I'm the Rockstar, not The Rockstar's Girlfriend
As the only woman in her alt-grunge band Sell By, Ellis shares her story on being a female musician in a male-dominated industry and genre.
Submitted by Ellis Monk, London
Having grown up with an older brother who influenced most of my music taste (think Sum 41, Blink 182, Neck Deep), I was always accustomed to seeing men on stage singing songs from male perspectives. Although I could relate to the majority of it, I missed having both a female perspective and female role models in this genre when I was younger, as I never thought it could be me up on stage too. Since I grew up in mixed schools and having an older brother, I'm used to being surrounded by boys. However, no matter how much I may try to be 'one of the boys' in the band and the circuit we're in, I will never quite get there, as I'm still treated differently than them.
I met the boys through a mutual friend of mine and James’s a few months before I finished my final year of uni. We got along really well straight off the bat. A few weeks later they were starting a new band and were in need of a bassist, they gave me a call and (without even auditioning me first) asked if I wanted to get involved. I wasn’t quite ready to get straight into the working world just yet, so the timing couldn’t have been better, really. I’d never even considered being a musician as a career path, so to be on stage when I’d only ever really been in the audience before was a lot of fun. When in a band, you’re constantly searching for the next high, so it can be hard to go from the adrenaline rush of being up on stage or getting played on Radio 1 to going back to a day job, and I think this experience is shared among musicians.
With Sell By we aim to make music for people who don’t quite fit in, and although it’s hard to pinpoint an exact genre for our music, we’ve developed quite a heavy grungy sound inspired by all of our music tastes.Our dynamic as a trio works really nicely, firstly because we all get on, but also when the others have differing opinions, I often act as the middleman and make the deciding vote.
The boys mainly write from a male point of view, so I try to offer a counter perspective which is more relatable to a female audience. I often find myself not being able to fully relate to much of the music in a largely male-heavy genre so it’s nice to create my own. I’m still fairly new to song-writing so I’m still learning but I’m hoping to contribute more for future releases.
I want to be respected and taken seriously as a musician without having the need to exploit my femininity. However, my social media posts tend to get more attention and engagement than the boys’, which is an obvious benefit when promoting the band as me being a young woman helps appeal to a wider audience, but it’s a balancing act between not wanting to post things outside of my comfort zone and wanting the band to succeed.
We were once referred to as James, Jamie and the girl which I do have to find funny and own it rather than be bothered by it, although it also goes to show that I have to try harder to make my mark as I tend to be overlooked at times. As well as this, when I tell people I’m in a band they immediately assume I’m the singer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it shows how women aren’t usually associated with being instrumentalists and is something I’d love to see changed.
Growing up, girls aren’t usually pushed towards guitars, bass and drums, meaning from the get go, they’re less likely to get into creating rock and alternative music. But alternative music has a huge female fan base too, and as a fan of that kind of music myself, it would be great to have more lyrics and perspectives stemming from a female point of view that women can relate to more. I think more femininity in this area of the industry would give women audiences more music to connect with a little more personally, as it’s easy to feel disconnected from male-centric perspectives.
I hope that the music world, and the rock/alternative world specifically, will evolve to carve more space for women in performative and creative roles rather than just as consumers of music. There are an increasing number of female instrumentalists coming to the forefront of the genre which is amazing to see, and I only hope this continues to grow and contribute to adding more female perspectives and diversity because there’s certainly a need for it.
I want women to know that they can be the rockstar, not just the rockstar’s girlfriend.
Ellis and her band will be performing alongside Depression, Baby on the 14th of July at Colours Hoxton, find tickets here. Sell By's new single, 'I Still Do' will be released the same day.