LeakyNews: How did you get started in music? How long have you been performing?
Hank Green: I was in band in high school and middle school, percussion the whole time. I’ve always had good rhythm and loved music, but I sucked in band. I just didn’t have the drive to practice and it showed. I sorta took over as the unofficial dancer for the drum line eventually, then they stuck me in a wildcat costume… so that’s the first real “performing” I did, even though I wasn’t playing music.
LN: What instrument(s) do you play?
HG: Just guitar really. I have a crappy electronic drum set that I love, but I’m quite bad. I mean… I’m quite bad at guitar as well, but I can make the noises I need to make.
LN: How did you get involved with the online music community, and how has that developed over time?
HG: I just started putting stuff out there. I like to think that it was catchy and that the lyrics were smart and funny and that’s why people started listening. A while after my first Harry Potter song got featured on YouTube and The Leaky Cauldron, I got an email from Lauren Fairweather saying “You know, we think of you as a wizard rocker.” I didn’t even know what that was, but I could tell it was important so… well… I figured it out.
LN: Tell us about DFTBA Records.
HG: I printed my first demo CD, Songs from Hank Green’s Pants, before going to Terminus and sold about 150 of them, which blew my mind. After that, I figured out how to make a real CD and printed 1000 copies of So Jokes. I managed to sell all of those as well. I realized that I needed a way to distribute CDs internationally, but that all of the current options were stupidly expensive. I also knew that, since I wasn’t even that popular, a lot of my YouTube friends probably also had fans who wanted their music. My friend Alan already had a ton of experience distributing zines and was working on an idea for a record label. We joined forces to create DFTBA under the mission that we want to produce the highest quality product with the largest percentage possible going to the artist.
LN: Tell us about Ellen Hardcastle.
HG: Sometimes, in my head, Ellen Hardcastle is like the side show at an old circus. That may be because a side-show photograph of Phineas Gage is on the cover.. .and also that tagline “And Other Ephemera” helps emphasize the idea. My music always lacks stylistic cohesion… I’m just not good at that. Ellen starts with an electronic song about quarks, then a folk song about Harry Potter and then a dance song. It’s a lot of stuff that I’m proud of in its weirdness and differentness, but without any cohesion except for my lyrical style. That’s what I get off on, and a lot of other people like it too. But for people who are used to a more traditional album… it can be a bit jarring.
LN: What is your song-writing process?
HG: I usually start with an idea. Like “JK Rowling should write another book” or “Why aren’t there any other books that are as good as Harry Potter.” Then I try to find a hook, something like “I need Harry Potter / Like a Grindylow needs water.” And that’s what I use to write the song around. I tend to write my best songs just by starting to sing them. My skill set is lyrics and rhythm, so a lot of my melodies are catchy but uninteresting. That doesn’t bother me at all, it works really well for YouTube, and that’s my primary goal anyhow. I generally let the lyrics define the rhythm, and then just find some kind of melody to lay on top of it.
LN: How was the Tour de Nerdfighting?
HG: SOOOOO GOOOOOD. Also very tiring of course. But it was an adventure of a lifetime and something I never thought would happen to me. But it happened, in a big way, and I can’t express how thankful I am.
LN: What is your favorite song to perform?
HG: Often it’s about how the crowd responds. I love it when it feels like the whole room knows the words to Strange Charm and they keep up no matter how fast I sing. But probably my favorite live song is Book 8, because I get to improvise in the middle and call out weird potential Harry Potter book titles and see how the audience reacts. John hates it when I improvise too much, because sometimes it breaks down and I have to start up again, but no one seems to mind.
LN: What’s next?
HG: I’ve got another album sketched out pretty well in my head already. A few songs that I’ve been working on for years, some that have just popped out of nowhere and were really easy to write. It’s become clear to me that my wheelhouse is writing about fandoms, so I definitely won’t stop doing that. I just wrote a song about My Little Pony, so there’s that. I want a Sherlock song and a Dr. Who song on my next album very much… so we’ll see if I can manage to write one. I also want to write more about/to/with Nerdfighteria… so there may be some experiments in the near future in that vein.
LN: Who is your favorite musician/group of all time?
HG: Probably They Might be Giants. The period of time where I was very deep into music, my favorite artists were Green Day, TMBG, Violent Femmes, The Mr. T Experience, and The Presidents of the United States of America. It’s very clear to me how heavily influenced I am by these musicians, but I’ve probably listened to 3 TMBG songs for every other song from any other artist I’ve ever heard. I remain obsessed with them.
LN: Favorite book?
HG: The Fault in Our Stars…. duh.
Hank will be performing at LeakyCon 2012 in the Friday show, along with Gred and Forge, Lauren Fairweather, The Whomping Willows (Matt Maggiacomo), and Harry and the Potters! And don’t forget LeakyCon’s awesome Thursday lineup: Meghan Tonjes, Tonks and the Aurors, Alex Carpenter, and Ministry of Magic!