“People who support you are the only reason you exist as a band.”
By Rob Barbour
Nestled between the self-consciously ‘downmarket’ dive-joints and wallet-scorchingly expensive cocktail bars of London’s Soho district, Taro is one of those Japanese restaurants whose aesthetic is best described as ‘utilitarian’. Laminated menus adorn bare wooden tables on which disposable chopsticks peek out of paper sleeves. The bustle and clatter of an open kitchen merges with the chatter of the post-work dining crowd, ricocheting round the room; there could be six tables behind us, or sixty.
Having spent several minutes fiddling with said chopsticks, Lande Hekt finally nails the technique and lifts a vegan sushi roll off its platter. She’s got it to within a few inches of the soy sauce when it unfurls itself, deposits its contents on the table and tumbles from the chopsticks’ decidedly apathetic grip. The rice lands with a small splash, and begins to turn from pure-white to off-brown. Hekt shrugs.
“I’m pretty messy.”
It’s going to take more than some kamikaze avocado to haze the vocalist/bassist today. Five days previously, the band she fronts – Exeter trio, Muncie Girls – headlined Camden’s Underworld for the first time. The idea of playing such an iconic venue was, she says, “Absolutely fucked.”
“Up until we actually played, we were still thinking ‘What are we doing? This is a mistake!’ But it felt amazing. Bands that we look up to have always played there, so it was a total thing for us.”
The nervousness to which she freely admits wasn’t obvious on the night. But what was, I tell her, was a special atmosphere. The sense that people were really rooting for Muncie Girls to succeed.
“We’re at that level where our crowd is just friends, or friends of friends, and then a couple of people who’ve somehow discovered us,” Hekt explains. “So I think it’s fair to say that it was just full of our mates, and people they’d managed to drag along.”
Muncie Girls are far from the most-hyped band in the UK right now, but they are receiving support from high places. The editor of Kerrang!, James McMahon, is vocal on Twitter about his love for the band; he also gave their debut album, From Caplan to Belsize, 5/5 in a featured review. It’s notable for being an increasingly rare example of a mainstream publication using its clout to push an independent band. Surely, I say, she can’t really believe they’re touring the country and just playing to their mates.
“Honestly, that’s true!” She insists. “I’m not saying it won’t develop, but that’s what it is at the moment. But that’s a strong place to be.”
Many bands are immediately built up, she points out, and explode onto magazine covers and into 4-figure-capacity venues with little or no grass-roots support. That’s the kind of ‘success’ which can be fleeting: “I’ve seen so many bands who suddenly have millions of people they don’t know at their shows, and then those people disappear. Because they’ve got no connection to that band.” And, more importantly to Hekt, it makes for shows full of strangers. Muncie Girls shows, she says, feel like gatherings of friends.
“It’s still people we’ve met through music but we know them, y’know? I don’t want it any other way than that. I don’t long for people I don’t know to turn up. I don’t care about that.”
It’s fascinating to hear Hekt talk about the people who support Muncie Girls. It’s almost like the band are on a mission to collect as many friends as possible, using their music as the membership card for an inclusive club. And there’s visible discomfort when it comes to certain aspects of the traditional performer-audience relationship.
“We like to be mates with our fa-” she cuts herself off and rapidly corrects: “Not fans. But people who come to our shows. It’s better to be mates with them, and hope that they’ll keep coming to see us.”
Is she uncomfortable with the word fan? Not exactly. Some people have fans, she says. Her problem lies with the implied hierarchy. She finds the idea that someone would come out specifically to watch her band “a little bit weird”, and rationalises the idea of fandom by describing the situation she and the band are used to by explaining that many of her friends are musicians, too: “So if I’m a fan of them, they can be a fan of me.”
Eschewing pretension – and, in Hekt’s words, “rock star bullshit” – and just being a decent human being is an important aspect of Muncie Girls’ ethos; the idea that musicians are somehow a breed apart from the people who sustain their careers clearly rankles.
“I don’t like these venues where you don’t see the band before they play. You can’t say hello. That’s really weird.”
Because they’re hiding away in a dressing room?
“Because they mean something more than you just because they’re in a band. That’s bullshit. Someone could be a nurse for the NHS and I will literally bow down to them. I’m in a stupid fucking band, whereas if someone does a job like that…” she trails off.
“Yeah, I guess ‘fan’ is sometimes a problematic term. It has connotations, doesn’t it?”
At this point, an observation: Hekt joined me today directly from a press roundtable interview which lasted most of the afternoon. These events often involve an endless stream of free booze, in a not-so-subtle attempt to loosen lips and generate juicy pull-quotes and as a result, I find my subject in dire need of Jaegermeister-absorbing sustenance. Despite this, she politely answers my questions while eyeing up the Japanese banquet arriving at our table. Lande Hekt doesn’t just preach grounded authenticity. She embodies it.
While she finally tucks into the gyoza that have been taunting her for the last ten minutes, I put forward a theory: that one of the reasons people connect with bands like Muncie Girls is that their lack of pretence marks a refreshing change from the previous generation of British rock bands.
Whereas their predecessors were all about high-concept photoshoots and pristine, major-label-funded production, much of the current crop of homegrown talent embrace and celebrate the less-glamorous side of music. And, let’s be realistic here: for most people, being in a band isn’t getting any more lucrative any time soon. So this more humble ‘image’ isn’t just relatable. It’s honest.
The belated dinner has apparently replenished her energy: “Fuck yeah!” Really, she’s that enthusiastic.
“You want to be part of the world – you want to survive on the NHS and be able to relate to people. It’s the stupidest thing you could ever do, being in a band. And to think it’s anything more than that is insane. And it’s really insulting to people who to go to shows. If someone’s kind enough to pay £5 to come and watch you play when they could have had a Typyedong two-for-one – fuck that!”
“Typyedong. Two for one. On a Tuesday, or whenever it is.”
Is this an Exeter thing?
“Yeah, it’s a little noodle bar back home. You could have had dinner for two! But you’re coming to see that band so if they’re gonna be like, ‘Oh, whatever’ then fuck that! People who support you are the only reason you exist as a band. But I guess some people really love being ‘rock stars’.”
Her passion and conviction is infectious, and unforced. I share an anecdote, about a band who supposedly saved photos from one trip abroad and then – for months afterwards – synchronised the drip-feed publishing of those photos across their personal social media pages, giving the impression of a glamorous, globe-trotting lifestyle.
She’s delighted: “I love that. That is so funny.”
But can she see Muncie Girls ever getting to that point?
“Well, no. ‘Cos that’s not ‘a point’, is it? That’s just a decision you make to be a weirdo.”
If Muncie Girls were picked up by a major label and thrown into the image machine, I suspect they’d quickly find a way to subvert it, There’s no anger or ill-will towards bands who chase the rock star dream, just empathy mixed with a little bemusement.
“I don’t have any beef with bands for doing that kind of stuff. It’s fun, isn’t it? Imagine being in a band where you’re getting thousands of likes for your photos, all the time. And you’re looking well good in those pictures, because you’ve hand-selected them all. It’s brilliant!”
The difference between those bands and Muncie Girls comes down to a matter of aiming to attain a specific level of success. Most bands who end up headlining The O2 Arena, at some point, sit down and say to each other, “Right. How do we get to headline The O2 Arena?” Whereas Muncie Girls’ attitude seems to be: that would be great, but let’s focus on having a good time.
“We want to be doing big stuff,” she says. “For a laugh. But no-one should ever take it too seriously. Because – whatever, it’s just a band. Don’t worry about it.”
So there are no specific ambitions? There’s no grand plan?
“Oh god no! Not at all. If one of us lost a kidney and had to move to Hawaii to live the peaceful life, I’d be like, ‘Mate, that is so fair play’. I’ll just work in Oggy Oggy Pasty, I don’t mind. That’d be fine.”