Drummers, trumpet players, guitar heroines – the current class of women in rock go far beyond the traditional sexy lead singer role, although there are a few of those, too. With the advent of 2013, we find that females continue to play an increasingly influential role on the perpetual evolution of rock, as songwriters, instrumentalists and even hired-gun session players.
Continuing in the legacy of such pioneering female rockers as Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads), Kim Deal (Pixies/Breeders) and Chrissie Hynde (the Pretenders), here are rock’s new generation of leading ladies for 2013.
Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine) – The UK belter with an impossibly powerful voice has had a tremendous impact on the music world since the release of Lungs, the debut album from her band Florence and the Machine in 2009. The act’s sophomore album, 2011 release Ceremonials, earned Welch and her cohorts two GRAMMY nominations for 2013, Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Duo/Group performance for album track “Shake It Out.” Welch is also a big collaborator, recording hits like “Sweet Nothing” with dance producer Calvin Harris and even being invited to perform live onstage with the Rolling Stones at London’s 02 Arena during the band’s brief 50th anniversary tour in 2012.
Alexis Krauss (Sleigh Bells) – the comely lead singer for the NY noise-rock duo Sleigh Bells is becoming as well known for her dynamic fashion sense as her vocal shrieks and commanding stage presence. While the band’s brash and bombastic sound continues to generate new fans (most recently on the band’s second album, Reign of Terror), Krauss’ style moves have earned her a gig modeling for New York fashion line Obesity & Speed and a very high-profile spot in the “Celebrate Your Extraordinary” 2012 holiday ad campaign for cosmetics giant Sephora alongside actresses like Parker Posey and LeLee Sobieski.
Neyla Pekarek (the Lumineers) – One of the main reasons camp fire songs and other folksy aesthetics have taken over the rock world is this outfit out of Boulder, CO. Singer, cello player and pianist Neyla Pekarek brings considerable instrumental and vocal prowess to the band’s heavily acoustic, feel-good songs (like hit single “Ho Hey”). She also has a wicked sense of humor, as evidenced by an interview with the blog SYFFAL, where she stated: “If we can’t get a man to take off his pants in a public place, we haven’t done our job.”
Hannah Hooper (Grouplove) – Hooper had received her BFA from Parsons School of Design in New York when she invited musician Christian Zucconi to Greece to be part of an artist residency in Greece, where Grouplove famously came together before moving to L.A. to start the band, going on to break out with the smash “Tongue Tied.” The vocalist and keyboard player is also an accomplished painter and creates the art for the band’s merchandise, Hooper is also responsible for the painting of John F. Kennedy that graced the original cover of the band’s debut EP before legal issues forced the band to replace it with a different image.
Alice Katz (Youngblood Hawke) – When musician Simon Katz started recording new songs after the dissolution of his band Iglu & Hartley, he didn’t to look any further than his wife Alice when he needed harmonies and backing vocals. They loved the songs so much that they assembled some friends to start Youngblood Hawke, titling the band after the Herman Wouk book of the same name. The couple recently displayed their charitable side by quietly spending Christmas Day 2012 helping feed those in need with the Los Angeles Mission at their annual event on Skid Row.
Carah Faye Charnow (Shiny Toy Guns) – After spending a couple of years away working on another project (the band Versant), the comely Charnow (who is proudly straight edge and eschews all alcohol and drugs) has rejoined the electro synth-rockers Shiny Toy Guns for their latest album, III. The time away seems to have served Charnow and the band well, with the new album’s expansive sound resulting in sparkling songs like the stand-out single, “Fading Listening.”
Emily Armstrong & Siouxsie Medley (Dead Sara) –These fierce females of the high-octane L.A. band crank it up to 11 and churn out wild and whip-smart hard rock, marked by the stunning vocal prowess of Armstrong. The band has made enough positive noise with breakout single “Weatherman” (found on their self-titled full-length debut) to attract UK rock heroes Muse, who hand-picked Dead Sara to serve as their opening act on the band’s current U.S. tour.
Elaine Bradley (Neon Trees) – the drummer for breakout alternative band Neon Trees, Elaine Bradley is a practicing and very devout Mormon who avoids all drink and drugs, is happily married and recently gave birth to her first son, Bryce Alden, at her Utah residence with the help of a midwife. “It was great birthing at home because we get to stay here with our new boy, and he never had to be whisked away after the birth,” Bradley told US Weekly. Neon Trees rang in 2013 with a performance on the annual Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve show, where Bradley had the distinction of getting her first New Year’s hug from none less than MC Hammer.
Kim Schifino (Matt & Kim) – This outrageously cute and deceptively lethal dance-punk duo (and romantic couple) is all about having fun and being fearless, personified in upbeat and feel-good songs like the hit “Let’s Go” on their most recent LP, Lightning. Shifino was even brave enough to strip naked with her man in the middle of Times Square for the band’s notorious “Lessons Learned” music video. When she’s not playing drums, keyboards and singing all at the same time, Schifino is an exercise fiend, explaining how she reminds herself that “my butt isn’t big enough” as motivation. Did we mention that she’s funny, too?
Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (Of Monsters and Men) – Winning a battle of the bands competition in their home country of Iceland, this rollicking collective brings an element of campfire songs to their emotional folk-rock tunes, like the breakthrough hit “Little Talks” from their debut LP, My Head Is an Animal. Hilmarsdóttir’s sweetly delicate vocals are the ideal harmonious foil for the band’s co-lead singer, Ragnar Þórhallsson. The band’s rapidly growing American audience made Of Monsters and Men’s first U.S. tour a sell-out, with fans also showing much love for the band’s female touring trumpet player, Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir.
Haim – The buzz on this emerging trio of sisters out of L.A. is loud enough to reach the shores of England, where the heavily folk-influenced pop-rockers were picked by the BBC to top their “Sound of 2013” list of bands to watch over the upcoming year. On American shores, rocker Ryan Adams has already hosted them at his Pax Am studio for recording sessions. Having already toured the UK and Ireland with Florence and the Machine, there’s a very good chance Haim will be all over your radar (and radio dial) in the near future.
Morgan Kibby (M83) – While M83 is primarily the brainchild of French musician Anthony Gonzalez, L.A.-based singer and keyboard player Morgan Kibby has become an integral part of the band’s dreamy, ‘80s-influenced sound (like song “Midnight City”) both live and in the studio. Onstage, Kibby’s ethereal presence and angelic vocals have made her an instant fan favorite. Kibby also has an appropriately spectral side project called White Sea, and she’s become quite the accomplished remixer, taking on tracks by the likes of Active Child, Manchester Orchestra and even Britney Spears.
Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes) – Akin to a modern-day Bonnie Raitt, Howard can burn up a guitar and ignite a microphone with genuine, down-home blues-rock like nobody’s business. Having conquered the critics and a slew of marque music festivals including Outside Lands in San Francisco, Alabama Shakes have hit the airwaves with the emotional lament “Hold On” (found on their debut album, Boys & Girls) which even had a visibly impressed David Letterman singing their praises after the band’s first performance on his late-night talk show.
–Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local