We sat down with Jeannie Colleene and Gavin Neves of HXXS to talk about their relationship, working at Juicy Couture, and the HXXS sound. And people who steal your hard drive, forcing you to remake your entire album from scratch.
ThrdCoast: You said that people frequently misunderstand where you’re from, so what is the true story- or what is the story you want to give us?
Gavin Neves: She’ll tell you that I catcalled her.
Jeannie Colleene: I… will not.
GN: That’s what you tell everybody else.
JC: It was! It was a creative catcall, it’s fine.
ThrdCoast: What was it?
GN: I used to busk on the street to pay my rent, and she came out on a break, and I sang a song.
Both: And that’s how we met.
ThrdCoast: That is a good origin story.
GN: And the rest is history.
JC: What song was it?
GN: It was “you can’t always get what you want” by the Rolling Stones, cause I’m that sad sack.
JC: This was in Portland.
GN: I originally grew up in the Bay Area, San José.
JC: And I’m from Bakersfield, California. And we met in Portland.
ThrdCoast: How’d you get to Portland… separately?
JC: Oh gosh, I moved there to go to school, and had been living there for 5 years or so before I met him.
GN: I moved there for music, which was just dumb, really.
GN: But I had never lived anywhere outside of California, so it’s just like I wanted to take a jump, live somewhere else. Everyone I knew that was playing music was like “come to Portland–Portlandia!” Everybody’s direct quote, and thing to convince you to move to Portland, was the TV show… which, in hindsight, was really sad.
ThrdCoast: Especially since it’s essentially a mockumentary.
GN: Yeah, exactly!
JC: But there’s a lot of truth to that… the parking day episode is real.
ThrdCoast: So you met, you were singing on the street, you loved it–
JC: I didn’t really… I wouldn’t say–
GN: Well it’s been great knowing everybody, i’ll see you guys later.
JC: I was working at the fucking mall…it sucked.
ThrdCoast: Where at the mall?
JC: Oh, this is funny. I actually used to be the assistant manager at a Juicy Couture. Things have changed since then. But I was on a break, and you asked for my number. And I was like, “I don’t normally do this,” like a bitch.
GN: Oh she was such a jerk.
JC: Yeah, and the rest is pretty much history.
GN: No, it’s not, ‘cause–
JC: OH because I did something really dumb. I asked him to come over–I have a guitar–and I asked him if he could come and change my guitar strings…
JC: It was the stupidest shit, like I don’t know how to do that on my own.
GN: What was really funny was I was lying about my age. She was like, “I don’t date guys unless they can go to bars,” and I said, “Yeah I can totally go to bars.” I was 20. And so every time she would ask me to go out to bar, I would be like “Ugh, I forgot my wallet.”
JC: Or he’d go, “I don’t like that place.”
GN: Until finally there was a place that she got me into… we won’t speak of its name…
JC: Oh, the place is probably gone now.
GN: It’s still there.
JC: Wow that’s so impressive… Yeah there was this bar across the street from my house, and I’m a die hard basketball fan, and there was a game on. Portland Trailblazers.
GN: I tried every excuse.
JC: He tried everything.
GN: I was like “ahh oh no, my wallet!”
JC: And I said “I want to go, I had a long day at work, I want to go, have a beer, and watch the fucking game.”
ThrdCoast: And you were like, “fine, but I’m 20!”
GN: No, I didn’t, I didn’t.
ThrdCoast: How long till you told her?
GN: I think on my 21st birthday she had to find out.
JC: Yeah. And I wasn’t–
GN: I just really liked her, and she was such a jerk about me being 21–
JC: He says I’m intimidating–
GN: She was! I just thought she was so cool.
JC: So we just walk into the bar, and they don’t ID him because I go there all the time to watch the games. And maybe a month later, your birthday came around, and I thought that it was your 22nd birthday, and then you were like “I, actually, it’s my 21st birthday.” I was more mad…not that he had lied, thats whatever–I get that I’m intimidating.
GN: You’re not intimidating–
JC: I can be, whatever. But I was like “it’s your 21st birthday, thats a big deal!” I didn’t take off work or anything, I was just mad that we didn’t plan anything to celebrate.
GN: Yeah I tried to be all nonchalant about it. I think I threw up in a Doritos bag on the way home.
GN: It was on the floor, too, god.
JC: Yeah he’s a puker when he drinks tequila
ThrdCoast: Me too, I don’t know what it is about tequila.
ThrdCoast: So when did you start making music? How did dating turn into music and a band?
JC: Let’s see, we were living in a studio.
GN: I was making music, I was in a band.
JC: He’s always made music.
GN: I’ve been making music my whole life, I was in a band with really unreliable people, and I just got fed up and started making music on my own. And one day, I had a track, and was just like, “hey, you should sing on it.” Wait, no, it was at karaoke night! We did karaoke together–
JC: Dude, yeah!
GN: And one of her friends was like “you guys should be in a band together!”
JC: No, strangers!
GN: Maybe it was strangers?
JC: There was that weird couple, remember? We did a Talking Heads song, and that weird couple came up to us, and said “you should be a baaand!”
GN: I remember that, but I also remember doing Salt-n-Peppa, and I remember Monica coming up and pointed at us like “you two!” And to me that just never got out of my head, and I had a track, and asked if you wanted to do it with me.
JC: Yeah you had stopped doing your band stuff with people, and you bought a drum machine, and we had a garage at this house… it was actually really cool, it was a detached garage. And we started making music in there. And then you got the TR8, and a Casio… and, like, a memory man, and I was like, “what the fuck are you doing?”
JC: And the neighbors were complaining.
GN: We got several noise complaints from the city.
JC: Oh my god, yes.
GN: ‘Cause of me.
JC: And then you brought home a Volca Beats, and you were like, “here.” And I was like, “huh,” and then got hooked, and did a rip off of an E-40 beat. And that’s kinda where it started.
ThrdCoast: How long ago was that?
GN: It was five… no it’s been almost seven years now.
ThrdCoast: So when did you guys leave Portland?
JC: I had a really good job, and then Juicy decided to close all their fucking stores, and I lost my job without 30 days notice and I kind of went insane–just lost all my stability.
ThrdCoast: They didn’t even give you notice?
JC: It was so fucked. It was even more shitty because like I’ve worked retail most of my life. And you get that signage, like “50% off!” And I open this box and it was like “50, 60, 70, 80% off” and I thought thats not normal, something’s up. But then the vice president of the company came to my store and said, “Your guys’ business has been so great, we’re gonna revamp your store next year, yada yada yada” and then within weeks, we were nothing. It was awful. But I’m also grateful, because it pushed me to do something different with my life. I turned around and got my severance package and bought a bunch of fucking gear with it.
GN: I sold all my old gear and bought new gear, which was ironic because I ended up buying the same gear over again later.
JC: It happens. And then we just decided to just start doing music.
GN: Kissed Portland goodbye, sort of just hopped in the car.
JC: We left Portland–they were trying to raise our rent, it was like triple what it used to be.
ThrdCoast: What was your music like at that time? Like after Juicy, you just bought all this new gear.
GN: Oh man, it was weird. There was a lot of excitement. Also prior to that, I had a lot of dental issues that I was dealing with, and that also informed the music that I was making before we started. I did this whole experimental record straight to cassette tape, it was much more lo-fi noisy.
ThrdCoast: Were you able to get out a lot of that post-Juicy aggression on your music?
JC: Oh I’m sure.
GN: I feel like the post-juicy aggression is still going.
JC: It was interesting, it was a new thing for me. I grew up doing music, playing the violin. I started in the first grade, and was in orchestra through high school. And it’s such a beautiful instrument, but I never felt that I could write with it, it’s so hard. Like, oh my god, no. I still have my violin, and I think that it’s beautiful, but writing with it is difficult.
ThrdCoast: The violin lessons were just something you had to do after school some days.
JC: Yeah, exactly. I loved music, I was surrounded by it. I’m a big time theater nerd, I grew up in a theater, did musicals. All of that. And I also was a dancer. So music, without it…
GN: All of these things are just so funny to hear, because when we play live–you would think these things would inform what we’re doing…
GN: They’re gonna be like, “oh sick, I’m gonna go check this out!” And either they’re going to be terrified, or really into it.
ThrdCoast: I was enjoying watching some of your live sets online, I was like, “yeah I can get behind this.”
GN: Oh sick!
JC: It’s been different. It’s been really fun, a really fun learning experience for me.
ThrdCoast: So the album name, ‘Year of the Witch,’ where did that come from?
GN: Originally it was titled ‘Year of the Witch Trial, or How I Learned to Love the Stake.”
GN: But then we kinda felt that was too long.
ThrdCoast: I actually like the fact that it’s too long.
GN: I kinda wanted to put that in parenthesis. I don’t know, [to Jeannie] do you want to talk about that, or do you want me to? ‘Year of the Witch’ is kind of like a metaphor for the ongoing climate of everything.
ThrdCoast: And the band name, do you say it Hexes? Because that’s what I’ve been telling people.
GN: Yeah. Originally it was just the fucking word, but then–I’m sorry, I keep cussing.
ThrdCoast: [Another ThrdCoast-er] OH! I’ve been just saying H-X-X-S.
GN: A lot of people do.
JC: That’s fine, you can hiss also.
Everyone takes turns hissing.
GN: I think the EP made people think it was just consonants, but the LP really drives the name home. Originally it was just Hexes, but there’s a DJ who was kind of coming at us sideways, and he has the name Hexes. So we were like, we’ll just drop the vowels.
JC: Whatever, joke’s on you, guy.
ThrdCoast: Alright, so what started really influencing the HXXS sound? What were you drawing inspiration from musically?
JC: Oh gosh.
GN: All over the place.
JC: Stuff that we grew up listening to.
GN: We’re big fans of the old New York guard. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, TV On The Radio, all those bands.
ThrdCoast: I think listening to it, at least from my listening perspective, there’s a lot of punkish anger–I grew up in DC, so like Fugazi, Bad Brains, all up in my jam. And like listening to it, I felt a lot of those similar aggressions that reminded me of that scene, in terms of just that energy. And I was just curious, where is that energy channeled from?
GN: DC hardcore, punk.
JC: I grew up going to hardcore shows in California.
ThrdCoast: Another great scene.
GN: Yeah like the Locusts, Blood Brothers, those are all big bands we draw from.
JC: All of it, the teen years.
ThrdCoast: The thing I heard TV On The Radio in is your production, which is first a huge compliment. But, specifically, in the separation of the vocals and the beat. I feel like there’s a lot of space in there for everything else to sit in… you’re smiling, not sure if that’s something you’re going for–
GN: Totally, I really appreciate that. Credit to Dave Sitek [pronounces it wrong, maybe]. Sitek? Dave, I’m going to pronounce your name that way I guess for the rest of my life. That guy was a big mentor to us the entire time we were making the record, and he gave me a lot of tips on what to do, and how to do it. And it was a huge, huge honor, so thats cool.
ThrdCoast: Did you do your own mixing?
ThrdCoast: Great. Let’s get deeper into the record-making process. So you finished the EP, and you started working on this LP. When you were going into it, how were you like “Okay we’re making an LP now, this is what we’re gonna do,” how did it start? I feel like it’s really different for people–the transition from an EP to an LP. What is that in your mind?
JC: Well… it’s complicated.
GN: We made the EP, and it was originally an LP’s length. We had a ton of songs. We worked with Angus Andrew of Liars, and he kind of abbreviated it to an EP. He said about a few, “these are really good songs, I’ll produce 4 tracks, or I’ll help you guys produce 4 tracks and then we’ll shorten it to an EP. You give them the 1-2, and make them come back for more.”
JC: It was all… trying to like, find a label.
ThrdCoast: There was some strategy behind it.
GN: Yes, definitely. But I was just speaking more in terms of writing. So from what was an LP, we finished the EP. And about a year later, we hit the road for six months. We were living in the van, and we just recorded everywhere we stopped.
JC: It was the longest tour ever.
ThrdCoast: The Lil’ Wayne model.
GN: Every single place. We just sampled anything we could get our hands on, because we had just gotten more into found sound and sampling.
ThrdCoast: What did you grab your samples with?
GN: I have an Octatrack now, and that thing is incredible. It used to be an MPC500, but that thing died. It was such a nightmare. Every single night that thing had an issue, and I was like “I love you, but I hate you.” But it’s a stalwart, so it’s definitely part of–when you think of sampling, the MPC and the 404 are the go-to’s. So that’s what the record was informed on. We had made two records previously to that, and it was all very synth-poppy, pretty stuff. But everybody was doing it, so were like no, we’ll make something on the road. It’s just going to be noisy and cathartic, and true to what we’re feeling an us.
ThrdCoast: I like that, it’s like an on the road diary.
JC: Exactly, it was.
GN: And it was right after the election too, and it just felt different. And everywhere we went was like, there was a different story to each sound. And going back, as we pieced it together, I feel like listening to whatever it was would just take me back to the exact place and time that we were. It still is.
ThrdCoast: So when you listen to the album you just hear all the locations, thats great.
GN: Yeah. So that’s kind of the story of Year of the Witch.
ThrdCoast: And what was your post process like? After you got all the recording, did you do a lot of the main mixing on the road as well?
GN: We did.
JC: Well, originally we did.
GN: Originally we did. But then the hard drive it was on was stolen.
ThrdCoast: Oh no.
JC: So the whole record was stolen.
GN: So we had to start over.
ThrdCoast: I have a weird fear of hard drives getting stolen or breaking.
GN: I do too.
ThrdCoast: So I have way too many hard drives, I have like thousands of dollars of hard drives.
GN: That’s smart though, super smart.
ThrdCoast: It happened to me once, and I was like, never again.
JC: We wish we would have had that.
GN: We do now.
JC: But shit happens.
ThrdCoast: Did you have the stems, though?
JC: Some of them, not all of it. Pretty much the majority were gone.
ThrdCoast: Damn. Ugh. So you had to recreate a lot from memory?
GN: Pretty much all of it from memory, yeah.
JC: We had go “well, they’re still songs.”
ThrdCoast: It’s kind of like an adaptation then, almost. Like someone making a film out of a short story.
GN: Because the new stuff that we made, the second time around, sounded a lot different from what we had originally gestated. And so we thought “we have to start everything over, everything has to be cohesive.”
JC: It still stings, not gonna lie.
ThrdCoast: Just bring it out in the performance.
JC: And that’s the thing, too…
ThrdCoast: If anyone reading this has that hard drive, somehow it’s you, just hit us up.
GN: Oh we tried.
JC: We think we know who stole it.
GN: We know who it is, but…
ThrdCoast: Well never mind then, fuck you, whoever you are. Stop reading.
ThrdCoast: Are you on tour?
GN: Yeah we’re on tour, 2 months.
ThrdCoast: When did it start?
JC: Last week.
ThrdCoast: How’s it going so far?
GN: Really good!
JC: You know, first week is always a little rough. You gotta get adjusted… and then second week, you’re like “this is… a normal thing people do… with their time.”
ThrdCoast: If you get to someone who is reading this, and then they’re going to go listen to the record, what do you want to tell them.
GN: I have… you’ve got magic in you. That’s kind of what this record’s about. Put it out there.
To check out these crazy cats live, you can catch HXXS on tour:
11/5 - KANSAS CITY, MO @ MINI BAR
11/6 - WICHITA, KS @ KIRBY'S BEER STORE
11/7 - DENVER, CO @ GLITTER CITY
11/8 - SALT LAKE CITY, UT @ GOLD BLOOD COLLECTIVE
11/9 - BOISE, ID @ URBAN FARM HOUSE
11/11 - PORTLAND, OR @ LOCAL CINEMA
11/12 - EUGENE OR @ OLD NICKS PUB
11/15 - SAN FRANCISCO, CA @ THE TREE HOUSE
11/16 - SONORA, CA @ THE WATER WHEEL
11/17 - BAKERSFIELD, CA @ RAIZ COLLECTIVE
11/19 - SAN DIEGO, CA @ THE WHISTLE STOP
11/20 - LAS VEGAS, NV @ CASA BONITA
11/21 - TEMPE, AZ @ KEYMASTERS
11/22 - ALBUQUERQUE, NM @ THE TANNEX
11/24 - DENTON, TX @ BACKYARD ON BELL
11/27 - AUSTIN, TX @ CHEER UP CHARLIES
11/30 - ROM, TX @ NOFEST 14