The Most powerful form of strength
Art and music has always been my primary outlet for expressing myself. It is a place to be both vulnerable and strong, to work through trauma and rise above adversity. It has given me a platform from which to discuss political and social issues that are close to my heart and to work through my relationships to them. It's helped me to articulate the most elusive of feelings and find common ground with people I might not have otherwise related to. But just as much as music/art influences my life, the specifics of my life story have shaped my understanding of and relationship to making music and being an artist.
I have been singing and playing music my whole life. My earliest memories are of listening to my parents' CDs and being so enamored with the way a song could change how I was feeling — it was like magic. As a teenager, music became my main outlet for some very traumatic experiences with sexual assault, mental illness, and child abuse. As someone who often struggled to be heard and who spoke quietly, I discovered I had this enormous voice. I remember my first time playing in front of anyone: I was 13 and playing for a friend or two in the back room of a party. I closed my eyes so tight, pretended no one was listening, and just belted my heart out. When I opened my eyes the room had filled and people were crying. It was so powerful to not only be heard, but to be felt.
That early memory has resonated repeatedly throughout my life. There have been so many times when I found it difficult to literally and metaphorically find my voice, but when I have trusted my expression and my truth, my community has always been there to catch me. I recently came out publicly about sexual assault and relationship violence I experienced from close friends and former bandmates of mine. Similarly to this early memory of sharing my voice, I was very anxious about being so vulnerable in public about my experiences and about being so personal, especially as someone who strives for a professional outward appearance as a business owner. I think there is this pressure as a woman, especially in male-dominated fields, to never show weakness, to never be personal at the risk of appearing less than professional. But when I trusted my gut and shared my story, the support from my community was overwhelming. I learned that vulnerability can be the most powerful form of strength, and that sharing experiences about the reality of being a woman in music and in business can only serve to help more women, gender queer, and non-binary folx make their voices heard and take leadership positions in other male-dominated fields.
I've always considered myself a fairly gender-fluid individual with strong masculine and feminine sides, but as a female musician, I've had to model toxic masculinity in an attempt to fit in and feel safe in male-dominated music spaces. It was clear early on how radically different I was treated depending on which side I chose to project more. This led to me internalizing much of the sexism my male peers projected, and to inadvertently contributing to the exclusivity of those who had excluded me. But the process of healing that inner divide between masculine and feminine, of unlearning those negative masculine archetypes, and of learning to embrace my femininity on stage has, inversely, been an incredibly rewarding experience. I think the ways in which prejudice shapes us negatively can offer up unexpected opportunities for self-reflection and growth, and seeing the ways in which I was reinforcing the sexism I faced by mirroring negative male attitudes proved an invaluable lesson for me. It strengthened my resolve to create inclusive music spaces and to be aware of how my actions and presence influence those looking up to me. Being on stage is such a privilege, and it is so rewarding to use that platform to break stereotypes, promote self-love, and support inclusive gender expression, no matter what that looks like.
I have always been an idea person. Truly, my mind never stops dreaming things up, so one of the most rewarding aspects of having my own business is working for myself. It stripped away the ceiling I came up against time and time again at other jobs where I did not have the same amount of freedom to create and develop my ideas. Aside from this personal creative freedom, it has also been infinitely rewarding to have the ability to create the safe and inclusive spaces I wanted to be a part of as a musician. I've taken on management of two Santa Fe venues/art spaces and have had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the most inspiring and hardworking individuals to change the male-dominated standard of the industry and strive to build a better and more diverse music community. It's allowed me to create the kind of spaces I wanted to be a part of when I was younger.
There is this whole invisible side to creating/representing music and running a business that involves thinking about how work will be seen and received. Whether it is my own music, that of someone I represent or am booking, or the perspective of an audience member/listener, I worry a lot about making each individual's experience of a project/event inspiring, empowering, and fulfilling. When I find myself getting overwhelmed at meeting these goals, I think of the saying, "They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel." It reminds me that even if I make mistakes, even if things go wrong and run late, even if I can't make everyone 100-percent happy, if my heart is fully in it and I love the work I do, that is ultimately what people will take away with them. It is never really about playing the perfect show, releasing the perfect album, or running an event with no hiccups; it's about showing up, being present, and letting people know you care.
Every day I am inspired by the people around me who tirelessly fight to build community and do the work that saves lives. I'm in awe of every person who has the bravery to speak up and get vulnerable in sharing their stories of hardship and perseverance, whether it's through music/art or any medium. Everyone has their obstacles, but it is the people who take the risk of sharing their experiences to give strength to others that I find truly inspiring. It is those people who gave me the courage to come out with my story of sexual assault and relationship violence earlier this year and to show the cracks in my own armor. The support from my community, especially in the face of the backlash and victim-shaming that ensued, was so humbling, and is a feeling of love and acceptance I will never forget.
I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by women, gender queer, and non-binary people who have led by example and shown me what being a strong, independent human can look like. Cindy Simonetti, my incredible step-mom, came into my life at a time when I needed a positive, maternal role model growing up and has never ceased to amaze me with the grace of her strength and dedication to her work. Lehigh Sheppard, my former boss, business partner, friend, and role model, showed me what it looks like to take adversity and channel it into building the life you want and then living it every day to the fullest. For all of the incredible woman, gender queer, and non-binary folx I have had the privilege of calling friends and collaborators, especially in the two years since starting Matron Records, I have the deepest respect, admiration, and gratitude, with a special thanks to Caitlin Brothers, Brooklyn Morgan, Jessica Cunico, Marisa Demarco, Monica Demarco, Mauro Woody, Paris Mancini, Katie Trusty, Tamarisk Scott, Miranda Scott, Leticia Gonzales, Consuelo Althouse, and Niomi Fawn. I am also so grateful for all of the folx who supported me this year in coming out with my sexual assault and domestic violence story, and to all those brave humans who shared their stories before me and for those who cannot or choose not to.
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, the road to becoming a musician and a female business owner has been one of resistance and tenacity in the face of never-ending sexism. The process of working doubly hard to be seen and taken seriously and of witnessing my female, non-binary, LQBTQ, and POC peers fighting every day for an equal chance to have their voices heard, fuels my creative process and strengthens my resolve to use both my business and my art to fight against such inequality and support others doing the same. When I sing about rape, about being bisexual/queer, about my experiences with mental illness and child abuse, I do so not just as a form of catharsis but in protest. When I write music, curate events, and organize projects, I am always thinking of how I can use art and music as a tool to educate, empower, and disrupt broken systems. In that way activism is my art, and art is my activism. No matter what kind of obstacles and frustrations I come up against, I work hard every day to act from a place of compassion and love. Whether that challenge presents itself as self-love in the face of burnout and self-doubt or working to understand where someone else is coming from with a difference of opinion, it is a daily exercise that I have greatly benefited from. I have a tendency to be really anxious, to overwork myself, and to be stubborn with my big ideas and plans. Really slowing down, taking time to process where my mind is at, listening to the full spectrum of how other people are feeling, and allowing space for reflection are all things I've adopted for a better workflow, mental balance, and collaborative practice. My advice is to remember to slow down, dedicate part of each day to self-care, and keep in mind that you never know what someone else is going through, so be patient and be compassionate.
Eliza is the founder/owner of Matron Records. A self-taught musician, graphic designer, silk screener, and promoter, Eliza's passion for DIY in both art and business inspired her to build an independent record label that empowers musicians and artists to be more autonomous by providing the education and resources artists need to build sustainable careers. Eliza was raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she has been recording music and touring nationally since she was 16. Her personal projects include Scissor Lift, Future Scars, GRYGRDNS, As In We, and Prolly. When she's not making music or supporting other musicians, she can be found trail running with a good podcast.
Words: Eliza Lutz