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Bandmates share what it’s like as a woman in Ottawa’s music scene

Photo: Ming Wu

You might think Hilary Lawson and Jenna Spencer would get sick of each other. 

The longtime high school friends and one-time roommates are both work colleagues at Café Alt and members of the indie rock group Baberaham Lincoln.

Lawson, a fourth-year conflict studies and human rights student at the University of Ottawa, sits behind the drum kit, while fourth-year aboriginal studies student Spencer plays guitar, bass, and sings in the four-piece band.

Their team dynamic goes back to high school, when a mutual friend introduced them knowing they’d hit it off. Later, the pair moved to an old house in the middle of a Centretown parking lot in the summer of 2013.  They  drove the rest of their roommates crazy with Lawson’s drum kit.

When the band originally started, the two hoped for an all-girl band, but now have two male bandmates. Most of the talented women in the citywho wanted to play a similar style of music were already involved in other projects.

As female musicians, the two say they have dealt with double standards, such as being asked if they are holding their boyfriend’s instrument while on stage. “No, we just stand around and hold stuff,” Spencer will say.

Lawson has always hoped for more female-fronted bands in Ottawa’s music scene. She says a lot of the time female artists tend to go the singer-songwriter route.

“That’s fine, but that’s not what we wanted. I feel like there’s not enough girls playing rock ‘n’ roll,” she says.

Spencer and Lawson say they’re thankful for Lesley Marshall from Bonnie Doon, who runs a zine called Small Talk. Marshall welcomed them into the music scene and eventually put together Baberaham Lincoln’s first tape.

The band also gives kudos to Rachel Weldon, who runs a monthly music concert series called Fryquency featuring new Canadian tracks. Weldon advocates safe space zones at shows, and making them accessible for all ages.

“I like going to shows, but I don’t really like getting punched in the face,” says Spencer. “She’s done a lot of great work (to make) anyone who wants to do that feel more comfortable.”

Just like their long-standing friendship, the ladies say they’re in Baberaham Lincoln for the long haul.

“We’ve stuck together. Those aspects of our lives are so interchangeable. If we’re hanging out, that’s what we talk about anyway,” says Lawson.

“It’s less stressful,” says Spencer, “… and we don’t take ourselves seriously, which is why it works.”

Baberaham Lincoln plays on Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. at Mugshots.



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