Tarah Carpenter of Tarah Who?: “I wish someone had told me that no one is going to help you but yourself!”

I wish someone had told me that no one is going to help you but yourself! Don’t waste your time tracking celebrities or music industry people, they will not even see you. Do your thing and if you make enough noise, you will be seen. Everything happens for a reason, if you are meant to […]

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I wish someone had told me that no one is going to help you but yourself! Don’t waste your time tracking celebrities or music industry people, they will not even see you. Do your thing and if you make enough noise, you will be seen. Everything happens for a reason, if you are meant to work with that person, it will happen, don try to provoke everything.

As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tarah Carpenter of Tarah Who?.

Tarah Carpenter was born in France and began smashing away at the drums at just 14 years old, ignoring those around her who suggested she try her hand at a more “ladylike” musical pursuit. Willful, and somewhat stubborn, she honed her chops, forged her own creative path, and branched out to bass, guitar, singing, songwriting, and producing. After a fateful move to Los Angeles, Tarah made her solo debut as Tarah Who? at a warehouse party. It was a gig she found on Craigslist, and it proved to be the perfect opportunity to share the songs she had been writing privately. Soon after Tarah connecting with drummer Coralie Herve and this is when the current incarnation of Tarah Who? was born.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

HI! Thank you for having me! So… I was born in Paris, France but always had sort of a fascination with the American culture. It started of course with the bands, and music I was listening to. All of those bands were from America, all of those big Rock sounds were from the US. I was attracted to the fashion and overall vibe of the kids from there. Probably from watching US TV shows at the time. My first time in the US was when I was ten. My grandmother took my brother and I to Los Angeles. After that, I wanted to go back to the US every summer and discover different parts of the US. I was lucky enough that my parents were able to make that happen. I was an exchange student in Atlanta, and Oakland, CA where I met my other family at heart. We are still very close to this day. When I was fifteen, I asked my parents I f I could go to an American High School. We found a program that allowed this to happen and even though I asked to be in CA, they had found a suitable family for me, in Murray, KY. I still go back when I can. I go visit some of my friends I made in High School. 🙂 After a year and a half, of being able to find myself at a crucial age, It was really difficult for me to come back to France. I finished High School in Paris, got my baccalaureate, and found my first job. The goal was to save money to go back to the US and hopefully move permanently. In 2006, I moved to Los Angeles, and that was the beginning of Tarah Who? 🙂

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

TGC: I have never really thought of this as a career. I started playing the drums and bass at the age of fourteen, and the guitar when I was bored in KY. I am a self-taught musician. Writing is my therapy. My English teacher in Murray taught me how to write in a journal. He said, every day, at least try a page of whatever thoughts. It is going to train your brain to think in English. He was right, but it also taught me how to be comfortable writing. This is how I later started writing songs. I think that is why our lyrics are more autobiographical and personal. Writing is my therapy now and playing music makes it all balanced. I could not, not play in this lifetime.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

TGC: I think it was one of the times I met Alanis Morissette. It crushed me at the time, but later, I understood, and today I am grateful.

I am sure that she doesn’t remember because clearly it wouldn’t have any impact on her, that kind of exchange with a fan but here is what happened.

I had heard somewhere on the radio that she was thinking about or mildly interested in producing young female artists. I believe she said, female. Anyway, she came to Paris for a show or TV appearance or whatever..and I managed to get to her. I had a demo of my songs on a cassette tape and I had brought my acoustic guitar. (I was 17 I think! So please don’t judge:) I had very high hopes: : ) ) She asked me what I wanted and I said “ Can I play you some songs?” She laughed and said “ No.. you can’t play me some songs.. Why? what is that you want? Why should I listen to your songs?” I freaked out and I said “ well, I want to be like you? I write songs so I was hoping I could show them to you. “ She said “Well.. you are a female. you clearly play music, and you write songs… so you are already doing what you said you wanted to be, so I don’t see what else I could do to help.” and she left. I was SO crushed! lol! But this experience turned out to be SO valuable in so many ways. Of course, she was right and it clearly motivated me to do this more seriously and professionally but also, it taught me that you can’t ASK or EXPECT someone, to build your path or career for you. That’s just a very lazy shortcut that isn’t rewarding in my opinion. No experience of your own, and time to define who you are and what you want to sound like.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

My biggest challenge as a leader of a band is the decision-making for our career. you have to trust your gut instinct and that is something I learned over the years. Do not waste your time checking what other bands are doing on social media. It is NOT a competition. Only use social media to CONNECT with other bands and find out where the opportunities are. Coralie trusts the band and I feel responsible in a way for that trust. I don’t want to waste her time and I don’t want her to have a bad experience either so I always do my best to take opportunities that we both will profit from, grow as people and musicians and continue to have a good time together. If I were “dragging” her or “forcing” her to play just everywhere and everyday, we both would get really tired of it, tired of each other and truthfully, it would not even be worth our time or money.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

I think that it was what Alanis said to me finally hit. When I switched that experience around, and instead of feeling crushed by her reaction, took it as.. “Oh MY GOD, what did I expect?” You can’t expect anyone to do anything for you, as you want it. So first of all, I grew as a musician, as a woman and as a female musician. The time I was playing with a bunch of musicians, taught me how to define the sound of Tarah Who? and I build my confidence in making decisions, and my biggest learning curve as well was to separate friendship and musicianship. Even though we get really close because we are sharing so much on the road, stories and memories that are really hard to tell someone who is not following us. There are a lot of magical moments in a recording studio for instance but you can’t ever really tell them as you felt them because really when you say it, it would be something like “ and then, I made this mistake on that take, but that mistake was so beautiful we decided to keep it.” Ok great… but it is never as powerful as the experience itself. Being in a professional band means, knowing where you belong and what you bring to the band, putting your ego aside at all times.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

That’s very interesting. This is true, there was help along the way in different ways. My first experience as me, wanting to become a musician was not as easy as Coralie’s. Coralie wanted to play the drums and started at 10. Her parents and family supported her right away, to this day. My family is not like that at all. My dad is a Doctor, my mom was a nurse and I was to be a lawyer or a Doctor as well. Not by choice, because I had to. Clearly, me, becoming a tattooed musician despite what my family (grandparents, aunts included) had in mind for me was not welcomed and for that reason, I was not supported, emotionally, to this day. I think they have just given up on me at this point. ha! I think this actually taught me how much I wanted what I am doing because trust, I have heard it all! My generation too taught me different things than what Coralie has experienced. Even my friends, when they started getting jobs and studying were asking me “ what are you doing with your life, you are wasting your time, you’re not going to be a Rockstar, it is not real” Stuff like that, but whether or not it is a good trait, this actually was hurting me so much to hear all of those things constantly from family and friends, that at this point I just wanted to prove a point. No one can understand what and how playing and writing music makes me feel. So, no I will not quit, and my dreams are bigger than the impact their words have on me. I choose to turn those negative comments into energy boosts.

At first, when I was younger it was to prove them that they were wrong, and to show that ye you CAN live your life how you want it, and besides, why do you care what I do with MY life! You clearly don’t look ecstatic in yours…Then I started following my gut instincts, and one of the steps I chose as well was to surround myself with positive people, and people who were passionate with what they do. Not necessarily arts, but genuinely kind and happy people who accept what I do. This was a game-changer in my life. I was no longer defending my choices contently or hiding my career path and choices in life, but also, my dreams didn’t seem as exuberant and unrealistic because we all had our own dreams in different fields and no one was judging anyone. We were just doing our own thing and did whatever it took to get to that point. Other very important people who have helped Tarah Who? be where we are today are Maria Quintana, our videographer and photographer who believes in us and does everything she can to make our vision come true. Angie Joseph who does all of our artwork, Jason Orme who gave us a chance in the studio and really helped us shape our sound. Even more recently, an old customer of mine from my waitressing/bartending days, Peter gave us a little financial push in order to accomplish some things we had in store. Not touring because of Covid, hurt us like everyone else in the world, and Peter was kind enough to check on us on that matter and helped us out. For someone who has only heard things like “music is not a career” etc.. it was really weird to hear “Kiddo, you ARE really good! I believe in you, so here, take that because you can’t stop”. I actually think that it was the first time I have ever heard that in my life! Of course, we hear good words now like “ this was amazing, love your music etc.. “ but personally, someone who truly believes in us and then financially acting on it, this was a first and I’ll forever be grateful for him and that positive feeling and feedback and a reminder that “Okay… he believes in us.. so, I’m not being stubborn!” ha!

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

In different ways, when we meet and talk to fans after our shows, we usually hear their stories and their side of the experience and exchange we just have had. I love to hear that someone is relating to a song of ours, or that it has helped them go through a situation their lives. I am the kind of believer that we all more or less are going through, at one point in our lives the same situations, that is why we should be more empathetic and never forget to treat people around us kindly because you never know what will happen to you. Treat people how you would like to be treated because when that happens to you, you will want that. When I was 15 and listened to Alanis for instance, there were moments that the lyrics or parts of the lyrics hit me and thought” I know what you’re feeling girl!! Yes!” So, I love it when our fans let us know as well because we are all connected. I think that is why all of the topics exist in every musical genre so that the same message can be transmitted to someone who prefers receiving in a different art form or musical genre.

At the moment, our single ‘Bad Time’ is about an experience I have had as a child. I didn’t want to share that experience of sexual harassment with anyone because … well of so many reasons. Shame, privacy, time, consequences…. I just kept it to myself and once in a while I thought about writing about it but it never felt right, or it was still too personal. So, I used that instead, to talk about the fact that there isn’t ever a “good time” to talk about your sexual abuse experience. Releasing the song fit this new album that was initially called “Exposed” because I am exposing a few stories of mine for the first time. I don’t want it to be around on social media the #metoo movement because it is something that happened but I don’t want it to look like I am using this movement to promote our band. It is like me being a lesbian, I don’t want to USE that part of me to promote our band, it is just who I am and rather personal sexual preference that has nothing to do with my music! it is just my own … business! lol! You don’t ever see a straight person hashtagging #straight! well in my opinion, If I want to normalize being gay, I will just be myself, and surround myself with people who accept me for who I am. Now, promoting ‘Bad Time’ s to me is essential, not because of my story but for any other victim, who doesn’t dare to speak of their experience. I have realized that me not talking about what happened, was only protecting my predators. I was doing them a favor and now they are probably just going on with their lives. Have they ever hurt any their little girls? Are they still hurting other little girls? and does a woman want to be with a man who has hurt or abused little girls? So, I spoke up and wrote this song. There is no need at this point for me to reveal what happened, the purpose of telling my story out loud is for other victims, to also realize the consequence of not speaking up. Our next single is somewhat related to a #metoo movement story in that sense that boys or men are too easily forgiven for their actions and imagining the same scenario with a girl or woman acting instead of a man, would not be taken the same way.

I was ordering food one day and the person at the register was a young girl, maybe 18. While in line, I heard her stay “stop it” a couple of times, “it’s not funny”, I kept paying attention to read the situation better and make sure that I was not coming up to fast conclusions. By the time I was at the register, I say about 5 guys in the kitchen, sexually harassing this young girl. They had called her names, touched her bottom several times, and laughed about it. She was clearly annoyed, helpless and no matter how many times she was saying “NO”, “STOP IT”, “IT IS NOT FUNNY”, they kept on doing it. She was red, embarrassed and clearly annoyed. So, I looked at them, and said “ You guys KNOW that this is called sexual harassment, right?” they were all between the ages of 17 to 22 maybe. They all stopped what they were doing and stopped laughing. The girl for the first time, looked up ( realized that her head was down this whole time, even while taking orders, she never looked at the clients in the eyes) she smiled at me and something changed in her eyes.

She felt confident now. she said “ I SAID NO!” they all sent back to what they were doing , they were now the ones looking down. I told her that she needed to go talk to her manager and that if he was not helping, that she should look it up because it is not a good work environment. I told her to google it so she can read about what she can do. She thanked me with tears in her eyes, and smiled at the customers after me. Were the boys joking, yes. But they were 18. Would they like it if someone touched their private parts repeatedly and everyone laughing? NO. “Boys will be boys” we give excuses of all kinds to this kind of behavior, but if they don’t ever learn that it is not OK to do this, they will continue to sexually harass women, in their work environment, still not knowing it is not ok to do this. Go to a club and wonder why? the woman is not liking that behavior, and one day someone might take bigger steps and this boy, or man will not have been told once, that what he was doing was NOT OK. I called the restaurant a few hours later to check on the girl and to make sure that there were no repercussions of my actions, the manager said that she had come forward and spoke up about what had been happening and that she felt uncomfortable coming to work.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

I feel passionate about unfairness in general. It is not a woman to men thing, at all. When I see that someone is not being treated properly, a dog on the streets, etc.. I just had to do something. I saw a few things when I was young, and I didn’t dare to speak up because I was little and scared and didn’t know what to do but I saw how it impacted the victims. Thankfully, this has changed and now If I can help or prevent something to happen, I will naturally do it. Actually, I was surprised that none of the adults before me, had tried to stop that situation at the restaurant.

Also, as our followers grew, I realized that now we had a small voice. I don’t see the point of getting followers just to get followers unless you just love the attention, I prefer to think that if you are able to have people following you, your responsibility almost, is to inspire and spread out a good message. It is a tool, and it doesn’t have to be political, or so serious all the time but essentially, for us, is more about spreading kindness, compassion and understanding. it is of course more subtle than that, we do it in different forms. if it is not through our music, we like to post silly videos, to lighten up.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

I have always had dreams and to me, there is no point of living a life, make money, be healthy if it’s not to make them happen. Why think about it when you can live them or in them. I remember thinking a couple of things as a teenager and that is what I keep telling myself to this day: Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Freddy Mercury… they didn’t have a format to write songs, they did what they felt and to this day, young musicians learn their songs. Queen broke the radio format because he believed in Bohemian Rhapsody, and so did Pink Floyd. so, every time I heard “your song is not Radio format or mainstream enough. I would just tell myself… Well.. neither did they.

Another one is.. well, if people can walk on the moon, I can… fill in the blank…

or.. you don’t have to understand how everything works as long as it does, there isn’t one way to do the dished as long as the end result is the same. Are the dishes clean.. great, well to each their own. Whatever you have to do or you are comfortable of doing as long as you get “there.” Also, one day I realized, “If I thought “it” , I have to do “it” . and usually, if I have a thought that sticks to my head, and I don’t forget it, it means that I should do it. My everyday mantra is “everything happens for a reason” you might just not know why yet, but you have to trust the outcome, and you will realize it soon enough. Social Media is the perfect tool in my opinion to stay creative. You can post endlessly anything from an idea to more serious content and promote yourself to a worldwide audience. All of those little thoughts, you can share for free, on social media.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I have had a woman come up to me saying “I know this song is not about me but I can relate, and It helped me go through what happened to me” another woman said to me once “ your song “happy’ helped me go through my relationship and realizing that I deserved to be Happy.”

There is no better reward than this in my opinion.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

I think that everyone can help each other out, by speaking up when they see something and parents of young adults should definitely teach their children about sexual harassment. It is not because a parent hasn’t had that experience or thoughts that they can assume that their kid is not doing something offending or impacting someone else’s life. Teaching manners, and being a good example to children I think is essential because they are feeding of what they see at home. And if someone comes up to you and opens up about their story, don’t question what happened, just listen. One of the reasons why people don’t open up too is because they don’t think that others will believe them. Everyone’s processing time to what has happened to them is different so don’t question it.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

This is a really difficult one for me because cherish every single experience I have had over the years because it helps me grow as a person and musician and I would have never learned if I had not had that experience myself. I think that every step was necessary, it helped me build my sound and confidence in what I wanted for my music and career. But for the sake of the interview.. let me see…

  1. I wish someone told me that I didn’t need to appeal to anyone in particular, as long as I believed in what I was doing. This was enough. I wasted a lot of time in my early years because I didn’t know and people I met had those big titles and I thought they knew better, but I didn’t like what we were coming up with. It wasn’t me.
  2. I wish someone had told me that titles don’t mean anything and it is not because someone has worked with so and so that it will break YOUR career. you don’t know what brought THEM together, so focus on YOUR music and story, if that person is not right for your music, even if he worked with someone you love, it does NOT mean they are the one for YOUR music.
  3. I wish someone had told me that no one is going to help you but yourself! Don’t waste your time tracking celebrities or music industry people, they will not even see you. Do your thing and if you make enough noise, you will be seen. Everything happens for a reason, if you are meant to work with that person, it will happen, don try to provoke everything.
  4. I wish someone had told me that there was a balance to understand between letting things happen naturally and making things happen. Of course, if you just wait around, nothing will happen, but trying to provoke things to happen can also hurt your career.
  5. I wish someone had told me that success is not for others. It doesn’t matter how people see you in your career, you, waking up every day, and continuing to write, play and tour, when there is no amount of money that can cover the hard work of a musician, is already a success. Success is in my opinion a personal definition when it comes to one’s music career. I am not where I want us to be yet, but I have had many successes that are slowly taking us there. it helps with your self-esteem 😉

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think that one’s attitude reflects on others. If you go out in the world being genuinely kind, you will change the day of someone who is having a bad day. Having had many years of waitressing and bartending, one of my personal joys was to shift someone s day. It is as contagious as covid. 😉 and when you think about it, if people spend time on social media, wishing they were this or that person, being passive instead of acting, then if you post positive actions or light actions people will unconsciously act that way, maybe make it a trend to be kind of accepting of others! I mean look… if people were able to spread racism so fast, why not turn it around. Don’t focus on what is bad just share the good you see online. Don’t share what is shocking you share what is beautiful to you. I am not talking about being ignorant and not aware of the atrocities in the world. I am talking about the little things that you can do to inspire. Do it because it comes from your heart, not because you want a viral video…

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Yeah, Alanis, do you remember how you broke my heart? want to talk about it over lunch? hehehe!

I don’t know.. I am in between Joan Jett and Linda Perry. Joan Jett because well.. Joan Jett… I would just want to listen to her stories. I loved her documentary and I want more. I would just like to get to know her. Linda Perry, I am hesitant with this one because as much as I would love to work with her, I am also scared of it. We both have strong personalities and when I see interviews with her, I really want to get to know her and work with her, but at the same time, I am afraid that it wouldn’t work. I have worked so hard on building our sound and opening up my mouth when I didn’t like something and knowing what is right for a song or not, that I could either be confused or not making the right decisions. It makes me realize that I have never worked with a woman! Coralie is the first female musician I am working with. It is undeniable that Linda knows what she is doing, I think I would be afraid that we don’t get along or that I lose myself in respect of her work.

So … we will see.. It is actually really interesting because a few years back, I reached out to Robert Fagan, after watching the documentary of L7. Amazing doc, by the way… I reached out to him because I wanted to do a documentary about Tarah Who? of course, but mostly about women in the music industry TODAY, and being an independent band. In the proposal I wrote to him, I spoke about Linda Perry. At the time, L7 was not working with Lina either so it is all pretty fascinating how it all turned out. I wanted to do ( it is on YouTube) a docu-series that follows us. How it started, what touring means as an independent band, being a woman musician in ROCK, do we need to shop for labels today?, what does a label do for a musician today, and there were a couple of alternative endings. One of them said “ The band is still independent but doing well”, “The band has signed” , “The band is working with Linda Perry!” or something like that, I would have to find it again. It was after watching an interview with Linda Perry and Kerry Brown for We are Hear. Everything they said screamed, “this is perfect for Tarah Who?” !!! I have run into her a couple of times, but nothing’s happened yet. 🙂

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!

Thank you for your questions and interest in us!

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