Lesbian Bands, Hear Them Roar

Hear them roar. Many of today’s queer female bands are grappling with their riot grrrl legacy.

BY Ari Karpel

May 23 2012 4:00 AM ET

GARRISON STARR X300 | ADVOCATE.COMThough folk-rock singer-songwriter Garrison Starr (pictured, right) is out now, she took a very different course when it came to her public identity. While a student at the University of Mississippi, Starr was outed because of a relationship she was having with her sorority sister. “That was fucked up,” she says. “I was sort of smoked out.” With no one to confide in at the university, Starr became an outcast. “It was really tragic in a sense. People really came after us. They were confused and horrified by it. We were confused and didn’t know what the hell was going on. All we knew was that people disagreed. We were bad. It was a sin. We lost our friends. We were really ostracized from our community, which was very hard as teenagers.”

It makes sense, then, that when she had the opportunity to come out on a grand stage a few years later, Starr was wary. “I think when I first got signed I was so worried, I was so terrified to talk about [being gay] because it had only made things worse.”

That reticence suited her record label just fine. “When I got to Geffen, they were like, ‘We can’t have you look like one of the Indigo Girls.’ That was a direct quote, by the way.” It was the mid 1990s, and Starr had turned drumming in a local band into a major label deal of her own. “I started out kind of being thrust onto the scene and there were a lot of expectations from other people on me. It was like, ‘Oh, yeah, this song is going to be a hit. She’s going to be a star.’ ” Her major-label debut, Eighteen Over Me, yielded the hit single “Superhero,” which is probably her best-known song to date. “I started out with all of these opportunities, and I have sort of meandered around from then until now trying to find my place in the world.”

She never got to do a follow-up album for Geffen. The upheaval of a music industry coming to grips with the digital age meant label mergers and slashed artist rosters. “I was so young,” she says. “I got really depressed for a couple of years because I thought it would be easier to run out and get another record deal. I thought it would be easier to run out and get another manager. I just thought because of the fact that my first record was so hyped from Geffen that it would just be easy to run out and make something else great happen.”

Starr, now 36 and living in Los Angeles, has formed various bands and recorded several albums. She’s toured with such acts as Melissa Etheridge and Mary Chapin Carpenter and her songs have been played on the TV shows The Hills, Life Unexpected, and Pretty Little Liars. She figured out that she has to treat her career like a business, and she has to take responsibility for that business herself: “I am the president and CEO of this company.”

Along the way, she came out — her way. “Inside Out” was a hidden track on her 2004 album Airstreams & Satellites, which Starr considered her best so far, until the most recent one, Amateur, which just came out. The reason the track is hidden, she says, “is because even at that point I was afraid to really put that out there…it’s been a really long process for me to come to terms with my sexuality and just being OK with who I am and what God looks like to me and whether or not I go to church.”

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