Meet Six Austin Women Keeping the Music Industry Alive
Hair + Makeup by Billy Mercer & Bethany Renfro of Lip Service
“Baring your soul to people and being authentic, that’s number one for me.”
Tameca Jones is explaining the tattoo on her right arm, an illustrated version of herself as a sort of “Queen of Bees” surrounded by hives and flowers. “I have one on my back a mermaid on a rock, and that’s me too,” Jones says. The musician has always had big dreams for herself — starting from an early performance singing a Mariah Carey song at her middle school talent show. “I was a star for a little bit,” Jones says, “People were coming up to me in the hallways, like, ‘You’re amazing!’ I was like, ‘I could get used to this.’”
Realizing that raw vocal talent alone wouldn’t necessarily bring a record contract straight to her door, Jones went to Baylor to pursue entertainment law, but left when she got pregnant with twins. The Austin native returned to the area to settle with her parents and make a real go at music. In 2005, she answered a Craigslist ad and became a vocalist with the band 8 Million Stories. “I remember my first time performing, I was so nervous, I drank Jack and Cokes,” Jones says, “I had to get a little warm to chill out.”
Since striking out solo Jones has come into her own, logging time at the Continental Club’s Gallery and C-Boy’s, playing the Austin City Limits Music Festival and turning heads at last year’s Austin Music Awards. “It’s like oxygen, it just feels good to be onstage,” Jones says. “Baring your soul to people and being authentic, that’s number one for me.”
Jones is set for another kind of soul baring, involving the throwback soul sound along with some ‘80s-inspired synth, on her new album due this spring. “Sometimes I go to sleep and dream of songs and I wake up and just catch the tail end of them,” Jones says, “I just have a lot of music flowing through me.” Good thing she’s a mermaid.
“My photos might not always be the sharpest or perfect, or might look a bit crazy, but I think people like that.”
In the beginning, there was music. “I started coming to shows when I was 14,” photographer Pooneh Ghana says. “My first ever cool show was The Strokes and The Sounds at the old Austin Music Hall, and that was just life-changing for me.”
Growing up in San Antonio, Ghana felt the pull of Austin, traveling up for shows and meeting with friends she bonded with online through an Arctic Monkeys forum. In 2008, Ghana made the move to attend the University of Texas at Austin, and started to get noticed for the unique concert photos she was capturing. “I had a Polaroid and I was taking it to shows a lot and just shooting bands for fun,” Ghana says. She’d often meet the bands and shoot candids, posting to her Flickr page. “The fan girls would find it and go crazy,” Ghana laughs.
Ghana began shooting for Austinist and other outlets and going on tour with bands like JEFF The Brotherhood and Cage The Elephant. “It’s the perfect combination of getting to hang out with your friends and take photos that you know the fans want to see,” Ghana says of traveling on tour. “Anyone can get a shot of a band on stage, but they want to see like Cage the Elephant, backstage, sweating, half-naked after a show. I think that’s more interesting.”
For Ghana, the aim is always to capture something raw that feels true to the individual performer. “I want it to be different,” Ghana says, “I try not to think so technically about it. My photos might not always be the sharpest or perfect, or might look a bit crazy, but I think people like that.”
With her SXSW agenda packed with projects for Tumblr, VICE, and Live Nation she’s keeping plenty busy. Ghana laughs, “I haven’t slept in like six years; it’s okay.”
Producer, Austin City Limits
“I went back and looked through the list of all the artists I had worked with and who’d come through the show and it was kind of mind-boggling.”
With a 40 year history that includes performances from Johnny Cash, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Loretta Lynn, Radiohead, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, and hundreds of the biggest names in music, KLRU’s Austin City Limits is one of the city’s most indelible institutions. “I went back and looked through the list of all the artists I had worked with and who’d come through the show and it was kind of mind-boggling,” producer Leslie Nichols says.
Starting at KLRU in 1996 as a receptionist and production coordinator, Nichols got to know the ACL team, lending an extra hand when they needed it. “I would help with hospitality or I even drove a 15 passenger van for the Townes Van Zandt tribute show, just because they were short on people,” Nichols recalls. When the show was looking to expand, “Terry Lickona came to my office and asked the fateful question, which was, how would you feel about coming to work for me? And I think I waited half a second before I responded, sure, absolutely,” Nichols says.
Spending her early years in the small refinery towns of east Texas, growing up on gospel and country music, Nichols came to Austin for UT’s Radio-Television-Film program, graduating in 1990. At that time “Antone’s was actually on Guadalupe, I think it’s an EcoCleaners now,” Nichols laughs. If Austin’s grown since then, so too has the reach of Austin City Limits. During Nichols’s 16-year tenure, the show has won a Peabody Award and the National Medal of Arts, and moved from its UT Austin perch to the state-of-the art Moody Theater in the W downtown.
Over the years, Nichols has met countless famous musicians, but only one left her speechless: Dolly Parton. “I couldn’t even get out hello… She really has more charisma than anyone else I’ve ever met,” Nichols says, “You know Dolly’s got to get that all the time. She just smiles and goes on.”
“When you have to be creative with somebody you also have to connect with them.”
“I loved band,” Jenna Carrens says. “In middle school, when I joined, it was the first time I felt like myself.” Playing percussion in middle and high school in the southeast Texas town of Port Neches, Carrens found community and friendship with her peers, experiences she tapped while forming Attendance Records.
After finishing the creative writing program at St. Edward’s University, Carrens turned her attention to creating a program that would connect middle and high school students with artists and musicians, and open up the songwriting and album-creation process. Through in-school writing sessions, students would compose work that would ultimately get recorded by local bands, including The Eastern Sea and Walker Lukens.
Joining as an intern, and now serving as Attendance Records’ Program Director, Lizzie Buckley met Carrens through a musician friend and signed on to assist with the 60 or so students served each year, while also getting her therapist license at St. Edward’s. “It’s a good tool for when you’re working with people in a deep way, such as songwriting. When you have to be creative with somebody you also have to connect with them,” Buckley says.
To celebrate their fifth year, Attendance Records will be producing a compilation album, due in June, featuring a number of local and national bands performing the kids’ original songs. Since 2011 Attendance Records has pressed two vinyl albums and released CDs, digital downloads, and screenprinted shirts, all designed by students.
“The end of the year is so amazing,” Carrens says, “Especially when you have students who, it takes a lot for them to write and express themselves, that comes out throughout the year. And then to hear those songs performed by a band is so cool.”
“My mom’s Strat has so many dings on it from me just throwing it on my back and going up to the 7-Eleven, like who wants to play?”
On a Friday night at One-2-One Bar, Carolyn Wonderland raises a toast to the crowd. “Cheers to you —the adventurous, the kind and the groovy, who’ll take a chance on live music,” she says, throwing back a drink before launching into a set that will find her playing guitar, lap steel and trumpet, whistling and showcasing her expansive vocal talent.
Growing up in Houston, music was always a part of Wonderland’s life. Her mother, a singer, kept guitars around, as well as a piano, found at a flea market. “I liked the guitar because I could walk around with it and go see folks,” Wonderland says, “My mom’s Strat has so many dings on it from me just throwing it on my back and going up to the 7-Eleven, like who wants to play?”
At 15, Wonderland started hanging out at blues jams, learning from performers like Joe “Guitar” Hughes, Trudy Lynn and Lavelle White. “They were very generous; they let you stink up the place for a while and then you start to get a little better at it,” Wonderland says.
In 1999 Wonderland came to Austin, and over the past 17 years she’s become a fixture of the local music scene and community, serving on the board of the women-run Housing Opportunities for Musicians and Entertainers (HOME). “Our main goal is to make sure that Lavelle White is housed,” she says, a mission that’s made more personal given Wonderland’s own time spent without housing in the early 2000s.
Rooted in the Austin scene, Wonderland keeps her ear out for talented performers — lately, Jackie Venson. “Holy cow, the stuff that she does is so cool and not typical,” Wonderland says. “Go take a chance on bands,” she encourages, “If you can do that once a month, you’d be surprised how much more fun you’re going to have.” Cheers to that.
Read more from the Music + Film Issue | March 2016