It seems fair to say that a large percentage of the great indie music singer-songwriters are female. Perhaps it is because the genre is all about expressing moments which are personal and full of emotions -- that's what makes for a great singer-songwriter, the ability to really express what's in your soul. And maybe women are just plain better at that. Or maybe it just worked out that way. Who knows?
Either way, we spent quite a bit of time combing the internet and along the way amassed a huuuuuuge collection of fantastic female artists, and from that huge music collection we whittled the list down to 50. That's 50 great musicians who make up our list of Women of Indie Music. For one reason or another, each one caught the attention of one of us at nonhollywood and made us feel enough of something to go to iTunes, pay a buck, and download a song to the ipod. We hope you like at least of few of them and are inspired to do the same...
Lena Fayre has one of those voices that expresses a whole lot using a very little -- a sultry whisper speaks volumes about despair. Meanwhile, layers of sweeping synths add an epic feel to the entire business. Songs such as This World leave you with a fantastic feeling: "haunted," in the best sense of the word.
Utterly raw emotion comes right up to the surface in the songs of TORRES. Reminiscent of emotional singer-songwriters such as PJ Harvey, TORRES is the kind of artist who throws it all in your face, but in a way that you don't really mind. Confessional in nature, the songs of Sprinter feature an interesting blend which vacillates between lo-fi style electric guitar and big production. When, in the title track, the first chorus drops out to nothing but spacey broken chords and naked voice... chills.
It's not at all unusual these days for indie music artists to get significant play on TV shows, but few get to have the amount of impact on a show as Lera Lynn has had on HBO's True Detective. For a whole lot of viewers, the scenes of Lynn -- ostensibly in the background of scenes of Vince Vaughn and Collin Farrell in a dank, seedy and nearly deserted nightclub -- were the best part of the second season of that show. With her tremolo-soaked guitar and singing with a beautiful voice dripping out songs of despair, it's easy to see how she could completely steal the scene from veteran actors in a big-budget TV drama.
In Natalie Walker we have the kind of writer and performer who proves that heavily-produced music doesn't have to be cold. Though she has done quite a bit of original music, both on her own and previously as a member of Daughter Darling, it is her heart-rending cover of Counting Crows' Colorblind that I always come back to. Walker really knows how to pull the emotion to the fore, as a gentle piano and layers of beautifully arranged synths create a soundscape behind her.
Let's face it: Meiko has an impressive body of work. Featured in a ton of TV shows, her songs run the gamut from the naked guitar work to the neat and polished (such as Bad Things), from the poppy to the edgy, but what always comes through is a sincerity that really can't be matched.
It's always great when a singer-songwriter goes for something a little bit more -- a little more depth, a little more brains -- and Katie Buchanan does just that on this song. Rarely is an ontological discussion wrapped up in such poetry and beautiful melody as Buchanan does with Gold. Great lyrics such as: "I only care what I can see. I don’t attend to make believe. Head to toe to nerve ending, I breathe." Fantastic.
Sparseness can be a very powerful tool when used correctly, and on Don't Disconnect Sarah Jaffe uses it very powerfully. With only a throbbing, slow pulse of a bass synth, a few sprinkled string parts and one of the most expressive voices around, Jaffe is able to make a direct connection to your emotions in the same way that a great actor can. Powerful stuff indeed.
Amy Stroup's music has gone through many different phases, and her latest may well be her best. Moving away from the simple acoustic guitar arrangements into big, lush and complex synth stylings, Stroup has still maintained that honesty of emotion which has highlighted her music from the beginning.
When modern artists attempt old-fashioned acoustic guitar blues it often doesn't work, but when Danie Mari utters a melancholy wail on Broken Palace it most certainly does work. And the sparse little plinking piano part adds a hard-to-describe beauty to the whole piece.
I'm sorry, but even the most manly of men would have to be tempted to cry when listening to the haunted beauty of Cyra Morgan's If We Stay. This is a perfect example of allowing a tune to really breathe, as Morgan, accompanied only by a very soft and very sparse piano part, sings this end-of-relationship song in a delicate and heartbreaking whisper -- something that only the most talented of singers and confident of songwriters could pull off.
Letter from My Lonelier Self by Amber Rubarth features great wordplay (sending a message to her future self) atop a hummable little tune. Great music to listen to on a rainy afternoon with your window slightly open.
Rachel Taylor-Beales takes the whole folk/americana genre and molds it into something else: Big... Bold... Epic. It's fantastic how the song Stone's Throw begins with a lonely and solitary acoustic guitar, which is then added to, bit by bit, by other lonely parts which weave together to create something much bigger. It's beautiful.
A fine example of growth in sound, Ames (formerly known as Amy Kuney) is constantly growing and branching out, culminating in the beautiful arrangements, such as Fluid, which she has today. A perfect blend of subtle complexity and sparseness, this is the kind of music that secretly creeps into your soul -- the kind of music you find running through your head as you lie in bed at night, wondering where that song came from.
The first of the YouTube stars on this list, Kina Grannis made a name for herself with wildly popular cover videos. But on The Fire she takes charge of her own original material, producing something both unexpected and beautiful.
A fun little electric guitar tune from Ainjel Emme. One of those artists who works in several different styles, here she shows us how to do some good ol' fun time rockin'. Great tune!
A YouTube star since she was 15, Tiffany Alvord knows how to take a good tune and interpret it into something great. That skill and experience definitely shows when she tackles her own original music, as she has the ability to zero in on juuuuuuust what a song needs.
Flat-out love this song. Emmy the Great delivers not only a fantastic melody, fantastic vocals -- just fantastic everything wrapped up in a refreshingly intelligent package. The lyrics certainly count among the best around, vivid in imagery and beautiful to the ears. Love the music. Love the voice. Love the imagery of a Paper Forest. Love this song.
The piano-driven emotional music of Naama Kates (you can definitely hear the Tori in there), coupled with evocative vocals provides a surprisingly powerful punch. You've just gotta love the power and intensity that she throws into all of her tunes. Even with production-heavy songs like Airplanes that raw emotion still comes shining through in both her voice and in the bold piano playing of Naama Kates.
Jenny Mayhem is another artist who covers a whole lot of ground artistically--from the sparse and bouncy to her guest spots in EDM--she is a chameleon who seems to blend in perfectly well within whatever genre she finds herself. But arguably, her finest work is when she grabs the acoustic guitar and whips out a bouncy tune, like Wide Open.
It's taken Melissa Ferrick a bit of time to get to where she is now, but where she is now is definitely worth the wait. On Careful she shows an ability to deliver a darn-near perfect song with a perfect blend of classic folk elements married with a modern styling. This is the kind of music that you can listen to over and over and over and over...
Since discovering this song somewhere on the internet in acoustic form more than a decade ago, Simple Things has consistently been one of my top plays (been on my ipod since I've had an ipod and I would bet it has the highest play count of any song on there). This version, which is only slightly more than acoustic, shows off Julie Collings' best talents: she has a fantastic voice, a great grasp of melody and she is one hell of a guitar player. If these are the kinds of things you look for in your singer-songwriters, then you've found it. Don't let another decade go by without her on your ipod.
We've featured Nilu and the song Breakdown on these pages before, and with good reason. Fantastic piano work and intricate "chamber pop" arrangements back up the uniquely beautiful voice of Nilu -- this is the type of music that stays with you for days.
Infectious and profoundly danceable guitar music gets the addition of smart lyrics and bluesy vocals -- a fantastic combo with a great feel from Emily Kopp.
I'll admit that what first made me check out Lonna Marie was the title of her EP: The Worst Has Just Begun (just a sucker for cleverly depressing music, I guess) and was surprised by what I heard. Lonna Marie's music is a unique combination of poppy, almost happy sounding music, paired with self-effacing and somber lyrics. And the final result is magical.
It's the arrangement of the song Under Streetlights that really grabs me. Here, Brooke Anniabale takes a countryesque, acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter song and wraps it up in a haunting atmosphere. The result is music that seems to seep into your skin with an unexpected intimacy.
Unlike Lauren Zettler's earlier guitar-based singer-songwriteresqe tunes, the music that she produces under the name I Am Lightyear is marked by huge and sweeping electronic arrangements that are fairly breathtaking in their scope, and damned-near perfect examples of the genre. Certainly few do this sort of thing as well. And we were going to feature Holding Pattern for that reason, but then discovered the acoustic piano version and were so blown away that... well...
There is a certain atmosphere that pervades this music -- the combination of soft piano and tasteful synth layers wraps you up and holds you with an intimacy that is both surprising and delicate. Anna Chase delivers.
Another artist who has covered a lot of artistic ground, Clara C always manages to come across in an accessible and exciting manner. The album Organika finds her in an acoustic frame of mind and the gently rolling melodies and her soft voice make it really, really work.
Once upon a time I just stumbled upon Frankie & Rufus' live video at Kulak's Woodshed (as an aside, if any of your favorites ever perform at Kulak's in L.A., YOU MUST GO, as Paul Kulak gets an amazing sound out of pretty much every artist who plays there) and I immediately fell in love with Frances Guerra's voice. And on top of her great voice, she's a great guitarist. Not great in the way that guitar virtuosos are great, but great in the way that Kurt Cobain was great -- she is the type of performer who gets all of her emotion into both her voice and her guitar playing. Silhouettes is a song which illustrates that relationship perfectly, and the repeated tempo changes are unique and intriguing.
Nice piano-based music reminiscent of the pioneering female singer-songwriters of the 70s, Shannon Hurley knows how to combine a fantastic melody, full piano and a strikingly beautiful voice into one amazing package.
To be honest, I don't usually go for girlie-girl type vocals, but there is something about Rebecca Perl's voice that really draws me in. In songs like You Still Know Me Best she manages to bring a full range of emotions in just a few verses. It's singer-songwriter with the emphasis on songwriter... and on singer. It's great.
Anyone who has ever lived in the "City of Angels" can certainly understand the sentiment behind Dear Los Angeles, and the tune has the perfect feel of the lonliness of a giant city. With this (and many of her other tunes), Sam Behymer utilizes great lyrics, a unique depth of emotion and a lonely, haunted voice to achieve an effect that is truly magical.
We already featured Lauren Zettler before. Well, sort of. Her older songs, really do sound like a different person, so it's understandable why she now goes by a different moniker. But either way, she's great. I Don't Blame You is a fantastic example of the singer-songwriter genre, casting that person as the narrator who makes a personal statement arranged in a manner which highlights, rather than takes away from the central figure of the singer-songwriter.
Bluesy, jazzy, poppy and bouncy, the music of Melissa Polinar can be summed up in one simple word: infectious.
Love a good story song, when it's a good story. And a good song. 1974 is one of Alexa Wilkinson's older tunes, but it is definitely a good one. Alexa manages to paint a great portrait with her words, expressing all sorts of things with just a few twists of phrases.
This is what singer-songwriter music should be. Emily Wryn manages to take a simple tune and make it feel like an important and personal statement. If you really sit and listen to Thunder you really get it. Emily has what it takes to draw you in and keep you there.
With Forever and Always, Jetty Rae creates bouncy piano music that just makes you want to sing along. Don't you just want to sing along? I want to sing along.
I'll admit that what made me first listen to this tune was the cover image -- Zoe Sky Jordan is covering her forehead and squinting into the sun while the photographer's shadow falls over her in a way no professional would allow happen-- and I thought that a woman who would use that as her cover image is either very quirky or very confident. Turns out that In Another Lifetime is an amazing tune, full of emotion and power ... just soaked in emotion. I love it. So I can only assume that it was confidence that made her pick that photo.
I love the depth of emotion that you can hear -- no, that you can feel in the voice of Emilia Glaser. Embers is a perfect combination of piano, guitar and vocal emotion. Love it.
A whole lotta emotion in the music of Merry Ellen Kirk. The simple piano and strings arrangement is the perfect backdrop for some fantastic vocal work.
Fantastic emotion wrenched out of piano-based music. Holley Maher proves herself agile with both a spartan piano part and a multi-layered arrangement -- she can do both without losing the emotion behind it all. Quite a trick indeed.
Cariad Harmon is another artist who we have featured here before on nonhollywood. Even before I knew what this song was about, I was impressed by the way that it made me feel. This tune has a whole lotta plays on the ol' iPod and I certainly don't get tired of it. Ever.
Lovely. Spartan. Beautiful. That's the music that we get from Kat Quinn. It takes a confident songwriter to put herself out there so emotionally naked, and the effect is fantastic and mesmerizing.
These days, so many singer-songwriters have gone toward dark, synthy tunes (which I love) that it made me wonder where the Michelle Branches of the world had gone. Well, right here. Ashley Leone manages to craft fantastic little bouncy flows of acoustic-guitar based music here. Makes you feel. Makes you tap your feet. It works.
Marie Hines is a singer-songwriter who excels at both halves of that hyphenate. What a voice. And great songs for it to sing. That's what it's all about.
I realize that Unlike Me is one of Kate Havnevik's older tunes, but damn I love this one. Kate combines some fantastic orchestral-esque arrangements with heartfelt lyrics, vocal passion and an incredible depth of feeling. For my money this is pretty near perfect music.
You'll notice that there's not a lot of "pop" music on this list. But here's one. On Who We Are Sonali does pop music in a way that can be appreciated by non-pop-music fans -- not just a catchy tune and a lovely voice, but quite a bit more.
Love the guitar intro on Deborah Falconer's Lift Your Gaze, and I also love what follows. Deborah is one of those singer/songwriters who really knows how to tell a compelling story within the framework of a musical composition. I love this tune.
I'm always drawn in by low whispery vocals. Hannah Gill has that type of low, breathy and incredibly expressive voice that just draws you in... and keeps you there. What a voice. What a voice. What a voice!
Another tune that I was drawn to simply by the intriguing title, then found out that I really liked it. Jenni Reid has a firm grasp on the concept of a catchy tune, and Cynics in Love proves that amply.
Song previews provided courtesy of iTunes.