CW: Detailed discussion of mental illness and gun-related violence
By Kristy Diaz
We talk about honesty in a lot of ways. From the well-known adage of ‘write what you know’ to the Instagram sunsets scribbled with messages about ‘living your truth’, we’re an audience looking for authenticity, for lived experiences, for something real in the stories we hear.
But the actual process of honesty is difficult; sharing your thoughts, vulnerabilities, still-raw feelings and making something real. Kamikaze Girls do exactly that.
Their current setup, with Lucinda Livingstone on guitar and vocals and Conor Dawson on drums, began in 2015 with a genuinely unique sound, combining 80s indie and shoegaze with hardcore punk and riot grrl overtones.
Arriving at that particular cross-section of genres – and making it work – is the result of long-term friendship and collaboration.
“Kamikaze Girls is only two and half years old but me and Conor have essentially been the same band for about eight years,” Lucinda says. “That’s a long time for two people – just the hours spent in the van – to get to know each other. We have really different music tastes, but at the same time click on a few things.”
Following 2016’s SAD EP, the band have recently signed with Big Scary Monsters to release their debut full-length, Seafoam. “It’s braver, and it’s bolder than SAD. We had a lot more space to explore different types of songs and not try and concentrate on writing five bangers. It was an opportunity to step everything up.”
And the intensity has stepped up notably, with a lyrical potency that charges through each song, driven by themes of sadness, despair and defiance.
Here’s a premiere of new track ‘Good For Nothing’, taken from Seafoam
Punk and DIY circles have been talking about mental health at length for some time now. It’s a conversation that continues across platforms and genres, reaching an unprecedented level of visibility. It has also been a central theme for Kamikaze Girls since their inception.
Lucinda describes how mental health struggles have influenced her songwriting. “In my main band as a teenager, a pop-punk band, I spent a lot of time trying to write really good hooks and stuff people could sing along to. Then I just kind of stopped doing that. I stopped writing what I thought people wanted to hear. I started writing more from personal experience.”
In 2014, Lucinda was robbed at gunpoint as she walked to work in the early hours of the morning.
The opening track on Seafoam, ‘One Young Man’, bears the weight of that experience. “I wrote that song before Kamikaze Girls was even a band’ she says “but I guess it was just something that I wasn’t quite ready to finish off.”
It’s a powerful opener, sung softly before building to a scream. The words direct and severe, holding nothing back. There’s a palpable sense of the impact that event had on her (“it pretty much ruined a year of my life”) and the post-traumatic stress disorder she faced as a result.
“I couldn’t really leave the house, couldn’t go to work… With any shows we played, Conor and Andy, our guitarist at the time, would pick me up and take me there and straight back. I’ve had issues with depression and anxiety throughout my life but that was something completely different.”
Alongside the therapy she received, the band was a support structure that played a role in her recovery. Participating in music, both as a musician and a fan, and “just being in a space with your friends” helped when nothing else felt right.
“Everyone was quite sensitive to it, for sure,” she says, “but I had weird things happen like forensic policemen showing up at our practice space mid-band practice, taking me out into the hall to do swabs of my neck and face… but having [the band] as a hobby and an outlet did help because the only time I was doing anything outside of my flat was band related.”
In their latest single, ‘Deathcap’, the band takes on media framing of mental health problems in generational terms. The lyric ‘just one of those nervous millennials’ features in the video, as the band write a series of words and phrases on pieces of cards to be tossed away.
Lucinda explains, “There was a video going around where this guy was essentially trying to summarise the millennial generation in a really short period of time, with everyone coming across as very self-entitled, wanting everything instantly and expecting jobs and homes and things to be handed to them. I didn’t really agree with that.”
“I think everyone’s just trying to do their thing, working with what they’ve got.”
We exist in a scene where mental illness, at least anecdotally, seems prevalent. As a band who have been affected by it directly, and made positive contributions to the discourse surrounding it, they’ve been able to observe the impacts.
“One thing I’ve noticed loads of is compilations and events contributing towards charities, which is great because it spreads awareness but there’s obviously some really negative things online, with people glamorising having mental health issues like it’s painfully beautiful. I don’t know how much I agree with that.”
Whilst she clearly acknowledges the benefits of people being able to have the discussion, for an individual it can be demanding. “I have my moments where I feel like I can have a million conversations about this and feel okay, and mornings I wake up and won’t want to talk to anyone.”
The pair have toured extensively since 2015 amongst peers such as Petrol Girls, Gnarwolves and Personal Best. As they’ve signed with a new label and gained wider recognition, in 2017, their progression has accelerated.
To the band, “it feels like a long journey because it’s not just a couple of years, it’s like, eight years.”
Talking about the step up to writing and recording a full-length, Lucinda says, “I think we really wanted it to like be natural like, ‘oh yeah, we’ll just like come back from a six-month tour and write this really sick record and then it will come out and we’ll have a really nice time and then we’ll go back on tour’. In true Kamikaze Girls fashion, we ended up in December just putting loads of pressure on ourselves and trying too hard.”
“Our producer went to Berlin for four days and he was like ‘hey guys do you want to just like have the keys to the studio and finish stuff off?’ and the four or five days that we spent in there was the point when everything came together.”
With their debut record within days of release, and an upcoming headline tour, Kamikaze Girls are thinking about the next steps and where to focus their ambitions.
“I know that if Conor was here, he’d go all Liam Gallagher on me and be like ‘it’s gonna be great!’” But Lucinda is more measured. “I don’t want to have any really big expectations, we just want to do more stuff and go on more tours with way more bands. For us, it’s all about the live stuff. That’s what we do best.”
It would be tough to disagree. The absolute conviction and ferocity with which the band performs live is incredible, and a very different experience to the record. “When we were playing under previous lineups there was a lot of structure to our sets, and as soon as it was just me and Conor as a two-piece we chucked that all away and just had as much fun as we could.”
“We like to have really lengthy jams but that’s something we can’t do because we’re never allowed to play for that long!” Lucinda laughs. “It will be cool to play some headline shows in June because we can do more of what we want to do with a live show. Even if it’s just a tiny venue, we really enjoy drawing stuff out and changing things around so no set is ever the same. That’s what we want to do more of.”
Seafoam closes with ‘I Don’t Want To Be Sad Forever’. Played live, it’s all-consuming. The line ‘I don’t want to be sad forever, but I know that I probably will be’ sounds like acceptance rather than defeat; becoming comfortable with the fight, and not just on a personal level.
“We spent a lot of time in different countries on tour last year and experienced so many different things, all the political climates were completely different. We were in America when the election results were happening and we were in Brussels when there were attacks on the airport.”
“I don’t feel like I’ve ever been like massively educated or socially aware in regards to what’s going on in the world and in politics, but the last two years in this band has opened my eyes.”
And as the band draws towards acceptance, the record feels like it’s all been left out on the floor. Amongst the mixed feelings and the aggression alongside the quieter moments, it’s a cathartic listen; the sound of a band moving on to the next place.
If you struggle with mental health issues and feel in need of support, Mind offer impartial guidance and assistance as well as offering a load of resources free of charge that might be of use.