As if putting on immense, riotous live performances wasn’t enough, in September last year GIHE’s favourite Feminist Punk Witches Dream Nails decided to blow our minds in a slightly different way – by putting on their first ever acoustic set at infamous independent and anti-fascist bookshop Housmans. A much smaller space than the band have played in the past, the gig was a wonderfully intimate experience, and – whilst perhaps quieter in volume – no less powerful and empowering than your usual raucous Dream Nails gig.
And if you weren’t able to make the gig, fear not! Dream Nails have now made the full recording of the set into a new acoustic album, appropriately entitled Take Up Space. And it’s most certainly worth a listen. Showcasing their luscious harmonies and poignant songwriting in a way we’ve not yet heard, it proves that plugged in or acoustic, Dream Nails are a sparkling, formidable force. Combining impassioned activism and infectious tunes, they consistently inspire and motivate us to get up, make our voices heard and fight fascism with all our might.
We caught up with Mimi, Janey, Lucy and Anya to find out more…
Hi Dream Nails, welcome back to Get In Her Ears! How are you doing today?
Mimi: Thank you! I’m refreshed and ready for 2019.
Janey: I’m rested too!
Lucy: Ran 4 miles on the treadmill this morning like a little excited hamster so I’m bathing in the endorphins right now.
Anya: Me and Janey just did a songwriting session and I’m gassed about our latest ideas, including one about feminism and the future of technology. I can’t say what it’s about but it’s completely ridiculous and hilarious.
We’re super excited to hear about the release of your new acoustic album Take Up Space! What was it that inspired you to record this – something perhaps so different from what fans might expect?
Mimi: We really feel there’s magic in our live shows. In the past we’ve tried to record some shows, but it’s always really difficult because of the sound in the venues, and it’s never come out that great. We thought this was a perfect opportunity to try again, in a less noisy setting.
Janey: We put so much thought into our song lyrics and vocal harmonies, and much of that gets lost in the fuzz of a punk PA system. This gig was a chance to finally let our songs breathe and the lyrics be heard.
Lucy: We were excited to listen to the recordings but didn’t know how good they would turn out and certainly didn’t expect to release them! We only had one acoustic rehearsal before the show and were very pleased with the new dimension the songs have taken on!
Anya: We also wanted to try more of an intimate show, more of ‘an evening with Dream Nails’ sort of thing where the crowd were very much part of the show and we could be really spontaneous with our interactions.
The album was recorded at your intimate gig at Housman’s Bookshop (which was a pretty wonderful evening!) in September last year – how was this experience for you? And how did it differ from your usual gig set ups?
Mimi: For me, I had no distortion pedals and no big amps, I was playing my semi-acoustic bass guitar. My bass was very à la Violent Femmes. It was a much more intimate setting with no stage, and it was a lot of fun to be in with the crowd and hear everyone’s laughs during all of the funny bits.
Janey: That gig was so much fun, and a challenge for us because the audience were sitting right in front of us in pretty good lighting – we could see everyone! That completely changed the dynamic and made it special.
Lucy: Yeah it was exposing at first and I was more than a little nervous! I’m usually hiding at the back on my all-seeing drum throne, so this was my chance to get my jokes and chat in too. I got pretty over-excited tbh. Fun fact: the tom and snare drums I was using were propped up on old Delia Smith cookery books and I think you can definitely hear this in the music!
Anya: I actually play an acoustic guitar borrowed from Dave McManus who runs Everything Sucks Music, one of the labels we work with! It was weird playing an acoustic and I had to change a few things in the songs to make it work, but it was a fun challenge. My hands were like frozen claws by the end – an acoustic is a lot harder work, strangely!
Do you feel that putting on a gig in such a different setting opened up your music to some people who may not normally be able to attend gigs in late night bars/music venues?
Mimi: Yes definitely! We really want to play more bookshops. Because most gigs are in bars, it’s almost impossible to hold all ages shows, and we would love to play to younger people.
Janey: Almost all punk shows are held in squats, basements or alcohol-based venues, which excludes a lot of people from experiencing our live music, and we wanted to change that. At this show, we had more under-18, muslim and disabled fans than usual, many of whom mentioned they hadn’t managed to get to a show before. This show was our most inclusive by far, and I want to do more gigs where we transform a community space into a gig space.
Lucy: Our shows are accessible as we can make them, but I feel like the audience were so relaxed at this show and that contributed to a very special atmosphere. It was early in the evening and the fact that no one felt they had negotiate beer being chucked around, creepy dudes at the bar, dark and sometimes intimidating spaces and pushing created a calmness that was palpable.
Anya: We also live streamed it via Facebook with the help of Get in Her Ears, which we’ll probably do more of in the future so our fans in other countries can see the bookshop gigs we do.
Has having had the experience of performing acoustically changed the way you approach writing songs now?
Lucy: You know what, it’s made me itching to get more into the composition side of our music. Hearing everything so stripped back, and being mindful of how our songs sound in the state will surely translate when we start writing again (imminently!).
Anya: It’s definitely reinforced my feeling that our songs need to work on an acoustic guitar or they won’t work at all!
The album includes a couple of new songs… including ‘Jillian’ and ‘Chirpse Degree Burns (Text Me Back)’ – can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind these tracks?
Mimi: ‘Jillian’ is about Jillian Michaels, a fitness personality who has a workout DVD called ‘The 30 Day Shred’. It was permanently in my DVD player growing up, she is seriously strong and fierce, and I definitely memorised her chat throughout the entire workout. Her message is that you can push yourself and literally be strong!
Janey: Mimi and I really bonded over our shared love of Jillian. To be honest, the 30 Day Shred was my first experience of exercise and recognising how good it was for my mental health. I have Jillian to thank for that. Plus she’s one of my queer idols.
Lucy: ‘Chirpse Degree Burns’ (fyi chirpse is London slang for flirt and can be a noun, verb or adjective) is tragically close to the hearts of me and another anonymous band member. It was written in an emotional outburst during the comedown of Glastonbury 2017 when Anya (oops) and I were thwarted by our short-lived festival loves. I don’t get it?! We are a catch and also 1000000% chill as the song we wrote will attest to!
Anya: There’s also a new track ‘Time Ain’t No Healer’ which is about how much work it is to get over the troubles in your life and recover from trauma. The idea is you can’t just wait for time to do it for you, it takes a conscious effort. And probably a therapist, lol.
The album’s appropriately entitled Take Up Space, which very much ties in with your mantra of “Girls To The Front” at gigs. How important do you think it is for girls/non binary/female-identifying people to take up space in the music industry? And what do you think people can be doing to encourage this more?
Mimi: It’s hard to encourage women and non binary people to get into the music industry because you just know they’re going to meet so many obstacles, which are only there because of deep set misogyny. It just needs to be challenged by everyone. I can’t bear to think of how many women and non binary bands have quit doing music because of people being shit to them at every turn. Even little things – like I can’t even count how many times a sound guy has told me where to plug my bass in.
Janey: Bookers need to change their policies, and introduce diversity quotas. The musicians are out there. Look harder. There’s no excuse for all-male tour line-ups anymore. The issues within the music industry are structural, and need to be met with structural changes.
Lucy: Obviously the need is vital and I’d like to quote an iconic Anya statement here relating to all-male bands: “men, ask yourselves, does the world need any more of your dry music?” We try to hammer home the idea that skill level and technical know-how does not take precedence when it comes to music, no matter what intimidating sound people, music shop assistants, or band boys would like you to think. YOUR music and experiences are valid and vital and you’re the only person in this world who can make it. Until these structural changes manifest, we endeavour to create these spaces and opportunities ourselves.
Anya: For women to Take Up Space, men need to Make Up Space. Make way, not today, man bands, go away!
As ‘Feminist Punk Witches, what does ‘punk’ mean to you?
Mimi: Punk means challenging everything, even the definition of ‘punk’. It’s about being a good ally, standing up for what’s right, being an activist, taking our lives into our own hands. It bothers me that people like Donald Trump and Doug Ford (Canadian Premier of Ontario, where I’m from, who literally fucked Ontario) are seen as punks, only because they’re kind of rogue outsiders from the political world?? They’re the farthest thing from punks, their only intention is to fuck the little guy and they only benefit the rich.
Janey: For me, punk is about shared creation. Not just tearing the world apart, but challenging the status quo by building a new one. I think the punkest thing we do isn’t even our music, but the bands we support behind the scenes, or making sure promoters have gender-neutral toilets.
Lucy: Punk is about utilising a rebellious spirit in a way that DOES NOT resemble a teenager with a “my mum and dad aren’t home, no one can tell me what to do” attitude. For me, the rebelliousness of punk is about radical collectivity, thoughtfulness, inquisitiveness, joy, rage and action that both strengthens you and provides relief in a world and city that seeks to crush you.
Anya: Some of our dearest female idols like Viv Albertine and Patti Smith interrogated the world as they saw it, threw stale, patriarchal convention out of the window, and filled their world with new meaning. Punk is about being thoughtful and honest. It’s interesting that they both taught themselves to play guitars as young women. Being self taught makes you approach music differently, I think.
So, after the experience of playing acoustically in Housman’s, do Dream Nails have plans to play any more acoustic shows in 2019?
Mimi: This is something we are seriously talking about and would love to do a radical bookshop tour!
Lucy: Yes! It feels so pure!
Anya: I’ll only play in places where they have the entire back catalogue of Simone De Beauvoir now. It’s my rider.
And what else do you have up your sparkly sleeves for the rest of the year??
Mimi: We are going to be spending a lot of the first part of this year writing and recording for our debut album release (not acoustic), and then playing many festivals over the summer.
Janey: We’re headed to Switzerland in the first week of February, and are playing four shows there! Follow us on Instagram for our tour stories, they never fail to delight.
Anya: We are curating a stage at one of our favourite festivals this year. We can’t say which one, but it involves a zine making workshop for young people and I’m so excited.
Lucy: Aside from this, my personal dream is to sell our critically acclaimed ‘Chipadvisor’ chip reviewing YouTube series to Netflix. We would use the proceeds from this to buy ourselves more chips.
Massive thanks to Dream Nails for answering our questions!
Take Up Space is available exclusively on Bandcamp, where you can also get hold of an awesome accompanying t-shirt designed by illustrator Sumena Owen.
Photo Credit: Poppy Marriot