Smile Politely

The girl behind the Guide to Rocking comes to C-U

I’ve grown up with music all around me. Hearing my favorite rock bands — U2, The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, Bikini Kill, The Housemartins, and more — inspired me to create music of my own. When my mom told me that one of her friends had written a book about music (or, in this case, “rocking”) I wondered what I could learn from her guide — The Girls’ Guide to Rocking. When it finally was in my hands, I found out that there was a lot more to rocking than just singing and playing your instruments; making music the way we know it requires a lot more than one might think. For now, I’m getting guitar lessons arranged for the near future, and my own band has already started practicing, but those are just my first steps down the Road to Rocking. I owe so much of my determination to Jessica Hopper, who inspired me to take those steps in the first place, and is already motivating me to take more.

Jessica was nice enough to conduct an interview with me using email while she was on the road, doing in-stores for The Girls’ Guide to Rocking. I can’t wait to see her at the Red Herring here in C-U on Thursday, August 27 at 7 p.m. (She will also be speaking on Friday, August 28 at the Womens’ Resource Center on campus at 703 S. Wright, 2nd floor, at noon, but I’ll be in school). The cost is $3 for kids and $5 for adults.

PS: Question #8 was asked by my friend, Rebecca. Our band is called The Starbeats.

Smile Politely: What inspired you to become a “rocking” musician?

Jessica Hopper: When I was in 9th grade, I really fell in love with punk rock in a major way. I liked music before that — my dad had pretty cool taste in music and would make me tapes when I was younger — but a kid in my gym class passed me the perfect tape at the perfect time and I was instantly just obsessed with music. I started going to shows at clubs and in basements as often as I could, but it wasn’t until a few months in, when I saw this all-female band, Babes in Toyland, that I realized I could be in a band too. It kind of sounds silly now, but it took seeing another woman playing guitar for me to realize I could have a band. About three days after I saw them, I had bought a cheap guitar and was practicing with my friend. They were incredibly inspiring.

SP: While on the way to becoming an artist, what obstacles did you face and overcome?

JH: Well, being a beginner was HARD! I am not someone who is naturally musically gifted, so when I started playing guitar, I got discouraged — I really wanted to be able to play and write songs like my favorite bands — but I could barely make my hands do what I wanted them to. On top of that, there were guys in my social circle at school who really thought girls couldn’t rock. Telling them I was starting a band with my best friend, they acted like I had said I was trying to teach my cat how to make the bed. They also thought you had to be a really good musician before you could start a band, and some of that rubbed off on me. So, for the first year or two, I really thought that what I was doing was less legitimate, less real than their band — which wasn’t true at all. In the book, I talk about how you should never play with people that make you feel bad about how or what you play — that is something I learned from experience, from bands I had in high school.

SP: How old were you when you first started playing an instrument?

JH: I started in guitar at 15, drums at 17 — but didn’t get serious about them until I was about 28 — and bass at 19. I do not sing.

SP: You seem to know about quite a lot of instruments. What is your personal favorite?

JH: To play, myself: bass. To see played well by others: guitar.

SP: What are your favorite bands and artists of all time?

JH: I am glad you said “bands — people ask me my favorite band — and there is no way I can get it to one. I have a new one every week. Of all time: Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Replacements are the big ones.

SP: My mom says she’s known you since you were 14. What were you like when you were 14?

JH: I think same as most anyone at 14 — confused, bored, not understanding the world, in love with music and new ideas, itching to be a grown up.

SP:  Why did you decide to become a writer? Are you still playing music?

JH: I have been writing about music since I was 15, and it wasn’t an intentional choice — it was just something started doing, publishing a fanzine — kind of like a blog but it’s on pape — and never stopped. And I still play music, but around the house, rather than in clubs in a band. My cats Wyatt and Monkee have a vast knowledge of my work, which are largely a capella and involve them as the main characters. I am focusing more on my writing these days, but touring with the book right now feels a lot like touring with a band — so I get the band feeling without the amps and stuff.

SP: What traits do you think (if any) a good musician needs?

JH: I think that traits that any musician needs, boy or girl, are determination and patience and creativity. When you are learning your instrument, and how to be in a band, how to put on and play shows — all of those traits will be huge assets to you and your band(s).

SP: What advice would you give to all young rockers out there?

JH: Start with whatever you’ve got. There isn’t just one right way to rock — you can do it any way you like. Now is the time for your doom metal tuba band.

Lilly Bralts-Kelly is an 11-year old girl, living in Urbana. Her band, The Starbeats, will likely be better than your band within the year.

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