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Exclusive Interview: Hear Me Roar Women Artists

// Interview, Shows // April 19, 2017 // Adam

This coming Friday, April 21, Hear Me Roar Women Artists (HMRWA) will present their April Showcase at The Saint in Asbury Park, NJ.  HMRWA is a feminist, activist performance series founded by Jennifer  Santa Maria and April Centrone in summer of 2016, featuring female musicians and spoken word artists, with vision to create a community of female artists across the country uniting in performances nationwide. This is a group I have been a big fan of since catching their November showcase last year.  The event was incredibly passionate and full of such a positive energy, and I’m sure we can expect more of the same to keep coming our way.

In the past few weeks, I was fortunate enough to be able to drop in with Jennifer Santa Maria, HMRWA co-founder and Bone & Marrow bassist, Daimon Santa Maria, Bone & Marrow guitarist, and Jenna Murphy of PRIM, who will also be performing at the April Showcase.  They were generous enough to take some time to speak on why they feel these showcases are so important both personally and for the community as a whole and also deliver a message to women artists everywhere.

N.J. Racket (NJR):  Tell us a little about the history of Hear Me Roar Women Artists (HMRWA), how and why did it start, past shows or events, partners, performers, venues, anything.

Jen Santa Maria, Bone & Marrow: Hear Me Roar started as an idea when I was talking with booker Josh Ballard about booking a unique kind of show at the Asbury Hotel. I wanted to create an all-female showcase and pulled as many musicians and poets as I could last September.  Josh had come up with the name “Hear Me Roar” just to give the show a title and it stuck immediately. To promote the show, the 6 musicians crammed into the Hotel’s Photo Booth with a sign that said “Leave your bra home”. On social media, the poster got a lot of attention, and that was only the beginning. At the time, I knew I had a passion for bringing women together, supporting each other, and encouraging and empowering the next generation of female musicians but it was so overwhelming to get the response that I did. April Centrone felt similarly about the need for this kind of initiative but saw a need for it globally, not just in Asbury Park. The two of us are a force, bringing together musicians from around the world to play in the tristate area.

NJR:  At a HMR event last fall, I recall Jen [Santa Maria] telling a story on stage about her musical and artistic talents being overlooked and being seen only for her “sex appeal.”  How is HMR providing female artists with safe and respectable platform for their music and in what ways is a HMR show different from let’s say a typical show at any other venue, bar, basement, etc.?

Jen Santa Maria:  Yes, it did feel pretty discouraging to not get any feedback on my musical ability and instead received a comment about adding to the band’s sex appeal when I first started out. Fast forward 10 years, I imagined shows that were more about expression and talent than about this “American idol” female singer that so much of our society expects to “see” and not listen to. Don’t get me wrong, female singers can be empowered and influential, but these shows are about women doing things differently, and breaking the mold. We are more personal, we are not afraid to share our experiences, and we aim to pave the way for the next generation of women to express themselves musically and artistically in the community.  By default, the music scenes in so many areas around the country are dominated by men, but that’s not to say men are responsible for that. Women need to see how important their place is in those scenes, and the entire aim of the HMR initiative is to change the culture. The Riot girrrls of the 1990’s were really bringing so much attention to women’s issues and women were empowered to just pick up and instrument and play a show. I think we need have that spirit again.

Daimon Santa Maria, Bone & Marrow:  In all the shows that Bone and Marrow has played for Hear Me Roar, it’s clear that these showcases are more than just bar room entertainment.  In most cases the audience becomes part of the show and a true sense of community is demonstrated.  Music with a purpose is so much more fulfilling from an audience perspective and from the performer as well.

NJR: How did you specifically become involved in HMRWA and why is this cause so important to you on a personal level?

Jen Santa Maria:  On a personal level, I play the bass because I was encouraged. I knew very few women playing music, and I started out playing in an all-male band for many years. I was one of the guys, but didn’t realize how different it really was for people to watch our band play since there was a focus on the fact I was female.

Jenna Murphy, PRIM:  Recently, Jenny told me about HMRWA and I was immediately captivated by what they’re doing, the safe spaces they’re creating, the support. Being a woman in the music industry can sometimes be a very difficult, and a very tolling endeavor. People don’t always take you seriously, they assume you’re the girlfriend of a headlining band member, they go so far as to make crude comments, harass, or abuse you. We as women are not always given the credit we deserve for being the super talented and capable artists that we are. We’re sometimes made to feel inadequate, tiny, incapable; our abilities undermined and knowledge disregarded.

Jen Santa Maria:  I want to see more diversity in music, I don’t want to be the only chick on every bill I play, and I want to share my experiences with others and learn from them as well. I’m so invested in this, and clearly there are hundreds of people, men women and the LGBT community who feel the same.

Jenna Murphy:  This is something I’ve encountered and will continue to battle for as long as I chose to make music, to be a part of the music scene, local or otherwise. That being said, it is also an incredibly rewarding and valuable experience, too. I could go on for days and days (and days!) about what this means to me. First and foremost, I am a woman and I exist and create in a male-dominated industry, and that is a matter of fact. As women, we’ve got to stick together, champion, and encourage one another! Jenny and April are doing a really terrific thing here in facilitating that unity.

Daimon Santa Maria:  I always wonder if people at the shows are scratching their heads when I go on stage and emulate the front person of a band when it’s supposed to be an all-women’s showcase.  Most of the performances at the Hear Me Road Showcases are fronted by female artists and although Bone and Marrow may appear to be fronted by me, it is far from the truth.  Jennifer and I are individuals, but when we align on an idea we are one person together.  You wouldn’t confidently say that Bone and Marrow is fronted by a man if you knew how much Jennifer contributes to the music and to the whole writing process.

NJR:  How has the community grown around HMRWA?  There always seems to be pretty lengthy and diverse lineups of artists as well as big crowds for the shows.  How quickly did this catch on and what has it been like to be a part of it?

Daimon Santa Maria:  From my perspective Hear Me Roar has started leveling the playing field in the art and music community. So much music is made on the local level and there are many woman involved in it but it’s not often they are specifically celebrated for it. So, Hear Me Roar gives woman a chance to be celebrated and respected for their contributions to the creative community we live in.

Jen Santa Maria:  It caught on immediately. As soon as that flyer was posted on social media, and the crowd poured into the hotel back in September, we haven’t stopped since. We get messages from women all over, every single day. And April Centrone and I have compiled a data base of Facebook pages, phone numbers and names so we can keep up the momentum with different names on each bill.  Some girls like Tara Dente, Emily Grove, and Julie Murtha are locals with incredible talent that we love to keep on our HMR bills, but we also open it up to new acts, or out-of-towners. We keep every show different and unique. Even if someone has never played out before, this would be a showcase in a safe space for them to express themselves. No judgement.

Daimon Santa Maria:  I believe the goal and direction is to present woman and men in an equal light but it often swerves in and out of the lane where womanhood outshines the masculinized rock star culture that surrounds the area. Not to discredit the musicology of Asbury Park but its contributions to the musical world have been mostly rooted in masculine claim to fame. Hear Me Roar is attempting to reinvent this branding of Asbury Parks music culture and it comes at a good time when the voice of women is being reinvented. Asbury Park has always been New Jersey’s petri dish of art and culture in one way or another, even when it was at its worse it was still breeding an art form and today the art form is stemming from gender neutralism.

NJR:  What message do you hope these events send to other artists who may be feeling uncomfortable or disrespected in their art and performances?

Jen Santa Maria:  Keep going, keep evolving, keep learning, just keep doing. You have the courage to go up there and do your thing, then you deserve respect.  We don’t like the gaps of space between the audience and the stage like you see at so many local shows. We want to be right there, supporting you, modeling what shows should be like.

Jenna Murphy:  You matter (a LOT!) and people truly want to hear what you create, what you have to say. The environment and platform that HMR fosters is very important. I see these talented young women (trans, cis, queer, and otherwise) musicians that have a lot of passion, and strength, and energy— with these great stories to tell— and I want them to rise to the occasion because they are so special and powerful.

NJR:  To you personally, what has been the most rewarding aspect of being a part of HMRWA?

Jen Santa Maria:  So much has been rewarding, but I think about how much I’ve learned from others. People can be so real and vulnerable playing their music but it’s between the songs that you really learn about the musician behind the instrument. There have been some amazing, memorable things said to the audience about what we imagine the local scene, the country or the world to be, and we all applaud and share that vision. We are inspired by the stories between songs, and I think that has been the best part of it for me. It started out with an idea I had bringing women together, and it evolved into a forum of shared experiences. It enhanced the entire vibe of the shows. That’s why people keep coming back for more.

Jenna Murphy:  Although I am a bit of a newcomer to the HMR community, the people I’ve met are just wonderful, and I look forward to meeting so many more artists. The support from this group is already unparalleled and being exposed to everything they create is inspiring!

NJR:  What do you think the future has in store for HMRWA and what impact do you think we’ll see HMRWA have on the local music scene moving forward?

Jenna Murphy:  Very big things are in store for Hear Me Roar Women Artists. I’m excited to see it grow, and to see, hear, know all the incredible artists that become involved. As HMRWA says, their aim is to change the culture of our community so that, in the future, HMR *won’t* need to exist. But I for one am sure glad it does!

Jen Santa Maria:  HMR is going to keep growing, but we need more support from other venues. Our home base is the Asbury Hotel, which was recently voted the top new hotel in America, and rightfully so. They have given us a space to share, play, and sometimes curse to make a point, and no one has ever shut us down. We are so appreciative to call the new hotel our home. April and I also agree that the Saint has become another home base , for more rock and roll showcases, which I love to be a part of. While we’ve had a few shows in Montclair, including Tierney’s tavern, we need bookers to see what we’re trying to do and invite us to plan memorable shows. We have the energy to do this, but without venues and safe spaces to perform, it can be a challenge.

We will be incorporating more performance artists, dancers, poets, and musicians in our bills, and we hope to see you there!

Once again, the show will be this Friday, April 21, at The Saint in Asbury Park.  I hope to see you there lending your support to this great initiative and having a good time with good tunes.


Written by Adam

Adam gave man-birth to N.J. Racket and is as close to an "editor-in-chief" the site has. He's a god awful photographer.