It’s one of those bizarrely warm fall days. Yellow leaves still cling to half-barren trees surrounding the shaded backyard where I purposefully line up our patio furniture, so we’ll have a place to sit in the gentle rays of sun as we chat.
I’ve done this for a long time; the storyteller who tries to read through people’s words for a glimpse of their soul, then turn that into something golden that sings as people take in the words in my stories, but I still feel this weight as I gear up to ask only the important questions — the most pressing ones.
When you interview three powerful women, you can feel their presence, as if they’re carrying the world’s power on their backs; prayers and thoughts and social equality conquests loaded into song lyrics like gentle explosions of profundity. You come out of this experience, inevitably, with the great responsibility to share their power with the world. And I tell them this.
I tell them I only want to ask the questions that matter, and they’re into it. We share a space here, for this one hour, in the tranquility of the backyard, where what we allcare about is just the space of being here, in the moment. So, no, you’re not about to read a typical interview between journalist and musicians.
You’re going to read about the band four of us Moonshiners discovered somewhere between the intimacy of the great protective Buttes and the manzanita and moonlight and creaky old ski lodge-turned-stage at Lost Sierra Hoedown. You’re about to meet three incredible women, the Rainbow Girls, and hear how we made Moonshine their home for half a day, and they made themselves a home in our hearts.
At 12:30 p.m., a text message: “We’re in this great big can. Where should we park?” Vanessa, Erin, and Caitlin show up to the office in a glorious old beater van(thanks, autocorrect) and sleepily tumble out of the car. While one drove, the others napped as the van wound its way up from the Bay Area through hills and mountains, past stunning vistas, on the way up to our little paradise. The Rainbow Girls often share responsibilities in this way, taking the load off each other and wearing the weight equally as roommates, bandmates, and chosen sisters.
It doesn’t take long for their personalities to begin shining through, as the sleep wears off and the lipstick comes out. Vanessa, with a quiet strength, tours the office and begins loading in gear. Caitlin tames her wild red hair and it doesn’t take long to realize her peach lipstick is much the same as her warm personality. Erin seems a pillar of wisdom: tall in stature, focused, funny, and adoringly real.
After load-in, we leave behind the crunch of leaves on our tiny porch, and the spiritual ancestors inside the old wooden stand-up bass and meditative guitar are there waiting until it’s time to make music; they’ll make our staff and guests swoon soon enough. Now, as we sit down and settle in, it’s time to pry — just a little — about what makes these three so real.
The Rainbow Girls are lipstick-wearing, non-armpit-shaving, voice-belting, beer-drinking, pizza-eating, real human beings. They treat each other and their surroundings with a dignity and respect that resonates in their music. The other thing their music reflects is a crystal-clear view of what’s really happening in the world around them.
It’s no surprise their new album, American Dream, is a softer reflection of their upbeat folk vibe, tinged with the social activism for which these ladies are so well-known, with pieces likeSong for Standing Rock, and the lyrics to the title song beginning with, “My dream’s to someday own some land. And on that land, I’ll build my home.”
“No matter who you are, you are a product of what it is that’s around you,” Vanessa explains. “We try to identify ourselves as individuals but really, at the end of the day, none of us exist without any of the things around us. Ultimately, all the music and art that anybody creates as part of this collective is a processing of all the things we see.”
She goes on: “We’ve certainly made decisions as a collective in our career to take the path that we’re taking because it allows us to maintain our integrity, and it’s an interesting thing having the conversations that people don’t wanna have in song. Trying to figure out how to talk to people about these things and make them feel relevant … you can’t just say ‘you suck’ and tell someone to go fix it. It’s our challenge to notice these things and try to figure out solutions to them.”
Caitlin shares that when you’re on the road all the time, although you want to go to all the activist’s rallies for social change, you can’t always make it. But one thing that makes up for it is music’s magical ability to communicate the hard things.
“Music can sit with you and get caught in your brain easier than someone’s sentence,” she says. “Affecting you all day, thinking about this one thing for weeks. I don’t know how it does it, but it does.”
“— It can permeate you,” adds Erin.
Laughter trickles down through the trees with the falling leaves, and she jokingly pokes, “did you plan this?” I tell them I indeed planned the fall colors and the spinning airplanes of leaves, and it’s because I’m secretly known as ‘Mother Earth’, to which they laugh.
These women are so intricately connected — so comfortably finishing each other’s sentences, laying their legs across one another’s laps, and giving pick-up hugs throughout our day together — that I have to ask what it is that makes them such bonded, strong women.
“Well, we’ve been married for 10 years,” starts Erin, and they laugh.
“The women we meet in the music industry are so supportive of other women,” Caitlin says. “There’s more men still, so when you meet another woman who plays an instrument, there’s a camaraderie of ‘you’ve had to deal with being that girl who plays music’.”
Vanessa adds, “For a long time there was this idea that we needed to compete with each other because there were only so many spaces for women. So many spaces have opened up and there’s clearly room for the people who are doing the work. I appreciate being able to be here when there is room and I appreciate the women who have elbowed their way in to really push people out of the way…” Looking around, she smiles and says, “I’m super grateful to be able to have the relationship with these women that I do.”
It’s like these ladies speak a language of their own, so I ask what it is. Erin quickly responds: gibberish. But after a quick huddle, the three laughingly decide that, no — it’s telecommunication.
If, in fact, it is telecommunication they’ve mastered, the Rainbow Girls are perfect in this art. Many hours after our interview in Moonshine’speaceful backyard along the Truckee River, I come to deeply understand what they’ll say next in our interview. It happens as I watch them play an intimate show at Dark Horse Coffee much later that night, well after we’ve wrapped our film shoot. The crowd, dimly lit in the blue shadows of ambient stage light, is swaying gently, and focused intently on the stage.
Vanessa explains it best. “It doesn’t matter, really, how big the space is and who’s there, ultimately you’re coming to hang out with the Rainbow Girls and have them sing you songs,” she says. “It’s how we were raised as a band … it’s about connecting with people and not taking yourself overly seriously. A lot of stuff on the market is very polished and very sterile and … people are yearning for genuine interaction and that is what we do best.”
So maybe they aren’t actually teleporting inside your head, but to hear the Rainbow Girls sing sweet originals in three-part harmony with gentle guitar lilting along behind, is an experience like no other. It’s seeing “genuine” at its very best.
Back in the yard, after the pizza is done and the chatting subsides, the ladies stand up, dust off their hands, and bounce back toward the office. In our Tiny Porch 6 production concept, they’ll excitedly ride cruiser bikes down the street, get showered with leaves, and play us some really sweet, heartfelt tunes later that day. And they’ll do it all with strength and grace.
A little while later, up on the porch, we’re almost done filming but there’s a break in one of the songs that isn’t sitting quite right. Fiery Caitlin spins around and smacks the dragonfly windchime hanging from our awning, fitting the twinkling sounds in perfectly among guitar strums and the thumping baseline. It’s a wrap.
They depart the office with one final request, but only when prodded as to whether they need anything before tonight’s show. No, they say, they’ve got everything they possibly could want (including a low-key sponsorship from Lagunitas Brewing Company that keeps them hooked up with great IPAs). But maybe, just maybe, they want a salad. We chuckle a little bit at the word salad, and just like that, they’re on their way. Later, yes, I’ll bring them a salad. And that’s the Rainbow Girls: strength, grace, a little salad, and a ton of humor go a long way.