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Song-Telling Tuesday: The UkuLadies and the Music of Empowerment

Photo by Billijean Larson

“A song is like a baby and giving up some of that is hard. The more we did it, and listened to each other, the easier it got. We gained a lot of trust with each other in writing songs together.” ~The UkuLadies

Songwriting

Grace McCrady and Gigi Amal recently came away from a month-long residency at the 331 Club where some important developments transpired. What started at the beginning as a collaboration with other artists changed each week and become more focused on them. They learned how to engage the audience more, flesh out their catalog of music, and play longer sets. By the end of the month, the audience was filled with people mainly there for their set. It was a fulfilling moment and one that a young band can use to springboard forward.

The UkuLadies were created with a simple trip to Guitar Center in 2015. Gigi was there with a friend and heard someone playing a ukulele. A day later with her new purchase, she was over at Grace’s house, strumming. Grace started to hum along. The two paused and looked at each other. “You Sing!?” they both exclaimed. Grace purchased one the next day and a band was formed.

Grace shares that they quickly realized a weird thing would happen with their voices. “If we sing on our own, it sounds like ourselves. But when singing together, we mesh so well that sometimes we get lost on who’s singing which part.” This always leads to people asking if they are sisters. Spoiler alert, they’re not. They describe the chemistry as vocal doppelgangers.

Photo by Gina Gaetz

Songwriting for them started by creating mashups of songs. By picking songs based on chord progressions they enjoyed, it was a progression of learning and reinventing melodies. In the past, Grace had a tendency to be very literal in her lyrical storytelling. When collaborating together, Gigi added the ability to be more metaphoric and conceptual. It inspired them to think about the lyrics in a different way. They also learned that they don’t have to have the same experience to write a song together. One can start it with a lyric or melody that is stuck in their head, and the other can expand on it. A story can be built together on that core theme that resonates with them.

Gigi shares that song ideas start off as a seed and usually grow from a personal place. Grace adds that “ideally, songs are universal” and writing with that feeling and intent is important. For them, collaboration happens by sending clips back and forth, taking each others’ opinions, and respecting the perspective each of them brings.

Bad Woman

When writing “Bad Woman,” Grace and Gigi literally sat down and decided on the concept. They envisioned what it meant to be a bad woman. What kind of things would people say about her? How could they tell this story about taking back a term and seeing something from a different perspective? The concept was to approach it as two people gossiping about this woman. Then shift the negativity in the realization that maybe she’s not all that bad. Verse one starts with that negative view.

“Such a bossy lady, and have you noticed lately

She’s got her head in the clouds, we should bring her back down.”

The UkuLadies share that we’re living in a time where women are ostracized for having an opinion, speaking their mind, or even being career driven. The #MeToo movement started stemming emotions from them and opened their eyes to how drastically different men and women are treated. Their perspectives have changed as well. Anything that is actually positive for a woman can be spun in a negative way. Having her ‘head in the clouds’ could mean she’s just reaching for her goals. She’s a ‘bossy lady’ maybe means she just knows what she wants. The chorus begins to shift that lens.

“Cause she’s a bad women, but home-girl knows what she’s doing

Lift the veil from the eyes of the hypnotized

And she knows that maybe, the world thinks she’s crazy

They say she’s unrefined because she speaks her mind.”

The ‘hypnotized’ in the lyrics refers to the world, and the proverbial ‘veil’ has been lifted by the #MeToo movement. Grace shares that in some ways women have added to the problem. “The way women hold back, or won’t state their opinion,” allows the issues to continue and be swept under the rug. She hopes this song and message of empowerment helps to lift the veil of women’s own perception by speaking up and having a fearless voice.

“She won’t apologize cause fearless girls don’t hide

And she’ll persevere to shift the atmosphere

And to change the world for the future bad girls.”

The song exemplifies a message of taking ownership of bad terms through empowerment. Grace and Gigi hope this resonates with young women. Families and society have trained girls to be a certain way and fulfill traditional roles. But social media is playing a huge part in exposing these issues. We’ve seen more exposure to this in the past few years with more role models that have begun speaking up.

“You’re looking at a bad woman”

Only Hunter

“Only Hunter” was written around the idea of flipping the scope on pursuits. The UkuLadies explain that, traditionally, men approach and “hunt” the women. In that system, women oftentimes are left wondering if that person actually cares about them. Are they really trying to establish something real, or are they just playing a game?

“I can see the way you look at me, you got a hunger inside those eyes

Makes me wonder why you think of me, am I a face or am I a prize”

The chorus clues in the listener to something Grace describes as a “creepy secret.” The gentleman in this story needs to watch out, since he’s the one being lured in. The women is sick and tired of being courted and treated like an object and a prize. The secret is that she’s well aware of the situation and fully in control.

“You think that you’re the only hunter, but you should realize I’m a dangerous lover

You think you know how to catch me, but my trap is set and I won’t let you run free”

The song is a playful, sly little game that reminds Gigi of “Conquest” by The White Stripes. It’s designed to flip the script and show that women are strong enough to make their own decisions. There are no cookie cutter roles, and chivalry doesn’t have to be male-dominated. Women can feel confident to go for what they want, even if it means they have a trick up their sleeve.

Photo by Gina Gaetz

Song Production

Recording for The UkuLadies has had some challenges and continues to be a work in progress. Previous endeavors into the recording studio came up fruitless as the studio didn’t release their work, even after full payment. For many young artists, the industry can be filled with predators looking to take advantage.

It has led Gigi and Grace to self-record with the software GarageBand. They’ve learned how to utilize one microphone and self balance their volumes during recording. Gigi also designed a Tupperware structure, lined with blankets, to help cut back on background noise. The DIY spirit encourages creativity. They’ve learned how to perform better due to having limited options for fixing a mistake.

Photo by Billijean Larson

It reminds me of what recording used to be back before computers. With fewer options and distractions, artists were focused on the performance. Limitations meant higher expectations. The UkuLadies continue to push forward in their music production and getting their music and stories out.

You can catch Gigi and Grace throughout the summer in the Twin Cities. They play multiple shows at the Twin Cities Distillery, July 18th and August 15th. You can also hear them at Common Grounds Yoga and Music Festival on July 20th. 

Author: Smouse

Written by Smouse

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