If you want to know the gist of Thin Lips without ever listening to the trio’s music, just look at frontwoman Chrissy Tashjian’s knuckle tattoo: RIFF HARD. She, like the rest of the band—her brother, Mikey Tashjian, on drums and Kyle Pulley on bass—loves the ease and hook of a good riff. That was evident on 2016’s Riff Hard and becomes even more true of Thin Lips’ newest album, this year’s impeccably catchy Chosen Family.
Thin Lips’ sophomore album manages to scrape its claws through pop punk without ever laying too hard into either end of the genre. Tashjian’s knack for blissful guitar lines strings you along over the course of the album, like some familiar melody you’ve never heard but are eager to hear again as soon as it ends. Just listen to songs like “A Song For Those Who Miss You All The Time” and “What’s So Bad About Being Lonely,” whose titles are infinitely sadder than the music itself. The album is full of love, gratitude, and uplifting melodies, all things you can see if you look close enough at the cover art of Chosen Family, a hodgepodge collage of portraits.
“Because I was going with this theme of chosen family, I wanted all of my people on the cover. I thought, ‘How could would it be to emulate that ’60s Sgt. Pepper’s look but with my people?’” says Tashjian. “I think it went well, and everyone looks pretty great and gay. I asked my friends if they wanted to be on the cover, told them why I really wanted them to be on it, and then needed them to pick a high-res picture of themselves. So everyone chose their own photo. My best friends Kate and Kate, the two women in the silver jumpsuits in the top, are my two best friends who date each other. And also my friend Joel who is the drag queen on the bottom. Everybody thinks it’s Divine but it’s not. It’s my friend Joel who is becoming a famous drag queen in the San Francisco area.”
To understand the heart of Thin Lips’ personality, we interviewed Chrissy Tashjian for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Chosen Family as the prompt, her answers are always honest with an underlying levity—what you can expect from the band’s music when they play the Sinclair this Thursday.
1) “Chosen Family”
DIGBOSTON: Who were the first two people ever picked for your chosen family?
TASHJIAN: That’s a great question! Definitely my friend Sarah Kelley, who I call my fetal friend. She was technically my very first friend. Our parents were friends while pregnant so we’ve known each other forever. She’s definitely chosen family and will be forever. We’re very different, as she’s an occupational therapist, but she’s my dude.
I guess right after that would be my friend Marissa who lives in New York. She bought a house in Philly. I live in it and helped renovated it. I have a chicken tattoo on my arm for her. We met in middle school during sixth grade, and my whole life changed because of her, in a good way. Her family was interested in art, and she was in musicals. I tried food I never would have tried, saw things I wouldn’t have. Her dad was in this crazy hippie commune. I was the only friend who was with her when she met her dad for the first time while 16. She’s one of my best friends, and she’s on the cover, too.
2) “Gaslight Anthem (The Song Not The Band)”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever had a “moment,” good or bad, listening to the Gaslight Anthem?
TASHJIAN: I actually don’t even known that band at all. I wrote the song and wanted to call the song “gaslight anthem” because that’s what it is to me, but I knew it was already a fucking band. Couple ways to skin a cat.
3) “A Song For Those Who Miss You All The Time”
DIGBOSTON: When you’re traveling for a long period of time, who reaches out to let you know how much they miss you?
TASHJIAN: My girlfriend, Shoshanna. She’s the best. My mom definitely, too. Me and my brother, who is the drummer in the band, hear from her a lot. That song is actually about our little brother dying, which sucked. I think my best friend Saoirse would count also. It’s her chosen name. She was also on the cover. She reaches out to me a lot. I have a lot of friends like that, where we all miss one another all the time. I have a friend named Audrey who lives in LA and used to live with me, Joel who lives in San Francisco, Alyssa who is in Portland, another in Alaska, and then everybody else is in Philly. But I tour a lot between my band and playing in Hop Along.
4) “Smoking’s For Quitters”
DIGBOSTON: Which do you prefer: cigarettes, weed, or hookah?
TASHJIAN: Cigarettes. I love smoking cigarettes. I wish I didn’t. I grew up in a smoking household, though, so it makes sense. My whole fucking [family] smokes. My brother smokes a lot of weed, which isn’t really for me. I love American Spirits, the yellow kind.
5) “South America”
DIGBOSTON: Where in South America would you love to visit someday?
TASHJIAN: Oh god. So many places. Let me look at a map real quick, if that’s okay. [Shuffling while looking at her phone] The place I would honestly would like to visit the most is Brazil. Have you seen the City of God, like the favelas? It looks like a really interesting place to be. Unfortunately, my small amount of free time isn’t spent traveling since I already travel so much on tour. It’s expensive to tour because I still have to pay rent and bills while I’m gone. I don’t have expendable income for vacation in that sense. There are places I like to go a lot, like the beach or the woods, and I do a lot of stuff, but there’s not a lot of money left over.
6) “I Know I’m The Asshole”
DIGBOSTON: Looking back at the past year, what’s the worst thing you’ve said or done to someone else this year?
TASHJIAN: Well, this song isn’t about anything I’ve done, but really my feelings of jealousy, which isn’t cute. Man, I mean I feel a lot of guilt pretty easily though. Probably getting drunk and doing things I regret. I’m embarrassing. I’m like a drunk mom. I get really happy and want to talk to everybody. I don’t know if that’s bad, but it feels embarrassing for my friends. I’m just so proud of all the people I love! I want to show them off and all the amazing things they do. And then I get told I’m embarrassing them. I’m just so proud of them though. Everybody! They all do incredible things all of the time. It’s crazy.
7) “Saying Yes”
DIGBOSTON: What’s your favorite Elliott Smith song?
TASHJIAN: You know? I’m not a person who—this is going to sound dumb—but like, sad and slow music isn’t the place I go to. I’m not that person. So I don’t know a ton of Elliott Smith. I would say “Rose Parade.” That’s a good song. Bands that make me tap my foot like Belle and Sebastian, the Beatles, those type of bands are my favorite. He’s on rotation when I listen to a band like those. “Rose Parade” is a great song. Obviously “Needle in the Hay” because I love the suicide scene in The Royal Tenenbaums. Not suicide. I don’t love suicide. But that scene is a very powerful scene. The truth is I’m a meemaw. So I put things in Pandora where whatever I put in the box and what the algorithm churns out at me is what I listen to. They follow a similar algorithm, though, so there’s a few Elliott Smith songs I hear frequently without choosing to, like that one.
8) “What’s So Bad About Being Lonely”
DIGBOSTON: What’s your favorite place to be alone?
TASHJIAN: Oooooh. I don’t know if you know this about me, but I have a fair amount of mental health issues. The most prominent one is that I’m very, very agoraphobic. It’s a fear of fear. For me, being alone out in the world feels very scary and doesn’t feel good. But I’m really good at taking alone time around people, in part because I grew up with two younger brothers I was around a lot. My favorite place to be alone is a place where I feel safe. If I’m alone in a room on tour but I know the rest of the band is elsewhere in the house, I feel safe. If I’m alone at my house and know my neighbors are around, I feel okay. The best places for me to be alone at are the places where I feel safe. I’m never going to drive out to the woods and be there by myself. That would ruin my life. It might sound crazy, but I’ve designed my life in a way where I’m able to do the things I’ve chosen to do because of my chosen family. In return, I ask for their assistance to go to the doctor. Lyft has revolutionized my anxiety in that sense. I know which car I’m in, I know who I’m with, and I know I’m going from one place to another.
9) “Sex Is Complicated”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the most difficult part of sex that nobody warned you about?
TASHJIAN: Oh my god. [sighs] Having a body is crazy. Nobody says that. I didn’t kiss the first girl I kissed until I was 16—that’s young in retrospect for some people. But the fact that I had a vagina hole was like a crazy thing to me. That was something I never went near. I was terrified on tampons. No amount of talking about it, not that anyone even did, helped. It just seemed insane. It looked painful. I didn’t understand it. So that. It was a crazy thing to me. I took so long to get comfortable with tampons. I fucking love them, but it took me a long time to not be afraid of that, and now I know using a pad is like wearing a diaper which is so annoying. It’s just, you can’t see it! You can’t see that hole! It took me a really long time to get comfortable with my body like that. When I was a kid, I knew I was a body of blood and Jell-O, and I didn’t want to go in there. So that was scary. It was a huge learning experience for me. I’m sure “vagina hole” was the most graceful way to say that, for sure [laughs]. That’s how I felt when I was a kid. I just remember thinking, “What? There’s a hole there? No one told me that.”
10) “So Stoned”
DIGBOSTON: If you could have any type of flavor weed, which would you pick to smoke?
TASHJIAN: Ohhhh. So, my roommate vapes. I kinda hate some of the flavors, like pancakes. I don’t want to smoke that. What I do love to smoke is lavender. I used to roll my own cigarettes with lavender in it. It was so fragrant. It’s not that exciting, but it was great. It was culinary lavender, so you get it from the co-op or grocery store. It’s great.
11) “It’s Hard To Tell The Difference When You’re Afraid Of Literally Everything”
DIGBOSTON: Can you name two things you always get confused for the other?
TASHJIAN: Men! White men! They’re everywhere. I’m sorry, but it’s true. The music industry is full of basic-ass white dudes. Everybody will say, “Oh, but it’s my job,” and I’m like, “Well, I’m sorry Peter, Paul, Mark, and Dan, but I run into you at every show I go to.” I’m not trying to be an asshole, but there are so many in music, especially in my world. I’m not saying I’m not a basic-ass white dude in a lot of ways. But I can also be like, “I’m sorry I didn’t remember your name, Mark, but also your name is Mark and so is his name, his name, and his. You’re all wearing flannel and have beards.” So that. As hard as everybody is working to change the scene to be more diverse, it makes sense why the imbalance still feels major. Of course I’m going to remember the two people of color in the band. Of course I’m going to remember the five other girls here. Everybody else, it’s like the grown-ups in Charlie Brown womping while they talk. Oh, you’re the at guy who does that stuff? Cool, I’m so interested.
12) “What If I Saw You On The Street”
DIGBOSTON: If you see a friend on the opposite side of the street and they don’t see you, how do you greet them?
TASHJIAN: Oh everybody makes fun of me for this. They call me “hi friend” because I literally do that all the time. If I see a friend, I’ll do this high-pitched, “Hi! Hi, friend! Hi!” Unless it’s somebody who I know will be uncomfortable by it. I always do it. What’s funny is that my friend does astrology things, so I make astrology mixtapes for her now. For the Aquarius one, it was “Hi friend featuring everybody.” It was incredible. But yes, I will scream and wave my hands like a lunatic.
13) “The Kate Escape”
DIGBOSTON: Who is your favorite celebrity with the name Kate?
TASHJIAN: Oooooh, great question! Probably Cate Blanchett. She’s doing all of this incredible evil, deep, lez stuff right now. Have you seen the memes of her being terrifying? She’s just incredible. I also make a lot of Cate Blanchett jokes. This is so stupid, but I love puns. The thing on a ouija board is called a planchette. So many of my friends are queers who wear ouija board jewelry stuff, so I always make fun of them for it by calling them Cate Planchette. Not funny! But it’s funny to me in the moment! Like I just made a meme that said, “Oh my god, I can’t take it. I’m so Zsa Zsa Gá-bored.” I seize any opportunity to incorporate anybody’s name into a stupid joke.
SLAUGHTER BEACH, DOG, THIN LIPS, LILITH. THU 8.23. THE SINCLAIR, 52 CHURCH ST., CAMBRIDGE. 8PM/ALL AGES/$15. SINCLAIRCAMBRIDGE.COM