Roxie Watson isn’t that hot girl you dated when you were younger. Roxie Watson is Decatur’s own “alterna-grass” band that is selling out venues, playing with the likes of Amy Ray and keeping a full touring calendar this summer, including two June 9 shows at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur.
The members of Roxie Watson are veterans of Atlanta’s music scene, accomplished musicians, and oh yeah, they’re all gay. The band features Beth Wheeler on mandolin, Lenny Lasater on bass, Linda Bolley on acoustic and electric guitar, Sonia Tetlow on banjo, and Becky Shaw playing guitar, harmonica, button accordion and lap steel.
On the heels of the latest Roxie Watson release, “Of Milestones and Moon Pies,” Lenny and Sonia sat down to talk about their latest album, their diverse fan base and honoring their grandmas.
Tell me about your latest CD, “Of Milestones and Moon Pies” – I heard it was paid for in advance by the fans through Kickstarter.com. Was it something where the band sets a goal and the fans all pitch in financially to help get the project going?
Sonia: Yeah. That’s how we did it. We were a little nervous about it. We made a short video telling people what we were going to do and we gave ourselves 30 days. We sent out an e-mail and posted it on Facebook and had a great response. We got more than we asked for, actually.
Lenny: Within a few days, we were halfway funded and we met our goal with 10 days to go. We ended up being 129 percent funded. We were very successful with it. We are so grateful to our fans for them jumping in to help finance it.
You describe your music as “alterna-grass.” Why not just “bluegrass”?
Lenny: We are not a traditional bluegrass band. Folks who are traditionalist are quite offended at bands that come in calling themselves “bluegrass” but don’t stick to the rules. We use “alterna-grass” to let people know that we are not bluegrass but we have a twang and a sound and want to honor the song and song-writing. Those fit in with traditional bluegrass rules. But then we quickly move away from that because we have a lot of classic country sounds, Americana, Zydeco, Appalachia, some Celtic and then some good ole’ rock-n-roll. We have really melded a lot of genres.
Sonia: We’re a string band but we’re not a traditional bluegrass string band. The music itself and our approach to songs is also different. As long as it’s a good song and it resonates with everybody in the band, we just do our best to make things go together.
Given that you have heavy country and bluegrass undertones while having members of your band in the “non-traditional” LGBT community, it fascinates me to think of what your fan base must be like.
Sonia: It’s one of the most diverse audiences I’ve ever seen in my career. It’s beautiful because it means that we make good music which transcends everything. It doesn’t know age, race, religion, or sexual orientation. When you hear good music, you just want to dance. It speaks to you. That’s the beauty of music; it’s the universal, common language.
Lenny: Our fans identify with our songs. They like good song-writing. For the true music lover, they won’t care that it’s a lesbian singing about her lesbian lover. They are just attracted to our honesty.
We are based in Decatur where there is a lot of acceptance and diversity but as we began to move our fan base outside the perimeter, I was nervous thinking about how people would respond when they realized it was 5 women singing about women.
I can remember when we played a gig in Mableton. We had about 600 folks there. As we did the intro for my song “Built to Last,” I was thinking about editing it and changing the pronouns because I was worried what they would think. It’s a song clearly about relationships with women. I just went ahead and didn’t censor it. That night, we sold a TON of CDs. They lined up to shake hands, get autographs, and talk to us. Those folks just immediately became friends.
I learned that night that when we play to audiences that are not typically our home crowd, our music is what matters. They ultimately don’t care. Music brings us all together.
Nobody in the band is named “Roxie Watson.” Where did the name come from?
Lenny: My grandmother’s name was Roxie Johnson and Beth Wheeler, our mandolin player, her grandmother’s name was Mary Watson. We combined those names “Roxie” and “Watson” to honor our grandmothers because influential women just don’t get recognition. I just watched the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame induction and Laura Nyro was the only woman who got in.
Joan Jett was nominated but didn’t make it. Heartbreaking!
Lenny: I know! There’s just a misogynistic mentality in the music business. It’s a boys club like in so many other businesses. We weren’t trying to be political but it made sense to us to honor these two women. I am so proud that we made that decision.
If you had to speak to the people who are having trouble thinking of themselves going to one of your shows, what would you say to them?
Lenny: Step outside of your comfort zone and you may be surprised. I never hesitate to ask folks to come see us live. We have a good time and our audience has a good time. The energy really gets going and it’s a gravy bowl full of love. We hook people with our live shows!
Sonia: We’re a group that are all old friends and have played together in different capacities and in different bands in the past. We all got together to play music that we loved. It’s been five years now and through the course of that time, we went from a cover band to an original band and become even better friends and musicians. We all had different gifts and talents but our sum is better than our parts.
Who knows what will happen next but we’re sure enjoying the journey together!
Top photo: Roxie Watson doesn’t censor that they are ‘five women singing about women,’ and it hasn’t hindered their growing fan base. (Publicity photo)