As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Summer 2020 Issue
A lifelong passion for the creative process, connecting people, and creating communities, fuels and inspires Carla DeSantis Black. Many of us know her pioneering work with the magazine ROCKRGRL. We met her to learn about her current Artist’s Way workshops, involvement with an Israeli TV show, and work on a novel.
You founded ROCKRGRL Magazine back in 1994 and continued the venture through 2005—the first publication of its kind. You also held several ROCKRGRL Music Conferences. How did you get involved in music journalism and fighting for equal opportunity for female musicians?
I studied journalism in college—after failing spectacularly at a bunch of other majors, including theater, communications, and music. This is mostly because I wanted to be in a band and not school. When I finally got into a band, I noticed a stark difference in the way I was treated compared to the guys in my band. I didn’t feel that I was ever taken as seriously as a musician as I took myself. A few years later, I was in an all-female band, and it was even more obvious that people didn’t think women were “real” musicians. The way women were written about in Rolling Stone and the gear magazines was even more offensive to me. I wanted to understand why this was going on.
Do you have a favorite interview or article from ROCKRGRL that still sticks with you?
Not really. I always loved speaking to Ani DiFranco because she was so original—the first truly independent artist. And she took a lot of heat at the time for shunning the big label machine. But I learned something from everyone and every interview because people had such different experiences.
During the ROCKRGRL era, you were based in Seattle and later in 2010, moved to Austin, and founded MEOW—Musicians for Equal Opportunities for Women. I was fortunate enough to attend the 2013 MEOWCon, where I met Suzi and Patti Quatro, Jennifer Batten, Kathy Valentine, and so many other great artists—which was so exciting for me. Why the move to Seattle, and can you reflect on the inspiration behind MEOW and some of the exciting times?
When I started ROCKRGRL, I was actually in the Bay Area and moved to Seattle in 1996. I loved my time in Seattle, but after the conference I did there in 2005, it was obvious that the world was really changing. By 2008, there was a huge economic bust, and I wanted to live somewhere more affordable than Seattle. I knew a few people in Austin, and that seemed like a cool place to be—also a lot less rain!
Another reason for moving to Austin was the conference climate here. Obviously, SXSW is a big one, and I had only been to Austin for that. I didn’t know there was a Hill Country (where I live now) or anything about Texas. I was shocked to find out how many kinds of snakes there are! But by the time I got it together enough to do another conference (MEOWCon in 2013), the business had undergone a total transformation, and it was incredibly difficult to find sponsorship and even people to help with the planning. Both the stage manager and the volunteer coordinators left in the final week. But I always love bringing people together who didn’t know they had so much in common. I feel like we have such tunnel vision—we don’t always see that the punk rockers, the folkies, and the classical players are all fighting the same battles. Together we stand!
Austin has such a great music scene. How does it compare to Seattle?
I think the Austin scene is broader. There are so many clubs and so many different types of music here—and the conference environment fosters that. I think the Seattle scene is more insular. But musicians in both cities have a tough time making a living. Unfortunately, that is only getting more challenging.
You left the music industry for a few years to become a realtor. What inspired you to make such a drastic change?
I am still a realtor. During the last conference—the one you were at—I joked that if that didn’t work out, I would go sell houses—which is what I am doing! I love matchmaking people with each other, and matching people with houses gives me the same buzz.
But I am also facilitating Artist’s Way workshops online (based on Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way), and that is great fun and extremely rewarding. I didn’t set out for it to be an all-female thing, but it has somehow turned out that way. The course is forty-nine dollars for eight weeks, and we meet every week on Zoom. We go through the book and the concepts in it as a group. The idea is to work through creative blocks. This system works for musicians, filmmakers, visual artists, dancers, you name it. The Facebook page is facebook.com/creativebycarla.
Were you able to take any skills that you learned through ROCKRGRL and MEOW with you into your job change?
I somehow thought people would be mellower, but that is not the case at all! Buying and selling property is a very emotional process. But I love finding creative solutions to the glitches that always seem to crop up.
I know you were in a band when you were younger. Share with us some experiences from your time in an all-female band and playing bass.
That was probably one of the most life-changing experiences for me—and I have been working on a novel based on that time. This was the early and mid-’80s when The Go-Go’s were at their peak of success. We were around the same age they were, and inevitably we would be compared to them. It didn’t help that we played all of their hits! But people didn’t think we were playing our own instruments. At nearly every show, someone would ask if we were lip-synching. I thought it was funny at first, but the persistence of that accusation began to wear on me after a while. ROCKRGRL was my way of trying to figure out why people didn’t think women could actually play their own instruments. I still think it’s weird and shocking that the perception continues to exist that the female musician archetype is either soft, heartbroken waif crying over a boy, or loud banshee, screaming over a boy. Enough already.
Now you’re back to being involved with music a little bit. Could you see yourself doing it full-time again, or would you like to continue being a realtor as well?
I wouldn’t say I am back exactly. I couldn’t name a single band from the past five years. But I love seeing you run with a simpatico ethos and applaud your success, tenacity, and spirit, Tara!! I am way past wanting to be in a club ‘til all hours. I have an early bedtime. Ha!
Also, you now do creative coaching for artists through Creative by Carla. What has it been like to switch from interviewing artists about their creative process to teaching them how to refine and improve it?
One thing that will never change—I love hearing people’s stories and seeing them forge relationships with each other. What I loved about the conferences—which was so different from the magazine—was the ability to see how people met and started working together, sharing ideas, and collaborating on projects. So many of us feel isolated with our creativity, and it blossoms when you have support around you.
Not only are you coaching, but you’ve also been busy working on a YouTube-series interviewing the cast of Netflix’s Unorthodox. How has that been going?
YES!! Like everyone else, I have been looking for new ways to be useful during the pandemic. I went to Israel a couple of years ago and have become obsessed with Israeli television shows. Shira Haas, who has the lead in Unorthodox (on Netflix), was on another show called Shtisel. So the day it came out, March 26th, I watched Unorthodox and was so impressed by it. Not surprising, it is a story of a woman who leaves a strict religious community where she does not fit in and moves to Berlin, not knowing a soul.
Not having anyone to talk about the show with, I started a Facebook page for it called Unorthodox on Netflix Discussion. Now there are nearly 6,000 people from all over the world in the group, and I have learned so much and met so many interesting people. So I decided I may as well do an interview show too—I still do love interviewing people! It is on YouTube. So far, I have interviewed several people from the cast and crew, including one of the writers, the costume designer, the music supervisor, and a few cast members. I even spoke with Abby Stein—a transgender woman and author of the book Becoming Eve. She used to be a Hasidic rabbi and is an extra on the show. I am still trying to learn my way around iMovie, but it is great, great fun, and so rewarding. I know the lockdown has been so difficult for people, but this is truly the most creative I have felt in years!
Are there any notable differences in interviewing actors versus musicians?
I think the people involved with Unorthodox have been surprised by its success, so it is really delightful chatting with them. Everyone I have spoken to has been so appreciative. That is not always the case with musicians, unfortunately. It used to be, though.
You’ve seen and experienced a great deal in the music industry throughout your career. Do you feel that things have improved for women involved in music over the last several years?
I hope they have, but I don’t know for sure. One thing I think is encouraging is that through social media and maybe as a result of #MeToo—the Harvey Weinstein, R Kelly effect—that women are speaking out more about the things they used to sweep under the rug. That can only be a good thing—exposing the darkness to the light uplifts us all.
Lastly, what’s the one piece of advice you would offer to young women seeking a career in the music industry, either as a musician, producer, sound engineer, business leader, or in any other capacity?
It really is about the journey. And life has so many more twists and turns than you could ever imagine. We are all just trying to figure it out as we go along, and there are no mistakes. I think the most important thing is to do what is in your heart—not what others think is best for you. Only you know what is best for you, and as women, we are born with intuition. I think when we don’t listen to that inner voice is when we get into trouble. Just keep on keepin’ on!!