Formed in 2015 in South Yorkshire when frontwoman Lauren Tate stuck two-fingers up to the repressive school environment that trapped her and dropped out, the 16-year-old self-confessed misfit wasted no time in finding an outlet to channel every bit of the alienation and despair experienced within those concrete walls into something cathartic and creative. And Hands Off Gretel was born.
Inspired by the volatile and liberating melody fuelled noise of bands such as Hole, The Distillers, Nirvana and PJ Harvey, Hands Off Gretel quickly set about creating the perfect soundtrack of sugar-coated grunge-punk for Lauren to vent and rail against the issues of body image, mental health, celebrity, childhood and loneliness she felt enraged by, all of which were addressed from a fiercely female, unapologetic, feminist perspective.
Recorded at Monnow Valley studio in Wales, new album I Want The World is set for release this coming March 29th via the bands own label Puke Pop Records and features twelve-tracks hugely addictive, and sometimes vindictive, melodic rock that is unafraid to blend the heavy screeching distortion of grunge rock with the catchy hooks of bubblegum pop, whilst keeping true to their original roots in punk rock.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Hands Off Gretel lead vocalist Lauren Tate, to talk about their new album, the challenges associated with the group’s recent Pledge Music campaign and their forthcoming touring plans.
First of all, just thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today we really appreciate it. I just wanted to have a bit of a catch up with you because you guys have got quite a lot going on at the minute, so I thought it’d be good to have a little bit of a chat.
Obviously, you’ve been doing some shows so far this year, you’ve been out on the road, I think it was with Allusinlove and you’ve done a few of your own as well. I just wondered how have the shows have been going so far?
Really good, yeah. It’s been really good to actually get back on the road because it’s been a while – like we had a bit of a gap for writing the album. So we are getting back into the swing of everything. I love touring so it’s been great.
So you’re getting ready to release your new album, which is called “I Want The World” on 29th March. I just wondered if you could tell us a little bit about what your starting point for the album was musically. Did you have a particular sound or theme in mind for the release?
Yeah, I think with this album, for me, it was like finding a way to blend the kind of fuzzy rock elements with more of a pop sound, which is different to what we did last time. In the studio, it was like a constant effort when we were mixing it. I wanted it to sound like a certain amount of grunge rock, I wanted a lot of grunge and aggressiveness in the music. But then as well I was like, I really want to make sure we get a lot of pop harmonies and try and work a different angle style-wise.
You’ve funded the making of your album via a Pledge Music campaign, which had 100% of its goal reached in less than 24 hours. And I know currently, it stands at over 200%. Obviously Pledge Music, it’s been in the news recently for some of the wrong reasons. I just wanted to know to what extent has those kinds of troubles with Pledge Music impacted you during the making of this record?
Well, we hit our target in 24 hours. So it was like a massive achievement and basically, we earned £25,000 through Pledge. We didn’t have any emails to tell us that anything was wrong with it. It was only when we said, they were supposed to pay us on a certain payment date, and they started to ignore those emails. And we were like panicking and thinking, well, what we’re going to do. And we had to eventually tell the fans to stop pledging, but for us, there was a panic that we would lose the momentum with our album and people would not want to pre-order or anything. But we’ve been able to turn it round really because we finished the campaign early and then we started running it on our own website. So a lot of the fans asked for refunds through Pledge and have reordered, so with the fans support we’ve been able to turn it around quite in a positive way. But it was so devastating to lose all that money. Like I don’t know if we’ll ever get paid any of it.
That’s a real shame. And obviously, as a fiercely independent DIY band, you are going to release this album on your own label Puke Pop Records. I just wondered what’s the long term plan for the band? Is it your intention to always remain independent and to be in control of your own creativity or would you ever be open to the kind of major label experience if it became an option?
I think it’s like waiting until the time’s right for us because obviously, I know if we want to be big, which I do, I would like to be big, that’s all I’ve ever wanted is when I was younger and stuff and it’s like I know that at a certain point that deal, if it ever happens, like that deal is something I’ve got to seriously consider and I’d never rush into it. It would be like a life-changing kind of decision to me to make, so I would consider being signed, but at this moment in time, I feel personally a long way off being ready for that. I need to learn a lot about myself before I’m prepared for that kind of big change.
I read that when you first started out at the age of 16, you were looking for an outlet to sort of channel the alienation and despair that you experienced at school. I just wondered to what extent you find songwriting to be therapeutic.
Well, I mean, when I was younger that was my main escape really listening to so many female artists that would resonate with me so much. So every time I’m writing that’s constantly what I’m thinking about. I imagine like when I’ve died, I have to think about when I’ve died and people are listening to my music, I want to have a strong message that talks to people and empowers people who feel like they don’t fit in or feel like they don’t belong – which has been my main aim throughout my entire career, is just making people feel like I can be a role model to them, kind of thing.
I know you’ve put out a few singles and videos on this album cycle. You recently released a new video for the song “I Want The World”, which is the title track. I just wondered if you could tell us a little bit about that song and kind of the idea behind the video.
Well, that one was quite like, I wanted to get a lot out, and it’s probably the most aggressive song on the album I’d say. And that one I kind of channelled a lot of the Verruca Salt from Charlie and Chocolate Factory. Like for me, that’s quite like a middle finger up kind of song. And just with the guitars and there’s the driving beat and there’s screaming vocals and stuff, like live that is one of the craziest songs we do.
I just wondered, in terms of the album, do you actually have a favourite song on the record and if so which song and why?
Oh, that’s quite hard. I’ll probably go with “Milk”, which is a song that is quite an aggressive one. It’s quite meaningful for me, it’s about like exploitation. And I actually wrote about going Vegan and I’ve been Vegan for about 10 years now, so it’s something that I’m quite passionate about and I’ve never been able to write about animal rights in any of my music before. So this was a way for me to kind of creatively write about things I’m passionate about and to get it into one of the songs. So I really like that one, I think it’s really powerful.
Obviously, you’ve got some shows coming up including two album launch dates, one in London and one in Barnsley on the 28th and 29th of March, as well as a run of shows with This Feeling in April. And then, it looks like your festival calendar is starting to get booked up. You’ve got Camden Rocks and Rebellion once again. What can your fans expect from your show this time around?
I think this time we’re a lot tighter than we were last year. There’s going to be lots of new flavours in the live show. We’ve got a lot more dynamic in the show and hopefully, yeah, I just think it’s going to be a lot more fun. We’ve learnt a lot from last year and the year before. So it’s like we’re raging to go with these new songs, we’ve had like a year of practising them. So we are so excited to play these new songs. I think there’s a different energy there for people and I feel like they’ll go down really well.
You’ve recently been nominated in the ‘Best New Bands’ category at the Planet Rock awards and also in the ‘New Band Of The Year’ category at the Viva La Rock awards. How has that felt for you guys to sort of get this great response, especially from the media?
Oh, it’s amazing. Yeah, it is. I think just the response we’ve had so far, even before we put the album out, it’s just, it’s so exciting for us especially when we are DIY and doing it independently. Like getting big names like that knowing about you is such an amazing achievement for us.
As a band, you’ve got a very strong following online and a huge fan community. It seems that your fans are great at spreading the word about Hands Off Gretel. It must feel good to have that level of online support behind you.
Yeah, definitely. Well, I’ve worked on the fan base from when I was about 14. And when I was 14, I had a solo career then and I built this fan base up from then. So when we launched the band we already had about 5,000 people that was straight on with the band stuff. So it’s just grown organically from that point. And just the support we get is amazing and like, every single comment I reply to it and I just keep the engagement going and people just love that. They love to feel like we’re listening to them and it’s like a shared excitement.
I just wanted to go back to the start of the group. I just wondered if you could tell us a little bit about how you all came to meet and how the band came to fruition.
Oh, that’s quite a long one. Well, we started the band – me and Sean, so it was me and the guitarist, we kind of founded the band and we went through a few members and we actually met Sam when our bass player left. He joined the band and he actually joined as the bass player and he was playing bass and we were in practice. And at that time we just knew that it wasn’t working out with the drummer. Like we were just arguing all the time and then eventually the drummer left and we were all kind of thinking, shit, what are we gonna do, we’ve got no drummer, we’ve got loads of gigs coming up. And then Sam was just like, right, I kind of know how to drum, I’ll sit down and I’ll try and drum.
And he sat down and like instantly we knew in that practice we would just look at each other like, why have we never done this before? This is like perfect. We just knew, like Sam, he didn’t have to drum, Sam was pushed onto the drums and then he went from kind of knowing how to play to within a few weeks into it being really confident and it’d be like, this is what I want to do. And then we met Becky quite recently. She’s only been in the band under a year really. And she did a few gigs with us, just depping and then she eventually just said, when we went to audition bass players, she just said, actually, I want to be in the band full time, there’s no need to audition, I want to do it. So we were really excited to get Becky involved. So, yeah, that’s it.
For those who have yet to see Hands Off Gretel perform live, I was just wondering how would you go about describing one of your shows?
They are quite wild. Like the last show we played, the guitar player Sean, he smashed the guitar over his head. He could just get so crazy. We always expect people when they’re coming to the shows to let go. And I always talk about never growing up and just kind of going for it, so they are quite energy filled, quite crazy and also quite emotional sometimes.
Have you always known that being a musician was your chosen path?
Yeah, I knew at school – that’s all I would think about, because I used to just focus all my time on dreaming and looking out the window and just dreaming of being – I didn’t just want to be a singer, I wanted to be a famous singer and I would just focus on that. Like I want to be the star. Like my path of getting there was a little bit blurry? I wasn’t sure how. I just knew from being younger, that was something that I had to do. It wasn’t that I wanted to do this, I just had to do it and if I don’t do it, I’m going to feel like I didn’t reach my potential because I just, I don’t know why it is, but in my mind I just feel like it’s something I had to do since I was younger.
Which singers or artists would you say has inspired you on your path to be where you are right now?
I was inspired massively by Pink firstly, so she was like my first biggest inspiration. And then, I went to Janis Joplin. I’m inspired a lot by punk bands like Bikini Kill, Hole, The Distillers – quite a lot of women, L7 and bands like that. I’m inspired mostly by singers like that, like really raspy voices. I really like that Raspy realness in their voices, those kinds of intersections, I really like that in those vocalists.
In terms of your own musical tastes, what do you listen to you when you are kicking back at home?
Kind of a mixture of things. I listen to a lot of grunge, I like my 90s grunge and I also listen to quite a lot of pop, but not like commercial pop. Like I listen to Britney, old Britney Spears and I like rap as well, I like the Beastie Boys, I really enjoy them, but quite a mixed range. I listen to my dad’s music as well, he listens to Led Zeppelin and all the older music, I really like all of that.
We’re at the start of a new year, I just wondered have you got kind of 2019 mapped out, do you know what’s on the cards for the band.
So we’ve got the album coming out and then we’ve got quite a big tour coming between June and July, that’s the album tour in between those days. And we’re going to be releasing hopefully lots more music videos, but I love doing those so, hopefully, lots of those. And going back in the studio and recording some more singles that didn’t make it on the album. And then yeah, see how we go from there.
I Want The World by Hands Off Gretel will be released on March 29th via Puke Pop Records.