Few bands mesh the political with the personal, the altruistic with the artistic, quite like Rosie & the Riveters. With their honeyed vocal harmonies, vintage 40s-era look, and conscious lyrics, the Saskatoon-based trio of Farideh Olsen, Alexis Normand, and Allyson Reigh are fast emerging as folk/pop icons for the ages. Which makes their second album, the blisteringly proto-feminist yet ridiculously accessible Ms. Behave (out April 6) tailor-made the #MeToo Movement.
Scratch that: Ms. Behave is tailor-made for the human movement which is finally elevating women’s place within it. That’s echoed in Rosie & the Riveters’ newest single, the candlelit and searing “I Believe You.” Beyond being a beacon to survivors of sexual assault, the track directs all proceeds towards long-standing women’s advocacy and empowerment org YWCA which in 2014, incidentally, posited that only 33 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults in Canada are reported to the police.
That initiative dovetails with the trio’s ongoing commitment to assisting women in the developing world via microloans distributed through online platform Kiva.org. To date, Rosie & the Riveters have raised nearly $10,000 for some 200 women’s projects in places like Africa and South America. Considering that microloans of $100 or less can be game-changers, that sum is awesome.
Even those focused only on music get a clear sense of the trio’s progressive worldview via songs like the tongue-in-cheek corker “Ask a Man,” the swaggering, anti-backbiting ode “Let ‘Em Talk,” and the parity-please anthem “Gotta Get Paid,” co-written with Matthew Barber, part of a strategy to challenge and expand the trio’s creative process by collaborating with outsiders. Co-writers on the new album also include Royal Wood, Tim Abraham, and Robyn Dell'Unto.
Band member Alexis Normand spoke with Samaritanmag from a tour stop in New York — the second date in a 30-day run stretching from Vancouver to Newfoundland and hitting many spots in between — about her band’s charitable work and why giving a voice to the voiceless is so darn humbling.
The songs on the album are very timely and bound to be buoyed by the #MeToo Movement and Times Up. Happy coincidence?
Kind of. Most of the songs were written between February and May 2017 and we went into the studio in June, so all this was written before the movement took off. The goal was to write great songs about issues that are close to us. We wanted our second record to have a little more depth and to be more meaningful to us on a personal level. So, with those guidelines in place, we started writing. There were some things going on in the media: the Jian Ghomeshi trial, Bill Cosby, Trump being sworn in as U.S. president. The social and political climate was already changing and inspiring us.
The song “I Believe You” might have been inspired by the Jian Ghomeshi trial… was it?
Not that trial specifically, but that trial was an example of the kind of thing we were talking about. It wasn’t just what we were hearing in the media but also what our friends were telling us and what we had experienced ourselves. We’re talking about the whole spectrum of sexual harassment and assault. It was so important for us to say to survivors that we believe them and honour the courage it takes to speak up and break the silence. That’s the heart of the song for us.
That song must trigger very powerful reactions among some listeners.
Yes. We’ve been playing it since last summer and people are moved to tears. We also released a music video recently and it’s started to contribute to a very important conversation about survivors — who can be women, men, and nonbinary people — on a national and international level.
The flipside is a song like “Ask a Man” which approaches a serious topic from a cheeky angle. What sort of reaction have you had from guys?
Most people think it’s hilarious (laughs). That was one of the challenges of this record: when and how to deploy humour and when to be heartfelt and sensitive around the topics we wanted to discuss. That song was a chance to poke some fun at ourselves. Of course, there has been the odd person who has been offended but by the end, when most people are laughing, it’s clear the song is over-the-top.
You are obviously musicians first but is there an operating philosophy at work as well?
Of course. Farideh started the band because she wanted to see female singer/songwriters come together and do something positive. That kind of collaboration facilitates our creative process and always has. It’s also the underlying foundation of how our business decisions are made and it’s how we divide the tasks. We really try to bring out the best in each other and also to pay it forward. One of the ways we do that is by investing 20 percent of our merchandise profits into Kiva.org. We go through people’s profiles and select women we want to help. We feel women are one of then world’s greatest untapped resources and by helping them, we’re investing in their children and in their communities. We feel that’s one of the best ways to support sustainable change.
What other criteria do you consider when deciding who to support on Kiva.org?
We try and pick women whose work either has to do with the arts in some way or that feels entrepreneurial. For example, this woman Maria in Ecuador is a seamstress and it’s not totally an art form but close enough (laughs). And Kiva is a great platform for facilitating these loans. They manage the actual financial transactions. We have great faith in them.
Your band name tips the pillbox towards WWII feminist icon Rosie the Riveter. Any reservations about such an obvious association?
Originally the name was more inspired by what was happening with us musically; the first songs we worked on kind of sounded like something from the 1940s with a strong vocal harmony component. We also really loved the look of the era. So, when we were trying to think of something that encapsulated all that, Rose the Riveter came up in conversation.
Have any older folks who lived through the era told you guys that you’ve nailed it?
Yes! We’ve had people tell us we look like they did when they were young. We’ve never been a cover band — it’s not like we’re singing Andrew Sisters songs. It’s more about capturing the vibe of that era.
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