Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: The Woman Songwriter Collective: All for one, one for all

Last modified: Thursday, January 29, 2015

One strong way for a new band to get the word out is to use an audio business card, aka a CD. The Woman Songwriter Collective has one fresh-off-the-press, ready to share with the world, as member Christa Joy said in an interview earlier this week: “Now we can say, ‘This is us, this is what WE sound like collectively.’ ”

Joy and fellow singer/songwriters Lisa Marie Ellingsen, Saera Kochanski, Carolyn Walker and Lexi Weege make up the Woman Songwriter Collective; their new mini-album features one song by each member of the group, all arranged and performed by the full band.

The quintet celebrates the release of its self-titled debut EP with a performance at the Iron Horse on Dec. 4 at 7 p.m.

The Collective allows individual styles to shine — Weege’s piano-driven and brassy “Cinnamon Sugar,” Joy’s timeless-feeling country-folk song “You Don’t Know,” Walker’s dreamy and ethereal “Ophelia,” Kochanski’s earthy, Gypsy-tinged “Hazel & Wine,” and Ellingsen’s swingy and hooky “The Nightlife” — while also showing off their supportive arranging skills.

The women form an airy choir around Walker on “Ophelia,” suggesting a cross between Natalie Merchant and Linda Perhacs; they engage in a catchy call-and-response with Ellingsen on the chorus of her tune; and they give Joy’s song the cozy, loose feel of a front porch hootenanny.

Their live show is set up as an “in the round” experience, with the members taking turns leading while the other musicians rearrange into a diverse backing band — there’s guitar, bass, banjo, keyboard, violin, ukulele, mandolin, hand percussion, harmonica and harmonies galore.

The EP was largely paid for with money the Collective received from Club Passim’s Iguana Music Fund, a grant given out yearly by the legendary Harvard Square folk club. Joy’s friend Todd Mack, who also received the grant (for his nonprofit Music In Common), offered to help the Collective make its EP in his Sheffield studio, which allowed the women to record the majority of the songs live, all together.

Between the five songwriters, they had enough material to record a full-length album, if not two, but they whittled the selection down to one song per person.

“We typically rely on a democratic process to make tough decisions,” Joy said. “Sometimes we pull names out of a boot for little tasks, but for the EP, we each chose a few songs we love to play in support of each musician. Then we narrowed it down and gave the songwriter the final word.”

Mutual aid

Supporting one another is a large part of the Woman Songwriting Collective, both from a business and personal point of view.

“Having the ladies in my life makes me feel like I have this super-talented family. They give me a sense of community I really never have experienced before,” Weege said.

“This group energizes me and helps give me confidence in my own music and abilities,” Ellingsen said. “I am very shy about singing my songs, so having four amazing women to back me up gives me loads of confidence.”

With such an emphasis on songwriting and creating, the members have found the Collective has helped them hone their craft and find inspiration in each other’s work, too.

“Creating together happens so naturally and it brings so much joy to me to play with friends,” Joy said. “Before I played with the Collective, booking shows and ‘growing as an artist’ tended to feel like pressure. Playing with people you love is ‘playing’ in all senses of the word.”

Walker says that banding together has helped the women get bigger gigs at larger venues.

“Since there are five songwriters, we offer variety in a show, and we have much more material than most bands that have been around for the same amount of time we’ve been around,” she said. “If one member has played a venue, that member can help the group get their foot in the door.”

Plus, she adds, “Venues know that we are drawing upon five fan bases instead of one. And many like the idea of a collective of women helping each other, and the friendships and closeness that come across so easily on stage.”

“When I write songs now I think about where backup vocals could be and what the Collective might add to the arrangement,” Ellingsen said. “Listening to Saera’s music helps remind me to think outside the box; Carolyn’s soon-to-be-released album is inspiring in the level of production and detail that were put into it — she leaves no stone unturned; Lexi is a reminder of the power of live performance — you never know what she will do — and she is constantly improving, which inspires me to want to grow as well; and Christa’s lyrics are so amazing, it reminds me to not get lazy with my lyrics — she can paint landscapes and scenes with her words and take you to deep depths of emotion.”

At their Iron Horse release show, the Woman Songwriter Collective will play everything from the EP, as well as new original material, new cover songs and, according to Walker, probably include “some corny jokes and funny banter.”

“You can expect synergy and a shared celebration of women who love one another,” Joy said. “You can expect to be inspired by musicians who promote one another’s well-being and who want to see each other thrive. You can expect fun, great music, laughing, maybe a few tears, and I know you’ll leave feeling lighter than you did on the way in the door.”

Ken Maiuri can be reached at

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