By Dara Schindelka
Trigger Warning - It is an honour to have Theresa Sokyrka share so openly and honestly about her experiences. We thank her for her ongoing work in helping change the toxic masculine culture in the music scene in Saskatoon and area. We applaud her for sharing about people in the industry that have been abusive or toxic. However, there may be readers that find some of the information contained in this article a trigger. For those of you that do, we support you, we believe you, and we gently share this “heads up” with you in the hopes that we only have you read what is there to help and heal you.
Dara Schindelka on behalf of the NSMZ
1. What are the highlights from your musical journey as a singer/songwriter thus far?
Well first let me quickly say thank you to all of you at NSMZ for thinking that I am interesting
enough to interview. Most days I can barely find the energy to make myself coffee so I
appreciate the vote of confidence.
I’ve been in the Canadian music scene almost exclusively for about 17 years. I was an early
product of reality TV placing second on Season 2 of “Canadian Idol” in 2004. I have
independently released 5 studio albums over the last 16 years. My first album release garnered a Juno nomination for Pop Album of the Year and sold over 75,000 units, certifying gold status. I have performed for the Queen of England, opened for David Gray at the Bell Centre, recorded a Top Ten Video in Peru and almost met Joni Mitchell one time. So close… and yes there were tears. I have recently started releasing some covers of classic songs from the 70’s and 80’s with Jesse Brown the streamlined pianist. My last full length album release was called “Prairie Winds” it was recorded in 2013 in one week in Madrid, Spain.
Goodness, highlights? There are just too many to count. I suppose the biggest highlight would be travelling the world on my own for several years. Seeing so much of the planet before the act of traveling became a dream was a true gift.
2. You have been vocal about the toxic masculinity in the music world, can you share your
experiences on a personal and professional level as a female in the music industry?
To be completely honest I was born into a life shadowed by patriarchy and toxic masculinity. I grew up in a very religious home where I was always reminded not to bring too much attention to my talents. Don’t shine too brightly kind of thing. Having always been silenced throughout my childhood by the time I was old to enough to play in bars, coping with the sexist music scene was just old hat. Throughout high school I was bullied by the actual music teachers at my school which was so frickin’ weird. I took Ukrainian dancing from abusive creative types that were revered after they died for their contribution to the folklore scene. The toxic reality within the Saskatoon scene was just a continuation of the rest of the nonsense put into place for me before I was born. Starting to play with a jazz band at Lydia’s in my first year of University I started to realize that if I wanted to be a lady in the music scene that I’d have to be one of the boys. Though the band at Lydia’s I cut my teeth with for a while was never directly sexually abusive or anything it was a constant struggle for approval. Constantly being reminded that women in jazz music should be controlled. Not too many songs in a row. Don’t shine to brightly kind of thing. I left Saskatoon for 4 years after one year of U of S moving to study music at Red Deer College. I was lucky to fall into a crowd that really believed in my talent and believed in building me up instead of putting me down. When Idol came around I was 23 and had I absolutely no interest in being famous. I just wanted to be good. I’m sure some people would recall that I was on the show with Jacob Hoggard and I think this is really where most of my real heartbreak began within the industry. There was a specific incident that I was the victim of sometime around the top seven or eight. I was absolutely distraught about what had happened and instantly took it to the people that were necessary to know. It was sloughed off as “just how Jacob is” and “he’s good TV.” Jacob was really just the kind of guy who did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted and at some moments he was even congratulated for his bully behaviour as if he was being thanked for creating ratings. I tried to maintain some sort of relationships with most of the people from the show and Jacob was also one but it was obvious early on that his behaviour would eventually catch up to him. He was constantly demeaning towards women. It absolutely broke my heart when I heard that one of the first charges was from 2005. If only I had been more adamant about his behaviour being careless and misogynistic these last 16 years would never have happened. It’s all well and good to say that some of these men have changed and “saw the light” and managed life with women as their partners, but the reality of it is, they destroyed lives. In Jacob’s case even admitting to it completely. It’s really hard not to have immense rage built up about it all. At that time in my career when Jacob was being praised for being an a**hole I was busting my ass to not do anything that might make me out to be a diva. Being constantly told that I wasn’t marketable by countless people in the industry. It’s hard not to believe that only the shitty people get success. It’s not just nice guys that finish last. There’s a ton of nice girls that have been totally overlooked
from the beginning. I think I just kind of accepted that privileged people had special privileges. When Tiara Jackle opened up about her past experience it filled me absolute hope. I think it’s really obvious that this behaviour just constantly looms for all women in every industry sector. With all that’s happened recently worldwide, exposing violence towards women and victim blaming. I know myself personally I’m constantly trying to navigate myself out of dangerous situations in my head so I can be prepared for the worst. Privilege is the one that freaks me out the most. Some of these boneheads have just never heard the word no. And their mothers believe that they could never be capable of bad behaviour. That’s when it’s really dangerous… when they have so pathologically created their own narratives to make it so they don’t have to be accountable in reality. Money and bad mothering are a terrible combination. But I do believe in change. I know that I have to believe if I want to you know, sleep at night.
3. In your opinion, what are ways the industry can do better for women or other
marginalized voices in music?
I’ve said this a few times lately. We just all need to sit back and uncomfortably listen. Survivors have to have the safety to come forward. It isn’t a domino effect because women are wanting to cancel men. It’s happening as a domino effect because one person coming forward makes it feel safer for the next. We have to believe in change. I want to lean into change.
4. Congratulations on your successful release with Jesse Brown of "Time after Time"
which was only released a few months ago and is already over 1.6 million streams on
Spotify! Also, having over 166,731 monthly listeners is something that many musicians are
striving for and you have achieved. Tell us about how you made this happen! What was
your journey to get from the start up stages of streaming releases to where you are today?
Thank you!! GAHHH I have to be completely honest about the releases with Jesse Brown. I
really was riding on his incredibly successful coat tails in the streaming realms and we just got really lucky with the “Time After Time” cover. I’m just so grateful to be working with such a kind and talented soul. He really saved me from some dark musical depression and I owe him so much, including money.
5. Tell us about your latest release coming out in April?
It’s a cover single release of Lionel Richie’s “Hello” which I sang on Idol for the Top 7 several
hundreds of moons ago. Jesse and I traded remote tracks back and forth. He in his home studio and me in a remote “studio” in my basement suite while I was in between tenants. It is a one-take vocal line that kicks ya right in the sphincter. I definitely do not enjoy recording my own vocals I must say, but it was such a lovely learning process.
6. If you have any advice for up and coming musicians, and specifically women but all
young artists, what would you want to share with them?
Don’t let them silence you. Be proud of the voice you find but always be willing to keep
listening. Modesty has been helpful for me but don’t let it paralyze you creatively.
8. How has Covid changed your music strategies and how have you handled the switch to
an almost completely online music world?
After I lost my jobs to COVID I really started to find peace in music again. It had been so many years since I had played music full-time and I think this pandemic made me realize how fully arrested in development I was. I let a harsh, privileged female bully me in the Saskatoon music scene for the last 7 years which really kept me from shining brightly. I think turning 40 made me realize how much time can be wasted when you let people take your power. I’m definitely rewiring that kind of thinking for myself. I’m done with thinking I’m not good enough I’ll tell ya that for free. Jumping into my Instagram account during the most vulnerable time of the lock down made me feel connected to people. Knowing that my daily videos were the glue for some people during that time was my absolute world and I realized how much other people needed me. I felt heard and appreciated and felt comfortable being vulnerable.
9. What music do you listen to when you need to unwind from the Covid chaos?
Charlotte Cornfield is always a source of great peace for me. Her lyrics are so relevant and recent and she is one of my dearest friends. Check out “Silver Civic” or “Big Volcano, Small Town”. But lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Jesse Brown and I don’t mean that to sound braggy. Jesse’s playing slows my nervous system right down and brings me right into the present. He is a true gift.
10. Is there anything creative we don’t know about in the works for you this coming year?!
I’ve been working on content creation for my original musical animated comedy called “Back 2 Reality” I’m sure you can guess what the premise is. Her name is April Foule and she owns a venue called “The Idle Bird”.
Photos courtesy Nicole Romanoff