Do female musicians have to be solo artists to succeed?

All-female bands remain unbelievably rare; a fact that Australian band Erthlings says is a shame.

Article by Kate Hennessy

Sampa the Great. Photographed by Michaela Dutkova

Around the time that #MeToo cracked open fissures in the music industry that had festered for decades, an old story started to re-circulate. A record label talent scout, so the story goes, finds a female musician he wants to sign. He plays her to the label boss who agrees it’s great. Then knocks it back. When the talent scout asks why, the boss replies: “We’ve already got a woman on the label.”

You want to believe it’s a baseless urban myth. But still, today, a handful of women’s names are used to brush off the truth that non-male musicians remain under-represented. When this fact is raised, as it routinely is, it’s met with: “But what about Taylor Swift? Tash Sultana? Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, G Flip, Tones & I, Sampa The Great?”

GFlip (Jo Duck)

Yet, as Lissa Evans of Sydney band Erthlings points out – all these women are solo artists. The 18-year-old drummer had no idea, she says, how rare all-female bands were before they were signed to Future Classic.

She’d been in her band with Taylor Shutes (bass) and Jessame Stepto (guitar) since she was eight years old. To them, it was normal. All of it: the youth, the all-girl factor, the friendship. Then came the interest – and the articles. “[All the articles] started with ‘all-female 13-year-old band’,” says Stepto. It went on for some time, says Shutes. “We were still being called 13 when we were 15… We were a bit worried it would detract from our actual music!”

The members of Erthlings have finished school now and are planning their future in a year when even local touring is fraught. They don’t know what’s next – but they do know they’re happy doing it together.

Erthlings (Cybele Malinowski)

At festivals such as Splendour in The Grass and Groovin the Moo they’d spent a lot of time backstage “staring” at acts such as Billie Eilish and G Flip.

“We saw other artists, by themselves, and realised having each other is not only more fun but gives us more confidence,” says Evans. “If we mess up or feel nervous, one of us will say ‘it’s fine; everyone messes up’.” Stepto agrees. “We always have someone in the band who’s gonna back us up.”

Not to diminish the popularity or potency of solo woman acts – or indeed the seminal ‘girl in the band’ – however, there’s an obvious black hole when it comes to all-female bands making headlines in Australia and overseas. As Erthlings know from experience – all-female bands are still, sadly, a rarity.