Nicola Lefevre joined her first band back in high school and is now mentoring the next generation as the founder of Girls Rock Camp Calgary, a non-profit organization that stages an annual summer week-long session on everything from songwriting to recording to merchandise. She still walks the walk herself as a member of the bands Sequicons, Chick Magnets (with Girls Rock Camp cohort Miesha Louie), Night Committee and Tugs, and juggles her passion with a day job in healthcare administration as well as graduate studies in her field. We caught up with Lefevre to chat about her first band, camp life and why the kids truly are all right.
Tell me about your first band.
Nicola Lefevre, founder of Girls Rock Camp Calgary.
“I started playing bass when I was 14. I had just started high school at Bishop Carroll and some friends wanted to start a band. The guitar player and the drummer had already played together for a couple years. They needed a bass player and a singer and this other guy wanted to be the singer, so I got myself a bass. It was 1993 so we wanted to be the Smashing Pumpkins. We played our first show in June of 1994 with Chixdiggit. We were called Drew, named after our drummer’s best friend. We played for a year and a half, I think, and then everyone moved on to other things.”
How did you get involved with Girls Rock Camp?
“I heard about it in Vancouver in 2012 and I started looking into whether anything like that had been done in Calgary. It turned out something actually had been done a couple years previous, though it wasn’t called Girls Rock Camp. I was volunteering with the New Black Centre at that time [a now-closed all-ages venue and music education centre in Inglewood]. I talked to New Black’s Darren Ollinger about it and he thought it would be a cool program so we just jumped in with both feet and went for it. I was the one who started it up and he was like my benefactor.”
What goes on at Girls Rock Camp?
“It runs Monday to Saturday. The first four days they do all the learning, like music lessons, workshops on dealing with promoters, making merchandise, and we work as a group to write a camp song. On the Friday, they do a recording – for the last two years, OCL Studios has donated their space and Josh Gwilliam (a GRC board member) records everyone’s original song. And then they play a showcase on the Saturday afternoon at Ship and Anchor. We also have a pretty major focus on what it means to be female, playing music, in our scene and beyond.”
What are some of the things that come up in that regard?
“Some of it has to do with how do you assert yourself, and how to be seen and be taken seriously and not be dismissed as a novelty, because goodness, I still run into that and I’m 37 years old – it’s always nice when I’m referred to as being a solid player rather than ‘good for a girl.’ We talk about camaraderie between women as well, just accepting each other and each other’s tastes and how you work together with people that maybe you wouldn’t work with otherwise. We also talk about safety. Last year the Calgary Sexual Health Centre came and did a [presentation] about consent. There’s a little bit of that too.”
Rock ‘n’ roll is rebellious by nature. What are the campers rebelling against?
“The girls that come to camp generally have really supportive parents, so I find that it’s not so much them rebelling against their family or home life, but against this idea of what a girl is supposed to be. A lot of them that come are already staunch little feminists.”
What’s one thing you’ve learned from them?
“Just how hyper-aware they are. We always say after every camp that if these are the hands we are putting our music community into, it’s in good hands. It’s so different from when I was that age. They’re more self-assured. Less held-back. That’s exciting for me. It makes other things feel like less of a struggle.”
Playing in bands, teaching the next generation how to start a band, you wouldn’t do this if you didn’t love it. So what do you love about it?
“It’s such a clich, but it’s a total release. So much of what I do in my work life is really serious: seniors’ health, my graduate studies about compassion fatigue and psychological distress. You know what I mean? Playing music is the outlet. I often say that if I didn’t do that, none of this other stuff would get done. I make time to do it because I have to. It’s the way I create. I’m not a visual artist. I don’ t make films. This is the way I get to be creative.”
For more information about Girls Rock Camp Calgary visit girlsrockcampcalgary.com.