Female Gaze on Looking Back, Changing Shape, and The Joy of Missing Out

By Madalyn Trewin

It’s undeniable that all of this time inside has encouraged a lot of self-reflection. We haven’t really had a choice to do anything other than look inward — we don’t have anything, or anybody, to distract us from ourselves. It’s been draining to look in the mirror and actually look, without blinking, to fully take stock of who we are and who we’ve been for all this time, and to ask ourselves whether that needs to change. It’s like we’ve all been forced into staring contests with present and past version of ourselves, waiting to see who comes out on top.

Nelene DeGuzman, for one, has won that staring contest. She’s come out the other side entirely changed, with a new name to match. Who you might have known as The Rifle — the moniker DeGuzman has been making music under for the last eight years — is in need of a new introduction. Meet Female Gaze, the new iteration of this project, a project that’s based out of Tucson, AZ, beaming and from the heart.

To reflect on the last eight years of The Rifle and get to know Female Gaze a little better, we asked DeGuzman to look back on some old photos, so we could truly paint a picture of where this project’s been over the years and learn more about who Female Gaze is now, in light of all these memories. We talked about changing shape, softness, and the recording process for their new single “The Joy of Missing Out,” which we’ve had the pleasure of introducing for its official release today.

Slumber: You’ve been making music for almost a decade now, which I’m sure has encouraged a lot of growth, movement, and change over the years. Looking back on these old photos, how do you think Female Gaze has changed shape in between now and then — from The Rifle to where you are now?

Nelene DeGuzman: I started making music under the moniker The Rifle eight years ago, initially as a solo bedroom recording project. The lineup changed over the years with my partner, Kevin, on bass, and Matt Rendon at Midtown Island Studio, being my two most consistent collaborators. 

In late 2019, I went on a solo tour for a couple of weeks from Tucson, up to Idaho, and back down again. It was a perspective-shifting, life changing experience. I thought a lot about why I was making music and a lot of meditating on my identity as an artist and how that had changed over the years. That was the first time I thought about changing my name to Female Gaze.

HONEYDEN album release show at 191 Toole Jan 31, 2020. This was such a special night. The kind of show I used to dream about. The whole night felt very surreal, especially thinking about it now in retrospect. We didn’t know that just a month or so later things would change so much. All we knew was that we had put so much work and care and love into that album and that all our friends were there to share the night with us. I’m so eternally grateful that we were able to celebrate HONEYDEN’s release in such a big way.

Nelene: I don’t think I was quite ready for a change yet but I wrote it down somewhere. The name continued to pop into my head from time to time. In my daydreams, Female Gaze was this version of myself as an artist that was fully in control, executing an artistic vision with no compromises, no petty stuff. Untethered joy afloat on a sea of pure art. 

When Nicky (our drummer) joined the band, it felt like we had finally found this perfect triad. We were all just naturally vibrating at these perfectly complementary frequencies and it felt fresh and special.  Playing together felt easy and the music that came out of it felt like something new and exciting. Nicky and Kevin formed such a truly solid rhythm section that I felt more freedom to be more improvisational and wild live.

“In my daydreams, Female Gaze was this version of myself as an artist that was fully in control, executing an artistic vision with no compromises, no petty stuff. Untethered joy afloat on a sea of pure art.”

Nelene: Then the pandemic hit and we weren’t playing shows anymore. Initially, it was sad because I felt like we had just found our stride and playing live together had felt truly magical. Then it became a kind of cocooning reflective period. Playing shows all the time does start to feel like a grind sometimes.  The more time passed, the more the name The Rifle started to feel like a once favorite item of clothing that no longer fit the way I remembered it fitting. The name Female Gaze – which had first sparkled into my mind several years ago – bubbled up again and suddenly just felt so right.  

Slumber: You’ve mentioned that you’re based in Tucson, AZ – what’s the scene like there? 

Nelene: I love Tucson. The music scene is really diverse but, at the same time, it still feels small and tight-knit. I moved to Tucson from San Francisco just before starting The Rifle as a bedroom recording project. I had started to write music while living in San Francisco but there was such an intimidating big city vibe with the music scene there, I don’t know that I would have been able to accomplish what I’ve been able to do here. I feel like I needed the cozy small-town community of the music scene here to thrive as an artist.  

Kevin’s birthday party, September 2017. September nights in Tucson are pleasant and summery. The night was a balmy blur of warmth and company, friends and dogs and margaritas. My dog Lula jumped over a 6 ft fence to chase a cat, but everything was alright in the end. So much laughter and friendship. The whole night seems almost absurd in the casual joy we used to take in the company of others.
After the birthday party it's the afterparty! Truly this was just one of those nights that we never wanted to end. Parties within parties. Our friend Josh Wallace (far left @joshwallacex on instagram) is a super talented photographer. I wonder what his picture of this moment looked like.

Slumber: Do you feel like AZ has shaped you as an artist at all?

Nelene: There is a real pure-heartedness to the music scene here. It’s not so much the career-minded musicians trying to “make it big,” whatever that might mean. There’s more of a feeling of wanting to create your best, most beautiful art for an audience of supportive friends. I feel like in some ways I’m too soft for a big city music scene and I’m infinitely grateful for what I’ve been able to have here.  

“I feel like in some ways I’m too soft for a big city music scene and I’m infinitely grateful for what I’ve been able to have here.”

Slumber: Pre-pandemic, where are your favorite places to go in Tucson? 

Nelene: The Loft Cinema is a place I really miss going to. Welcome Diner also springs to mind as a place I really miss going to.  Also, Monsoon Chocolate and 5 pts Market. Oh and TallBoys! So many awesome places here.  

Outside a venue in Las Cruces NM February 7, 2020. I can’t remember if we took this picture before or after we played the show. It was a magical night. Our friend Chris (@liquidsolidlightshow) was doing this live and totally entrancing liquid light show while the bands played which added another layer of dreamy wonder and the crowd had such warm and enthusiastic energy.

Slumber: Your new single “The Joy of Missing Out” was written and recorded in quarantine. I’m guessing the title was partly influenced by that experience – how did isolation influence your process as a band?

Nelene: Kevin and I live together but at the start of the pandemic, when we were first working on the song, we were quarantined separately from Nicky. Writing collaboratively in the traditional sense was not really an option.  

Kevin and I set up to home-record in our living room. We had one mic to work with. I had the main guitar and vocal parts written and a general idea of the structure mapped out in my mind before we started but then a lot of the other parts, keys, rhythm guitar, backing vocals were more felt out on the fly. The main vocals I did with my eyes closed, feeling vulnerable and emotional. We only did one take. It felt a little bit raw, but in a cathartic way.

Nelene: We sent the almost finished track to Nicky and he set up to record his drums in a shed he has at his house that he uses for music. Finally, he sent his finished drum track to us and Kevin assembled the song digitally. It was backwards in a way, putting the drums on last. It was overall a really different process than what we usually do.  

Several months later, a friend of ours who is a recording engineer in Tucson, Justin Tornberg, helped me re-record the rhythm guitar track with a much better recording setup. He mixed and mastered the song for us, too.  

Recording with Kevin and Matt at Midtown Island Studio, 2018ish? Days at Midtown all tend to blend into one long pleasant day in my mind. Mimosas on the patio, windchimes in the air and Matt’s happy dogs running around. Looks like we were recording some backing vocals. Matt is ridiculously good at vocal harmony arrangements and a true joy to work with.

Slumber: How have you stayed inspired during this time apart?

Nelene: It’s been a process, haha! Initially, I was focusing my attention on some quieter compositions, some instrumental piano compositions I was working on and writing a lot, with just vocals and guitar. It has been hard to be inspired under such immense psychic weight, but I’ve found happiness in roller skating, and recently learned to juggle.  I started doing morning pages in December of 2020 and have found doing those to be really therapeutic. I feel like I’ve also been consuming movies and books and seeking out new music at a much higher pace than I used to. Mitski’s been keeping me alive and inspired most recently. 

October 20, 2018. My mom and two of my cousins dancing at me and Kevin's wedding reception. Such a happy night.

Slumber: Now that this new single is out in the world, what’s next for you?

Nelene: We’re working on songs for the first Female Gaze album. It’s been an interesting process. I hadn’t realized before how much my songwriting previously revolved around shows in a lot of ways. The process is still changing and evolving, but I’m really excited to start sharing some of what we’ve been working on. In lieu of being able to play live shows, I’ve been motivated to make more video work, music videos and recorded live performances, and other means of visual companionship for our music. We’re still adapting to the constantly changing landscape of what it means to be a musician right now. 

We’ll also be doing a livestream with Around the Campfire on March 26 at 7:30PM (EST) along with Long Neck and other awesome bands. You can tune in from their website!

October 2020, Kevin and I celebrated 2 years of marriage with a backpacking trip in Gila National Forest. The days were idyllic. The nights were freezing. The dogs had a blast.

Slumber: Lastly, in light of the new single – how would you typically spend a night in, joyfully missing out? 

Nelene: Kevin and I are giant fans of the at-home dinner and a movie date. We have been slowly working our way through the Police Story series which are these Jackie Chan action-comedy movies he started making in Hong Kong in the 80s. I’ve also really been into making these elaborate ice cream sundaes for dessert: toaster waffles, bananas, vegan ice cream, topped with coconut whip cream and cherries and sprinkles. Maybe I’m reverting to childhood, but I’m following the joy and right now that means Jackie Chan and ice cream on a waffle!

Listen to Female Gaze’s new single “The Joy of Missing Out” below, out on Bandcamp today: