It might not always seem like it, but the alternative music scene is pretty diverse, and includes people from all walks of life in it. While we are still battling issues like sexism, racism, and homophobia, there are musicians who are out there today who are striving to create a better music scene simply by living their own truth. One such musician is the young and talented singer of the alternative rock outfit, Mirror Eyes, Jess Coppens. She is a 21 year old LGBT+ identifying musician based out of Nashville, Tennessee. I had the pleasure of speaking with her recently to discuss the music scene, and relating to fans through more than just her LGBT+ identification.
Mirror Eyes has a bit of a unique origin story. While Jess was living in Michigan, she met their drummer, Emily Prather (who also identifies as LGBT+), through Tumblr. Emily had met their bassist, Kevin Miller through another social media site by way of mutual followers. Kevin, and one of their guitarists, Brandon Goldenbaum were living in New Jersey at the time. Two of their other members lived in the Louisville area. They had to travel long distances in order to play shows and record music. That did not deter them though, as they found a way to make it work. Eventually, Coppens moved to Nashville, and two of their other members moved to Louisville. Now they are within about a four hour radius of each other, which gives them more opportunities to work together on a regular basis. It’s after moving to Nashville that Coppens decided to come out to her family.
“My coming out story isn’t anything extravagant.” Coppens elaborates, “When I first moved here I didn’t know how to tell my mom. I knew she wouldn’t be against it, but I didn’t know how to tell her. I texted her and said something like ‘Hey Mom, everything is going great in Nashville. We’ve been writing a lot and playing music…and by the way I think I might like girls.’ She was just like ‘…What?’ but that was really it. I grew up with a gay aunt and a gay uncle - it was in our family so it wasn’t awkward. I wasn’t afraid to say it out loud, but I just wasn’t sure how to go about it. It was nerve wracking. I didn’t know how my dad would take it. He ended up being cooler than I expected. When I told my sister she was like ‘Yeah I know.’ That’s kind of what I got from a lot of people. Like, you knew before I did?”
I let her know that I had a similar story when I came out to my friends. When I told my brother he just kind of shrugged and responded with “Yeah, okay, I kind of knew that already.” Really? You couldn’t have told me? Coppens responded with “Yeah! Like give me a hint or something.”
Musicians can sometimes be pigeonholed into a certain genre based on their sexual orientation. I asked if Coppens was concerned that potential fans might pass them over thinking they wouldn’t be able to relate to the lead singer. Coppens had a thoughtful response that should resonate with many music fans. “Well a lot of my writing revolves around personal struggles. Some are LGBT+ related. I’m also in recovery from an eating disorder which stems from depression and anxiety. I write about having these struggles but also about being able to overcome them. I like to write that it’s possible to overcome and be stronger.” Coppens continues, “I can’t say that I’ve thought about somebody not being able to relate. I will listen to my songs, and some days they mean one thing to me and the next day they mean something else. I try to write them so they are relatable. It doesn’t matter your age, your gender or anything. These are things that anybody can go through.”
There aren’t a ton of out LGBT+ musicians in the alternative music scene. There’s Buddy Nielsen, Lynn Gunn, Laura Jane Grace, and a handful of others. There are also musicians who openly discuss issues surrounding suicide, depression and anxiety. A great example of that is Garrett Rapp of The Color Morale. These musicians and many others are courageous for being open about their personal struggles. I ask Coppens if she thinks this is something all musicians should do. “Yes and no. I think it’s important to know it’s okay, and if they want to be open they can. I used to be in a place where I wasn’t ready. It doesn’t have to be all on the table. However, when you are ready, I think it’s important to know that the music scene will welcome you with open arms.” She adds, “There’s you guys [Punk Out], and so many great organizations that are very welcoming. They make obvious that it’s okay to be whoever you are.”
Despite the efforts of many, there are still problems with sexism, racism and homophobia in the music scene. I personally heard some kids talking shit about Buddy Nielsen after Senses Fail’s set at the 2015 Warped Tour and overheard them calling him a fag. They were younger than me, and I wonder what we can do as music consumers and musicians to combat these prejudices. “I think it’s important to talk about them - to talk about the issues and talk about what you believe in. It’s [LGBT+ issues] not something that’s just going to go away. It’s something that people are going to have to be okay with or not okay with. I don’t think it’s going to be worth fighting against because it’s not going anywhere.” Coppens adds, “As for my band, Emily is gay as well. The guys in the band don’t really think anything of it - it’s just normal for them. I haven’t personally dealt with any hatred directed towards me, but I have witnessed it. It’s important to discuss these things and be open. You want people to be comfortable being open, but not force them to talk about it or force them to come out.”
It would be great if we got to a place where we didn’t have to come out to people. I tell her about about a Wanda Sykes joke where she jokes about coming out as black to her parents. It highlights how silly it is that people have to “come out” as gay. She tells me a little bit more about when she began to realize that she was attracted to women. “When I was in high school I was in a relationship with a guy for two years. I hit a point in our relationship where I knew [that I liked women]. No one in my high school talked about being gay. Even when I started to feel uncomfortable in my relationship I stayed in it because I felt that it was safe. I kind of just ignored my actual feelings because I didn’t want to address being gay. I don’t want it to be that way for anyone else - whether you’re in high school, or are younger, or older. I just want people to be okay talking about it if they need to."
The advent of social media has allowed fans and musicians to connect with one another in an unprecedented manner. This can be a good thing, and sometimes even a bad thing. The members of Mirror Eyes utilize social media to make personal connections with their fans. Even when things turn nasty, Coppens makes every effort to keep things positive as to set a good example to others. “I used to be on Tumblr a lot. That’s where I met our drummer, and that’s where I met my girlfriend. Tumblr has a huge LGBT+ crowd. It’s easy to reach out to people, but it’s also easy to get lost in it. If I get hateful messages sent to me anonymously, I don’t ignore it. I respond to it in a positive manner so people know they are not alone. I want people to know that everyone gets hate, and it’s just something that people do to try to bring you down. It’s not worth letting people drag you down.”
Many music listeners listen to songs they can relate to. If it resonates with them, they will flock to it. Mirror Eyes’ first EP covers her eating disorder, but is written in a way that others can find the lyrics appealing even if they haven’t gone through the same thing. Fans have come up to her letting her know the various issues her songs have helped them through, which is her favorite part of being a musician. Helping people with her songs helps her too. One fan’s story in particular stands out to her. “If you listen to the EP it sounds like I’m singing about a person. That person I’m referring to is my eating disorder; especially in the song “Reality.” A girl came up to me after one of our shows and asked to talk to me. We were chatting for a little bit, and she told me what the song meant to her. The song meant the same thing to her as it did for me, which is crazy. I never expected somebody to say this song helped through through an eating disorder as well. It reminds me that I am not alone either.”
The band has only been together for two years, but things are moving quickly for them. They have already released one EP, and plan on releasing their second one this fall. In addition to the EP release, the band is slated to perform at this October’s So What? music festival. The band hopes to put together a short west coast tour around the time they are set to perform at So What?. If not, then they hope to tour in November around the EP release. They will also be opening for Cute Is What We Aim For next month. Coppens tells me that the first time she ever performed as a frontwoman at a concert was at the band’s Warped Tour performance in Nashville. She adds, “I didn’t tell the guys until after the show. I’m super self-conscious, which is a crazy thing to say as a frontwoman. I didn’t want them to think they couldn’t trust me, or that I would screw up. I put on a face and was like ‘Yeah I got this’ but really I was freaking out. I think for our first show we killed it. Things have been moving quickly for us, and I couldn’t be happier.”
We briefly dive into the band’s influences. The band members have different backgrounds, and bring that sound into the group effort. Two of the band members are into heavier music, which can be heard on their first EP, as well as on their latest single “Hold Your Breath.” Coppens is a huge fan of artists like Noah Gunderson, Manchester Orchestra and Paramore. Because of these influences, the new EP will be a little lighter than their first one. It’s something that she believes their fans will enjoy. “We wrote “Hold Your Breath” with Ace Enders of the Early November, who is another band I grew up listening to. Getting to work with him was great. The song is a little grungy and dark. I love the stuff that we are making. After we release this EP, we will start working on our full-length.”
Mirror Eyes are going places. It’s great to see a young, talented group of people who believe in being open and honest with themselves and their fans. They are not only setting a great example for other musicians, but they are giving fans an example of something they can aspire to. Open dialogue and frank discussions are the best way we all can relate to one another. It helps us realize that we are not alone, and that there are ways to overcome the difficulties we face in our lives. Give their music a listen, and keep your eyes open for a lot more of them in the future.
Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed on our Artist Corner are exclusively of the author or interviewee and do not reflect the views and opinions of Punk Out as an organization. If you're a musician or an industry insider and would like to participate in our Artist Corner, email us at email@example.com.