Arthur sat down with Jill Staveley, a well known musician and local figure in the Peterborough music scene. Staveley is Production Manager at Trent Radio, and has been involved in various bands such as The Burning Hell, The Staveley Project, and currently, Steelburner. Staveley was also one of the five founding members of Rock Camp for Girls, a project that began eleven years ago and has since flourished to help young girls pick up instruments and explore the way of the jam session. Staveley shared her insights surrounding the topic of family, motherhood, and its impact on being a touring musician.
How old were you when you got into music?
My parents met in a band. My dad is from Dublin, and my mom is from Kingston, Ontario. I grew up as a highland dancer, so there was always live band music around me, and I’ve always felt drawn to music.
I really went for it in grade 7/8 when I was playing basketball and had a big injury. I really messed up my knee. At some point I basically had to give up sports and so I really got into music.
As a girl, I never got the chance to be confidently in a band, because at the time it was much more of a boys world.
Would you say it was more so like that then compared to now?
Well, I feel it less now personally, because I feel like I can self advocate, but I also think it was because I was a teenager.
Do you think that young women are hesitant to pursue music?
Sure, and this is what we do in Rock Camp for Girls. I didn’t really take music lessons as a kid, it was mostly piano lessons that were available.
I hadn’t taken guitar lessons and learned my scales or had access to the equipment, so I was told I could finger pick and sing backups, or it was like vocal stuff.
I feel like my voice is my first talent and primary instrument in music, but there is a lot of gender stereotyping of the girl as the backup vocalist type thing.
How did seeing your mothers musical career inspire you, or affect your own choice in becoming a musician?
So my mom died when I was ten, so I don’t have a huge knowledge of her as an adult, but I very much felt like becoming a parent took those opportunities from her away, because you have to decide, right?
You have to stop being selfish, and as an artist, you have to be selfish to be successful. I think you can do that in a positive way, and I’m not using selfish in a negative way…but as soon as you have dependents, selfish becomes a bad word.
My mom died in her 40s, and she was just getting to the point where she was doing her own thing again, which I see a lot of women doing at that age. I was ten, my brother was thirteen, and she was just coming out on the other side where she had more freedom. I’m sure if she hadn’t been sick, she probably would have gotten into music again.
What has that experience been like for you, as a mom?
I always knew I wanted to be a mom, so I was always ready for the time when I knew I had to put myself second.
I didn’t get pregnant with Charlie until I was thirty, so anytime before that, I was like ‘I do not want to have a baby, it’s too early in my life,’ and I felt like I would be resentful, and I felt like that would just take away from what I was able to do.
By the time I got pregnant, my world changed. You come to an age where you kind of have to decide if you want to be a mom. I couldn’t be a touring musician and be a mom. I wasn’t wealthy, I didn’t have the privilege of a travelling nanny, right?
What was the physical impact of pregnancy and touring?
I was playing shows right up to my due date with Charlie. It was amazing. I had these visions that I would be able to pump breast-milk and leave for a couple of weeks, or that I would be back on track pretty quickly.
I would watch other moms before I became a mom who hadn’t spent a weekend away from their kids, and always wondered how they could do that.
How do you become so wrapped up in your motherhood? Well, that exact thing has happened to me. I have literally only slept one night away from Charlie, and she is six years old.
That was my wedding night. I was breastfeeding, and practicing attached parenting. I wasn’t ready to leave my kids, and I also didn’t have anywhere safe to leave them, because we lived away from close family and friends. That wasn’t an option.
What was touring like after having Charlie?
It was awesome, I mean it was exhausting and a lot of accommodations had to be made. I did everything I could to try and create a non-problematic situation, keeping her quiet, and making sure I was not waking up my exhausted friends.
When you have to consider a car seat, changing a diaper, and all of these other things. We couldn’t play at a bar. It was a very kind accommodation. I
think it was made for me because of my friendship with Mathius, but I was never invited to tour after that. Your music also has to be a business, and it just is not functional with a baby.
I think it’s so cool that you did that.
Yeah! I don’t know how I did it. I was, like, breast-feeding while tuning my guitar.
Are your kids quite involved in your musical life now?
Charlie came to work with me, to Rock Camp, until she was about two and a half, and Meara came to work with me for a bit.
They’re both able to come to all of the Rock Camp shows, and we make sure that there are matinees that Matt (their dad) plays with Washboard Hank. We try to do stuff that they can actually be there for.
When we practice at home, we try to incorporate them so that they can participate. Charlie would make a sign or a show poster, so that they can actually see what it is that we’re doing.
I’ve been going into Charlie’s class for the past couple of years as Sister Jill, and I jam with little kids.
What’s Rock Camp For Girls all about?
When it first started I wasn’t sure why it was really needed. Why are we making it exclusive? I was stand-offish in the first year, and then I became very passionate. This was eleven years ago. I have always had a problem understanding “girl things.” Like girl specific activities such as “girls only open mics.” “We need a chick band to play.” “We need a chick band to play.” You know?
I was like, I don’t want to be a girl, I want to be a musician. So that is what was problematic for me, in the beginning. Still, I went with it.
The environment we seek to create is a hands on learning environment for girls, but that’s not an exclusive term, it’s an inclusive term; it’s like, for youth basically. We’re still trying to figure out the best language to use.
My friend was running the kitchen at Sadleir House at the time, and she had a local male musician come in to help her, while Rock Camp was on. He was the same age as some of these girls, and he stuck his head out, and all of a sudden, this environment of risk taking, turns into girls fixing their hair, and nobody willing to go onto stage.
I was like, “Oh! Now I understand why we need this space.”
It’s not about creating a space that is only women, it’s about creating a space where they can gain enough skill or experience to have the confidence to take it outside.
We’re encouraging musicians in our community to play, to understand the language, and the gear.
I find that girls are conditioned not to be confident risk takers, in comparison to boys.
I grew up with the gender binary, but all of that stuff affected how my actual confidence developed. I think for women booking shows, your CD cover is supposed to have your picture on it, and if it doesn’t, it’s weird. Things like that are problematic.
Any final thoughts?
I feel like motherhood has totally stopped my music so I am trying to find my way back in. With my husband, trying to play less loud music, less raunchy music.
So that it’s possible to play earlier shows if we go on tour, and access early shows at festivals.