Rosie & The Riveters
The Fierce Foursome
by Rebecca Windjack
March 1, 2016
Rosie & the Riveters, a fierce foursome from Saskatoon, have been mixing up a variety of ingredients to create something sweet, exciting, and visually striking.
It all started with an idea, motivated by passion, hard work, and the determination to conduct a successful business in the arts.
As an established musician and business entrepreneur, singer-songwriter Farideh sought a new project to collaborate with like-minded women, further explore her love of African American spirituals, and create another income stream, all while doing what she loves.
“I held auditions and one of the first people there was Alexis (Normand), and obviously she was a total pro, so that was a yes!” Farideh notes.Francophone singer-songwriter Alexis Normand came to the audition with abundant experience as a solo artist, and a knack for composition and intricate musical arrangements.
“I wanted people that I could exchange ideas with; I was having a hard time finding that, so that’s why I applied,” says Normand, joking, “Farideh calls me the 110% girl. When I am on board for something I’m really on board and I commit; I think we all do.”
Farideh laughs, “She showed up to the first practice with a binder of material and CDs for us to listen to. It was amazing.”
A few members came and went until Farideh ultimately rounded out the tribe she sought, with the members of the current Riveters lineup being Alexis Normand, Allyson Reigh, and Melissa Nygren.
Each brings a wealth of music industry knowledge, performance experience and unique qualities to the group, giving the Riveters a balanced blend of creative influences. Take Allyson’s successful songwriting and ability to find thrift store gems; Alexis’ extensive music theory, and brilliant ability to arrange and compose; Melissa’s familiarity with touring, teaching music, and background in roots music; and Farideh’s ability to tell compelling stories, and develop exceptional marketing strategies, and the outcome is harmonious and complementary.
Without an initial definitive musical direction for the project, the foursome began by experimenting with their combined sound, understanding their individual strengths and how to utilize those qualities. They began by arranging covers of existing songs from the traditional gospel realm to refine harmonies and vocal arrangements, allowing a natural theme to arise. “It definitely had this ‘40s sound to it,” notes Farideh.
“I think it really came from the arrangements that we first worked out for the gospel tunes. They were a bit more jazzy; they were inspired by The Andrews Sisters’ approach, where every voice, every member is (equally) important,” Normand adds, speaking to the group’s approach to collaboration.
While the 1940s resemblance became apparent, and the cover material they chose to explore gave them a firm understanding of the history of the genre, the band had yet to settle on an appropriate name to represent their image. While seeking something that would highlight their sophisticated combination of smooth harmonies, intricate arrangements, and sassy stage presence, Alexis recalls the band landing on the name while brainstorming. “We liked the vintage part; we wanted to have something that would stick out in a crowd. And it has the girl band feel…I mean, Rosie the Riveter was all about women.”
This empowering title complemented their imperative intention to support, encourage and uplift other women. They worked together to develop an entire brand that met their individual values, and aligned appropriately with an evolving trend in their market.
“There were all these new shops online and in Saskatoon that were selling vintage-inspired clothing so we thought ‘ok, let’s do this. It’ll be fun to dress up for the shows and build a brand on bringing joy and happiness to people.’ ” Alexis continues, “And once we had that common vision, it was easy!”
In the following years, Rosie & the Riveters brought their brand to life, quickly building a strong following across the prairies. They have performed over 100 shows in Saskatchewan alone, and have gone to great lengths to craft an engaging and elevating show that appeals to a wide array of music lovers.
“Our live show is everything. We go the extra mile to prepare. We have band rehearsals where we work on the music, and we have dance rehearsals where we come up with new dance routines,” Alexis says as she explains how much time is spent on practicing and polishing every element.
“We have other rehearsals where we work through the transitions and the sets. I like to say that this band loves to work; we just love to work together,” says Farideh. “It’s like actually watching some girlfriends have a good time together and make fun of each other and laugh with each other. People always say that they can tell there’s no cattiness, that everybody is just as important, no one is trying to steal the light, it’s just equal happy friends creating together.”
On October 8, The Riveters officially released their debut studio album, “Good Clean Fun.” The record is a collection of entirely original material, featuring 12 songs that incorporate the many values and styles of each member.
“It started with our desire to write original material for the band,” says Normand, recalling a sense of nervousness as they prepared to co-write for the first time.
“The funny thing is, each member of the Riveters is a songwriter, but first it was really about crafting the performance and exploring that tradition (of rearranging gospel tune),” Farideh says. “With our new record we wanted to take it to another level; actually having original music that (was uplifting).”
Alexis explains, “We had a ‘working retreat’ and rented a house in Herschel Saskatchewan, where we brought all our tunes, presented them to each other and workshopped them. Everyone has very different tastes, (but) it felt very natural to work on each other’s songs.That was the first step.”
After their rural retreat, The Riveters invited Canadian roots music legend and 22-time JUNO Award nominee Ken Whitely out to the prairies to advance their work.
“We took it a step further by working on vocal arrangements and demos, having something a little more concrete. We ended up doing some cool co-writing too,” notes Normand.
With a catalogue of freshly crafted, studio-ready songs, Rosie & the Riveters teamed up with distinguished Canadian guitarist, composer and producer, Murray Pulver (The Bros. Landreth, Doc Walker, Crash Test Dummies), and set to work on the recording process.
“We were looking for a producer who would take the time to get to know us, get to know the quirkiness and the spirit of The Riveters. We hit it off right away with Murray. We were excited for him to help us get that character and personality into the recording,” says Alexis.
The album explores the various styles and musical influences of each member, giving it an exciting blend of traditional gospel, classic jazz, roots and bluegrass-inspired compositions, accompanied by innovative themes and messages that reflect the values of the group as a whole.
“We each came with our own influences, (and) when you listen to the finished product it still sounds like a Riveter album, but each song is a bit of a surprise!” says Alexis, adding, “I think we succeeded in our mission to uplift people through this album.”
“I think that’s what people enjoy about our shows too - it isn’t all the same. Different singers, different placements, different concepts,” concludes Farideh.
Good Clean Fun has been warmly received by fans both new and old, including praise from media and critics across Canada. Single “Ain’t Gonna Bother” debuted at #18 on the CBC Radio 2 top 20, climbing to #5, and was ranked #4 in the “highest-voted fan favourites of 2015 on the Radio 2 Top 20” list. An official video for “Red Dress” was released on February 1.
Since the album’s release, The Riveters have performed in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario, including numerous performances at the Folk Music Ontario showcase event in Toronto, and in February heading to Folk Alliance International in Kansas City MO. Having fresh, original material to integrate into their already-sensational live show has given Rosie & the Riveters the opportunity to expand and play with new ideas. They’ve embraced performing with a full band at a number of these shows, which complements the quartet kindly, and further creates a memorable experience for each audience.
Though still charming and sweet off stage, when it comes to the business aspect of being in a band, Rosie and The Riveters are a force to be reckoned with. They’ve worked out a professional system that allows them to remain harmonious off the stage.
“Right now I co-manage the band with Melissa,” says Alexis. “We have different tasks. I take care of grant writing, bookings and admin, and coordinating projects and tours. Melissa takes care of the graphic design, the finances and merch. Between the two of us we keep the ship running.”
“We all contribute in certain ways, but we have delegated our managers,” Farideh notes. They’ve allocated the 20% that would typically go out to a manager, and pay their in-house managers. “It helps so much to unify the group. Otherwise you’d constantly be tallying up hours spent on business. There’s none of that.”
With their insatiable work ethic, and the support of Saskatoon publicist Susan Busse, The Riveters have earned notable attention from media across the nation for the album release, including a recent spot on eTalk Canada’s “Ones To Watch” series, which featured the band in an on-location interview in Toronto vintage clothing store “Cabaret Fashion.”
Busse says, “I love working with people who are creative, talented, professional and kind,” a description that certainly fits these ladies.
When asked what drives them to keep up with their striking stage presence, Alexis beams, “One of the things we strive to do with a live performance is create a memory. People live moments together and forget their stresses, forget their lives for an hour or two, and just live something in community with the other people there. That’s the rule of art for me, anyway; to create links and to give opportunities for people to feel something together. It’s a way of strengthening bonds and communities.”
In addition to an unforgettably charming performance, fans attending live shows have the opportunity to indulge in Rosie & the Riveters’ unique assortment of merchandise. Their current offerings include limited edition onesies for babies, underwear for adults, and a range of handcrafted treats such as soap, healing salve, hand-drawn posters, and vintage aprons.
“We’re all about (things) being handmade or personal. For example, all the aprons are unique. We source them at vintage shops and have each one cleaned and embroidered, so they’re one of a kind!” explains Alexis.
To further their positive impact, the band donates 20% of their merchandise sales to KIVA.org, a micro-financing loan program that supports other women’s projects around the world.
Farideh explains, “We are a business, and research shows that investing in other women’s businesses helps the whole community. We want to make a real difference, and this is a concrete way for us to do it. One of the reasons I liked the idea is because in the beginning we struggled with how to talk about our merchandise.” She continues, “This gave us a feel-good way to talk about it so that it isn’t just about us anymore, it’s about something bigger. We’ve helped over 83 projects, we’ve invested over $3,300, and of course with the new record we hope to be able to do even more.”
“The whole idea of the band was to come together, exchange ideas, and do something positive for the community. This is something that we can do beyond our shows and the people that we perform in front of,” adds Normand.
Over and above their activism through KIVA, The Riveters make a conscious effort to be a positive influence within their immediate community by actively engaging with and encouraging other women in music.
“I think women are really supportive of each other in this industry. We tweet with other (artists), and we get excited for them and support one another,” Farideh shares, affirming, “People want to support other women instead of believing in scarcity - that idea that there’s only so much room for women at the top.”
“It’s not only facilitating more collaboration between women, but empowering them to be themselves. Be who you need to be, and express who you want to be,” encourages Normand, who hopes Rosie & the Riveters can be a confident example for future generations, and continue to contribute to the progressive movement happening in Saskatchewan, alongside other influential groups of women, such as those that facilitate Girls Rock Camp. “That, to me, is a group of women getting together to empower a young generation of other ladies, girls, future musicians to be themselves and work together. What better message could we give?”
As the band furthers their positive movement through the promotion of Good Clean Fun across Canada, they will simultaneously plan for a bright and buoyant future. Farideh confidently concludes, “I hope Rosie & the Riveters are little old ladies rockin’ out!”
For more information on the group, including the latest show announcements, visit www.rosieandtheriveters.com.
By Rebecca Windjack for The Session
Images: Martine Sansoucy