WHO TO SEE: Hooligan's Favorites at Audiotree Music Festival

Audiotree Music Festival is returning to Kalamazoo, Michigan
to showcase new and emerging artists, all curated by Audiotree Live.
Hooligan writers decided to highlight the artists we're most excited about.

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Khruangbin

 

Saturday / Main Stage
7:30 PM

By Colin Smith

Describing the three-piece instrumental outfit Khruangbin to a friend typically includes listing
several genres: soul, funk, psychedelic, surf, ‘60s Thai music, acid rock, jazz. Pick your favorite combination of the list and you’ll be describing at least one of their songs. The trio from Houston, Texas initially started in part by discovering a shared love for Afghan music and playing in a gospel band. That might alone is an indicator of their wide array of influences. What’s especially impressive about the band is how full they’ve crafted their sound with just three members. They are largely an “instrumental” band, to describe them reductively, but you’ll often forget to think about the fact there’s no singer.

You’ll Dig it If You Like:
Music that not defies genres through their shared love for music of all forms.
Because they are inspired by so much of the world’s music, they have something for everybody.


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Diet Cig

Saturday / Main Stage
5:00 PM 


By Caitlin Wolper

Diet Cig combines saccharine pop with substantive, revengeful lyrics like "I want to hold a seance / For every heart I've broken / Put them all in a room / And say 'Get over it.'" A whimsical duo, Diet Cig's Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman make music for people who know what it's like to be dainty and angry all at the same time. While their music slips into the indie pop category, there are punk inflections layered throughout, creating a familiarly DIY vibe. 

You’ll Dig It If You Like: Charly Bliss, Speedy Ortiz, and Palehound.


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Melkbelly

Saturday / Main Stage /
1:45 PM

By Anna White

Chicago-based Melkbelly is a noise-rock family band, composed of Miranda Winters, her husband Bart Winters, his brother Liam Winters, and close friend James Wentzel. Their 2017 full-length debut, “Nothing Valley”, is simultaneously sludgy and jagged, all angular guitar lines and dark fuzz. It’s sometimes hard to make out exactly what Miranda is sing-talking through the haze, but her delivery carries more than enough power on its own, careening from melodic to frenzied as she barks and whines over the calculated din. You’re going to want to be near the front for this one, and get ready to sweat.

You’ll dig this if you like: Sonic Youth, The Breeders, art school experimental punk 


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Common Holly

Sunday / Main Stage
12:00 PM

by Jessica Mindrum

It's not too often that I find an artist where after hearing just one song I know I'm in for it. But I was when I first heard Common Holly after her song "Lullaby" from her debut full-length "Playing House" popped up on my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify. One line in particular stayed with me: "So if you give me your bad words, I'll take them quietly/They show me your pain, not a reflection of me." That profound human insight is something Common Holly shows throughout her entire record, in concise lines that make the world around you feel that much clearer. Her writing is then paired with instrumentation that ultimately creates a melancholy that is heart-wrenching but so addicting. She opens up the festival on Sunday--don't miss her.

You'll dig if you like: Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Half Waif, Lucy Dacus, Big Thief 


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Major Murphy

Sunday / Main Stage
12:50 PM

by Genevieve Kane

Major Murphy is a trio from Grand Rapids that just released their much anticipated debut album, No. 1. Major Murphy has accumulated a following since the drop of their first EP Future Release backin 2015. It was a year later when they melted our minds with the single Mary, released in 2017. Major Murphy once again claimed a spot in our hearts and Spotify libraries. Their lyrics are melancholy, yet the songs themselves are dreamy and upbeat. You can tell that Major Murphy took their time crafting the album, the result of which is a very beautiful and honest repertoire of songs that are painfully relatable.

You'll dig this if you like: Midwestern DIY bands, such as Deeper and Slow Pulp, that make music you can dance and cry to at the same time.


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Slow Mass

Sunday / WIDR FM STAGE
5:45 PM 

 
by Sara McCall
 
Pulling from so many post-genres, it’s difficult to place Slow Mass as specifically post-anything. With a sound that moves through moments of serious rage, math-y guitars, beautiful yet gritty harmonies from singers Mercedes Webb and Dave Collis, powerful and impressive drumming, and some dark energy it’d be difficult to not be incredibly wowed by Slow Mass. If you want a new favorite Chicago post-hardcore band DON’T MISS THIS SET.
 
You’ll dig this if you like: Metz, Ovlov, or have rage in you at all.


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VV Lightbody

WIDR FM STAGE / Saturday
1:15 PM


Sometimes a musician comes along and you can feel their genius on every square inch of a record. Enter VV Lightbody, Chicago flautist and lyricist whose debut record Bathing Peach is so sharply composed and arranged it makes it one of the best releases from Chicago this summer.
VV Lightbody’s melodic lyrics sit atop a lush, vibe-y lounge-y sound producing a beautifully well done listening experience you’re gonna want to chill hard on. Don’t miss it.
 
You’ll dig this if you like: Caroline Says, Cate Le Bon, Weyes Blood, or if you're just stoked on some flute.
 


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Lume

Sunday / WIDR FM STAGE
2:15 PM

By Rivka Yeker

Chicago-based, Michigan-born post-rock band Lume is a set you don't want to miss. All-consuming in both sound and presence, they will hit you with long, melodic, passionate songs, all of which are inspired by a sort of contained chaos that is impossible to pinpoint the exact feeling of which it is. They are a band that tells a story through song, be sure to take the time to check out this mid-day explosion of sound.

Inside Issue #21: Comedy as a Coping Mechanism: A Conversation with Jaboukie Young-White

Interview by Rivka Yeker

Photo by  Jerry Maestas  

Photo by Jerry Maestas 

In August, I met Jaboukie Young-White unexpectedly when I went to get lunch with a mutual friend of ours. He was visiting Chicago, his hometown, but was living in New York at the time. I didn’t know Jaboukie personally up until that point, but I had seen his face before and couldn’t figure out why or how. I assumed it was through DePaul, the university we both attended, or maybe just through friends’ online feeds. Later, when I got home and looked him up, I realized that he was a hilarious Twitter personality and someone I’ve probably retweeted before.

Regardless, the minute we started talking, there was an instantaneous bond that lead us to conversations about coming from immigrant families, queerness, and trying to make it. After brunch ended that day and Jaboukie was going back to our friend’s apartment to rehearse for an upcoming audition, we promised to stay in touch and I wished him safe travels back to the East coast. Over the last couple months, Jaboukie moved to LA to work on season 2 of Netflix’s true-crime parody American Vandal and has been gaining further recognition as an influencer, writer, comedian, and actor. 

Jaboukie recently appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon performing a set of his that he described as, “his own material, but finessed a little bit to make it cleaner”, which blew everyone away, along with Jimmy Fallon himself. Jaboukie’s future looks exciting and filled with opportunity, and yet he remains one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. When we got on FaceTime, I felt nothing but excitement to catch up with someone I had such a great connection with the first time we hung out. This time was no different; it was a conversation that left me even more inspired and motivated.


Jaboukie came out as queer to his parents on late night television. 

The first time we spoke back in August, he mentioned that he was still not yet out and that he didn’t know if he ever could come out because his parents, two Jamaican immigrants, would not be okay with it, especially his father. 

“When your family is homophobic and you’re relying on them as your only safety net and that safety net already has holes in it because they’re broke, you’re bottomed out. You tell yourself you can do this until you’re at a point where you don’t need them anymore. So, when I got to the point of being on TV, I was like, ‘well I’ll never to sleep on their couch again, so I can do this.’”

At a certain point, there is no escaping an identity that encapsulates the way you navigate through life. Especially as a comedian, leaving out that part of yourself is eliminating an entire voice that lives inside of you, one that should be breathed into the art you make. 

I asked Jaboukie if he ever saw himself doing what he’s doing now and he said, “I never saw it happening, but I knew it was possible.” 30 Rock was his favorite show when he was 16 and he found out that Donald Glover wrote for it when he was around 22 and he thought, “Oh shit, Black people can do this.” He said, “I didn’t even know TV writing was a job, and I didn’t even know they “let” black people do that. When I saw that, I started working towards it but didn’t know if it’d actually happen.”

Jaboukie originally went to DePaul University for Political Science and then Public Relations/Advertising, and then finally Digital Cinema, to which he joked, “I slowly got lazier and lazier as the years progressed.”

I asked him if his parents ever berated him with making sure he secured a job, as most immigrant parents do. He shared a story about his mom working in an office for most of his life until one day she went back to school and got a Bachelor’s in the US (even though she already had one from the University of the West Indies) and then got her Masters here, was an intern at 40-something, student taught, and then became a 5th grade school teacher who is now thinking about becoming a principal. He said, “She totally switched gears and went to do some other thing. Coming from her, she was like, ‘You can pick the safe route and when your safe route fails, what do you do? What are you left with when your compromise doesn’t work?” So, I had the mindset that I might as well go for what I wanted to do because if I go for the thing I barely tolerate and that doesn’t go well, what would I do with myself then?”

I asked him if he thought that creating a ton of back-up plans and safe routes is an immigrant mentality, to expect change and know that anything can shift at any moment, but to prepare for it. He said, “I think the immigrant thing is two-fold. My parents were more okay with me pursuing comedy because I had shown that I was so serious about it from a young age. In high school, I did speech & debate and my senior year I won both comedic events I was in. If you show you’re incredibly passionate about something, they’ll be like, ‘okay’, but you have to be rich! As long as you’re rich. They’ll be hesitant and then when they see money is coming they’re like, ‘We supported you all along!’” 

We laughed but we know it is true because there is no generational wealth and that their concerns are legitimate. We empathize deeply, but are also confronted with conflicting feelings in how they deliver their worry and love. 

Jaboukie recently moved to LA and he’s been posting on social media about his disdain for the city. I asked him what that was all about. He told me about the first time he visited New York, and the first time he realized he loved the city. He said, “When I was seven, my cousin lived in the Bronx or Harlem and it was like eleven or something at night and I was like, ‘Oh my god Burger King never closes in NYC.’” 

He continued about LA, “The thing that gets me is that it’s so sheltered in a way where I’m in my apartment, I get in a car, I go to work, I get in a car, I go home, I go to a friend’s maybe; you're not experiencing life on the street or on a subway.

The things that you take in on accident in New York are so magical and deeply human; I’ve been transformed just by a subway ride, like ‘I just saw some shit that changed my life and I’m a different person now.’ Those little happenstances don’t happen in LA.” 

I talked about Chicago and how it can sometimes feel both isolating and vibrant, the same way he described LA and New York. But there is something good about LA for writers --  the jobs. He said, “As much as I miss New York, I’m not going to say no to not struggling. I guess I haven’t learned to appreciate that you don’t have to constantly be struggling to feel alive.”

Since we were talking about jobs in LA, I asked if he wanted to continue pursuing writing or stand-up as of right now. He said, “Both. The great thing about being in a [writer’s] room is that the room moves towards a group sense of humor, where everyone is contributing their voice to something that’s greater than themselves. It helps my stand-up at times, not that I’m writing in someone else’s voice, but it allows me to hear other funny people that can open my mind to new material.”

Jaboukie is considered an influencer, which means at one point he was treating Twitter like a job. Now that he’s working in more professional settings, his tweets are less frequent but definitely just as present. When I was at a party and talking to someone about the upcoming cover, he said that he got a lot of his political updates from Jaboukie. I told Jaboukie that, to which he joked, “When I was doing my show in Chicago, someone said ‘I prefer to get my news from someone like you than CNN or MSNBC’ and I was like “That’s so dope, but also … I’m dumb…’” 

He continued, “A lot of the stuff that I post politically is stuff that’s plaguing me, or bothering me, to a point where I need to get it out of my head, so I’m just going to turn it into a joke and then distance myself from it.” 

He said, “I do think it’s cool that it started out as as basically a selfish thing, like something that I’m trying to come to terms with, has been able to reach other people, and that’s awesome, but at the same time, I would really like it if people got their news from reputable sources straight from the source. I am a viewpoint but not the viewpoint.”

I mentioned that as someone who is automatically seen as political just by existing with his identity, it’s almost impossible to escape what people expect from you. They begin to look at you as a person who knows exactly what to say and when to say it. 

He said, “I think everything is a political choice, especially when the world is so globalized. Everything you do or say is politicized. And you can try to ignore that reality and to opt out of that, but that’s also a political choice. We’re at a time where everything is at that level of importance. I don’t think I’m moreso a political person as I am an intentional person and I just try to stay aware of actions having implications. People brand it as ‘political’, but I don’t think necessarily that I’m more political than the next person, I just try to approach my decisions with self-awareness.”

Intention is an integral part of comedy. I mentioned the different kinds of people in comedy and what people can get away with: being purposefully offensive, pushing boundaries, making other people feel uncomfortable for the sake of a joke. I asked him what he thought about that sort of culture within comedy and if it is something that will always exist in stand-up in general.

“People will say fucked up shit and aside from that being a poor moral choice, I think you’re just a bad comedian. A lot of the time, people will go out of their way to say something offensive, or accidentally say something offensive, and it’s like, clearly you don’t know how to read an audience. It goes beyond ‘I should be able to say whatever I want’ No, you’re kind of just bad at your job. It’s getting in the way of what you’re trying to say.”

We discussed how in comedy, you are writing for other people. It’s not just for you, but rather, it’s about connecting with an audience and relating to one another. He said, “It’s one thing if it’s a podcast where people actively seek whatever you’re talking about out, but as a comedian, If you’re bringing your thoughts and ideas to a group of people and you’re not willing to consider the overarching social mores and taste of the time, well, what are you doing?”

He brought up two comedy legends, Lenny Bruce & Richard Pryor, saying that they were, “at the time challenging prevailing social norms.” While they were performative in being over the top offensive, Jaboukie said, “They revolutionized what stand-up is. What made them so radical was the conservative mores that they were pushing against. It’s not that Lenny Bruce was fighting against people trying to say the “N” word, like, he was saying ‘I should be able to say motherfucker’ because that’s how people talk. Richard Pryor was bringing Black culture to a level that it had never been elevated in the American Zeitgeist before, but people like to think of his bits that were wildly misogynistic and fucked up as just as crucial if not more crucial to his legacy. The people who push against PC (politically correct) culture like to look back at those acts and pick out the parts that did not make them legends and icons and use that to justify why they should be able to say the “n word” or be misogynistic in their jokes.”

He laughed because the frustration lies in how bad these jokes usually are. He said, “If these jokes were even good, then I’d be like, ‘Well, ya got me! I don’t agree with you but you wrote a joke and people laughed,’ but what’s so annoying is that these people are just regurgitating mid ‘2000s shock humor, like this was already a South Park episode! People try to write it off as edgy, but it is perfectly the status quo. It is the American culture.

I am lucky enough to have received a liberal arts education and I have the language to dissect these things and point out what is problematic, and there are people who don’t get that.  I was also lucky enough to be young on the internet during a time where there was a huge dialogue going on, almost 24/7, but at the same time...keep up with the times.”

The topic of “safe spaces” came up as we were talking about his upcoming tour and where he’d personally wish he could do shows. Coming from Chicago where the DIY scene is thriving and active, we talked about the term and how people get angry at concepts like it. He joked, “Who doesn’t want a space where they can feel okay and not like they’re being attacked?” I laughed and said, “That’d be a good joke.” He continued, “If I don’t think I can get stabbed, then I’m not going.”

I asked Jaboukie what he thought about identity politics in comedy, since it can be filled with a lot of people, like previously mentioned above, who make efforts to be offensive. I asked if he thought it is up to marginalized people in comedy to represent their identities in their titles and in their work. 

He said, “I don’t think you can divorce stand-up from identity. Out of all the art forms, stand-up is the one that is purely identity-based. It is literally just your identity and your point of view. In a way, I think that’s what makes it such an American art-form. It is an individual, in an individualistic society, talking about their individual experience and point of view — you cannot remove yourself from it.”

I told him that I don’t believe in describing someone based on specific identities because at a certain point, it begins to sound like you’re marketing that person. 

“Sometimes I get angry when people are cherry-picking which identities they want to use to describe me i.e queer comedian, black comedian, millennial comedian. I’m always all those things at once, it’s not like I change from joke to joke. At the same time, that representation can get sticky because then you enter the territory of being the spokesperson for that identity, which! I don’t think is always a bad thing.”

Jaboukie said, “Comedy to me as a queer black kid was the only way to gain access to social capital.” 

It was a coping mechanism, “In my neighborhood I was seen as the lightest person so I was read as white and at school I was seen as the darkest person, so I was trying to navigate multiple confusing identities. Because of that, it was always easiest to say I’m funny because that’s my place — I always felt safe as the funny person.”

Being that funny person became not only a skill, but a way to combat potential homophobia or racism. It became a tactic to fit in, to be treated like anyone else no matter who surrounded him. He says for some reason people think that, “things that evoke joy are not seen as important or meaningful as things that evoke sadness of grief. People think joy is our cheapest emotion.” 

He said, “Comedy is a mass art form --- it is trying to reach as many people as possible.” In knowing that, we look at the ways comedy transforms a society and how we reflect on laughter for growth. What does it do for us in time of emotional turmoil? In political distress? In seeking happiness?

Jaboukie said, “When you laugh at something, you are accepting that thing into your reality.”

Not only is comedy a coping mechanism, but it’s a tool. Comedy guides society, it teaches people, it informs us on what is typically hard to swallow and makes it a little bit more digestible. For Jaboukie, it is how he navigates his life as someone who once used it as a way to be accepted by people he felt alienated by. He now uses it to impact others, regardless of whether his words are perceived as political, the fact that he is speaking his truths, getting positive reactions, and doing it all with intention, shows that comedy can be powerful in a time where the ability to laugh not only becomes optional, but it becomes crucial. 

read the whole issue here

The Innocence of Witnessing: A Conversation with Hop Along

Interview by Rivka Yeker

After a photoshoot outside, where the weather granted us a perfectly lit overcast backdrop, Hop Along shuffled their way through the back door into the Metro. We made our way to a corner in the green room, while the sounds of people practicing vocals and chatting serenaded us. 

I began talking to Frances about her storytelling, not just lyrically, but also sonically. In the same way a classical composition can create an visceral cinematic experience, I claim that Hop Along can, too. I ask her about the way a certain line in a song can align with the mood of the music, in a way that is synchronous. For example: “Look of Love” off the new record Bark Your Head Off, Dog is a song where Frances’ voice almost looks like it’s riding the musical notes, working alongside them like long-term partners.

Something I notice quickly with Frances is her self-deprecation. It is light-hearted, but earnest. She says in regards to her storytelling writing, “It gets in the way of the music a little bit. One thing I struggle with is how the music fits with the written content. I do want to provide narratives; I do want to get people into a physical space. I want our songs to do the same thing [as books]. But it’s a challenge, because you have a certain amount of time to build something visually, and music has its own way of doing that.” 

This is particularly interesting to me since Hop Along aggressively takes me into a space. It’s almost as if it’s impossible to leave the space once I’ve entered. They create records that you have to listen to from beginning to end or else you are missing something vital. In previous interviews and just by being aware of Frances’ savvy as a lyricist, it is obvious she has a background in literature, or a deep love for it. 

Frances says, “I wanted to be a short story writer; I never thought I’d have the attention span to be a novelist. I love writing, maybe even more than I love singing.” Which is unsurprising to some, but an obvious revelation to me, as the lyrics are so visibly poetic and personal, so much so that only someone who thinks like a writer before anything else could come up with them. 

She says, “I was into slam poetry. I remember reading this poem on stage once and a friend said to me, ‘God, your voice is so interesting that I could hardly pay attention to what you were saying.’ Which bummed me out because I worked so hard, but I wanted to be so engaging that it actually took away from the poem itself.” Frances relates this to her work after, saying, “I heard him when he said that, but I don’t think I really listened for the longest time, as you can tell in previous records. I do think at times my voice could get in the way.” 

So, do the lyrics matter? She says, “There are people who like our band that aren’t interested in our lyrics at all. I know people who are big fans of Bob Dylan, but don’t care that much about the lyrics.” Which, is shocking to me, on both accounts. But, people consume art for different reasons. People very well may be listening to Hop Along solely for Frances’ voice and the music, rather than the stories she’s telling. Yet, I am still curious about the lyrics. I will forever be curious about her lyrics because they are so vague and cryptic, yet deeply personal and strangely relatable. I want to understand how that is.

photo by  A Klass

photo by A Klass

She says, “You’re using a part of your body to convey something abstract like language and it takes a long time to understand how to use the strong parts of that. What parts of me can convey sadness better vocally?” Which makes me think once again, about the alignment of music and lyrics and how just her voice alone can provoke an emotional reaction -- even when the lyrics themselves aren’t completely understood. 

I ask Frances if she considers herself the protagonist or the observer in the stories she’s telling. She says, “I never feel like a protagonist. I never have the confidence to write myself in that way. I just don’t feel that way about myself. It feels more correct to just observe, and even that, it’s faulty because it’s through my eyes. I don’t want to get in the way, I don’t think I’m half as interesting.”

This brings up the concept of being the author of an observation. Suddenly, Frances has the ability to create a story through her lens as the witness, suddenly that story is potentially detached from reality and most likely fictionalized. This segues us into the root of the stories she is typically writing about. 

“Annie Dillard said that writers often write on childhood because it’s the last first-hand experience they had. That’s all I write about. You can never exhaust that well.”

Similar to the experience of witnessing, we are always revising our childhoods because our memories are perpetually fleeting. We aren’t reliable narrators, the same way we aren’t reliable in our observations. Yet, it is the claiming of authorship on these stories that we hold close to ourselves. It is the decision to write about them at all. 

Frances speaks about the tension between being a young person and wanting to have more under your belt and being an older person and yearning for the past. She says, “We’re struggling against it, and for it. We want to be experienced, and yet there is a terror in leaving childhood.” 

I tell her about one of my favorite lyrics from her first record Freshman Year under the moniker Hop Along, Queen Ansleis. It is in the song “Bruno Is Orange”, which Frances reveals that it is an homage to the book When I was Five I Killed Myself and the lyric is, “Did you hear about that mother? / Broke her daughter's legs in two / And said, ‘It's too dangerous out there to walk, so I had to save you.’” For me, this lyric, encapsulates the experience of being a child and being almost helpless. There is the act of being taken care of, where every choice is made for you, where your lens and perspective is taken less seriously than anyone else’s. It is the presumption that children have no valuable truth to add, that their truth is merely faulty logic. 

Frances says, “When I was younger, I daydreamed all the time and my mom who’s a very nice lady, would say, ‘You’re just bored.’ and I assumed that I must be stupid, that I’m not that interesting, that other people are way more interesting and have way more captivating stories.”

If Hop Along’s lyrics are rooted in the experience of childhood and children’s voices are belittled, I wonder if Frances is making an attempt to give those voices, especially her own, a chance to live, an opportunity to be taken seriously. There is a sort of empathy we must give to our past selves, one that is often stolen from us because of how much pressure kids have on their shoulders to figure everything out quickly. Frances says in relation to kids being rushed to be good at everything, “I think it’s too bad when kids aren’t given a shot at being bad.” 

With the newfound knowledge of Frances’ relationship with her childhood, which is planted in her lyrics, I am curious to know more about the people she derives inspiration from. She is currently reading Elena Ferrante, an Italian writer, who Frances says writes soap opera-esque novels that capture relationships and trauma in an intelligent way. While she was once inspired by Steinbeck, she recognizes that his treatment of women characters, like many white men, is flawed. She says, “The only older male author that handles women well is James Baldwin.” Which then brings us to the conversation on how oftentimes if a person is marginalized, they are more cautious with how they write other marginalized characters. We talk about the different “genre” of women’s voices and how characters are developed in literature, the reality of a one-dimensional woman character versus a well-rounded, well-crafted woman character.

The concept of women being different “genres” makes me want to ask about her most talked about feature: her voice. It is constantly deemed as powerful, and I asked her how she feels about the term. She says, “I almost envy that image, I certainly don’t feel powerful. I wonder had I been born a man, how meek of a person I would be, because I would say I’m more meek.” The childhood voice, the woman’s voice, both silenced. Where does the grandiose voice come from?

“In this record, I was worried that I was going to sound really bitter, that I was going to sound really angry.”

“What’s wrong with being angry?”

“Nothing. That’s why I said, ‘fuck it.’”

And so, the record shifted gears. Suddenly, this became Hop Along’s most intentional record. Frances admits, “This album is the closest I’ve ever come to saying what I meant.” She continues, “In this album, I was trying to address my own discomfort without making anybody feel like they couldn’t be a part of it. I didn’t want men to hear it and think, ‘this isn’t for me,’” Which, once again, comes from the instinctual tendency as a woman to cater to men, to make sure they can still feel comfortable in the presence of something made by a woman that is confrontational, raw, and powerful. With this record, though, Frances says that they have the decision to choose, that it isn’t up to her to make sure they’re comfortable anymore. She says, “that’s on them.”

That’s not to say that this is an easy act. After a life of being conditioned to be quiet, how does one speak up? She says, “Accessing your own power is a form of responsibility. It makes me uncomfortable to stick up for myself. It feels right, but it doesn’t feel good.” But suddenly the voices that were once quiet are loud, vibrant, all-consuming. 

Frances, who claims that she is not as good of a witness as she wants to be, admits to the faults of witnessing itself. Yet, this is her way of sharing her thoughts and opinions. By exposing her observations, she is relaying her truth. By reaching inside herself to provide a platform for the child’s memories, she is showing how that truth came to be. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is Hop Along’s most cohesive record to date; it is the complete collaboration of Frances Quinlan, Joe Reinhart, Mark Quinlan, and Tyler Long. Each record that Hop Along made is its own set of stories, its own revelation, whether it be everyone in the band contributing their side, or Frances translating her complicated web of memory into poetry. 

The act of witnessing, similar to the act of recalling memory, becomes fiction. It becomes a song, and then a string of songs, and then a record. This is how Hop Along pulls you in. 

view the whole spread here.

Inside Issue #23: The Progression of Jenn Champion

Interview by Rivka Yeker

photo by  Bao Ngo  

photo by Bao Ngo 

Jenn Champion first entered my life through Carissa’s Wierd, a slowcore band that originated in the ‘90s. The band was there for me in my most deepest of depressions, the sunken moments, dark and drowned in the tunes of sad people. It wasn’t until years later that I was introduced to S, Jenn Champion’s solo project, which released its first record Puking and Crying in 2004. 

While her work has witnessed the growth and decline of my life, it held me in a chokehold during my first break-up. The album im not as good at it as you became the only thing pulling me through the muck of a disastrous first relationship. Recently, I was able to talk about the record in front of an audience of people at a Chicago venue for a literary series where locals are invited to speak on the records that influenced them the most. This record wasn’t the first record I ever listened to, nor was it the one that necessarily inspired me the most, but it was one that resonated with me so deeply during a time that I sincerely believed I couldn’t ever escape.

Jenn, who is in L.A. spoke with me over the phone about the way her music has evolved, emotions, and queer visibility. I ask her, “All of your solo records have been either gut-wrenching break-up records or processing weird feelings in relation to them. You seem content and good. You have a wife, you’re teaching guitar, this album is going to be a pop record, what is the inspiration behind these songs?”

She says she writes about what is currently happening to her. She half-jokingly talks about how she’s been around “indie-rockers” for so long, how now she’s being inspired by pop, and it’s usually rooted in the actual production of it. Brian Fennell, also known as SYML, is producing her forthcoming record Single Rider. Fennell is also in the band Barcelona, but SYML is his slower, more pop inspired project. While they both come from indie rock backgrounds, they are working to put together the ultimate Emotional Pop record. Jenn says, “It’s almost like a reaction to Cool Choices” which was her most recent S record. Cool Choices was sort of the slow introduction to the pop music she’d segue into, with its quiet electronic beats and catchy choruses. 

I am curious about the transition into pop music, more so because I am all for it. Lately, there has been a resurgence of pop music in alternative spaces, where pop icons are more celebrated and it is more acceptable to like pop than it ever was before. In the music industry, she says, “It’s hard to be authentic, and I’m not very marketable.” It makes me wonder, what is marketable anymore? While she’s experimenting, not necessarily with the intention to be marketable, but mostly to play around with the music itself, she is working hard to master the art of pop. She says, “If I pissed off the punk rockers, then I absolutely made a pop song.”

Her records for so long have been deeply sad and I ask earnestly, “Do you think you need to be sad to write music?” It is not always easy to write when you are in the lowest of slumps; creative energy is often stripped from us when we need it most, and she agrees. She says, “Sometimes I have to work through it all, before I can write about it,” and then continues, “I think I’ll always kinda lean sad, no matter what I write, it’s always underlying. I can be content and say I’m also sad at times.” This makes sense to me. Sometimes sad is just what we know best, like a comfortable home in which we have always lived.

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It is impossible to listen to Jenn Champion without picking up that she is writing about queer relationships. Yet, I know identity is a confusing and strange concept to navigate. I ask her if she’d rather be referred to as a “queer musician” or to just let people figure it out on their own. She says, “Right now, it feels important to be visible as a queer artist.” I agree with her, especially as the term becomes more nuanced, more fluid, and potentially more complicated, I think since she has been a musician for a long time, let alone a queer musician for a long time, her presence is a strong one. 

I ask her about the first project she worked on at 17. She says, “We [Carissa’s Wierd] were a tight crew (as friends). It was cool to have those types of relationships growing up.” I think about being a young person in a scene like that, how it molds you and transforms you. I think about how it was always different for me because I was never part of the band, but merely the attendee, the overseer, the community member. She talks about shows with only ten people in the audience. She says, “Music that was being made at that time was so raw.”

The music that she’s referring to was this sort of sub-genre of indie and punk adjacent to the grunge scene. It was for the people that preferred basement shows and tiny venues. The late ‘90s were filled with an onslaught of early emo, slowcore, and screamo. I think of bands (aside from Carissa’s Wierd) like Pedro The Lion, Cap’n Jazz, Saetia, and so forth. I envy anyone that was able to experience those bands at their most stripped down and fresh, barely adults who just wanted to make loud, emotional music. 

Jenn had other major influences including: Cat Power, Arches of Loaf, and Sleater Kinney. Each with their own authentic sound, their roots buried in punk and indie rock, were major icons in the ‘90s. She says that she likes the way Spotify operates as a music platform, says it “feels like MTV. It’s gotten back to this ‘unknown artist’.” The unknown artist is the artist we all spent our time searching for, whether it was via MTV or Fuse or Vh1, or it was on Yahoo music digging through music videos. Perhaps it was even when we got poor quality songs (or even an entirely different one that expected) through Limewire. Jenn even says she’ll still go to the record store and just choose any random $1 record. There is still something magical about stumbling over an artist for the first time and genuinely being taken aback. 

Jenn says, “I recently got into a subgenre of ‘Outrun.’ It’s like you’re watching a car driving in an ‘80s music video.” The name comes from the 1986 driving arcade game “Out Run” which was known for its synthwave soundtrack. It’s clear the Jenn’s most recent work is being inspired by that, since she’s taking us back to the ‘80s with spandex workout music videos and moody electronic beats.

Jenn Champion, has always stayed true to her music, producing what she wanted to hear in the world and unapologetically putting herself into it. I ask her what she could say to people who aspire to do what she does, to no matter what, not be swayed by an industry just for the sake of being marketable. She says, “You really have to deal with disappointment. Accepting disappointment and learning to not let it shut you down is the key. You have to be able to keep getting excited about things even if no one might like it. Be disappointed and move on.”

This is important for me to hear and is something I am always struggling to grapple with. It is the foundation of experimental and avant-garde art, yet somehow it feels impossible to ignore the desire to please the masses. It also doesn’t help that our success is tied to how commodifiable our art is. 

Jenn emphasizes the need to stay excited about your work. She says, “Don’t say ‘I don’t care.’ People are so afraid of being disappointed or getting their feelings hurt by the industry.” But it is bound to happen. Critics might love your work while the masses don’t and vice versa. Regardless, there will be people who love it, and that’s what counts. Jenn Champion’s fanbase is dedicated and has stayed by her side throughout the years, and I think that counts more than anything else. 

It is important for her to meet people who appreciate her work, to speak with them after shows, to engage with them over time. Jenn Champion’s aim is to create, to bond, and to put something honest out in the world. For her most recent record, and her upcoming record, it also means putting something that you can both dance and cry to, maybe even at the same time. Her work is so special because it isn’t asking you to choose. It is providing a space and expressing vulnerability, embracing emotion while simultaneously capturing the pure essence of pop; I’d call it intentional pop music. 

Jenn Champion once wrote songs about deep melancholy, abusive relationships, and toxic behaviors. All of those things are a part of her. In everything she does, she cannot detach from experiences and emotions she once had or still has, but now she is moving towards a new era. One that is filled with celebrating love, friendship, and dancing. Her work has impacted many people over many years, all of us holding her music close to our tender hearts and relating our pain to hers. It is an inspiring thing to watch a musician grow into a sound that makes most sense right now. It almost feels like we can do that, too. 

view the whole spread here.

Inside Issue #20: A Conversation with Phoebe Bridgers

Photo by Morgan Martinez

Photo by Morgan Martinez

I met Phoebe Bridgers when she was touring with Julien Baker as they both passed through Madison, Wisconsin a year and a half ago. We stayed in touch, and I kept up with each song she released, increasingly blown away by her effortless and graceful talent. Changing the scenery only slightly, Morgan and I decided to take the trip from Chicago to Milwaukee to see Phoebe open for Conor Oberst, her life-long inspiration, and more recently, a friend.

The two had been touring all year together and it was obvious. There was an effortless chemistry between them, which allowed for pleasant and heart-melting duets on stage and complete comfort when we were all just hanging out.

When I saw Phoebe play for the first time, it was a strange moment of clarity. Morgan and I sat in a crowded Madison venue on the side and had Julien prep us for how good Phoebe’s set was about to be. She was right - and I have this distinct memory of my eyes beginning to water during one of her oldest songs, “Georgia.” When a person can fill up a whole room like that with light and sound and nothing else, you know there is magic in their music. We got breakfast food at a diner after the show that night, and while her presence remained ethereal on stage, she quickly became one of the easiest people to be around. We were laughing and getting along as if we had known each other for years.

Reuniting with her again felt just as natural. All of us were dressed head-to-toe in black, looking like a three-piece punk band. We started the day getting disappointing brunch. She had told us about tour and shared some gossip about the indie folk world that I suddenly felt adjacent to. In just a few short weeks, her highly anticipated record Stranger in the Alps would come out via Dead Oceans, a label that also features our cover artist Japanese Breakfast, amongst other indie favorites like Julianna Barwick, Mitski, and Destroyer.

Shortly after brunch, we sat down in the green room of the Pabst Theatre, where Harry, Phoebe’s best friend and 2nd half of her band, along with Conor and his crew were hanging out. It was quiet and everyone was friendly. Most of the members in The Felice Brothers, Conor’s accompanying band, were reading or just lounging on the nice couches, in a very nice green room, in an extremely nice theatre.

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Stranger in the Alps is Phoebe’s first full-length, meaning everything else she’s put out has been either an EP or singles. Yet, her growing popularity comes at no surprise because each of her songs sounds like an entire lifetime. They are snippets of stories from various points in her life, moments that she was able to write about and grow from. It is a classic singer-songwriter concoction but there is something special about Phoebe’s music, and there’s no doubt that it has to do with an underlying commitment in staying true to her most authentic self, something I’ve noticed in her fearlessness, confidence in her responses, and overall aura.

When I asked her about her music being rooted in lyricism and storytelling, she immediately brought up her song “Killer” off her first EP of the same name. The song is about a period in her life where she had obsessive compulsive tendencies which resulted in her digging in deep into her skull when something disturbing came up. She was having intrusive thoughts about serial killers, and found herself googling everything there was to know about gruesome murders and violence, which left her horrified with both herself and her newfound information.

“Coming into Milwaukee reminded me of this period in my life that I thought wouldn’t end,” Phoebe said, as she recalled Milwaukee resident Jeffrey Dahmer being the serial killer that started her obsession, “It is interesting to look back on a song like ‘Killer’ and think, ‘yeah, I’m past that now. That happened and I grew from it.’”

There is an understanding that once art is released, it is to be interpreted in whichever way the person consuming the art decides. Phoebe laughed, “Sometimes I think people give me too much credit,” as she referred to how someone interpreted “Killer” in an extravagant and allegorical way when in reality, it was a fairly literal response to a specific period in her life.

I asked Phoebe what she had been listening to lately and where her taste stems from. Her foundation is rooted in bands like Television and classic singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell. Although recently, she said she’s been, “Jamming to Snail Mail and the new Jay Som record,” going in depth about how music right now is exploring elements of genre-bending particularly with artists like Mitski, another favorite of Phoebe’s. The wave of talented women & non-men musicians changing the game in how music is listened to and experienced has been something that, I think, everyone (particularly other women & non-men) has been excited about.

Phoebe admits a lot of her background is still dominated by men. She says specifically Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters is someone she confesses she loves, yet recognizes isn’t the nicest, friendliest, or least misogynistic guy. She understands and sees his flaws, the same way she no longer respects John Lennon, but can still listen to The Beatles. Some people are able to separate the art from the artist and for Phoebe, it’s almost a necessity. She said, “I would not allow myself to like anything if I didn’t. I do draw lines, though. You have to draw lines.”

Sometimes those lines can be blurry and it can get tricky to decide who you actively support and who you let into your ears. Phoebe knows this, though. She said, “I’m conscious of it now so I try to consume as much art made by women, POC, and trans people as much as possible because unlike theirs, music by white men is handed to me.”

This is something that a lot of young artists are aware of, especially if they started out in DIY scenes, like Phoebe. Phoebe, who was in a punk-influenced band in high school, noted that the DIY scene now is changing, and so are media outlets like Teen Vogue. Slowly but surely, important and what was once considered “radical” ideas are making their way into mainstream media (which is the Hooligan agenda!).

While Morgan took Phoebe’s photos against an orange-ish wall, complementing the golden hour that decided to grace us, I abruptly asked Phoebe, “What’s it like being on tour with essentially only men? Do you feel like you ever have to defeminize yourself to feel accepted?”

Phoebe’s immediate response: “Oh, yeah. Absolutely.”

This makes one wonder about the typical tropes for indie-folk singer-songwriters. There is an overlapping theme of confessional storytelling, of emotional ties to romance and childhood and nostalgia. These themes never go away, regardless of gender, yet when I google “Indie-folk”, the first ten bands are all men (aside from The Lumineers, which has one woman). This is not to say that these bands don’t deserve great recognition because I think they do, it is just fascinating that even with all the women affiliated with indie-folk, it is still a man’s game.

So, when Phoebe and I have this conversation, it is rooted in a place of knowing what it’s like to play a game that has been a part of her life since she became involved in music. For Phoebe, she’s had producers that wore their entitlement like a badge and found ways to manipulate her agency. Luckily, Phoebe never let men dictate what she wanted and didn’t want to do with her art.

Phoebe said earnestly, with no remorse in her voice, “Taking the “feminine” out of your personality [because you are expected to] takes the power out of it.” I think my jaw dropped or I took a few steps back to let that sink in so I could understand the gravity of her words. It is this perspective on femininity that allows her to explore what it means to be a vulnerable and fairly feminine musician, yet a person who defies feminine standards.

Still, it doesn't necessarily mean she feels good about it. “Sometimes I’ll want to wear dresses because I like dresses!” She said, but we both know even something as simple as a dress can change how a woman is perceived in spaces where nobody else is wearing a dress. In modern societal standards, to be femme is to be taken less seriously and nobody wants to be taken as a joke, especially in music.

Interestingly enough, in her music video “Motion Sickness”, Phoebe is dressed in a suit singing karaoke. I asked her about the androgynous look and if she had any intention with the gender play. She said, “Honestly, I just wanted to look as nerdy as possible,” laughing, “I wanted to show someone in a suit going all out for karaoke, really into it, y’know?”

I laughed. There something pure about the image in itself, which I recognize now that that was Phoebe’s message after all. Nothing about gender or binaries, but a sense of innocence — a sincere response to what it means to have, “emotional motion sickness.”

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It was jarring to realize how much (and how little) time had passed since we all met for the first time, to think that a year and a half ago felt like a past life, to see Phoebe in a place now where she is releasing something that has meant so much to her for so long. It was a day of reflecting, one of nostalgia and recollection of where we all once were and where we are now. The same way Phoebe’s songs tell us about moments from what seems like another life, we were able to come together as what seemed like new people. It felt like a song being formed, one on friendship and growth, all intertwined with laughter and memory.  

What I’ve noticed from knowing Phoebe as both an artist and a friend is that regardless of how the politics of music and the people within it affect her, she refuses to let it become her defining feature. Phoebe Bridgers is a musician who tells stories through her music. She is someone who consistently makes music for the sake of transforming somber moments of her life into something someone can hold onto. Her work is special because it is the sound of someone’s genuine response to existing. There’s something in her songs that anyone can connect with, even if these are her specific stories, even if we don’t all interpret them the same way.

see the whole spread here

Inside Issue #19: A Conversation with artist HTMLflowers

By Rivka Yeker 

Illustrations all by HTMLflowers

Art is something that is often a reaction to pain, yet it is not necessarily always a reflection of it. Grant Gronewold, who has gone by HTMLflowers for a decade now, produces work that explores illness with a slight influence of nihilism in its rawest and most abrasive forms. His illustrations resemble truth, a sort of semblance of ultimate reality. A raw statement rather than a sugar-coated one. While his approach to life plays as an integral part of his art, the work itself isn’t meant to intimidate anyone, but rather show life as it is for someone who has seen and been through and experienced so much.

Disabled and/or chronically ill people are often expected to look at life with constant optimism and a sense of glory. People don’t want to see the sick being sick; they want to see the aftermath, hear about the recovery, witness the progress, but only the happy moments. HTMLflowers simply refuses to give into whatever it is society expects of him. His work is a retelling of his life and the way he perceives the world.

HTMLflowers’ work tells stories through single images alone. Addition to his comics, he prints his work on mugs, t-shirts, pendants, and other things that people can display and wear. The images printed on these objects aren’t necessarily ones that people would expect to see on items for sale. They don’t have any catchy phrases or fun slogans. They are mostly drawings of people. People in their element, in their most natural states, existing regardless of what systems may put them down. It is in this work that HTMLflowers’ artistry comes out, in the work that captures vulnerability and the loneliness of the human experience. It is through his lens that we are able to find solace in sickness, even if it is not happy or optimistic. Even if it doesn’t say things like “It is going to get better.”


Your work is self-reflexive and eery, a sort of powerful glance at the human experience through simplistic yet complicated illustrations. What do you want people to take from your art?

Fear, revulsion, uncertainty, hopelessness, terror & the unique species of callous bliss that accompanies those disabled truths.

What is your favorite artistic medium when it comes to your own practice?

I like thinking a thing and then making it real, I don't care what form it takes, no favourites, just a compulsive need.

How did you get into illustrating?

My mother wanted me to be a painter & I couldn't stand real life.

You have a very specific experience as an artist with disability. Do you want that to come out in your work?

I am disabled & I want to empty my entire heart, I won't hide anything about myself if I feel it needs freeing. I think that can be a tool to expose disabled truths to the world but the most important thing for me is to be honest with myself.

Are you someone that likes to publicly talk about your disabilities / illnesses on social media?

Constantly, nauseatingly. I'm still not over being ignored as a child.

Who are some of your inspirations?

The doctors who talk down to me, the nurses who use unsanitary techniques risking my health, the government that makes precise moves in the dark to ruin what's left of our public healthcare system, the mutation that transforms my body & destroys my life, the people I date that can't be patient when I disappear into the wards.

Your online store is titled "No Visitors." What does that come from?

I don't like having visitors in hospital, this building is a loveless machine that can only be survived, I will not endanger my love by bringing it into this place. a lot of art comes from there, loveless survival. the hospital is inside me and when I started writing the comic series "No Visitors" I named it after that place inside me where I'm always alone.

What could you say to other aspiring artists, especially those who live with disability and/or chronic illness?

Your mutation is your weakness, your mutation is your strength, never relent.

The World Doesn't Care but You Still Can

This year has taught me that the world is and will always be ruthless. This is something that I’ve known, but pretended to brush aside. I have known the ways humanity has suffered, known the ways my own people have suffered, been conscious of those suffering around me, but it wasn’t until I met my own suffering face to face, that I truly understood how much the world does not give a shit.

We all have different reasons to live, different desires and goals, various explanations for life’s inexplicable demands, but there is something that ties us all together. It is the wish to understand why we are here, why we were dropped on this planet and told that we had a purpose. I can use the same metaphors often used for life, I can talk about how it is a game and we are merely learning the rules. I can talk about how it plays itself out like The Sims and we are being watched by a higher power. I can talk about how we all desperately want to make sense of this, but if 2016 has taught me anything, it is to stop trying to find a solution or an answer to everything.

If Western existentialism has any significance at all, it lies in the idea that while the world remains meaningless, our only purpose is to find meaning in our suffering. As a collective, a unit bundled up of social media profiles across all platforms, we have decided that 2016 has been an agonizing year that has quite literally annihilated all hope (RIP Princess Leia). Obviously, when speaking of those that passed this year, we are aware that 2016 didn’t actually kill them (even though some think pieces are trying very hard to prove this notion), we still witnessed lots of death via the web. These deaths weren’t just notable figures like Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Debbie Reynolds, and so forth, but they were also individuals grouped as political identities across the world.

We watched people die through Facebook articles and trending topics. We watched young people record themselves while expecting death in Syria via Twitter. We watched videos of Black children violently killed by cops. We became desensitized. We became expectant of this content.

In one short year, we watched America switch from a silly and kind of scary joke to a very serious topic of conversation. We watched fear grow in each other’s posts, we watched each other have public breakdowns, we watched everything crash while our cities remained silent and the outskirts cheered.

People talk about 2016 like it was a blur of a year, one that feels like the hardest episode to watch of an HBO original series. It feels gruesome, yet it also feels sort of like a miracle to have made it out alive. We talk about this year because all of us have experienced it together, we watched the fire start and we watched everything burn through our computer screens. We sat together at home on our couches, in our beds, eating dinner, drinking beer, experiencing what feels like the downfall of humanity.

Yet, it’s not the downfall. It is quite the opposite, actually. It is the beginning of an awakening. Social media has allowed for a chaotic, somewhat traumatic, and eye-opening glimpse of the world. We have finally gotten a taste for the insides of each other’s experiences through Live videos, and stories on Snapchat and Instagram, through keeping each other updated every minute of every day. One could argue that this has made us all out of our minds. Yes, probably, but on the other hand, can’t you feel a revolution brewing?

Maybe it won’t be a traditional revolution, but it’s one that will be built by the generation that was born learning the language that we’ve slowly been creating since the start of our social media journey. They are already more weary, more careful, and more willing to have discussions on identity and how the world works. We are still navigating and practicing the semiotics we’ve created and applied while existing in this “new” world that allows for “real life” to be everywhere, including Facebook support groups, but this generation following us will already be well-versed in the lingo. What will that mean? Who knows, but it is happening and there’s no way of stopping it.

So while 2016 has felt like one big car crash, we have to remember that all of the things that make us weak simultaneously act as catalysts for what makes us strong. We have seen and felt the worst of things this year, but it’s not the worst it’ll ever be, and it’s certainly not the best. There is so much ahead of us and while 2016 chewed us up and spit us out, I believe that we are all coming out of this geared up and prepared for battle. What we haven’t yet fought, we will, and it won’t ever make sense, but it won’t ever have to.

We might as well find a reason to keep moving while we’re still here.

Volumes Bookcafe: An Open Community

Photo by  Elmer Martinez

Rebecca and Kimberly George are two sisters who once dreamt about opening up a bookstore. Both sisters have master’s degrees and are certified to teach, but they have focuses in different areas. Kimberly’s foundation is rooted in theatre and working with younger children while Rebecca’s is focused primarily on English and teaching high school and college students. This is why their passion for Volumes is so strong. As former teachers, they deeply understand the benefits and difficulties of the American education system, recognize the needs that the Chicago Public Schools have, and are actively working on giving young people resources and spaces that help them feel empowered and comfortable. Due to their hard-work and ambition, they were able to create something that encompassed their visions of what a bookstore should look and feel like.

Photo by  Elmer Martinez

Volumes Bookcafe was founded on a love for books and community. The store sits on the consistently hectic Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, an area known for its coffee shops, consignment stores, and trendy brunch spots. I was hired with the first wave of employees when the shop first opened in March of 2016. The immediate reaction to the store was phenomenal; people kept commenting on how beautiful the store looks, its selection, and most importantly, how smart the idea of including a cafe is. It not only serves coffee, but beer, wine and cider, too. Volumes is a hit, but my appreciation for it stems from a slightly different perspective; I am moved by the owners' dedication for their community and the people that are a part of it.

Volumes is surrounded by coffee shops, used bookstores, and other niche indie bookstores in the area, but what draws people in and what makes it so special is the warmth it exudes. The sisters and staff work very hard to make sure it remains inviting and open, while also being, as Rebecca says, a “prolific mainstay of the literary world of Chicago.”

The way the Volumes staff works together is similar to how a family functions. This is because both Kimberly and Rebecca have a lot of love for their family and built the store as a family project. Since they are so family-oriented, Volumes is naturally a hot spot for families. They have already had children’s workshops and they hold weekly storytime sessions every Wednesday and Saturday morning. “We would love to offer additional programs for the neighboring schools, camps, classes, birthday parties, [and] books clubs,” says Kimberly.

With different author readings, discussions, monthly women’s comedy showcases, celebrations, and other endeavors that typically support small businesses and local writers, Volumes is constantly stirring something up for the community to enjoy and it’s exactly what Chicago needs.

The night after the election, Rebecca emailed me at midnight asking if I wanted to host an impromptu open mic so the community could be comforted by strangers while also sharing their thoughts and writings. Of course I said yes.

This impromptu open mic, or otherwise known as, An Open Community, was Volumes’ entire purpose and message. This is what Volumes stands for, what they believe in, and what they are actively working to amplify.

Kimberly and Rebecca George started Volumes because they wanted to give everyone a home of some kind—a place where people can come and feel comforted, where there will be light all around and hot chocolate with marshmallows in the front. At Volumes, there is no judging. There is no intimidation or pretentiousness—no explicit hierarchies or aggression. It exists as a place for anyone and everyone because at the end of the day Rebecca reiterates, “books make people happy.”

Artist Profile: Minhal Baig

Photo by  Benjamin Dell

Photo by Benjamin Dell

Artists create for different reasons. Each one has a chosen medium, a desire to craft, and something to get off their chest. For Minhal Baig, L.A. based and Chicago born artist, there is no order to the criteria of being a creator. For her, they all blend into the same priority—the same agenda of telling honest stories about versatile characters.

We Skyped on the day that she was editing a music video that she wrote, directed, and produced for musician: Brandyn Burnette. Her schedule is never free. She is always seeking new work—itching to make something and trying to be on set as much as possible. It’s inspiring, really, because anyone that has spent 14 hour long days with the same people can at least understand the basic level of exhaustion that filmmaking can bring.

“I would never put myself through all the work of production unless I really cared about it,” she says. People often don’t realize the amount of grit required in these processes—the amount of energy needed just produce something that is worthwhile. For her, there is no option to make something that isn’t.

Baig graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Visual Arts, meaning that she has no classic film training— she started as a painter and a playwright. Considering the level of form and creativity in her work, one would think otherwise, but people tend to forget that just because someone went to film school doesn’t mean they’re going to make exceptional films. Likewise, someone who didn’t go to film school absolutely could. Minhal is dedicated and with her knowledge focused on the visual arts, her work is visually striking and particular, as if a painter meticulously crafted the entire film—which in this case, one did.  

She’s no stranger to narrative, either. Her comic, Sunset Cleaners, published by Image Comics, is about the minor traumas she experienced in the days, months and years after 9/11 as a Muslim-American. Baig is talented in just about every way possible. She is also capable of being kind, calm, and easy to speak to. People like her don’t come around too often, especially not in her industry.

Since Minhal is such a passionate worker, it’s hard to find people on that same level, which makes gathering a crew all the more difficult, especially when money is tight. “I always have to give a disclaimer for every project,” she says. “You can not be doing this for money.”

For many, that sounds harsh and exploitative. But at the beginning of a film career, you will be working for very little—for exposure—to build partnerships and connections. Multiple times she points out that there are other ways to make money, especially if you’re passionate about your projects. “Low-budget music videos are not going to make the same as a commercial and I try to make that clear,” but at the end of the day, it’s up to young artists to decide how they are going to further their careers in an industry that doesn’t care about the individual. Baig guarantees that the outcome of each of her projects will be quality work, and she promises to put each team member on the roster of people she will work with on upcoming endeavors—ones where she does have more money.

“People have a hard time knowing what it means to do 100% of their job,” she says. “Especially if little money is involved.” But Baig isn’t just using her cast and crew, in fact, she’s pushing them to see what it’s like to put their all into something that will be good. She is inspiring them to become just as passionate about the project as her and she is encouraging the notion of collaboration.

She has been told over and over again that $5,000 as a budget for a music video won’t work or that she’ll have to steal locations. In these situations, she has no other answer but, “It’ll take more time and more phone calls, but that’s work I’m willing to do for something I care about. If I can’t hire someone to do something, then I learn the job.” Baig has the much needed confidence and determination that pushes her to the top. She knows that no one else is going to be doing it for her.

While money is a constant difficulty in art, especially when artists are trying to make inspiring work, Baig was originally told by her playwriting professor to enter the screenwriting field because there would be more money there. She thought that when she graduated, she’d be a producer. As a graduate, she was on track to being financially successful, impressing her parents and peers when she landed a job at an agency in L.A. fresh out of college. She worked in the mailroom, and then became an assistant to a TV agent at United Talent Agency. In the eyes of everyone else, she was living the dream. Her job was prestigious and impressive, especially for a recent grad, but Baig says, “I realized that I [didn’t] want to work on that side of the business. I think it takes a particular kind of person. I don’t think I’m that person.”

So what kind of person is she? She has the work ethic and the talent to be anyone or do anything, but it is the world of production that steals her heart. She wants to be the person making the art, not the one distributing it.

Her least favorite part about filmmaking is the writing, which is slightly bizarre, since she is a brilliant writer, so she elaborates by saying, “writing is lonely. You sit in front of a computer screen and you type, but there is no fun to it. I do it because I have to.” To her, when she is directing, she gets to work with other people and with editing, you work with the footage and it’s visual and exciting. With writing, you are working with words and yourself, and oftentimes, it is an isolating and long process.

Despite these challenges, writing her own screenplays has helped Baig be taken seriously on film sets. Since she didn’t go to the American Film Institute like many of the people she works with, these skills help her earn trust because her colleagues know that she knows what she wants out of the film. Baig doesn’t simply hand her script over and begin working—each project requires a much more extensive process of dissecting the script and making sure everyone understands it. She asks questions like, “what’s best for this story?” and, “what will it make it the most emotionally impactful?” While her colleagues are immensely talented technicians, she has to make sure the emotional creativity is there as well.

“I want to make sure the script feels alive,” she says.What makes projects true and special is when the artists and the people who are making it lived it. They lived in the space and made the writing into a living breathing thing.”

Baig doesn’t hide her desire for success. Her short film Hala was Vimeo’s “Short of the Week” and was published on NYLON Magazine. Hala was her first large project that required a lot of planning, time, and cooperation from her team. Money was raised through supportive friends, family, and other filmmakers who liked what she and her crew were doing. By squeezing the good out of social media, the film raised enough to become the successful project she had hoped it to be.

The film itself is a coming-of-age story, one that features a 16-year-old girl trying to figure herself out, while still respecting her parents and religion. It is honest and relatable, but also attempts to show a reality that mainstream media normally tries to hide or misrepresent: a Muslim girl doing everyday teenage things and thinking everyday teenage thoughts.

Baig’s main approach when writing characters has less to do with a political ideology and is more about telling an honest story about the character. “One of my biggest pet peeves in movies is when a marginalized person is a main character and it suddenly has to be political,” she says. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want to explore stories that haven’t been told—she naturally wants her characters to be interesting, not just typical cliches seen in popular media.

She says that Hala isn’t autobiographical, but being a Pakistani Muslim-American that is a daughter of immigrants, the film was personal. In the film, the main character is Iranian-American. Baig whole-heartedly believes in casting people that are true to what their characters are. Not only did she cast Iranians, but she also had an Iranian-American on set to confirm that everything Minhal set up was accurate. The consultant on set also made sure the Farsi the parent characters were speaking was correct in order to make the acting authentic, not a poor portrayal of real people, but a genuine one.

“When a movie is about a white person, the movie isn’t about the whiteness,” she says. For her, the same should go for any non-white character. In the film, the character Hala is like anyone else. She skateboards, listens to music, and is interested in dating. Baig makes movies to tell stories, to show a world that might not exist in the mind of the viewer.

Baig is passionate and determined and her work reflects that. She is prepared to show the world of film that she is capable of telling hundreds of different stories. She is an artist and artists exist to create, to expand their minds and learn about anything and everything. Minhal creates because it’s in her blood—because she can’t stop. The world needs people like her: people willing to invest themselves entirely into something they believe in while also maintaining a sense of modesty.

Minhal creates because she has to, because for her, there is no other option.

 

Redefining Illness

Art by  Bec Hac

Art by Bec Hac

Six months ago, I was officially diagnosed with Candidiasis, which can be considered many different things – an illness, a disease, an infection. It is essentially anything that makes one chronically unwell. Candidiasis affects over 40 million Americans of all ages, yet not everyone knows about it. People can go their whole lives suffering and accepting it, simply because doctors have a hard time wrapping their heads around illnesses that are difficult to grasp.

Candidiasis disrupts one's entire body, creating parasitic-like yeast overgrowth in the gut, spreading in the blood, and reaching everything from the brain to one's feet. The problem with Candida itself, is that it’s in everyone, but not everyone experiences its explosion, the moment that turns everything into more bad than good, creating unrest for its sufferers. So when I learned that this had been floating in my body longer than I would’ve ever guessed, the rapid weight gain, chronic fatigue, more headaches/migraines than normal, and an increase in depression and anxiety started to make sense.

The journey to decrease Candidiasis begins with understanding that there is no finish line, that the entirety of one's life is fighting to stay healthy, because unfortunately, we’re destined to destroy ourselves. Human lives are infinitely more fragile than we presume them to be, our immune systems require work, our bodies require constant attention.

In order to begin getting rid of Candidiasis, one must starve the candida of what it wants, rejecting its pleads,  and not feeding it yeast, sugar, and carbs. It was terrifying at first because I had a very specific idea of what a college student living in her own apartment’s life should look like. It didn’t involve illness, and it was much freer and less restrictive. I had to change my frozen pizza, Arnold Palmer, and candy from Walgreens diet to something that was beyond me, something that made no sense, something that needed way more energy and money than I had.

At first, it was a lot of researching and trying to understand what the fuck was going on in my body. It was creating my own diet, and following the Internet’s instructions, unsure if whether what I was doing was working and whether I was doing it right. I had seen multiple doctors at that point, and nothing was getting better. Eventually, my mom finally had me see a nutritionist. After seeing the nutritionist, I was given six different vitamins to help kill off the Candida and help strengthen my immune system, and then I was put on an extremely strict diet that was supposed to help clear my Candida in 2-3 months.

For 2 months, I had nightmares about eating sweets and bread almost every night, feeling nothing but guilt if I slipped up (which I rarely ever did purposefully). I let Candida take over my life. I was losing it, and I was in a state of constant unrest. I later learned that putting a time stamp on it would only increase my anxiety because I tirelessly counted each minute and each day until I’d come to the end and recognize that not much has changed.

I went to get my blood test redone, and had the nutritionist analyze my blood work. I had improved drastically in the parts in my body that needed help, I lost about 20 lbs, but the Candida was still there, and I still didn’t feel fine, even though I've never really understood what exactly fine means.

As the months passed and I began learning more about my condition and tried my best to stop pitying myself, working towards getting better, but falling hard on my bad days, I discovered that a relative of mine experienced Candidiasis years ago. We were sitting side by side at my grandpa’s birthday, and she told me that one of the major influences of Candidiasis is emotional. It’s about rerouting the brain to stop thinking that there is any normal way to live in our bodies. It’s about understanding your relationship with your body and how to communicate with it, how to learn about what works and what doesn’t. No doctor can tell you that. No one can explain to you how you feel more than you can.

I met up with the same relative a few weeks later and she gave me text on everything related to Candidiasis. She muscle tested me, and spoke about how much energy has to do with how we connect with our bodies. She taught me the importance of unlearning guilt and shame and how to stop equating my Candidiasis with my own personal failure. Then, she handed me a print-out on Candidiasis that changed everything completely. 

The first line said, “Candidiasis is a state of inner imbalance, not a disease.”

This is when I began to start viewing my condition as an imbalance, everything from the growth of yeast in my body to the chemicals in my brain. These are just disparities, things I have to live with, but things I can work on coping with and on.

The pain doesn’t stop. Every day is a brand new experience, anxious as to when I’ll get a headache or a migraine, preparing to be too tired to go out, pushing people away because I can’t be intimate, and feeling self-conscious and fearful that I’m a burden. I am emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted, but there isn’t much room to pity myself anymore. There isn’t time, nor is there a reason.

I have learned that it is okay to feel bad. It is okay to feel bad and to keep living, that there was never an eternal promise of happiness (and good health) when one enters existence. My imbalance shouldn’t prevent me from living to the best of my abilities.

At the end of the day, I am doing everything I can to fight what’s inside of me. I was raised to know how much strength resides within me, regardless of how much pain I endure and how much it tries to weaken me. I know that I am capable of fighting this, that all it requires is believing in myself to get through it, and recognizing everyone is battling something, and that I am not alone.

Learning to let go of the word illness and not allowing it to become a heavy weight that slings over my shoulders while dragging me through the mud isn’t easy. I want to, so badly, get through life without feeling like it’s eating me alive. At the same time, I don’t think there’s a single soul that gets that lucky. Our conditions are all specific to us and none of us experience life the same, so categorizing illness as debilitating for everyone, is wrong and harmful. We must redefine what it means to be well, and drop notions of good and bad.

Most of us are just merely getting by, but sometimes that’s enough. 

The Eastern European Mindset on Mental Health

By Rivka Yeker

Mental illness doesn’t exist to Eastern European immigrants, as they are stuck in their strict beliefs that everyone can pick themselves up from their bootstraps if they wanted to. There is something chilling and apathetic about that ideology, something that screams Ayn Rand and neoliberalism. Probably because that’s exactly what it is, and precisely why it’s harmful.

Growing up, my mind was perpetually wandering, I was always intrigued by the abnormal, by the uncomfortable. I was listening to albums that captured death and torment at nine years old, enamored by song lyrics that mentioned suicide. It was obvious that I started glorifying sadness from a young age, fascinated with its dark mysticism and the ambiguities of the way it exists. It never felt foreign, though, it always felt like a distant friend, something that I could always find comfort in.

As I got older, I started to understand that that my emotions and feelings were sporadic and sometimes even dangerous.  I experienced uncontrollable anxiety and bursts of overdramatic anger. I was worried. My parents were not, though. They reminded me that it was normal, my hormones were just all over the place, that it’ll pass. My parents never once decided that I was dealing with what was entirely out of my control, instead they were convinced that all of this craziness was easily tamed by learning how to breathe and exercise.

Those are two very helpful techniques to decrease anxiety and depression, but it will never get rid of them. This was a concept my parents simply couldn’t/cannot wrap their heads around, this was something that was ludicrous and out of the question. No matter how many times I begged for medication or a visit to a therapist, they refused, and I would be scolded if I were to have a panic attack in public.

Essentially, they believed that I was a spoiled little girl completely out of control. In some ways, they were right. But once they managed to kick the spoiled little girl out of me, with their cold Russian techniques, making sure I’d remind myself how hard they worked to get to where they are/where I am, I eventually became a more conscious and understanding person.

The depression and the anxiety didn’t go away, though. It fluctuated, sure, but it always remained somewhere in my fuzzy head.

Today, my mom asks me why my art always has to be so depressing.

My parents have always been aware of my strange tastes, whether it was in music, film, or literature; they have always questioned the value. They trained me to be an elitist, insisting that I appreciate high art, to essentially become a pretentious snob. They’ve accomplished that in some ways. Yet, they didn’t realize that by encouraging me to pursue a higher education, I’d actually bypass them intellectually and realize how wrong they are about most things. For one, there is no such thing as “real art” as my parents claim, and trying to be apart of a high-brow society when you aren’t filthy rich or American (if you live in America) seems ridiculous in itself.

My parents have a misconception of art today, even though they are huge appreciators of it. They have taken me to museums and plays since I’ve been a little kid, always exposing me to the beautiful and the eerie. I am forever grateful for that, but I sometimes worry about their mindsets during those trips. Which paintings were they intrigued by?

They aren’t artists. They read, even write sometimes, but they aren’t artists. Their friends are other Russian immigrants their age along with their Rabbi’s community of more Russian Jews. The majority of their friends are Russian people living in America, perpetuating the same viewpoints. They aren’t escaping their bubble, and they are very content with where they are.

So, when my mother asks me why depression seems to be popular amongst my friends, I begin to feel nauseous. When she asks me why I surround myself with people that claim themselves to be mentally ill, I feel sicker. When she says that she’s concerned, that she thinks they have a negative influence on me, I feel speechless, filled with anger.

I have explained to my parents countless amounts of times that I can’t simply turn my brain off. They have done everything in their power to make me work as hard as I do, by telling me that it’s all my personality and that I am “overemotional," refusing to claim any of my instabilities as a “disorder,” but I am seeing a therapist, and I am analyzing my actions and emotions. I am trying to find confirmation in something that has been invalidated my entire life. I am doing something they never did; I am making the crucial decision to work on my mental health and am taking the right steps to where I need to be.

I am trying to explain to my mother that my friends are my friends because they understand me more than any of my other friends ever have. I am trying to explain that the art community is filled with mentally ill people because art allows expression of the mind, something that every mentally ill person needs to survive. I am trying to explain that I have never been comfortable around anyone ever, that I always feel isolated regardless of who I am with, and that the people that I hang out with are the only ones that will ever make me feel safe in my identity.

But she still doesn’t get it. She thinks I need to explore different friend groups, probably find someone that likes tasting wine at vineyards and going to noncontroversial plays. Somehow I will find comfort in these people, she thinks. If she thinks that I make too much depressing art, that my poetry is never happy, that I am incapable of being optimistic, I want to show her how my day-to-day life is art, and that I am trying so hard to make it the kind of art she wants it to be.

Every day I get out of bed, go to class where I study media and film theory/analysis, creative writing, and public relations/advertising. I run an arts & culture magazine. I work as a barista bookseller at a book cafe, I freelance write, I am always searching for internships, and throwing events and hosting readings. I am always looking for new projects and writing essays on theories I am hoping to expand upon. I struggle with chronic headaches and migraines, and have been sick with an infection that has completely debilitated my life for the entirety of 2016, yet somehow, she is still convinced that I am losing a battle, that my optimism is somehow sunken and nowhere to be seen.

So when I make art that reflects depressive thoughts, or poetry that is drenched with negative emotional energy, I am not sorry. This is my therapy, the kind that has been deprived from me my entire life.

I do not blame my parents for being who they are; that is not their fault. They aren’t bad people, in fact, they are wonderful people. But, they have ideologies that have been ingrained in them since the Soviet Union, things that they grew up with, and things they thought they’d instill in me. They raised me to be unbelievably strong and determined, and I will cherish that for as long as I live, but I cannot defeat something that is apart of me; that would be like destroying myself entirely.

PREVIEW: Julien Baker / Strength in Vulnerability

Photo by Morgan Martinez

Photo by Morgan Martinez

This is a preview of Issue #15 featuring Julien Baker, Panteha Abareshi, Cabrona, Lucy Dacus, Sarah Bogosh + more that will be available for read on June 24th. To be notified when this issue is available for read, click here to subscribe ahead of time


By Rivka Yeker

Identity can become awfully confusing, especially with growing up in the hardcore scene, which is and was aggressively male-dominated. As a young girl, and especially as a young queer girl, we discussed the overbearing push to defeminize yourself to fit in, to be accepted. Julien’s initial response to me bringing up how isolating it is to be a girl in that scene was,  “you gotta be like a dude.” Plain and simple. It’s the same when applied to sexual identity, because when Julien came out to her band, they started treating her like a dude, because as Julien jokingly put it, “It’s like the minute you come out as a lesbian, you have to get a mullet and wear cut off flannels.” These stereotypes exist even in alternative spaces, even in those that claim themselves as safe ones.

It’s the same notion that every young femme person experiences when growing up attending hardcore, punk, emo shows, that, like Julien says, “you don’t even realize you’re surrounded by only guys,” and that it takes effort to unlearn your own internalized misogyny and to step outside for a minute and learn that there is something very off. After referencing Jessica Hopper’s new book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, she admits, “I didn’t realize any of this until I was becoming more aware,” essentially saying that the norm still lies in the presence of men, and we have to unpack the reasons that make this a problem.

While we know that the scene we’re so intensely apart of is a boys club, as a queer woman songwriter, Julien Baker decided to take on the responsibility of purposefully creating music that didn’t fall into the cliche lyricism that some of her biggest influences did.

“When I listened to The Promise Ring or Death Cab, I run this risk of doing the Straight White Male Wants Manic Pixie Dream Girl to Fulfill His Romantic Needs trope, and sometimes I start to see my phrasing emulate those people because they’re huge influences, but I want to be conscious,” Julien tells us, and she is conscious, because she works hard at deflecting those cliches that we’ve seen done over and over again by our favorite musicians and in our favorite movies.

“I have to start writing songs that don’t revolve around girls existing to fulfill my romantic needs, I need to be conscious of how I speak about women, how I treat women, as a public figure and as an artist, because that’s a secondary influence,” Julien explains, “and that’s how you construct a new social idea while pushing against the dominant culture.” Julien accepts that it’s easy to fall into the traditionality of songwriting, but she is always checking herself and making sure she is defying the patriarchal standard that lingers above us.


Redefining Religious Limitation Through Fashion

By Rivka Yeker

Hooligan had a chance to speak with  MIMU MAXI, a fashion line run by two Jewish sisters-in-laws that focus on modest and hip clothing. Following the Jewish law, they provide outfits for women that follow various faiths, or simply just prefer to dress up in what is most comfortable: oversized and fashionable easywear. We discussed their passion for dressing up, their intentions with MIMU MAXI, and their place in the fashion world.

Photo via  Instagram

Photo via Instagram

Hooligan Mag: At Hooligan, we really take pride in artists that stick to their roots and create something that is completely drenched in their own culture. We love what you are doing at MIMU MAXI. How did the two of you begin doing this?

Mimi Hecht: Mushky and I are sisters-in-law (she's married to my brother), and we were spending a lot of time together. We would often talk about business ideas, ways we could use our talents and passions to create something that would make a difference and also offer us some flexibility and freedom as moms. Mushky and I always loved talking about clothing, but a lot of it was our frustration. We are orthodox Jewish women who keep Judaism's guidelines of modesty (in short, covering our collarbone, elbows, knees). We always found it hard to find clothing that lived up to our minimalistic aesthetic, that covered all the right parts, that we didn't have to make changes to, and that was affordable. We needed clothing that was just effortless, can be thrown on (without wearing things under to make it modest), that was easy to layer and play with, and that just worked. So we decided, let's just do this ourselves! We have no background in fashion. We jumped into it with a lot of willpower and vision, learning everything on the job.

HM: Did you expect the business to grow so fast and expand so much?

Mushky Notik: It was pretty amazing to see how our immediate community celebrat[ed] what we were doing. It was very clear right away that what we were designing was meeting a real need — that there were so many women like us out there who needed easy, beautiful modest clothing, but had just been "surviving" with what was out there. The real excitement began when women from outside our community starting catching on. Not only Christian and Muslim women who are modesty-minded too, but women who really couldn't care less about covering and just loved the designs.

HM: What was your intention with the garments when you first opened up shop?

MH: One of the first items we introduced was our signature Skirt Leggings, which is inspired by the ease, versatility and comfort of a good pair of leggings...but it's a skirt! When we first introduced them, they flew off the shelves. The idea that there can be a skirt that was modest, but also felt really smooth and was flattering, and can be worn every day in a new way — this was new for our community. Our intention was always to create the pieces we felt we personally needed, and it was a blessing that other women truly "got" what we were doing.

Since expanding our collection from Skirt Leggings (which is still our top seller), we've kept to that original concept: wearable, easy, uncomplicated and extremely versatile modest basics. It happens to be that our collection is very oversized. Not because a modest women can't show her form, but because we just love it. So our designs are very much a blend of our Jewish customs (the coverage) and our aesthetic (easy, flowing, loose, comfortable). Modest clothing can be beautiful and flowing and dramatic, and we love showing [that].

HM: Who buys your clothes?

MN: We obviously have a lot of Jewish customers, because that's our community and how we really took off. We also have a lot of customers who are Christian and Muslim, since their modest sensitivities are similar.

I think the most common denominator with our customers is that they are busy, confident women (often moms) who just want to get on with their day feeling and looking good, and don't want to think a ton about putting together an outfit — they want to throw on a dress or skirt that feels really easy and is flattering without doing much. All our items do that. They are simple, but still have a dramatic or fun effect. We are proud to ship all over the world, and our customer base is continuously surprising us with its diversity.

HM: In what ways are your designs reinventing the fashion world? What statement do they seem to make?

MH: I'm not sure we are reinventing the fashion world....yet! I do think we are changing people's perceptions about what makes a fashion brand. That you can be exactly who you are, put yourself out there in an honest way, be real and engaging, and have a successful business. So many women tell us they shop with us because they love how we embrace and connect women of all backgrounds, and they feel that wearing MIMU is connecting with a meaningful message. That's the best thing to hear. Clothing is important. But the people behind it, and the people who wear it, are more important.

HM: We also love the energy coming off your website, Instagram, etc. You completely destigmatize the notion attached to Chassidic Judaism, or any type of sect within a religion that practices their beliefs as a way of life. Are people ever shocked to discover that you are Chassidic because you may dress so well and stylish?

MN: Sometimes we get people who are in shock that we are wearing wigs, keep the Sabbath, Kosher...the whole shebang! We are definitely more worldly and modern than some other Chassidic sects, but that doesn't make us any less committed to and engaged with our religion. Our upbringing and lifestyle and values are always front and center, and we love showing how that's possible while having fun, doing what you love, and sharing it with other people.

Culturally, sometimes Jewish women (and men!) resort to dressing a certain way that has become custom, and sometimes that can be a bit outdated. We don't judge that. There are good reasons why certain modes of dress have become norms, and that's meaningful too. But I think what people might not realize is that religious Jewish women take pride in their appearance and love shopping and getting dressed just like anyone else! Sometimes, individuality can get a bit lost when you live in a tight community. But thankfully, with our collection we see so many women taking basics and truly making it their own. Judaism is very much about using your own voice and self expression to make the world a better place. And we see and are inspired to share how expression through clothing can be very much a part of that, even if it's just by the fact that it makes you feel more alive and beautiful — and thereby more empowered to change the world.

Photo via  Instagram

Photo via Instagram

HM: What do you have to say to the people that view the way you dress as a “limitation?”

MH: Modest guidelines are inherently a limitation, but we wouldn't adhere to it if we didn't feel that it opened up a whole new time of freedom and power. In many ways, dressing modestly is our form of rebellion against a society that almost "insists" a woman's beauty and womanhood is about how much skin she shows. No, that doesn't mean we think the whole world needs to be modest. It's just how we personally choose and relate to it. Our society is so scared of limitations, but that's a very fearful approach. A lot of limitations are a "no" to say "yes" to something greater. For us, dressing modestly is a commitment that is meaningful to us for a multitude of reasons. So on days that it's hard, we just remind ourselves of that. Is it a challenge? It can be, practically. But that's why we started MIMU MAXI. And now we're just busy showing that whatever limitation that is inherent in modest dressing is simply a challenge worth embracing everyday. And that it can be beautiful, and fun, and just as fashionable as everyone else

HM: What is your overall message with MIMU MAXI?

MN: On the deepest level, our message with MIMU MAXI isn't even about clothes. It's about people. About women, connecting [with] and understanding each other, opening each other’s minds and embracing each other with authenticity and compassion. That is our social media vibe, and the energy of our brand — because it's really who we are. The clothes have become just the medium, a lucky byproduct, of a larger mission to build a positive, embracing community of women.

Photo via  Instagram

Photo via Instagram

On Human Communication and Closure: The Necessary Dialogue We Refuse To Face

By Rivka Yeker

Courtesy of Morgan Martinez

Courtesy of Morgan Martinez

Experiencing your friend’s vivid details of their most recent Tinder date, or their obsession with a stranger on OkCupid can get overwhelming, whether it’s asking them the vital questions of, “So when are you going to hang out?” or “Do they like the same bands as you?” while simultaneously trying to keep up with every person that passes through their life, nonchalantly and swiftly.

What I have been noticing as of late, though, has been the stump we hit when we aren’t sure if we are actually enjoying our date’s rant about his favorite German Expressionist film or the time he saw some generic indie band at Lollapalooza. It’s that moment when the excitement about someone actually being attracted to us starts dimming slowly, where we realize that we aren’t actually having a good time. The minute that feeling sinks, we are stuck and we are unsure how to move.

Each time I tell my friends that they have to lay the facts down, they automatically respond with, “What do you mean I have to tell him that I’m not interested? I’m going to hurt him!” Yet, they aren’t thinking about all of the times they’ve been on the opposite end, subtly rejected and ignored until the epiphany strikes and they recognize that they have been ghosted. Yes, completely and utterly rejected.

We’ve all been both victims and perpetrators, trying to hold onto something that is entirely unreciprocated or exiting unwanted flings by fleeing the scene and refusing to reply. But regardless of how much we know that “ghosting” is bad, regardless of how much we’re aware that “communication is key” and that it is the better route, we are still terrified of facing someone and telling them the honest truth, whether it’s that we are not interested at all, don’t feel compatible with the person, or are genuinely terrified of commitment, like most of us are. Even the excuse can be slightly altered, as long as you give the person the closure they deserve.

As the person that decides to ghost, you are given leverage, some kind of power that the other person doesn’t have. You have chosen to disregard this situation, to act as if it had never happened, as if you had never went out on a date or had sex, as if this person wasn’t somehow impacted by you or left to feel vulnerable in one way or another. You have decided that this situation doesn’t matter to you, even if the person on the other side feels excited about what they thought was a connection. And this isn’t a matter of whether your feelings are valid or not, because your feelings are perfectly justified. It’s a matter of whether you can discuss those feelings with the person you became involved with, regardless of how casual it may be.

As the person that has been ghosted, you are left with nothing but yourself, which gives only one person to blame. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, this can leave people to feel negative thoughts that continue to damage their self-esteem, especially if they’ve been struggling to get out and date in the first place. When you are ghosted, you are forced to question every single word you said, every facial expression made, every bold opinion stated. It feels like it’s your fault and your fault only, that there are no other possible options for this, like that they may be very busy at the moment, they didn’t feel a connection, or they’re looking for something else at that point in their life. All of those excuses are understandable, but as someone who was recently ghosted, every thought become irrational and self-deprecating.

This is why this conversation is unbelievably crucial. People are horrified of dating for these exact reasons, because rejection is one thing and it hurts, but to be left without a reason, without any explanation as to why this isn’t going to work out, feels like hell. As humans, as people who are capable of communicating and experiencing connection, we deserve closure, whether it’s positive or negative.

So as we grow with our future dates and flings, we must take the time to discuss our feelings when needed, when they should be discussed, even if we claim ourselves to be closed off or nervous, sometimes it isn’t about you, sometimes it’s about the person you could unintentionally scar. Redefining what it means to be “uncomfortable” and taking steps towards fluid conversation is how we will navigate vulnerability in a light that isn’t as terrifying as it currently is.

On Invisible Illness

By Rivka Yeker

Theories that diseases are caused by mental states and can be cured by will power are always an index of how much is not understood about a disease.
— Susan Sontag
Photo by Morgan Martinez

Photo by Morgan Martinez

People with invisible illnesses often avoid planning. We mark our calendars in pencil, for the purpose of it being easily erasable if we wake up that day feeling as if our bodies are rejecting us from the inside out.  There is no cure for chronic illness, for autoimmune diseases, for the things our body controls that we can’t.

I have been dealing with a headache disorder that has been restricting me from ever living a normal, healthy, consistent lifestyle ever since I hit puberty at 11. I have always felt the need to apologize for my inability to stay out a whole day, my anxiety towards sleeping at another’s house due to not knowing whether or not my head will cooperate, even frantically writing emails to teachers and professors for missing their class because of something I couldn’t mend in time (or at all).  For a long time, I sat through events and parties with a pounding headache, just to say I could be there. I went out even though I felt physically and mentally ill, and I continued working even through incredible pain. Only in the past few years, has the illness worsened, that it forced me to skip out on many social and professional endeavors, but I have learned to listen to my body when it is telling me it’s turning off.

Chronic headaches means that I get at least 15 headaches in a month, which equates to half of my month is spent feeling like garbage. These headaches could range from mild (bearable, usually treatable with Excedrin), intense (usually not treatable, can barely get through a whole day with but still doable), and unbearable (usually migraines and typically ends in vomiting and needing all the lights off with my head shoved in a pillow). Headache disorders are lifelong and they are debilitating, causing them to decrease one’s quality of life. Not only are they physical, but they also increase depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances, which makes everything all the more difficult.

Since headaches and migraines are typically given to us by our parents, I shouldn’t have been surprised when it started becoming so consistent and disabling. I’ve been watching both my parents struggle my entire life, mostly seeing how my mother would spend days in bed trying to fight a monster clawing at her body and attacking her own mental health. Even with her chronic pain, she was still very much a mother in that she screamed at my brother and I while a brick threw itself back and forth against the walls of her head. Now that I don’t live at home, I don’t see my parents’ suffer as much, but I know that they are some of the only people I can confide in about my headaches and migraines and be sure that they completely understand. This is something we cannot escape, regardless of how much we try to persevere through the pain.

Trying to explain to people how it feels when I have a migraine is almost impossible, it is crippling and it is draining. My face flushes, I am nauseous, my head is a thousand different metaphors for pain, and my entire body needs rest. It needs a place to break down. When I make plans, I always tell people that I am flaky and to be aware of this, but I don’t want them to think it’s because I don’t want to spend time with them. I am genuinely unsure of how I am going to wake up that day. Is my head going to hurt? How sad am I going to be? How anxious will I feel? Will I have no energy? There is never a concrete answer and I am never sure how I will react. If I have the option of staying in and taking care of myself, I would much rather do that than do what I used to do: force myself to endure pain, only to know I’m going to regret it.

There are too many times when I feel bad for something I can’t control. I feel bad that I feel ill, that I can’t do something, that I have to leave early, that I have to be alone, that I can’t make it to a lecture, I feel bad that I have to warn people that I am flaky, and that I am quite possibly notorious for that. Only lately have I learned that one should never apologize for their illness, for their mental state, for their inabilities to follow through. I have learned that especially in a society that is unbelievably demanding, quick-paced, and vicious, we must learn to step back and value someone’s capabilities. Those who are genuinely ill, whether it’s someone who struggles with lupus, MS, diabetes, chronic headaches/migraines, mental disorders, even women dealing with their menstrual cycle, or any other illness that seems invisible, deserve their right to be ill and shameless about it.

They are already suffering enough.

It feels awful to feel like a burden around people, to avoid relationships because you don’t want to become an annoyance for someone else, you don’t want pity; you want to feel normal. If someone you know struggles with an invisible illness, acknowledge it and understand their needs and restrictions. We are trying our best to get through life, just like everyone else.

The Hum of Winter’s First Snowfall, November 20th, 2015

By Rivka Yeker

Courtesy of  Becky Yeker

Courtesy of Becky Yeker

Cars are being piled with fluff and the speed bump’s arrow-shaped design is being emphasized with a white highlight. The lamplight is reflecting against the snowflakes, showing us how large they actually are. Like they do in films that focus heavy on the scenery, winter evening, Friday night, and the roommates are resting across this small apartment. One bakes cookies, while one lies entranced with her phone, one sits on a chair staring at the first snowfall in Chicago, in November.

The weatherman said 8 inches, and the weatherman should be right since he has no other topic to cover. He doesn’t have to talk about the hostages in Mali, the terrorist attacks in Paris, the desperate refugees in Syria.

I had a dream that I was in an interview and someone had asked me about the war happening all over the world, the tyrants, the maniacs, the murderers, the blood shed, and in my dream I responded with, “It’s much easier to start a fire than to put one out.” Meaning that being angry, uncivil, uncaring, and untamed is much simpler than putting energy into something that could potentially never grow or change, like watching the world explode while sitting with laptops before us, sharing Facebook statuses and trying our best to do something that seems like it can’t be undone.

Courtesy of Becky Yeker

Courtesy of Becky Yeker

Watching people do everyday things while on the 3rd floor of an apartment and a window separating noise seems like watching someone else watch a film; it is easy to romanticize the way a person lives by not hearing the subtle groans pulled from their chest while wiping off snow on their minivan.

There is invisibility in the restlessness of our world today, as people lay on their couches absorbed in Facebook’s constant updates, with trending topics changing by the minute, they hide under blankets separated by windows from reality. The snow is covering up the streets, but it’ll melt by next week.

On Conventional Beauty by Alternative Standards

By Rivka Yeker

It is often exhausting to be the perpetual wingman and friend at parties and hangouts. Often, the thinner, cuter, smaller, slightly more tattooed girl with an off-shade of colored hair will be approached while the thicker, louder, slightly less "alt" looking friend with the not-so-white features will be either glanced over or greeted with overly friendly banter. Not to say that this is all spaces, because a majority of queer spaces do a great job flipping off any sort of conventional beauty standard. But in any “punk,” “emo," or “alternative” space, the straight guys are immediately drawn to the not-so-brash-and-talkative types, with cute smiles and sweet eyes. In no way am I trying to shame these women for being this way, because being shy is a personality trait and it is okay to be passive, too. It has just become evident to me that even when I’ve escaped to “alternative” spaces, I still feel terribly unattractive, too big, and not “alt” enough.

I remember one time someone told me that they couldn’t have a scene phase because they were “too fat.” Because somehow, even amidst all the Warped Tours and embarrassing bands we blasted in suburban traffic, there was still a standard for how “scene” someone could look. The most ridiculous trend had a standard, and the fat girls were made fun of a ridiculous amount more than any of the thin scene girls. Boys with swooped hair chose their hot scene girlfriends (always thin with the same traditional white facial features) and followed their fame on MySpace. This all might sound incredibly trivial, but my concern lies more in the idea that someone was judging someone’s size more than they were judging the music they embraced and the amount of money they spent at Hot Topic.

It is sometimes hard to not be jealous when you are strapped into your body and face, and can never really be looked at as one of those “cute alt girls” because your body will always be sexualized due to its curves. And regardless of what you wear, you will always look chunkier and (by traditional standards) unappealing. It is interesting how even for a scene that tries their hardest to avoid conformity and structure, there is still some type of patriarchal model that is perpetuating social popularity based on appearance (specifically for non-men). And after I got bangs, I was suddenly a “cute alt girl,” even though I’ve been listening to the same music and wearing the same clothes for years.

I have never been “normal pretty.” I have mastered the art of helping my pretty friends get laid, scouting out people that would be into my attractive peers, setting up good-looking couples, standing and talking to someone as platonically as possible because I have already assumed that there is no attraction on their end. I don’t want this to sound like I am asking for someone to tell me I am good looking because it's not that I don’t get complimented. It's just I know that there is a certain image that every “alt boy” has in his mind, and it is flashing like a giant billboard while his eyes dart in every direction at a show or a party, and I am not that. I am also not the standard businessman or college guy’s definition of “hot,” but that’s an entirely different idea that I gave up on in high school.

The alternative world’s benchmark of attractiveness holds the same high stakes that any other group ("normal" or not) has. As politically correct and progressive as punk tries to be, it is evident that all the male-presenting people still value the more attractive and more “alt” or “punk” girls in a light that is almost humiliating to those that feel like they don’t belong. It seems as if the girls and non-men in this scene are trying their best to mold themselves into an image that these boys have created: this "manic pixie dream girl" that goes to art school and doesn’t speak much. After tweeting about this and posting a selfie and a rant in a Facebook group that is filled with only non-men, I was flooded with “I feel this” and messages describing their struggles as a chubbier, less feminine person who is also attracted to men. These constructed standards have made girls and non-men feel unsafe in many spaces, often too afraid to look “too excited” at shows in fear of letting their personality actually show, or begin feeling invisible at parties that seem like they were made to isolate them.

There is a whole mob of girls and non-men that hang out in these alternative spaces. They are loud, ambitious, and they take up space. They talk back and make statements; they have big noses and wide eyes and their thighs shake when they dance, and their band t-shirts are starting to barely fit them. Their veins are pumping with energy and they are fed up with these ideals they thought they escaped by stepping into sweaty basements. But misogyny doesn’t leave at the door. It follows you and it lingers, and you can feel it. Even while there is a skinny white boy screaming into a microphone about his ex-girlfriend, and the ground is vibrating and your ears are ringing; you can feel it. 

My Childhood Bedroom

By Rivka Yeker

My mom made that board during my Freshman year of college. I came home to it one day and laughed, and also kind of cried.

My mom made that board during my Freshman year of college. I came home to it one day and laughed, and also kind of cried.

It is the first time I am back in my “old bedroom” in my “parent’s house” and I feel my past self filling up each square foot of my wooden floor. I am haunted by my bookshelf and the space where my TV used to sit, my keyboard, the embarrassing flower border that I never wanted. 

A person’s childhood bedroom holds their most intimate experiences: the first time they fell asleep with the lights off, their first panic attack, the first time they thought about sex. This room has been the storage space for countless nights of sad music blaring through speakers, hours of Sims being played instead of homework being done, post-work exhausted collapses onto my bed, the loneliest thoughts and the most desperate. This bedroom has seen every inch of me, every angle of my mind, every thought I’ve ever blurted out loud, every mistake I’ve tried to hide, every movie I sobbed to, every song I've belted, every selfie I’ve taken; this bedroom was my best friend, my most comforting friend.

This room is empty now. Most things are in my new apartment in Chicago, aside from books I read growing up, the keyboard I have yet to move, and the same unsettling and triggering lavender color that paints the walls. I never chose to color my room lavender, as much as my mom tries to tell me I did. I distinctly remember saying “yeah, that’s fine” when my mom offered the color to me because I knew, even at 5, that putting up a fight with my mother would be the wrong option, so I accepted lavender. Years of internalized misogyny and confusion, I was in my own personal physical hell. 

I decorated the closet with posters from AP Magazine on the left side and Andy Samberg’s face on the right. I plastered as many concert posters across the room as I could, even throwing up Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” album art just to hide the lavender that taunted me. 

The nostalgia is overwhelming.

My eyes swell at the thought of all the times I’ve barged through my bedroom door unable to control fits of mania, every outburst, every punch to the wall, every time I thought I had reached my limits.

I wish I could grab her by the shoulders and tell her to keep trudging and to continue being passionately in love with existing, regardless of how many times her friends make her feel less than she is or how many boys comment on her body and weight, how many times her intelligence is mocked, and how many times she will have to prove herself over and over again.

All I wish I could say is, “it won’t get easier, no, but you will become stronger. It’ll be hard, but it’ll be okay.” 

I feel bad for the girl I once was. I feel bad about the people that treated her like a dog toy, chewing her up and throwing her to the side, I feel bad about all times she let herself be vulnerable only to be ignored and stepped on. I feel bad for how confused she felt, for how she didn’t fit into a category or didn’t fully understand her customized femininity. 

When I was a little girl, I saw my future self have short black hair, bangs, a strong sense of self, and the motivation to keep moving forward. I saw my future self as strong, powerful, and independent. I’m screaming to my younger self, “You did it. I’m doing it.”

I sit in my empty room staring at the tennis trophies I won as a constellation finalist for almost all of them, the one ballroom dance trophy, the photo of me playing a nurse in a production of The Secret Garden, and the giant board of concert tickets I saved and stickers from bands and record labels that I kept. My mediocre and average self resting before my very eyes reminding me how ashamed I once was. How I had to work ten times harder to understand a concept or win a tennis match, how learning to cope with my mind was my biggest accomplishment, and how living as myself has never been easy.

It has taken me a long time to admit that I am proud of myself, but I think about all that I've done this past year, and I am proud. 

There was a time where I punched holes in my walls because my anger consumed me, a time where I sat against the bathroom wall and lost my mind in front of the mirror, a time where I thought it was impossible to feel as much as I was feeling in that exact moment, but now I am handling myself through the help of what was once my best friend and my worst enemy:
the childhood bedroom that I grew up in.

Why It's Okay To Go To Shows Alone

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By Rivka Yeker

Mitski recently tweeted about going to shows alone and the importance of removing the negative connotation latched onto the idea. Mitski’s post went viral and people were sharing it via all different kinds of social media platforms. After featuring Mitski on Issue #9 of Hooligan, I am more than aware of Mitski’s integral impact on her following, so this was just another mini powerful Mitski rant that resonated with me a great deal.

Being active in various music scenes from the age of 14, I was attending all the shows I could beg my parents to pay for. Luckily, having an older brother with the same taste came in handy when needing to drive downtown from the suburbs of Chicago. While we all come from different musical paths, Freshman and Sophomore years of high school were my pop punk and hardcore phases, both genres with terrible scenes. As soon as I turned 16, I was driving to shows on my own with money I made from working at a restaurant.  It started out with local shows at pubs in the suburbs where I would spend time hanging out with metalcore bands that grew to get more recognition than expected. Being a girl actively trying to be apart of male-dominated scenes, going to these shows alone took a lot of courage. Feeling the need to dress in black band merch to prove my punk cred, I would go to shows desperately trying to mask any sort of femininity just so I would avoid questions like, “Is your boyfriend in one of the bands?” 

This point in my life was filled with creepy older men hitting on me, an underage girl just trying to mosh to terrible bands, misogynistic dude-friends, and constantly trying to prove myself and my knowledge on music I didn’t even like all that much. Finally, I had decided to throw all the sexist metalcore/hardcore garbage behind me and celebrate the whiny chaos of what is known to be screamo and the emo revival, a very popular and exciting time in 2012/2013 (?).  I started going to shows alone in Chicago, driving 45 minutes to see bands that yelled about ex-girlfriends (but on a more existential level, somehow this was more justifiable than pop punk) and began making friends with the members of the Chicago “DIY” scene. Barely knowing anyone, people slowly began becoming familiar faces whom I would wave and reintroduce myself to five times before establishing friendship. 

Now, it is never easy to bring yourself to do anything alone, whether it’s sit at a packed restaurant and eat dinner by yourself or go to the movie theatre solo but I have learned that I am much more comfortable doing things on my own because I am worried about my own safety, my own timeliness, my own happiness, and in this case, whether or not I liked the bands. As someone who is easily impacted by others’ energies and emotions, if someone didn’t enjoy something as much as I did, my mood can be brought from high to low in seconds. I would much rather focus on myself and my personal approval than feel terrible about someone else’s discontentment. 

There’s also the side of going to shows alone that makes everything worthwhile: the feeling of fully absorbing the performance. I have this uncontrollable desire to move any time I am listening to any kind of music. Whether it’s tapping my feet, aggressively thumping my fingers against my thighs, or bobbing my head, music sways me. The most recent show I went to alone was more of a concert than anything else. I bought tickets for Death Cab for Cutie and The Antlers as soon as they were posted, for both bands mean a great deal to me and I couldn’t miss it, regardless of price. After buying the tickets, I had realized that it was at the Chicago Theatre, which was all seating and not general admission. I didn’t think much about it since I was used to going to shows alone, but at same time, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect since I rarely ever go to large concerts like this one. As soon as I got there, I found my spot and couples began pouring in through the doors like a dam had just broke. Me being alone suddenly became very heightened and well, sad. Eventually, a girl sat down next to me and said that she was by herself, too. Both of us prepared for a night of intense emotions, alone together. 

The crowd itself was filled with a lot of middle aged people and randoms that didn’t seem like they belonged. For instance, the two drunk moms in front of me who couldn’t stop yelling throughout the first half of Death Cab. As stated prior, people impact my mood very easily. I physically couldn’t enjoy Death Cab because of how obnoxiously loud and stupid they were being, but eventually, they had left and I was back at ease. I had forgotten that this concert cost 60 dollars and not many people my age were willing to spend that much money on new Death Cab. While the entire night was somewhat unsettling, due to The Antlers (one of my favorite bands) only playing 5 songs and the crowd not really caring, plus the idiot moms, I think someone had answered my prayers and made everyone seal their lips from the middle of Death Cab’s set to the end. This was when my loneliness was heightened, but in a positive way. While they were playing a lot of stuff from their new album, they made sure to throw the best tracks off their old albums, the ones that had sentimental value. I found myself crying during the encore of  “What Sarah Said” as Ben Gibbard graciously sang,

Love is watching someone die, so who’s going to watch you die?

 

My thoughts and feelings started falling back in to place and my mind was slowly becoming at ease. I think about this concert a lot, for I had felt a lot of emotions in the span of a few hours. I rarely ever cry at concerts, since my tears are saved for poetry, film, and when I listen to records alone, but I found myself sobbing into the empty air that my loneliness created and it was sad, but relieving and very much needed.

Go to shows alone.

Experience something that means a lot to you without the stress of worrying about someone else liking it as much as you. Everyone has their own favorite band and everyone reacts to music differently. Your best friend may not tap his fingers against his thighs like you do, he may not even like the band you love. Life is already full of appointments, stressors, responsibilities, and complications; treating yourself to something you care about is vital and you should never let anyone negate you from feeling something the way you want to feel it.