Maggie Gently Delivers Very Gay Pop Punk Anthem “Hold My Hand”

With her 2020 EP Good Cry, Bay Area singer-songwriter Maggie Gently addressed and packed away some personal trauma. Healing is a never-ending process, but as evidenced with her brand new single “Hold My Hand,” from her forthcoming Refresh Records debut Peppermint, it was time to move forward.

“Even though there’s some dancey, pop-punk, happy songs on Good Cry, I think that the quality of them all is very sad. It’s dealing with a lot of pain in a bunch of different ways,” she tells Audiofemme over a recent phone call. “I was ready to expand from that moment and show a new part of myself. All this healing is there, and it’s still a part of me and it’s not going anywhere 一 but there’s also love.”

Flushed cheeks and heart-pounding adrenaline trembles throughout “Hold My Hand,” a scratchy indie track which she describes as “my queer crush version” of a pop-punk song. “It’s playful, but it’s serious,” she says, quickly noting she found inspiration from “a lot of lesbian romance novels. Drawing from the truth of all that stuff made this song feel really natural.”

“I’ll try to play it cool or tell the truth, if you want to/I’m not afraid to tell you everything I’m feeling now,” she confides in the song’s catchy chorus, every ounce of fear and doubt melting away like the determined protagonist of an early-aughts party movie “where it’s just this cinematic moment of you seeing your crush at the party, and then all of a sudden, you forget how to breathe and your heart rate goes up,” she describes. “I love living out that fantasy of, like, my band playing at prom night in that early 2000s movie.”

As her debut single for Refresh Records, also home to artists like Cuzco, Biitchseat, Hit Like a Girl, and Jimmy Lo Fi, “Hold My Hand” pops a lid on a new era. During the pandemic, Gently, formerly of the Total Bettys, came to befriend Lost + Found booking agent Kevin Briody, and they quickly began dreaming up what a tour would look and feel like upon her return. On September 30, Gently stepped back on the stage in San Francisco and was quickly reminded how much she loved the art of live performance. “It was such a blast to be able to play live again,” she beams.

Later, she was introduced to Refresh Records founder Josh Higgins, and the two clicked right away. “I heard really great things about the label, and the other bands on the label are totally cool,” she says. “There’s lots of great music coming out, even just this fall, so it was really a fun experience to link up with them and kind of dream and scheme what we wanted this release to look like.”

During the songwriting process, Gently returned to the bright, comforting music of her youth, allowing it to submerge her subconscious mind and thus influence the song’s own shiny casing. “It’s funny how it just seeps right in without you having to think about it,” she says. “With some things, obviously, I make a lot of conscious choices in my songwriting, but in this one, I knew how it was supposed to sound.”

The accompanying visual, self-produced with her girlfriend, was conceived entirely in quarantine. “It’s very homemade looking, but hopefully in a charming way,” she says with a laugh. “We did the best we could, and I used a green screen for part of it.” It culls fashion and motifs from ’90s MTV staples, like Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag;” aesthetically, Gently turned to bands like Slacker and Rocker and their “clowning around party kind of vibe,” as well as the fist-pumping volatility of Avril Lavigne and Sum-41. “I made it earlier on in the pandemic, so I didn’t have any anyone else in the video except for me. So I tried to get that ethos in without actually clowning around with my friends.”

Over lofty electric guitar riffs, Maggie Gently lives wild and free, allowing every awkward glance or unsure touch to invigorate her. “I’m asking you to dance or hold my hand, if you want to,” she sings, a declaration of unapologetic queer love.

“In this moment, I’m looking for queer love and queer romance everywhere. I love seeing the proof of it right now,” she says, before shouting out her current obsession with “Silk Chiffon” by MUNA and Phoebe Bridgers. “There’s something so special about witnessing this, and it still feels kind of special and rare. I really love the opportunity to give my own little spin on it and take this genre that I love and turn it into something gay. That feels very healing.”

“Hold My Hand” is as warm as happy tears on a cheek, the mist of emotion that leaps from some deep, dark well inside your being. It’s authentically Maggie Gently, even as she springs into the glistening sunshine to leave her sorrow back in the shadows. In her willingness to break free, her songwriting has considerably blossomed.

“There’s always this question in my mind: Is it okay to write songs that just feel good and are just cathartic?’ I’m not reinventing how to play guitar. I’m not coming up with a melody that no one’s heard before,” she explains. “But if it feels special and authentic and true to me, is that enough? That’s been the back and forth that I have in my mind, especially when I write more similar melodic songs that feel good. But I know I’m not pushing the boundaries of indie rock.”

“I think [I’ve] come to terms with that and have realized, internally, that it’s okay to write music that just feels true,” she continues. “That’s the most important thing to me rather than something that’s really unexpected or really artful. It’s hard to get to that place.”

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Maggie Gently Unpacks the Pain of a Dissolving Friendship with Good Cry EP

Photo by Amayah Media

Photo by Amayah Media
Photo Credit: Amayah Media

“In a little while, there’ll be nothing left for me to unpack,” sings San Francisco’s Maggie Gently on her new EP, Good Cry. Created during the various phases of a friendship dissolution, Gently isn’t trying to convince others that closure is imminent, so much as she’s trying to convince herself, as she works her way through the EP’s five tracks.

In many ways, the EP feels less like five distinct songs and more like a long, rambling letter. This isn’t inherently an issue — I’ve readily expressed my appreciation for concept/single-subject works before — but it does make the best tracks stand out all the more clearly, while pushing the others further into the background.

The lyrics are quite vague — perhaps purposefully so — to the point that you would likely assume Gently was speaking about a former partner as opposed to to a friend. It has been repeated many times over that friendship breakups can be as painful as romantic ones, but such statements are frequently delivered with a sly question mark at the end. Is it really true? Can someone who never called you their romantic partner enact the same hurt as someone who did?

Of course they can, but that voice of doubt is more likely to come from within ourselves as opposed to outside doubters, fueled by the unfortunate concept that any soul-deep pain that doesn’t involve a significant other is not deserving of any real attention.

Why can’t you just get over it?

Gently, in this EP, does not seem to want to, but has taken her wallowing and turned it into something tangible, maybe even cathartic — good advice if I’ve ever heard it. “I always said it would all be worth it/if I could matter to just one person,” Gently sings on EP opener “Every Night,” offering one of the best and most profound examples of Good Cry’s straightforward lyrical style. “Run Away” gives us a bit of a respite from the indie-pop ease of the other tracks, with a folky intro where Gently lets her voice go soft as she sings, “When I wake up I check my breathing/I know that I’m ok without you.” About halfway through, the song makes a jump to rock, even as Gently keeps her voice largely even. While I wish she would really let loose on moments like this, the guitar backing is expressive enough to keep the emotions feeling big. “I used to have so much/and now I’ve got none/and I’m hungry,” she sings on “Normal,” one of those EP’s best tracks and, tellingly, one of the few with a distinct glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel.

Occasionally, Gently sacrifices meaning for simplicity, like on EP closer, “Tranquility,” where she asks, “I don’t know if I deserve to feel any better, but I’ll still get serious/Take a look at my resume and cover letter — do I have any experience?” The first minute of the song sounds like it would fit nicely over a montage scene in a mid-2000s rom com a lá 13 Going on 30 (another work that, fundamentally, is about friendship), with a mid-tempo rhythm that sets the listener up nicely for a high-energy finish. It never arrives – not exactly – as Gently leads us out on an unrealized wish: “I wish I’d take a break/from circling round inside of my head again.” It’s so telling that she ends on that word, again. Gently knows it’s not over, at least not in her head — so here we go, repeat button, repeat album, repeat brain.

Despite the fact that Gently never makes the nature of the central relationship explicit in the lyrics, it feels like a disservice to suggest that this EP should be used as universal catharsis for someone in the throes of relational loss. While in other circumstances I would be the first person to say that art is interpretive, blah blah blah, I feel like the context here is essential. It comes down to this: the more accepting we are of the impact of non-romantic friendships on our self-perception, the closer we will get to dissolving those question marks we assign to our own pain — and the closer we will get to burning that letter.

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