“It’s like sitting down to eat dinner, and you don’t realize that you haven't eaten all day, but you’re starving. And you don’t even know until you sit down and the food’s about to come and all of a sudden you’re famished and you cannot wait for dinner to get there fast enough,” says Anna Bulbrook, founder of Los Angeles–based female-focused collective Girlschool and self-proclaimed queen of analogies. “I feel like that has been my experience of having a community of women, and once we” — she nods at co-organizer Jasmine Lywen-Dill — “started working on it and started tending to this little community and inviting people to join, it’s been incredible. I think this past year has simultaneously been the hardest and best year of my life.”
It’s a cold and gloomy December day, and also Bulbrook’s birthday. She starts to tell me about how this time of year is always very reflective for her, then quickly jumps into describing several exciting semi-obligations she has for the evening.
Bulbrook is the kind of person who would be incredibly intimidating to anyone who didn’t know better. Her list of accolades is impressive: a classically trained violinist from the time she was 4 years old until she graduated from Columbia University at 21, at which point she moved to Los Angeles, joined The Airborne Toxic Event and toured with them around the world for 10 years. Throughout her time in TATE, she felt the absence of other women on the alternative-rock circuit. (At a few stops along the way, she also performed with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. “Last time we played together at the Hollywood Bowl,” she says. “That’s bucket-list stuff.”)
She also fronts a shoegaze outfit, The Bulls, whose residency at the Satellite was ultimately what led her to found Girlschool. Rather than simply throwing a bunch of shoegaze bands together, Bulbrook opted to make The Bulls' residency female-fronted. Now the Girlschool concept has grown into a three-day festival, whose second annual incarnation, Jan. 27-29 at the Bootleg, is stacked with a killer lineup featuring Chelsea Wolfe, Bleached, The Bird and the Bee and Deap Vally, as well as what she lovingly calls “girl by girl-west” programming — panels and discussions led by women who have successfully navigated the music industry. The festival kicks off Friday night with a live onstage interview between the legendary Shirley Manson and journalist (and L.A. Weekly contributor) Eve Barlow.
When asked if she thought as a 4-year-old violinist that one day she’d be throwing art parties at Columbia and touring the world — by 23, no less — Bulbrook laughs. “I would say I had a much less intentional path.” Today, she's a leader in one of Los Angeles’ most inspiring communities. “Now I’m 34 and I’m starting over again,” she says. “I guess reinvention happens every decade or so.”
Bulbrook compares Girlschool to a pirate ship, “the coolest pirate ship that ever happened. A pirate ship with a recording studio inside. … I’m imagining a really cool-looking group of sailor women right now." Also at the helm of the ship is her “first mate,” Jasmine Lywen-Dill.
Bulbrook and Lywen-Dill crossed paths when Bulbrook toured with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. At the time, Lywen-Dill worked for the management company that represented Edward Sharpe; months later, when Bulbrook’s first thoughts of Girlschool began to brew, Lywen-Dill hopped on board. “We realized there was this void that so many women, including us, needed to [have] filled in some certain way, whether that was women connecting with each other, women learning from each other or supporting each other,” says Lywen-Dill. “It just felt like as soon as we saw all those women onstage, it was like, 'Ah!'
“It’s pretty amazing that women in all different areas of music don’t feel like their voices are as heard as they should be, or that there aren't that many women around them,” Lywen-Dill continues. “Last year just inspired me to really get to know my community. … I didn't realize how much I was missing that.”
Since the inaugural Girlschool festival in January 2016, the collective has collaborated with the likes of Fender Guitars, Red Bull Sound Select, the L.A. Cultural Affairs Department and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls for a video series (“Girlschool x Spotlight”) of interviews with artists including Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches and Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast, as well as an article series celebrating vastly talented — and underrated — women musicians and artists throughout history.
As they did last year, Bulbrook and Lywen-Dill will donate a portion of Girlschool proceeds to the Rock n' Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles. They also have partnered with a league of organizations — including SoundGirls.org, which helps provide a network for women working in the audio industry, and Ruidosa, a Latin American feminist platform and festival — to present two afternoons of workshops, discussions and panels.
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Francisca Valenzuela, an organizer for Ruidosa (as well as a co-founder of the Play Like a Girl music series and solo artist), describes what can be expected of her panel, “Heroina Latina: A Conversation With Mujeres Shaping Culture Today”: “The Ruidosa panel is bringing more women — to a jam-packed lineup of rad women! — that participate and navigate the bilingual-bicultural world from a Latin American reality and identity in the Northern Hemisphere,” she says. “They are all professionals who have customized and curated their own careers as they see fit. They are references — they are raising their voices — as artists, thinkers, as women and women in music, but [also] as Latinas, feministas and proud.”
Though Girlschool has grown rapidly since Bulbrook and Lywen-Dill first hopped on their cool pirate ship, it is still very much a grassroots operation. “We’re still scrappy,” Bulbrook says. “And we’re really grateful to everyone else who’s willing to be scrappy,” adds Lywen-Dill, noting how invaluable their team of artists and volunteers has been.
They've got big plans ahead — a podcast series, a record label, more partnerships and collaborative projects. But for now, Lywen-Dill says, “We just want the festival to be the absolute best festival it can be.”
Girlschool 2017 takes place Jan. 27-29 at the Bootleg Theater. Tickets and more info.