Bad Brains’ HR On His Solo Album ‘Give Thanks’: “We put our heart and souls into it, we put our Mind Powers into it and it came to fruition”

Original photo: Jack Grisham. Handmade collage by B.

These days H.R. – known best as the frontman for Washington D.C. hardcore punk pioneers Bad Brains and the instigator and driving force of their Positive Mental Attitude (P.M.A.) philosophy – is really, really happy, living a life of love, overstanding, compassion and gentleness. His latest roots-reggae-rock album Give Thanks reflects a man very appreciate of life itself and has spent a lot of time “seeking within”. Gimmie caught up with H.R. to get an insight into the record.  

At the end of last year you released an album called Give Thanks; what are the things in your life that you’re thankful for?

HR: I’m thankful to be alive. I’m thankful to be able to have the strength to see the Lord and see the Lord’s work; I’m just so grateful and thankful for what he has done for us. I’ve been working on this new album very hard. I’ve been waiting for it to come together for ten years! I’m so thankful that it finally came out. We put our heart and souls into it, we put our ‘Mind Powers’ into it and it came to fruition.

You can really feel that on the record, as I said it’s very joyous, it’s very beautiful. The second track on the album is called “The Lord’s Prayer” and in the body of the song you actually say The Lord’s Prayer; where did the idea for you to do this come from?

HR: I got it from my mother. She used to sing it in church. She said, “One day when I pass away you can sing it to the world.” Last year she went to her transition and I just wanted something that would be in memory of her, and something that the whole world could grasp at the same time. I said, I’m going to do our Lord’s Prayer, I’m going to do it to some rock n roll music! [laughs]. That’s how it came to be.

Thank you for sharing that with me, hearing that made me teary. We spoke in 2008 when you released your album Hey Wella and you told me that when you first started singing you started singing in the church as a child; what feeling did it give you to praise the Lord through music?

HR: It gave me the fulfillment of what God is all about, what His works is all about and what we should do in His works; what destiny He has for each one of us in our own special way.

When you write songs and create things; how do they start for you?

HR: I would like to say that God’s love, Jah love, and happiness and the joy that it brings us, is the ability to put it down with pencil and paper. Sometimes it comes to you in the night, in a vision, sometimes it comes to you in a daze, or something that you’re trying to interpret that’s close to you. It’s all through God’s love, through Rastafari’s love!

Do you find sometimes when you write songs that you learn about yourself?

HR: Oh yes! Most definitely. Yeah Mon. [Sings] You love, you know you learn, about how you live. You learn about what you want to achieve in life. You learn about the love God has for you and other people, and how you can set an example for them to learn from.

Love is a big theme that comes through in your music; having your love, your wife Lori in your life must have helped you a lot?

HR: Yes, she’s been good to me. She’s been supportive. She’s a very big and special Queen. Without her I would feel separation and a big hole in my life. I wouldn’t be able to get what I want to get. She helps me to understand and to be able to have that heartfelt thoughtfulness—I need that so much in my life. It would be such a drag to know that she didn’t exist. Through God’s love and through God’s fulfillment of what He wants us to have, she is able to be able to interpret that.

At the start of your song “Steady Is Compassion” you repeat that line: steady is compassion; what does that mean to you?

HR: It means that we should have more compassion in our lives and be warm, and able to exist in a compassionate way to people, and be steady about that. We need to maintain the preparations for it and also a strong desire to hold on, we need to be steady in compassion, before hatred and violence. You have to hold on to what you’re trying to achieve and discuss the matter faithfully and rise above what it is we want to do. Hold on and give faith a chance and give yourself a chance to manifest compassion—to have compassion for your brethren and your sistren.

Another track off Give Thanks I really love is “Seeking From Within”, there’s a lyric that goes: seek from within, knowing from without; could you tell me about that?

HR: Yes, it’s about going inside your inner being and not letting things outside yourself bother you. To be able to know, what it is you want to do from within and look in your heart and let your heart guide you. To know that things outside of your heart don’t really matter so much. It’s what you do, and what you’re trying to do within that matters.

Please check out + HR on Facebook; HR on Instagram. HR’s children’s book: I’ve Got the PMA. Give Thanks available via Hardline.

Naarm D-beat band Lái’s vocalist Alda: “It is very important for women living and growing in misogynistic cultures to take these shitty narratives back, to reclaim their own stories and destroy the toxic ones”

Handmade collage by B.

Naarm/Melbourne Swedish D-beat inspired band Lái (a Chinese Mandarin phrase meaning ‘to come/next’) play distorted, political hardcore punk with vocals ferociously and urgently delivered in both Bahasa Indonesian and English language. Their songs explore experiences with abortion, sex work, Southeast Asia and the diaspora, religion, queer rights and more, all given voice through vocalist Alda’s lyrics. Gimmie are looking forward to the release of Lái’s forthcoming LP Pontianak. We spoke to Alda about it and of her life growing up in Indonesia as well as her experience of immigrating here to Australia.

This interview will also appear in our editor’s soon to be released book, Conversations With Punx, along with in-depth chats with members from Crass, The Slits, Subhumans, X-Ray Spex, Black Flag and more from the worldwide punk community from its beginnings to today.

How did you first discover music?

ALDA: Before she went all extremely religious, my mom used to collect CDs like Queen, Backstreet Boys, Enya, Natalie Imbruglia, all time love songs, etc. That is the first time I discovered music, and English. Matter of fact those bands are how I start to learn English, from translating their lyrics as a 6-year-old having access to early internet in the net cafes, so I could sing-along at home and understand what it says.

You’re originally from Indonesia; can you please tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up there for you?

ALDA: Honesty it feels weird to be talking about myself right now, knowing that there’s so much more relevant matter…I can’t even fully put my mind to it, but I’ll give it a go.

I grew up in a Muslim household, and schooled in a Muslim-only school until I graduated Junior High school. After plenty of begging to my religious mom, she allowed me to have a public school experience at high school, with the condition that I have to wear a hijab, otherwise I’ll be kicked out of home. I hate being forced to look religious a lot. Even since I was at Muslim school, I always sneaked out with my trusted slutty closest friends to take it off, smoke and hook up somewhere. Turns out I strongly despise being forced to look religious in public school even more, because unlike my previous school, not everyone have to wear full hijab and I feel even more out of my element.

I went to Netherland for a scholarship for a year where I get to experience that double life again— but while free of my usual religious environment, so I get to think about what I wanted to do with my life without much peer coercion. When I’m back, I decided to take it off more and start being myself at school and in public. People suddenly called me a Satanist at school and made up surreal stories and rumours of my alleged “new behaviours” [laughs]. I pushed it more with talking about atheism and Indonesia’s communist background any time I got chances to, like in class presentations and stuff [laughs]. It was hilarious! I meant the things I said back then, but it was still funny to watch the impact.

Before that, I was one of the nerdy kids that got called to the front of school ceremony so I can give some short speech after winning some nerdy things like English debate competitions – I used to get into school competitions a lot because that was my excuse to get out of home. A lil’ bit of nerdy model student y’know [laughs]. But after I took off my hijab and stop giving a fuck about maintaining that “good image”, the teachers condemned me, most students tried to stay away from me like they can get infected with my godlessness, the school almost not letting me graduate because I didn’t graduate the religion class – it was mandatory to pass religion test for graduation – and I got kicked out of home. But it was probably one of the most important decisions I have made in my life so far, I’m so glad I stuck to that decision. I don’t wanna live this life any other way.

But yeah, I guess my feud with misogyny embedded in religions doesn’t really end there. As you might know, Indonesia is a religious country, so religion influences almost everything—starting from law making, social judgment, social punishment, etc etc.

All photos courtesy of Tessa Lost In Fog.

What was it like for you when you first moved to Australia?

ALDA: Life here is way easier than what I’ve ever experienced before. Here you can do things like dumpster diving, squatting etc. with way less risk, and there’s more ways to find out how to survive/make money. On the other hand, the rules of immigration to Australia is one of the hardest to go through, I believe, globally other than America. Especially if you come from a “third world country” like me (in quote marks because that outdated term is now a myth based on bullshit), and not come here loaded with trust-fund.

In the beginning, it was a bit hard because I was on student visa, paying it with working on the weekend (and occasionally after school when weekend & graveyard shifts is not enough). I couldn’t miss out on too many school days otherwise I will get kicked out from school (and therefore the country). I couldn’t pay the school fee late, otherwise, the same consequence. International students have to pay very high fee, and they try to make it near impossible for us to work (because they just want to take our money, not for us to make money from being in Australia; we’re just ‘cashcows’ with no rights and support back from this place, who will get dished out once we’re no longer bring the ca$h in).

I was in the cheapest school that I can find and that is still me having to pay $3,100 every 4 months. On top of my daily necessities and visa requirements. Anyway immigration rule is very classist, probably to avoid poor people from poor countries to move here. So yeah, I didn’t get to have much social life… but at least I still get to run away from fucked up shit that I would have to live with back at my hometown, so that was fine. It’s impossible to notice that the immigration rule is basically — if you are a person of color coming from a poor country, you have to go through so much more loop to stay here. My POC friends coming from America or Europe or even a rich Asian country like Singapore got their Visa waaay faster than I do, even when they have about the same amount of money in their bank account with me.

My white friends coming from those places? LOL …basically it seems like they barely have to prove anything, they get their Visa in no time, whether they have savings or not. It felt pretty shit to watch that. Treatment for white people in rich countries are like some “exclusive rich kids club” in my eyes, and maybe in the eye of “people like me”; like we had to prove so hard that we are worthy to enter the gate of this privilege. Getting our English tested every two years as if we can get worse at it while still living here—and being told that our English is not good enough, and got laughed at when it is not perfect; as if that proves that our intelligence is lower, despite that we can talk in over 5 different languages. Pfft.

In short, when I first come here I realized I’m now living in an awkward spot of getting more privileged than my friends/family back home; but definitely damn underprivileged economically here. My life quality gets better just because it was bad before, because my country is still ravaged by richer countries such as Australia, for our gold, land, farming produce, cheap labour, cheap productions of their fast fashion brands etc.; and once people like me managed to come here in a hope for a better life, we gotta give our fortunes (if we have any) and/or slaved away for many years here and give our “excess wealth”. So that maybe, maybe we can eventually move here and be less poor. So that one day we can awkwardly laugh with our peers at some party when they cringe how the countries that we are coming from are so poor, the food that we eat are so dirty etc. etc. so they can laugh at the poverty that their people enforced on us. Shit!

You didn’t come here to hear me bitch about your racist & classist immigration system LOL but here we are.

How did you first come to performance?

ALDA: In Australia? Lái is my first one. I was very lucky that Tessa, Nissa & Timmy needed a new vocalist. Before Australia I only performed a small handful of times with a band I made with my closest friends, but at those times (about a decade ago) we were wasted together more than we try to actually perform LOL so yeah I wouldn’t count that as much performance experience.

You sing in a blend of both Bahasa Indonesian and English; why is this important to you?

ALDA: Of course it’s important for me. I’m an Indonesian. I only moved here 5 years ago, I mostly grew up there. My body is in this land but all the experience I had while growing up has formed me, and is forever relevant to me. I chose to use both languages because if I only use English – other than the looming discomfort of using the global colonial language – my vocabulary will also be more limited; I don’t know how to express things in the same layers of meaning like I would in Indonesian. Not to say that I’m excellent at it but it’s a language where I know a bit more about the culture, literacy, the guttural and poetic expression. In the end, I decided to use both. I mainly use English for messages that I’d like to say more globally, and Indonesian words for things I mainly wanna express for Indonesian/Malay speaking listeners.

The way you sing is quite brutal (which I love); are you ever afraid that the message will get lost? Or is part of the way it’s delivered help reinforce what you’re saying?

ALDA: I guess the actual reason for me is because that’s the only way I know [laughs]. Or at least that’s how I feel I can respond to the kind of songs that we have…it ends up being some sort of noise/scream therapy, a way that I can channel how I feel when talking about the subjects that I’ve written in the lyrics. I realized this means most likely people won’t be able to understand what I’m talking about, so therefore sometimes I talk a little bit about the song, so the message wouldn’t get entirely lost. And if anyone would like to know more about it, they can just read the full lyrics online in our bandcamp or somth.

How did you first find your voice? Is confidence something you have developed over time (or are still developing)?

ALDA: My first band called Negasi (2009) but I sing in a different way back then…the first time I sing like this is with Assusila (in 2011); a crust punk band from Bandung, a few years later when I felt more angry and would like the chance for “scream therapy” in a band. I can’t afford a therapist, so playing with Lái has been helpful for my mental health actually. In real life I’m one of those opinionated socially reclusive introvert, so going on stage has been a fuckin’ challenge from day one for me. I don’t naturally feel comfortable under a spotlight. I’ve spent some portions of my life trying to hide from the spotlight too, and was raised under a culture that holds high values on playing the subtlety game, so taking that spotlight feels naturally counter-intuitive. To be on stage in a country where I don’t even know many people… If you’ve been to any of our shows, especially in the first year, woof especially the first show (!!), you’ll notice how awkward I am [laughs]. I mean, I’m still pretty awkward on stage these days, but I guess I’m developing a lil’ more self-confidence..?

When do you feel most powerful?

ALDA: I feel the most powerful when I manage to put all my mind noises aside, and just do things that felt natural for me. When I get lucky, it felt cathartic, and when I’m really lucky, it also felt spiritual.

What inspired Lái to start?

ALDA: I wasn’t there from the beginning, but what I know is… Timmy had a dream where they’re in a band with Tessa, Nissa and Annelise (the first vocalist) and it was awesome; so they asked these talented babes to join them in a band, and they’re all keen, so they started. I was excited when I heard that too—I mean they’re an awesome team! I’d definitely come to their show. But Annelise is a very busy person already, hence it’s hard to find time for practice, so eventually she quit…and then Tessa messaged me if I’m interested, and I’m like hell yeah! I got to scream my lungs out and make fun projects with these amazing peeps! Stage fright aside, I was very keen.

Later in the year once all the Coronavirus uncertainty has settled down Lái will be releasing LP Pontianak (it’s also the name of the first track from the album), from what I understand the Pontianak is a female vampiric ghost in Indonesian and Malay mythology/folklore; what was the significance to you of her appearance in your creation?

ALDA: I feel a lot of connection with Pontianak. When I grew up, one of the main scary folklore figure is Pontianak. Older people told me, if a women did an abortion/child birth and died—she will turn into Pontianak. She will haunt the neighborhood, trying to kidnap babies, because she has lost her baby, and that will be “the only thing that she wanted”. Other adults told me, Pontianak is also those women hangin’ outside past sunset, sometimes they hang around frangipani trees – the tree is associated with death, because in Java it is mostly planted in cemeteries for its nice fragrance – and they will try to lure men into their embrace. The men fallen prey to Pontianak will be killed after they hookup. Some adults also added that these men will be skinned alive, but I think they might confuse it with the myth of Gerwani (one of the propaganda spread in the military regime time, when they wanted to justify the massacre of communists but that’s another story!). Other adults also told me, “Pontianak (also called Kuntilanak in Indonesia) can be turned into an attractive women, very suitable to be married. But you will have to stake a nail on top of her head, and keep it there. As long as the nail remains there, she will turn into a beautiful, obedient women, and she will be a good wife.”

As I turn older, and survived some horribly dodgy illegal abortion practices in Indonesia, met other women who are going to do their abortion in those shady, overpriced, hidden abortion clinic;

I realized fully how fucked those stories are! Why does Pontianak become a demon after she failed giving birth? And, why the hell do they think having a baby would be the only thing she cares about? Hangin’ outside at night time, is that just a way to give shit to women that are still going out having a night life, and a way to scare people off them? Also WTF?? Lobotomizing her so she can become “a good, obedient wife”?? Fuck that! Fuck those stories! Her story needs to be retold. Reclaimed, by all other women who don’t think that these hateful stories does her justice. I draw Pontianak here and there before the album artworks too, just because, of course.

In 2015, Yee I-Lann from Malaysia also made a video art called “Imagining Pontianak” where she interviewed a bunch of girls covered with long black hair (as Pontianak usually is depicted), and I lived in  Kuala Lumpur at the time so one of them is me. The topic of our talk was about sex, abortion, and generally about being a women, the types of women that “Pontianak would be”. I thought her project was important and inspiring, as these topics needed to be brought up more often. We all have versions of ourselves, and therefore our own versions of Pontianak. But what she shouldn’t be anymore, is a feared folklore figure with a story told by misogynist men and women. I loved the fact that she made a cool art project out of our folklore (and I think you should check it out if you can), as I think it is very important for women living and growing in misogynistic cultures to take these shitty narratives back, to reclaim their own stories and destroy the toxic ones (or at least acknowledging how the toxic narratives affects people).

Art by Alda.

I really love the art work you did for the album too; how did you decide to draw her like that?

ALDA: Traditionally, Pontianak is depicted with long black hair… but I had a dream once where I got dragged down to a river, where the water was bottomless, and a particular Pontianak slowly swimming towards me, with all her white hair flowing gently around her face contrasting with the dark waters, and I get to watch in vivid details on how her entire looks were. Her dried up eyeballs, hollowed eye sockets, and enticing stare. Pontianak that I drew is based on her just because it feels more personal to me, although I did draw her in a way more comical version…hmm I don’t think my drawing style can do her justice to be honest, but I’m pretty happy with it.

Feminism and queer rights in South East Asia are themes that you explore in your lyrics; what has helped shape the importance of these themes to you?

ALDA: My main issue with everything surrounding my life in Indonesia since my forced-religious childhood until the demystifying moments of rape culture and sexism in the punk scene that I grew up in, can be concluded to mainly about the misogyny and rampant queerphobia. Although I’m trying to not make it define me in my current life, a bunch of traumas related to the subject have undoubtedly shaped me.

What’s your favourite moment on the record?

ALDA: Screaming (and punishing the ears of my lovely bandmates while they were having lunch LOL) without the music even playing loud at the recording, it felt funny.. There was also an attempt of recording group cackles with our mates that was hilarious and fun to do, even though we end up not using it [laughs].

Religion is another theme explored in your songs; are you a spiritual person at all?

ALDA: I’m somewhat spiritual, but definitely not religious… I think my resentment comes from being forced to practice religion that I don’t believe in, definitely put me off from being one.

Lastly, can you please share with us a really life changing moment you’ve had?

ALDA: I guess that moment in high school that I mentioned before was the main life changing thing. When I decided that being liked for what I’m not is not a good enough motivation to survive….you know, if I’m gonna try to stay alive, I might as well just do me, might actually try to make it worth the survival efforts. Even when it looks mundane, so what, right? Otherwise, what is really the point…? Self-discovery/exploration has been my constant reliable source of joy & sense of meaning. I think 2020 only makes this belief grow stronger for me [laughs].

Please check out: Lái bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram; demo available via Lost In Fog Distro; Pontianak will be out Spring 2020 on German label Ruin Nation Records.

French Punks Mary Bell: “Paris is a tough city to live in: the population density is very high, gentrification is everywhere, the cost of living is skyrocketing”

Original photo by Josephine Fournis. Handmade collage by B.

French band Mary Bell’s music is a combination of classic punk rock, American hardcore, grunge and Riot Grrrl. We spoke to them about what Paris is really like, got some insight into each member’s history of musical discovery, what they do outside of music, how they pulled through a controversy surrounding the band’s name and of new music in the works.

Mary Bell are from Paris; can you tell us a little bit about where you live?

VICTORIA: I’ll start with the positive things: Paris is very beautiful, it’s thriving in culture, you can go to a different gig every night, things to do and to see are really endless. It’s what keeping me here: as a hyperactive person, I constantly need new things to do and things to see, and Paris is the only city in France that has lived up to those needs. Still, Paris is quite small compared to other European capitals, so I think the DIY punk scene is quite small as well. That means that you easily get to know the other bands and that the different music scenes tend to mix with one another, which is a good thing, to my mind. Otherwise, Paris is a tough city to live in: the population density is very high, gentrification is everywhere, the cost of living is skyrocketing… A lot of people, especially young workers or students can’t afford to live in Paris anymore.

TRISTAN: Yes, gentrified, expensive, violent for a lot of people, especially if you have not a lot of money. What you notice the first when you come here is that there is a lot of impolite, not friendly, stressed and aggressive people, because the “everyday life” in this city makes you become this way. Everybody is always running and there’s no room for everyone in the transportations, and if you want to come home after a long day of work you have to walk on other people to do so… It does still shock me after living here for more than 10 years. But I guess it is normal for one of the most crowded place in the world (people per square mile: 55,138…). And it does rain a lot and the sky is almost always grey. Everything here is grey, the sky, the buildings, the pavements, and it makes you become grey too. I guess this is one of the most greyish city in the world too. The good side is that it is not that hard to find a job here compared to somewhere else in France, and there are a lot of shows and exhibitions happening. But forget about the romantic bullshit.

ALICE: I live in the countryside, two hour drive from Paris, in the “Center” region of France. It is beautiful, this is the “King’s region”, there is a lot of castles from the Renaissance area and a lot of forest… But it’s REALLY CALM. I go to Paris when I want to see shows and friends!

What kind of music and bands were you listening to growing up?

VICTORIA: Growing up, I was listening to lots and lots of music, different styles, different eras, and most of it I’m still listening to now. I had the chance to grow up in a musician family: I listened to classical and baroque music (Bach, Marin Marais…), pop, new wave, rock, hard rock… And then, at the beginning of the 90s, grunge exploded and it totally blew my mind. I listened to bands such as Nirvana, Hole, Babes in Toyland, Melvins, Soundgarden on repeat. Those bands still stick with me nowadays. At the same time, I was really into hip hop and French rap. One of my favorite bands at the time was the French band NTM (it stands for “Nique ta mère” which you can translate to “Fuck your mom”, haha). I discovered punk and hardcore music a couple of years later while hanging with some skateboarders at a party. Again, it totally blew my mind. I was already what you can call a music digger, as music has always been the most important thing in my life, and so, started digging into punk and hardcore.

ALICE: I went to music school, I listened and studied classical music, specifically Baroque. At home my parents were listening to Led Zeppelin a lot, The Doors, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, we danced on Madness… Then I took my big sister’s CDs, I mainly remember screaming to Hole and Nirvana, but also dancing on Madonna and Ricky Martin… At 11, I discovered internet and Sum41, Marylin Manson, Avril Lavigne… Hahaha. I was living in the suburbs, at fifteen I went to school in Paris and discovered the Punk scene.

TRISTAN: I feel like I’m still growing up, so I don’t know what you mean exactly in term of period. So, when I grew up the most (in height) I think it might be when I was five to eight or something, the bands I listened the most were AC/DC, The Cure, Helloween, Sex Pistols, Bad Manners, Deep Purple… Just stealing my parents’ old tapes and records in the attic. A lot of “bed jumping” happened for me as a kid on these things.

GAÏLLA: I grew up listening to what my parents were listening to. Artists like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Zappa, and a lot of blues and jazz too. And I feel like it really impacted me. But during my adolescence, like a lot of teenagers, I wanted to listen – to try – every kind of music. I listened to rock in general, metal/ heavy, punk, grunge but also Hip-hop/ R’n b etc.

Photo : Céline Non.

How did you start playing music?

VICTORIA: I started playing the piano at an early age, and then the viola da gamba, but stopped everything when I became a teenager: the academic way of learning music was becoming a real pain in the ass for me. At that time and since then, most of my friends were musicians, and were playing in bands. And all of them were guys. I could have picked up a guitar, but somehow, being a girl, and having internalized a lot of fucking sexist ideas, I didn’t feel legitimate to do so and even thought, at some point, that it just wasn’t for me. What a bunch of bullshit!! But I guess those crazy ideas kind of stick with you growing up, even when you start to realize that it’s not true and such. While getting deeper into Feminism and meeting more and more female musicians, a lot of them reclaiming from the legacy of riot grrrls, I realized that I could grab an instrument as well and start a band. By the time I realized that, I was 30!! Yes, I guess you can say that it took me some time to get accustomed to the idea… The cool thing about all this is that as soon as I started playing the guitar, I knew exactly what I wanted to play, what I wanted to sound like, and what it was gonna be for me.

ALICE: My big sister was singing in a professional choir, my parents did the same for me and my little brother. I started by learning the piano at 6, then at 10 I went to “half-time teaching music school”, school in the morning and music studies in the afternoon, every day from the age of 10 to 18. Then, at 16, I started screaming. I have to say it was not really good for my lyrical voice, which I gave up on at 18.

TRISTAN: My mom offered me a guitar when I was in primary school. I was too scared and shy to ask to or begin something like this by myself, but was always listening music, so she just bought me the piece of wood and gave it to me. I never stopped playing since…    

GAÏLLA: I tried playing bass when I was +/- 15 because my dad was a prog rock and jazz bassist, but I wasn’t very studious. I liked it but it wasn’t really my thing. And at this time, drums looked out of reach for me, so I put this idea aside. But when I turn 26, it feels like an urge to play music again, especially drums, it feels like it was “now or never”. So I took a few drum lessons, and a few days later, I met Victoria and we started Mary Bell.

How did the Mary Bell get together?

VICTORIA: We started playing with Gaïlla while both learning how to play our instruments. After three or four rehearsals, we decided we wanted to have a band, and started looking for musicians.

ALICE: I saw an announcement Victoria posted on Facebook, “looking for a singer”, I was shy to but I answered because I really wanted to sing in a band and I liked the bands she mentioned as references. I passed an audition, we played “Rebel Girl” from Bikini Kill (which is too high for my voice by the way), and a composition she and Gaïlla made. I also played the bass but it was so, so hard for me to play and sing and the same time!

TRISTAN: Playing guitar, they were searching for a girl to complete the band, I’ve insisted a lot and it finally worked out as a boy and as a bass player. I was like, “let me join you, I can play some really dirty bass, and I can record the band too”, and blablabla… I don’t even know why I wanted that much to be in that band in the first place. I was homeless at the time and searching for an additional band to have fun after a long day of work before sleeping who knows where. But I don’t regret my insistence in joining it at all, for what it gave us in terms of records, tours, and funny times. (Haha…)

Photo: JetLag RocknRoll.

Can you tell me something interesting about everyone in the band?

VICTORIA: Gaïlla is a huge fan of Mariah Carey, Tristan is a highly trained virtual plane pilot and Alice bakes amazing carrot cakes.

ALICE: Ok, this is very interesting: Victoria’s zodiac sign is Scorpio, Tristan had a chicken pet when he was little, Gaïlla has her driving license but don’t let her drive!! Hahaha

TRISTAN: Vicky can tell what your future is with tarot, Alice knows a lot of weird medieval music stuff, and Gaïlla can sleep up to 23 hours a day when we tour!

GAÏLLA: We all love listening to horror/crimes podcasts while on tour but, I don’t really remember because I was sleeping.

Your band is named after a British serial killer from the ‘60s; how did you find out about her?

VICTORIA: I first heard of Mary Bell while reading Crackpot from John Waters, where he cites the Mary Bell case as one of his obsessions. Somehow, Mary Bell being a child at the moment she committed her crimes, it really interested him and I totally can understand why. There really is something striking in the Mary Bell case, her being a child, her murdering two children, her trying to manipulate people in thinking that another girl committed the crime… She was just 11. Children are believed to be innocent at that age. Anyway, I think we all thought it matched well with the idea of our band. 

Mary Bell was forced to cancel a concert in the UK in February last year following outrage from the families of Bell’s victims and other locals; how did this situation impact the band?

VICTORIA: It all started when a lousy so-called journalist wrote a piece about us claiming we were making lots of money from the name ”Mary Bell” + getting fame out of it (uh hello, we’re a DIY punk band, we’re not making any money…) The worst is that she reached out to the families of the victims to have their say about it (I guess otherwise, they would have never heard of us…). They went to their local MP to send a lot of letters to cancel all our shows in the UK… We had no choice but to let go, and take the shitstorm, the insults and the death threats (which we used to receive daily on our Facebook and YouTube pages). What a time…

ALICE: Victoria worked a lot for this tour, I was really sad but really angry for her because of all this work and efforts being ruined because of this sensationalist press. (Who’s really making money out of people sadness?) We still had a great time with our few concerts, meeting amazing people and having very interesting talks about England and safe spaces.

TRISTAN: Oh yeah, and I get beaten in the middle of the night coming home from one of these shows, by a bunch of crazy guys with knives and no t-shirt in the middle of winter. UK is a very nice place currently, it is really a giant safe space, safe from common sense. I hope it will get quickly better for them and our friends and family there in the future, but it does currently look bad, with clowns at the head, and a lot of racist and violent people. The shows we did were good but when talking to locals, I can see that the country was a mess in the middle of the Brexit thing and it was not an easy time for them at all. So yes, it was a little bit weird sometimes during the tour.   

At the end of 2018 you released EP HISTRION on it there’s a song called ‘I Used To Be Kind To People In Crowds, But That Gave Me Murderous Tendencies’; what sparked the idea to write this song?

ALICE: Within a week, a friend of mine lost her daughter and another one had a stroke. It was so sudden and unfair, my friends and I suffered a lot. I’ve always been the “nice person” holding the door, smiling to people, saying hello to my neighbours, never complains… But the day after the funeral, one of my neighbours screamed at me because of my car. First, it was a nonsense, secondly, the fact she was so concerned about this tiny little shitty thing made me furious, I screamed at her, she didn’t say anything, she thought of me as a little smiling girl and was visibly shocked. I pictured my friend losing her child and people complaining to her about everyday problems, it made me furious… And “gave me murderous tendencies”.

GAÏLLA: It’s a really powerful song, and very intense – overwhelming sometimes – to play. I think Alice put the right words on a feeling mixed with hate, frustration, helplessness that we all felt once in our lives.

Your drummer Gaïlla has done the artwork for all your releases before the latest one which is by artist Stellar Leuna; what made you choose her for the art?

GAÏLLA: I studied graphic design so I started working on MB visual art pretty naturally. We love esoteric-witchy-weird stuff so it fitted well. But we also are big fans of Stellar Leuna’s work, she’s really talented. Her art perfectly reflects our music too: It’s dark and goes straight to the point. So we asked her and sent her our music. She loved it and got inspired by it and… ta-da! She did an amazing job, we were thrilled.

Have you been working on any new music? What can you tell me about it?

VICTORIA: We’ve been working on new material since the release of HISTRION, and we currently have 12 new songs we were supposed to record in April, and release on vinyl later this year… Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all our recording projects are on hold. We’ll see how it goes…

ALICE: New things: donuts, trains, cats.

VICTORIA: Yes, the themes tackled in our new songs are very eclectic!!

What’s your favourite things you’ve been listening to lately? We love finding new music!

VICTORIA: I’ve been listening to lots and lots of music since the beginning of the quarantine… I think you can all find them easily on Bandcamp. Bands like Slush, Gaffer, Cold Meat, Nightmen, Thick, Lizzo, Malaïse, Mr Wrong… Also, please check out my friends Bitpart and Litige who both released records this year on Destructure Records.

ALICE: I mostly listen to podcasts because I need to hear people speaking during this confinement! I really have phases… Today it’s raining so I’m listening to Douche Froide, Traitre, Litige… Yesterday I spent the day listening to rock steady (guess the weather), but sometimes I really can’t bear it. (Apart from Phyllis Dillon I’ll always love).

TRISTAN: a lot of Australian bands actually, I guess you already know them all (Civic, Eastlink, UV Race, Destiny 3000, Cuntz, Venom P Stinger, Gee Tee, the Stroppies…) Aside from that : Destruction Unit, Slippertails, Sun Araw, Pussy Galore, KARP, Part Chimp, Marbled Eye, Lungfish, Red Aunts, Poino, Liquids,… Not new stuff, but these are a lot in my ear currently and I am not in a ‘music searching’ period. 

GAÏLLA: Like Alice, I mostly listen to podcasts lately. And during the confinement I listen to really chill stuff as Julia Jacklin, Angel Olsen, Beat Happening, Hope Tala, Cate Le Bon, Part Time, Charlie Megira, Deerhunter, Homeshake, Los Bitchos, No Name and some jazz/ classic rhythm and blues and some 70’s folk music.

Outside of making music what do you do?

ALICE: I’m a music teacher, I don’t do anything outside of music. Haha. Just kidding, I live for food, we cook a lot with my boyfriend and love to have home-made fancy dinner with a lot of red wine. We’re doing gardening too, crafts activities (I made my own garden furniture and I’m really proud of it! Haha).  I’m still studying musicology, I love to learn and research new things, I read and cuddle with my cat Mystic.

VICTORIA: I’m currently the International Digital Communication manager for a NGO. That sounds really pompous, but really, my job is great!! Also, with a friend, I’m running women and non-binary people empowerment workshops through music, it’s called “Salut les zikettes!” which I guess you can translate to “hello, musicians!”.

TRISTAN: I work as an IT engineer five days a week, aside from that I drink a lot of beers, like to read technical stuff before the beers, and more “artistic” stuff after, with my cats not far from me. I cook a lot too, and like to eat really tasty food. 

GAÏLLA: I’m a graphic designer but I started to study jewellery recently and I hope to do that full time at some point.

Please check out: MARY BELL. MB on Facebook. MB on Instagram.