Knuckle tattoos require serious commitment. In just eight letters, they announce to the world their owner’s mantra—the motto that guides their path in life. For some, LIVE FREE or LONE WOLF or STAY GOLD does the trick. For Chrissy Tashjian, frontwoman of the band Thin Lips, the choice for hers was easy: RIFF HARD.
“I love guitars so much. They’re my favorite thing,” Tashjian beams. “I love to talk about guitar tones. I don’t really like shredding—I love a riff.”
Her affection for riffs was immortalized on Thin Lips’ 2016 album Riff Hard, whose cover featured a photo of her inked knuckles. For the cover of the band’s follow-up, though, Tashjian wanted to celebrate the other love of her life: her friends. The record’s artwork showcases photos of 42 of her dear pals, arranged in a collage which she intended to look like the “gay Sgt. Pepper’s.”
“All the people on the album are my most favorite people—people I grew up with, people I’m friends with, people that I’ve known for years. They’re like my family,” Tashian says of her appropriately titled sophomore LP, Chosen Family. There are some recognizable faces in her chosen family—a few members of bands like Modern Baseball, Cayetana, Katie Ellen, and Hop Along, whose guitarist, Joe Reinhart, helped produced the record. The album also sees input from Hop Along frontwoman Frances Quinlan.
Tashjian seems to have found her kindred spirit in Quinlan, who, like Tashjian, fronts a band with her brother on drums. The two found each other a decade ago while living on the same block in Philadelphia.
“We just met randomly and our friendship was kind of adorable and awkward for a long time. We’re both super-weirdos and we got closer and closer,” says Tashjian, who contributed vocals on Hop Along’s previous three albums and is also a touring member of the band. “I don’t have a lot of close women friends that I play music with.”
"It's so wonderful when you meet someone and are immediately able to see their kind heart," says Quinlan. "Knowing Chrissy this long, I realize how rare and special that is."
Chosen Family is a 13-song celebration of good riffs and good friends. At times, Tashjian expels the bad vibes that don’t fit into either category. On the album’s opener, for example, she takes aim at a woman who put her through a toxic living situation.
“She just always made me feel so crazy, like everything was my fault,” says Tashjian. “The thing about gaslighting is that it makes you feel like a crazy person, like you’re a lunatic.”
Tashjian literally penned the gaslight anthem. “I was like, 'Ah, too bad Gaslight Anthem is a band already.’ But then I was like, ‘Well, it’s not a song, so I guess I’ll just call it that.’” Hence, the song’s extremely literal title, “Gaslight Anthem (The Song Not The Band),” which she hopes the New Jersey band will have a sense of humor about. “I hope we don’t don’t get sued,” she laughs.
Chosen Family covers a lot of ground. It’s about, as Tashjian summarizes, “ex girlfriends, my brother dying, quitting smoking, panic disorder, self-doubt, living as a homo and a butch woman in a world that’s not great for being either of those things, being vulnerable, and loving and living despite the modern hellscape.” But at its heart, Chosen Family is Tashjian’s love letter to the people who made all these things easier to face, and those who made the album’s existence possible.
“I wouldn’t be playing music or writing music or doing any of the things I do without those people in my life," says Tashjian. "I’m a very anxious person so I rely on my community in everything I do. And in return I hope I supply some things they need.”