Nasty women: Stand and Sway take up the protest torch

Posted 4/24/19

Ara Lee and Beth Wood are two women with powerful voices and a passion for women’s rights.

“Our music is an outward manifestation of the power of women coming together to create, share joy and sorrow, and support and celebrate each other in growth and change,” Wood said.

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Nasty women: Stand and Sway take up the protest torch


Ara Lee and Beth Wood are two women with powerful voices and a passion for women’s rights.

“Our music is an outward manifestation of the power of women coming together to create, share joy and sorrow, and support and celebrate each other in growth and change,” Wood said. “I would tell our daughters that they have innate value and a voice and to practice using it.”

Lee and Wood, who make up the gospel-infused folk duo Stand and Sway, are releasing an album titled “Deep Blue.”

The album celebrates women’s triumphs, mourns their tragedies and keeps hope alive for this and future generations, Wood said.

“Beth and I made this album after both going through difficult divorces and major life transitions,” Lee said. “These songs came out, I would say, in large part because we just needed to write them. It’s full of grief, healing, awakening. It’s what came out of the ashes.”

Stand and Sway will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, April 26 at Northwind Arts Center, 701 Water St., Port Townsend, as part of Songwriter Showcase.

Wood said when she sings, she passes through a gamut of emotions.

“The sweet spot is to find a way to create enough distance between the emotion so that I can sing through it, but still remain close enough to the feeling that I can convey it. It’s a delicate dance and sometimes I fail and there have been plenty of times I have teared up or cracked up laughing on stage.”

The goal is not to have a perfect performance, Wood said.

“My goal is to move people, to break something open, to help people feel, to shatter the illusion of our separateness.”

Southern soul and blues

Lee grew up in Sweetwater, Tennessee while Wood grew up in Lubbock, Texas. Their exposure to gospel music no doubt had an impact on their musical style.

“I grew up in a church where instruments were not allowed, so my understanding of music came from singing songs out of a hymnal,” Lee said. “Music wasn’t about performance, it was done in order to connect with something greater than ourselves.”

People often call Lee a gospel singer, something she said she used to have a hard time with because she has long since left that identity of faith.

“I’ve come to make peace with that term because it speaks to a kind of communion through music.”

Lee said the highest form of music is one where it is used for healing.

“Music done in the service of a person’s ego makes you leave a performance thinking about how great that person was,” she said. “Music done in the service of music makes you leave feeling something you needed to feel, makes you more human, more open. That’s the kind of music I want to make.”

Even though she grew up in the Appalachians, Lee said she wasn’t tough as nails growing up.

“I’m still the same sensitive kid I was growing up on the farm, head in books, crying over poetry.”

It’s not the place where a person grows up that makes them tough, Lee said, but the obstacles they overcome in their life.

“I think standing up for women’s rights is less about strength, and more about the courage to simply be who you are.”

That has been a challenge since Lee grew up in a culture where women were supposed to be “pretty, acquiescent, polite, nice, submissive, virginal, sweet.”

She was never good at fitting that mold.

“Undoing that deep programming has been one of my greatest personal battles,” Lee said. “I think the bravest thing anyone can do is stop apologizing for who they are. This alone is revolutionary.”

Lee has found a musical soulmate in Wood, who grew up in a liberal home in a conservative state and also is trying to deprogram herself.

“I did absorb some of the underlying misogyny in that culture and part of my work as a human and woman is undoing some of that programming,” she said. “Even today if you look at a festival of Texas music, there will only be a handful of women artists. We still have a long way to go.”

Nasty woman

The first single the duo put out together was titled “Nasty Woman,” in reference to a comment then-candidate Donald Trump made about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential Campaign.

Lee said she proudly bears that moniker which is a badge of honor as opposed to a put-down.

“Men are free to borrow it as well,” she said. “This misogynistic ridiculousness calls for a sense of humor.”

Really, Lee would like to see a world without labels.

“Wouldn’t it be great if ‘human’ was the only one we used?” she said. “I would love for both women and men to be free from the ‘shoulds’ assigned to us. What could we create if we were all free from that mess? And here’s hoping.”

Wood said actual and lasting change can be made once society deems all humans, regardless of gender, as having equal value that will bring about lasting change.

Men can help promote such a change by being open, curious and listening, Wood said.

Powerful voices

Their message of change is delivered via two room-filling voices honed in choirs, Wood said.

She studied for many years with different voice teachers learning how to breathe efficiently and use the instrument she has been given in a way that conveys emotion and hopefully moves people, she said.

Singing in bands and then as a solo artist, Wood said she got to know her voice, how to care for it and how far she could push it.

“It is one of my greatest joys in life to fill a room with singing, and I now have discovered the great joy of raising my voice alongside Ara’s. For me it is pure joy and magic.”

Working with Lee has been a life-changing revelation, Wood said.

“I believe in magic again. I’ve been making my way as a solo touring singer-songwriter now for over twenty years and while I will always love this work, the isolation of touring and the hustle of constantly trying to find the next gig have worn on me.”

Collaborating with Lee has breathed new life into her creative dreams.

“I am totally re-energized,” Wood said. “I have never met anyone that I respect so much musically and vocally.”

Their deep friendship and love and support for each other also informs their writing and performances.

“We are so different in personality and in our voices, but when we put them together it is magical,” Wood said. “It is such a joy to make music with my dear friend.”

Lee said singing with Wood is one of the most powerful experiences of her life thus far, “as easy as breathing.”

“It’s hard to explain what a gift it is to sing with a person who not only sings as, let’s say, fiercely as you do, but also has the same internal compass about why we do this job,” Lee said. “Beth makes me believe in music in an industry that can sometimes feel like a clown car. I feel lucky every time we get to do this work together.”

Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets or at the Northwinds Arts Center door the night of the show. For more information, call 360-379-1086.


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