One-on-One with Hannah Valente of The She’s
When Dennis Gonzalez, founder of the San Francisco Great Society, decided to organize the first Gathering of the Tribes Festivalat Public Works (this upcoming Sunday, September 13th), he wanted a really special lineup. After all, the festival is meant to celebrate the alive and thriving SF music scene that some have argued is already dead. In particular, he was interested in The She’s, a local pop-rock band that’s been on the scene for more than 5 years. A group of four extremely talented 20 and 21 year old local women, The She’s has been on the rise recently, having toured the west coast this summer and planning the release of their second full-length album next year. Gonzalez believes the group will ‘make it big’ in upcoming years, and thought it would be special knowing they played the first ever GOTT.
To prepare for this upcoming festival, I spent a brief hour last Wednesday afternoon with Hannah Valente, the lead singer of The She’s. I wanted to know about the band’s beginnings, the development of their style, and what it’s like being part of a male-dominated industry.
So my first questions might seem kind of tired to you since you’ve been interviewed so many times, but I’m genuinely interested in all the details. I wanna know how you first started doing music. Like is your family musical?
Yeah my dad has always played guitar and made music with his friends. So one of my earliest memories is of when I was super little. He’d give me a bath and then sing to me in the tub– it was adorable. But he tried to teach me to play guitar and I was like, “Don’t tell me what to do Dad!” You know when parents try to do something cool for you and kids just don’t appreciate it. But then once I got into music on my own I was like, “Hey Dad…” And then he helped me learn. But I feel like I’ve always been into music since day one. I’m really realizing more now too, because I’m taking this media studies class and the subject right now is the history of pop music and I’m just so interested in that.
I’ve also always been singing and I think I learned guitar so I could learn to accompany myself and to play my own music. I remember in 5th grade Sami (The She’s bass player) and I figured out this harmony part to this High School Musical song– which, that kind of dates us but– that was like our big, “Oh my God, we can really sing together!”
So you guys all went to school together?
Me, Sami, and Sinclair (The She’s drummer) have been friends since kindergarten. We didn’t really hang out with Eva (The She’s guitarist) until the fourth grade. We always had pretend bands together because all of our parents are really into music too. So we had this group that was more like a social club called the Pearl Club. We were gonna have these pearly white jackets, and we had it all figured out. We had a cardboard box clubhouse. Then we figured out we wanted to have a band called Roxy Foxy. But our parents were like, “You can’t have a band called the Roxy Foxy because you don’t understand what that means.” So then in 5th grade we actually started playing together.
Did you all know how to play instruments at that point?
Eva had been learning guitar for a bit and Sami was in the San Francisco Girls’ Choir for a while learning how to sing. Sinclair played the flute actually. In 5th grade we started a band with seven girls and we all played guitar and Sinclair played flute. Oh and one of our friends just stood there because she wanted to be in the band. But it was after soccer practice we’d get together at someone’s house and there were always fights and crying. But we performed at our school, an Aly and AJ song– their cover of Walking on Sunshine. And then the next year we did a Jonas Brothers song Time For Me to Fly. Then the She’s started in 7th grade.
So you used to listen to Aly and AJ and lots of pop stuff back then?
Yeah middle school was definitely the first time we had a musical taste separate from our parents’. I loved Britney Spears, lots of Disney Channel stuff at the time too. I still love pop music and I don’t understand when people discredit it just because it’s popular. But I definitely had my bad music phase in middle school. Some people are still in that phase. But you can’t dispute taste, if you like it you like it. Like in the past few years i’ve gotten really into rap. I went from completely not understanding it to loving it somehow. But music is the kind of thing where I can always really appreciate anyone’s who’s really good at their craft. For example, Britney Spears can’t sing for the life of her. She’s totally just a product, but the songs are great! The product is a good one. They did a good job at creating Britney Spears. But yeah the music we listen to has changed a lot and it influences the stuff we play.
Were you nervous to start singing in front of people?
Yeah I still get nervous about singing. I say now that we have more complex guitar parts I’m more nervous about that. I still get nervous every show though, and if you asked me to sing right now I wouldn’t do it. I’m deathly afraid of singing in really close [spaces].
Yeah it’s fuckin’ scary! How do you remedy the nervousness before shows?
Basically I tell myself it’s nothing I haven’t done before. And nothing’s ever gone wrong before. Well, every show something messes up but it’s nothing the audience would recognize. The biggest things that happen are that someone’s guitar stops working and we don’t know why. Or one time we started playing and then Sami forgot to plug in her bass. Little things like that. We’ve never fallen off stage though.
So you went on tour this summer all over California and up through Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. What was that like?
Everywhere we went was a heat wave, I swear to God. We thought it would be cold up north but nope. They didn’t even know what to do with themselves up there. But yeah crossing the border at Canada was scary because we’ve heard horror stories about not being let in. But we got in super easily. Immediately when we crossed, we all got texts saying “You’re now in Canada, foreign fees apply.” And we were using our phones the whole time and we had no idea how to get to the venue. So I just turned mine on for five minutes, mapped it, took pictures, and then turned it off. I still owe like $20 for 30 seconds of usage. But yeah you just don’t think about little things like that. But the tour was really good, we sold a lot of merch.
What was your favorite spot?
Portland probably. We played a house party and got to meet really cool people.
When you guys first started what was your style/genre?
When we first started we loved the Donna’s and they’re super tough, like hard rock. So we wrote angsty songs about hating our parents even though they’re all wonderful people and we don’t hate them at all. But we thought you had to write songs about things you were upset about. We also were inspired by School of Rock, which I still watch at least once a year. We were about “sticking it to the man” and all that stuff. But when we got older we realized we didn’t have to put on that tough look and started to play music we liked more.
Now does your style construct itself around your personal style or do you guys want to put on a type of persona that you want people to see?
We basically wear whatever we want. Some shows we say, “Let’s all wear black!” But we’ve never been like “Here is what we want people to see.” One of the best things I like about the band is that it’s very genuine.
How do you think your audience perceives you guys?
I don’t know. It’s hard to remove myself from the picture. But when we were younger we had trouble being a young girl band, we’ve definitely met a lot of jerks out there that don’t see past who we are. If you haven’t seen us before it’s interesting because you might be a little bit in awe or in shock. It’s really helpful seeing people dance in the audience though. Even though I’m not a big dancer. Seeing people who look really bored or unfazed and then come up to us and tell us how amazing it was.. that’s really interesting. People appreciate music differently.
That kind of draws on another question I was going to ask. The music industry is pretty male-dominated. How do you deal with being women in that atmosphere?
I could talk about this for a long time. But it’s been a lot easier lately. We don’t listen as much to the haters. When we were younger we got a lot of comments like “Oh you guys are really good for a girl band.” People actually say stuff like that. We hadn’t faced it in a while because I think in San Francisco people are starting to take us more seriously. People will say they’re usually skeptical of girl bands or that we’re they’re favorite girl band. Those are weird comments. But it’s been hard. Even at venues, in the past people working have not taken us seriously, treating us like babies and stuff like that. Telling us how to do our job, when we’re really supposed to tell them how to do their job in a way. One time, we were playing in Santa Cruz somewhere and I asked them to turn up my vocals. And the guy said, “Real singers would just sing louder.” And I was 15! I should’ve said, “Real sound guys would just turn the sound up.” But instead I was like, “Ahhh!” We just channel it into the music though.
On tour even, this band tried to steal our spot on the lineup and they set up their stuff when we were supposed to play. They threw a hissy fit and flipped us off and said, “Have fun little girls.” This was a couple weeks ago! We were pissed. But it was time to perform and we just needed to put on the best performance and prove everyone wrong. There are way more accepting people than not, though.
Besides those kinds of challenges, what have been some of your hardest musical challenges? Like what is the process like of making a song?
We write all the songs together. We bring in parts, like chord progressions or song lyrics and we all build it together. The only arguments we have are about song structure. We take a month to finish a song. So two of us will be like, “We want the harmony like this!” And the other two will say, “No we want this!” Really it comes down to Sami and I since we’re singing it. But we don’t really fight about band things.
What has been one of your favorite things about pursuing music this long?
I think in general, getting to know the music on a personal level is why I live. Music is really personal. I like meeting other people who really care about music too, like fans and other musicians who really care about the music as much as I do.
So now that your summer tour is done, what are you up to? What is your day to day?
Sinclair and I are in school (Hannah goes to University of San Francisco). She just started at [San Francisco State University]. Eva and Sami work. Our next release is going to be a single– Pending date. Probably within the next 6 months. and then next year we’re going to have an album, that’s the plan.
How do you guys balance everything?
Trying to balance everything is pretty hard. I think what keeps us practicing is it’s time for us to be together. Especially now that each person has her own thing. We have more space than we’ve ever had before. So we know that when we practice we get to see each other. It makes it exciting.
So, one last question. With everything that’s happening in San Francisco right now (I’m referencing gentrification and all those other buzz words), how do you think it’s affecting the music scene?
When we first started playing in venues five or six years ago it seemed like there were bigger bands playing. There has been a lot of talking about how the music scene is over here. But the only good way to think about it is that there’ s more room for other bands to grow. When we first started playing though every band was so kind to us. They wanted us to get more shows. It’s a really connected, helpful community. It’s interesting being older now trying to reach out to other bands, from a more senior perspective, how we can help them out too. It’s still cool how many venues there are too that have let us play when no one had heard of us. There are lots of venues that support local bands.