On the Up with Hen Hoose: Glasgow Music Walking Tours Guest Blog
The pandemic has been a game-changer for many musicians, in both negative and positive ways. While the loss of gig income was devastating, it has been inspiring to witness artists finding new ways of connecting and directing their talents.
Glasgow-based musician Tamara Schlesinger, former frontwoman of 6 Day Riot who now records as MALKA, responded by establishing Hen Hoose, a collective of female and non-binary singers, songwriters and producers formed to address and combat gender inequality in the music industry. Appropriately, the latest Hen Hoose track is released on International Women’s Day. On the Up is a peppy electro pop number by Schlesinger and Amandah Wilkinson, aka AMUNDA, embodying “good vibes, positivity and sisterhood”.
The musicians involved in the project are already well respected in their own right. Hen Hoose comprises Schlesinger, Wilkinson, folk singers Karine Polwart and Inge Thomson, indie musicians Emma Pollock and Carla J Easton, Cloth frontwoman Rachael Swinton, Sarah Hayes of Admiral Fallow and You Tell Me, electronica artist Elizabeth Electra, drummer and producer Susan Bear, rapper Jayda and composer Pippa Murphy. The late Beldina Odenyo Onassis aka Heir of the Cursed was also a cherished member of the group before her untimely death last autumn and she appears with her fellow Hens on the debut HH album, Equaliser.
In happier news, last December, Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon selected Hen Hoose as one of 25 UK projects to receive a limited edition vinyl acetate of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s festive standard Happy Xmas (War Is Over) to auction for funds. The money raised will go towards making another Hen Hoose album. Come together indeed!
We spoke to two of the collective, Karine Polwart and Susan Bear, who worked together on the Equaliser track Go Easy.
Karine: All of the Hen Hoose songs are written in response to briefs which are, or were, created for commercial project bids. The brief for this one – folk, indie, organic – about resilience or pulling through – basically sounded like a description of my entire back catalogue.
Susan: The song’s all about being kind to yourself. We wrote it in winter 2020/2021 -that was a hard winter for everyone I think. The brief mentioned the word organic, which I was drawn to. My previous briefs in Hen Hoose had been quite production-y and I was in the mood to do a more stripped back thing. I think the brief played nicely to both of our strengths.
Karine: Our first Zoom call last year was us getting to know a wee bit more about each other, and the practicalities of how we work, as well as to talk about what the brief meant to us. Based on that first chat together, the verse and chorus melody and chorus lyrics came quickly to me, within about 15 minutes. Lyric writing is one of my strengths, but the lyrics definitely wouldn’t be what they are without Suse’s insights. I think the same is true in reverse for the track production, where Suse very much led the arranging and sound, and I offered feedback. Knowing when to step up and when to sit back is pretty key to collaboration.
Susan: We had a nice back and forth process making the track – Karine recorded acoustic tenor guitar and harmonium and sent it over, I added piano, electric guitar and other bits and she sent back works and reworks of vocals and I harmonized with them. I loved working with Karine, I’m really pleased with the outcome. The whole album was recorded and produced remotely in everyone’s respective homes during lockdown which I think is a pretty amazing feat!
I hadn’t collaborated much with songwriting before Hen Hoose. For the last few years I had been behind the scenes doing production and arrangement for other artists, so it was really lovely to be asked as a songwriter and producer in my own right to come join a collective like this. I wanted to get involved because Hen Hoose showcases some amazing women and non-binary talent, and representation is still so important.
Karine: Hen Hoose is a smart and timely concept. All credit to Tamara for creating and managing the team, especially at a time of such isolation, anxiety and all-round decimation of work. It’s a mighty collective of women and non-binary writers, covering not just folk and indie, but pop, electronica, soundtracks, R&B and hiphop. And it’s Scotland-based too, in a wing of the industry that continues to be deeply London-centric.
Susan: Despite the music industry having changed quite a bit over the last few years equality wise – for example, I am now not always the only woman in a band on a bill when playing gigs, sometimes adverts for music technology now feature women, and sometimes there might be one female monitor engineer at a gig (but very rarely…) – behind the scenes and statistics-wise, there’s still a lot of work to do. We’re still stuck on the “gender equality on festival line-ups” thing, but gender inequality in music goes deep below that.
Hen Hoose has helped me connect with other female producers, and created a network when before I didn’t know any other female producers, and it’s helping show women can do all aspects of making music and making a record – the writing, production, mixing, mastering. When I was young, noodling around on music software on my mum’s computer, there weren’t any examples of female producers or engineers around me in society, in magazines, on TV or in films, or even when I reached college to study music technology.
Karine: Hen Hoose has already forged some brilliant new collaborative partnerships, bolstered the confidence of many of us who’ve been reticent to view ourselves as co-producers, and won actual commercial contracts too. The more women and non-binary creators who’re out there visibly fulfilling all kinds of roles in music creation, the easier it is for the next wave of musicians to imagine themselves in those roles too. And that’s got to be healthy for the whole scene.
Equaliser is out now on Tantrum Records. On the Up is released on International Women’s Day, 8 March