Interview with Jessica Hopper
What is your favorite song?
It’s really hard to pick a favorite song—I have a new one every week, it changes every few days. I have like 18 favorite Price songs and 22 favorite old Joni Mitchell songs and that’s probably as narrowed down as I can get it. “Jungle Line” by Joni Mitchell I have been listening to a lot this summer.
How do I excellently name my band?
Naming the band can sometimes be the hardest part. Brainstorm, keep a list in a notebook, talk with your bandmates about what you are trying to convey or what you want to avoid. Once you narrow down a few choice options, start Googling and checking MySpace and Hype Machine and Ultimate Band List and other sites/search engines and makes sure the name is yours to use and not easily confused with another band. Then once you have played a show stick with that name. UNLESS you realize that it’s really terrible or NO ONE understands it or offensive or something. Also, avoid cliched words—colors, numbers, overused words like rainbow or boy, wolf, etc.
How can more girls hear about your book/how to rock?
They can visit the book’s blog and website www.girlsguidetorocking.com and they can also get in touch with a Girls Rock Camp near them to find out about summer camp sessions. Also, some camps have year round lessons or programs.
What are the myths about being famous that can ruin a band?
I think the big myth is that everything is easier once you are famous, or that when you get famous you automatically get rich, and people can become motivated by that. You can make money without being famous, if you are smart and savvy about your business, but also, you can be famous and also make very little money, in part because you have to pay managers and road crew and band members and agents who work with your music.
How old were you when you started a band?
I was 15—the summer between ninth and 10th grade.
Was being in a band fun at first?
Yes, but it was sometimes frustrating because my dreams of being in a band and playing music were bigger than my skills. I was just learning and could barely put together a song, and I just wanted to be good and playing shows and I couldn’t really get my hands to do what I needed to yet. BUT—other than that—it was non-stop fun. My best friend and I would make up the most amazingly dumb/fun songs and then when would try to play them and half remember them and we spent half our band practices just crying with laughter.
Why do women remain such a minority in the music business?
I actually don’t think that is true—there are still less women then men, but it’s not the teeny fraction that it was maybe 20-30 years ago. There are so many more women playing and making music, and also managing and booking and working with music behind the scenes now. The “music industry” is being reconfigured right now, and it’s a perfect time for women with ideas and creativity to jump in and help figure out and shape the future of it all.
Why do some bands choose names that don’t seem to have any relevance?
A lot of bands choose names that might give you an indication of what they sound like—so that people know what to expect. A metal band probably have something dark and scary—you don’t want to be called “Carla and the Parsnips” and come out on stage in full-on corpse makeup—the difference between the name and the band’s style can make the band seem less serious, or like an ironic joke. Now, because of 60 years of choosing band names that indicate what kind of rebelliousness or pop-sweetness their band has to offer, you have a lot of cliched names. It’s more common now for a band to choose a name that doesn’t have any particular connotation or meaning. For a better explanation of this, see page 58-59 of The Girls’ Guide to Rocking.
How many bands have you been in?
When I was 21 I made a list of every band I had played with/in for more than one practice, and it was somewhere around 30. I have been probably seven “serious” bands, where we practiced every week and played shows and had goals.
Where can I get your book?
At most chain bookstores and online stores. As of right now, they Chicago Public Library is processing their copies, so you should be able to get [a copy of the book] at your [neighborhood or local] branch soon. You can also use [chicagopubliclibrary.org - the Chicago Public Library website] to put it on hold and have it shipped over to your local branch. I do that all the time, so that I don’t have to bike all around town to check out four different books.
How long did it take you to learn the guitar?
Oh, I am still learning! It’s been about 17 years. I don’t think you ever stop learning. To play “decent” it took about a year, I think. I didn’t practice very seriously for the first few years. When I was 19, I got serious and joined a band that practiced a lot so I practiced at least an hour every day, and suddenly my playing and abilities took a huge leap.
Where should I buy my first instrument?
It depends on what your first instrument is, really. In the book, there is a little chapter about what to look for and how to look for it, but my main advice is avoid places that are not music stores—like pawn shops or eBay. A pawn shop is not going to know how to help you pick out the right sized guitar for you. You can buy from another person, like on Craigslist, but only if you have someone who is an experienced musician helping you shop and check things out. Shopping for instruments on Craigslist, eBay or pawn shops are for well-seasoned musicians. As a beginner, your best bet is music stores, where there are often beginner package-deals, so you can get everything you need and your equipment comes with a warrantee. That said, I got my first amp for $15 at a garage sale on my block. My advice for that—if you find something at a garage sale or thrift store—don’t pay a lot. Don’t pay so much that you would be bummed if it turned out it stopped working in three weeks.
What was the most scary moment you had when you played in the band while touring Europe?
The most scary moment I have had while touring Europe was not really all that scary. I was tour managing a band from LA called The Sads, and we were in The Netherlands, staying at this old hotel in this little town where they were doing two shows at a museum. One night after the show and after the most delicious meal, we were hanging out, goofing around in the unoccupied hotel lobby, which was an old ballroom with a grand piano in it. Two people were playing the piano and everyone else was doing really silly elaborate dances—having a lot of fun, just cracking each other up. And suddenly, on the balcony above us, these two really BIG drunk guys yelled “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”—we could tell they thought we idiots, one of them kicked this trash can over kind just to be dramatic and threatening. We were all surprised and kind of scared. Aaron, the singer, looked up and yelled back, totally confident “We’re artists and we are practicing a performance. We are performing at the museum this week.” And he went right back to doing his dance like it was really serious and it totally shut them up. That is probably the scariest thing to happen on a tour that I can remember and it wasn’t very scary.
What did you say to people who said “You can’t do that!”—or didn’t that happen to you?
That did happen to me. I think it happens to almost everyone, actually. My best friend and I started a band the week we got our instruments and her brother and his friends who had a band would come down into the basement and basically make fun of us and ask us technical questions we had no answers for—we had been playing for about three days! They and some other boys we knew really had this idea that you had to be SUPER GOOD before you could start. At the time, I was really annoyed and angry about it! We had JUST STARTED! QUIT CRUSHING OUR WEEK OLD DREAM, DUDES!!!!—that’s how I felt. I knew they were wrong though, I knew it in my heart that what I was doing was right, and that it was their problem. It was pretty uncool though. Saying “just ignore them”—it’s easier said then done—but really, just anyone whether they are in your band or at your school, if they make you feel bad about playing music, if they discourage you, belittle your skills—DITCH THEM. Leave them behind and put whatever they told you, or their mean MySpace comment—whatever it is—out of your head. They do not matter. How you feel about what you are doing is what matters.