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Leanne Martz: Don’t Let Anything Stop You.

April 19, 2017

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Leanne Martz (in green) performs with SPRINTER. She previously performed with Misstallica and Emily Pukis and the Vagrants. She crafted this essay for our DISSENT issue.

I’ve been playing the guitar since I first heard AC/DC’s Back in Black when I was 10. My brother was the first one to play the album for me, and after that first and singular time hearing “Hell’s Bells,” I was doomed to an entire lifetime of rock ‘n’ roll. I was instantly running around in my parent’s basement dressed like Angus Young, perfecting his duck walk and flipping through guitar catalog’s, plotting how I could somehow afford a Gibson SG.    

There wasn’t a single AC/DC song you could mention to my 10-year old self that would have been unknown to me nor unable to be played on the guitar.  I was on a mission to do literally everything I could to be a part of this music that completely changed the way I saw the world.

Those days turned into months, and then eventually turned into years.  I never stopped playing but over time, the idea of being in a band seemed less realistic and ultimately disheartening when I found myself scrambling to figure out what to do with my life as I entered college.

I actually became dreadfully close to hanging up the whole guitar playing thing but by chance, I was hired at a Guitar Center in the spring of 2010. I was skeptical of this new job I had, especially considering the company’s reputation and the fact that the hiring manager didn’t even look at me during the entire interview. But I was cool with jumping in and seeing what happens.  I’d been playing long enough to know the ins and outs of the gear.

 I learned to love working in a guitar shop but it was also the first experience I had with this whole concept of pre-judgement that I would later get to know very well in my life.

Right away, I found that a lot of old dudes who came in were perfectly okay with either  pretending I wasn’t there or straight up telling me that I’m not capable of offering insight to their incredibly complex and calculated purchase of a pack of Ernie Ball strings. I rolled my eyes more than I ever got legitimately pissed off in these situations but after a while, it made me wonder if this was real life and if some dudes actually thought this way?

Immediately after I started, Guitar Center hired another girl named Gina, a chick who could shred the guitar to absolute pieces and played in this all girl Metallica tribute called Misstallica. Every single person that saw her play – customer, employee, or whoever – instantly dropped whatever expectations they had. It was glorious and inspiring to me, changing every standard I had set for myself as a guitar player.

We immediately became best friends and she invited me to join the almighty Misstallica, a band that gave me a few of the best years of my life. The girls blessed me with the art of shredding and taught me how to remain fearless on stage, regardless of how many people expected us to fail just because of our gender.

Even more than that, I was having real, genuine and wholehearted fun for the first in my life. Seeing the transition of folded and stagnant arms to head banging and flailing in the crowds became merely the icing on the cake.

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Misstallica ended after I was only in the band for a few brief but awesome years. We chose to explore different careers and see what else this life had to bring us besides shredding Metallica tunes.

I spent another brief period of time playing guitar with Gina in Las Vegas but hastily moved back to Philly during the spring of 2015 feeling the strongest sense of home and belonging here. Another entire year passed that I spent tinkering with the ideas of starting something new, joining something, but leaning toward just not playing at all. I felt I had lost something unique and special that couldn’t be reconstructed

But then I was like, “Who am I kidding?  I’m starting a new fucking band.”

It was easy to round up a couple of punk badasses. Matt Bradley and Phil Bookbinder both came into the picture, two seemingly polite and quiet gentlemen who can instantaneously turn into salivating man-beasts behind a drum set and bass guitar. I also invited my longtime friend from art school, Emily Youcis, to sing. I thought it would be cool to pick back up on a semi-comic band (Emily Pukis and the Vagrants) that we had started years and years ago together, before I had decided I was going to take a music career seriously. Emily and I had always shared similar ideas and bonded over art, rock ‘n’ roll and old fashioned girl power. The music we made together completely revolved around those ideas, and for a minute it seemed like we were going to have something good going again.

But what happened next was like a Hiroshima-level blast to our band. Last summer, Emily outed herself as a white supremacist and alt-right enthusiast.

Stories about her and her new political views spread quickly through every media outlet in Philly and around the world because of the Internet.

I saw the videos and articles at the same time as the rest of Philly. I was appalled and found myself cursing at this stranger whom I thought I had known. Without hesitation, I left the band, essentially dismantling it.

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I felt overwhelmingly ashamed and embarrassed for a person I tried to share an opportunity with. I was now associated with an ignorance that didn’t represent myself and I hated it to no end.

Again, I began teetering back and forth about the idea of whether or not to continue performing at all.

But then I was like, “Who am I kidding? I’m starting a new fucking band.”

SPRINTER was born in 2016 but I like to think that 2017 is the official beginning. I pulled Matt and Phil back into the project with me. They’re more than cool dudes. They’re like brothers to me. They do the dirty work of giving unorganized and sloppy riffs an actual backbone.

SPRINTER also features Lauren Tsipori, another former Misstallica guitar shredder who has remained on the scene for years. Lauren’s awesome to me for a lot of reasons but particularly because she brings me back to why I play music in the first place – it’s fun and its ours.

It’s going to look like whatever we want it to look like, regardless of the past, where we came from or whatever baggage we’re helping each other shake. We have this relationship where, as songwriters and as people, we are pushing each other to reach outside our comfort zones. It hasn’t left a lot of room for things to get boring. In fact, as a musician, I think I’ve been moving from being a thrash guitar player to more of a songwriter.

I’m not really sure if this is because maybe I have new perspective. Maybe it’s because 2016 left some turds in my brain. Or maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe it’s all of the above.

Regardless, I’m just a 25-year-old chick running around with an SG. I’m exactly the person I dreamed I’d be when I was 10.

Things will be difficult with the political climate and the emotions that it will evoke. But 2017 will be the year of SPRINTER.  And we’re looking forward to sharing it with all of you.

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