For Girls About To Rock, A Tennessee Guitar Camp For You | Nashville Public Radio

For Girls About To Rock, A Tennessee Guitar Camp For You

Jul 31, 2015

Nashville rocker Jessi Zazu, of Those Darlins, has come full circle, from attending the Southern Girls Rock Camp for teenage female musicians, to teaching guitar and performing at the camp.

This year, Zazu debuted a new song about a lack of respect for women in rock — and she said she's preparing her students to change the industry.

“If you look at ‘Guitar World’ (magazine) you’ll find a lot more girls who are straddling a guitar then you will find playing a guitar,” Zazu says.

But up on stage, after motioning the all-girls crowd to stand and dance, Zazu told them they were going to change it, getting lots of girls into “Guitar World.”

“Right here. Right now,” she told them.

At camp, the girls choose an instrument to learn, make up band names — think Glitter Bomb or the Atomic Flying Elbows — and design rock ‘n’ roll T-shirts.

Zazu, who is 25, teaches screenprinting and guitar.

Jessi Zazu, of Those Darlins, at age 12.
Credit Submitted

She’s passing on the same skills and swagger that she learned at camp, starting when she was just 12. She had frizzy brown hair at the time that made her look like a feral child — or like a heavy metal drummer.

She insisted on learning every instrument as she came back to camp year after year. By age 17 she was touring and teaching sessions. She’s been back nine times as an alumna. Camp director Sarah Bandy said Zazu exudes an empowering rowdiness, which the girls encounter on day one.

“Girls aren’t often told to take up space and be loud,” Bandy said. “The very first thing we do when girls come to camp is we have scream circle … we go girl by girl and scream as loud as we can, just like the biggest tiger scream that you possibly can.”

Student Makayla Whisenant, 11, said she had tried guitar before coming to camp, but learned a lot with Zazu while practicing Joan Jett’s riot grrrl anthem, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

Rock camp student Sophia Gulley designed this logo for the Atomic Flying Elbows, a band formed during camp.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN

“Whenever I’m stuck, she helps me and kind of gives me courage to do it in front of people,” she said.

Zazu said she ended up feeling a little weird singing a song about the lack of respect for women in rock — after her students had just spent the week seeing nothing but female musicians. But she stood by the importance of providing a glimpse into what she sees as the tough realities.

“What they’re going to find out when they leave this camp is that we are the minority still,” Zazu said. “And it’s really important, for them, to keep doing what they’re doing. And that’s the whole point of this whole camp. It’s like: Stick to your guns, because if you hang in there, you know, you’re going to pave the way for other girls.”

Students in the Southern Girls Rock Camp danced on stage as Jessi Zazu and Those Darlins performed one of the camp's daily concerts.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN