Hilken Mancini is a long-life Boston guitar player (she fronted Fuzzy in the 90s) and the co-founder of Punk Rock Aerobics. Hilken still lives in Boston (Jamaica Plain), runs a vintage clothing shop, teaches at the Portland, Oregon Rock Camp for Girls and plays in two bands: Shepherdess and Gramercy Arms, which also features Dave Derby and an ever-revolving cast of characters from bands such as Guided by Voices, Luna and the Dambuilders. One song, Looking at the Sun, available at the bottom of the post, features comedian Sarah Silverman. Mancini took some time to speak with MME.
Gramercy Arms opens for Soft Skull (featuring Mary Timony and members of Aloha) on Saturday at the Cake Shop and on Sunday at TT the Bears Place in Cambridge, MA. Shepherdess will also play on Sunday.
Your career has been extremely varied: Fuzzy, PRA, lots of different bands in the past 10 years, how does it feel?
I feel proud that I have never been monetarily driven by any thing I’ve ever done in my life- and that each project I’ve ever done was to inspire people to think differently about life, or their part in it. Of course at the age of 18 when I started my first rock band I was not aware of this – but I think of it as a truth now. Whether it was about being a female playing music and showing people I had a voice/i.e. something to say or with Punk Rock Aerobics- it wasn’t as much about exercise but about not letting people tell you to fit into any sort of stereotype physically – or mentally- and being able to feel good about yourself and your body. Now with my store it’s a lot about creating your own identity and not letting the status quo of fashion bullshit tell you what to wear, what’s cool or what to spend your money on. In the end it’s all about thinking for yourself, making it your own- creating your own world-and being proud of it.
Do you have a day job?
I have a life job because I own a vintage clothing store now- http://www.fortysouthst.com -and when you own your business you never really take time off, especially in this trade. All I do is try and find cool clothes to sell to girls. I share the space with Otto Johnson – he does all the men’s vintage- and I am completely honored he asked me to do this store with him because he has been a part of the Boston Vintage clothing world for years and years. He shares a warehouse with Bobby – (of Bobby’s of Boston fame) and he used to own Bertha Cool, which was the best place to buy vintage clothes when I moved here in 1988. I’ve learned so much from him, and I really love having the store.
What’s up with Punk Rock Aerobics? Ever coming back? Do you and Maura (Jasper) still lift bricks?
I teach it at the rock camp for girls in Portland Oregon every summer and wrote about it in their book which just came out on Chronicle Books “Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls: How to Start a Band, Write Songs, Record an Album, and Rock Out!”
Of course I need to mention our book Punk Rock Aerobics: 75 Killer Moves, 50 Punk Classics, And 25 Reasons To Get Off Your Ass And Exercise that we try to still continue to sell through Perseus Books.
But honestly I do not teach the class in Boston anymore. People always want me to do it , and they rally and try and get a space but the truth of it is no one ever really wants to exercise. It was a great idea and we had a really fun time. We were in publications from Newsweek to Rolling stone slinging bricks and we changed the way people thought about exercise. There was no punk rock yoga, or strip tease exercise back when we bought the domain name in 2000. We hope that people continue to start their own DIY versions around the world which I hear about and still get emails about all the time.
What’s the craziest thing that ever happened to you on tour?
It’s a toss up between John Philips from the Mama’s and the Papa’s making us cut his fingernails for him, or Kelly Osbourne telling me she thought of punk rock aerobics first and then asking me for a t shirt.
Tell me about your bands now, Gramercy Arms and Shepherdess. How did they come together and what do you do in each?
I am just good pals with Dave Derby of Dambuilders fame- and Sean from Luna is such a great guitar player and I love to play music with them . I like to get out of Boston – and my shop – and go to NY for that band at the drop of a hat. I just wrote and recorded a song for the new EP coming out on Reveal Records in the UK. And Shepherdess is just what I will always continue to do – write songs and be lucky enough to have the members in the band with me who are so great to play with and still believe in my songs- (members Winston Braman on bass, Mike Savage drums, Emily Arkin on violin). It’s a great band.
Ever bringing The Count Me Outs back?
Most likely not. I don’t think I can even remember how to play those songs. But thanks for asking.
You’ve lived in Boston your whole career. Why did you never move? What’s your favorite thing about the city?
When Fuzzy got signed in 1993 I was young and naive and thought that was how my life would be forever- so I settled in Boston – touring most of the year and coming back just to write and record- thinking that was how it would be forever. But that changed when we got dropped from Atlantic- people stopped having record deals in 2000. I guess I was lame and just kinda stayed here and continued to write music rather than go to LA or NY for the “bigger and better” success. Sometimes I wish I was like Lucinda Williams and lived in Nashville, drove a truck, and just wrote songs all day. But oh well. I live a very creative life and that is really what matters to me most. Between thrift shopping for the store and writing songs/ playing gigs- I am pretty happy.
As far as Boston goes- I have to admit I like the princess prissy- ness of Boston. Other cities like Philly rule but they are kinda dirt ass in a way. You ride your bike around and eat a bunch of carbon dioxide.
How’s the local music scene these days? What bands do you like?
I am almost forty so I don’t know enough about the local music “scene” – but through younger people I hear about what is going on. House shows and stuff. In Boston right now I like this band called the Needy Visions. And I like this band from Portland , Oregon called Explode Into Colors -and I also love Beth Ditto from the Gossip. I did the rock camp with her and it ruled. I also love the Blow from Portland. A lot of great women making music there. Wierd I know more about music there then here.
What other music are you listening to?
It always changes. It can vary from Joni Mitchell to Spoon. The Faces- side one of Ogdens Nut Gone Flake- always blows my mind. I love the song Stretch by Maximum Joy right now too. I did Punk Rock Aerobics to it at rock camp and it made us all happy.
What is your favorite band of all time?
The Faces maybe. The Rolling Stones. And almost everytime I hear Alex Chilton sing I freak out a little.
Back when you played with Fuzzy, what was the best tour you went on, and why?
Touring with Dinosaur Jr was always the best because those guys were such an onslaught of rock and J would play a different solo every night and was a real inspiration to me. He’s my guitar hero.
What was it like playing with Dave Ryan, one of the best drummers EVER?
I love Dave. He was so great. Listening to John Bonham in the van before our show- he could blow everyone away. But Mike Savage is the best drummer EVER though.- the guy who I play with now. He also plays in Death Vessel.
Do you approach your music, and songwriting, differently today than in the 90s? How?
Jesus. I hope so. I would like to think I am better. And not stuck in the nineties.
Do you write all the songs you sing?
I like to do covers too.
What’s your favorite movie?
Gramercy Arms (with Sarah Silverman): Looking at the Sun
Gramercy Arms (with Sarah Silverman): Looking at the Sun