Why there’s more to being a female lead singer than an ice-cold demeanour.
Photo by Callum Spicer
A just got-out-of-bed tousle-haired look, a lively stage presence that oozes confidence and a voice like fingernails across glass, you just wouldn’t mess with Fawner’s lead singer, Courteney Yeoell. But as Bristol’s answer to Debbie Harry reveals, such confidence only comes from a lot of hard work, research and a constant struggle to overcome nerves.
How did you get into music?
“My family were always listening to lots of different kinds of music and my Mum was a singer in a band when she was younger. I was in choirs and had classical music training from age 13-17 but, being a teenager, I rebelled against that. I wanted something heavier, something to push myself. That got me into rock. In term of Fawner it was Conor (guitarist) who initially got us together via Facebook. He put that he had been listening to a lot of bands with a female vocalist like Marmozets and was anyone interested. Even though I hadn’t had much music experience singing rock, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.”
Before lockdown where were you playing?
“Actually, two of our best gigs. We were at the Louisiana in Bristol; such an iconic venue where we had seen loads of bands we admired. Then we played the Sunflower Lounge in Birmingham. It was a charity gig in aid of women dealing with domestic abuse. It was out of our traditional territory but the audience was absolutely great.”
“I felt like my heart was in my throat. I walked out on stage and opened my mouth to speak and nothing came out!”
When you are confronted by hundreds of people in front of you what goes through your mind?
“I get very nervous. For that gig at the Sunflower Lounge initially I felt like my heart was in my throat. I walked out on stage and opened my mouth to speak and nothing came out! But then I looked at the audience and they seemed so genuinely interested and excited for what was going to happen. Then the song started and I just thought, 'Come on, that’s why I’m here!'”
Do you have particular role models you’ve followed?
“Many of my rock role models were male so I didn’t really know how I would fit in as a woman. I’ve never been either particularly feminine or a tomboy but I wanted to show both sides on stage. It took me a while to do that because at first I didn’t feel completely comfortable and I would wear really baggy clothes. I don’t think I did this consciously, but I didn’t want to highlight the fact I was female. Now I feel happy dressing and behaving how I want; sometimes throwing myself around on-stage, other times just being still, waiting to command the room, being a vulnerable female.
“In terms of women singers as role models my favourites are the Nova Twins. A huge inspiration; powerful girls who are not going to apologise for anything. It’s that kind of confidence people can look up to.”
“... it’s not the same for men as they have a lot more rock role models to follow. Its easier to feel confident in a genre that is dominated by your own gender.”
So is confidence a big thing?
“It’s about believing in yourself and being confident. People often get confidence confused with being cocky, but it’s not the same. So stay humble but believe in yourself and draw your confidence from that. For example, I don’t think I’m great but I have learnt what I’m good at. I would say it’s not the same for men as they have a lot more rock role models to follow. It’s easier to feel confident in a genre that is dominated by your own gender. So male rock singers don’t have the same issue with confidence because their role is just assumed.”
Is this what you think stops there being more women in rock?
“Well obviously, I feel confidence comes into it a lot. This is especially true when it comes to music technology. For a girl even publicly plugging in a guitar can seem intimidating. It should be simple but there doesn’t seem to be enough encouragement in schools. Girls are encouraged towards piano and acoustic guitar and are then often put off by seeing boys doing the more tech courses and subjects.”
Finally, any tips for girls wanting to be rock stars?
“Don’t worry about being nervous. Being nervous is a good thing. It triggers your body to create adrenaline and give you the energy to really perform. But I know it can be a battle as I spent a long time trying to get rid of my nerves. Eventually, I got to a point where at least I was calm but I didn’t know how to move. So I looked calm and collected but I also looked like someone who didn’t want to be there, which obviously wasn’t right.
“Although it’s a cliché, I gradually learnt it’s not about killing off your nerves but learning how to use them. For example, it can be easy to feel embarrassed on stage and aware of the audience but I've found the best way to take control is do the opposite of what your head is telling you, be purposefully embarrassing or unapologetically unique. Then you're encouraging people to laugh with you and have a good time. After all, who has ever decided they didn’t like a band/act because they were fun and didn't take themselves too seriously?”