By: Dr. Matt Warnock
Goodbye Gadget is not your average rock band and Jess Loberstein is not your average rock guitarist. Reaching deep into the annals of rock history, both Jess and Gadget draw influences from the early ’90s Riot Grrl movement, modern bands like AFI and Paramore, and even ’80s stalwarts Echo and the Bunnymen. The end result is a band that is pushing the limits of radio-rock, led by a guitarist who is as creative as she is adept. With an ever growing fan base, a long list of endorsements including Daisy Rock Guitars, Marshall Amps and the Burning Hollywood Romance clothing line, Gadget’s latest album Because, I’m Not Myself You See is a glimpse into a bright future for the band and it’s lead guitarist.
Goodbye Gadget guitarist Jess Loberstein recently sat down with Guitar International Magazine to discuss her early influences on the guitar, the trials and tribulations of being a women rocker and her fondness for Daisy Rock guitars.
Matt Warnock: Goodbye Gadget’s music kind of defies one general category as far as your writing and performing are concerned. Who were some of your early influences as a guitarist, because it sounds like you’ve checked out a wide variety of players and bands from across the board over the years.
Jess Loberstein: It’s always hard to describe our sound because our influences cover such a wide range of backgrounds, which helps to make up our personalized sound as a band. We don’t really have one specific genre that you could place us in. Our older music was more rooted in Punk, at least that’s the closest term you could use to describe it. I listen to a lot of Babes in Toyland and old-school Bikini Kill, that sort of thing, but then I also like a lot of newer bands like The Used and Cobra Starship, which is very synthy, and I’m a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan. I also like a lot of Echo and the Bunnymen too, is that kind of weird. [Laughs] I’m kind of all over the board with what I’m into.
We have a lot of that early Riot Grrrl type sound mixed with the newer synth stuff taken from Cobra and other bands. And I can speak for everyone in the band when I say that we’re all huge AFI fans, and I think when they put out Decemberunderground, which is very electronic, that had a big influence on our band, absolutely. So now, our sound comes from a combination of all these bands, mixed in with our own personalities. That’s basically where the Gadget sound comes from.
Matt: One of the things that stood out to me when I first heard your latest album, Because, I’m Not Myself You See, is the amount of experimentation that the band brings to the radio-friendly side of your writing. What’s the driving force behind your need to push the envelope with your writing, challenging your listeners to go beyond their expectations of a modern, pop-rock band?
Jess: I love a lot of music on the radio, and I don’t think we’ve ever thought, “Hey, we’re sounding too radio-friendly,” but, over time you have to eventually start to experiment and get creative with your writing in order to keep things interesting, for ourselves as musicians, and for our fans. A lot of times we’ll write a new song and see how the audience reacts, but other times we don’t really care, we just want to push ourselves as musicians and let things unfold that way.
One of the tracks we’re working on now finishes with this quasi-Spanish guitar feel to it. It’s still our sound. It’s still very Indie-Rock Electronica, but there’s this cool Spanish, Flamenco guitar sound at the end of the song. We didn’t intentionally try and go there with the song, but we were trying some new sounds and that’s where the music took us.
I think we’re all open to experimentation, but we also don’t want to go too far with that stuff. We try to keep things from getting too far out there, but we also don’t want people to buy one of our albums and have every track sound the same. I think it’s important to experiment with our sound to keep the audience engaged, but also to keep things fun, new and exciting for the band.
Matt: Since you aren’t writing in a formulaic, radio-friendly, manner, have you experienced any difficulties because radio stations, or concert promoters, want a certain sound, or like one of your songs and want every other one to sound the same. Has that ever been an issue for you yet as your popularity starts to expand?
Jess: Yeah, we’ve met some challenges along those lines recently. We’re not really big enough yet where we can get away with doing whatever we want musically and just have the radio stations accept it and play it. We’ve had a lot of the mainstream stations tell us that we’re too experimental, that they like us but don’t know how we’d fit into their regular rotation. On the other hand, College stations will tell us that we’re too main stream. So we’re kind of in an in between stage where we don’t fully fit into either area.
It’s a drag sometimes, but we don’t really care. We’re just trying to make music that we love to play, and that are audiences love to hear, and we’ll let the radio stations worry about how to categorize our sound. I don’t think any band can please everyone all of the time. With that in mind we’re just going to focus on making good music and playing it well, I think if we do that, people will recognize our conviction and will make up their minds on their own, without a radio station telling them what they should think or listen to.
Matt: Being a woman who plays rock guitar, and who’s in a band with a female singer, have you ever experienced any push back from the rock community because you’re a woman? Have you seen that side of the industry, the male dominated side, or have we gotten past that in the rock community yet?
Jess: We definitely haven’t gotten past that. It’s a lot more accepted than it was, but there’s still a level of discrimination that runs through the rock community. One of the things I really hate is when we’ll talk to a club that we really want to play at and they’ll say something like, “Sounds great, we have a show coming up featuring all-girl bands and we’d like to have you on the bill.” It’s really irritating when people like that will only consider us for a gimmicky show like that, featuring only girl bands. If they like our music so much why can’t they just let us book our own show? That just drives us mad. We don’t understand why we have to wait for a female bill to play, rather than let our music speak for itself.
The other thing that gets me is when people will come up to us at a show and say something like, “Man I wish I was in a girl band so everyone would do everything for me and I wouldn’t have to lift a finger.” Meanwhile, we’re lugging these big amps and drums around and setting up all of our stuff and they didn’t even notice. We get a lot of bullshit comments like that.
I’m sure it was worse and it’s getting better, but we’ve hit barriers with labels, with promoters and with certain sections of the listening audience. Unfortunately, I think there’s still that mentality that bands will sell more records and be more successful if they’re male fronted, but with bands like Flyleaf and Paramore, hopefully that will change for the better.
Matt: There’s also a huge double standard in the rock world, or the greater realm of celebrity for that matter, between woman and men as far as sexuality is concerned. Take a guy like Brett Michaels for example. Here’s this middle aged man chasing around a bus full of young, promiscuous women, and we celebrate that behavior by giving him his own TV show. But, if a woman were to act that way we’d call her a slut, or a cougar, and wouldn’t necessarily approve of her acting that way. Because of this double standard have you had to be extra careful with your image because you might do something that’s innocent on your end, but if it’s misconceived by the press, could negatively affect your career?
Jess: Yeah, it’s the same thing with being sassy on stage. If someone yells something at us on stage and I comment back then I’m a major bitch. But if I guy did that he’d be a rock star. We’ve had those experiences and I’m definitely the one in the band who will react to that sort of thing.
We did a show a while back with a Reggae band, and their audience wasn’t really into what we were doing and were yelling stuff at us. Of course I starting firing back at them and all of a sudden I’m being called a total bitch, whereas if a guy was doing it he’d be cool and edgy.
On the other side of that, with a guy like Brett Michaels, he can still be cool and sexy even though he’s an old man. There are tons of people out there who think he’s hot and want to be with him, but how many people would say the same thing about a beautiful woman like say, Stevie Nicks?
This behavior is also more condoned for guys as they age, and not so much with girls. If guys sleep around they’re cool and it’s hot, but when girls do it they’re sluts, and I’m not sure when or if this mentality is going to change anytime soon.
Jess: Well, with time, like any kind of societal mentality, it’ll change. I think that the more young girls who pick up guitars and the more female fronted bands there are, the more people will be willing to accept us on equal grounds as the guys. I don’t think it’s something that one person can go and change themselves. It’s going to take a number of female artists over time to really bring about any kind of meaningful shift in the way we’re viewed in the rock community.
We’re also sponsored by Daisy Rock Guitars and we’ve gotten comments from other bands that we’ve played with like, “Fuck that, I’ll play any guitar, I don’t need some guy guitar made for me, why would you play some guitar just made for girls?” I get that, but at the same time Daisy Rock is encouraging young girls to pick up the guitar. The neck is a little smaller and it’s easier to play. They have regular guitars, and then they have their Debutante series which have stars and hearts on them. I think if a young girl picks up a Les Paul and starts playing great, more power to them, but if Daisy Rock can bring more women to the genre and get them more interested in playing the instrument then what’s wrong with that?
Matt: Well, the ironic thing is that for a lot of these guys their guitar hero’s from back in the day started playing because they bought a guitar with cowboys painted on it, or skulls, or flames or whatever. So, there again is this sort of double standard running through the rock world. It’s ok for guys to have skulls and naked chicks on their guitars, but if a girl buys a pink guitar, or one with stars or hearts painted on it, that’s somehow not cool and not valid as an instrument choice.
Jess: It’s true. There are plenty of “dude” guitars that may not be overtly labeled that way. There are plenty of guitars out there that are built, shaped, designed and painted for guys to play, they just aren’t called Guy Guitars. When it comes down to it, it shouldn’t matter, if you like a guitar then fucking play it. If it’s got cowboys or skulls or flowers or whatever painted on it, if you like it then who the fuck cares what other people think. It shouldn’t matter but it’s kind of sad that it does.
Hopefully we’ll be able to get past that sort of thing soon. These are the things we deal with as women who play rock, but at the end of the day it’s all worth it. It’s a great way to make a living, double-standard or not. For us it’s all about the music and if we stick with it over time that’s what people will focus on, and that’s what keeps us going and writing and recording new material.