Though each of us begins In Utero, when it comes to rock, seldom do we see any musicians with a uterus getting much public attention – let alone a four piece collective.
This is exactly what makes all-female Nirvana cover band, HERVANA, so fascinating. Well, that and their stage names (Skirt Cobain, Miss Novoselic, Dave Grrrl and Pap Smear).
Four grunge-loving, Torontonian feminists converged this past year, after a rather enticing tweet prompted them to assume the challenge. Each were musicians anyway, just busy, and hadn’t really thought to form a band up until that point. I was lucky enough to sit down with 2/4 of HERVANA this week: front-woman Carly Beath and bassist Erin Saunderson.
With National media attention from the CBC and multiple show bookings across Ontario and Quebec, HERVANA is enjoying positive recognition from audiences and critics alike. Erin, AKA. Miss Novoselic, says she is loving every minute. “I love playing with these ladies. Each time we play, I’m grateful to be a part of this celebration of Nirvana. I know it sounds trite but it’s the truth – I lucked out!”” she says.
Audiences attending the shows are pretty diverse, the ladies note. “The one thing everyone has in common is that they’re really pumped to hear Nirvana songs live and experience them with other people,” Carly says, adding that a full on mosh pit actually emerged at their first show, that no one had been expecting.
The grunge match was first flicked in Seattle, Washington’s urban core in the early 90s when the wildly theatrical and androgynous Andrew Wood and his young band Mother Love Bone first took to the stage.
While Wood’s legacy certainly lives on for some, late rock icon and frontman of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain (who rose to stardom shortly after Mother Love Bone), definitely struck a deeper chord. His limited-serotonin, coming-of-age ballads are still celebrated today by counter-culturists, oppressed minority identities and musicians the world over.
Pick any generation Y face out on any North American sidewalk, and it’s likely they won’t just have absorbed every track off Nevermind, they still have every vivid, poetic lyric memorized.
When this movement was in its prime, each HERVANA band member was still in high school. Both Erin and Carly can still remember their pulses quickening when they first got a taste of grunge. It didn’t take long until it became a cultural norm that they both ascribed to in body and sound.
“My friends and I were referred to as ‘the Nirvana girls’ [in high school],” admits Erin. “Ripped jeans, pyjamas, baby doll dresses and slips from thrift stores. What can I say? Those were my digs.” Carly’s look was all over the map in high school, she recalls – from a stint wearing “mostly black” paired with a fully shaved head, to a period coaching her school’s cheerleading team when more of a traditional feminine wardrobe dominated.
All four women in the band have had an undeniable soft spot for Nirvana since Kurt was still alive and making music. Today, they love breathing new life into those familiar aggressive riffs, and reigniting that flannel-on-jean, greasy-haired rage that still sits idly within each of them since the grunge disease first infected them.
“The whole grunge scene really set the stage for me as a musician,” says Erin. Carly adds that when she first started playing guitar in her youth, she played a lot of Nirvana songs. “Nirvana really influenced my love of loud music that also manages to have catchy melodies,” she says.
However, HERVANA is about more than 90s nostalgia and celebrating Cobain. As CBC brought to the forefront last month in their coverage marking 20 years since Kurt’s untimely death, feminism is an enormous part of the equation. And though few women in their age group self-identify (publicly, at least) with the ‘F word’ for fear of alienation or sexist backlash, everyone in HERVANA is openly feminist.
Feminism has been a part of her life for longer than Carly can remember, but she guesses perhaps Hole’s album, Live Through This (featuring Cobain’s infamous and neurotic wife Courtney Love) guided her toward the empowerment. Erin made some great points; justifying the challenge for feminists to self-identify in the public arena, and thus, what it means to be feminist for her personally:
I think there’s a real stigma attached to that word that keeps a lot of people from openly accepting the movement, unfortunately. All it really means to me is that I believe in equality of the sexes. Women make up just over half the world’s population yet there’s still a great disparity in the representation of women in non-traditional roles not to mention income inequity. The more visibility women gain in areas that have historically been male-based, the easier it gets to let go of those outmoded ideals that no longer serve us as a species.
When asked whether the band is planning to start recording anything original at some point down the road, the girls indicated that all four of them play original stuff already beyond the realm of HERVANA that takes up a fair amount of time already. Moreover, each of them have recorded material as well, both independently and with other bands, respectively.
Now lead-singer of HERVANA, Carly “Skirt Cobain” Beath has dipped her toe in various artistic waters prior to this initiative. She calls herself a musical “jack-of-all-trades,” having released her own EP under the name Carly Rhiannon back in 2012, created, recorded, licensed and mixed music for multiple artists, initiated major musical events in Toronto, and more. She likes to keep herself busy. That said, HERVANA’s upcoming show at Pressed here in the 613 excites her especially having grown up just South of Ottawa, and because her mom will be there.
Erin is equally stoked as another former small-town Ontarian of the Ottawa Valley. She says she has plenty of “fond memories” going to see shows at Barrymore’s and Babylon, and “walking over the Booth Street Bridge to get beer in Hull” as an 18 year-old.
HERVANA play Pressed (750 Gladstone Ave.) on Saturday, May 3, 2014. Decathlete and Elgin Skye open the show. Tickets are $8 in advance and can be purchased here. Doors at 8pm. All ages, licensed.