I thought ‘fuck you’, I’m going to start my own website (apologies for the swearing, but those are the best words I can use to describe my emotion at the time.) Belles and Gals was born on January 25th 2016.
For me, Belles and Gals is very much inspired by Lindi Ortega to this day. There’s a song called ‘Tin Star’ which tells the story of a struggling musician and it really struck a chord. “Well if the music wasn’t running, through the blood in my veins, I might just walk away, oh I would walk away, but the music keeps on running, through the blood in my veins, and it just makes me stay, oh it makes me stay”. A song about an artist who is talented, not getting the breaks and will keep at it till the bitter end. As such I wanted to create a website that could give opportunities to all talented artists, whether successful or not. This industry isn’t a fair one – the adage ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ possibly more applicable in this industry than many others. Hopefully, by showcasing and creating gigs for artists at all levels of the industry, whether just starting out or someone who has indeed made it, we’re making a difference.
Thank you Lindi for inspiring me to start all of this.