Girl Power

coverwebJackie Partida of Dressed In Roses strikes a memorable chord in the local music scene and paves the way for other young women to follow their bliss and become empowered. (Could ‘The Voice’ be next?)

Most 4-year-olds get off on the likes of SpongeBob SquarePants or crooning “The Wheels On The Bus.” But when local gal Jackie Partida was a toddler, she was already strumming a different chord. 

“I was really into Sheryl Crow and Heart and Pat Benatar,” Partida recalls. “Oh, and Linda Ronstadt. They were my big four when I was little.”

It’s a fine crop of crooners, for sure, but what makes the list particularly interesting, at least in this case, is that Partida is only 18. She was born in 1994. By the time she was 4, there were plenty of other performers whose songs were in the Top 40 and could have captured her attention. Jennifer Page’s “Crush” and Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”—considered to be one of the finest cavity-forming ditties of the decade—are among them. Not to be left out: that über popular—fine, let’s just call it what it is: dysfunctional—ballad/freaky anomaly by LeAnn Rimes, “How Do I Live.” (Judging by what’s currently unfolding in the tabloids, the answer to her sobbing desperation of yore may be: “Not that well, thank you very much.”)

But let’s not get off track here.

This is the story of a cool young local gal who sports plenty of smarts and talent and who has, intentionally or not, been using music performance and songwriting as one of her most empowering tour guides through the otherwise psychologically messy thing called life. In a day and age when most teenage girls may be desperately trying to ween themselves free of a Venti Frappuccino addiction or don’t have the strength to lift their eyes up long enough from the Twitter or Facebook feeds on their SmartPhones—relax ladies, this is not an attack; we all do it—Partida stands out for a number of other reasons.

She’s the headliner of two rockin’ musical commodities: Jackie Rocks and Dressed In Roses. The former is the three-member rock band she launched at age 11. (Yes, you heard that right.)

“I had been taking music lessons and decided it was going to be fun to have a band,” Partida says. She decided on the name Jackie Rocks thanks, in part, to her cousin, Isabel. “She had these parties at her house with UC Berekeley graduates and I played the electric guitar, along with another band, and they always used to just start shouting out: ‘Jackie Rocks! Jackie Rocks!’

“I thought, oh, that’s a good name for me to have.”

cover 1Originally, it was going to be solo project, but with the assistance of her music teacher (Caleb Murray of Shoreline Middle School), Partida decided that a band would be more adventurous, and within a week, she lured in a few other creative souls, one on bass, another on drums. Partida was the lead singer. The result proved to be fruitful—the band got gigs. Although a number of members came and went, by 2008, Partida, who had written numerous songs for the group, had given birth to the likes of “Clone,” an edgy, drum-heavy, heart-pounding musical question to science about cloning animals, genetically modified food (and human beings), and “Angels in Heaven,” a fierce, somewhat soulful look into theology (which she wrote when she was 9). The gang found itself producing even more songs and booking other concerts. And then came Seventeen Magazine’s “She’s A Star!” endeavor, a national girl-band contest in which Jackie Rocks nabbed honors in 2008.

In the years that followed, the group remained in the limelight, performing several pre-49ers games at Candlestick Park (2010 and 2011) and summer gigs at Great America (2009-2011). Somewhere in between, Partida managed to also land a sponsorship deal with the hip girl-guitar company Daisy Rock Guitars (2010) and also Grace Audio Units (the summer of 2011). Other honors, such as being named one of the top high school bands by the National Record Store Day competition (2010) and being chosen as being among the “Best Under-21” bands in Northern California in the Rock Battle of the Bay (2011), also factored into the group’s success.

Then, last year, Partida crossed paths with Samantha Maloney, the former drummer of Hole and Mötley Crüe. Maloney was set to host VEVO’s You Play Like a Girl contest. The event, spread out over a number of webisodes, found Maloney helping teenage girls get closer to “their dreams of rock star glory.” Partida was featured in one of the spotlights late last year.

These are stellar achievements, especially for a teenager. It’s certainly enough to instill some pride into any young person and illuminate how commitment and hard work can lead to good fortune. Partida could have stopped there. Instead, she went a step further and formed an all-girl pop band.

Enter Dressed In Roses.

But to understand how that entity came into full bloom, it’s best to look deeper into the origins of Partida’s creative jukebox.

Fine Tuning
Partida has often confessed that the genesis of her musical interests may have been at the age of 2—and in the most unlikely of places: a Kiss concert. Her father, Mike, had brought her along for the spectacle.

“The only thing I really remember was ‘Ace’ Frehley’s guitar on fire,” she says. “I know that was enough to make me be attracted to the guitar and it was then that I knew I wanted to learn how to play it.”

But first came singing. She started lip-syncing when she was 2 1/2, copying singers her mother used to play on the stereo. When she was 3 and started making real noise, she sang in front of her mom’s co-workers and at small parties that her parents had been invited to around town.

“I vaguely remember it,” she says, “but I know I wanted to express myself. I was kind of a wild when I was little. But when I started singing and it made other people happy, it made me happy to see other people happy. I wasn’t that nervous or anything. It just came kind of natural to me.”

During her early years—from 3 to 8—she became fond of the works of Sheryl Crow (“Soak Up the Sun”), Heart (“Crazy on You”) Pat Benatar (“Heartbreaker”) and Linda Rondstadt (“Blue Bayou”).

When she was 5, she finally picked up the guitar.

“But I was too wild; I ran around too much to take lessons so my parents pulled me out,” she says. “They said if I wanted to learn how to play the guitar, I was going to have to learn on my own. So I saved up and bought my first acoustic electric guitar when I was 9.”

cover 2The statement forces one to take pause. How many 9-year-olds have the dedication and commitment to, well, “save up”?

Using the money she accrued from her allowances and other gifts, she took $200 and purchased her first electric guitar in a Hollywood music store.

“I started playing around with the strings and on the frets to see what notes I could play,” she says. “I came up with little melodies. My dad knew two chords. He taught me D and A and then I went to my dad’s friend, who taught me a few more chords.”

After that, she just started playing, benefiting from her elementary school music classes taught by Alan Souza. “I just wanted to learn more.”

It was Souza who referred Partida to Ken Kraft for private guitar lessons, and with his help, she learned song structure, how to improvise and how to play solos. After Jackie Rocks took off, the musical snowball just kept rolling.

It makes sense, then, that Partida wouldn’t flinch at the idea of forming another band. Dressed In Roses is proof of that. A great deal of the pop band’s formation may have something to do with a non-event. Jackie Rocks was slated to open for Falling in Reverse at The Catalyst on Valentine’s Day in 2012, but two days before the show, the band cancelled.

But Partida, who was a senior at Pacific Collegiate High School, wasn’t about to let the bad news get her down.

“I started writing about it because that is how I express emotions,” she says. “The song, ‘Stolen Heart’ came up and it was kind of a light, indie pop song.  I thought, ‘You know, I can probably go somewhere with this and form a band.’”

She asked friend and fellow musician Sophie Sanfilippo if she wanted to come along for the ride, taking on bass duties for the very first time. The duo started jamming and eventually formed the band, recorded the song on Partida’s computer. The only thing missing? A keyboardist.

“I looked over and there was my little sister, Maddie (then age 11), and the next thing we knew we had a show a month later,” she says. “From then on, we have been playing local venues and restaurants.”

Sanfilippo, who, prior to joining Dressed In Roses, had been playing the violin since the age of 5, refers to the band as “indie acoustic.” She and Partida met in school several years ago and they quickly became friends. 

“Definitely, one of the things that stands out about the band is that we’re all girls—that is not common,” she says. “Second, is our age range—12, 16 and 18. I think that people are oftentimes surprised at how young we are. They have expectations of what a girl band is and we defy those expectations.”

Since their inception, the gals have managed to morph into one of the most memorable local pop bands to come out of Santa Cruz in some time—a clever, often playful collaboration of lighthearted fair whose tunes are both catchy and well-crafted. The group’s song, “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” for instance, is Partida’s response to one of her favorite songs by The Arctic Monkeys (“Mardy Bum”).

“I thought it would be interesting to write a response to it because it was about a relationship that was going downhill, but from the guy’s point of view,” Partida says. “So I thought I’d write about it from the girl’s point of view instead.”

To date, Partida has written more than 25 songs for Dressed In Roses, which has upcoming gigs at Pono Hawaiian Grill, The Crepe Place and East Village Coffee Lounge in Monterey in the coming weeks.

When asked if songwriting is an easy or difficult process, she ponders it for a moment.

“It’s actually an easy process for me since I have been doing it since I picked up the guitar,” she says. “I was always into writing when I was little, so I turned it into songwriting. It can take me anywhere from five minutes to a couple of days to write a song. I write about things that happen every day, issues of the world, or whatever I can think about at the moment. Whatever is on my mind. I just spill it out—whether it’s an angry song or a love song.”

But it seems that “just spilling it out” is doing more good for Partida than she may realize. It begs the question: Can music and songwriting actually help teenage girls become more empowered?

You Go Girl
Amanda West has been a singer-songwriter for nearly half of her life. Now 30, the Felton resident proposes that songwriting actually has many benefits for teen girls. It’s one of the reasons West is launching two classes—one in February, cover-3the other in March—for local teenage girls, dubbed “Empowerment Through Songwriting For Teen Girls.”

“I have a big passion for music and I feel like it is a wonderful way to influence the world in positive ways,” she says.

West has previously worked for Mariposa Arts (now part of the Cultural Council) in Watsonville, hosting The Guitar Teach Program, which found her working with high school students. She instructed them on leadership skills as well as guitar. She would later accompany them into classrooms—in both elementary and middle schools—and support the students as they tried to teach guitar to the younger kids.

“I loved that,” West beams. “And I’ve had this songwriting-as-empowerment’ idea for a long time. I started songwriting when I was a teenager. It saved me in so many ways. Being a teenager can be so hard—there are so many intense emotional ups and downs. Music and songwriting got me through so much. I wanted to give that to other girls.”

The magic may lie in having the opportunity to express oneself.

“Whatever you are going through … to be able to put it into words so that other people can understand and let it out—that’s a big thing,” West adds. “We go through life feeling as if we are having these experiences alone and we are the only one dealing with all this stuff. But all of our experiences are very human and we all deal with them. I think art, in general—and my specific art is songwriting—is something that can remind us that we are all connected and having similar experiences.”

Partida can attest to that.

“Songwriting and performing provides a lot of great opportunities for me,” she reflects. “I feel like I can do something that is special. Some people are destined to be doctors, others lawyers—something big like that. For me, it’s music. That’s what’s really important—and empowering. And it gives me a lot of confidence too.

“It’s just a lot of fun for me. I can’t imagine my life without music.”

She may not have to. Partida was recently accepted into the Berklee College of Music in Boston and should enter that creative fold in fall, studying music business. “It’s nice to know that because of music I can do something I want to do. It’s kept me focused.”

Santa Cruz is no stranger to singer-songwriters that sport that kind of verve, although only a handful manage to make it big outside of the local bubble. And, to be clear: It’s not all about making it big, and certainly, Partida would be the first to admit that she’s not doing what she’s doing to acquire buckets of fame.

cover 4Still, you have to wonder if the girl can go by way of James Durbin or Chris Rene.

The idea makes her chuckle.

“I think I might try out for The Voice, she says. “Since James Durbin claimed American Idol and Chris Rene claimed The X Factor, The Voice is the only one left out so I might go after that one?”

It’s interesting that she answers the inquiry as a question.

“Well, it’s intimidating because you are going up against so much other talent,” she adds. “I might give it a shot in a year or two. I’m definitely confident, but I have a lot of room to grow. As much as I’ve done, there’s so much more I need to do and learn.”

In the meantime, Partida has plenty of lessons already learned from which to draw some wisdom. She credits a great deal of her current success to all the advice she received from people in the music industry, her parents, her parents’ friends, and her music teachers.

“Some of the best advice I ever got—I guess they all said the same thing—is to make sure that I am true to myself and my music, and never lose sight of that,” she says. “And my parents always said to make sure I am grounded—no matter what. Whether I rise to be the biggest star in the world or stay where I am at; that I can never forget where I came from.

“You could be the richest person in the world, too, but you have to remember that you started out working class; that you weren’t the best at all times. My plan is that if I do succeed in the music industry, I want to help all the people that helped me. I just want to help them.”

Catch: Dressed In Roses in upcoming shows: First-year anniversary show, at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16 at Pono Hawaiian Grill, 120 Union St., Santa Cruz, 426-PONO,ponohawaiiangrill.com; with The Mowgli’s at 8 p.m., Feb. 22 at The Crepe Place, 134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 429-6994, thecrepeplace.com;

7 p.m. Feb. 23 at East Village Coffee Lounge, 98 Washington St., Monterey, 373-5601, eastvillagecoffeelounge.com.

Amanda West’s “Empowerment Through Songwriting For Teen Girls” classes take place from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at San Lorenzo Valley High School (open to SLV students only) Feb. 14, 21 and 28 (drop in); and 3:30-5 p.m. Tuesdays, March 5, 12, 19 and 26 at Louden Nelson Center, Room 7, 301 Center St., Santa Cruz. For more information, email [email protected] or visit amandawestmusic.com.

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