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Music by VICE

Philadelphia Duo +HIRS+ Talks Queer Punk, Inspiration, Pornogrind, and Survival

Catching up with the kings and queens of Philadelphia's queer punk scene.

07 March 2015, 10:49am

All photos by Yoni Kroll


If that slogan doesn't make it absolutely clear what the Philadelphia political grind duo +HIRS+ (pronounced "heers") are all about, a quick listen to one of their songs – and it will be quick, as most of their tracks don't stretch for longer than 30 seconds – will definitely do the trick: Sample from a movie. Heavy blastbeats. Fast and pounding guitar riffs. Screamed, mostly unintelligible vocals. Repeat. If you're seeing them live, the typical +HIRS+ set will last maybe ten intensely chaotic, fun minutes. And if you're listening to them at home, the two full lengths clock in at a hefty 100 tracks a piece. The first one came out last year and the second has a slated May release, both on SRA Records. There's also a slew of tapes, 7-inches, and even a minidisc.

The band considers itself a collective – "We are infinite and never ending. A collective of freaks and faggots that will never stop existing." according to their website – but is mainly made up of two semi-anonymous individuals, best friends JP on vocals and beats and Esem on guitar. +HIRS+ started making noise four years ago and have made a name for themselves, not just in extreme music circles but also, and more importantly for the band, in the burgeoning queer punk scene. They've played in and around the Philadelphia area, toured Australia, and are currently on the West Coast to play a week of shows in early March. Noisey caught up with JP the night before she left for tour.

Noisey: Why do you call +HIRS+ a collective? Who else is part of it?
Anyone that wants to be. And anyone that's ever been involved. I really hate when people refer to us as our names. I've been calling it a collective as of recently because we're not the only people that make this shit happen in the band. And sometimes we're not the only people who make the music.

Have your reasons for making music as +HIRS+ changed since you started in 2011?
Originally it was us getting ourselves off by doing the things we like to do. And now it's hopefully getting other people off with the things that we like to do, which is huge and ridiculous. The fact that anyone would give a shit about us is really wild. I understand it but 99 percent of the time I'm doing it for us. But also with us being so outspoken about everything weird and queer and trans, every single time that we get a message from someone that says we mean something more to them than just the music is huge. So that has changed.

Do you remember a moment when that changed?
You mean the first letter? I remember the most recent one. I still need to respond to them but I couldn't even imagine what to say because it's a trans 14 year old in the middle of nowhere who messaged us anonymously to say that we're an important thing in their lives. As a trans person who came out in her early 30s in a city where I have people to talk to, I can't imagine what it would be like as a pre-teen hearing this stuff—she mentioned hearing us when she was 12. It's just...

Something that I think this all speaks to is how the Internet has really made it a lot easier to be who you want to be and who you need be. Do you think this band could have existed in the same way ten years ago?
I think it would be less of a cool thing to embrace and more of a token thing to embrace. We're getting to the point that there's trans people on television—or cis people depicting them, which is fucking stupid—and it's not okay to say "faggot" anymore unless you are one.

How has the inspiration for the band changed over time?
Every single album is different. They might sound the same or seem like they have the same themes, but … Our newest song is about how seven or eight transwomen have been murdered this year. It's about how it's almost impossible to survive in any way as a trans person—especially transwomen and especially transwomen of color—regardless if we're being killed in the street or we're killing ourselves. I'm getting sick of every time I go on any website it's, "Oh, another transwoman died." It's not even March! It's super sad and awful and I think that's where a lot of our stuff comes from. Well, except we did that posi record, cause we felt like changing it up a tiny bit.

My survival is part of the inspiration. The people that I meet through this band and being able to spend time with my best friends because of it literally saves my life. I feel like a lot of times when I'm in my worst, most awful moments, where suicide is an actual idea, I'm just, like, "I really want to finish this thing" or this person sent us a really fucking awesome letter about how they didn't kill themselves.

Is it weird to get those messages?
No, it's the best thing! I literally don't know how to actually comprehend it. I had that stuff when I was younger—music saved my life—but we're not some kind of huge band. The fact that we're doing a thing that makes people survive in a different kind of way … I'm not saying that people aren't killing themselves because we're a band. But if there's a person or two who say thanks, that is a part of my survival at least for this day, this hour, this song.

Your songs are all super short and have screamed vocals where the lyrics are incredibly hard to make out. Why is +HIRS+ a grind project versus, say, a pop punk band?
I wouldn't even call it grind. It's punk. I understand, there's blastbeats and people want to call it grind and all these other genres, but we've always just agreed that any band that we're ever in is a punk band.

So why punk?
The idea of the ethics... I don't know, it's a word that doesn't have the same definition or meaning any more. We're just aggressive, fast, and trying to be better people and burn the bridges of all the awful people and make sure to leave them behind.

So how do you get your point across when your song is 30 seconds long and you can't understand the vocals? Is that where the samples come in?
There's two reasons we use samples: one, I should never have a microphone, ever. I talk into them like an idiot. So we use samples that go with the song. The sample explains the song. Two, I feel like we're at the point where enough people know what we're about. So if somebody's at a show and they don't know what we're about it's, like, "Hairy legs and heels/Looks like hell/Sounds like shit/Queer as fuck." There's not many metaphors or similes. There's a song about how I don't think I would survive in prison so I'd do a bunch of bad things and kill myself and it's kind of literal.

So you're saying you don't get booked with pornogrind bands anymore.
We never did. Those are the people... it shouldn't even have a fucking subgenre! If anybody's ever, like, "I really love pornogrind" just stop talking to that person! We're very lucky to be able to choose who we play with. If you have fucked up lyrics or stupid imagery and we don't know you or no one can vouch for you we're probably not going to play that show.

Having a queer punk scene means you can go see a band making extreme music and theoretically not have to deal with that kind of thing. Where does +HIRS+ fit into that?
I think that there are very few bands that have our sound or have the same kind of setup or anything that we do that want to support any kind of queer or trans community. One of my favorite things about playing queer shows rather than a more standard metal show is that nine times out of ten the shows we play are really fucking diverse. We're not just playing with the same sounding bands with the same shitty dudes.

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