By Kristy Diaz
Doing what you want is a core tenet of punk philosophy; forging your own way forward, rather than by the ideals of your parents, or ‘authority’, or wider society. Understanding the constraints placed on you and finding another way.
Well, Alimony Hustle want you to do just that.
“‘Do what you want’ started off as a silly way to do very low key things to put yourself first,” Leah Pritchard, guitars and vocals, explains. “Like leaving work 30 minutes early if your boss isn’t in or having a second Magnum because you fancy it.”
This concept, as the band defines it, has been explored on a number of levels. It feels as though there is always significance in the low-key, that their smallest decisions imply something bigger at hand. Eating what you want, enjoying that second ice cream, becomes a stance against harmful diet culture. One of the first songs the band released, ‘DWUW’, (which stands for Do What U Want) describes the realities of an eating disorder.
It’s also the name of a zine about mental health that Leah has produced alongside her fiancée, writer Ruby Tandoh. Released this month, it features a number of contributions from musicians, including Trust Fund’s Ellis Jones discussing the myth of mental illness being beneficial to creativity, poetry by Alanna McArdle (ex-Joanna Gruesome) and an interview with Sara Quinn of Tegan and Sara.
“[‘Do what you want’] is a pretty liberating idea if you’ve found yourself tied up by guilt, or anxiety, or religion,” Matthew Mndolo, drums and vocals, adds “in the right amount it brings me life.”
Alimony Hustle are a two-piece indie-pop band (“the non white stripes”) from Bristol and Sheffield that sound like all your favourite sad bands learned how to write catchy pop hooks.
Their influences, described by Matt as “pop bangers and whiney heartfelt indie kids”, range from The Hotelier to Run The Jewels, Katy Perry to Joyce Manor. (They do an excellent live cover of ‘Constant Headache’, FYI.)
Pop culture is not just an influence on their music, but an important part of their friendship. The pair have been unavoidably open about their shared love for One Direction. They play on stage with blow-up Minions. It’s pure, unabashed joy. Not a second is wasted on posturing or pretence.
“I think when you are part of a minority owning space and enjoying proudly being yourself and indulging your preferences and tastes, especially the ones that are looked down on or judged by others, is a serious and important act,” says Matt.
“We want to try and keep things accessible and fun and simple in the way that pop music is”, Leah asserts. “With our previous band [the pair originally played together in a band called Empty Pools] I was definitely trying to get the longest, smartest words I could into every song, and a lot of them I can’t even work out what they were about now. Why did I think I needed to use the words ‘masquerade’ or ‘embryonically’? Is that even a word?”
Rejecting indie elitism is something they’ve spoken out about before; specifically how society devalues music that is important to girls. It applies across genres – the derogatory use of the term ‘fangirl’ and the dismissal of bands that attract a large teenage girl demographic.
There is no better example in pop than One Direction. “You could play a Dad – any Dad – One Direction’s seminal album ‘Four’, and if they didn’t know who it was, they’d be like ‘oh yes, reminds me of Tears for Fears, wonderful’” Leah states. “But as soon as you told them it was 1D their brain would turn off.”
“It’s absolutely, entirely because girls like One Direction. Fucking guarantee if MOJO wrote about them, men would be all over it – but we don’t trust girls, or women, to be tastemakers.”
Their new single, ‘Miss GB’, is about Zara Holland, the reality TV star whose Miss GB title was removed after being filmed having sex on ITV’s Love Island. Recorded at Suburban Home by MJ from Hookworms, the sad vocals and winding, Kinsella-style guitars highlight their more emo leanings. It weighs on you gently like quiet defeat; feeling the hurt of someone else’s loss at the hands of inescapable double standards.
The band are very clear about their politics (“that’s just core to who we are”) and have given voice to a range of issues, including mental health, racism, sexism and queerphobia, both as a band and as individuals.
But do musicians have a responsibility to use their platforms in this way, or is being apolitical possible for bands in the current landscape?
Leah has mixed feelings. “It’s not something I’d campaign for, like demanding Taylor Swift speaks out about racism, but at the same time I do think it says a lot about who those artists are as people.”
“I do notice the silence and it doesn’t sit right with me. What kind of world are you living in when it doesn’t feel urgent to speak out about islamophobia or anti-blackness or transphobia? Who are your friends?”
“But we don’t only listen to music for political reasons, especially when it comes to pop, I think. Pop is, in its essence, this aspirational, escapist thing. I think I’d have a lot less time for an indie rock artist who was a massive Tory.”
According to Matt, “Everything is political, you either are intentional about that or not.”
Since they formed in 2015, Alimony Hustle have released a string of singles and EPs, but are yet to produce a full-length. They appear in waves, but with the strength of their new material, I ask if a record is something they see happening in the future, and what the ultimate goals of the band are.
“I’d definitely love to do one,” says Leah. “I guess we probably could have done one by now if I didn’t write so slowly. I’m trying to work out whether it’s a lack of self-esteem, or depression, or anxiety, or laziness… but it’s real struggle to balance all those things for long enough to write all that music, and then have the courage to stand behind it and be proud of it.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that in absence of mapping out a definitive plan, they know what Alimony Hustle stands for. A predetermined album-tour-album approach isn’t for them, and that’s okay.
They’re carving out their own model based on staying friends, staying true to the things they stand for and staying represented in a scene which is still seen as being “white music, and men’s music.” For Matt, “being amongst friends and musicians making great music from the margins and taking up more space still feels good.”
“My main thing is feeling like I’ve done justice to myself in everything we do,” says Leah. “Making sure the songs are heartfelt, that we’ve got producers and illustrators we like working with us, and that we’ve been kind to them and paid them fairly for their work.”
“There’s no show or tour or label that’s worth sacrificing your mental wellbeing for. That’s the healthiest and most sustainable way for me, at least, to work. I don’t really care about selling more as time goes on, or playing bigger shows. As long as it’s fun and fulfilling, that’s good enough for me.”
Ultimately, as with everything, they’re just going to keep doing what they want.