Soundcheck: Jessica Hopper


Tour manager, band publicist, DJ, touring bassist and fanzine publisher, Jessica Hopper is a modern-day rock 'n' roll renaissance woman. She's just published The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to book about playing music that's aimed at young girls but has found an audience with people of all ages and genders. She's coming to town to read and sign the book at Tremont's Visible Voice and then DJ at an all-ages show at the Happy Dog Saloon. She recently talked about why it's important for girls learn to rock at an early age — even if it's only to imitate Demi Lovato and Taylor Swift.

You wear so many different hats. Can you describe what you do?

I worked in the music industry for about 12 years and represented something like 300 bands in the course of nine years of doing PR. I also managed a handful of them. When I got done with that, I toured for a couple of months. I can't say I got that off my butt. I would tour all the time if I had the stamina. But I don't have that drive that you're supposed to have to make music. You have to have a pursuit of the next level. It's a total crapshoot. I worked with people who are incredibly talented and nothing ever came of it. Other people who were total pricks reached the next level of superstardom so much quicker. I would love it if I could have some rad party band with my best girlfriends. But right now, it's easier for me to stay on the other side and say, "That sucks" or "That rules," and call it a job. I just do music criticism. I've been doing this since I was 15 or 16 years old. I am lucky I can make a living. I work for This American Life, helping out with the music, and I have this book out.

Whatever happened to Andrew and Ted, the two guys mentioned in the book that first helped you learn to play guitar?

Andrew is a film producer and we're not in super-touch, but we are Facebook friends. Somebody told me he does subtitles at Criterion Collection. He has a totally cool film-world job. Ted, I last heard, was spotted on cocaine at a party a couple years after we graduated from high school. I want to be like, "So dudes, what's up with your Red Hot Chili Peppers/Jane's Addiction cover band now?" I have buried you.

Your book is The Girls' Guide to Rocking, but it could just as easily be a boys' guide to rocking, couldn't it?

That's what everyone says. People say it should be the grown-up girls' guide to rocking too. Sometimes boys come to the readings, and sometimes they're not even dragged in by their parents. My joke is that it works for boys — just tape a picture of Mick Jagger on the cover. My ultimate goal was an ecumenical guide, whether you have ambitions and are already in a band or whether you're nine and just love Taylor Swift. Obviously, all the quotes are from women to give different archetypes and show that you're part of a continuum. Some of it is written to and about gender. But it's an appropriate book for anyone navigating a creative situation. It's an encouraging book about art. I've had a lot of parents who read it and said they can now talk to their kids about music. I think it works for everyone. The most fun I've ever had in my life is playing music to express myself, and I just want other girls and women to pursue that.

You have numerous quotes from women in rock. What's one of your favorites?

My very, very favorite is the Patti Smith quote ["I wasn't born to be a spectator"] that opens the book. That's really what the book is about. I lucked out in that I came up in a punk-rock scene that was about participation and inclusion. There was some hierarchy as there is with any scene, but I was expected to participate. You don't just come to shows and hold your boyfriend's leather jacket while he's in the pit. Not every girl comes up in scenes like that. I meet some girls who are a little older and they tell me "guys will jam with me but won't let me join their bands." And because they don't have girlfriends that love music as much they do, they're forced to become solo artists at the tender age of 16. I was really lucky in that when I was 16, people at the record store would tell me, "We just got this Bikini Kill cassette in and you need to hear this." It was incredibly encouraging.

In the book's introduction, you say that "Stairway to Heaven" isn't the best rock song ever and isn't even the best Zeppelin song. Care to justify that statement?

Uh, yeah. That song is sooooo boring. I grew up with the boring, epic side of Led Zeppelin. I was getting it from the stoners and not the rockers. "Stairway to Heaven" has its moments, but I'll take "Ramble On" or "Black Dog" or "When the Levee Breaks." "Bonzo's Montreux" is better than that. I will take the "Bonzo's having his way with the drums" song before "Stairway to Heaven." I also hate the Doors. I never got it. I think Jim Morrison is so boring, and the lyrics are terrible. Everything that's wrong with rock 'n' roll is wrapped up in the Doors and their legacy.

Since taking the book on tour, what's the best response you've gotten?

Oh my gosh, the sheer pleasure of meeting girls after readings. It's hard not to cry sometimes. On the last tour, Minneapolis was amazing. The audience was mostly girls under the age of 14. It's usually an all-punk audience and five kids. This was 20-plus girls — they all get in line and want their picture with me, which makes me feel like the coolest. I usually have a tiny chit-chat too. This girl comes up and says, "My name is Bani and I can play almost an entire Jonas Brothers song on my guitar" and shoved the book in front of me. I was like, "You-confident-nine-year-old-who- loves-the-Jonas-Brothers. You are great." I make no judgments about what they play.

You don't think Miley Cyrus has set everything back?

No. A lot of girls don't like her anymore because they think she's a skank. While she looks like one thing to us as adults, she looks like another thing if you're 11. Demi Lovato is taking over, and all the girls know that she plays guitar. She wrote one song on her album, and that makes her more authentic. Same thing with Taylor Swift. She can totally play guitar, and that's so meaningful to them. They just look at Miley as another pop star. She doesn't mean the same thing as Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato and Hayley from Paramore, who are all rockin' chicks.

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