Originally published in The Worcester Journal on October 14, 2016
In my home growing up, summer meant reading. More the indoor, imaginative types than rough-and-tumble summer camp kids, my siblings and I reveled in our library’s summer reading program, and savored those blissful months of seemingly infinite time to read.
Now, as a graduate perpetually attempting to stay caught up with the excess of pop culture news and trends that invade my social media, I find reading for reading’s sake is a slow-paced and almost impossible luxury. Now, however, as my first post-collegiate summer draws to an end and the years of True Adulthood loom ever more closely, I was recently brought back to those elementary and middle school summers, in ways both parallel and disparate, with two of the latest and most significant commodifications of literature of my childhood. First, there was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a two-part (confusing way of saying ‘four act’) play written by Jack Thorne based on J.K. Rowling’s universe and story (supposedly), which came out in the tradition of those golden midnight release parties of yore on July 31 of this year, a holy day for any true Potter fan who knows it to be the birthday of both Ms. Rowling and Harry himself. Then Mark Osborne’s feature-length animated take on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella The Little Prince premiered on Netflix after being rejected by Paramount for unknown reasons just a week before its scheduled release in spring.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that both The Little Prince and the Harry Potter series are among the most significant and timeless works of children’s literature written thus far, along with others like Lewis Carroll’s Alice books and C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia—both of which, in case you haven’t seen, have already received (and, as has been recently announced, will continue to receive) their 21stcentury commercial cinema treatment—which is why I find the coincidental timing of these two releases almost as eerily enchanting as when Toy Story 3 came out dangerously close to my own high school graduation and hometown goodbye. I think it’s also safe to say that, although there are certainly merits and weaknesses to both Cursed Child and Little Prince, what their side-by-side premieres illustrate most glaringly is that there is a right way to handle such beloved material—with a true sense of the original’s spirit and values, a deep respect for the characters and their creator, and the creative sense and imagination to invent something wholly new while preserving the integrity of its source material—and there’s a wrong way.
Other Potterheads may disagree, but I have to say that Cursed Child does it wrong. I’m not even one of those anti-revisionist fans who spew bitter canon-only comments about Pottermore and the seemingly boundless lengths the film industry will go to ensure the immortality of the franchise (in fact, while I’m not convinced of the necessity of five of these prequel films, I’m quite looking forward to seeing Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander in the upcoming November release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)—no, I was fully prepared to give Cursed Child all the chances in the world. Having read positive reviews of the West End production in London and (internally) cheering when Noma Dumezweni was cast as Adult Hermione, I went to Nonesuch Books straight after work on August 1 and paid full price for my hardcover copy of the rehearsal script.
The summertime connection with the series was always especially felt, for although reading any Potter book by a fire in the middle of a snowstorm is sure to evoke the Hogwarts coziness from the first two films, one can never quite erase the seasonal association with the book release parties, Harry’s birthday, and the fact that summer was always the worst time for Harry. His isolation among the Dursleys paralleled our own as we immersed ourselves in his world and looked forward to getting to his school year, which was always rich enough to fill the empty space of summer vacation. Indeed, I recall one summer between fourth and fifth grade when I read almost nothing but Prisoner of Azkaban, starting and finishing and starting over until I’d read it cover to cover a total of—I believe—36 times. Cursed Child hardly ranks that high on any scale of engagement, but it was a sort of pleasant surprise when I actually lay in bed reading late into the night as I had not done in years, smiling at some of the surprises that came up. (Albus as Slytherin! Hermione as Minister of Magic! Scorpius as sweet and completely benign!) Those were the moments that almost made me feel like a fourth grader, eating up the magic universe for the first time again.
Unfortunately, those moments were few and far between. Before I even attempt to address the myriad plot failures and character mutilations, the physical act of reading the script is jarring in itself. Even for someone who’s read a fair share of scripts and screenplays in her life, the scene changes happen what feels like entirely too fast for the most part, with blackouts and elaborate set changes on nearly every other page. Though I tried to assure myself with each jolting transition that it’s probably better if you see it onstage, I have sincere doubts about the efficacy of whatever stage tricks and technical effects they’re using to create the magic described in the somewhat poorly-written stage directions. Has Jack Thorne ever read a play before? I was forced to ask myself at times. Has Jack Thorne ever read a Harry Potter book, even? Based on his characterization of Ron alone, I’m inclined to say no. I would hope that any Potter fan would be capable of portraying Ron as more than the flat caricature of comic relief he apparently grows up to be, and able to paint Harry’s feelings toward fatherhood with significantly more nuance. Cursed Child was obviously not written by Rowling’s pen and, providing almost nothing but dialogue, the play glaringly lacks the distinct narration of the novels. The lines in between conversations were full of descriptions and details in Rowling’s own voice which were just as much a part of the reading experience as the intricate plotlines and complex characters.
Speaking of plotlines…ah, where to begin? To be honest, I’m not even sure I should. I initially allowed myself to be entertained by the absolutely labyrinthine mess of the plot Thorne concocted (from what I now confidently assume were photocopied pages of the back cover summaries), but the more I read reviews comparing the whole script to bad fan fiction, the more I can’t help but surrender to the plain and simple truth that not every fan theory deserves to be brought to life. (Unsurprisingly, comparisons have already been drawn to the infamous “My Immortal” fanfiction from 2006-2007—if you haven’t heard of it, it is imperative that you read a few lines, any lines, or at least read the Wikipedia article about it.) Yes, sure, I appreciated the bones thrown to the Malfoy/Hermione shippers and the Bellatrix/Voldemort shippers, and yes, the idea of an alternate world where Hermione is a fugitive warrior queen and Cedric is a Death Eater is undeniably intriguing, but this sentence alone captures only what I estimate to be around 7% of the totally unnecessary and indiscriminate events that occur in the course of this four-act play.
The Little Prince, by comparison, is an enormous success. Running at 108 minutes with an all-star cast of voice actors, Osborne’s vision of the little boy who lived on a planet hardly bigger than himself uses the skeleton of Saint-Exupéry’s story and manages to build it into a completely new narrative. This is clearly what Cursed Child attempts or overconfidently thinks it is doing, but this new version of The Little Prince is remarkable for how harmoniously it seems to create a contemporary fable while also capturing the soul of the original book. Adaptation is a tricky thing, for both adaptors and observers; many film scholars don’t even really consider it worth studying, because how can you truly compare one medium to another? It’s apples and oranges, most of the time. In this case, though, the differences are not quite so vast; more like oranges and nectarines.
As with Cursed Child, or any adaptation, The Little Prince takes some liberties with its source material, adding the entirely new characters of The Little Girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy) and The Mother (Rachel McAdams), who exist in a busy, modern world not unlike our own; obsessed with progress and productivity, training from an unreasonably young age to prepare for adulthood, studying all the answers test-makers want to hear, forsaking play for work, even on summer vacation. Just as in the book, there’s an emphasis on the “strangeness of adults” that feels more relevant and more heartbreaking than ever. The film swings heavily at helicopter parenting, standardized testing, and the educational application process that seems to be starting earlier and earlier, encouraging the pursuit of extremes to the disadvantage of anything in between.
Most of these details are not in Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 book, but it is exactly the kind of society for which the wisdom of his Little Prince was an antidote. “What is essential is invisible to the eye” remains one of the book’s most famous through lines and main themes, and comes up both directly in the film’s presentation of the aviator’s story and discreetly in the beginning, as we see a row of intimidating posters in the bleak hallway of an elite academy: “What will you be when you grow up? Essential.”
The movie is playful and clever in all the ways the Prince would want it to be—even Osborne’s decision to use both the Pixar-like computer animation for The Little Girl’s world and stop-motion animation for her vision of the Little Prince’s adventures demonstrates this—because why not? These are the kind of creative choices that make the movie feel so novel while carrying on what was at the heart of the classic little French tale, giving us all its sweeping philosophical suggestions and simplicity.
Striking, too, is how seamlessly Osborne fits his film into the theoretical canon of the original book. When The Little Girl befriends the aviator (Jeff Bridges) and begins saving the pages and illustrations he sends to tell the story of The Little Prince (which, in another wonderful detail, appear to be in their original French), we know that what she is collecting will become the book from which her own story originates, the one the world grew to know and love enough to want to see this very movie. Even with a few forgivable lines thrown in for pure comic effect and perhaps one too many extraneous endings, Osborne’s version of The Little Prince is undoubtedly one of the finer examples of an adaptation that lovingly respects its source and provides a modern retelling of the wisdom of children to enchant another generation.
Ultimately achieving what the Harry Potter books and others like them did and still do, the film creates a space of pure escapism that still, somehow, feels like it is about you and your world—because, really, this is what all great children’s literature does. As we transition through seasons and slowly grow into adults, these stories and these characters continue to remind us not to forget how it felt when everything around us seemed like magic and all the magic seemed to be real.
Originally published in The Worcester Journal on June 7, 2016
As a film student who's also an English major and deeply narcissistic in all the usual ways, one of my biggest and most sincere questions coming out of my undergraduate education is: why are there not more movies centered on college-aged protagonists?
I realize this is basically asking "Why aren't there more stories about me?" but, seriously, there is no shortage of (wonderful, predictable, cheesy, reassuring, warm, fuzzy, upsetting, relatable) high school stories and, lately, just as many on that later-twenty-something part of life when you really should have your shit together but need all your adult friends and siblings to show you the light and guide you into a happy medium of staying true to yourself while also becoming a somewhat respectable member of society. That part I'm totally prepared for, thanks to movies like I Love You, Man (John Hamburg, 2009), 27 Dresses (Anne Fletcher, 2008), Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2013), and the more recent Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre, 2014) and Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, 2015). Even some of the latest films with plots revolving entirely around their collegiate settings, like Liberal Arts (Josh Radnor, 2012) and Admission (Paul Weitz, 2013), tell stories from the perspective of the adults on campus who, of course, have some growing up of their own to do. Both of these coming-of-age variations dominate the realistic fiction segment of Hollywood's unrealistic vision of what goes down in modern America–which is why I'm somewhat baffled that the crucial, exploratory time between ages 19-22 is largely underrepresented in mainstream cinema.
Maybe it's because, to the young people who go to the movies but don't go to college, or to the adults who are now too far removed from the American education system to understand the nuances of the contemporary angst it brings, watching a bunch of privileged kids be confused and dramatic while walking around the most boring-looking set possible isn't a particularly alluring cinematic experience. (And honestly, I can get behind that on the level of the aesthetics alone.) It's common knowledge that universities keep students living in a bubble of safe spaces and like-minded folks for four years, a period which can be not only illuminating in many ways but also potentially damaging. Maybe the college age is often skipped over in film because, just as the bubble keeps us students largely oblivious to the way things work outside our ivory towers, it also keeps those outside the bubble at a distance, forcing them to squint and make their best guess as to how those inside interact with one another.
The best illustration of college life I've witnessed onscreen thus far is easily Noah Baumbach's Mistress America (2015), a delightful comedy on the nature of storytelling made exponentially funnier when you can understand with a visceral empathy the aggravation of sitting through a class where that one person cannot seem to help responding with completely unnecessary aggression to everything anyone says; or the agony of seeing that guy you like walking with another gal and consoling yourself by sitting alone in the campus bistro at night with a tray of forlorn fries (or pizzeritas, or late-night mac-and-cheese grilled cheese) in front of you to soak up your misery.
Though classics like Rudy (David Anspaugh, 1993), Legally Blonde (Robert Luketic, 2001), Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant 1997), and A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard, 2001) ought not to be forgotten here, it seems that the university narrative has shifted considerably in the last decade and, as amazing as those movies are, they're undeniably sensational, telling the most remarkable stories about the most unlikely heroes and touched up with that optimistic Hollywood gloss. Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore, 2012) is probably the best example of a recent movie that hits the right notes (sorry) as far as establishing a recognizable and even resonant, ordinary university setting, and then turning certain elements of that setting up to 100 for that dramatic, satirical effect, finishing off with a nice clean Disney Channel Original Movie feeling.
I find this apparent lack of unsensational college and/or typical college-age-centered stories in film noteworthy because (again, based on my own Googling and pragmatic conclusions) there very well may be no narrative more inherently dynamic, no life more determinedly dramatic and peppered with normal and bizarre supporting characters that also happens to be a microcosm of the capitalist, American-dream-seeking, Hollywood-ready system of elite education than that of the 19-22 year old college student. This may be partially because there is likely no other demographic more convinced that they are the star of their world's film than this college student, particularly now. (I'm not even going to begin getting into the Gen X versus Millennials versus Gen Z discussion, but I don't think I need to remind anyone how ardently the Baby Boomers have labelled us "the selfie generation" among a number of other equally patronizing and aggravating media-safe slurs highlighting our exponentially increasing youthful narcissism.) In a way, even the most ordinary college encounters are experienced with a heightened sense of importance–even the most average students are living the most sensational lives. Melodrama is the norm, and every ordinary moment simply builds on the comedy and tragedy of it all.
I'm also aware of the role privilege and choice play in this phenomenon–of course, not every high school graduate will go to college, and not every 19-22 year old will have graduated high school. In this light, I suppose it makes sense for filmmakers to focus on the more universal experiences of high school and what happens a decade later (according to The Atlantic, the number of high school graduates who then immediately enroll in college has been slowly dropping over the years, falling to 66% in 2013). Okay, so, sure, if you want to get technical about fair representation in the movies, then go ahead and skip that part of life when you decide whether or not to pursue higher education in search of financial success and personal fulfillment–but, I ask you, when has Hollywood ever cared about fair representation before? I’ll tell you when: never. This is certainly not meant to defend the decades on decades in which the film industry has relentlessly focused on white heteronormative narratives rather than including and normalizing those of the many (many) gay, lesbian, trans, genderqueer, black, Asian, southeast Asian, Hispanic, disabled, elderly, and otherwise Other lives that also comprise our nation’s best stories (if not our movies or politics), or that baby steps toward progress aren't being taken (I heard Dear White People (Justin Simien, 2014) was good!), but simply to point out that even the most average college student's story is pretty much a pack of mini cupcake mix ready to be thrown into the Easy-Bake Oven of Hollywood's top-secret three-act formula. In fact, with the number of parallels between the systems of elite education and the film industry, I'm fairly shocked this demographic and their (our) stories haven't been seriously capitalized upon already.
But maybe it isn't as unforgivable as all that. Because I, like John Cusack's character in High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000), tend to take refuge in my pop culture obsessions to escape the anguish of modern life and romance, I often think of his character's essential line: What came first, the music or the misery? The same logic applies to movies–do we watch movies because we are miserable, or are we miserable because we keep watching movies? Hard to say, but I'm inclined to believe a lifetime of cinematic consumption must contribute in some significant way to a later life of seemingly unstoppable disappointment. When you grow up preparing for your time at Cape Elizabeth High School with Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004) and Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004) in mind, such disappointment is inevitable, as I'm sure it will be in a few years once I've been a lonely Type-A bridesmaid 27 times and do not, in fact, find the love of my life in a cute and snarky journalist who happens to write wedding announcements on the side.
Was it better, then, to go through these last four years with no real (or unreal) idea of what to expect? With no clue how to instigate a respectful yet casual conversation with professors? With no idea how on earth college students spend all their time in libraries while taking only four classes? Without knowing how many times I would change my mind about who I am and what to do, only to end up agreeing to disagree with me and my many selves? Maybe we should thank Hollywood for providing us with all the uncertainty and anxiety that makes college students such fascinating characters and potential protagonists, by virtue of denying us any other unrealistic expectations (on top of the ones we're already frantically trying to manage).
But this character and this narrative are remarkable, too, for the fact that this student may not always feel she is the star of her movie. College in America in 2016 is a magical place where one glorious moment might make you feel like The Chosen One and the next makes you wonder if this is what Luna Lovegood's life is like when she's not with Harry; if all the instants when the spotlight seemed to hit you were really just proving to all the real stars what a quirky supporting character you've been, and how your funny little side plot has really just functioned as a way to work some interesting details into the main storyline.
Maybe the real, uncut, unedited college student is simply too dynamic to work as an effective protagonist. Maybe things change altogether too often for a coherent narrative to be shaped around those four years where the plot points and characters and sets and music montages are so densely packed that each passing semester feels like a lifetime ago–and yet I can't help feeling like these are exactly the reasons why university students are such ideal subjects. Minor goals and motivations shift and turn until the greater desires reveal themselves under the rubble of whatever's leftover each time you change your mind. People who were once important move to the periphery, just as you move to the periphery of people you were once important to. Everyone changes as often as trends, and even if we wanted to truly move forward and step away from who we used to be and all the things that made us that way, we all still study in the same library, walk the same stairwells, use the same bathrooms, go to the same bars and check the same mailroom. The past variations of ourselves bounce around campus like ghosts in the subjective memories of all the people we scrutinized and who scrutinized us, who saw us change, who either respected us or didn't. Maybe real college in the movies wouldn't be so great after all–not like I would know or anything, but maybe the real story doesn't start until the ghosts are only in our heads and not physically surrounding us at every corner–and maybe it still won't be a real story yet, but it might be a better one, at least.
Originally published in The Worcester Journal on March 19, 2016
From the moment you walk into their apartment, you begin to understand more about who Sleepovers is and where the band’s sound comes from. Plants pepper the place—dead and alive, on the floor and on the walls—and the coat rack in the corner has transformed into a plush kind of tree on its own, stacked at least fifteen coats deep. The art on the walls looks like the type that could be in a gallery—or maybe one of them just made it the other day. Maybe it was one of their friends.
Made up of housemates Marina Khananayev and Hannah Corbin, along with the recent addition of drummer Jacob Folsom-Fraster, Sleepovers began in a Worcester, Massachusetts bedroom, and that’s exactly how they sound. Even when screaming about dumping your boyfriend, there’s an authentic intimacy in both singers’ voices which conjures the soft quiet that must have made them want to scream. In the same way that they somehow create warm melodies out of bleak subject matter, one of the most striking elements of Sleepovers is how the band is able to uniquely capture the feeling of feeling alone and yet deliver this feeling to us with reassurance. The close friendship between the lead vocalists is particularly palpable in songs like “I Wanna Start a Band” and “Hot Dog Song,” but is also felt, even in their solo songs.
With just two EPs on Bandcamp and a couple of local performances under their belt, the group has already managed to win over an impressively devoted following of listeners. When I first saw them in December, it was just Marina and Hannah playing “Whiskey Song” to a stunned and silent audience in their own living room; then the full trio of Sleepovers was booked as the opening act at Clark University for New York project Eskimaux and opened their set with the same song—this time with a full floor of standing fans singing along to every word. With lines like “Don’t have a crush on you” “I like getting high” and “I’m not anybody’s rock” among perhaps the loudest in the repertoire of audience favorites, it’s easy to see why Sleepovers is quickly becoming one of the most popular local bands in the city of Worcester. Known to friends and fans for their unassuming honesty, uncomplicated language, and utterly endearing onstage dynamic, the band and their music already has a reputation for treading the line between heartwarming and heartbreaking, often invoking both at the same time.
As an early fan of Sleepovers, I was thrilled I had the chance to talk with them personally about their project and methods of making music. Though our interview was a first for both parties involved and (at least, my) nerves were bouncing off the walls, the carpeted floor of Hannah’s bedroom began to feel familiar as our conversation floated on and away from Hollywood Street, beyond Worcester and back to other bedrooms—for, as Sleepovers reminds us, there is perhaps no better place to think about first times and new things than on the carpeted floor of your best friend’s bedroom.
So you write most of your songs in here?
Hannah and Marina: Mhm.
Do you write most of your songs together?
M: Not most of them, but a few of them we’ve written together.
Do you like working together better or is it easier by yourselves?
H: I don’t know, ’cause there’s some stuff that I’m like ‘I don’t know what to do, I need help with this’ and then some stuff that I’m like, ‘Oh, I wrote this’ like it just happened, I didn’t need help, it just came out.
Yeah, so do you guys ask each other for help, or like if you’re writing songs together, how does that happen?
M: I think it usually happens like one of us says, you know, ‘I wrote this guitar part’ and then you’ll start singing something, or the other way around, or something like that, and then we’ll just sit there and—I don’t know, trade off singing lines. We also just sing a lot of shit and then we’ll be like, ‘Oh write that one down.’
H: Yeah. Yeah we’ll just like sing a bunch of lines, like random things, then write it down later and decide later what’s good to keep.
On the addition of Jacob
How did you come into the Sleepovers project?
Jacob: Well, a kid put a drum set in my basement, so then a bunch of bands started practicing there. So then, I don’t know, when [Hannah and Marina] would practice I would just come down and play the drums for fun. I don’t really play the drums, I kinda just started messing around ’cause there’s a drum set in my basement.
That’s really cool. And you played for them we you opened at the last PEC show?
J: Yeah, ’cause I don’t know, you guys were thinking you wanted drums and I already knew all the songs, so…
It was a really good effect, people loved it. The drums added a lot.
H: We practiced so much for that show [laughs]. ‘Cause [Jacob] had just started playing with us that week before. You were like, ‘Me? Really?’ [laughs] ‘Are you kidding?’
J: I’m like, the worst choice.
H: I feel like you are the best choice though, because I feel like we’re all the same level of instrumentation at this point, where we’re all kind of figuring it out together, so it’s cool to like—I don’t know, I feel like I’d be intimidated if there was someone who was like, mad good at drums, like shreds. I’d be scared to play.
On their show in February
What was it like opening for Eskimaux? I heard they were one of your favorite bands.
H: Yeah, we saw them a few months ago. On my birthday, actually. We went to go see Girlpool and they were opening.
I just started listening to Girlpool and remember thinking they reminded me a lot of Sleepovers.
H: Definitely, yeah. I like Eskimaux way more now after opening for them, just ’cause she was so nice.
M: And also at first when I was listening to their music, I was like, ‘Oh, you know’ but I listen to it all the time now, like ‘This is really good songwriting.’
H: Also just knowing someone in a band—okay, we don’t know her that well, but like meeting her and talking to her—we texted each other—just makes the music so much more enjoyable. I don’t know. For me, at least.
Did you guys get to talk to her after?
H: They had to leave right after the show, but we chatted for a bit.
M: It was nice. She told us about her first show ever, and it was like this really hilarious story about some bubble tea place and she couldn’t see anything because— [laughs]
H: Because she scratched her cornea.
M: It’s not funny. [laughs]
H: Yeah it was really nice, and she was so supportive, and just meeting someone who’s like, famous, and having them tell you they like you--
M: It was really cool.
H: I freaked out a little bit. I also had a flash of like, ‘I’m gunna quit school. All I’m gunna play is music from now on.’
On actually starting a band
So what was the moment you decided to start a band? Like, when do you decide to do something when you’ve only been thinking about it?
M: I don’t know if we ever decided.
H: I wrote a song--
M: Yeah, [Hannah] wrote a song--
H: And I liked it—which had never happened before.
M: Was it the cat song?
H: No, it was “Philly.”
M: Yeah, you wrote “Philly” and I was like ‘damn, this is really good!’
H: Then I was like, ‘we should start a band’ and you were like ‘eh’ and I was like ‘please.’ And [Marina] was the one who didn’t want to start a band, and then Jacob was like, ‘all these people are playing at my house.’
M: Oh yeah, they had this like Sunday music festival thing at their house during the day, and Hannah was like ‘let’s
do it! Let’s perform there!’ and I was like, I don’t think we’re ready. We had “I Wanna Start a Band” and “Philly” and those were the only songs we’d ever written. We wrote them like two days before the show and then we were like, ‘shit, what do we do?’ Oh! And I had just bought that bass, too. I bought a bass from our other friend--
So you didn’t play bass before?
M+H: No. No no no.
M: Well, it’s kinda similar to guitar, so it wasn’t too difficult.
Yeah, I think about that too, like ‘I can definitely learn bass, probably.’
M: Yeah, it’s just a little harder to push down. [laughs]
H: But anyway, we played at it and we messed up a lot, but I mean, people came up to us afterward and said, like, ‘great job!’ and it just felt good. It just felt—I think both of us realized ‘damn, this feels good.’
On Sleepovers’ sound, name, and aesthetic
To me, it’s so clear what you are, just based on what your music sounds like and what your house looks like, and it’s so interesting that you manage to get that into your music. As someone who’s trying to write songs and failing miserably, I’m curious as to how you make songs that sound like you?
H: I’ve been trying to write songs for a really long time and I wrote a song that I like for the first time this year. I’ve also written a bunch of songs we never play because I’m not in love with them, but I just needed to like, get shit out so I just wrote it. But it’s like a keep-away.
Save for later.
H: Yeah. Or for never. [Laughs] Or just to like, have expelled from you. I kinda appreciate you saying that though, because I don’t really know, like–I have a hard time describing our band to, like, relatives and friends from home that ask, ‘What’s your music like?’ Like, eh, I don’t know.
I also feel that, because I’ve also been asked to describe your music and I’m like, ‘Uh, it’s kinda—uh, it’s soft I guess, but it’s like rock, uh, I don’t know.’
H: I just hate the word ‘indie’ and being like, ‘it’s indie.’ Because that doesn’t say anything about what it sounds like, it’s just like, ‘independent’? Okay, like we don’t have a record label? So what does that—that’s so many artists! What a stupid term.
J: [Sleepovers’ music] makes you feel happy and sad at the same time.
M: Yeah, you said that to me once.
To me, it feels exactly like a sleepover. It reminds me of sleepovers in like, fourth grade, and it’s so specific but for some reason all the details are right just in the way it sounds and the words you choose and, I don’t know, the vibe you give out. It’s all very cohesive.
H: That’s awesome. It’s funny you say that because that name just isn’t—like it wasn’t intentional at all. We were so frustrated trying to pick a name.
J: There were like, six different names.
H: Yeah, there were so many different names, and like, I liked one and Marina liked the other, and we were just sitting in here--
M: Every day we’d text each other being like, ‘what about this? What about this name?’
H: Like I’d walk down the street and see a package with like, ‘mermaid’ on it and be like, “Mermaid should be our band name.’
M: [Laughs] When did you see a package--
H: I don’t know! It was just like you’d see something and you’d be like, ‘this should be our band name.’ But we were sitting in here, in these exact same spots one night, and we had just finished writing a song and we were feeling loopy, and Marina was just like, ‘Sleepovers’ and I was like, ‘cool, that’s our name.’ It was like—boom. And we haven’t talked about it since. [Laughs]
M: We didn’t even deliberate or anything, like ‘Should that be it?’ We were just like, Sleepovers. Done. Don’t wanna think about it anymore.
What are your musical backgrounds like?
M: I’ve been singing in choir all my life, pretty much, and I took piano lessons for a while. My family’s pretty musical, I’d say, it’s not a huge thing about them, but just singing all the time I guess, just any chance I could get. I was in a Renaissance singing group in high school where we dressed up in Renaissance clothes and sang around the community. [Laughs]
M: You have to watch the videos. It was awesome. You know, haters gonna hate but it was so much fun. We’d go to like, old folks’ homes and sing for them.
They loved it, I bet.
M: They loved it! We looked like nerds, but whatever. [Hannah’s] been in a band before.
H: I was in a band but I was like a novelty. I was in the band to be the only girl in that band, you know what I mean?
Like a token girl?
H: Kind of. I also have a really hard time singing in front of people and I didn’t do it until this year. Like, at all. So this is a pretty new thing. I didn’t sing before this, really, but I’ve played guitar since I was 13. But only like—not real, like initial ‘I’m learning how to read music and play chords,’ I was like ‘teach me this Green Day song!’ [Laughs] I just wanted to learn songs that I liked.
And what about [Jacob]?
J: I feel like I’ve always been surrounded by music but I was never that serious about playing it, like I took piano lessons in third grade--
Right, because everyone does.
J: [Laughs] Yeah, and like I took guitar lessons in middle school, memorized some songs, still know ‘em and don’t know anything else. But my dad is a sound engineer, so until I was in third grade, he was on tour most of the time, so we would go visit him and I would go to shows. And my parents’ group of friends are like, all these musicians that were playing in Boston in the late 80s and 90s, like this band Morphine.
H: I know Morphine!
J: You know Morphine? Yeah, they’re like my family friends. [Laughs] I don’t know, at family gatherings there was always music, just—music everywhere in my house.
H: I have one thing to add, just ’cause it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done: when I was in high school, I was in an all-female rap group that would only play at parties at the end of the night called Red Lips Big Hips. I just wanna let you guys know that ’cause it’s the best name I’ll ever come up with.
On their best song
I’m interested in what you guys think is your best song, just because someone behind me at your show—right when you started playing a song—was like, ‘This is the best song they’ve ever written’ and I’m interested to hear what you guys think it was.
M: Ooh, we have to guess? Hmm, I don’t know.
H: Wait, do you wanna know something kinda funny?
H: At our last show, our roommate was there and afterwards, she was like, ‘The guy behind me just kept being like, ‘The blonde one’s really hot’ [laughs].
M: [Laughs] I was so pained and proud at the same time. But our best song…I feel like the songs we write together, in the moment, are our favorites to play.
H: Also, every time Marina—we’ll send each other things that we’re working on by ourselves, and every time Marina sends me a song, I’m like, ‘this is my favorite one you’ve ever written.
M: [Laughs] That’s how I feel about yours!
H: Every time she sends me a new one. I hope that sentiment doesn’t like, lose its value cos every time I’m like, ‘ah, this is the best one.’ But I do really—I love your songs.
M: Aw, thanks.
H: I don’t play anything on “Hot Dog Song” but I think it’s my favorite one to play because it’s just so fun.
It is! It sounds a lot like First Aid Kit to me, just in terms of the vocals.
M: Oh, yeah, I do see that.
H: Also, I hated playing “Philly” because I was just so over it until we added the yelling part.
M: Yeah, I think the most fun to play, for me, is “Hot Dog Song.” At this moment in time. [pause] What about you, Jacob?
H: Yeah, what’s our best song, Jacob?
J: Well, fun to play is different from the best. I think some of the best songs are the ones where I do the least. [Laughs] But um, hmm…
Or, what’s your favorite?
J: I don’t know, “Too Nice Outside”? That’s always been my favorite. That song gives me the chills.
M: Oh, wait, I actually retract my answer for most fun to play personally—it’s “Dark Thoughts” because I get to play the xylophone.
I love that song, it’s one of my favorites. Honestly, it’s a tie between that one and “Neighbors” for my fave on the new release.
H: Really? I never wanna play “Neighbors”!
I really liked it!
H: Shit! Thanks!
Was that real?
H: Yeah, I was here alone one night and our next-door neighbors were having a really loud, sad breakup, and I was playing music already and just like, ‘these are two chords and here are some words…’ [Laughs]
Yeah, I really like that one. The one that the audience member behind me said was your best was “I Wanna Start a Band,” which I also think is tip-top.
M: I think that’s the first song I’ve written that I’ve ever showed anyone. And then we finished it together.
H: We did finish it together.
M: The last verse and then the yelling part.
J: That’s the anthem.
The yelling is really good. And it sounded really good with the drums too.
M: The drum really changes the game.
It does. It was a game changer.
H: The thing too is like—keeping rhythm, we didn’t worry about it when it was just the two of us ’cause we’d just be like ‘this part’s fast, this part’s slow’ but then Jacob came in and we were like, fuck. [Laughs] “I Wanna Start a Band” was so hard to learn ’cause there were so many changes.
Yeah, I love when songs go through tempo changes though. My personal favorite of yours would have to be—I just have “Whiskey Song” stuck in my head all the time. Like, since I first heard it.
H: Written on this floor.
M: That was the first song we wrote together.
H: Marina spilled whiskey all over my floor—look, there’s a stain right there.
Oh my god, the stain!
H: The stain! And then we wrote that song together.
organ of criticism