Happy International Women’s Day! Just ahead of the holiday, we had local female musicians Carissa Johnson and Carly Kraft of Coral Moons sit down with web services coordinator Nora Onanian to get to know one another and talk about the unique experience of being women in music. It’s our first article in a series we’re calling “Between Two Bostonians.”
Continue reading to learn about what it means for these artists to have a supportive community of female-fronted musicians to turn to, the challenges and importance of keeping an authentic personality as a woman in the industry, and more.
INTRODUCTIONS AND NEW BEGINNINGS
Carissa Johnson: I haven’t really done an interview in a long time, so it’s exciting to get back into it and [do] like face-to-face, meeting new people. Because I've heard about you and I've seen Coral Moons everywhere, it's so exciting to actually meet you in person. And I've been wanting to see you guys play live so badly. Hopefully soon.
Carly Kraft: Yeah, coming back to live music has been so crazy. Like, we want to go support our friends and see them. Honestly, actually, half my band moved to upstate New York during the pandemic. So now it's even more hard for us to get to shows.
CJ: I hear that. It’s funny, I just moved to Brooklyn last week. And it's so fun because it's like I needed some new inspiration and just a new push to kind of like expand everything. I was just used to coming back to the same places. I’ve changed so much, and my influences change, and I don’t want to do the same thing over and over. It's also like, I feel like I'm 16 again, because I feel like I'm starting over from scratch almost. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know anyone here.’ But I’m glad that things are getting back.
You’re playing Boston Calling, right?
CK: Yeah, we are. I heard a little bit about you moving to Brooklyn and feeling like you’re starting over again, like you’re 16. I love that so much because yeah, you just get used to doing the same things over and over again in the space that you are in. So even just moving apartments, or walking by the same random strangers on the street, like in a new neighborhood, is so fun and inspiring. Just getting out of the same monotonous thing, even if it's just a different, monotonous thing. It’s such a special thing.
CJ: Yeah, very excited about it.
CARISSA AS AN EARLY ROLE-MODEL FOR CARLY
CK: So Carissa, what’s totally crazy is I moved to Boston like four years ago and right at the beginning of my music journey I went to this all female-fronted band show at ONCE Sommerville starring Carissa Johnson, Julie Rhodes and Aubrey Haddard.
CJ: Oh my god, that was so fun!
CK: And literally, my mind was just like, so blown. I just started learning how to play guitar, and I, like, had never seen a woman play guitar in my life. Maybe Susan Tedeschi was probably the only person at that point. But I went to that show and I was just like, ‘Holy shit, these women are amazing.’ And I literally was like, ‘I could start a band.’ Like, if they can do it, I can do it.
CJ: That makes me so happy!
CK: It was so special. I just [had] started making music friends at that point. I’m a software engineer during the day, so that's my day job. I brought my engineering friends and everyone was like ‘Oh my God, you guys are so cool.’ And I introduced myself to Aubrey after the show. I’m like ‘Hi, I’m Carly.’ It’s just so funny to think about that journey. And now, all three of you— strong, female singers. I just— it holds a special place in my heart.
CJ: Aw thank you, and back at you, too. I mean, what you've been doing has been super inspiring. I was watching one of your music videos and I relate to your stuff so hard. Like some of the themes and the lyrics are very similar to kind of where I come from, and where I draw inspiration from. Yeah, it's something I wanted to talk to you about. You talk about the mountains and nature and the city and kind of escaping everything or like running or finding that freedom. But it seems like — you talked about, you were in tech, right? I saw you went to RIT?
CJ: It’s just so cool that you were able to kind of do that life and then just go right back right into music. And then it’s kind of seeming like instant success in the Boston scene. Like, you’re written up in the Globe and everything. I mean, it's cool to see. Yeah, I love what you're doing. But that's so cool that you were at that show, oh my god.
CK: Yeah, dude, thank you so much for saying that.
A PUSH TOWARDS SOMETHING NEW
CK: I think honestly, what you're talking about, like why you moved to Brooklyn, it feels very similar to [me]. I wrote a lot of our last album, kind of feeling like I needed to get out of Boston and do something totally life altering-ly different. So I really like when you're saying ‘I just needed a change of pace.’ Like, I literally live in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York.
CJ: It feels so good to just get out because I’ve been in Boston for like 10 years. To realize that it’s been 10 years in the same scene, even though I’ve gotten out and toured and then came back. It’s just kind of like, you know how with travel, when you come back, your perspective changes so much, and then you’ve expanded, but then everything kind of stays the same. And that's kind of what I felt with the pandemic happened as well to a lot of people, where it's like you're expanding internally and then when you go back to the same thing, it's like, ‘How do I fit in here anymore?’
And I was really struggling with that. I'm just like, ‘I think I need to go somewhere that I just never would have expected winding up. Try something completely different. Go freak myself out.’ Because I've just been living so comfortably for the past two years. But I almost felt like I was getting further away from my music, which was starting to freak me out because I mean, I started picking up day jobs and like doing all this other stuff because I wasn't touring. It just was like a whole different life. And then I was like, OK, I’ve got to reassess this and actually go make sure I'm doing what I set out to do in the first place and what I've been working for.
But it's cool how that can happen. How you can just make a decision, basically at any moment and just change everything. This is an experience for the time. Now this is a new chapter. And I'm just going to dive into this to see how this pans out.
ENTERING THE SCENE: THE IMPORTANCE OF FELLOW FEMALE MUSICIANS
CJ: But how was it for you, like just kind of making that big transition? Was there a specific moment when you were like not going to do music or you were just like, I think I can do this, or met the right people at the right time, sort of thing?
CK: Yeah, it was all just about like meeting the right people at the right time. Justin, who's in my band, he plays guitar, [he’s] also my partner, he had a band and I was singing in his band. And I was learning so much from him. You're like ‘instant success,’ but like, for me, it was like, I kind of already had a jump start. Because all the people that I was with were already in the music scene, for a very long time. So I just got to take all their information that they learned. It wasn’t like starting from zero at all. It was like 100 percent based on their experiences.
CJ: That’s the most important thing, I think — meeting people in the scene. And like going to shows. Rather than playing shows, going to shows is like the most important thing I think anyone can do to meet people.
CK: Yeah, and that’s probably so exciting for you right now, being in a new city, you can just go to all of the shows. Especially in Brooklyn!
CJ: I’m just trying to go to everything, like something every night. Because I'm in like a closet apartment right now. And I'm just seeing how it works and how I handle it and trying to not spend ten dollars a day on coffee. That's my biggest challenge.
I went to see a friend play at this place called Our Wicked Lady in Brooklyn the other night, and she was so cool. She plays in so many bands and her new band is called T-Eater. She's the only person that I really knew at that whole venue, and I'm like, ‘I'm just going to go and be uncomfortable as just this single person here, and the person who doesn't know anybody.’ But I know Tara.
She started introducing me to people. And just kind of that like, ‘we're in this together feeling’ — which it was just so nice to feel that again, where it's like being a female in the scene and new to the scene and then being welcomed to it. And then knowing these other like strong female-fronted bands and performers are just doing it too. I was like, 'I want to be a part of this.' And that's kind of how I got my start in Boston. It was just from going out to things, being a fan of the local bands in Boston and then really looking up to them and then introducing myself.
And then other females, just being like, ‘I see what you're doing, let's do this together. Let's do shows together.’ And that's like, how it all works. I feel like that's the only way it works, you know? Like you said, introducing yourself to Aubrey, and being there. Like we’re all doing it together now — it’s so beautiful.
THE STRUGGLE OF SHOWING UP AUTHENTICALLY AS A WOMAN IN MUSIC
CJ: I actually saw a quote you said in the Globe that I really love and it was ‘It’s about loving the music and living your truth.’
CK: Easier said than done. But yeah, that’s what I try to live my life by.
NO: Would you like to expand on that? I love the research that was done, so sweet!
CK: I know, Carissa! Maybe I should’ve read your interviews.
I feel like this [quote] also relates back to being a woman, like being your truth and showing up authentically. I don’t know how you feel, Carissa, but I definitely feel like my personality has changed over the years for people to take me seriously. Like my authentic person is like bubbly and like outgoing and like a little bit outspoken, a little unfiltered. So I feel like for people to take me seriously, over the years, I've felt like I've had to be very clean and concise and very direct because I just felt like people thought I was too bubbly. And, you know, like I didn't know what I wanted, even though I was just a creative.
I feel like it's a really hard thing to do because as leaders, you know, we have bands, we're managing things, we're dealing with a lot of like politics behind what we're doing. And then I feel like sometimes living your authentic self as a woman can be really hard because people may not take you seriously if you are your authentic self.
CJ: Wow, I hear that. Yeah. Before I started doing my solo thing, I was in this other band where I was just the bassist, and it was kind of my intro to playing live and it was like the only band at my school. So we were playing little pubs as 16 year olds and we were too young to even sell merch in the venue. Because we just could only be on stage, had to X our hands, had to leave the venue. And it was just growing up in that, I think really had an impact on just kind of like my personality and in hindsight, I kind of have talked about this a lot where I kind of just stopped being as bubbly as I was because I was taken advantage of or like people would interpret it as something else.
CK: Like flirting?
CJ: Yes, exactly.
CK: Because you’re like nice, and fun, and talented.
CJ: Yes, and you’re also trying to sell yourself. You’re like ‘Yeah I have a new album, and I’m like so excited about it.’ But then people will take it differently and then be weird. Especially growing up into that as a teen and then into my early 20s, it was kind of scary. And I think I just kind of had to really guard myself up a little bit more than I wanted to be.
And then I was like, ‘Man, I’m just going to stop smiling at people? This isn’t me. I’m such a bubbly, friendly person who wants to know everybody and be friends with everyone.’ And then I was like, ‘Man, I got to like put some boundaries up.’ But I think it was also a good lesson because boundaries are important. And I think standing your ground and being strong [too].
But then sometimes it’s also been interpreted as like, ‘Oh, well she’s a bitch now.’ And I’m like, I’m just doing my thing and I just want to make music and have fun. But like, I think it’s a reason why I started wearing platform boots and leather jackets. I’m guarded in a way. But then I was like, I don’t want to guard myself because the way I connect to people is by being open and here and in that fluidity of it where I’m not closed off. So that’s a definite challenge that I’ve faced.
CK: Yeah — speaking so much truth right now. I struggle with all of the things that you’re mentioning.
CJ: And it’s good to have band members who understand and who have your back. That’s really important and I think that’s been something that’s gotten me through it. Like having good guys around, or girls. Just having people around who know.
COLLABORATIONS AND SUPPORTING OTHER FEMALE ARTISTS WITHIN THE SCENE
CJ: I want to see you guys perform at some point, or like, it’d be so cool to do a show together!
CK: Yeah, we would love to! That’d be very fun, that’d be very rad.
We’re definitely trying to be like intentional intentional about what bands we're playing with and playing with people we like, and especially supporting women. That's like my biggest thing right now is I just want to play all shows with all women.
CJ: Yep, same.
CK: It’s not possible really all the time. But whenever we can do it, you know, it’s like ‘Yes!’
CJ: Are you able to do that in Boston do you feel like? Like with the bills you’ve gotten on locally, do you feel like it’s been good support with female-fronted bands?
CK: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. I feel like there's so much of that commodity and people just being intentional about what kinds of bills they're putting together. I don't know. Most bands I know have at least one woman in it, so that's good. But as for like being a female-fronted band, there's only a handful that we really vibe with.
So it's more about supporting them, and them supporting us and less about us putting on shows together. Because there's only a handful. I mean, I don't know. We play rock music, so I always think we're versatile. But yeah, sometimes it just doesn't [work]. Boston is very like singer-songwriter folk music.
CJ: That's how I feel. A lot of my favorite bands are like female- fronted bands, ones that I don't match up [with].
CK: And that's why you kind of love them too, right? Like something different.
CJ: Yeah, totally. And I think I'm excited to see what I find here because I don't know yet really what the scene is like here, but I think there's a lot of punk still happening. Punk female bands and like from what I've witnessed in the past and then recently, it's cool to see just women out there doing it, and doing all of it.
And in L.A., the scene out there is incredible for women. It's like the biggest queer women scene I've ever witnessed in my entire life. And just women in general, just playing and like, it's almost like every band, it was rare for them to have a male in the band. Sometimes I feel like the challenge is keeping up with it. It's like, ‘Wow, there's so many women out here. This is so cool to see it changing over.’
But yeah, I think with Boston a lot of the bands have been around for a long time and a lot of them start new bands and just, yeah, it's the same people that have been there. Which is cool because they're like, you know, part of the city and the community. But I think finding new bands, that's always exciting. Like up-and-comers or like people that are fresh in the scene. And you know, that's the most exciting part of it.
CK: Yeah, that's the beauty of checking out a new scene from scratch. Like, oh my god, I’m so jealous. I’ll just meet you down there in Brooklyn — I’m on my way.
INSPIRING CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS AND RECENT NEW DISCOVERIES
CJ: Are there any bands or artists that you've discovered recently that you're listening to a lot or anyone else inspiring you a lot?
CK: OK, Have you listened to Wet Leg?
CJ: I've been seeing their poster everywhere!
CK: They are so good.
CJ: I saw pictures and they look like a band that I'd be into. I'm going to write it down.
CK: Yeah, you would definitely love them. Yeah, they're like a little punky. Just like an indie-rock band.
CJ: They seem super cool!
CK: I'm trying to think. I'm really into Flock of Dimes right now. Do you know them? Female-fronted, super just like rock-y, a little folky.
Liz Cooper just came out with her audio tree. She is like a full on festival girl. She plays this wild jazz master and she just like gets on her back and shreds. I've never seen her live, but she's amazing. So it's just like indie-rock. Yeah, it's kind of chill.
Yeah, and then, OK, one more, I'll say. Faye Webster's new album I like a lot.
Ooh, do you know Caroline Rose? I feel like your music really jives with her.
CJ: Yes! Her drummer actually drummed on “Running Uphill.” He’s so sweet and Caroline is actually one of my biggest inspirations.
CK: I've seen so many videos of her in the studio and she's just so incredibly talented. Like she plays every instrument. You can just see the vision in her communication style.
CJ: Yeah, I like the humor in it, too, just her music videos are so funny.
CK: Right? It's like everything doesn't have to be so damn serious.
CK: Alright, so what artists are you listening to?
CJ: So this one might come as a surprise. I have been obsessed with Dua Lipa and it’s a little unhealthy. Not a new discovery for anybody, but her music is just so uplifting. But there’s this singer, her name is Charlotte Cornfield. So good, she came up on my Spotify Discover. Very different from Dua Lipa. But just like, singer-songwriter, indie. I think she’s from Canada. So good and so real and just like storytelling — her and an acoustic guitar and drums behind it. Really love her.
Let’s see, who else? I got really into synth-pop and there’s this band CANNONS. They’re like this dreamy synth band and it’s all just very ethereal, floaty kind of disco kind of throwback 70s. Everything’s like glitter. And I don’t know, they have this whole world that they’ve created. It’s like living in a disco ball. I just love it. And it kind of just transports me.
I’ve been a big fan of perfect pop songs lately, where I’m like, ‘God, I want to like write a pop song.’ But then part of me is also like, 'I want to be Brandi Carlile and be an Americana singer-songwriter.' And I’m like, ‘How do I merge these two things?’ It’s funny, I just go between that singer-songwriter acoustic thing and then the full-out dance, simple pop stuff.
There's another band. I think they're from Australia that I've been really obsessed with called Eliza and the Delusionals. They put out a new EP and there's this one song called “Save Me.” It's just, I can't stop. I'm like addicted to it.
HOPES FOR BETTERING THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING A WOMAN IN MUSIC
CK: There's so much pressure to work hard and push yourself and do all these unhealthy things for success. And it's like, you don't have to do that.
CJ: All you have to do is literally be you.
CK: Be you and be authentic and like, speak your truth and spread positivity instead of spreading hate. I feel like that's one thing as a woman that I find can be kind of hard is a lot of other women feel like there's only so much pie to go around. And it's like, ‘it's you or me.’ It's not like 'us together to conquer the world,' and we have to change the narrative. Like there's so much space for all of us. And we're only going to be successful if we come together as a community and fight for each other.
CJ: I love that so much. I hate it when there’s that limited thinking of just like ‘Yeah, it’s you or me,’ No, there’s room for everyone, constantly. There’s all these ingredients at all times, and like, we can all use them, you know. And then when we all lift each other up, that’s what actually helps all of us.
CK: Yeah, and that’s what community is and why it’s so important to us and why it makes us feel so comfortable and like we have a place.
CJ: This was so fun, I feel like we could talk for a whole day.
CK: I know, I know! And it's just so funny because I've never had a reason to like, go talk to you, Carissa. Other than my first night ever out in the Boston music scene.
CJ: That’s so cool! I’m so glad you were there and I’m so glad it was good for you. But yeah, thanks for having us! This was so great, I’m so happy to meet you, Carly.