Manifesto, our opening event at CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow on 4 October, includes an evening showcase by music collective Hen Hoose, featuring live sets by SHEARS, Ray Aggs (Sacred Paws, Trash Kit) and Sarah Hayes (Admiral Fallow).

Hen Hoose has become a revolutionary force in a music industry still dominated by men. The collective consists entirely of female and non-binary musicians and is dedicated to amplifying women’s creative voices through mentoring, education, recording, and showcase events.

We spoke to Hen Hoose founder Tamara Schlesinger about the history and ideas behind the project.

Tamara, Hen Hoose has become this big, multi-faceted project, but was there one idea or thought that sparked it in the first place?

Tamara Schlesinger
Tamara Schlesinger (credit: Curse These Eyes)

It was originally formed during lockdown and my first thought was bringing everyone together in a difficult time. But the reason it focused on women and non-binary artists was because for years I’d been seeing these things on social media where people would have music festival line-ups, and they’d take all the men off and you’d be left with, you know, one female artist or something like that. I’d get so annoyed and I’d repost it. And I thought, well, maybe there’s more I can do, and maybe now is the point, when a lot of artists couldn’t tour and a lot of artists couldn’t have the normal revenue streams, to come together and look at how, as a unit, we can make a difference. 

It’s striking that a lot of the achievements listed on Hen Hoose’s website – getting women’s music in adverting campaigns, podcasts, or Netflix series, for example, and supporting them to learn to be producers and engineers – are the kinds of things that would be invisible to most people. It seems clear that supporting women to make a living on their own terms is as important as more public-facing artist achievements like radio play or TV appearances. 

That was really important, and we’re moving more into the educational side of things – production courses and mentoring schemes, confidence building.

When we started the project I think that maybe two or three of the writers involved would have called themselves record producers. They were doing it but they didn’t believe that was what they were doing – they would demo music at home but then go into a studio with a ‘proper’ engineer, ‘proper’ producer, who would complete the job for them. But in lockdown we couldn’t go into studios, everything was done at home. And suddenly everyone was like, ‘Oh hang on, yeah, I’ve produced this.’

So you’re right, it’s not necessarily the visible thing of the lead singer, it’s about showing all the options you have for a career in music, where you can say, ‘well, I will still have my artist’s project, but I can also make money doing this or I can mentor, this is worth something. Obviously we’re trying to level the playing field as well, but also just trying to make sure there’s security.”

SHEARS seems like a good example of this. She built up a huge online following by herself as a teenager but still felt she needed to turn to a male producer when she began recording music for release. Hen Hoose helped empower her to produce her music herself but there could easily have been a scenario where that didn’t happen.

Yes. And Emma Pollock has got a degree in physics and clearly can do all this technical stuff, but she had never produced anything either until this point. It’s about who you see in that environment, who you see doing that work. I think something Hen Hoose has done is to say yes, you can do it. I’m seeing a lot more female producers coming out of the scene in Scotland, which is really exciting. 

Hen Hoose collective: Round II

The theme of this year’s festival is ‘revolution’. We asked Hen Hoose to take part because we think what you’re doing is revolutionary in lots of ways. Do you agree?

I think we try! There have been a lot of initiatives trying to make change, but I don’t feel like they’re necessarily creating the opportunity. I think Scotland can be at the forefront of real change, because the industry here is small enough that with a few people coming on board there should be enough of a shift. So yeah, I hope we are revolutionaries. That’d be nice.

There has to be an element of activism with what we do, to say, look at your roster for your record label, look at your roster for this publishing company. Diversity across the board is vital. If we up-skill women and non-binary artists, from producers to lighting, set and full band, then younger girls are coming into this environment saying, ‘wow, I can do that.’ And they have that belief that maybe we didn’t have when we were younger, because we didn’t see that. And also creating this community where we can work together. 

Can you give me an example of that community in action?

There’s certainly been sync opportunities for TV and film that have come in where someone will suggest another person who might be better for it. And Carla J Easton and I are doing a double header headline show to pull together our connections and fanbases. (Composer) Pippa Murphy was brought into the collective because Karine Polwart suggested her, and then Inge Thomson came in, and it just kind of snowballs. It’s about people passing on their knowledge to each other. 

Someone involved in both SMHAF and Hen Hoose was Beldina Odenyo, aka Heir of the Cursed. Beldina died the same day Hen Hoose released its first compilation album, Equaliser. That must have been very difficult and painful for all of you.

Beldina Odenyo aka Heir of the Cursed,
performing at SMHAF in 2018

It was a tragic, horrific time. There are people in the collective who were incredibly close with Beldina. For me personally, I couldn’t listen to the song (closing track Burn it All, a collaboration between Odenyo and Inge Thomson) for a long time. But in some ways, after the shock of everything that happened it felt so important that people had this song that she had created. She was so incredibly talented. I know from the sales on Bandcamp that a lot of people supported the song as their way of trying to make sense of it all and trying to do something positive. 

One positive thing, of course, is that Hen Hoose provides a support network for female and non-binary musicians. Is mental health something you talk about a lot?

Absolutely. I think we’re very, very aware of it within the collective. When people go quiet sometimes, when artists step back for whatever reason, we need to make sure we’re giving them space and time but also reaching out. It’s complicated, but one thing we’ve always done is to try and take the pressure off. Any time anybody seems like they can’t or don’t want to do something we’ve always been very comfortable to say ‘don’t worry.’ All musicians struggle with mental health. One of our aims as a collective is to try and highlight that and support people as much as we can. 

Book your Hen Hoose – Power Up tickets

Join us for our celebratory headline gig at Manifesto, from 7pm – 9:30pm on Wednesday 4 October at CCA, Glasgow. Tickets are available for £5 / £10 / £15 on a ‘pay what you can’ basis.