Courtney Hargrove, guitarist and powerhouse lead vocalist of the pop-rock inspired band, Me & This Army, talked to Oddflower about her quirky upbringing, getting hooked on skate culture, and how music sets her free.
I’m an only child from suburban Perry Hall, Maryland. I was always very imaginative. I would do things like cut eyeholes in my dad’s t-shirts to be a ninja, and then wear his ties. I’m super duper tomboyish, so I’d wear football helmets and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume.
I had a radio show as a little kid. Nobody was listening of course. It was just me hanging out. I had my boom box and I’d play TLC songs. I’d interview my parents and ask, “So what kind of music do you guys like?” I was a little only child weirdo with no friends.
I started playing music when I was eight years old. My parents got me this Fisher-Price nylon guitar and I didn’t know anything about the guitar. I didn’t have anything tuned, and if I broke a string, I’d just play chords without it. I had this back-asswards way of playing guitar. Over time, I figured it out. I play left-handed too, and people look at me weird all the time. My grandfather on my dad’s side was a bassist in Little Richard’s band, so I think I was secretly trying to emulate him as a musician.
The Reason Why I Play Music
My dad loves Yes, so I grew up listening to Steve Howe, who’s an awesome guitarist. I went to a Catholic elementary school and hung out with these soccer kids. They all had older brothers who got me into Green Day and Nirvana. My mom listened to The Temptations and 90’s R&B, so I had all these influences with music.
My dad’s a big classical nut. He had Chekovski and George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” playing. I love really emotional music. Not emo, but stuff that evokes emotion in you. I love rock too. I loved Nirvana, Green Day, and 311, and I was obsessed with Incubus later on. Actually, 311 was my first concert. I saw them at Towson University when I was about 15 years old.
No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” is the reason why I play music. I heard it in the car with my dad. I was in the backseat and I remember thinking, “Holy shit, what is this song?” We had a family tape player, and I listened to the radio for a couple hours waiting for them to put that song on again. I recorded it to tape so I could listen to it over and over. So, I had this cassette tape of No Doubt “Don’t Speak” that I’d listen to, but I added other songs like, Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight,” and Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart.” I would listen to those three songs on repeat. I was obsessed. “Don’t Speak” changed my life. I would not be the person I am today without “Don’t Speak.”
Originally, I was solo acoustic. I was in college at West Chester University, and I started playing shows. People told me I should play more shows, and I did. I ended up opening for a singer/songwriter named Kina Grannis, and I thought, “Man this is really fun, I want to continue this when I graduate.” I came back to Baltimore, and I called my band mate Nick [Pollione]. I told him I was coming home, and that I wanted to play music.
We eventually got my old high school classmate Finn [Jon Burrier] to come on as drummer. We didn’t think it would work because he’s a metal dude, but he was totally into it. He’s a phenomenal musician. Our first show was at Recher Theatre in Towson, which is now defunct. This theater held like 700 people and we brought maybe a hundred people to the whole entire show. Then we ended up getting an EP from this awesome dude for relatively cheap. We kept rolling with it. We just wanted to have fun and see who we could play with. Like, who can we open up for? Oh cool, we can open up for Twin Shadow. Oh cool, we get to play a day at Warped Tour? That’s awesome. We recently did Broccoli Fest in D.C., and that was probably the biggest show we’ve ever played.
The Most Fun Thing Ever
I’ve been skating since I was 12 years old. I begged my parents to get me a skateboard and they wouldn’t do it. They’d say, “You’re gonna mess up your knees!” My grandma was like, “Just get the child a skateboard.” Ever since then, I was hooked. I just love skateboarding. I love the culture of it, I love skating, and I love learning new tricks. I love cruising around.
My weirdness was always more of an attribute, I guess. Some people like to hate, but most people like it when you’re confident. It inspires them to be confident. I definitely have insecurities for sure, but I always said I’m going to do what makes me feel good no matter what. My friends liked me for doing my own thing. Unless kids were saying things behind my back, for the most part, I never had any adversity as a woman of color playing music or skateboarding. I think people respected it, which is awesome because I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d faced adversity. I probably just would have been like fuck this shit, and fuck you guys.
Whenever I play, I feel the most free and comfortable. It’s the most fun thing ever. I hope when people listen, it inspires them to have fun too. In Baltimore, I love going to hardcore shows and seeing those kids not give a fuck and punch people. I love the pits, the two-steppers, the karate kicks, and stuff like that. Then I love going to pop-punk shows where everyone is really engaged with the audience and singing all those pop-friendly songs. I love pop music. I love random hip-hop shows, and Baltimore club music. All of it is awesome to me. I love having those different sounds and stage presences available to learn from as a performer.
Just Do It
I am in a constant state of trying to feel free. At this point in my life, I’m 25 and I want to experience more. I’m setting goals and trying to follow through. Shit or get off the pot. One of my worst fears is talking about something and not actually doing it. Don’t talk about living, just live. I like forward momentum.
I see more black girls getting into heavier music and stuff like that now. I know Janelle Monae doesn’t play guitar, but she’s a front woman, fronting her own band and just killin’ it. She’s definitely the wave of the future. The Noisettes are too. It’s definitely out there more.
Whatever you do, if you want to be a fire breather, or a magician, just do it. Make sure you’re true to it. Don’t half-ass it. If you wanna do something, do it and be confident in it. Otherwise, everyone will see through it and they’ll try to knock you down and tell you that you suck. You don’t suck; you just have to get there.
Keep up with Me & This Army at www.meandthisarmy.com.
Words: Courtney Hargrove as told to Andrea Boston
Photos: Glenford Nunez