Follow Your Dreams’ Manchester Punk Fest Interview

Article by Sarah Williams. Cover photo by Hold My Pint.

Sadly, this year’s Manchester Punk Fest has fallen victim to the COVID-19 catastrophe. Before then, Shout Louder had been working to write this year’s MPF program, including a series of band interviews. Rather than waste everyone’s hard work, we decided to post the interviews for your enjoyment here (plus keep an eye on Ear Nutrition for an excellent interview with Shai Hulud).

To start, I had an excellent chat with Manchester genre-benders Follow Your Dreams. Evolved from old-school ska-core band Rising Strike, with TNSrecords‘ behind-the-scenes legend Kaz Hinsley providing vocals, Follow Your Dreams and one of the greatest up-and-coming bands in the UK punk scene right now. Be sure to check out their new full-length record The Half Life of Teaspoons out on TNSrecords now.

We spoke to guitarist / vocalist / all-round awesome dude, Tom Houseman, ahead of MPF.

Follow Your Dreams is an aspirational band name. What dreams are you following?

Tom: Before Kaz joined we chose this name as a sort of detournement of the punk penchant for horrible names. It’s rather adolescent and pretentious (but so am I: see ‘detournement’ above), but I liked the idea of seeing ‘follow your dreams’ on gig posters alongside bands with names like Nasal Haemorrhage, Fast Food Vagrant and Toxic Vagina. Punk has a strong satirical streak and an aversion to convention, so ‘follow your dreams’ is a satirical swipe at punk conventions. There’s a bit of that in the music as well.

The other version of this answer is that the best punk band names are obscenities, and what could be more obscene than the insipid self-actualisation bollocks of inspirational slogans, in a world almost designed to suck the life out of everything and everyone in the service of profit?

…Then when Kaz joined, and we eventually convinced her to let us keep the name, people started to assume the name isn’t some bitter and contrived meta-fuck you, because she is such a genuinely lovely person who unironically likes unicorns and rainbows. The fact that it’s Kaz’s first band, that she’s literally living out an ambition and having a great time doing it makes the name make an unintended sense.

This tension made me like the name even more, as now it’s a Derridean undecidable, both genuine and not. Being in a band is all about having an idea and then watching it morph into something else. At least that’s how we write songs, anyway. You have to either enjoy it or become a control freak or go solo. So that’s what the name means to me. What was the question?

Kaz: I just love the idea that no one knows what to expect from a band with a name like ours and no one ever forgets it!

You’ve got a healthy disrespect for genre constraints. How would you describe yourselves, and which influences are you hoping to incorporate into your sound?

Tom: This is where the earlier foreshadowing about things morphing pays off. We have quite different influences, individually. Originally me, Boff and Bren were distracting ourselves from the dissolution of Rising Strike by playing techy instrumental stuff, inspired by instrumental bands like Strawberry Girls but with a more jarring, awkward and dissonant edge from bands like Folly and Converge. Brendan’s sensibilities pull towards shoegaze and Japanese avant-garde, Boff towards more muscular double-pedal hardcore, and Kaz brings a much more DIY punk influence.

I think we all want to play things we’ve not heard before, and actively resist that moment in songwriting where the song wants to pull in a certain direction because that sounds natural. Finding ways to disrupt those genre conventions and learned expectations is a lot of fun, for us if not for audiences!

Post-rock, no-wave, math(s)core and post-punk, or just weird bands like At the Drive In are big influences, but maybe more intellectually than in terms of what we sound like. That being said, the urgency and fury of punk and hardcore is the essential core that glues all this artsy fuckery together. Experimentation on its own slips into something a bit wanky, which punk was a rebellion against, until it became its own set of genre rules and affectations. I guess we’re trying to bring those two contradictory impulses together.

Follow Your Dreams

MPF was one of your debut live shows, playing early-doors last year at Zombie Shack. How do you feel about playing this year, in comparison to playing last year?

Kaz: We’re all super excited about playing again this year, when we played last year we had only played three other gigs before it. We didn’t have a lot of songs at the time and were very much still in the writing stages. From a personal perspective too, I was still getting used to the whole concept of gigging and finding my feet on stage. It was exciting and a little overwhelming to have the venue fill up to the point where they were refusing people entry! This year I’m looking forward to how it’s going to feel now that I am far more comfortable and confident on stage. 

You’re one of the rare actually-lives-in-Manchester acts. What’s your favourite part of the city?

Tom: If you count Stockport, Moston and Glossop as living in Manchester! I like the gift shop near Piccadilly Gardens which hawks merchandise celebrating Manchester’s uniqueness, nearly all of which is plagiarised from a 1977 New York marketing campaign.

Kaz: I really love the scene Manchester has created and the inclusivity of it. I could quite happily go to a gig on my own and feel like I was welcome there. I think that’s really important.

You’ve also all been MPF veterans from the very first year of the festival. What’s the most ridiculous thing that’s ever happened to you at the festival? 

Tom: For me, seeing Propagandhi, a band I’ve loved since I was old enough to realise Nation-States are probably a bad idea. To be three feet away from them at a festival my mates organised was crazy. It was so full and so sweaty that the humidity broke Todd’s bass. It must have been like playing underwater.

Kaz: I’ve had a number of ridiculous things happen at MPF. I’m so lucky to be part of the process and it does come with some great ‘pinch yourself moments’. Watching Propaghandi sound check in the morning in Gorilla with Tree was a highlight. Also watching a number of bands from side of stage is a real treat. It’s a totally different experience watching some of the bigger bands from their point of view and seeing the crowds go absolutely mental for them.

Have you enjoyed watching MPF grow and develop? What do you miss most from the early days of the festival?

Tom: It’s been awesome seeing it go from strength to strength. It’s exhausting though as there’s not enough time to see all the bands you want to plus spend time with all the pals who are all brought together just once a year.

Kaz: It’s a weird one for me because it’s incredible watching it grow and gain momentum, but it doesn’t come without its strains. There is a lot more work that goes into it now it’s bigger which can be unmanageable at times. The planning process for the next year literally starts the day after the festival finishes. Everyone involved works their arses off to ensure an incredible three days. The organisers all have full time jobs, and it’s DIY to the core which becomes a challenge in itself as it grows. You have to rely so much on people helping you, friends, volunteers… even the smallest kind gesture makes a huge difference. I think it has come so far as a festival though and is really gaining a positive place within DIY music, I almost have to stop and take a breather when I think about the first year compared to now.

You’re gearing up to release your debut album on TNSrecords. What can listeners expect?

Kaz: We’re releasing it on 5 Feet Under Records in Denmark too, which is pretty cool! I think listeners can expect that actually you can’t really expect anything with us. It will keep you on your toes for sure.  

You’ve made an effort to convey some serious political themes in your lyrics. What message do you want your audience to take away from your live show?

Tom: That’s a really good question. I’m proud of the lyrics we’ve written together but I’m under no illusions about them coming through at gigs! I think you can get a good gist of what Fuck This is about and Kaz screaming “MY BODY’S MINE” is pretty unambiguous, but the rest is probably lost to the soup of noise characteristic of DIY punk gigs. We’ll see what people make of it after they’ve had time to read the lyrics in the album!

We do try to link the music and lyrics together though. Rinse and Repeat is based on Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History (ha! Fuck you and your songs about drinking in the van, Andy!). He argues the revolution must be a radical interruption in the endless chain of recycled presents, so there’s this poppy loop in the middle of the song that basically gets stabbed to death before the angrier chorus cuts in.

No More Than Numbers is about being reduced to mere data in neoliberal governmentality, so it’s all 8-bit pedal and driven by switching time signatures – a bit of musical complexity that sounds both confusing and oppressive.

I guess the message is that there’s more space for overthinking things in the DIY punk scene.

What aspect of DIY music culture do you think is most important in 2020?

Tom: DIY is a bit of a misnomer, as it implies a sort of rugged individualism (as does ‘follow your dreams’). I love the idea (yours?) of changing it to Do It Together. The unfolding crises – ecological breakdown, fascism, the Corona-ignited recession we’re right at the start of, and the social crises that come from further cuts layered on top of a decade of austerity – mean we’ll have to learn the skills of mutual aid, community provision and solidarity outside of the naïve belief in the state and its electoral politics.

DIY is an anarchist principle at heart and the scene is where we teach ourselves not to be obedient consumers or managed commodities, but instead producers, supporters, participants and organisers. MPF is an example of that: a bunch of idiots learning how to do something they think is important and getting better at it, none of which would work if it wasn’t for an entire community of like-minded collaborators, supporters, volunteers and champions. At its most modest, DIY is about taking creativity back from the logics of the industrial mass-production and marketing. At its most ambitious, DIY is collective self-training for a better world.

Get Follow Your Dreams’ album The Half Life of Teaspoons out on TNSrecords now.

Article by Sarah Williams.

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