Riot Fest: Interview with Hard Girls

Hard Girls released "Guadalupe On The Banks Of The Styx," a track off their third and upcoming album, Floating Now, just before their Riot Fest trip. The San Jose band classifies itself indie-punk, and takes influence from punk, Motown and more. Catch Hard Girls again as they tour the U.S. with Jeff Rosenstock this fall. I had the pleasure of speaking with vocalist and guitarist Mike Huguenor, vocalist and bassist Morgan Herrell and drummer Max Feshbach. They were all down-to-earth, and I hope to meet them again when they are back in Chicago. Photo: Hard Girls Photo: Hard Girls I know you guys just released a new track, which will be on your new album. What’s your new album’s title going to be? Mike: It’s going to be called Floating Now. Why is that? Mike: It’s a lyric from one of our songs. Ok. Can you explain it to me? Mike: Morgan? Morgan: it’s just in a song that I wrote, um - Max: Great explanation! Morgan: (Laughs) The song’s kind of…about feeling pretty bad, and that part’s about, like, feeling good again, I guess. You can get as deep as you want. Is it inspired by a life experience? Morgan: Yeah, just like, feeling depressed, and then something kind of, like, clicks and you feel better. That’s great. What makes you feel better? Morgan: Well, I don’t know. It could be a song you hear, or just a stupid, silly joke or whatever it is… So, we’re talking in a span of a few hours or a few minutes, something small can change your mood. Morgan: Yeah, sure, yeah. I think so. Why don’t you explain to me the name, “Guadalupe On The Banks Of The Styx.” Mike: The river in San Jose, where we’re from, is called the Guadalupe River, and California has been in  a pretty serious drought, pretty consistently for a long period of time, but in recent years, the drought’s been very serious, I feel like. And, for me at least, it’s kind of been like comparing it to the River Styx. San Jose has been in a – a really kind of economically dire state recently. It’s gone from a place that’s known for being kind of supportive and affordable for most people, and has become something where really you can, only be in the top 10 percent to afford to live there. And so, it’s kind of like this idea of the river of the life of the town, drying up and the river being the afterlife of the city, I guess. How would you describe that afterlife? Mike: Well, in particular, part of the song is about, it used to be, in San Jose, just a few years ago, the largest homeless camp in the country. It was called “The Jungle,” and police basically broke it up, and now, everywhere you go, you see homeless people who have nowhere to go. This is literally thousands of people. And this is the place where Google, and Apple, and PayPal and you know, if you expand out, Facebook and Twitter, and the things that have basically defined our current world are, and yet there’s all these people who are really negatively affected by it. So it’s this afterlife where these corporations are doing great, but the people are really fucked over. So, that’s kind of it. You guys are all from San Jose, California as I understand. Mike, Morgan and Max: Yep. Uh-huh. Other than the more negative aspects, how does the city play a role in any of your lyrics, or your melodies? Max: I can’t speak to lyrics, personally. I play the drums. (Laughs) But I think that as a band, collectively, from San Jose – which, not a lot of people really know about San Jose, other than from Facebook, or whatever. You know about San Francisco and yo know about Santa Cruz, and those are like the bay area cities that you know about. So, for me, at least, being someone from San Jose, it’s an hour away from any major city, like San Francisco, or Oakland. It just kind of feels like you just have to fight a little bit harder to do something creative. It just takes a lot of work. There’s no built in network, because of the way it’s set up economically. Now, it’s very hard to just afford to live there. That’s – that’s what I think, personally. So, what keeps you all determined? Mike: To live there? No, to pursue your art. Morgan: I think to a certain extent, you have to be a little bit crazy to want to, because  you have to do it even if there’s no good reason. The thing is, there isn’t a good reason. Max: Being an artist isn’t an economically viable, uh.. Morgan: Yeah. More nationally, what has been your favorite city in which to perform, and to showcase your talent and determination? Max: Chicago. Morgan: I like playing Chicago a lot. We always have a great response. It’s one of my favorite cities we play. Why? Max: It seems like a very accepting musical community. I feel like, if you have a show that has different genres of bands playing, it seems pretty communal, regardless. And a lot of people have said that. I talked to another band about a month ago, who said the same thing pretty much. They live in Chicago, but they like Chicago because it’s a diverse community, but it’s a community. What are you most excited about for performing on Sunday, or being in Chicago in general? Mike: I feel like we always have good shows when we play here. This is the biggest thing we’ve probably ever done. It’s really an honor to be here. I just am glad to play, you know? In a very sincere way, I’m happy that we’re here at all. You’re going to be on the Rebel Stage at six. Max: Yep. So what types of crowds do you draw most from your observations? Max: Uh. Losers, jerks- Morgan: Wastoids – Max: Yeah, wastoids, idiots, um…aimless – Morgan: Deadbeats, scumbags… Oh, I can relate to that one. Max: We’re very popular with the scumbags! Morgan: (Laughs) I’m sorry. No, it’s okay. You’re allowed to be funny. Can I include that in my write-up? Max: Sure. Morgan: Yeah. Max: As long as you also quote that you have approved that we’re allowed to be funny. Yes. Usually – you kind of touched on this, but over all of your albums, what have the lyrics focused on most? Morgan: Gosh, I don’t know. I don’t really feel like – I don’t really have a lyrics focus usually when I’m writing. What are the stories, rather. What are some of the stories you’ve told? Morgan: I try not to get too...I try not to make songs too lyrically specific because I think sometimes that makes them less relatable. You know what I mean? So, usually you might be inspired by something that happened and then you kind of have a story around that, but it might go a different direction in life, you know? I try not to get too hyper-specific about stuff. I think that’s a good outlook to have because everybody has their own life experiences, and everybody always looks at the symbolism in their own ways. That’s why it is symbolism. Mike: It helps people get through different things in different ways. It gives you a lens to kind of look through. Yes! It’s ambiguous. Max: Playing music and watching music is very cathartic in that way. I think that it's almost kind of – correct me if I’m wrong, guys – a cathartic experience. Who are you looking forward to seeing at Riot Fest? Max: Well, we saw The Specials today, Gwar, uh – Morgan: Laura Stevenson… I’ve heard a lot about Gwar. What did you think? Mike: I didn’t see Gwar. Max did. Max: I was far away…I have mixed feelings about Gwar, but it was entertaining. Yeah. It was good. Who are you going to see tomorrow and Sunday? Max: Let me take out the schedule here… Morgan: I want to see The Misfits for sure. Morgan: The Hold Steady is playing tomorrow Mike: I wanna see Julie Ruin and Sleater-Kinney. Max: Mike and I saw Julie Ruin in Atlanta like a month ago. It was one of the best shows I’d seen in a long, long time. Mike: Kathleen Hanna is incredible live. The band - they don’t really sound like anyone. They just sound like they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s – it was like, that performance in particular was inspiring. Seeing them be themselves and just do their thing. I’m excited to see them again. What are you guys going to bring to your performance on Sunday that’s different from the rest? Morgan: Wastoids, losers, loners. Scumbags! Max: We’re big in the scumbag demographic. In all seriousness, though, on stage, what are you going to bring to us? Max: I think we’re a pretty loud band. As a three-piece, we try to - in the spirit of Dinosaur Junior just kind of blow it out. Louder than usual, or to the status quo? Mike: Well, I don’t really like to decide ahead of time. I feel like we play off each other a lot. And, I don’t know, improvisation I think, is a very important element of music. Usually it’s like…it just depends on how it feels when you get up there. So, I want to play as best I can, but I don’t even know what that is yet. Max: We don’t even know what we’re playing yet. We just show up, and – Max: Just wave at everybody for a half hour. I don’t think people would be happy, but it would be funny. Mike: If Death Grips don’t do it before us. Max: Yeah. What do you guys think about Rob Zombie? Out of curiosity. Mike: I sincerely think he’s a fantastic horror director. White Zombie doesn’t connect with me all that much, but, um – Max: He’s standing right behind you as she asks the question. Mike: Seriously? You scared me. Max: It’s possible. Mike: He has a sharp eye for genre elements, and how to kind of like, create a new image almost. I think he’s cool, but I don’t like heavy music all that much. Me neither. However, his band is one of those bands that’s kind of like - it takes awhile to catch on. Mike: The things that grow on you are usually the ones that connect the most. Max: So you are a diehard Rob Zombie fan. Mike: That’s what I’m trying to communicate, yeah. To put it in other words. Who else are some of your influences all together? Max: That’s playing this festival, or in general? In general. Max: Bands that we would all agree on, I would say are Fugazi, Guided by Voices, Soft Boys, Wire. And a lot of soul music too, like Motown, I think we can all agree on. I can hear that in your music. One of the music videos of yours that really caught my eye was "The Quark." Can you explain the flashing imagery? I caught on that it had something to do with space, but you can’t really tell what it is when you’re watching it. Morgan: Yeah, our friend Bob made that music video for us, and he got a bunch of - I guess NASA has a project where a lot of the images are copyright free so you can use them. It’s also, the song is about space, so he got a lot of cool rocket schematics to flash over it. Stuff like that. And the lyrics are something along the lines of, “Space can’t be re-…” Morgan: “Can never be erased.” Max: “Erased,” yeah. What does that mean? Morgan: I don’t know. It’s just kind of a fun, you know, thinking about the universe or whatever. Just kind of quote weird stuff. I read a lot of science fiction. Are you into conspiracy theories? Morgan: Not really, no. I just realized the guitar strap I brought has an alien head on it. Now I’m a weirdo. What are some personal and collective goals you have as a team? Max: Personal goals, I guess, would be to play as fast as I can. As fast as you can? Max: Yeah. No, not necessarily as fast as I can. I say as fast, but, uh, to improve, always get better, keep an open mind. I want to be like a sponge, like a deep sea sponge. Mike: I think the goal as a band is to just play as best we can together, and to…trying to think how to phrase this. To do it in a way that feels right. Not to just play whatever, but to try and grow together. To have the band become more of a solidified thing. Max: Every time I play, I play as hard as I can. Not as fast, necessarily. I once spoke to a band whose drummer said, “If I’m playing quickly, it means I have to go to the bathroom, and that I want the song to end quickly.” Max: That’s funny. And it’s funny because you are controlling the tempo of the song. Max: I’ll keeep that in mind, because if I’ve really got to go, I’m just gonna power through the tune. That’s never happened to you, huh? Max: Um…I don’t think so. I’m usually pretty good about going to the bathroom before we play. Morgan: Then, we just sweat it out on stage. What’s a collective goal you’ve discussed? Morgan: We try to write cool songs and that people like them. To play music that I think we think is cool, but that other people like, too. Mike: Yeah, Think we try not to put too many concrete things on it, and we try to play as best as we can, and get whatever that is at the time. Max: I’ve known Morgan since I was like eight-years-old. I’ve known Mike since I was 14. So, we like playing together.      
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Elif Geris