16 Dec 2016

Babes Never Die: Honeyblood In Conversation

Honeyblood: Stina Tweeddale (vox/guitar) and Cat Myers (drums)
In a year dominated by disaster and pessimism in culture and politics, one unlikely duo have led a rampant musical charge on both sides of the pond, soundtracking this concerningly apocalyptic time with a message of positivity. Returning in October with an incendiary sophomore record titled 'Babes Never Die', Stina Tweeddale and Cat Myers of Honeyblood have spent 2016 blazing their way across the States and home soil, kicking up a storm with their raw and passionate live show, now kitted out with a host of stormy new tracks. Centering around a mantra of Tweeddale's embodied as much in her flesh as her songwriting, the album expands on everything the band's eponymous debut began. Consisting of ten songs with intro and outro tucked neatly either side, it's faster, louder, and less afraid to gnash its teeth where 'Honeyblood' was more reserved.

When I meet the band, they're nearing the end of three months on the road, relaxing post-soundcheck in the modest dressing room upstairs at Norwich Arts Centre. A couple of hours from now, the ornate church hall down below will be overrun with excited fans of all ages, pre-empted it seems by venue staff, as a barrier sits in front of the stage, almost unheard of for this space. Now, the atmosphere is notably calmer. As I get comfortable, Tweeddale produces a bag of carrot sticks from somewhere and tucks in, Myers offers me some free rider booze and we're on our way.

Did you get a sense of that so called ‘second album curse’ when it came to making Babes Never Die? 

Stina: Yeah, definitely. We’d been on tour for so long not really thinking about writing that much, and then came back and everyone who works with us said “okay, you’ve got six months to make an album”. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, but it’s in your best interest. So going from writing songs for my own enjoyment and to play as a creative outlet to writing songs because we had a timeframe of when we needed to release an album, I felt very aware that it wasn’t going to be the same as the first album. Having a concept and all the songs being connected made it a lot easier because once we got a couple down loads came out.

What's the meaning behind 'Babes Never Die' as a concept?

ST: It’s something I’ve said for years. I used to get really drunk on whiskey and shout it at people. The title track was written as a call for self respect. It’s all about how the way people judge you doesn’t define you, concentrating on what you believe in and not having anybody tell you any differently, never giving up on your ideas and being changed by negative impacts. And learning from that shit as well, which I felt I needed after going through turbulent years. Then I got it tattooed on myself so I’d never forget. There’s a girl who’s gone and got the tattoo as well! It’s a bit nuts to have your lyrics tattooed on someone, but I think to have something like that is even more personal. But it feels good, I feel like I’ve done that motto justice if someone else feels that way too.

You’ve toured the new album a lot this year, in the UK and the US. How has the reception been?

Cat: The first little tour in the UK was quite good for testing out new material but no one knew the music. The States was good because there were way more people than when we’ve previously been, which is good. This tour has been awesome because everyone knows the words, they’re jumping around and singing along.

What was the mood like when you visited America, literally in the days leading up to the election?

ST: It was tense. We tried to have a joke with people about it but as the time got closer, less people were up for having a joke, really.

CM: We knew which way it was going to go. All the cities are much more left wing but as soon as you drive out of the city we saw Trump signs everywhere. It’s quite mad how different one country can be.

Did you meet any particularly Trump-y people?

CM: Yeah, we did. On the way to Minneapolis we stopped off at a little house in the suburbs and we went to a local bar. It was the Saturday night of Halloween weekend so we made some pretty crappy costumes and went out.

ST: Uh, speak for yourself!

CM: Stina was Wednesday Addams. I was a ghost and I wore a sheet. With a baseball cap on top. 

ST: It was so funny, but it’s such British humour. I dressed in my own clothes! And I wore a black wig. And I won a prize, because I actually am Wednesday Addams.

CM: It was amazingly awesome, but in this pub we went to we weren’t their favourite people. There was a lot of camo, it was very much a Trump town. But we had a good time.

Given current affairs, such as the negative rhetoric that’s arisen alongside Trump and Brexit, I think the positive, unifying tone of Babes Never Die resonates all the more powerfully.

ST: It’s weird… the song Babes was written around the end of April, beginning of May 2015. You would never have thought that it would be so hard-hitting, the meaning, now people are hearing it. Because when I wrote it I didn’t have any of that in mind, obviously. That’s a very personal song to me, and I wanted to share whatever I feel about that saying with other people. But fuck, now it takes on a whole different meaning. People can take what they want from it I think, it’s open to interpretation. It’s so ambiguous, what does it mean? I don’t even know what it means! [laughs].

As a listener it's noticeable that a lot of your lyrics address very personal themes. Do you find it easy to write in such an honest way?

ST: I don’t find it easy, I find it very difficult and when I first present that sort of thing I have a think about it. A lot of the songs on this album I had a think about, a lot of the songs on the first album I had a think about as well. I would lie awake at night thinking about a really horrible thing that I’d just said… and then I just went “Oh well. Never mind.” There’s some things that are very truthful on the album and there are other things that are quite mean that I’ve said about people. But at the end of the day, you can’t keep those things inside. My creative outlet is writing songs. It’s the way I expel my demons, you know? I can’t change that, so I brush it aside and think of it as just being a song, and not as my personal feelings or opinions. Once it’s written it’s written. I’ve had people contact me about things and be like “that was really horrible what you said” – people who thought that it was written about them. But they just have to get over it. Someone’s got to say it, don’t they?

Have the meanings of some of the older songs been lost or changed as you’ve played them so many times?

ST: Yeah I mean, how many times have we played those songs? Hundreds of times, thousands probably now I’d say. The essence of the song is always there when I actually think about it, it’s always the same feeling as when I wrote it or first played or recorded it because you have the memory still. But they kind of gather other memories and feelings from when you’ve played them live. You’ll remember a really amazing show where maybe everyone went mental at a certain part in a song, and from that it picks up another meaning, a different life I guess. I think when you read lyrics it’s a bit different, or if someone asked me to write them down I’d think about it differently than when I just sing them every night.

It must be cathartic to sing about such personal memories when you have a room full of people screaming them along with you.

ST: Yeah it is. Especially the new ones because they’re a bit fresher. The one that really stuck with me is when we’d just started playing with Babes, we were in Sheffield and we did a secret gig. We just posted on Twitter “we’ll be doing a secret show in the Great Gatsby in half an hour” or something like that, and fifty people turned up.

CM: It was rammed. It was this tiny, tiny little room and people were crowd surfing but the ceiling was so low that they were just being pushed up against it. It was completely nuts.

ST: And we’d only just been playing Babes for a couple of months, I think it had been recorded on one YouTube video, but they all knew the words and they were screaming them and I was like “fuck, this is mental!” That made me think differently about Babes I guess, that there was a good feeling to have.

A recurring motif of Babes is the little girl on the album cover, who also appears in the video for Ready For the Magic. Who is this character and what does she represent?

CM: Her name is Darcy, she lives on a farm in Scotland and she’s a badass. She’s a sweet angel, although she doesn’t look like it on the cover. It was freezing cold on the day we shot the cover but she was a total superstar, wearing this tiny little dress with loads of mud and stuff in her hair when everyone else was freezing.

ST: The idea behind it is that sort of young, thrashy kid that’s inside us, that’s what Babes is. The tantrums and the hostility of being in the wilderness and having to fend for yourself when you’re so young and full of wildness. We wanted it all to tie in really well, so Darcy’s in the video with her little feral girl gang of cannibals eating us. It’s an unexpected thing to see, isn’t it? A little cannibalistic group of kids. But it worked pretty well. I think it goes really well with the eeriness of the album as well. I think Darcy looks like a sort of witch child.

Finally, we’re at the end of 2016. What have some of your favourite albums been?

CM: That’s a really hard question. I was quite into the Iggy Pop/Queens of the Stone Age collaboration, that was quite good. I know hip hop has been quite big this year. I used to be into A Tribe Called Quest, didn’t they just do something? I’m not up on it, but classic hip-hop I listen to. I always listen to ATCQ and Jurassic 5 when we’re on tour and stuff. 

ST: I like the Mitski album, she’s just blown me away. And the Angel Olsen album. She’s someone who should be studied as a songwriter and for how she’s changed her music to go in the exact right direction. Mitski and Angel Olsen are things that I listen to at home on a daily basis, I just think that they’re both great songwriters and I love the sound of both of those albums, they’ve been produced really well. It’s just giving songwriters a little bit more of an edge I feel. That would be a good combo as well wouldn’t it, as a collaboration. I forgot about Savages! Evil is my favourite song on that album.

'Babes Never Die' is out now to stream and purchase - get it for just £6.99 here.
Honeyblood play KOKO, London on June 16th 2017, tickets on sale now.


(Words: Alex Cabré)