Published on March 28th, 2014 | by Bonnie Engstrom2
Music you should be listening to: an interview with the lead singer of The Hope and Justin Band
Discovering a new-to-me musician is such a great feeling. I am a music lover, and I love all genres, but I have a special love for bands with an indie sound, like The Head and the Heart. Kind of folksy, kind of bluegrassy, sometimes slow and beautiful and sometimes clappy, stompy, sing-a-long, with lots of extra love if they have lyrics that are clever and safe for little ears.
So imagine my delight when a friend told me about a band she had just seen in concert, The Hope and Justin Band. “I think you’ll like them,” she said. “They’re kinda like The Head and the Heart,” she said. That was all the motivation I needed. And actually, you don’t have to imagine how I felt; I’m going to tell you. I was thrilled.
The Hope and Justin Band were a treasure of a find for me and as I was listening to the lyrics I paused and thought, “I need to share them with anyone who will listen!” Pleasantly, the lead singer of the band agreed to an interview; you can read our conversation below. Be sure you click on the YouTube video so you can listen while you read!
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Hope Schneir, and my husband is Justin Schneir. I’m originally from Vermont and he is a native California boy, we met in Ohio and 14 years later baby number 7 is on the way. We currently reside in Camarillo, CA, my husband is a partner in an insurance firm and I stay home with our kids.
Who are the members of your band?
Justin Schneir: guitar, harmonica, vocals
Hope Schneir: guitar, banjo, vocals
Sean Wood: fiddle, mandolin
Jeff Evans: percussion
Daniel Bagdazian: bass
Gabriel Bagdazian: piano
How would you describe your sound?
We are a folk band. We basically just started recording what was happening with our friends in our living room… homegrown music with lots of soul. We like to think our music has a lot of what was loved in 70’s folk and bluegrass but with a modern vibe.
Kendra mentioned a connection to The Head and the Heart (a band I looooove), can you tell me about that?
Man, they are great, aren’t they? We knew the piano player before he joined THATH, and we got to watch their fan base spread like wild fire. It’s always fun to feel like you have history with a band, and know them before others did. We were so honored that Kenny came to our last show, found a seat near the front and listened so intently. Of course it helps that we get his awesome sister to sing with us on a few songs! We still admire them so much, and would definitely consider them one of our influences.
Are you all Catholics/Christians?
We are all practicing Catholics with the exception of our drummer. He is such a great guy, and doesn’t adhere to any religion in particular. He was our recording engineer, and he’s been a tremendous enthusiast of our music, I don’t know where we’d be without him. We joke that with his Master Cleanse fasting and super generous heart he acts like a better Christian than we are!
What drew you and your husband to music and to each other?
I grew up in a family of folk musicians, and started writing songs when I was a young girl. Justin started playing guitar and writing music in high school. He was the first person I met at my first college party, the first weekend of my freshman year, talk about unexpected! We played music that first night, and it was definitely something that brought us together. However he is so great that I would love him even if he were tone deaf.
You have an album, Eastern Bound; what are its origins?
Eastern Bound is our second album. We recorded our first album Faithful and True in 2006; it was pretty stripped down and acoustic, just the two of us. In recent years we’ve had friends come over regularly to play music, and we wanted to record another album, this time with a few more bells and whistles (or mandolins and fiddles!) We also featured some guest vocalists (including my father) and after a year of almost weekly studio work we had an album. From the album came the band; the first time we actually played live as a band was at our CD release party.
How and when do you write your songs?
I’ve never been one to sit down and say “Time to write a song.” I think that’s the privilege of not being a professional musician, that we get to keep our music truly a free flowing art and not something that ever feels forced. Each song tends to come from a some small spark, a phrase or a melody line… I’ll often think of one while I’m driving in the car or if I spend an afternoon alone. Giving that spark the time it needs to turn into a full song is another matter, and that can be a challenge with our busy family life. Justin and I have written only a few songs together, the majority of our songs we write independently, and then help each other with the fine tuning. Our most recently written song Here We are Again was our first collaborative effort with Sean Wood and Daniel Bagdazian, and I think it is one of our best songs to date. It will be on our next album, which we’ve already started recording.
What role does your faith play in your music?
Our faith plays the same role in our music that it does in the rest of our lives. It is such a central part of who we are, and that certainly comes out in our music, but not in such a way that the messages and themes are exclusively Catholic or Christain, but more just human. Love, faith, fidelity, sacrifice, joy, and sorrow, while finding more meaning in the light of Christian truths, are universal human desires and experiences, and our songs are not exclusive to listeners that adhere to particular religions. In my own life I desire to listen to good music that is relatively “safe”, and by that I mean not worrying about having to turn it down when my kids come into the room or feel guilty about the content being a-moral. The people who tend to appreciate our music the most are the ones who feel similarly, and are really grateful to us and other artists that give them the pleasure of music suited to their tastes that does not challenge their consciences, and might even inspire them in some way.
From what I’ve heard I would *not* describe you as Catholic musicians but as musicians who happen to be Catholic. What are your feelings about Catholics whose faith influences their art but who are not “Christian artists”? Is this happening in America? Do you see a need? What’s the use?
I see this is happening all over the place, and yes I think there is a great need for it. The songs that I personally have found to be the most soul-stirring and reflective of God’s beauty often have not been Christian songs. My husband jokes that his conversion song was “Ripple” by The Grateful Dead. We laugh about it now, but it actually did play a part in his search for truth. Music bonds people and it is a way for us to try to touch the light, whether we know that Light by name or merely by our inklings of it. I believe that music that is not specifically “Christian” can in many cases be a more effective witness than songs that are explicitly faith based. In general, secular folks don’t turn on Christian radio for listening enjoyment. They just don’t. But they do listen to all sorts of musical genres, and we need artists in each of those genres who will lead our culture back to one that thinks, feels, hopes, and strives for the high road. Art and culture have a fascinating relationship: on the one hand art is a reflection of our mores the pulse of our culture, it can even ride on the edge of those mores with a desire to shock or push the envelope to gain attention. On the other hand I’ve heard it said that culture is more influenced by art than anything else, including politics. Good art elevates our hearts and our minds, and is beautiful. If you are like me, you believe that all beauty is a reflection of God, so it can be said, or hoped, that good art will lead us back to God, one way or another. Beauty through art is, I think, the most compelling way to evangelize in this world. Many people aren’t ready to debate scripture or hear your defense for mistakes the Church has made, but give them something beautiful that reminds them of their longing for God, and you have already won. I gave a copy of Eastern Bound to an acquaintance of mine and she told me it was the catalyst for her going back to confession… with all of the kind accolades we have received, I don’t think any of them can top that one.