Play Like a Girl is a new studio album from Jean and June Millington, the founding members of Fanny. The sisters have been making music together since they were children playing ukuleles in the Philippines.
Within a few years of coming to the US in 1961, the pair traded in their ukes for acoustic and then electric guitars and formed a succession of all-girl bands in Sacramento: the culmination was Fanny one of the first all-female rock bands to sign to a major label, Warner Brothers.
In 1987, June co-founded the non-profit The Institute for the Musical Arts with her partner Ann Hackler, as a means of nurturing a new generation of female musicians. The Institute for the Musical Arts is now a fully functioning teaching, performing, and recording facility dedicated to supporting women and girls in music and music-related business.
Play Like a Girl is a direct result of experiences of over 45 years since starting an all-girl band themselves—and helping other girls learn music today; mentoring, supporting, teaching, and helping them organize themselves in the world of music. Playing like a girl is more than just making rock music, June tells PopMatters 20 Questions, it’s about having a rock ‘n’ roll attitude.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
The Wind Journeys (Ciro Guerra, 2009). It’s like the Sgt. Pepper of musical movies, with gorgeous scenery shot in Colombia, with wild and incredibly danceable folk-accordion playing and a mystic journey as its central theme. I couldn’t believe how good it was when I discovered it completely by accident at our local library. I love libraries ~ this movie made my soul weep.
2. The fictional character most like you?
There isn’t one. I have to say my life has been stranger than fiction, and there wasn’t one role model I ever saw who gave me the reflection of strength that I needed. Maybe Sister Luke (Gabrielle van der Mal), played by Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story. She had a bit of austerity and gumption that’s actually useful for an aspiring lead guitar player.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Sgt. Pepper. Followed closely by Eli and the Thirteenth Confession by Laura Nyro. They both have sweeping themes with synergistic content—the center holds, and they’re musically impeccable. All those individual songs are unmatched even today. “Help of My Friends” and “Stone Soul Picnic”, perfect bookends!
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Is this a trick question? How can you choose between two types of vastness? They both opened our minds into new worlds. Oh, you forgot One Step Beyond.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Coffee with a little protein. Although, someone gave me small amounts of molybdenum back in the early ‘80s. That seemed to do really well too, though later someone told me it could’ve been incredibly dangerous. I liked the thought of this mineral that comes from the ground in New Mexico as I was told. It sounded romantic. (Molybdenum is an element, symbol Mo and atomic number 42. It didn’t taste bad in a shake).
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Actually learning lead guitar, because I didn’t really want to do it (I preferred rhythm). And I did it at a time when that was verboten—girls weren’t supposed to play electric. But we did! I’ve never looked back.
7. You want to be remembered for…?
Being fiery and having a goal that I never gave up on; that is, playing music, and playing the way I heard and felt it. Of course that changes by definition as you get interested in different styles and techniques, but what’s always incorporated is an attitude of fearlessness—to try something new.
After that, everything’s a gift. That’s what we try to pass on here at The Institute for the Musical Arts, it’s not rock music per se, rock is an attitude. Girls need to know that. They can carry it in their pocket wherever they go (these young women don’t carry purses, anymore).
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Stevie Wonder, Nadia Boulanger, Quincy Jones, Simone Signoret, Artemisia Gentileschi, Carole Kay and the Bandit Queen of India—all people who made life a work of art no matter what the obstacles.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
The sun. It’s always recreating itself.
10. Your hidden talents ...?
A capacity to love children unconditionally and laugh along with their pure innocence. And I know what they’re laughing about! If there is a god, that’s when you can see it, as you can when enjoying flowers and the smell of the sea.
Also, I can put people together and know that it will work, whether for art, business or pleasure.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Look at both sides when you cross the street. Now I’d translate that into don’t text when you drive. The simplest things can kill you.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
The best thing I ever bought is my Les Paul guitar, which I had no interest in acquiring at the time. I was on the road with Fanny and a friend needed money—I had our accountant buy it while I was on the road, in New York City. And I ignored it for maybe a year. But once I really started to play it, it owned me. It’s a late ‘50s model, and I try not to ever do anything to it. I won’t put it in a display case. This guitar is meant to be played. It’s like a Porsche or a Maserati. I dream about it, even if it’s in the next room. I suppose you can say that guitar has a piece of both my heart and my soul.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or ...?
Depends if I’m in a canoe or on a yacht.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Rachel Maddow. Maybe we’ll invite the Dalai Lama to join us for dessert.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Back to the ‘60s in California. It was such an interesting and exciting time of my life, and the air smelled good. It was like I lived in a portal, and it was a lot of fun. Music was inventing itself, and women were, well, starting to be liberated. Women musicians have had a few fits and starts since then, but mostly I believe the momentum is forward.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Oh, spa vacation for sure. I could be certain there are massages and lots of good books in there, plus fizzy water. And it’s always a good idea to have snorkling with 85-degree water just off the verandah, with fresh baby coconuts on demand. (Stress? what stress?)
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
Coffee. The rest can go. There’s something about the smell of coffee that always evokes new and good things. You can get active, or lay down with a good book. And if you can throw a sweet fresh, ripe papaya in the mix, you’ve got it made in the shade.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Country, but with a hip city nearby like where I am now, with five major colleges. This way, there’s always art coming in, along with young energy with new ideas. And if we could introduce the sound of the sea… heaven.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Don’t you ever, ever think of giving up. We’re behind you all the way. And I love that you’re bi-racial.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
Moving the Institute for the Musical Arts—which hands down a musical legacy to young women and girls—forward, and re-connecting with and releasing our own music. That they’re both happening simultaneously is beyond my wildest dreams.
// Notes from the Road
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