Saying “I ROCK” with co-founder, Hilken Mancini
We are all given this opportunity at some point in our lives- to look at status quo and say “No Thanks.”
Often, to help bring awareness to the discussion of music education for our youth on a global level, (something I am extremely passionate about) you have to have the quote above running through your veins. Not in an effort to defy, but with a mission to inspire. Like the definition of the word “punk”, your drive is fast-moving and your voice is loud. You lead by example. Your intent is delightfully aggressive because you want one thing — to share the power of the art-form that has been such a guiding light to you.
Enter Girls Rock Campaign Boston. Started by Hilken Mancini (Fuzzy, The Count Me Outs, Shepherdess, The Monsieurs) and Nora Allen Wiles in 2010. GRCB is a foundation aimed to empower girls to believe in themselves by providing a supportive community that fosters self-expression, confidence, and collaboration through musical education and performance. Whether it’s performing in the darkest of punk clubs in the corner of the country or taking the center field stage at Fenway Park opening for Foo Fighters, Mancini not only educates such females on the beauty and self-expression available to them in this outlet, she literally exemplifies it.
I am thrilled to have had this recent discussion with Mancini who, here, passionately takes us inside the past, present and future world of Girls Rock.
What is your background, what led you to Girls Rock Campaign Boston?
Co-founder Nora Allen Wiles and I built Girls Rock Boston from the ground up. I had been playing music in Boston since I was 18 years old when I moved here to go to The Boston Conservatory. I just always wanted to write my own music and do my own thing. I got signed to Atlantic Records when me and my best friend at the time started a band called Fuzzy in 1992 or so. We coincidentally shared the same drummer — of the Lemonheads- so when they started doing well it sort of helped us. When they went on tour we got to use their practice space and write songs and stuff, and sometimes go on tour with them. By 22 yrs of age I was signed to Atlantic Records in the Band Fuzzy and touring with Dinosaur Jr. in ’94.
In 2000, I was dropped by my label and it was hard to get signed again — or get a publishing deal unless you wanted to move to NY or LA and I didn’t- so I created Punk Rock Aerobics as a different sort of project — while I still wrote music and put out records on smaller labels ( I was in The Count Me Outs w/Mark Peretta of Deluxe Folk Implosion and Chris Colbourn Of Buffalo Tom). At that point I just played a lot of music and toured Punk Rock Aerobics when we got a book deal. I still sometimes do classes as fundraisers for Girls Rock.
After, I volunteered at the Rock N’ Roll Camp for girls in Portland Oregon — the Mothership of all the girls rock camps- the very first one. I ran their Morning assemblies and did Punk Rock Aerobics there (it was a similar mission match — anti status quo anti stereo typical images of beauty- for the feminist misfit) I decided at 40, that I really wanted to start a Girls Rock Camp in Boston.
Do you recall — was there a specific moment or experience you had where you realized you had to start GRCB?
Absolutely. When my best friend (who is in the band The Monsieurs with me) asked me when I was turning 40 was there anything that I hadn’t done yet or felt like I needed to do with my life at this turning point of age and I started crying telling her I wanted to start a Girls Rock Camp but it was too hard. That’s when I knew I had to do it.
Your mission is so great and powerful, what do you find to be today’s biggest myths about music and gender that you are helping overcome?
The pressure that most women and girls feel about trying to overcome the stereo typical images of what society places on them making them feel that they can’t be, do, or act a certain way — or even be who they want to be. We try to teach them that you are a success just by following your own voice and being who you truly are and who you want to be.
I think everyone in society has pressure like this- but it’s worst for the female identified. No one ever tells you that you are not “supposed to be doing anything” and I think that is really important and I tell them these things in our assemblies. We are all given this opportunity at some point in our lives- to look at status quo and say “No Thanks.” (or better- “Yuck”). We need to give women and girls the support they need at that age where society starts to tell you what you should be looking like and what you should be doing and trying to force them to not think for themselves. That’s where the “punk rock” aesthetic comes in to play at GRCB . I always tell the girls that we are punk rock camp and ask them what do they think that means? Other than that we are totally DIY grassroots and started this org in my kitchen — what does it truly mean to be “punk”.
So thinking for yourself is what being “Punk” is -and I tell a lot of our participants (this is especially true of Ladies Rock camps) that they are punk just by being here…because who made up the rules in our society? White Corporate men- and who doesn’t want to rebel against that?
We believe you are a success if you aren’t afraid to find your voice and then take that and share it. To say “I ROCK”…instead of saying “I’m sorry”. To overcome what you were told to be, what you were “supposed to be”- and instead follow and discover what you truly want to be.
That is what we are trying to do, and help women and girls overcome: We want to support you , build you up, help you find your voice and then amplify THAT! And then book you a sold out showcase where you can be seen and HEARD whilst you do that!
Do you recall your first GRCB event/session? What was the experience like?
Of course. It was insane. It was one of the hardest things we ever did. There was no airconditioning and it was in a community building where we had to hang/duct tape tarps to make walls and jerry-rig speakers together to make PA’s for each room. Just sweating constantly in 90 degree and carrying drumkits from room to room, guitar amps up and down stairs, making genre signs for bands out of Neon poster-board in my kitchen with volunteers, picking up bass amps from peoples basements and practice spaces, and stacking them in my living room until the time came to run the session and load everything in! Not to mention Nora and I meeting up before or after our day jobs to make sure we ordered t-shirts for our volunteers , fill out the proper paperwork to become a non profit- all of it was really hard and overwhelming.
What have been some of the biggest contributing factors to the organizations growth?
The volunteers, their perspectives and listening to them since they work so hard for us. I would like to name a few of the founding mothers who helped us throughout our journey: Erin King, Alison Murray, Emily Arkin, Carolyn Castellano….but really all of our volunteers who do so much because without them we would be nothing.
Also, creating a Youth Advisory Board out of our youth participants- that have been with us for over 7/8 years -so we can learn from them. So we can make changes so that we can grow and give ownership to the younger folks coming up through the organization that are way more advanced and smarter than we are!
Also, the two women we got to hire last year (and pay them very little!) who are amazing — Megan Sutton and Charlotte Huffman
Who are some of your biggest community supporters, other organizations you collaborate with in addition to Girls Rock Camp Alliance?
Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, Anna B Stearns, Berklee College of Music, Spontaneous Celebrations, The Anna B. Stearns Charitable FoundationThe Rutland Corner Foundation, Bennett Family Foundation, Junior League of Boston, D’Addario Foundation, Concerted Efforts, Girls Rock RI.
Do you have a GRB most memorable moment so far or perhaps a student?
That’s a hard one. We love so many of our participants between Ladies Rock Camp and Girls Rock Campaign. You really can be amazed at the growth of an eight-year-old who came back in 2010 and is now interning as a 17-year-old. When I see how much the organization has meant to her or at last, what she tells you it means to her. It can be emotionally overwhelming because there is so much work and day to day kind of bullshit you need to do to keep it going and Nora and I don’t get paid very much at all, but then when you are loading gear and trying to make things work and never getting any time off and picking up a keyboard from someones house at night you wonder why you are doing ll the crazy stuff you do- but then when the session starts and you see the transformation and how amazing all the volunteers are and how much meaning they in turn give to the girls (or the ladies) you realize your wake is larger than you ever realized and how awesome that is that we can all build this community and help each other out in this way. I knew that Boston needed this because I played music with so many rad ladies and I felt like we all need to share our strengths and make the music community here a better and bigger female space. I feel like that worked and that makes e really happy. But as far as one memorable moment that is a question too hard to answer. It’s all been one big emotional amazing roller-coaster ride. And I loved every minute of it — even when it was just me and Nora and our partners loading out an entire session worth of gear after an exhausting four-day session/13 hours a day.
What does it mean to be a part of Dave Grohl’s “Play” initiative?
It was so cool that we were asked. I am excited to film the interns response to it. We have a recording session booked in a few days and plan to film the whole thing at Q Division. We were stoked to be asked to be a part of it. I hope they like what we give them- but then again it really is all about the interns experience and what they get out of it. I am excited for the session and need to thank Q Division, Ed Valauskas, Carl Plaster and Caitlyn Bongiovi for the time they are giving us and the amazing board we get to record on at Q.
What was the experience like opening for Foo Fighters
It was crazy. I mean playing a stage like Fenway Park is totally insane. But also having them ask us was totally bizarre. We thought it was a joke at first when we got that email. We were like there is no way the Foo Fighters just asked out tiny dirt-ass garage band that nobody has ever really heard of or maybe even likes to open up for them at Fenway Park… Ha. But we were up there and playing thru the speakers it was like a dream. You know I always say to our girls let our “I rocks” fill the streets of Boston and then the Universe- and I felt like that day me and Erin (she is married to Nora the co-founders wife and is the drummer in the Monsieurs) I felt like we were literally filling the streets of Boston with our sound. It was a cool example of what I get the girls and ladies to try and do! Be LOUD!
What is on the horizon for GRCB? What are you most looking forward to
We want to be able to program the S**t out of it. So owning a building where we can do that would be a dream come true. But, like, who can own a building in Boston? And sometimes you got to remember growth needs cash and you can’t get too far ahead of yourself cause you don’t want to destroy the good you already got. Our sessions sell out and sure- could we add one? But we don’t because our amazing volunteers are EVERYTHING and if they burn out and we don’t have them we have nothing. It is so obvious that what makes GRCB so special and it is our community and our amazing volunteers that have just made so much of a difference in peoples lives. We are so lucky to have had such an amazing posse of women come in to our lives. It actually blows my mind.
Given your position and experience within music entertainment, bands, and as a performer, how does it feel to be a leader in this cause?
I feel like when I started this I was definitely “the leader” now everyone is the leader. I think I can show a cool example (aka playing Fenway park- or having my old band Fuzzy get kudos n rolling stone about top 90’s song or whatever bullshit) but if you aren’t feeling it on the inside then it’s not real. and I know I keep saying this but it’s our volunteers and our youth that are leading this and giving them ownership and learning from them is what makes me and Nora look good, and makes me look like I might be a leader- but I am just working really hard and hanging around the right people and keeping my ear to the ground, listening closely when they speak. The youth, right? The children are our future as Whitney says…..
To support Girls Rock Campaign Boston visit GirlsRockBoston.org
“You are a success just by following your own voice and being who you truly are.”