An Interview with Kamikaze Girls

We talk to fuzzy garage duo Kamikaze Girls about their impressive debut album, ‘Seafoam’, writing about sensitive subjects, frustrations and more.

In early June Kamikaze Girls released their first full-length studio album, Seafoam. The duo from Leeds have previously put out two EPs, a three-track cassette and a David Bowie tribute, so it feels like they’ve taken the long road to this release. I’ve had the chance to enjoy their powerfully atmospheric live shows a number of times over the past 3 years, including recently on tour with Gnarwolves, and I’ve been itching to hear the new album.

Seafoam is the perfect follow up to their last EP, SAD. The new record takes the same emotional themes and infuses them with more grit and maturity. Their unique blend of grungy garage rock and shoegaze pop perfectly complements Lucinda’s dynamic vocal, which flips from delicate melody to raw fury between bars. The lyrics impart a turbulent cacophony of emotions, openly covering suicide, assault, depression and recovery, with a few sweet love songs thrown in. Ultimately it’s a complex, emotional and deeply relatable record, and impressive achievement for a first album.

To celebrate the album release, they recently embarked on a co-headline tour with London indie-punks Nervus. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Lucinda Livingstone (vocals + guitar) and Conor Dawson (drums) ahead of their show at The Smokehouse in Ipswich to discuss their new album, the difficulty of writing such personal songs, and the frustrations and misconceptions they’ve encontered along the way.

Kamikazi Girls Edit-4

‘Seafoam’ is the best kind of emotional punch-in-the-gut. When I sat down and listened to it properly, I was personally touched by a lot of the sentiments you’d put out there. Did you find the recording process cathartic? 

Lucinda: Lyrically, Seafoam was therapeutic at the time of writing. We’d get in a room and just jam for ages. When we very first became a two piece that was how we started: we had a lock up, and we worked together, so we’d finish every day and go have really long, intense jams in there. The music that we made was always really angsty and intense. I don’t know if that was us projecting stuff we wanted to get out in to the music.

Conor: That’s the good thing about playing drums. You can just destroy something.

L: I wish I could play drums. I feel like I’d be a much calmer, less stressful person. Maybe that’s why Conor’s so super-chill: because he gets to hit things.

C: Yeah, that’s why you end up screaming into your guitar!

Did you set out with the intention of having such an emotional impact on the listeners?

L: Lyrically, for me, it was very therapeutic being able get to stuff out. Once it’s done it’s a bit like some sort of closure. When the music is actually released, if anyone relates to it or finds anything in it, then great. But I guess any music writing process can be quite selfish to begin with, until you share it with everyone else.

Have you found it difficult sharing such personal subject matter, particularly with your friends and family?

Lucinda: It is what it is. Some really big albums [that feature personal subject matter] have come out recently, like Beyoncé’s Lemonade. It’s about Jay Z [cheating on her], but she made a choice to put personal stuff out there in the name of her art, because that’s her craft. I admire people for doing that, especially because all my favourite records when I was growing up were really personal.

Kamikazi Girls Edit-13I loved the piece you did for Gold Flake Paint, where you explained each of the tracks on Seafoam along with your own illustrations. What made you decide to do that?

Lucinda: I used to read track-by-tracks all the time. One of my favourite bands is The Dangerous Summer; one of my biggest ever lyrical influences is their singer, AJ Perdomo. When they did track-by-tracks it would hit me really hard, when I knew what all the songs were about. It’s just a nice thing to have come out at the same time as the album.

I’d thought about doing some illustration for SAD, so [when Gold Flake Paint asked me if I would like to draw something for the track-by-track piece] it gave me the kick I needed to do it.

You don’t use a lot of metaphor in your lyrics. Do you feel there’s room for misinterpretation?

Lucinda: Yeah, when we brought out Ladyfuzz we did an interview where they asked us, “Why did you choose to write about body hair?” Holy shit! This is a song about an overdose and I don’t know how this has happened… I’m laughing about it now, but obviously someone interpreted a very serious song [about an overdose] to be about empowerment and owning your body. Which is a really nice message in itself, but it’s not the right one.

In the Bandcamp comments on ‘SAD’ one of the top quotes is, “You’re really good for a duo.” I think you’re really good, full stop. Do you get fed up with that kind of mentality?

Lucinda: [There have been] a few more two-pieces popping up recently, playing fuller stuff [for a two-piece], which is cool. It’s now more common to see a two-piece, so people aren’t super weirded-out by it.

Conor: There was a whole two uncomfortable years of ‘why don’t you have a bassist?’.  I don’t think [many people comment on] us being a two piece any more.

L: It’s more common that we get asked, “So, you’re not like a big bunch of girls, nah?”

C: I’m pretty in touch with my feminine side.

L: It’s a pretty bad accusation for people to say, because what if Connor didn’t identify as male? It’s kind of irrelevant. [We took the name from] the movie and the novel ‘Kamikaze Girls’. Huw Stephens played us the other night on Radio 1, but the bio on the BBC website was for Kamikaze Girls the movie, even though they’d just played Deathcap on the radio.

Kamikazi Girls Edit-5‘KG Goes To The Pub’ is a song against lad culture, cat-calling, etc., featuring some brilliant extra shouting from Ren Aldridge (Petrol Girls). The DIY-punk scene is generally a safe space but there’s still work to do. Do you encounter many issues as a woman fronting a band?

 

Lucinda: I really haven’t had many issues. I have only ever been heckled in Kamikaze Girls once, and it was from a guy in another band who went on to say a lot of very inappropriate and offensive things that weren’t related to us. I’ve probably dealt with more stuff like that off stage – I’ve not had much trouble within the music industry. KG Goes To The Pub was influenced by our experience of working in pubs, and something Connor’s girlfriend said when someone approached her.

It’s reassuring that you’ve not had much trouble in the music scene at all.

Lucinda: I actually had something on the Gnarwolves tour in Manchester that was ridiculous.  When we got there I went to park, so everyone else was already in. I got stopped and they said, “Are you with all those boys that are playing downstairs?” And I was like, “Yes. Yes, I am.” Before we went on, I got the same thing again, “Are you with the lads in the band?”

The final straw was after we’d played our set – I went outside (backstage) to get some fresh air, but when I tried to get back into the venue they won’t let me in. I’m like, “I literally just played here, here’s my triple-A pass.” I’m already backstage, I’m just trying to get back into the main room to watch the bands, but they won’t let me out. As I was already backstage I went and knocked on the production office door and was like, “Hello, your security won’t let me into the show I’ve just played.” They apologised and escorted me back into the venue.

That doesn’t happen to me often. It’s more often outside of band-world that stuff happens. We’re in a nice little DIY punk bubble, aren’t we? Everyone’s alright.

Kamikazi Girls Edit-22

Seafoam is your longest release yet. Did you find the recording process different to the EPs?

Conor: We wrote and recorded it all in 7 days. 11 tracks in 7 days. We’d originally planned to have two days off in the middle, where we’d have a little ear-rest and come back to it, but we pushed the dates back so we just went for it.

Lucinda: We keep saying, “We recorded an album in a week!” but Nervus actually lost their album. They recorded it over 5 days, then someone kicked their hard drive and they lost it all, so they re-recorded it in a day. I’ve heard them talk about it a couple of times on this tour, and I’m like, ‘we need to shut up’. I don’t know what we’re complaining about, to be honest.

C: We’re not complaining. It was just really fast: a mixture of really good, really stressful and really loud.

How has the reaction to Seafoam been so far?

Lucinda: It’s been cool! The first pressing sold out a day before it came out, which for us (we’re both vinyl junkies) was the best. I think there are only 7 of all the English pressing left, so hopefully we’ll get to do another shiny one.

My favourite thing was seeing it in shops – it’s crazy. A friend in Norwich, who’s the manager of HMV, messaged me to say, “I’ve just ordered your record in.” He sent me a screenshot of it on the HMV system. I called Dave from Big Scary Monsters, to say, “Did you do this? Was this you?” and he was like, “Yeah, that’s my job.” And I’m like, “That is amazing!”

Kamikazi Girls Edit-6

You’ve traditionally handled your own releases, and you’re known for having a strong DIY ethic as a band. You’ve started working with (independent label) Big Scary Monsters recently – how are you finding it being on a label?

Lucinda: It’s weird having other people involved because it’s been just us two for so long.

Conor: I think there is a lot of stuff that bigger bands, who haven’t gone down the same route that we have, won’t appreciate as much.

L: [Big Scary Monsters] just let us do exactly what we want, which is the nature of working with a really nice indie label. A lot of punk bands are completely against working with a label, but it’s good for more people to have your back. I think Dave from BSM has become one of my best mates – I probably text him more than anyone else.

C: Even more than me! It feel like we just have more mates – a big team. It feels like the right thing to be doing.

 In the past I’ve seen you playing a lot of support-slots and all-dayers. How does it feel having your first top-of-the-bill tour (co-headlining with Nervus)?

Lucinda: It’s good, I feel more relaxed playing for longer. Normally our sets feel like a mad frenzy and then that’s it. We’ve been playing 45-50 minute sets on this tour; we do enjoy getting a bit post-rock.

Conor: When we break out all that stuff, people always say, “It was really post-rock of you!” [Longer sets] give you a chance for a chat as well. I keep expecting nobody to turn up, but it’s not happened yet!

L: We played a tiny little basement in Dundee called Conroy’s. They had just one local support and neither of us or Nervus had ever been up there, but there were loads of people, which was nice.

Kamikazi Girls Edit-9

So, you’ve just released your first proper album. What’s the future for Kamikaze Girls?

Lucinda: We’re hoping that when Oasis reunite that they’ll take us on tour.

Conor: We’re gonna do a Smiths and just refuse to talk to each other for years.

L: Yeah. And then I might sue you. But then you’ll sue me for suing you in the first place.

C: And then we’ll hint at getting back together and doing a tour, but we won’t actually do it.

L: Then I’ll write and album and ring you up and be like, “Hey, shall we go and do this?”

C: But then you’ll put out a really nasty tweet, about me not wanting to come back from Germany.

L: And I’ll just be like, “He’s sat in Germany somewhere eating tofu.”

C: In his really, really, really big house.

L: That is the future of the band in a nutshell.

Is there anything you’d like to mention?

Conor: One of our friends has a really good saying, which I always like to end interviews with, which is, “Shit people should get more shit for being arseholes.”

Huge thanks to Kamikaze Girls for taking the time to talk to me. Thanks also to Jodie of Burnt Out Media for the photographs, taken at The Smokehouse in Ipwich on June 23rd 2017.

Seafoam is out now on Big Scary Monsters (UK) and Wiretap Records (USA). You can download a digital copy from KG’s Bandcamp page. They’re playing a short run of dates in Ireland in August, and appearances at Deadbolt Festival in Manchester and the infamous Fest in Florida.

 

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