All Young Girls Are Machine Guns Frontwoman Sings Her Heart Out
By Kyle Eustice
If you’ve ever met Rebecca Lowry, the first thing you likely noticed was her fearless attitude. And if you’ve seen her play with her band, All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, you were undoubtedly smacked in the face with her strong stage presence and brilliant voice. Whether armed with her ukulele or a guitar shaped like an AK-47, Lowry sings like her life depends on it. She is a pillar in the Omaha music community and a symbol of strength. The confidence she exudes is nothing less than inspiring. Ranging from Lowry as the sole member to a seven-piece Doo-Wop style band, All Young Girls Are Machine Guns are the winners of four Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards (Best New Band/Jazz-Easy Listening 2010 and Best Singer-Songwriter 2011 and 2012). The group plays at The Barley Street Tavern June 25. Lowry opens up a little bit about her childhood, learning to play the ukulele and her unwavering confidence.
Now! (Kyle Eustice): You’ve been at this for quite some time yet I don’t know much about you. You mentioned your family was military. How did that experience shape you?
Rebecca Lowry: We moved to Nebraska when I was five, so I don’t really remember life outside of the Bellevue/Omaha area except for a stint in Japan when I was in junior high. They moved us right back to Omaha though. I spent most of junior high in choir, reading romance novels and comic books, and drawing. I spent the rest of my life, pre-junior high and after, up until about six years ago, in church with my nose stuck in a Bible.
When did you decide you actually wanted to play music?
I think it was always kind of a desire, but you know, you’re a kid and people tease you because you don’t look like a musician or you don’t sing like or aren’t as great as someone else or you don’t have the discipline in you or for any number of reasons, and those things people poke at can begin to wear on you. I took lessons on instruments here and there, but never for long because, if you start out as a kid being told it can’t be done, you don’t feel like it’s something you can ever do. Even after I finally picked up the uke (I was 28-years-old), I still don’t think I had decided to actually “play music” until I had found anyone to believe in me enough to agree to play with me.
What was your first project like? What was it called?
All Young Girls Are Machine Guns is my first project. It’s taken some time to develop into what I want it to be. We’ve fluctuated through some members, but I’m still here, still playing some of the first songs I ever wrote along side the current set list.
How did you learn to play the ukulele?
I learned to read a chord chart from when I took that one guitar lesson back in 10th grade (Thanks Todd Campbell!). I bought a uke after watching a bunch of YouTube videos. It came with a uke chord chart and Chordie.com became my best friend while I learned cover after cover until I felt like I could try putting chords together on my own.
To me, you appear to exude a lot of confidence. Where does that come from? I have severe stage fright and I can SING and play instruments, too.
Pure narcissism? Bravado? A good deal of faking it until I make it? I had a great teacher my junior and senior years of high school named Charlene Willoughby. By the way, she just took a turn playing Virginia Woolf at the Omaha Community Playhouse, she’s amazing. After years of having drama teachers who told me I’d never be on a stage because I’m a bigger girl and nobody cares about big girls, she gave me a spoonful of: ’Who the hell cares what anyone else thinks?!’ The older I got, there were a lot of barriers along the way to who I wanted to get to be. There were a lot of assholes, but there were also amazing women with these brazen personalities to remind me ‘who the hell cares what anyone else thinks.’ So now I do what I want and I want to do this. I want to make music and sing in front of crowds and make people dance and smile and sing and remind them that it’s not about what anyone else thinks. It’s what they want.
What do you think of the oversexualization of the female pop star?
Certainly, I think there are executives out there with black hearts trying to make a buck and doing it on the backs of young girls who don’t know any better, but I also think there’s a wind a’blowin.’ I think in the last five, six years, I’ve seen women are beginning to take charge of their own destinies and holding one another accountable and breaking out from under the thumbs of execs–as far as I can see and understand it. I think more and more these days, I see these older and more experienced women seek these younger girls out to encourage and lift one another up. It feels sorta the same way here in the local scene. I remember working at Deitze Music with Sarah Benck and Liz Webb and trying to find out everything they knew, things that could help me navigate the music community better, things that could be useful to the next person who came along, and they gave me everything I could hope for and more. So now my goal is to take all those things I learned from those women (and others) and become someone who can make it easier for the next lady to come along and navigate music in Omaha. Just like in another four or five years, because of all the women who’ve invested in them, we’ll start to see all these young squirts who’ve been doing Omaha Girls Rock start to come out of the woodwork to make music in Omaha.
What kind of messages to hope to get across to your fans with your music?
Well, certainly that it’s okay to love whomever you love. I started the practice about two years ago to start taking pronouns out of my songs to make them inclusive. That it’s okay to be a bigger girl, or to be any kind of person, and make your way up onto a stage–that self-expression isn’t reserved to a body type or a gender or race or a sexuality, but that as long as you feel it, there’s someone out there who can identify with you. That you make your own opportunities (again, I didn’t pick up the right instrument or have the motivation I needed in me until I was 28). And that it’s okay to dance to my music (in fact, that it’s preferred).
You’re the recipient of four OEA awards. How does it feel to be recognized in that way by your peers?
Frankly, it’s rad as hell and feels real good, but it never feels quite as good as just being part of the music community in the first place.
What’s the meaning behind your band name?
Right before I started playing music, I’d fulfilled a challenge to read 50 books in one year. I had been reading Lolita by Nabakov and I was discussing it with a friend who said, ‘Becki, all young girls are machine guns.’ And I said, ‘And now that’s my band name.’
Where does your interest in ‘60s music/doo-wop style music come from?
When I was a little girl, my mother used to clean houses to make extra money. On Saturday mornings, when she, my sister Kristin, and I would clean our own house, she would pop in these Solid Gold compilations with Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Sam and Dave, and a bunch of other #1 artists from the ’60s, and we’d sing them and dance around and help her by dusting or sorting the laundry.
What are you currently listening to? What are some of your favorite bands/artists?
I’ve been listening to Leon Bridges lately. A lot. I’ve been listening to all the artists playing MAHA on repeat so I can get the full experience out of playing MAHA this summer. (I do love Alvvays and Ex Hex!) Otis Redding, Billie Holiday, Whitney Houston, and Hall and Oates are my favorites.
What do you hope to accomplish with AYGAMG this year?
We’re one song away from a full album so I’d like to start recording that by the end of the year. I was hoping to do that this summer, but I kinda booked us like gangbusters. I’d also like to play a show in another state by the end of the year.
How do you feel when you’re on stage?
Sweaty, burpy, farty, and still kinda real sexy and empowered. It’s not pretty like running a marathon isn’t pretty, but I mean, I suppose once you get past the terror and fraught stages of performance, the stage becomes this really comfortable place where you’re surrounded by all the people you love (in my case, Kristin, Jessica, Molly, Jason, Jon and Jon), and that you’re free to be that person you always wanted to be.