AE: For me, I think what makes the movie so interesting is that you highlight some of my favorite bands from forever and yet as a music-lover, I’ve always concentrated on the fact that they were queer and punk and just speaking their minds and throwing their middle finger to the man but I never thought about the fact that some of them were from the South or living in the South where making their statement was that much more brave to state openly. What made you put these dots together that these Southerners were making kick-ass queer music.
MH: Even though I moved around a lot, my mom has always been a staunch liberal Democrat. So even though we were living in places that were really conservative, she always had a lot of hate for the red state thing and was always very politically active in that way. But even though she was always talking trash about the South or the Midwest that weren’t that liberal, I always kind of felt like there must be more to the story.
I was always interested in the South and Southern literature when I was growing up and in high school and had travelled a little down there and it was just beautiful. The people were kind and I felt like the South just gets a lot of grief and it’s easy for people who live in the blue states to throw all the bigotry and racism that exists in the US just to pin it all on the south to make them feel better about themselves.
But in my own experience I’ve dealt with a lot more s–t for being queer in places like California and New York. I couldn’t really see how it was matching up with these ideas that I wouldn’t fit in in the South “because it’s not safe for me,” but San Francisco and New York were automatically safe. So when I found out about some of these artists when I was older and moving around and living in San Francisco and New York and wasn’t really finding the kind of community I was expecting from listening to Riot Grrl and watching queer movies, and really just wanting to get to the big city, I was kind of missing the small town and found out about these artists, like Midtown Dickens and Humble Tripe I was like, “These people are from North Carolina? I thought that was a place I wasn’t supposed to go!” And not only were they there, they’re being loud and visible and I was so impressed with this. So I found out about more bands doing the same thing and when I talked to them I realizing their commitment to staying there and making a difference in their communities was really inspiring to me.
Especially now like with the “It Gets Better” campaign. I’ve seen videos from the city of San Francisco and I’ve seen all these testimonials where people are like, “I grew up in Iowa and it was hell for me but it gets better because now I’ve moved to San Francisco,” and I want to challenge that narrative because it doesn’t always work for everyone.
And in doing a little more research, the South has always had a really rich and visible and strong music history especially in terms to how that music is tied to history, like grassroots struggles whether it be gospel or blues there’s always been music tied to people trying to rise up and organize. So I was pretty inspired by that.
AE: It blows my mind still that people — even for myself, I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life but Chicago is just one part of Illinois and there’s still the rest of the state you have to worry about and there’s still a ton of bigotry, even in the city. So to shed light on these towns in places that are assumed to be completely homophobic is a breath of fresh air.
MH: Yeah that was definitely my intent — to maybe open people’s eyes to a part of the country they think they don’t often think about or think they have anything in common with or can relate to.
AE: Right, and it’s also kind of saying, in effect, a more comfortable, more accepting place for you might be closer than you think.
MH: Yeah and that’s a big part of my interest in part of the lo-fi kind of D.I.Y. music scene in that it kind of breaks down that fourth wall and fans can kind of just pick up an instrument and become musicians. It’s a sense of community in that scene or that movement that I haven’t seen in the mainstream music world. It’s not about competition or making money with a record deal, it’s about helping your friends start their own record company. I thought that was really inspiring but also really telling of the commitment of these people staying there and fostering growth in towns some people might not consider when they’re coming out and moving out of their parent’s house looking for a place to move.