Since 2013, Girls Rock Milwaukee has given girls age 8-16 a chance to learn the ins and outs of starting their very own rock bands. More importantly, the summer-camp-style crash course has aimed to empower girls through music education and performance, and bolster their self-esteem, creativity, and individuality in the process. Now, a group formed from Girls Rock, Negative/Positive, has taken the next logical step and released a six-song EP. Titled Lumanescent, the record is a fun, enjoyably DIY statement from a group whose oldest member tops out at 13 years old.
Negative/Positive came together in 2013 during the first Girls Rock camp. Since then the group has practiced and played consistently, chalking up gigs at events like the East Side Farmers Market, the Maker Market, Chill On The Hill, Summer Soulstice, and more. The current lineup includes guitarist-singer Ava Gessner (12), bassist Lola Flores (13), and drummer Ava Antonie (11).
“There’s so much you can do with music,” says Gessner, “and Girls Rock shows you that not only can you do all of that if you’re a girl, but even if you’re only eight years old. It’s not about who you are on the outside—gender, age, looks, etc. It’s about what you create, and that you have fun with it.”
There’s plenty of fun to be found on Lumanescent, though there are some weightier themes on the band’s mind, too. Opener “Autumn Leaves” is a driving punk rock ditty grappling with the inevitability of change (the group’s original singer departed a year and a half ago). “Dressed In Black” pokes holes in cheesy girl-needs-boy pop songs. “Done With This” takes a shout-along stand against skinny jeans, high heels, and lipstick that’s “hot like a curling iron.”
“We usually just talk about either things that go on, things we like, or things we hate, and make something out of that,” says Gessner when asked about the band’s writing process. “Then for the music, usually I throw together some chords, we transfer that to bass for Lola, and then Ava A. plays a drumbeat and we all think it sounds cool. Eventually we have a song!”
“We all decide what the song is going to be about, write the lyrics, figure out the music and BAM! A song is created,” explains Flores.
Elsewhere on Lumanescent, album standout “Paper Cuts” may be a charming and shaggy ode to the joys of reading (with shout-outs to the Percy Jackson series), but its melody—especially during the swooping chorus—is surprisingly mature and confident. Ditto for Gessner’s nimble vocals on “Chasing Hopelessly,” and the assured take on a Twenty One Pilots cover, “Tear In My Heart.” The band’s skill level may be directly tied to its members’ ages, but it’s refreshing to hear real performances from real performers in the process of finding their individual voices. It’s an approach that takes a lot of guts.
“It’s fun and we all learn,” says Flores. “The process of writing a song with girls you may not have ever met before, on instruments that you might not know how to play, is fun and exciting.”
As for Girls Rock itself, Negative/Positive have nothing but the latter to say about the organization. “I can’t wait to be old enough to be a Girls Rock volunteer, or maybe a drum coach,” says Antonie, who counts among her influences David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Twenty One Pilots, and “drumming videos on YouTube.”
“All of this is so incredible, that we’ve gotten to do all of this stuff,” adds Gessner. “Playing so many shows, making real music, simply because we went to a summer camp and decided to keep doing that.”