When was the last time you had a conversation with anyone where you openly asked if you could pay them to leave? Or, in a non-inebriated state, discussed the various names for men’s and women’s genitalia? Or discussed with any other person, who you weren’t paying to be your therapist, the time when you were touched by an uncle?
Surprisingly enough, in the world of the band, The Eager Beavers, you would soon come to understand such taboo subject matter makes for engaging songs. Their style is much like The Andrew Sisters, strong vocal harmonies in a swing style but shockingly peppered with a Gilda Radner and Sarah Silverman flair. Granted, with a name like The Eager Beavers, one has to assume this isn’t your run-of-the-mill girl band. These four very talented women met early in 2011 as a vaudevillian-type ensemble and are capitalizing upon their unique experiences as women, which provides for humorous songs, engaging performances and their special style of truth-telling.
This quartet consists of four very different women who thrive on sharing their “truths” on what being a woman means. On vocals, guitar and ukulele is Jamie Jameson. Ali Losik also on vocals, keyboard and upright bass. Jonna Threlkeld on vocals, saxophone, clarinet and banjo and Cindy Ingram on washboard and ukulele.
Jameson tells me, “All we can do is laugh at the strangeness of the world. We aren’t trying to make a statement, but life is ironic. You can’t take life too seriously.”
Losik adds, “We’re not trying to make a statement. We’re telling truth as we know it.”
While Ingram adds, “I love the controversial nature of our music. As a feminist I feel it’s an act of reclamation of the right to be strong, sexy, defiant, to speak of things that women are not supposed to talk about.”
Threlkeld explains how the band got its start and how their name came about. “The four of us first got together in February 2011. Jamie and Ali had played in the Whiskey Spots together for years and knew Cindy from her music promotion around town. Cindy met me at an open mic and got us all together. We met at Jamie’s place and I don’t think a single one of us knew what to expect. We didn’t know what we were going to do or try to sound like, but we knew that we loved the idea of an all girls group and began learning quickly that we all had something great and different to bring to the table. After a couple of hours, we all got up to leave our first session. Jamie proposed the band name ‘The Eager Beavers.’ We all died laughing and that was that.”
Songwriter and keyboard player, Losik moved to Eugene in 2002 to attend grad school at the U of O after graduating college in Wisconsin. When she was seven years old, she got a little keyboard for Christmas. She remembers, “After learning how to play all the songs I knew, my parents decided it was time for piano lessons.” For Losik, growing up, the hardest thing for her to overcome was Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and its restrictive effects.
“My right hand often just goes numb” she explains. With two degrees in music she started performing in Eugene when she first arrived. “I played and sang in my own jazz combo. But, at the time, no one really liked jazz, so I started seeking out a lower-brow crowd. I had joined Jamie in the band, The Whiskey Spots, and after everyone else flaked out, we had Cindy and Jonna play with us. I still do solo, straight-up jazz shows if I ever have a free weekend.”
One of the two songwriters in the band, Losik explains how she gets inspired to write a song. “Once I have an idea I can dig, the rest just spews out like unstoppable vomit. The best tunes, I find, I process for a while, then write everything down. The song Touched By an Uncle had been percolating for some time. Another song I wrote called My Pretty Little Pussy, a song about my cat, percolated for about a week, and then I wrote it in an afternoon. I usually write the words first and then the chords and melody. But sometimes, like in the case of Squirt Alert, everything came together at once. That one I wrote while I was camping, and sang it to my husband all night. He wanted to kill me,” Losik laughs.
Threlkeld’s interest in music began in the 5th grade when she got the Wizard of Oz soundtrack as a birthday present. “I memorized the entire thing in a week. Then came The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkle, The Temptations, and Mama Cass. I love clarity in music. I love music that lets you really hear every part and makes you want to move, or feel something you couldn’t have felt on your own,” she says. “I have been in some sort of band, mostly school ensembles, since I was in fourth grade when I started playing saxophone. I sang alone in front of people for the first time 8 months ago. It went way better than I expected. I met Cindy that night, and soon after, she introduced me to the other girls.”
I asked Threlkeld what kind of message she feels she’s sending to others when she performs. She tells me, “I tend to think a lot about what kind of message I’m sending when I perform. When you dance around on stage singing about…what makes the best lubricant, it’s hard to predict if your songs are ultimately going to help open up conversation about sex in a fun and healthy way, or if you just made the world a little bit dirtier.”
Ingram, washboard extraordinaire, became interested in music in a more indirect fashion. “My ex ‘baby daddy’ is a musician. I spent a good eleven years supporting him in his music. We were facing the possibility of divorce, so in an effort to find something we could do together, I started booking shows for his band, SILAS. I learned quickly that I had a knack for booking shows, marketing and general promotion. I then started booking other bands, managing acts and such. A few months later Steve and I broke up, the band broke up and I quit my job as a bureaucrat for the exciting challenge of being a full-time, self-employed music promoter. I ran my own business, Cindy Ingram Booking & Promotions, for almost six years, which included managing large festivals, creating events such as GRRRLZ Rock, Eugene Chosen, Kidz Rock and eventually managing the WOW Hall. About three years ago I went into the garage and banged on my son’s drums for the first time while listening to AC/DC. I liked being loud. A few months later I was in my first band, Chesapeake Blue. I did that for a while and then decided that I wanted to play the washboard. Months later I joined the bluegrass band, The Whiskey Chasers. Then seven months ago I also joined this band,” she explains.
For Ingram the hardest thing to overcome has been “isms” such as classism, sexism, etc. all of which fueled her passion for the underdog. She tells me, “I am a first generation college grad and am driven to help other single moms deal with barriers to self-sufficiency and safety. I am also a survivor of sexual assault. I can’t overcome the challenge of being a women in a male dominated society, but I sure can make the most of it by embracing female positive environments, and having a good sense of humor about it.”
The band’s other songwriter, Jameson chimes in, “In high school I dated a drummer for 5 years. He was always playing in different bands. Later, my husband played bass. When we were splitting up his band left for a two month tour. The guitar player left his acoustic guitar at the house. After a lot of persistence I picked it up, learning from various friends and books. I then enrolled in Lane Community College to learn the basics of music, but ended up staying a few years majoring in jazz guitar. That is what definitely made it possible to write music in my favorite style of music which is 20’s to 40’s swing. I then started a band called The Whiskey Spots that I played in, and wrote songs for which lasted about six years.”
For Jameson, inspiration comes in many different forms, “I end up hearing a funny, yet wrong joke, I work in a bar, so I hear a few. For the song Yer Mom I asked everyone I saw and texted everyone I knew to find out what their favorite names for genitalia were. Urban Dictionary also has very valuable information. Or you can follow what Charlie Sheen says. Ha Ha!”
With regards to the process of songwriting itself she explains, “Some songs are written immediately, but some take months. Or you hear a chord progression and know what fits where. I like to insert funny jokes I’ve heard into everything, especially songs. Everyone in this style performs covers true to form of this time period. We still believe in the fact that lyrics mean something and identify with people. I guess in our case, we like to make people laugh in a South Park or Family Guy way.”
Two weeks ago the gals started laying down tracks at Fusion Bomb Studios for their debut CD scheduled for release in January 2012. Not only do the girls have material for this CD (11 songs), but they are well on their way with material for their sophomore effort. Given the wide array of subject matter this band has in their songs its hard to believe that the girls draw a line when it comes to some subjects.
“Animal abuse is something we will never write about. We will never write any kind of song that promotes racism either” Losik says. However, such explosive topics as rape, abortion, and domestic violence apparently are fair game.
In much of the same context as the Vagina Monologues, and despite their initial denial, The Eager Beavers are making a statement with their music. Ingram concedes, “We utilize powerful tools such as gallows humor and sarcasm to fight the barriers faced by the average female. We are a bit funny, shocking, sexy and darn musically talented.”
Threlked adds, “All four of us are very strong sensitive women. Most women can relate to being taken advantage of by a man, or another human being. We have just found a way to deal with it through funny songs and not being too serious.”
Even though the gals enjoy being on stage performing, being an Eager Beaver comes with a price. How would you explain to YOUR parents you’re in a band whose material is of a taboo sexual nature? For at least two members of the band, relationships with parents have been strained. Not to mention the fall-out from their male fans thinking that these beautiful women have any intention or desires for them. “My husband loves the fact I’m in the band and hates it at the same time,” says Losik.
But there are both artistic and emotional rewards for artistic integrity. Threlkeld explains, “After a show we are met with so many smiles and kudos for what we are doing. I think in general, people really like and appreciate us bringing to the table, in a light-hearted way, topics that never get discussed but that so many people go through.”
Ingrid adds, “Recently I met some young women who told me they were inspired by me and one of them purchased a washboard. I am just proud when I can stop thinking and just play without fear. This is when I am my best.”
Jameson responds, “I think when people enjoy what we are doing I feel happy to be doing what I’m doing.”
To help ensure people enjoy what The Eager Beavers are doing and recognizing they are controversial in their subject matter, the band actually reads a disclaimer during their set. Much like the controversy of physical exposure, these women emotionally avail themselves to the naked and raw sentiment of their femininity and write about it in songs that are memorable. Their three-part vocal harmonies provide a sharp contrast to the lyrical content, and are powerfully evocative and tight. Their style is undeniably unique.
Fans who enjoy the Andrews Sisters song, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, or Ella Fitzgerald’s Ain’t Misbehavin’, would enjoy the musicianship of this band. And for those fans with a penchant for sexually perverse, bawdy humor bordering on the disturbing, all the better. Either way, these ladies are having a ball and are not ashamed.
Threlkeld sums up the band’s esprit de corps simply, “Being in The Eager Beavers has been amazing. The lyrics are so fun and the song concepts so meaningful, yet light-heartedly conveyed. We’re just having fun being women and musicians.”