Out East Soundtrack
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“My dad always had his records spinning or was watching VH1 and, oddly enough, he was the one who first introduced me to several strong, female artists like Stevie Nicks, Pat Benatar, Blondie, Donna Summer, etc. At the time, I’m sure I didn’t think of it much beyond, ‘Wow, these women are badass!’ But now I attribute my strength and determination to those mentors years ago and to my musical influence still today.”
For Angela Lese, a strong female influence has always been synonymous with music. You’ve seen her drum with several female-fronted bands or female artists (The Dead Deads, Taco Mouth, Raelyn Nelson Band, Kalie Shorr, etc.), which, given the influences during her coming of age years, comes naturally.
As our guest curator of the “Out East Soundtrack,” Angela creates a playlist centered on female artists that made an impact on her musical career as well as her sense of self. Given that March is Women’s History Month, she chose ten songs written and/or performed by women that offer a glimpse into the pop-heavy musical tastes of one of Nashville’s favorite drummers.
1. “How Will I Know”
Whitney Houston (1985)
This was the first song I ever heard from Whitney Houston. I wanted to be a dancer long before I wanted to drum, and I recall participating in a dance contest at daycare to this very song. The thing that sticks with me, though, is that smile when she sang — it said it all.
2. “I Hate Myself For Loving You”
Joan Jett (1988)
I’m not sure who’s the bigger fan of Joan Jett, me or my dad. I distinctly remember this music video and have idolized her ever since. Her riffs and songs are undeniable. She’s one of the greatest ever to do it. Her songs have influenced my drumming and musical tastes a ton, and I’ve covered her a lot in various bands. I also think she was my first crush, and I love how she combines androgyny, confidence, and badassery.
3. “The Victim”
Pat Benatar (1982)
If Pat Benatar’s voice doesn’t make you feel something, we are not meant to be friends. “We Belong” or “Heartbreaker” were probably the most memorable songs for me as a kid, but I chose “The Victim” because my old cover band back in my Louisville days would cover this song. The drums are straight NASTY in this song, and I’ve borrowed a few licks and morphed them into songs I’ve recorded since.
Their Bad Animals album is one of my favorites of all time. When Ann Wilson hits THAT note in “Alone,” I’m instantly taken somewhere, like my soul left my body for a moment. To me, that’s one of the greatest moments in rock & roll and the reason why music matters so much. I remember not focusing on anything except the power behind that voice. A singer or musician with that kind of influence that can make you lose every single thought is the kind of musician I aspire to be.
5. “Rhythm Nation”
Janet Jackson (1989)
I would list the entire Rhythm Nation 1814 album here if I could. Also one of my favorite albums ever. I almost picked “Black Cat” because I’ve covered that before … and … cowbell. But “Rhythm Nation” is a damn anthem. Pop perfection, lyrics with a strong message of unity, chants, and killer drums/percussion, not to mention one of the best videos ever to boot.
6. “You Oughta Know”
Alanis Morissette (1995)
This list is not ordered by the most influential songs because this would be first. Alanis Morissette was the first concert I ever saw, and it was a religious experience for me. I knew for a fact that I was going to do that for a living — perform music. And here I am doing it. “Thanks, Alanis!” Jagged Little Pill is my favorite album of all time, and I wanted to put “Not The Doctor” for my song choice because I think that’s the best-written song on the album. But I picked the massive hit instead because I’ve covered this a lot, most recently with Kalie Shorr when we were so appropriately touring Canada last fall. I started drumming for Kalie in late 2021 because I was wearing an Alanis t-shirt at a show, and she approached me because of that shirt, not because she needed a drummer and I needed a gig. Alanis is still impacting my life 25 years later.
The Breeders (1993)
Before my magical Alanis experience, I had a similar epiphany-like feeling when I first heard “Cannonball” by The Breeders. This is my favorite song of all time because when I first heard it, those drums spoke to me. I played flute at the time, but I just knew that I would drum someday because of that song. It’s one of the coolest grooves in any song, and it took me nearly 30 years before I finally covered it. My love for drums began with “Cannonball.
8. “Make Me Feel”
Janelle Monae (2018)
This is Women’s (rather, non-cis men’s) History Month, but I do wanna mention that Prince is one of my most significant influences of all time, and I think his closest female adaptation is Janelle Monae. If you don’t know her, stop reading and listen to the Dirty Computer album. It’s the best album of 2018, and I picked “Make Me Feel” because of the strong Prince vibes in this song. This was Janelle’s “coming out” song, and since then, she’s been a leading voice for all Black and queer people. I think she’s one of the most genius artists out there, and I especially love that she’s a strong, Black, and queer female. Voices like hers need to be amplified. Listen to this song — you can’t NOT move your booty to it.
The Cranberries (1993)
I think this is one of the most underrated songs ever written, not for lack of popularity, but its brutal honesty and emotion. Yep, enter my first song choice based solely on lyrics. The lyrics are so painful and relatable. I think that’s why I love it so much (and The Cranberries were one of the best of the 90s, and Dolores’ voice is intoxicating). We’ve all had that one partner that made us spellbound, so in love one moment and completely ruined the next. What a gut-punch of a song, but also empowering? Like, how strong was Dolores to admit how pathetically in love she was? Ugh, so powerful.
10. “Fast Car”
Tracy Chapman (1988)
I think we can all agree that this is one of the greatest songs ever written. Ever. I was young when this came out, but I could still tell how heavy the song was. I remember how I liked that it was a story, too, so for me, I think Tracy Chapman was the first storyteller/songwriter that I was introduced to or left an impression on me. “Fast Car” opened up my musical palette for sure. Everyone I know knows this song — that’s influence.