That’s what local musician Freedom Nicole Moore was asked one night almost a decade ago by her mentor, Brandi Smith.
Smith had taken Moore on as a mentee after seeing the then-19-year-old play guitar outside Elementz Hip Hop Youth Arts Center in OTR.
“She came down to take some footage about the city’s improvement and advancement post-riot,” Moore says, referencing the civil unrest that erupted after Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach shot and killed unarmed teenager Timothy Thomas in 2001.
It was this chance meeting that led to Moore being featured in Smith’s documentary, during a segment about bridging economic demographics. “And that’s exactly what she ended up doing,” Moore says.
Smith taught Moore professional skills, like how to send emails and put together interview outfits. She also hired her as an assistant.
But it always came back to the music.
When Smith asked Moore what she would do if she had no restrictions, the answer was easy: She’d be a musician.
“That was my answer, and I meant it and still do,” Moore says. “I feel like all roads led me here. All things happen for inspiration, to use my voice to paint pictures, encourage and speak on what I experience. And I’m grateful to say that so many women built into me.”
Now, often more than once a month, Freedom Nicole Moore fills rooms across Cincinnati with her bright voice and soulful guitar.
“Things haven’t been easy, but every passing day is extremely beautiful,” she says.
The story of women helping women succeed artistically echoes throughout Cincinnati’s music scene.
“I’m inspired by other femmes who do bomb stuff despite the fact that music scenes are very much still a boys’ club,” says Rachel McNeal, synth player in the Goth/New Wave duo Human Program. “Being female in the scene has its ups and downs. A lot of guys will either compliment me or condescend me as a way of flirting.”
At first, McNeal was hesitant to play in the duo with her partner, Dylan McCartney. “I don’t friggin’ play keys and have no musical background,” she says. But that didn’t stop her from learning; the band is currently recording new music and plays out sporadically.
Nancy Paraskevopoulos is also working on an upcoming summer release. Her Garage Pop band Blossom Hall will release a single titled “It’s Easy to Want to Die” July 17. Blossom Hall describes itself as a mix of Blondie and the White Stripes.
“We are a three-piece, but when we want we can make a pretty big sound,” Paraskevopoulos says. “Phil Cotter and I have been writing together for several years with the intention of making sounds that draw across genre. It’s kind of Garage-y in parts, it’s kind of Pop-y in parts. We have two lead singers, both me and Phil, which I think sets us apart. We work to make sure our songs are dynamic — that is, always moving, while maintaining more or less traditional structures.”
Unlike McNeal, Paraskevopoulos grew up in music. “My mother is a musician, and her mother was a composer educated at the Royal Academy of Music in London,” she says. “For me, women musicians have always just been musicians.”
After all, would you ever consider Iggy Pop or Mick Jagger “just a singer?” That’s the question Lillian Currens asked as she mused over what it means to “female front” her Punk band, Swim Team.
“I often get very self-conscious that people view me as ‘just the singer’ or that my contributions to the band are purely aesthetic, which isn’t true at all,” Currens says.
“I have to remind myself that I’m there at practice writing the songs, too,” she continues. “That I am a serious musician despite not playing an instrument in our band. And anyway, I don’t want to be a man playing music. I want to make music that’s feminine and angry and messy and sad; music that’s unique to my own experiences as an artist and as a woman.”
While Swim Team ripped open the roof at the Northside Tavern during an LP release show on June 2, local lush Punk rockers Leggy roared at the Nelsonville Music Festival in Nelsonville, Ohio on the same date.
“We are recording a full-length album at the end of the month,” Leggy’s Veronique Allaer says. “I’m very excited. It’ll be the first time we’ve recorded in almost two years.”
Leggy has been putting out banger after banger since 2014 and tours more often than not, having just completed a U.K. tour in 2016 with all-female Japanese Pop Punk band Shonen Knife.
While singer Allaer quickly croons about how kissing that special someone is “sweet like eating a peach,” Kerstin Bladh amps up the rhythm section on the bass. Rounding out the two is Chris Campbell’s manic drumming.
Freedom Nicole Moore remembers what it’s like to be a young woman and watch other female artists play music. There was a sense of admiration in seeing female musicians blossom.
“A friend, very much like a sister to me, would take me back and forth out of town to play shows when I had no money to contribute or anything,” Moore says. “And I wasn’t the easiest to be around.
“I saw this woman play music by the name of Joy Ike. She was an Indie artist who made a name for herself, wrote songs, did all her own work behind scenes, had her own sound equipment, organized her own shows and traveled city to city as a singer-songwriter.”
Moore says she was inspired by seeing Joy Ike, and knew that she too could make a name for herself.
“All of the women around me led me here and I feel obligated to give that back in the future.” ©