Musical inspiration occasionally emerges from the strangest of places. For Ashleigh Flynn, whose latest project is fronting an all-female rock band called the Riveters, it arrived in the aftermath of the first 2016 presidential debate involving Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Sitting alone in Los Angeles and watching the broadcast on September 26, 2016, the globetrotting lead vocalist, songwriter and roll-up-your-sleeves musician who has released four studio solo albums in a career going back almost two decades was getting “chicken skin all over my body”.
That was a major outbreak of goosebumps for someone who knew, once Clinton took the stage, “I was witnessing a historical moment … our first female presidential candidate,” Flynn wrote in reply to a series of email questions for this article. “As Trump walked on stage, I quite literally had a panic attack and broke down in tears. I called Nancy (Luca, the Riveters’ electric guitarist) and said, ‘What are we going to do? This is awful!’ She counseled me to ‘chill out’, write a song, (and that) everything would be all right. So I did.”
“This Love”, the boisterous lead song to the new album Ashleigh Flynn & the Riveters, was created, and “basically wrote itself in that moment”, Flynn said. If she needed just cause to take action, assemble the Riveters and start working on a new record, the two politicians staring a hole through the TV were plenty enough reason after she experienced “an almost visceral reaction”.
Two years later, just ahead of the album’s release on Friday (Sept. 21), Flynn & the Riveters are premiering the music video for “This Love” today (September 20) at PopMatters.
The performance segment — shot in June at Halfling Studios in Portland, Oregon — gives a hint of the tenacious swagger of the group. In addition to Flynn and Luca, the members have included Jolie Clausen (drums), Carmen Paradise (bass), Kathryn Claire (backing vocals, fiddle) and Ara Lee (backing vocals). Along with their musicality and energy, there’s also heart, tenderness and fortitude on display in the Home Perm Records production directed by Flynn, filmed by Kat Nyberg (with assistance from J.D. Breneiser and Chris Lindsey) and edited by Carole McCarty.
So take a look at the music video premiere of “This Love” now, then come back to learn more about Flynn, the Riveters and some of the beautiful and powerful historical images you are about to witness.
A relevant message was conveyed with the photos — showing then and now — that appear throughout the video, with Maxine Reyer responsible for the research and licensing out of New York City.
“The concept of tracking various nonviolent protest movements over the past 100 years was inspired by the nativity story of the song and is meant to celebrate a joyful, hopeful, creative spirit of resistance that is alive and well in this country and around the world despite some darker regressive forces at this moment in time,” offered Flynn, who was touched the most by the photos of brave women (one a “flower child”) standing up to men with guns.
“Hopefully, the video conveys the spirit of never giving up or giving in — and that there is proven power in numbers to change the course of history and/or change what is unjust. A corollary message might be: Don’t take progress for granted. Be vigilant!”
Asked whether America is changing for the better or worse, Flynn, who grew up in Kentucky and now lives in Portland, added: “I think we are in a pendulum swing — where the fear-mongering underbelly that I always suspected existed has become frighteningly obvious. It’s not just happening here. My hope and my belief is that the majority of us are good — and come from a place of love for each other and our planet … rather than coming from a place of greed and fear.”
Poster by J. Howard Miller. (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons
Flynn proves she isn’t afraid, either. She flexes her muscles on this album just like Rosie the Riveter did on the World War II poster that encouraged women to show their strength outside the comforts of their own homes.
Usually surrounded by male musicians during her career while preferring to go acoustic instead of plug in an electric guitar (“it seemed like such a gratuitous and overused instrument,” she said), Flynn suddenly switched gears. She saw Luca (who studied with Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell) perform with her Southern California girl group that plays “twangy fiddle guitar alternative and Nashville country” music and is called Git’erDone.
“I was entranced,” wrote Flynn, who gives a shout-out to Luca’s “shredderific guitar licks” in the album’s liner notes. “They were so GOOD serving up the classic rock of my childhood with wild abandon and exceptional talent. I knew I wanted to play with her, and I knew I wanted to write songs for and play in an all-female rock band. … We make unapologetically straight-ahead Americana roots music that ROCKS just as hard as any band of men and won’t be selling a side of tits and ass to get attention — hence the Riveters.”
if that doesn’t get your attention, the album, produced by Decemberists multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk, certainly will.
Leaving her home state years ago to seek “greener pastures” in the Pacific Northwest, Flynn worked with AmeriCorps, lived in a U.S. Forest Service cabin and started writing songs before getting a regular gig at a coffee shop in Eugene, Oregon, where she met Funk.
“He was dish-dogging at a local café by day and trolling for bandmates by night. He introduced himself after my set and we became instant friends and musical companions. … He has been an instrumental part of my musical journey and is like a brother to me,” Flynn said of Funk, who also produced her most recent studio album, A Million Stars, which included the Decemberists rhythm section of Nate Query (bass) and John Moen (drums).
Also on that record and completing the Decemberists connection is Jenny Conlee, who plays organ or piano on six of the new album’s 10 cuts, including “This Love,” which Flynn said is loosely inspired by Sister Rosetta Tharpe‘s adaptation of “This Train.”
“Jenny has played music with me for years when she’s available,” Flynn said. “I love her playing! And she is a dear friend.”
While Conlee returns to her Decemberists duties, Flynn plans to take the Riveters on the road “as much as possible,” focusing on the West Coast beginning in December.
In these puzzling, sometimes troubling times, they seem destined to rock your world. If you don’t believe me, listen to Flynn, the inimitable acoustic-minded songwriter who’s breaking out of her solo cocoon to lead the way with a vengeance.
“This is a ROCK RECORD! A BAND RECORD! Bold! Smokin! Hot licks by Cool Chicks!” said Flynn, sounding a rallying cry that would have made Rosie (“We Can Do It”) the Riveter proud. “A stew of spicy boisterous psychedelic American twang.”
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Michael Bialas is a journalist and photographer who enjoys writing about entertainment and sports for a number of online publications, including PopMatters and No Depression. Follow him on Twitter: @mjbialas