Madison duo Lion’s Mouth find their voice and their purpose through a unique musical experience

When I listen to the playback of my last take, my anxiety bursts into excitement and relief. Sinking deeper into the studio’s cushy couch, I’m struck by the feeling that everything is coming together. After years of hard work and false starts in an unforgiving industry, Lion’s Mouth feels like coming home.

My name is Chelsea Z., and I’ve been playing guitar and writing music for about seven years. As a self-taught singer and guitarist, I have traveled the country as a solo musician. After years of being on my own, I was feeling the need to create something different. Then, by chance, I met Sara.

Sara Wexler went to Lawrence University in Appleton, the same small town where I’d grown up. As I cut my teeth at open mic nights and local cafes, Sara was playing in multiple groups with college friends and ensembles. Oddly enough, we played the same venues and even with the same musicians and never met each other. Years later, we finally did meet at an ice cream shop in Madison. After discovering that we both played music and that we both kept our spare change in empty nut jars, we decided to play some music together. We met up in a rat-infested basement that became our practice space. It was apparent from the start that our styles were intense and unique, but they somehow seemed to fit.

Sara has a phenomenal sense of rhythm and time to which wayward singer/songwriters like myself have paid little mind. As we began rehearsing in our friend’s basement, Sara and I argued over whether tempo is a rule or a mere suggestion. A mix of confusion, awe, and frustration ripped through me. This might be a tough practice, I thought. This clashing of backgrounds and musical tastes (she loved the Smashing Pumpkins and I was obsessed with The Clash and Top 40 pop) has led to our fair share of head butting, but what comes out is amazingly raw and intuitive.

Both Sara and I strive for honesty. We love both music and have an unwavering respect for the power it can hold. When I write lyrics to a song, they are searching, personal accounts. Lyrically, I like to talk about what I know. Sara has an amazing ear for dynamics, and when she adds her spark, the songs take on a life of their own. They become a fierce wall of sound. People are often surprised because they expect us to be quiet and polite. We’re just girls playing instruments, after all.

As women in the music industry, we often find ourselves in rooms full of men. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but historically speaking, the music industry has been a boys’ club, and we hope to be part of the movement that will change this. We battle with the usual assumptions made of women drummers and acoustic guitarists. We hear comments such as “I’ve never seen a chick play like that” or “You’re pretty good for a girl” on a frighteningly regular basis. We are driven to change the way people think about women as musicians. When we take the stage, we are bold and relentless.

Each of us grew up in small towns where gays were closeted, so even the thought of being gay wasn’t an option. It was this lack of visible LGBTQ role models that led us both to feel completely out of place. With no one around to pave the way, coming out was a journey that we each took alone. In many ways, playing music allowed us to finally be authentic and connect to others.

Within Lion’s Mouth, we hope to become the role models we wished we had when we were young. We want to write music that is true to ourselves, no matter how angry, sad, or silly we come off. We express ourselves fearlessly in the hopes that our music will make people feel less scared and alone.

As I sit in this Chicago studio, listening to the playback, I feel a surge of pride and excitement. The drum beats and acoustic guitars are cascading through the speakers. Sara is tapping her foot and making goofy faces after every run-through. My fingers are sore from playing electric guitar parts over and over again. The energy that our live performances have become known for is finally taking the shape of an album. In this moment, I feel like it’s all clicking into place, and I can’t wait to write the liner notes.

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