Meredith Hobbs spoke with Hayley Cain about dying of a vulnerability hangover, harnessing the dual nature of womanhood and how writing can be a pathway into community and belonging.
I started my zine because I wanted to insert myself into a music scene and town where I had zero involvement or stake. Writing has always been my way in, my way to belong.
Meredith Hobbs Coons
My first introduction to you was as the creator of one of the very few zines that existed in the San Luis Obispo area at the time. Was that your first-ever zine?
People always say to me, “Oh, I started a zine, but didn’t finish it,” or “I put out one issue of my own zine.” I joke that one day I will make a zine dedicated to all the half-baked zines of the world, of which there are so many. Of course, I have my own half-baked zine story. I am only human.
My first zine was called The Gum Alley Rat. There was just one issue. I wrote it after my family exploded and I was forced to abruptly move from the Central Coast of California to the Los Angeles area. My dad had moved out and I was living with my mom in a rental in Redondo Beach. I had just turned 16 and shaved my head and was drinking a lot and going to punk shows. I talked about my Dad’s new girlfriend, who drank a lot of Tab, and I talked about how much I missed my own boyfriend and how unfair the world seemed to be.
I processed my anger, but I also wrote goofy stuff a teen girl might write about. I cut out images from one of those “You may have depression” pamphlets I found in the counselor’s office and pasted together this story about my faraway best friend, who I also missed, and who was also very mentally unstable. All my friends were crazy at that time. One of my new friends at Redondo Union High School got high on coke and wrote a ramble about her life and I printed that, too. Everything went in.
I was the profile writer for the school newspaper then, although I never went to class and eventually tested out of school altogether. I loved writing profiles about my classmates and I loved scribbling in endless notebooks and tapping on an old typewriter to make my zine, even if it took me all semester to do one issue and only my closest friends read it. I called it The Gum Alley Rat, because I thought maybe if I took on some scrap of home with me, I might survive. My therapist loved it, but my father did not. I used the copier at my dad’s girlfriend’s work — which happened to be a school — and left it in the copier. Well, it circulated around the PTA. And you know what? I’m still not sorry.
Who or what inspired you to start it?
When I was 13, I had my own weird, precocious, goofy site for preteen girls — a blog before blogs. It was the dawn of Y2K. Writer Jennifer Sharpe took note of my very personal and sarcastic and strange writing and featured me on her site, Sharpeworld, which was featured in Wired and had gathered quite a following. As an outspoken gay writer with a wry wit, she really made waves at a time when the internet was young and wonky, and she went on to be a great radio producer. Back then, the web wasn’t about snark. It was about connecting.
Anyway, she said my writing reminded her of a guy she went to high school with. Well, she mailed me a package and inside were these magical Xeroxed zines! Here I was on a rural 36-acre piece of land, isolated and pent-up. It was like a rainbow had exploded in my heart. The zines were lovingly written by hand in the late ‘80s in Berkeley, and it detailed the romances and riots and mundane life of the punk scene during that time. I fell in love with Aaron’s self-aware, confessional, thoughtful writing. It was, of course, Cometbus, written by now infamous zinester Aaron Cometbus.
He still writes regular zines today and has a bookstore based in Brooklyn. We recently started up a pen pal exchange, and it has inspired me so incredibly. I told him how his zine had engaged me growing up, and how his work had inspired my zine, Swap!, which was all about the romances, riots, and mundane life of the San Luis Obispo music scene circa 2011-2013. When all is said and done, though, I started my zine because I wanted to insert myself into a music scene and into a town where I had zero involvement or stake. Writing has always been my way in, my way to belong. To connect.
Since I have known you, you have played in at least five bands: Hayburner, The Tarweed Two, Magazine Dirty, The Gal Fridays, and, most recently, Hayley and the Crushers. Some were vintage country, most were punk. Do the two genres overlap somehow in your mind, either in spirit or execution?
It’s not so much the genres overlapping as much as is the attitude I bring to every genre. I can still remember when I found Loretta Lynn’s album Rated X, a tattered 50 cent country record in a forgotten bin in some dusty record store in Long Beach. She was singing about feminism and birth control pills and divorce and sex in the 1970s country scene while wearing a floor-length sparkly dress. Once I heard that; once I saw that, I realized that you could be punk in studs or rhinestones; that it was the life force of the artist that shone through. From then on, I played banjo with the same ferocity as I strummed my guitar. It didn’t matter what the genre was, because what I was feeling was raw and wild and had to be set free.
My approach is consistent across genres. Make sure you’re in tune, especially with the banjo. Own it, whatever it is that you’ve brought to give.
What is most different in your approach?
My approach is consistent across genres. Make sure you’re in tune, especially with the banjo. Own it, whatever it is that you’ve brought to give. Then show the world all the stuff you’re really too scared for people to see. Worst case scenario, you die of a vulnerability hangover.
You have written a first draft of a novel based on your experiences as a young musician and the struggles you have faced along the way. What has been most rewarding/challenging about that process?
When I was a teenager making my way in music, I met three young punk rock girls at my school. They took me under their wing and showed me how to stand tall, get people to buy you beer, and stand out unapologetically. All of us were seeking a family, a tribe, and we were all equal parts wild and broken. When we came together, at least for me, I felt whole. That was my first band. Ballroom Burlesque. We played around the LA area, but mostly we reflected back onto each other the validation and love we were missing. The most rewarding thing about writing about this time in my life is giving myself all the things I did not have back then, like guidance and hope. Those are the two things I want young women to get from my book.
All I ever wanted was pen pals, not fans. I wanted people to tell me their secrets and let me into their inner worlds. For my whole life, this has been the end goal, so maybe that is why I am a journalist and my entire job is about asking strangers prying questions! It feeds me, and without it I feel adrift. People open up to me because I listen and I am curious. I am curious about my “fans.” I now have some great pen pals from around the world and I relish them. We talk about bands, music, art, and life. Some of these people found me through my music and you could call them fans; other times, I reach out to artists I admire, because I am the biggest megafan of them all.
My most meaningful connection: A young girl, 19, came up to me after a show and asked if I wanted to start a band with her. She was not very confident, and you could tell the moment she said it that she wanted to take the words back. I said yes, on the spot. She came to my house every week to practice and I taught everything I knew about music: writing, playing, booking, setting up a PA, dealing with other bands.
Then the strangest thing happened. I somehow gathered the courage to start the project I had always wanted to start, a band with my own name on it, so I could not escape the criticism. This friendship encouraged me to show up in a way I never had before. She and I did not remain friends, but I think she gave me that courage. Sometimes you don’t know where these seemingly small connections will take you. But you have to say yes to them.
Would it be such a disaster if someone looked like they were having fun onstage for once? I want to feel like it’s summer and I am running through the sprinklers.
What are your limitations in terms of sharing yourself with people who love your music?
Online, I prefer to overshare. There is a barrier there: the screen. However, I would never let a fan physically come to my house before I had coffee or I put lipstick on. If you catch me right after I come offstage, I am most likely pretending to be the life of the party. Physically, I need my space and alone time in the van — yes, I am another so-called extroverted introvert, sorry!
I also don’t talk about my marriage, even though my husband has been in most of my musical projects and is an amazing and important aspect of my music. Maybe it could make good fodder for my art, but I am old-fashioned in a way. I love being a wife. I perform that role, and my personal brand of femininity, in my own way. You may see me sweat and scream on stage, but you’ll rarely see the quiet, intimate moments of my day. If I have ever cooked for you, you might catch a glimpse, but I prefer to reserve that part of myself for my closest loved ones.
Which feminist voices are keeping you alive halfway into 2018?
Whenever I tour, I make a point to play with women and marginalized folks, and lately I have been inspired the surge of female/queer empowerment I have found in the music scenes of Portland and Seattle. Queer cartoonist and zinester Nicole Georges, of the podcast Sagittarian Matters, inspired me to start my own podcast, Sparkle and Destroy, to celebrate those noisy women. For example, a recent podcast showcased a female sound engineer I met on tour.
So, a lot of the voices saving me are voices I am personally engaging with day-to-day or in my earbuds. Aside from these everyday comrades, the voice of Phoebe Robinson on her podcast Sooo Many White Guys makes me laugh through the pain. I think we are in a great era of female comedians, and I love it. The new wave of feminism is funny, human, smart, and lethal. Of course, Leslie Gore is all of those things. She was my first feminist love. I mean, c’mon. “You Don’t Own Me.”
You have aptly labeled your fan community “The Crusherverse.” What would populate the Crusherverse were it a physical location, and what kind of space would it be – a city? A planet? A solar system?
This is going to sound cheesy. Crushing it looks different for everybody, but my personal Crusherverse has a lot of small wiener dogs and a neverending pizza buffet and Dolly Parton playing on repeat.
So much of what you do is DIY: music videos, the aforementioned zine, your Sparkle and Destroy podcast, even a bit of homesteading with your many beautiful chickens. What new skills/projects do you see yourself picking up in the next year?
In the next year, I’d like to try a career that isn’t writing. Don’t ask me why. It’s probably a horrible idea. I also want to try to finish my damn book, so there goes my first resolution. Also, more podcasts, more touring, more videos. My new album Cool Lame drops September 28 and I want to push myself to book a more ambitious tour to support it. Booking is an art, probably harder than getting a black belt.
At some level, it feels reductive to ask women about their wardrobes, but yours serves as such a powerful artistic expression that I have to go there. How would you describe your personal style, and which fashion icons have inspired you most?
When my big sister was a teenager, she shaved her head and her eyebrows and drew on a Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt across her face and took to wearing metallic Spandex. She lounged topless, wore body paint, and made Victorian dresses out of twigs and thrift store fabric. One day, she wore a lampshade covered in wrapping paper on her head as a hat to school.
After she left home, my fashion icon vanished, although she left her guitar, which had a tiny anarchy sign carved into the headstock, and a cluster of books: The Philosophy of Andy Warhol was a favorite. Well, I read the book and got some dark sunglasses. Then I plugged in that guitar, found the Ramones, and saved up for a leather jacket 10 sizes too big. After reading The Feminine Mystique, I started wearing ’50s-style housewife dresses with combat boots.
Bottom line: my outsides have always tended to reflect the buzzing of my insides. It’s all tongue in cheek, a social experiment that’s maybe a little radioactive. Blondie was haphazard and playful in little boys’ T-shirts, yet commanded the stage, and Exene Cervenka (of my favorite band, X) was a respected punk rock poet, yet she always wore an apron. Harnessing the dual nature of womanhood is a constant game and struggle.
Lately, playing guitar in vintage swimsuits has just felt right. Would it be such a disaster if someone looked like they were having fun onstage for once? I want to feel like it’s summer and I am running through the sprinklers.
Curated by: Meredith Hobbs
Conducted by: Email
Edited by: Morgan Enos
Published: June 13, 2018
Total questions: 11
Word count: 2375
Reading time: Eight minutes
Andy Warhol, apology, approach, apron, banjo, boots, bubblegum, burlesque, combat, command, condo, consistent, depression, disaster, dress, Exene Cervenka, experiment, fabric, game, guidance, half-baked, harness, Hayley Cain, headstock, hope, involvement, lampshade, Loretta Lynn, lounge, Meredith Hobbs, nature, paper, pizza, radioactive, ramble, Redondo Beach, reflection, reserve, Spandex, sprinkler, stake, struggle, summer, sunglasses, swimsuit, validation, Victorian, vintage, womanhood
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