Forging music from friendship, loss, collaboration, and cats: A conversation with Scratchy Blanket

scratchypress
Shannon Keating and Chloe Hodgkins (Photo courtesy of Scratchy Blanket).

Shannon Keating (they/them) and Chloe Hodgkins (she/her) first crossed paths at a house show. What started with a chance encounter led to a relationship and then a band. Now, Shannon and Chloe make music together as Scratchy Blanket, along with drummer Zach Dowdell (he/him), guitarist Harrison Thurman (they/them), and bassist Marcus Morales (he/him).

The Pittsburgh-based band is preparing for the release of their debut full-length album, Something for EveryoneThe album takes inspiration from cats, friendship, loss, and resiliency. The record is the product of many collaborations among the bandmates and their friends. For the single “On Top,” Scratchy Blanket teamed up with producers at Dashing Agent Productions to put together a heartfelt music video featuring cameos from their friends and backup vocals from Adult Mom’s Stevie Knipe.

Something for Everyone comes out this Friday, 2/28. I caught up with Shannon and Chloe to chat about their introductions to music, Scratchy Blanket’s origins, and the relationships that inspired their first album.

To start out, do you two both want to introduce yourselves; say your name, your pronouns, and what you play in Scratchy Blanket?

Shannon Keating: I’ll go first. This is Shannon. I prefer they/them pronouns and I do vocals and write most of the lyrics primarily, for the band.

Chloe Hodgkins: I think you write all of them.

SK: Alright, I’ll take credit.

CH: I’m Chloe. She/her, and I play guitar and do a little bit of vocals.

How did you two meet and how did the band get started?

SK: We met at a show, actually at my horrible ex-boyfriend’s house, which is wonderful. That was 2013. So we met there, Chloe was in another band at the time and played at that show, and I was just there hanging out. A few months later, we hung out for the first time, and kind of just never stopped after that.

I think it was probably almost three years before we actually started doing music together. Chloe was always in bands and we were always at shows and stuff. Our friends were planning on having some kind of music fest, and we said we wanted to play, not really having a plan. Because we wanted to write songs together.

And then it was months and months later and it was time for this fest, and we had forgotten about it and didn’t write anything. So a couple days before the festival we sat down and wrote three songs about three of our cats, and Scratchy Blanket was born.

CH: The rest is history.

I love that cats were some of your first inspirations.

SK: Yeah! They tend to be an inspiration.

What were your introductions to music individually?

CH: When I was fifteen years old I went to one of my friend’s house, and he had a guitar and I thought that was really cool. I picked it up and started goofing around on it and I taught myself a song — probably did it wrong — but I was playing a melody from a song I really like. And I got really excited. I felt like I accomplished something. It felt really cool to be personally involved in a song that I liked. Like, it’s a song that I listen to all the time, but now I’m playing it myself. 

That was like an epiphany in a way. And I wanted to play guitar. So I came back home and I asked my dad, I said, “Hey dad, can I play guitar?” and he said, “No.” So I was really sad. I left to my mom’s house for two weeks in the summer, came back, and opened the door to my room, and there was a guitar in there. He just wanted to surprise me. 

So that’s kind of how I got started playing guitar. I was kind of obsessed with the instrument, and that’s kind of all I wanted to do. I guess, just naturally, if all you want to do is play guitar and play music and play songs, well of course you just want to be in bands as well.

Do you remember what that first song was that you taught yourself to play on guitar?

CH: Yes. It is a song called “Ever And A Day” by the band AFI, off the record The Art of Drowning.

Amazing.

SK: I’ll start by saying, I could never play an instrument. I have tried a number of instruments; my brain just doesn’t understand music theory, I guess, and how to make instruments work. I tried playing guitar for a couple years when I was young. I’m the kind of person where I just want everything to be easy. I have a very low frustration tolerance and I hate practicing. But I have always loved singing.

Music for me, growing up was mostly in the form of listening to music and going to shows, not making my own music. And I was always a choir and musical theater kid at school. I was mostly used to singing in a group and having a vocal coach. All throughout elementary school, high school, and even in college, I was a choir kid. 

So then after being with Chloe for a while, I just thought I would try what it would be like to be in a band, and it just really worked out.

How did that background in choir translate to you writing songs and being in a band? Was that a big transition, or did it come naturally?

SK: It was really hard at first. Because I was always used to singing with a group, and having a teacher be structured and helping us figure out how to do it. So when it started to be that I was the only one on stage that was singing, it felt so scary and vulnerable and I didn’t know what to do. I would hide behind the microphone a lot. I just felt so awkward at first. 

It was actually pretty amazing watching videos of when we first started playing music together a few years ago. Compared to now, the change is just so enormous and it’s such a relief. It feels natural now, but it was definitely a struggle at first.

CH: It’s been rewarding watching Shannon’s growth. We actually had a band before Scratchy Blanket back in like 2014 — it was very short-lived — called Small Fish, Great Lake but it was kind of the same configuration. I played guitar and Shannon did vocals. I really don’t think Shannon contributed much in terms of structure or ideas — you even told us to write the melodies for you and stuff like that.

SK: I didn’t even do a lot of lyrics in that band.

CH: And then fast forward several years and now we’re writing songs and you have ideas and you’re penning your own lyrics and coming up with your own melodies. So it’s been really cool to see that growth over the course of however many years that’s been — five years?

SK: Yeah. I’ve gotten a lot better. But I definitely think that my choir teacher from school would be really disappointed that I never warm up and I never practice.

It sounds like you got a really supportive group of people in this band backing you, which I’m sure makes it easier to be more confident and take more of those risks.

SK: Yeah absolutely, for sure.

CH: We’re all close friends too, which makes things a lot easier. I’ve been in bands before where you’re just bandmates with them and you get along, but with Scratchy Blanket, we’re all really close friends and we like being around each other, so that makes it a lot easier to write songs, too. 

SK: We love each other.

So you’ve got an album coming out in a couple weeks: Something for Everyone. How does it feel that it’s coming out pretty soon?

SK: I’m so excited. It’s really exciting. We put out an EP last summer, in 2018, just three songs. And it was received well by our friends. But we never went on tour. So we’ve been kind of only known around Pittsburgh. 

But since we’ve been preparing to release this album, we put out two singles for it and the response has been really positive. Overwhelming. I check our Spotify For Artists thing every single day, and I was looking today and it said in the last seven days we’ve gained 110 followers on Spotify, and that’s just from putting out two songs. So I’m just really excited because I think the album is going to be received really well and I’m ready for people to hear it.

CH: It feels nice to know that our friends like our songs and are nice to us about it. 

SK: Yeah! Our friends love it, but at the same time, there are eight people from France that follow us on Spotify, there are people in the United Kingdom. There are two people in Japan that listen to us, a couple people in Germany — which is so random, but it’s really cool because I listen to smaller bands from a couple other countries — you just hear about people. And now being on the other side of that is just surreal and really exciting.

You mentioned that you put out two singles ahead of this album and I wanted to talk about them, especially “On Top,” which is one that I’ve been loving lately, and the music video as well is super adorable. Do you want to talk a little bit about the inspiration behind that song specifically?

SK: We were just sort of messing around, and I said I wanted our drummer Zach to play a boots and cats beat, because I thought it would be fun. And so he started playing it and the song started forming. At that time, one of our friends was going through a really, really hard time. Maybe some of the lyrics are about that. I think in general, I just had on my mind, being there for your friends and sometimes things aren’t working out or going really well, and things are really crappy, but you can be there for your friends and be there for each other.

It’s definitely the most positive song that I’ve ever written. It’s not born out of being miserable for once, which is refreshing. So lyrically, that’s how I feel like I came up with those lyrics. But I can’t really remember, as far as that instrumentation and everything like that, I can’t remember why we ended up playing such a happy song in general. It was sort of a turning point for our band, I think.

CH: I think we were all just in a good mood. There were a lot of jokes, lots of meme sharing. The main riff for the song is something that I’ve had for a couple of years and never wrote a song for, and we decided to write a song in practice. So I introduced that riff to everyone. And like Shannon said, they were like, “Let’s play a dance beat over it.”

We played that dance beat and we just kind of laughed about it at first. We were like, “We can’t do that.” And then someone, I don’t remember who, was like, “Well why not? Why can’t we have a silly, dance-y [song] and make it super fun?” I think that set the stage for what we wrote. We were like, “Okay, let’s just make the song super positive.”

I know for this song you also had some vocals from Stevie Knipe from Adult Mom. How did you get connected with them?

CH: That was [guitarist] Harrison [Thurman]. I think Harrison is friends with them, and literally just sent them a message and said, “Want to do some vocals on this song?” And Stevie was like, “Heck yeah!” We sent the song over to Stevie, and a week later we had some really cool vocals that I’m really grateful for. Because I think they really tie the song together. It’s this nice call-and-response between them and Shannon. I’m really happy to have that because I think it adds a lot.

SK: Harrison has a lot of connections. Harrison knows so many people. So they were like, “I’m just going to message Stevie and see if they want to do lyrics on this song.” And we were like, “Okay.” And then it happened!

CH: And we had just played a show with them, I think the week before.

SK: Yeah. So we had hung out with Adult Mom a few days prior, so it just worked out really well.

I’ve been watching the music video for this song, as well, which is adorable? How did that music video come together?

CH: I actually had the idea for the video when Shannon and I were drinking wine on the couch and watching Tim & Eric. There’s this one episode where the show opens up and they’re standing in front of the camera saying, “I’m Tim Heidecker and I’m Eric Wareheim,” but it’s not them — they’re look-alikes. I thought it was really funny and cute and I was like, “Oh my god, we should do a music video like that.” And then just on the spot we were like, “We could have friends who look like us play the ‘band’ and we could be the film crew.” So it came out of watching Tim & Eric.

I think the video can be interpreted in a lot of different ways, but I think the way that I’m looking at it is, our friends are playing the actual Scratchy Blanket and they’re jerks. And me, Shannon, and the rest of the band are the film crew, and we’re just struggling really hard to try to get them to do what they want to do. But at the end of the video, we take over and everything is all good and nice. Which I think connects really well with the subject matter of the song: overcoming struggles and supporting your friends and coming through okay.

Yeah totally.

SK: Chloe had the idea, and our good friend Reese [Hayes] from Dashing Agent Productions here in Pittsburgh ultimately wrote the script for it, using Chloe’s ideas. Our friend Reese and our friend Drew [Clouse] did the filming and editing for us, which was really cool and really helpful.

CH: I was so excited when I saw it for the first time. It’s really nice to have friends who are talented and who do really great art. We feel lucky. On that song, specifically, we have Stevie [Knipe] doing the vocals for us, and we had Drew and Reese doing the video for us. And of course, me and Shannon’s bandmantes, Zach [Dowdell], Marcus [Morales], and Harrison [Thurman] are really talented as well. That whole thing just felt like such a collaboration between a lot of people who are passionate about their art. That to me was a really good feeling. I love collaborating with people who I love and respect.

SK: Yeah, and especially having our friends who were there all day long pretending to be us. It was like a work of love, with many many people involved.

CH: It was actually pretty funny, because after every single take where they had to be mean to us or whatever, they would all be like, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry for being mean!”

In what other ways did relationships inspire some of the songs on this album?

SK: So many of the songs are like — I guess not so many of them — but there is just a lot of horrible shit that happened in life. For me, specifically, a lot of the songs are about relationships ending, whether positive or negative. There are two songs on the album about different people, who I loved very, very dearly, passing away from really untimely, terrible deaths. Mixed with “On Top,” which is a song about being there for people and supporting each other. Then there is a song there that sounds like a breakup song but I literally wrote it about nothing. There’s a song that’s reminiscent of a summer that I had where I did what I wanted and was very spontaneous, which is not like me at all.

So I’d say it’s a mix of different relationships and different experiences, positive and negative. There’s a lot of different people in that album.

CH: When I listen to the lyrics — I normally don’t ask Shannon what the lyrics are about, because I think they’re owed a little bit of privacy — but Shannon and I have been together for seven years, so I hear these songs and I hear them as little vignettes or little short stories or recollections of things I know about, whether I was there for it or not. To me at least, they feel really personal. I don’t know how you can be so vulnerable and open. All I do is play guitar and write chord progressions and harmonies and melodies and stuff like that. I’m not sure how much vulnerability there is in that.

SK: I would say that I am introverted to a certain extent, and I’m very socially anxious, but at the same time, I could talk about myself all day.

CH: I love talking about myself.

SK: Yeah, it’s amazing. I want people to look at me and listen to me, but at the same time I don’t, but at the same time I do.

Does music give you that opportunity to share as much as you want to and go to a place that’s really personal and vulnerable, but do that without giving too much away?

SK: Yeah, absolutely.

CH: I’ve been playing music for a long time. I feel confident when I play music, or when I’m playing shows with friends. Just like Shannon said — about social anxiety — I definitely have that and I struggle in groups or crowds. But I don’t really feel that when I’m playing shows or when it’s music-related, just because I’ve been doing it for so long.

And then of course, DIY show spaces and basements are always really friendly and welcoming to LGBTQ people, so that feels great as well. It’s just a positive and helpful space for a lot of different reasons.

SK: I think that the LGBTQ community here in Pittsburgh, and the broader music community is very nurturing. There’s so much love and support. You can be vulnerable with people and it’s okay, because there’s a mutual respect. I can’t say that I’ve ever — at least not in the recent past — been to a show, whether it’s in a basement or whatever, and not really felt comfortable or supported by people. It’s a pretty amazing experience.

Yeah. I feel like I can hear those themes in the album. One thing that I was thinking about when I was listening was the idea of home, which is a word that comes up in a couple different songs. Thinking about home as a place or a location versus home as a relationship or a feeling. And I think that definitely goes along with the idea of feeling comfortable and having a supportive space and community. Was that something that you were actively thinking about, this idea of home, when you were writing some of these songs?

SK: The funny thing is, not really. It’s interesting to hear outside perspectives, because other people hear different things and they have different observations. So it is interesting to hear you say that, and I guess it would make a lot of sense because I’m very home-oriented. 

CH: I love being at home.

SK: Yeah Chloe is too. Our home is sacred and important to us. We just love being a family and being at home. We’re in the process of fixing up our 100 year-old house; that’s very important and exciting.

There’s a song on the album [“KC Song”] where I do sing, “This is our home,” that song in particular is about our cat KC, but it’s very — I think it speaks to my feelings of, family is very important, whether it’s a blood relation or your friends or the people that you choose to be your family. And wherever you are with those people, that’s a home. 

CH: I love that part and hearing you sing that part. You sing that line over and over. Playing that part — number one, it’s an easy thing to play on guitar so I can relax — it always feels triumphant when we play that part. We’ve actually never played that song live. 

KC: At least not more than once or twice.

CH: I don’t even know if we have. I may have forgotten. But it’s fun to play that one.

I didn’t know that that was named after your cat!

SK: He’s a good guy.

Do you have anything else that you’re excited about around this album release, or are there any other songs that you’re excited to play live?

CH: I think the biggest one that I’m excited to play is “KC Song” for sure. That one just feels so nice to play. I’m just excited in general for the release show on the 29th. It’s a big show, there’s like ten of our friends bands there. It’s always nice to have a release show. So I’m excited about that.

SK: Our friend Ian from the band String Machine — that band is amazing and they’re going to play at that show. Ian is going to play some trumpet on our songs. There’s trumpet on a few songs throughout the album, but as a band we’ve never had a trumpet player; it’s not part of our live act. Because there are trumpet parts on the songs, we really wanted someone to do that at the show, so I’m super excited to have that because I am a horn section person at heart. I would put horns on all of our songs if I could.

CH: Yeah. It’s more collaborating with friends who we love and respect.


Something For Everyone comes out on Feb. 28. You can find Scratchy Blanket on Bandcamp, Facebook, and Twitter.

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