Interview with Jenna “JP” Pup| By Kayla Greet | Photo by Jj Ca
With a home base of Philadelphia—for now—the +HIRS+ collective has been around since the late ‘80s, has had hundreds of people contribute to it, and has released close to 300 songs. Even their TBA upcoming record has over 30 contributors. “The place of origin is still debatable. We’re from all over the place,” says Jenna Pup, who goes by JP. +HIRS+ exists as a trans / punk / grindcore / powerviolence group that has nearly as many releases as Guided By Voices, all of which is available for free download on their Bandcamp page.
As the collective exists now, they primarily perform as a two piece, which certainly has its benefits. “It’s way easier when it comes to decisions for the band with just two weirdos,” JP shares. “It may look like two of us playing shows, but [we] really feel like one in that moment.” Though there are also huge cons to having only two members, such as loading a ton of gear by themselves, especially since they bring enough equipment for a full band.
JP founded the collective, but didn’t come out as trans until after the band was up and running. She says she “knew something was up beforehand, but was unsure until shortly after performing several shows and releasing a handful of records with +HIRS+.” Their record Worship was written entirely by JP about her life at the time, including the realization that she wasn’t born cisgender.
The reaction to the group on the local level has been extremely supportive. Running as a collective makes it easier to amass a group of friends who are loyal to the band and the cause. Unfortunately, for every positive action, there is often an equal but opposite reaction. There was a time when +HIRS+ used to attract, as JP puts it, “fuckboy tokenizing metal dudes trying to put us in their pocket so they could wear us like some ‘look at me! I’m not transphobic, because I listen to +HIRS+’ badge.” While it can be difficult at times to gauge fans’ sincerity, the collective has done their best to weed out the pretenders.
On the other hand, they are stoked that the mainstream media and social media have begun shining a spotlight on transgender people. The Internet has become a fantastic tool for connecting queer and trans people all over the world, which helps create a sense of community and a pool of knowledge and experiences. However, it’s not all seen through rose-colored glasses. “I don’t think it is in any way easier for trans folks to survive now because of this,” JP clarifies. “We still have to struggle, but at least there are a bunch of us putting ourselves out there for other trans folks.”
+HIRS+ prefers to be referred to simply as a punk band with no other frills or subgenres, partially because it describes the sound, but mostly because it describes their ethics. Their songs are aggressive and short, akin to and even surpassing the brevity of Combatwoundedveteran. They’ve released two LPs that clock in at 100 songs each, with most of the tracks clocking in between eight and 30 seconds long.
Most of their catalog has been self-released, though just last year, the collective got a boost from Get Better Records. JP says that they had just released a cassette with Peeple Watchin’ when Get Better reached out to them and offered to make it into a 7”. After that, she says they “became quite good friends and we could not be happier to work with them,” and that they look forward to way more collaborations with Get Better Records.
With such a massive collection of songs written by +HIRS+ over the years, it can be a challenge to trim down a setlist for live shows, but JP assures, “We have a list of bangers that we really, really love to play, and then just switch it up every few months or so when we’ve written new material.” She also says they show no signs of slowing down, as it is “impossible to stop a collective of freaks, faggots, and weirdos that are always changing and often anonymous.”
While the lyrics are often unintelligible on the records, +HIRS+’ Bandcamp page lists all of them for fans to decipher. They cover themes like hating cops, trans experience and transphobia, racism, religion, survival, and the epidemic of violence and murder faced by trans women. “When was the last time you heard of a trans woman dying of old age?” asks JP. The tunes are brutal and heavy with chugging guitar and some really intense blast beats, all screamed at the audience as loud as possible.
The collective’s motto sums them up the best: “Looks like hell, sounds like shit, queer as fuck.”