The girls’ guide to rock­ing. Grab a gui­tar and get go­ing

Why leave rock’n’roll to the boys? Grab a gui­tar, hook up an amp, pen a catchy hook . . . you know you can do it. And if you ever had any doubts – or any ques­tions – a new DIY guide for girls who want to rock has all the an­swers. Au­thor and muso Jes­sica H

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Weekly Guide To Entertainment Friday 13.11.2009 -

HEAR­ING The Slits’ Cut for the first time. Watch­ing Tina Wey­mouth in Stop Mak­ing Sense or a Madonna video on MTV. Go­ing to a Pix­ies gig and see­ing Kim Deal play bass. For most girls, the mo­ment of your first mu­si­cal epiphany usu­ally leads to years of spending all your cash on records.

For oth­ers, like Jes­sica Hop­per, it’s when you re­alise that you want to be in a band.

“I grew up in Min­neapo­lis in the early 1990s, so got to see Babes in Toy­land play at least once a month. They were my church. That was the big light bulb. I saw them play and two days later, I had my first gui­tar.”

Hop­per’s Eureka mo­ment was the beginning of a life­long ob­ses­sion with mu­sic – lis­ten­ing to it, play­ing in bands and ul­ti­mately writ­ing about it in her new book, The Girls Guide to Rock­ing.

A re­spected mu­sic critic and bassist with the band Chal­lenger, Hop­per was one of thou­sands of teenage girls who felt that mu­sic was some­thing that girls needed per­mis­sion to get in­volved in. “I meet a lot of young women who are still made to feel that rock is a boys-only en­deav­our, and that women should be singers and not thrash­ing away be­hind a drum kit.” Hooper’s book is a per­fect start­ing point for young women who feel that sense of ex­clu­sion. It’s a how-to guide for ev­ery­thing from sound-proof­ing your bed­room to what kind of amp to buy.

One of the rea­sons the book ex­ists, in fact, is her own ex­pe­ri­ence of buy­ing bad equip­ment and be­ing afraid to ask about things.

“As plen­ti­ful as in­for­ma­tion is now, it’s of­ten still gen­dered. I re­ally wanted to make a book that had all the se­crets – the stuff no one ever tells you. A lot of women I know had to fig­ure out the hard way. You never wanted to ask ques­tions for fear of looking like the dumb girl that peo­ple ex­pected you to be.”

As well as an in­ter­est in mu­sic, Hop­per has been in­volved with var­i­ous zines, es­tab­lish­ing the in­flu­en­tial riot-grrl pub­li­ca­tion Hit It or Quit It in 1991. This col­lab­o­ra­tive zeal pep­pers the book – Hop­per was very in­volved with a DIY mu­sic scene and iden­ti­fies with a cul­ture of pass­ing on in­for­ma­tion and help­ing oth­ers get started. She calls it “an open cir­cuit of ex­change and knowl­edge”, which equally ap­plies to The Girls Guide to Rock­ing.

Chap­ters are bro­ken down in var­i­ous sec­tions, each con­tain­ing vast amounts of ad­vice and in­for­ma­tion. From find­ing the right gui­tar ped­als to how speak­ers work, there is plenty of tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion on of­fer. “Mak­ing the Band” fo­cuses on is­sues from the art of lyric-writ­ing to find­ing your band name. (The list of “way overused words in band names” in­cludes “Fire”, “Crys­tal” and “White”).

Hop­per says that writ­ing for a younger au­di­ence brought its own chal­lenges. “All as­sump­tions about be­ing an adult mu­si­cian go out the win­dow. Most young girls don’t have much of their own money, can’t drive and don’t have a prac­tice space, so I had to find ways to work around that.”

Clearly the project has been a huge un­der­tak­ing, and get­ting per­mis­sion for lyrics us­age proved time-con­sum­ing. In a chap­ter on song­writ­ing, Hop­per ref­er­enced The Ea­gles’ Ho­tel Cal­i­for­nia and was ad­vised to sub­mit a re­quest to use it. “It in­cluded writ­ing a per­sonal let­ter to Don and Glen about why I wanted it, a CV, an out­line of my work as a writer, the en­tire chap­ter in which the song was in­cluded, and var­i­ous forms and le­gal pa­per­work, which was about 30 pages at this point”.

It was only when she re­ceived a re­ply telling her to make fun of an­other act men­tioned in the chap­ter that Hop­per re­alised she had also de­scribed Ho­tel Cal­i­for­nia as “so dumb it’s ge­nius”.

The book doesn’t just fo­cus on the creative and tech­ni­cal as­pects of be­ing a mu­si­cian. There’s ad­vice on the busi­ness side of things, which the au­thor has ex­pe­ri­enced. Be­fore her jour­nal­ism ca­reer, Hop­per worked as the pub­li­cist for bands such as At the Drive In and The Gos­sip.

“In­clud­ing that stuff was re­ally im­por­tant be­cause if you look at the his­tory of women in rock, there are a lots of sad, cau­tion­ary tales of in­cred­i­bly tal­ented women who had big hits, made ter­ri­ble deals and signed away rights they didn’t know they had.”

She’s also very aware that what we think of as the “mu­sic in­dus­try” is un­der­go­ing huge change, some­thing that fa­cil­i­tates the way young women are per­ceived in com­mer­cial terms. “The fact that it’s much eas­ier for girls to record, pro­duce and put their mu­sic out in the world on their own terms – and not be forced into be­ing a cer­tain archetype of what some la­bel guy thinks is in­ter­est­ing or saleable – is huge.”

Every­one this writer has told about the book ap­plauds it, but a hand­ful have won­dered why it’s only di­rected at girls. “The most fun I’ve had in my life is play­ing mu­sic with my friends,” says Hop­per, “and I just wanted to en­cour­age girls to pur­sue it for them­selves, to give them the tools to do that. I wrote it in hope that it en­cour­ages girls and women to ex­press them­selves and live their lives to the fullest, so I sup­pose it is a Fem­i­nist book.”

Hop­per spoke to artists such as An­nie Clark (St Vin­cent) and Joan Jett (who en­dorsed it) and is clear about the book’s mes­sage, which she gets across via book tours that dou­ble as gigs.

“At a read­ing, I try to get a young fe­male band to play, be­cause it never occurred to me to start a band un­til I saw an­other woman on­stage with a gui­tar – for me it was in­spi­ra­tion and per­mis­sion.

“As great as a read­ing or my en­cour­age­ment might be, noth­ing is quite like see­ing an­other girl shred­ding away on the gui­tar and think­ing to your­self: ‘Hey, that could be me.’”

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