Happy Dog to Host Concert Featuring 'Cleveland's Women That Rock'

click to enlarge A.J. and the Woods
A.J. and the Woods
The local rock bands the Whiskey Hollow, Punch Drunk Tagalongs, and AJ & the Woods play different styles of music. The Whiskey Hollow plays twangy garage country, Punch Drunk Tagalongs dabble in moody indie rock and AJ & the Woods draw from folk, blues and rock.

The one thing all the bands have in common is that they feature women singers. They'll perform together at a special show dubbed "Cleveland's Women That Rock" that takes place on Friday at the Happy Dog.

The Whiskey Hollow's Maddie Finn, Punch Drunk Tagalongs' Alisha Stahnke and A.J. and the Woods' Alison Tomin all spoke about the special show.

Talk about your musical inspirations. What kind of music did you listen to while growing up?
 I listened to a lot of "sad boy" music, lots of angry pop/punk and emo stuff. I was obsessed with [Green Day's] American Idiot for my whole sixth grade year. That started to spawn into more Janis Joplin, Van Halen, Johnny Cash and weird stuff in high school. So I guess you could say that I have always had an interesting taste in music. My mom often had Patsy Cline or Garth Brooks on rotation in the car. So I'm guessing that's where this whole Southern thing came from.

Tomin: Growing up, I listened to a lot of music from the '50s, '60s and '70s, the stations my parents listened to when in the car. There was even some Saturday morning polka on my way to soccer games. With two older brothers, I looked up to what they were listening to. I remember listening to and loving Weezer's Blue album when I was 10 years old. It is still one of my favorite albums today. From there I got into the pop/punk scene in the early 2000s, Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, etc. As I grow older, I've gotten into the folk scene that I listened to as a young child, Neil Young, CCR and Johnny Cash are the most influential.

Stahnke: My parents were babies when they had me. My dad was 14 and my mom was 16, so I feel like my musical experience growing up was much different from other people's. I mostly listened to things my dad and step mom introduced me to. My childhood memories are sprinkled with Nirvana, the Flaming Lips, the White Stripes, Henry Rollins and so many other bands.
I have this one very vivid memory of me around 10 years old with my dad sitting in the front seats of his Mustang with the windows down. He played me an Everclear song called "Annabella's Song" and told me that it was my song, and all I needed to do was switch the name Annabella with Alisha. This was the first time a song struck me emotionally. The lead singer of Everclear, Art Alexakis, wrote this song for his daughter. From what I can tell, Art and his daughter shared a lot in common with me and my father. I can still get choked up when I hear this song today. I was amazed how a single song could stir up so many emotions in me. I listened to this song probably more than any other song growing up and sang it like it was mine. I think that was where I first learned that some things could be better sung than said.

Did you have a favorite female musician?
My favorite female musicians changed as I got older — it all started with [Evanescence's] Amy Lee/[Flyleaf's] Lacey Sturm when I was going through my angsty teens, that evolved into [Paramore's] Hayley Williams and then I started to expand my musical horizons. That's when I discovered Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin and these amazing emotional and powerful vocals are what kickstarted the sound you here today from me.

Tomin: I never had a favorite female musician growing up. I listened to mostly male artists. It never occurred to me or was I told that I couldn't sing a certain way or play a certain genre because I was female. What I heard was what inspired me. I think I keep that mindset to this day. As a woman, I may have different range, but a lot of the same vocal techniques can be used.

Stahnke: A favorite? That implies I need to choose one, and I'm afraid that is utterly impossible for me. So I'm going to list a few. One of the first females to stand out to me was Paz Lenchantin. What a badass babe. She was originally known for being the bassist in A Perfect Circle, but she first caught my attention when I saw her playing in Entrance. I remember thinking to myself, "Who is this chick wailing on the bass guitar in heels? I want to be her someday." I would later fall in love with the band Warpaint. Every single one of those women are amazing musicians! It was the first girl band that really musically wowed/inspired me. It wasn't a poppy girl band or a gritty riot grrrl band... it was something very different. They are sirens. I found myself listening to their self-titled album for days and days. The most recent female musician that I am obsessing over is [singer-songwriter] Angel Olsen. Her songs bare these raw emotional backbones that are plucked out by her unique voice. Her new album is absolutely amazing.

On the national level, it’s certainly a good time for women in rock. Women dominate the pop charts. What’s it like on the local level?
Finn: That's actually a super cool question; there are more woman in the local scene than I've ever experienced. And that's pretty rad. In all types of genres too!

Tomin: Locally, women are starting to be represented more, but we still have a way to go. It's rare to see more than 1 female led act on a bill, let alone an entire evening especially in the rock scene. I think that the local music scene is open to having more of female presence and we will continue to see more women artists in the spotlight.

Stahnke: I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing women in the local music scene and put on some amazing events. One that really stands out to me is the Planned Parenthood Benefit show we played with the Village Bicycle on the day of the inaugaration this year. We were able to raise $1,000! Amazing nights like that one is really what restores my energy and keeps me going.

Talk a bit about your latest release. When did you start writing the songs and what was the recording experience like? What do you hope listeners get out of the album?
Finn: X Waters just turned a year old, and it was my favorite thing I've put out yet! The recording experience was something that lead me on my own journey of this sound I've been trying to figure out. I hope people who listen see it as something raw, honest and full of ear candy. We are recording a new full band record this summer, and it's going to be a big departure from the chill sound we've recorded so far.

Tomin: [Guitarist] Josh [Alan Collins] and I formed AJ & the Woods in 2015 as a duo. We have a fair share of songs that didn't make the cut as we were honing in on our sound. Adding our bassist, Anthony [Buonocore], took us to the next level and when Nick [Ruscitto] joined on drums, we really found the sound we were looking for, something raw & gritty at one moment and sweet and polished the next. Old school rock, blues, folk, and singer/songwriter sensibilities, have morphed into a roots rock movement. Our EP was written towards the end of 2015 through 2016. We recorded with Ross Newbauer at White Out Audio. The recording experience was great as we were able to experiment with new ideas while in the studio, a few of which ended up on the EP. We hope people who listen to us, walk away with an appreciation for good homegrown music. We want a certain lyric or guitar lick to stick with you after the record stops spinning. We are taking established things and turning them upside down. When you take an acoustic guitar and force feed it through an overdriven tube amp; it's a unique sounds that is indescribable and not common practice. Our music is about the hook, and that's what we hope will bring people back again and again.

Stahnke: We actually just recently took down our latest EP. We are actually in the process of working those songs into another project that we have just started working on with Jim Wirt. The songs are already sounding amazing and are really standing on their own now. We recorded the first EP on our own and also tried to do the same for the second. It was a great learning experience, and great for starting off. That being said, we are at the level now where it is so crucial to have an amazing producer and professional recording equipment. We are hoping to release this project sometime later this year, and can't wait to share it with the world. Our first EP is still out there and gaining traction. The songs on the first EP were written about two years ago when I was going through some big changes in my life — redefining my life and making it my own again. Writing those songs was therapeutic for me and allowed me to realease emotions that I didn't know how else to. I use to sing airy and light when I was younger. That EP and that time in my life was really a turning point. My songs definitely wouldn't be described as airy or light anymore, and I think that's a good thing. I hope my songs can inspire and touch others. Maybe they can understand me or understand themselves better through the lyrics.

The show at the Happy Dog benefits an important cause. What does Laura’s Home means to you?
Coming from a home with a single mom who slayed and raised us out of welfare, woman's shelters are something I can totally get behind! I'm so fortunate to have never experienced one for myself, but I hope that what ever money we are able to raise will encourage some young woman to see their full potential and kick some major ass!

To me, Laura's Home means hope. Hope for women and children in need, hope for the community and hope for the future. I grew up with a stable and loving family. I was given hope that I could and can do anything I set my mind to. I can never repay my parents for their years of support but I can pay it forward. I can help others through the values they have instilled in me. In the current political climate, women's issues are in the forefront on a daily basis. People are trying to control what women do with their bodies, their career's, family life and future. Laura's Home gives women control of their own future, their own lives. It teaches them that they are a powerful force to be reckoned with and can do anything a man can. It is about offering women the same opportunities and quality of life of others. I know the entire band believes in what Laura's Home is doing, and we hope to make it a yearly event. I am lucky to have the support behind me to follow my passions, and I want the same for all the women of Cleveland.

Stahnke: Laura's Home is an organization that has dedicated their services to helping women in crisis. I was once at a point in my life where I couldn't stay where I was no matter what, and I had to leave everything. I had to leave school, my job, my house, my relationship, and everything I knew. I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have my family. My family gave me a place and helped me pick up all the pieces. Organizations like Laura's Home are so important to people who may not be as fortunate as I was to have people in my life to help support me. Women's crisis centers save lives day in and day out, and they make such an amazing impact on so many people's lives. Definitely a good cause to rally behind!

Cleveland Women in Rock featuring AJ and the Woods, the Whiskey Hollow, Punch Drunk Tagalongs, 9 p.m. Friday, June 9, Happy Dog, 5801 Detroit Ave., 216-651-9474. Tickets: $5, happydogcle.com.

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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