“If I was a man, where would my band be now? I think about that a lot, because it’s a serious, legitimate question.” Since she helped found the band at age 19, Rivals frontwoman Kalie Wolfe has reflected on the numerous women in music whose creative material doesn’t get nearly as much recognition as that of their male peers.
Misogyny in alternative music stems from a multitude of sources— whether it’s listener bases “not wanting to listen to a particular rock band because it has a woman”, lack of consideration from peers, or the immediate assumptions and harmful stereotypes about women who work in the industry. Recently, Kalie joined me on Zoom for a conversation tackling this topic and discussing Rivals‘ sophomore album ‘Sad Looks Pretty On Me’. In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are 10 things Kalie shared about being a woman in music.
1. The Los Angeles quartet was brought together by talent, serendipity, and the power of social media.
Nearly a decade ago, frontwoman Kalie Wolfe toured with Rivals guitarist Micket Woodle’s former band. When creative differences struck, Micket thought back to when he had heard Kalie sing on tour; his next idea was to recruit her for a project that strayed away from the metalcore and post-hardcore sounds the two were intimately familiar with. In 2014, Rivals was founded and began playing shows around Orange County. Taking the band’s search for a bassist to social media proved itself successful after Sebastian “Seb” Clarke had gotten such a positive impression from a past live performance that he responded to their post with the hand-up girl emoji and was later welcomed as the band’s third member. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until after drummer Josh Alves spent the next two years performing and touring with the band that he became an official member.
2. Establishing a career for herself in alternative music— a notoriously male-dominated part of the industry— wasn’t daunting for Kalie at all.
“I’ve always been one for a challenge,” she laughs. Outside of Rivals, Kalie is a graphic designer and is currently studying technology, so it’s safe to say she’s no stranger to male-dominated career fields. Dating back to Rivals’ earliest days, alternative music’s enduring track record of misogyny never made Kalie question her decision to become a singer and songwriter; if anything, it pushed her to create and deliver her best work.
3. There might not have been a “Strawberries” without “The Taste of Ink”, but there are plenty of reasons why future of music is female.
Although she credits Bert McCracken from The Used as the most significant figure of influence that ultimately pushed her to become a musician, Kalie believes Benee’s brilliant recreation of 70’s pop, Ashnikko’s stylistically unique cadence, and Grace VanderWaal’s prodigious talents are a few examples of why women killing it in music right now will be recognised as trailblazers in the future.
4. Kalie believes time is the biggest deciding factor of whether or not women in music are taken seriously.
One overarching example of the blatant misogyny in the music industry is the double standard between men and women. Often times, women have to work twice as hard or yield extensive list of accomplishments before they’re accepted by male peers and members of listener bases. “Most people don’t take women seriously until they’ve been at it for a long period of time— typically— you obviously get a select few who hit it off right away, but for the most part, a lot of us have to work really hard, play our cards right, and not do the wrong things until people finally, over time, respect us,” Wolfe states.
5. Unequal representation of women in alternative music is really a lack of representation.
For such a niche community that echoes the importance of acceptance, women in alternative music are not given the same opportunities, chances, or recognition as men. The imbalanced ratio of male to female artists being fairly represented throughout the music industry persists on multiple levels, whether that’s through tour and festival lineups, media coverage, or simply not being talked about in music discourse. “It becomes significantly harder for us to find tours because people don’t want ‘too many women’ on their tours— that’s a thing… it’s not often you see three girl bands and one guy band.” Kalie proceeds to share an anecdote of a past tour with heavy rock outfit New Years Day whose lineup proved itself as a rare exception.
Going back to the question that started this article, she believes Rivals would be much farther along if they were a male-fronted band. “We’d probably have way more opportunities, better touring situations, potentially better labels,” she ponders.
6. If she could make one stereotype surrounding women in music disappear forever, it would be…
“Sleeping with people, just kick that one out,” Kalie takes a firm stance when discussing how the blatantly sexist stereotype we never hear the other way around affects women in all areas of music to date. “… It affects women who tour in music— managers, merch people, booking agents— it affects all of us.” Ask yourself— why is it even a stereotype? If it no longer existed, it would certainly change how the industry views women.
7. Kalie is a massive advocate for mental health.
As an artist, using your platform can be greatly beneficial when it comes to raising awareness for one’s cause of choice. Between writing songs like “To Dom” to tackle the emotionally heavy topic of suicide, making mental health and healing a thematic focal point for ‘Sad Looks Pretty On Me’, or personally reaching out via social media to talk fans going through hard times as often as possible, Kalie shares her favourite cause she supports is raising awareness about the tribulations and long-standing affects of living with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
8. The best thing she (and Rivals) ever did was stop caring.
“Honestly, who gives a **** what anyone else thinks?” the singer asks. Between the not-so-secret first EP before ‘Haunted/Hunted’ to Rivals’ most musically diverse record yet, ’Sad Looks Pretty On Me’, the executive decision to not care what others think was ultimately liberating for Kalie, Micket, Seb, and Josh, giving them the freedom to write whatever they wanted. In terms of the ‘Sad Looks Pretty On Me’ album cycle, Kalie praises Rivals’ fans unwavering support as the thing that powered the band to persevere through the unprecedented times leading up to its release.
9. Kalie’s favourite song on the record is “Strawberries”.
“Strawberries” isn’t Kalie’s favourite song because it’s one of the few songs Rivals have ever written in a major key; the catchy, feel-good tune takes a dark turn once listeners look beneath its surface. After deciding not to discuss the topic in the era of ‘Damned Soul’ because it felt a bit too fresh, the singer uses the standout track of ‘Sad Looks Pretty On Me’ to let a significant, yet burdensome part of her past be the past. “Strawberries” is the moment Kalie embraces her vulnerability as her greatest strength to open up about her past relationship with addiction and the issues surrounding it. “I’m okay now, you know? I don’t need to stress about things that mattered before because they don’t matter now; I’ve grown up and I’ve become a better me.”
10. Her favourite part of being a woman in music is having the opportunity to empower her peers to take the same fearless stride as her.
“I hope I can help younger women build the confidence to endure this crazy music scene that we have, and that we continuously get new bands with women in them because we need them,” Kalie says, before elaborating on advice she would give to her peers and women aspiring to make a career for themselves in music. “Don’t let men tell you what you do and don’t know… it took me a really long time to understand that, and just because someone’s been in music longer than you does not mean they’re better or more knowledgeable.” It’s about time women in music are met with respect, not condescension.
In case you’re curious what’s next for Rivals, Kalie divulged the things she’s most excited for are having one of the band’s songs featured in a movie and what she’s been working on for upcoming radio campaigns.