Gossip’s Hannah Blilie: The New Gay Interview
This post was submitted by occasional TNG contributor, Sara Giarratana.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t always fit in when I was growing up. For a while I thought it was because of my bowl cut, multi-colored glasses and raging hyperactive nature, or the latent homosexual tendencies itching to get out; now I think it was just my projected insecurities. But whatever the reason, there was definitely an essence of outcast that connected me to the math whizzes and the sorta-smelly kids living beneath the poverty line. It was as if the cool crowd had a sixth sense for picking out the awkward, tender-hearted youths at first glance.
When I was coming out in my early twenties, a huge part of my experience was learning to love the outcast within me. My feelings of displacement in society had built a wall of insecurity around my lonely self, and more important than liberating my love for girls, I needed to liberate the love for myself and celebrate my individuality within a supportive community of outsiders.
Portland-based band Gossip does just that with every funky, punky and soulful song they sing. In the past ten years (or five for drummer Hannah Blilie), they have found a place within the queer-punk underground and have risen to become one of the most popular queer bands out there—crossing the invisible boundaries of sound and style. After spending recent years touring Europe, Gossip is coming back to the States this fall to share songs from their new album, Music For Men, and to reconnect with the friends that have crowded the dance floors since day one.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Hannah as she and her band mates get charged for the Washington, DC tour kickoff on Wednesday, October 7. Enjoy her thoughts below, enjoy the music, and enjoy the individuality they inspire…
The New Gay: Gossip has been described as one of the top queer bands right now. How does it feel to hold that title?
Hannah Blilie: Ummm, I don’t really think of us in that way, but I guess it feels good. I think we’ve always had a really queer-based audience and that’s been our support through all of the crazy turns that our lives have taken in the past few years. So it feels good to be connected to the queer community in that way.
TNG: I feel like it’s an interesting bracket to be put into, because it’s not really talking about the style of music at all, or the message behind it, but it’s mainly just the identity of the band members that the label refers to.
HB: Yeah, yeah. Well I think we talk about our identity a lot—so definitely we’re talking about queers, and queerness and queer issues, so it doesn’t surprise me that we’re lumped into that. All the songs are queer love songs and talking about queer friends. So there’s definitely that theme running through our music. Personal identity.
TNG: I think that just by making good music and being who you are you bring such a positive presence into the community.
HB: (laughs) Well that’s good!
TNG: (laughs) Yeah, kudos!
HB: What’s funny is we ran into Tegan and Sara at the airport today. They were like, “We love you guys!” and I was like, “Well, hey Tegan and Sara!” That was a pretty funny queer meeting.
TNG: There is this festival you guys played for Human Rights Watch in 2007 with Cyndi Lauper, Rufus Wainwright and this random conglomeration of musicians, where it wasn’t necessarily the same sound, but a different thing binding you together.
HB: Yeah that was an interesting, um, sort of traveling festival and we had a good time, but it was much more of a mainstream audience than what we are used to. It was a queer audience, but it wasn’t a punk audience. It was… I don’t know… a lot of richer gay men. We had a great time and Cyndi Lauper was awesome. But it was a very mainstream gay event.
TNG: I feel like HRW probably attracts mainly mainstream queers.
HB: Yeah, but it’s a good way for them to raise money for the organization and we were happy to be a part of that.
TNG: While you’re touring, do you notice many differences in the queer communities from place to place?
HB: Umm, gosh. Not huge differences. You can always spot the dykes in the crowd, you can always, you know, spot your people. So it’s cool that you can kind of go all over the world and you still have that connection with people. You look at them, and you’re like, okay, we’re here together. We’re here! We’re queer!
HB: And we haven’t actually toured the US for a long time. So this upcoming tour will give us a chance to get back to the queer communities that supported us from the beginning and that is exciting.
TNG: I feel like since you guys have been absent from the US tour scene, you’ve really picked up a lot of steam. Do you have any expectations of how it’s going to be a different tour than in the past?
HB: Yeah, I think we’re all looking forward to seeing what happens. We feel a little bit out of touch with the US, just because we’ve been doing Europe for the past few years now and, um, I don’t know, it’ll be smaller than what we’ve been doing in Europe. But I think that is a welcomed vibe. That’s where we came from, these smaller clubs and small theater shows. And I think, hopefully, people will still be excited and glad that we’re back. And with a new album it’s a chance to play a whole new batch of songs.
TNG: Yeah, I’m excited for you guys!
HB: Where are you? Where do you live?
TNG: I’m in Brooklyn, and I’m actually not…
HB: So are you gonna come to the New York show?
TNG: …I’m actually not gonna be in town. But I might be around for the Philly show, and I would say you guys are worth the trip. You and Hercules & Love Affair, in the queer genre. Anything that can bring me to the dance floor I’m pretty happy with.
HB: Yeah I saw Hercules & Love Affair in Ireland last summer, and they were awesome. And I love that they have the transwoman singer now, too. They’re really, really fun to watch live. I was into it.
TNG: What do you think it is about music that makes it such a powerful form of activism?
HB: I think because it’s accessible and because it’s emotional. You can get to people at this core level instead of people having to read some theory paper of what you’re trying to represent. You know, any teenager can have access to it, anybody who has iTunes… Music is just a way to reach people in a way that’s not snobby. You didn’t have to go to college to get your point across. You know, it’s an acceptable medium. And for me, music has really always transmitted political ideas the strongest. So I started getting into feminism as a result of riot grrrl music, getting into certain punk and queer ideas as a result of Huggy Bear, and all these amazing bands. So I think it’s the universal medium that everybody has access to.
TNG: Do you feel like an activist? Or do you feel like you’re just doin’ your damn thing?
HB: Um, ha, I feel like I’m doing my thing in the sense that the personal is political, in showing people that you can be a weirdo, outcast, queer person in high school and still be proud of yourself, and still have a community of people that support you.
TNG: To me and my friends – in the conversations we have- being queer is so much more about that than it is about sexuality or gender identity.
TNG: And while that’s more the political definition, I think it’s exactly what you’re saying. To be that outcast, to feel like you don’t have a place, but then you create your own place in the world.
HB: Yep. Exactly. It’s been kind of strange since we’re moving into this more mainstream culture, we’re even more outcasts, you know? So I think it’s important for us to speak up just as much in that context as it was to be speaking within our own community. Cause we’re showing the mainstream world what’s going on in the new underground. And it can be a scary world to enter into—but I think we’re doing okay still! (laughs)
TNG: I was gonna say, what does that feel like?
HB: It’s always interesting. We’re always the weirdest people. Or the punk kids at some totally mainstream festival, with Kings of Leon and Arctic Monkeys or something, over in Europe. And of course we feel like the total outcast weirdos, but, you know, I think when we get on stage we have a confidence and we have a connection with our fans that makes people feel comfortable. And not like they’re worshiping a rock band. You know what I mean? It’s a different dynamic that we’re going for; we’re going for a “party with our audience” instead of “us” and “them” being so separate. And I think that people have really latched on to that as something that feels comfortable, and feels embracing. You know what I mean? Just having that kind of connection instead of “Here worship us, we’re on stage! Kiss our feet.” And that’s the bands we end up playing with a lot of times, and we’re like, “ohhh god.” It’s such a weird world, this mainstream industry world. Hopefully, we can just be the little queers trying to change something in the midst of a bunch of macho rock bands.
TNG: Yeah, I hope so too, but it’ll help to have your cavalry of underground followers. You guys have been around for a while in the smaller circuits, so I think that will carry with you.
HB: And we’ve always felt a ton of support from the underground, punk queer community and I hope that that hasn’t changed since we’re on a major label now. We haven’t changed our politics or the way we do things. So hopefully with this US tour we can get reconnected with where we came from.
TNG: How have you seen the queer scene develop from when we were younger?
HB: I think it’s become more accessible—more talked about. When I was growing up in high school, when Ellen came out that was the hugest deal and that was the first time someone who was in pop culture, or on a sitcom, was like, “Hey, I’m gay,” so that was huge for me. And now, it’s kind of saturated, because there’s queer people everywhere on TV. So that’s cool, like the exposure is there. I don’t think public perception has changed a whole lot; there’s still a ton of homophobia in mainstream culture, so we’re still fighting that. I think the queer underground has become more accessible to people over the years, and that’s a good thing. As far as our community in Portland, it’s kind of unbelievable how many queer people live in Portland. It blows my mind all the time, and it’s amazing. And it’s ultra DIY, like fat girl clothing swaps and just amazing DIY Olympia-style shit going on and a million lesbians on every corner. So it’s really cool. I don’t know how that’s changed in the last ten years or so, but it’s exciting that we live in this total queer underground utopia in Portland.
TNG: I’ve never been to Portland…but now I really want to.
HB: You’ve never been there?
TNG: No—I’ve heard a lot of great things…
HB: There’s a ton of people from New York that are moving to Portland that I’ve noticed. I have new neighbors that are from Brooklyn, and a couple other people I’ve heard of from New York moving there recently. I think it’s a good place to sort of settle down and get away from a total hustle and bustle scene, but you still have progressive politics, radical living, DIY… I moved from Seattle to Portland like three years ago, and it just blew my mind the concentration of queer people and people just doing really amazing, really cool community things. Underground DIY style, basement shows. Queer parties. It’s really cool.
TNG: Especially living in Portland, do you see any head-butting between queers looking to be more domesticated with the fight for equality in marriage, where some people say you are aligning yourself with a broken system, and the younger current of queers that want to rebel, or at least discover what they want aside from the system that’s established?
HB: I can’t speak for the queer community in Portland as a whole, but I think in my group of friends, we all recognize that marriage is an important right to fight for. For me, I don’t really believe in marriage as an institution. I think it’s kind of this straight assimilation—so I wouldn’t choose it for myself. But I support anyone’s right to go there. It makes me uncomfortable just thinking about how straight America is to want to get married and have a family and all that. It’s not really for me, but I’m supporting anyone’s right to have that.
TNG: …the opportunity?
HB: It’s a pretty interesting argument. Because I remember when marriage first stared being talked about in the mainstream—and there was this radical queer backlash, like, “Why are we fighting for this? This is a straight assimilation!” And I kind of believe that, too, but of course I’m going to support anyone’s right to do what they want to. And the benefits, and you know, all the things that come along with marriage I think we should have access to. I’ve gotten into many debates about that…
TNG: It’s interesting to see how all of these different influences and cultural waves combine and the way they criss-cross. It’s cool to see where we are in society right now.
HB: Yeah, it is really interesting. And we’ll see with Obama, if he’s going to fight for marriage equality or not.
TNG : What a ride…
Gossip kicks off their US tour in DC tonight, Wednesday, October 7, at the 9:30 Club. Tickets are available here.
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