Not only are Barnsley’s ferocious Hands Off Gretel out on tour this month, but they’re also about to release a new EP.
Dropping on their own Puke Pop Records on Mon 9 March, The Angry EP features three live favourites. She Thinks She’s Punk Rock N Roll, Don’t Touch and Bigger Than Me were all recorded with Jim Pinder at Chesterfield’s Tree House Studio, after repeated request from fans.
Reviving the white-hot rage of riot grrrl and grunge mixed with bubble-gum pop, Hands Off Gretel enjoyed an incredibly busy 2019. It saw the release of their highly acclaimed second album, I Want The World, a largely sold out 38 date UK and EU tour, and appearances at major festivals including Isle of Wight, Kendal Calling and Y Not.
Ahead of the new EP, and their show at Brighton’s Green Door Store on Fri 13 March, we spoke to singer Lauren Tate
How did you and the band cultivate your sound when you first started out?
After my solo band split, myself and Sean started Hands Off Gretel in my garage. We wrote up fake song names on the wall and jammed for hours and I tried screaming for the first time properly. We both LOVED 90s grunge bands, anything from Dinosaur Jr. to Babes in Toyland, we cherished every record and both agreed current music was just lacking that passionate chaos that they had to a tee back then. At that time, we really didn’t care what anyone thought, I was mostly singing to him and he was playing for me and the sound that we created was just raw and exciting for us. I remember saying to Sean that ‘we have to just become our new favourite band’ because we were quite bored by music at the time and both searching for something real.
Do you feel like your music style might evolve or change in the future from what it is now?
For sure. I really enjoy evolving, as scary as it is because there’s always fans who don’t want you to change. My music taste broadens every day as I get bored so easily of the same things. Our second album, I Want the World, was more pop influenced with catchy hooks compared to our first album but then our latest release, The Angry EP, is raw and punk-fueled again as we are playing without a rule book. Whatever I feel, flows.
Could you name some key music influences for you specifically and for the band as well?
I grew up listening to 2000’s girl groups and Britney Spears, which then led me to Pink which then, in my angsty teen years, took me to Courtney Love and her band Hole. I discovered love for feminist rock bands like Bikini Kill and Jack Off Jill, which were both obvious influencers for me. Sean’s favourite bands are Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Nirvana but he’s into all the obscure B-side stuff. Sam is our punk guy with every piece of clothing he wears being The Decendents merchandise! Then Becky always jokes she likes Dad Rock because she’s devoted to the rock and metal of the 80s with her favourite bands being Black Sabbath and Motorhead, hence the Rickenbacker she plays with its signature name Rickenbecky.
When you’re writing music for the band, does it come from your own personal experiences or the experiences of the other band members? Do you often draw inspiration from your life for your music?
Mostly everything I write is personal as I use music a lot as my personal diary. I hated school, I had a hard time growing up in a town that I felt I didn’t belong, I had / have no friends, I’m still pretty lonely and angry and every night I lay awake and think of all the awful things in the world, so I have more than enough fuel to write songs for the next 50 years. I write everything from the perspective of being a woman and a lot of my songs are about empowerment and feminist issues around body positivity, rape culture and speaking to young women like myself through my music to let them know they’re not alone. I also incorporate this into my live shows and always make sure the girls are stood up at the front and they’re safe. I take it on myself to be their role model because often in this world they’re hard to find.
What is the dynamic like within the band? Are there lengthy discussions or a vote before any decision is made?
Yeah, we all vote for things we want and luckily most of the time we agree. It’s always been very open from the start and I think that’s the only way it can work in a group or people feel their voice isn’t valid.
The band seems to have a focus on championing young girls, giving them a voice, with a touch of the Riot Grrrl movement from the 90s. Was this intentional from the beginning or did it develop as the band found its feet?
Growing up in my town the word ‘feminist’ was a curse word. If I was called a feminist by a boy at school it’d be seen as something awful. This word cropped up over and over as I started to discover music that really spoke to me. I watched the Bikini Kill documentary, The Punk Singer, when I was around 15 and that really opened my eyes to what women had to fight for and for the first time I began to understand the importance of women supporting each other and holding each other up rather than tearing each other down like all the girls did in my school. I knew I wanted Hands Off Gretel to be a feminist band; it was just a matter of understanding my own feminism and I’d say only now, after 7 years, do I truly understand what my place is within it and the importance of speaking out and being a role model to other women that need me.
Has it been difficult being the front woman of the band? Have you experienced any harassment or extra scrutiny as a result? If so, how do you deal with it?
I was naive in the beginning and only now, with more popularity, do I see the shit happening now the crowds are bigger. I’ve released many statements about women being sexually assaulted and harassed at music shows and I really wish more bands would do this, as it’s an issue women are facing each time they show up at a venue to see their favourite bands. I target this a lot at my shows and always take the time to ask during the show for women to come forward and fill the gaps in front of me. This is a way for me to say ‘if anyone feels uncomfortable and they just need to be seen, I will take care of you here where I can see you’. I’ve been having trouble with men showing up at the shows for the wrong reasons, to either harass me, Becky or girls in the crowd, and I’ve made it my focus over the last few months to encourage everyone, especially men, to be aware of what’s going on and to watch out for anything like that happening. The more we talk, the easier it is to stop and, for me, encouraging women to come out to see live music without feeling unsafe is a main focus when it comes to the future of women in rock n roll.
You’d previously released a solo album, before forming the band. Do you have any plans to pursue your solo work alongside the band?
Yeah, I think it helps keep me sane having both as I have so many different parts to myself and don’t necessarily always write rock music. My next solo project will be Metal Influenced Feminist Hip Hop and I’ll be rapping and screaming like a crazy person which Is all new to me and I love it. I just love doing different projects to keep myself challenged. I have no plans of touring as a solo artist, it’s all entirely creative content at the moment which I produce myself.
You and the band have already toured across the UK and Europe in the past, do you hope to venture further abroad in the future?
We all really want to play the USA eventually when the time’s right and we can actually afford it. We have fans all around the world already and I do want to tour the world someday, especially places like Japan and Brazil. It’s the people you meet that make touring so exciting so hopefully we get to mix it up a bit more when we get a bit bigger.
Hands Off Gretel have played at some big events in the past, will you be doing another round of the festival circuit in 2020?
We have a few festivals lined up already with a few more waiting on confirmation. I’m super excited to be playing the main stage at Ramblin’a Man Festival this year on the Friday and we are playing Kendall Calling again this year too. A few more to mention that we are really looking forward to playing are Watchet Festival, Primordial AGM with Skindred, Long Division Festival, Headlining SOS Festival and Holmfirth Rock Splash.
Hands Off Gretel play Brighton’s Green Door Store on Fri 13 March 2020. Their Angry EP will be available on Mon 9 March, via Puke Pop Records.
Hands Off Gretel’s tour has been postponed. We’ll have new dates for you very soon.
Images by Neil Chapman