INTERVIEW: Lucy O’Brien on Karen Carpenter

Having been big fans of author and journalist Lucy O’Brien for some time now (Dusty: The Classic Biography, Skin: It Takes Blood and Guts), and even getting a mention in the revised edition of her incredible She Bop: A Definitive History Of Women In Music a couple of years back, we were excited to find out about her latest venture: a biography of one of the most iconic women in music of the 20th century – Karen Carpenter, forty years after her passing. An insightful reframing of the often perceived ‘tragic’ figure, Lead Sister offers a fresh perspective on the life of Karen Carpenter; whilst touching on the sadness of her story, placing a focus on her strength and innovative drive. 

After reading the book and attending its London launch at Soho’s Century Club a couple of months back, I was lucky enough to catch up with Lucy to find out more about what inspired her to write the book and what she discovered about Karen along the way… 

Primarily known both for her angelic voice and struggles with Anorexia Nervosa, Karen Carpenter was so much more than merely the delicate front woman we’re so often presented with; as O’Brien points out – “No way she was just submissive – she was the driving force of the band… And it’s interesting to see this picture emerging of this forthright, pioneering woman.” As so often seems to be the case, Carpenter’s history seems to have been buried by the media’s perception of her and how a woman in the industry should be, and so it’s wonderful that O’Brien made it her mission with Lead Sister to reframe this existing narrative: “It was time to revisit her story and look at it through a new lens. Not only the eating disorder that she struggled with, but also how much she achieved despite that. Was she really just a submissive puppet? I doubt it. To achieve that level of success in the US music industry in the ‘70s, which is a hard place to be, I knew there had to be more to the story.” 

This uncovering of a subject’s narrative, finding new material and piecing the story together piece by piece is key in the job of biographer (“almost like a detective”), and something that O’Brien is no stranger to. Being able to cast a new light on stories told, taking into perspective the attitudes of the times and a deeper understanding of certain issues, is something she has done with previous books – revisiting her biography of Dusty Springfield in 2019, for example, she was able to explore the LGBTQ+ issues and Springfield’s sexuality more than she would have thirty years before for the original 1989 edition. Society’s attitudes shift, and so too do the voices we hear. Up until now we had only really heard one voice in the Karen Carpenter story – that of Richard – and O’Brien believed it was now time for that to change: “…. the story that emerges is the story of the people that want to contribute. Previous biographies, ones approved by family, tended to portray Karen as the victim – as someone with not much agency. What was great with this book, I was talking to people who hadn’t done many interviews before – giving a fresh perspective.”

Having briefly touched on Karen Carpenter’s story in She Bop, O’Brien jumped at the chance to focus on her story in more depth when Pete Selby (98 Books – Miki Berenyi, Jenniffer Otto) asked if she wanted to do a full biography: “I’ve always been fascinated by her and her amazing, fluid wonderful emotional voice. That juxtaposition of the perfect lush pop of The Carpenters and then the sadness within a lot of the music, and the lyrics.” One of the things that appealed to her the most was Karen’s strength of character and unrelenting energy for what she loved – like drumming. “When she joined the school marching band, that’s when things turned around for her and she found liberation through drumming. She used to go to a drum shop in LA where mostly male drummers would hang out. She would hang out with them and swap stories. She got her parents to buy her a drum kit. She had pictures of people like Buddy Guy on her bedroom wall at the age of 15. She had a vision. She was such a committed drummer. Realising things like that – I realised she was quite a tough cookie.” 

This passion for what was (and still is in some respects) quite an usual instrument for a woman to play marks Karen Carpenter out as somewhat ahead of her time, as did her fierce drive and determination: “She was very competitive in terms of wanting to succeed. Talking to head of promotion at A&M, he was in awe of her encyclopaedic knowledge of the music industry and radio stations across the country.” So, certainly not just a submissive counter-part to her brother – in fact, from the stirring account of their childhood in Lead Sister, it often seems as though she was the ‘tough’ one in their relationship, frequently sticking up to his bullies at school, or being reprimanded for her cheeky sense of humour. O’Brien reflects on these more ‘masculine’ qualities of Karen when we speak; speculating that perhaps, had she been alive today, she may have identified as more gender-fluid as she did not fit into the conventional ‘feminine stereotype’ that was certainly prevalent at the time. 

However, despite her strength, she faced opposition to her love of drumming as The Carpenters started to achieve success, with huge pressure put on her from both Richard and other men on the team, to stop ‘hiding’ behind the kit – “this is such a contradiction in terms”, O’Brien responds, “how can you ‘hide’ behind drums – drums are the most expressive instrument. She was really expressing herself.” Sadly, though she resisted it for a long time, it seems that she lost the battle to be able to stay doing what she loved, and was almost ‘de-skilled’ by having to simply stand up front and sell the songs, “be a decorative front woman”. Understandably, this must have dented her confidence and been very frustrating for someone with such massive skill and passion – “… even though she had amazing voice, that wasn’t all there was to her…”, O’Brien explains, “… Every moment she could, she would find time to play the drums – like on their 1976 tour, she’d play an amazing drum solo right in the middle of concert.” (This tour is actually where the name of the book comes from, as – when the Carpenters toured Japan – a magazine mistakenly referred to her as the ‘lead sister’ of the band. She loved this title so much that she had it made into a t-shirt which she wore whilst thrashing out some beats at every opportunity on tour.) 

It was particularly heartwarming, then, for O’Brien this year, on the 40th anniversary of Karen’s passing, that a new emphasis seemed to be on her skill as a drummer: “That was what people were emphasising, much more than in the past when focus was always on her ‘silken’ voice – it’s really interesting how what we see and what we appreciate has shifted in terms of her expertise and what she symbolised.” 

The way in which Karen Carpenter struggled to fit into traditional ‘feminine’ roles is not a new perception. When speaking to some of her closest friends, O’Brien discovered how she had often found it difficult to fit in. Petula Clark, for example, reflected on Karen adjusting to the Beverly Hills culture, trying to turn herself into an “uptown Beverly Hills Queen” when that really wasn’t her; she was essentially just a musician’s musician, a “tom boy”. Remembering one particular instance, she told O’Brien of when she felt extremely uncomfortable seeing Karen feeling pressured to present herself in a certain way that wasn’t her true self, at a bridal shower she held at a country club with Beverly Hills socialites (before briefly marrying a real estate developer). Reflecting on how it seems that Karen wasn’t allowed to fully express herself and pursue what she was really passionate about, both in her professional and personal life, may go some way to explaining the root of her mental health struggles – “striving to become someone she wasn’t; someone that really wasn’t her.” 

However, looking back at Karen’s life, it’s clear that other factors could have played a part. When she was twelve, for example, the family moved from Connecticut to LA, primarily to help Richard with his career (“he was seen as the gifted musician”). Being uprooted at this age is bound to be difficult for anyone; especially as someone who been a straight A student, with lots of friends, keen on sports and very active, suddenly being moved to somewhere completely new where she did not know anyone. After they moved, Karen stopped playing sports and withdrew into herself, often binge eating and not feeling motivated to achieve (until she found marching band, and drumming later on). “All those facts were there”, O’Brien points out when reflecting on Karen’s struggles, “but no one thought to look at them and realise that it would been very traumatic…” 

O’Brien admits that it was difficult at times to delve into what Karen went through; from her somewhat dysfunctional upbringing and family relationships, to the later stages of her eating disorder – “it did become quite dark”, she reflects, “… it’s heart rending how much you realise she was struggling with it on her own. There wasn’t even a language for it – it was seen as slimming gone too far, and there nothing around to help… When it’s chronic, it is very hard. She did get to the chronic stage and she found it impossible even just looking in the mirror, the body dysmorphia was so strong.” 

Just listening to the Carpenters now, and what still seems to resonate so much, is how “you can hear the pain in her voice and the way she sings”; it’s deeply stirring, and O’Brien’s beautifully sensitive reflection immerses you in Karen’s story with a moving grace. Just reading the book, let alone having to research it, I have been deeply affected at times, and felt a strange, poignant connection to Karen Carpenter and what she went through; as O’Brien recalls George McKay (Skinny blues: Karen Carpenter, Anorexia Nervosa and Popular Music) telling her in one conversation – Karen really gets into your head. 

However, O’Brien tells me that speaking to those that knew Karen best, the light shone through; the strength of the person behind the public figure – “the more I could see the survivor in there, the pioneer.” One such person was Cherry Boone O’Neill, of the famous ‘70s sister pop group, The Boones. A close friend of Karen’s towards the end – and someone who had undergone similar experiences with a showbiz family, and also struggled with Anorexia herself -, she was able to offer a lot of insight and deeper understanding into the ‘real’ Karen. Having found a way through her illness, she was able to offer Karen a lot of advice; one of the key things she said to her when she was particularly struggling during the late ‘70s was that she should move away from LA, and from the industry – “Eating disorders are classed as addiction – so, you need to be away from the stress and circumstances that are creating this”, O’Brien explains, “… and, for Cherry, she had to move to Oregon, do intensive psychotherapy and take medication. It took a long time to recover, and she had to stop singing for a while.” However, for Karen, this was not option – she couldn’t stop singing, it was so important to her. In a way, it seems that her determination and unrelenting drive to get things done were ironically what prevented her from getting well herself – the feeling that there were a lot of people in the industry and family that were relying on her to keep everything going (especially whilst her brother Richard was in rehab).

Choosing not to take her friend’s advice, Karen went on to create her first solo album in 1979. Although, physically, she was deteriorating by this point, “I think she was just enjoying herself”, O’Brien reflects, “… she was nearly 30 and growing into an adult woman and wanted to explore the music of liberation at the time…” The recording of the album saw her delve into disco and soul with an array of incredible musicians (including Billy Joel’s backing band) – “Karen loved it. She was able to ditch that goody two shoes image that in America had seemed to hamper her reputation.” As a former boyfriend, Tom Bahler, joyfully reminisced with O’Brien, “she could certainly kick booty”. It seems poignantly bittersweet that Karen was able to finally express herself and find this cathartic joy through what she was creating so near the end, particularly thinking about what else she could have gone on to do; producer/arranger Bob James sharing with O’Brien that he really felt that she was on a journey and could have gone to have a great solo career. O’Brien is keen to highlight the enterprising and adventurous sense of spirit that shone through Karen even so near the end. With this album, for example, she travelled to New York and got herself a producer and some musicians, all in a very short space of time and independently: “That’s what I really enjoyed about her as I explored what she did and the people that she interacted with”, O’Brien reflects, “… the humour and strength that she approached things with.” Sadly, however, “it was the case with Karen that her spirit was willing, but the body was weak. By then, she just didn’t have the physical strength to push it through.” 

Although it is impossible to ignore the ‘darkness’ – the struggles she endured and the tragedy of Karen’s untimely passing – throughout Lead Sister what strikes you is this innovative artist’s effervescent, tenacious spirit, and it seems this spirit was present throughout the whole of O’Brien’s experience of researching and writing the book: “I did feel Karen was there, nudging me – almost assuring me, ‘that’s how I want people to remember me.’” A time when her presence seemed strongest was when O’Brien visited the studios where the Carpenters recorded their music (now Henson Studios) – “… there was this element of psycho geography that was quite transcendent.” The engineers, even now, still wish Karen goodnight at the end of every day. 

And it’s not just in those studios that Karen’s presence seems resonant today; people continue to be intrigued and inspired by her, whilst also – 40 years on – continuing to feel a striking sadness about her story. O’Brien speculates: “With Karen’s death, a bit like with Amy Winehouse, there was sense of collective failure, particularly within the music industry. With lots of people I interviewed, there seemed to be this feeling of collective failure and trauma – even after all these years, people are still asking why, wanting to ensure that something like that doesn’t happen again.” Thankfully, things have progressed somewhat in society’s understanding of eating disorders and the industry’s awareness of artists’ wellbeing today, and we can hope that this ensures its female subjects in particular are healthier and happier – “There’s a lot more awareness now within the industry, and within record companies in particular, about artists’ mental health and wellbeing, and making provision for that. It is now usually a part of management practice, and there is a whole discourse about how to look after artists, particularly female artists, and singers who may be vulnerable to eating disorders, given the relentless pressure to look ‘sexy’ or ‘glamorous’ to sell the music.”

However, had Karen still been physically with us today, O’Brien feels that she would have been a strong advocate for young women and non binary folk in the industry, helping to push things forwards for their wellbeing: “I think she would have been such a key figure. I can imagine her leading drumming workshops and being a mentor for young musicians. I can also imagine her being on panels – she was so engaged with so many things, and I think she had great business sense as well.” 

Finally, I ask O’Brien what she feels artists today could learn from Karen: “That passionate pursuit of what drives you”, she replies, “…to allow yourself to be completely immersed – utterly single minded in what you want to do. That joy in which Karen approached music. Even though it’s such a sad story, I just knew that when she was in studio, creating music, singing her heart out, she was happy. She was completely in herself.” Even in her short time with us, Karen Carpenter was able to create so much and become such an inspiration to others – she was determined, innovative, tenacious and courageous. And witty. All qualities which are highlighted beautifully throughout Lead Sister – a truly refreshing perspective on this well-known story, amplifying the voice of the person who matters the most, Karen. It truly allows her strengths to shine; to embolden others, and to leave a lasting imprint of her sparkling spirit: “… it’s like she’s here now”, O’Brien ponders, “… it’s as though she’s saying ‘Don’t remember me with sadness, just remember me with joy.’”

Lead Sister: The Story Of Karen Carpenter is out now via 98 Books. I strongly recommend getting yourself a copy of it here. Be prepared to feel the true presence of Karen with you throughout, thanks to O’Brien’s thorough research, compelling storytelling and empathetic reflection.

Mari Lane

Introducing Interview: Alien Chicks

Having been massive fans of Alien Chicks since first hearing funk-fuelled single ’27 Stitches’ last summer, our love of the South London trio has continued to grow since having them blow us away playing live for us at Shacklewell Arms in December, and they have continued to showcase their unique creativity and unrelenting energy with each new release.

Now, fresh from selling out a headline show at The Lexington – with acclaim from the likes of BBC 6Music’s Steve Lamacq and Tom Robinson – and with frenzied new single ‘Candlestick Maker‘ out now, we decided to catch up with Alien Chicks to find out more…

Hi Alien Chicks! Welcome to Get In Her Ears! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves, and how you started making music together?
We are a Brixton based post punk trio. I’m Stefan – I play bass and sing. I’m Josef I play guitar and sing. I’m Martha – I play drums. Stef and Josef met in tap class, and then we started playing guitar together when we were about 17. We moved to Brixton to try pursuing music and met Martha in a practice room in Peckham.

We love your frenzied funk-fuelled sounds , but who would you say are your main musical influences?
We are really into a range of stuff, from black midi to Abba, and I think this comes through in our songs. There’s also a lot of rap influence in the vocals – Josef is really into rappers like Ocean wisdom and Denzel Curry.

You’ve recently released your new single ‘Candlestick Maker’, which is very exciting! Are you able to tell us a bit about it? And how would you say it differs from your previous releases?
‘Candlestick Maker’ is a fun song with some pretty dark themes. I think it’s different to our other stuff because it’s more dancey!

You’ve just headlined an epic sold out show at The Lexington – a fantastic night (and the biggest mosh pit I’ve seen for a while)! How was that for you? And, for those who missed it, what can fans expect from your live shows?
The Lexington was incredible! We expected it to be great, but it blew away out expectations! The crowd were wild from start to finish and it really felt like a momentous occasion – one we have been working towards since we started a band. Fans can expect high energy, erratic songs and an atmosphere like no other!

Is there a particular live show you’ve played that stands out as a highlight?
The Lexington defo stands out – it was awesome! The Windmill gigs in general are also always amazing, full of energy and excitement!

And, when out on tour, are there any particular essentials that you like to take with you to keep you going when away from home? 
Idiocy, Martha’s laptop so she can “work”, game… and Josef’s bandana. 

How do you feel the industry is for new artists at the moment? And do you feel much has changed over the last few years in its treatment of female and queer/LGBTQ+  artists? 
I feel like there’s more representation of oppressed genders and minority groups, but there’s definitely still more work to be done. We think Get In Her Ears is a great movement and really helps to promote marginalised and underrepresented groups.

As we’re a new music focused site, are there any other upcoming bands you’re loving right now that you’d recommend we check out?
House Arrest, Man/Woman/Chainsaw…

Finally, what does the rest of 2023 have in store for Alien Chicks?
We will hopefully be releasing an EP, and will be playing in The Hundred Club in November! COME ON DOWN!!!

Massive thanks to Alien Chicks for answering our questions! Watch the new video for ‘Candlestick Maker’ now:

‘Candlestick Maker’ is out now via Hideous Mink Records. Catch them live at The 100 Club on 2nd November – tickets here.

INTERVIEW: Tokky Horror

The last time I spoke with Tokky Horror producer Zee, it was face-to-face outside of Hackney’s Sebright Arms in 2018. They were fronting a completely different band at the time, but the ethos behind their art has always been the same: make space in music for marginalised folks and get in the mosh pit if you can.

When we meet via Zoom for a chat this time around, Zee is taking their lunchbreak in the basement of Future Yard, an independent music venue in their native town of Birkenhead. Opening a month before the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Zee has been working as their Operations Manager for the past few years.

“Tokky Horror played our first gig here, which was nice,” they tell me. “Birkenhead has always been this kind of outsider town to Liverpool. There’s a river that runs between us, and Birkenhead is always seen as ‘the dark side’ of the river. We’re not seen as properly scouse, and we’re not seen as properly Welsh, we’re kind of something in between. So it’s actually nice that the majority of Tokky’s beginnings have been in Birkenhead and we’ve been able to play my hometown.”

Alongside dual vocalists Mollie Rush and Ava Akira – two absolute forces of nature – Zee initially formed Tokky Horror virtually, sending demo’s back and forth online to entertain each other during the pandemic. Full of hyperactive beats, punk attitude and jungle-inspired electronics, the band playfully coined their sound as “virtual hardcore”. Since then, Tokky Horror have released their debut EP, I Found The Answers And Now I Want More and toured extensively across the UK.

Newly signed to Venn Records, the trio are currently preparing to release their upcoming EP, KAPPACORE on 12th May. Zee is wearing a black hoodie with the Tokky KAPPA-inspired logo on the front when we speak, which feels pretty apt. I ask what fans can expect from their new release.

“I think we didn’t really know what we were doing when we started Tokky Horror,” Zee laughs. “We just kind of kept rolling with it and writing and having fun just to kind of entertain ourselves. The songs that we’ve come up with that are now on KAPPACORE are the first songs we wrote properly together post-lockdown. Most of them were written around tours and live shows. So this almost feels like our first release. The initial EP we did and the stuff we released through Alcopop! was almost like the equivalent of a band getting into the practice room, which we couldn’t do at the time. It was us jut kind of playing with ideas and seeing what we were, and what we wanted to do. Whereas KAPPACORE is the first time we’d all come together to write something and be like, ‘This is what Tokky is, this is our statement.'”

This statement has been delivered in the form of the EP’s first single, ‘Toilet’. A blend of drum & bass beats, manic riffs and surprisingly vulnerable lyrics, the track is inspired by Zee’s own experiences of finding their feet within activist scenes in music and further afield. This need for real change is something that has always fuelled Zee’s output.

“I think a lot of my music has been about that, forever,” they comment, “but ‘Toilet’ specifically is more aimed at activist scenes. I always felt when I was younger and slightly more naive, that these movements I’d associate myself with were perfect. So lots of queer movements and scenes would be perfect in my quite naive head.

I think a lot of punks love the word ‘anarchy’, but they would much rather be pissed in a toilet somewhere than making genuine change, and it was quite hard for me to realise that. It was really hard for me to accept. I went through this big period of feeling almost hopeless. I think maybe in some part of my teenage, early 20s mind, I was like, ‘we’re going to burn this horrible world down! We’re going to build a new one!’ – then I realised the people who were going to burn it down were just wasted. That’s what ‘Toilet’ is about. You’re more likely to find these people passed out on the toilet floor, then stood outside Parliament protesting. I think I’ve realised that you have to be the change.

Whilst these epiphanies were initially painful for Zee, they were also the catalyst for creating the new space and ethos they felt was lacking from music scenes.

“The entire premise of Future Yard and my work here is to give young people and people from disadvantaged backgrounds opportunities to work and have careers within live music,” Zee continues. “We’ve worked on a tonne of training programmes and it’s about being the active change in your community and actively participating. I don’t think you can wait for a movement to come by and fix it, I think we have to just make these kinds of gradual, small changes ourselves. As far as Tokky Horror is concerned, we try to do that in our everyday existence. We try to play venues where we agree with their ethos, we try to make music that will maybe encourage people to do that. Our team and the people we work with, we trust them to be part of that change.”

Taking part in this year’s Independent Venue Week was another element of that. Tokky Horror played six live dates back in February to celebrate it, beginning their mini tour at The Moon in Cardiff, dropping by London’s Black Heart in Camden, before wrapping things up at the Quarry in Liverpool.

“I love Independent Venue Week,” Zee enthuses. “I love the ethos behind it and the way the public engages with it. You can tell there’s an appetite from people to support venues and support the bands during that week. There’s a real positivity around the whole thing. Particularly given that last January, most venues were closed because of Omicron. It was really nice to see a fully functional venue week this year. It was probably one of my favourite ever tours. You just go to the best venues in the country, what more could you want?

The Black Heart show was funny. It was absolute carnage from the moment we stood on the stage. I’ve always wanted to do that with my music, I’ve always wanted it to be that from the get go, that the room just explodes. The Black Heart was almost perfectly that. The circle pit opened during the intro music. We played ‘Insomnia’ by Faithless and as soon as that synth dropped, our guitarist James and I looked at each other, and we were like ‘this is gonna go off…’ We played some great shows that week. We played Blackpool, Newcastle and Manchester. We sold out a bunch of those dates out as well, which was great.”

Performing live is clearly where Tokky Horror thrive. Vocalists Ava and Mollie are renowned for their visceral, in-your-face energy and their commitment to making sure everyone in the mosh pits at a Tokky show has their boundaries respected. Carving out a safe space for their fans – whilst also feeling safe enough themselves – is at the center of all that Tokky Horror do. I ask Zee if fans have spoken to them about these triumphs, and their response is honest and considered.

“There’s a lot of women and gender queer, and queer people that come to the shows and are in the front row, and it’s really nice,” Zee says. “They don’t feel like there’s going to be this type of masculine mosh pit, and that they’ll get the shit kicked out of them. Having said that, we have had a little bit of backlash against moshing at our events actually. People have said that it made them feel uncomfortable, which I fully understand. I think it’s something that we’re trying to find a kind of happy medium on, where people can mosh and party and move, without it getting out of hand.

It’s such a great vibe at the Tokky gigs. The energy that the crowd brings, we’re always fully grateful for that. I don’t think we’ve ever played a show that’s not had a mosh pit. Even when there’s only five people in the room, they’ll start dancing and kind of going crazy. That’s amazing. We make music for you to move to. It is part of the culture, and it’s part of the band. But we’re trying to do that safely and do that in a way that makes people comfortable. It is 100% what we’re about. I would never want people to not want to come and see us, or turn away from a show because of it either.

I think moshing in general is having a little bit of an identity crisis. We’re seeing an increase in moshing at events that wouldn’t normally have them. There’s been a big backlash against moshing at jungle and drum and bass events. If I’m honest, I love moshing. I think it’s a great way for people to express themselves and to have that chaos and adrenaline rush that people crave. It’s just got to be safe. It’s got to be handled in a way that has the audience in mind, and people’s varying access requirements in mind. It’s a work in progress.”

It’s certainly something the band will be considering on the impressive run of live dates they have coming up in the next few months. This includes a slot alongside Brighton electro-punks CLT DRP – who Zee loves – supporting Alice Glass in Leeds, and a run of dates supporting Enter Shikari on their UK tour.

“Shikari were one of those bands that as a teenager, they kind of blew my mind a little bit,” Zee smiles. “I’ve always really loved electronic music. That’s what my Mum and Dad were really into, stuff like the Prodigy, Orbital and Underworld. But I grew up also loving heavy music and punk, so as soon as I heard Enter Shikari and the ridiculousness that was going on in their sound, something just really spoke to me. I really loved their Take To The Skies album. So to be going out on tour with them now and have that kind of nod of approval is really surreal, but a very lovely thing to have.”

Following these live dates, Tokky Horror will be on the festival circuit, which includes appearances at Blackpool’s Rebellion Festival, Burn It Down Festival in Devon, and the amazing ArcTanGent Festival in Bristol. “It’s the first time we’re playing ArcTanGent and the lineup is absolutely insane,” Zee comments. “We’re playing on the same day as HEALTH and IGORRR, who is one of my all-time biggest influences as a producer. I’m really glad that we get to play it.”

Before I let Zee return to their work, I ask if they have any bands or artists who they’ve been listening to recently that they’d like to recommend.

“I’ve got a tonne! Off the top of my head, I really love this band called Nihiloxica. It’s really percussion-led kind of techno. It’s absolutely amazing. I’d also recommend Zulu, who are a black power violence band. They’ve just dropped their album A New Tomorrow, and I’ve been rinsing that, it’s phenomenal stuff. They’re on my to-see-list this year.”

Tokky Horror UK Live Dates 2023
8th April – Manchester Punk Festival, Manchester (DJ Set)
13th April – St Lukes, Glasgow (supporting Enter Shikari)
14th April – New Century Hall, Manchester (supporting Enter Shikari)
15th April – KK Steel Mill, Wolverhampton (supporting Enter Shikari)
16th April – SWX, Bristol (supporting Enter Shikari)
17th April – Outernet, London (supporting Enter Shikari)
26th April – Oporto, Leeds (co-headline with CLT DRP)
27th April – Rock City Beta, Nottingham
28th April – The Black Prince, Northampton
30th April – Sounds From The Other City, Salford
18th May – KAPPACORE EP Release Party Blondies, London
26th May – Sneister Festival, The Hague NL
9th June – Fiestas De La Artes, Manchester
5th August – Rebellion Festival, Blackpool
18th August – Convoy Cabaret Festival, Dorchester
19th August – Arctangent Festival, Somerset
9th September – Burn It Down Festival, Devon

Follow Tokky Horror on bandcampSpotifyTwitterInstagram & Facebook

Kate Crudgington

Introducing Interview: Maja Lena

Following last year’s captivating debut album The Keeper, and previous projects Hot Feet and Low Chimes, alt-folk artist Maja Lena has now released her second solo album, Pluto. Delving into an ethereal alternate world, Pluto immerses the listener in its glistening sweeping soundscapes, all flowing with Maja Lena’s trademark majestic grace and resplendent vocals.

We caught up with Maja Lena to find out more about the album, her inspirations and touring essentials… Have a read and watch the beautiful video for recent single ‘The Stone‘ below!

Hi Maja Lena Welcome to Get In Her Ears! Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 
Hello! I was born and brought up in Stroud in England but my Mum is Swedish so I spend a lot of time there. My family and some friends call me Maja and my middle name is Lena, but I also go by Marianne. I started out in a band called Hot Feet in my teens, we then went on to become Low Chimes till the end of 2017, and then I began this project a year or so later and began working and releasing with independent label Chiverin. I’ve also been working on a Natural Horsemanship Therapy yard for the last 14 years and I help my husband Luke part-time on his no-dig market garden.

Are you able to tell us a bit about how and why you initially started creating music? 
Singing, playing and listening to music was always a big part of our household growing up, and most of my friends were musical too. I think it just happened naturally and had become a very familiar form of expression to me by the time I started writing my own songs. I think I was also lucky in that my parents were very supportive of me doing that.

We love your beautifully twinkling folk-strewn sounds , but who would you say are your main musical influences?
Thank you! The Incredible String Band, Mike Oldfield, Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Leonard Cohen, Joe Hisaishi, PJ Harvey, Nick Drake, The Velvet Underground, Kate Bush, Sandy Denny, Radiohead, Beck, Domenique Dumont..

You’ve just released your new album Pluto, which is very exciting! Are you able to tell us a bit about what inspired it and the themes running throughout it?
Reality vs imagination and believing stories we’ve created in our heads – I was spending quite a lot of time on my own when I wrote it, so had plenty of time and space to get stuck into my own imagination. Eventually a whole made up landscape/ alternate world formed where most of the songs are set, with Pluto in the distance instead of the sun or moon, as there are Plutonic themes such as destruction and creation, transformation and renewal throughout the record.

How would you say it differs from last year’s debut, The Keeper
The Keeper was set more in the real world and was overall more stripped back. We delved deeper sonically making this one, trying to bring the landscape to life with more synth and electronic explorations. I also wrote Pluto in a much more condensed period of time (a couple of the songs whilst we were recording), and I personally feel they were more of a natural fit together than those on the first, which I’d written over a much wider timescale.

We had the pleasure of seeing your beautiful set at Deershed Festival this year, but is there a live show you’ve played that stands out as a highlight?
Oh thank you! Probably the next show after that at Smugglers Festival, which was our 2nd band show of the year and we had a few extra friends play with us on stage. It was late in the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day in a beautiful place, and it was possibly the most relaxed I’ve ever felt on stage. I was able to fully enjoy playing the music with my lovely band and had a really fun time!

And, when out on tour, are there any particular essentials that you need with you and keep you going when away from home? 
I am type 1 diabetic so firstly all my associated testers and insulin/sugar. A good scarf, book, health tinctures – oregano oil’s my current fave! Rescue remedy, swimsuit & running clothes, notebook, pillow, hot water bottle, more recently my Grandma’s glamorous bright yellow handbag for keeping spirits up! And last but not least, waterproofs and walking boots! I always like to try and fit in walking and nature time wherever possible – I think fresh air and some hills and trees to stomp about amongst are my biggest tour essential!

How do you feel the industry is for new artists at the moment? And do you feel much has changed over the last few years in its treatment of female and queer/LGBTQ+  artists? 
Without speaking to many people in person on these questions, I find it hard to answer them with much certainty, but from what I’ve seen online (which is obviously only a small part of the picture), I imagine it must be very difficult for new artists as well as any artist for that matter – as in many areas of profession, so much has changed and is full of uncertainty, there are so many extra things to do and try to balance behind the scenes, so many of us trying to do several jobs at once to make ends meet which can be difficult to juggle.
And in terms of the second question, again I feel I’d need to actually speak to a lot more people to get a truer picture than the one I do mainly just online and feel I can only really speak from my own personal experience. For better and normally for worse, I’m a bit of a recluse! 

As we’re a new music focused site, are there any other upcoming artists you’re loving right now that you’d recommend we check out?
Holyseuss Fly is awesome! 

Finally, what does 2023 have in store for Maja Lena? 
I’ve just finished the album release tour, then hopefully lots of writing, lots of hiking, and deeper synth and guitar explorations! And lots more working outdoors with animal friends and vegetables.

Massive thanks to Maja Lena for answering our questions!

Maja Lena’s latest album, Pluto, is out now via Chiverin Records.

Photo Credit: Martha Webb