Senior singer/songwriters Cameron Davis (left) and Lindsey Sullivan (right), editor in chief for Currents magazine and co-producer for the Graph podcast, perform their original songs for PGM’s podcast Small Studio Sessions in the KWVS studio in February 2020. They started a folk duo named “Sweet Karine” and recording an album is their current focus. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Sullivan
The next Joni Mitchell, the next top music journalist and the female Simon & Garfunkel are all creating and writing right here at Pepperdine. The local music scene is bursting with women who eagerly await finding their places in the music industry.
Pepperdine singer/songwriters, folk duos, future Broadway stars and accomplished violinists share their musical influences, new projects and views on what women bring to the table of the sound of music.
“I think a lot of women are telling really good stories right now in terms of female empowerment and just emphasizing the fact that women should be equally heard and equally listened to,” Cameron Davis, senior singer/songwriter said. “I feel like there are a lot of powerful women, right now, who are telling stories and taking ownership of their craft.”
Alexa Birt, senior Journalism and Music major, said she plays violin and focuses on this instrument in her major, but she also sings, plays guitar, piano and viola.
She attended private schools growing up, which she said did not provide her with opportunities for music involvement, so she took it upon herself to participate in extracurricular symphony orchestras, outside chamber music programs and private lessons. She said her mom, who grew up playing piano in church, is her main musical influence.
“The violin is what comes easiest to me, that’s for sure,” Birt said. “I also love waking up and playing piano as soon as I get up, or if I hear a song on the radio, and I’ll start playing it.”
Louise Lofquist, associate professor of Music, inspires Birt daily due to her support and mentorship, she said. In the world of violin, she said her current favorite artist is Netherlands native, Janine Jansen.
“I just think she is one of the most fine musicians ever; she’s just so passionate and you can just feel what she’s trying to convey,” Birt said. “She is just really incredible.”
Birt works on collaborative music such as playing violin for others in studio recordings. She is helping out a former Pepperdine graduate by adding violin to his music. In the future, Birt said she hopes to attend graduate school and find a career in music journalism, mixing her two loves of music and writing.
“I love getting to know people and getting to know their stories about making music; those are a few of my favorite things,” Birt said. “I think the big dream would be in some kind of job where I can interview my favorite artists and pick their brain.”
Holly Jackson, first-year Musical Theatre and Film Studies major, said she is a singer dipping her toes in the classical/operatic vocal realm. She taught herself guitar and writes her own music.
“I just dove into the electric guitar, but I think I like acoustic more, because when I’m holding the guitar to my body I get to feel the vibrations of the music within me,” Jackson said. “It’s such a special moment because you’re becoming one with the music.”
Jackson’s female influences include Jazmine Sullivan, Janelle Monáe and Ariana Grande, because she said she likes their vocals and distinctive individual styles.
Her ultimate goal is to become a Broadway star or a TV or film actress. She said she grew up with influences such as “Phantom of the Opera” and “Mama Mia!“ She also participated in a production of “Grease” in high school and “Aladdin” at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Mo., in February 2012.
“As soon as I stepped on stage for the first number ‘Arabian Nights,’ I was like, ‘This is where I belong and what I want to do for the rest of my career,'” Jackson said.
Senior Journalism major Lindsey Sullivan, who is the Currents magazine editor and co-producer for the Graph podcast, said she is a singer and plays drums, guitar and piano. She grew up listening to many rock classics such as “The Beatles,“ “Rolling Stones,“ “Eric Clapton“ and “3 Doors Down.“
Sullivan said she didn’t start writing or sharing her music until she came to college. It was when she joined Celebration Chapel and became friends with fellow musician, Davis, who lived in her first-year dorm.
“I feel like Pepperdine people are just musical, even people that say they aren’t, they can play the guitar,” Sullivan said. “I felt very welcomed and invited into that space to play music, so it was really college when I started sharing.”
Sweet Karine, Cameron and Sullivan’s folk duo, is titled after a Lausanne international program administrator named Karine who the girls said they loved and felt connected to when they were abroad.
Davis is a singer/songwriter who plays guitar, piano and electric instruments such as groove boxes. She said she also produces music on Ableton and Pro-Tools and practices audio editing.
Growing up, Davis had strong musical influences in her household — she said her grandfather played guitar, her mom is a professional opera singer and her brother plays violin. She wrote her first song in sixth grade and now writes songs with Sullivan while they prepare to record an album.
Davis and Sullivan said they write and work on songs remotely and the process is smoother than they thought. They send each other incomplete voice memos of lyrics or instrumentals and work on it back and forth.
“I’ll be completely stuck when it comes to the bridge or the tambour, or ways of playing it rhythmically on the guitar, because she’s much better at that,” Davis said. “Then she’ll take it and make it so much better than I could have imagined.”
One of them will write a verse or two, maybe a chord or some lyrics, and then send it on. Sullivan said they do not begin writing a song with previously written music or lyrics. They will sit together and play a riff or progression many times and become inspired on the spot.
“There is literally no one else that I would trust, sharing something I’ve written with to that capacity, other than Cam,” Sullivan said. “She’s one of my closest friends and we have just always built the trust with each other in that capacity.”
Sullivan’s favorite lyric they wrote is from their song “Sweet (Cruel),” which is not available to stream yet, and it says, “Cruel love, what did I do to you?/ What did I do to make you so cold?/ Sweet love, you have a way of knowing/ You have a way of reading me.”
“It was based off a relationship of mine, but introspectively, it is almost how we can be so kind to ourselves but so cruel at the same time,” Sullivan said. “I think I struggle with that a lot, wanting to love myself. But then ruminating on every piece of evidence that contradicts that.”
Joni Mitchell‘s lyricism heavily inspires Sullivan, as well as the three sister girl-group called The Staves, in particular their album “Good Women.” She said the album poses the question of what it means to be good women and how to proclaim that versus what society says.
Davis said one of her biggest influences is songwriter Adrianne Lenker, the brains behind the rock band Big Thief, as well as Florence Welsh from Florence and the Machine.
“I really love how a lot of [Welsh’s] stuff is more anthemic, really intense and kind of orchestral; there is just so much that goes into her music,” Davis said. “Also so much soul.”
Over the years in music history, female musicians brought incredible amounts of inventive harmonies, melodies and intensely dynamic poetry to the scene. Davis said female artists contribute tremendous effort in emphasizing that women musicians should be taken just as seriously as men. They are just as capable, talented and powerful.
“There are a lot of artists that come to mind whenever I talk about that — St. Vincent is one of them,” Davis said. “She is just really empowering and takes ownership of female sexuality and the intellectual capabilities of females. That is one of the things that I think female musicians are bringing to the table.”
Birt said female musicians’ innate ability to bring soul to the music is part of their success.
“Classical music, especially, is dominated by men like Bach, Brahms and Beethoven,” Birt said. “That is good and fine because they wrote music that is foundational to classical education. But it’s important because women are naturally nurturing and caring, and music can be that special expression from the soul and women bring something different to the table innately.”
These women of Pepperdine help shape the modern music industry and have their own individual pieces of advice and wisdom to share with the Pepperdine community. They said the future of music cannot stop the waves of female empowerment that are approaching.
Birt keeps going back to music because it is something that stays constant throughout her life.
Jackson’s advice to musicians is to remember that they can be their own obstacle, she said. Sullivan said she believes music is the universal language when things just can’t be explained in words.
“You can be so honest, but so hidden at the same time,” Sullivan said. “You can say what you need to say and get it off your chest, and make it more beautiful than where the idea originated from. And so that’s why I choose music.”
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Email Beth Gonzales: firstname.lastname@example.org