Messed!Up

It’s time to speak up about mental health issues: Lady Bird interviewed

J.N. February 17, 2019

To be honest, when we got the opportunity to meet up with Lady Bird at the Mücke bei die Fische mini-festival at Molotow in Hamburg I didn’t know that much about them. Sure, I was at their insane gig at the BBC Introducing stage at the Reading Festival, a truly great show with lots of that cocky attitude I really appreciate among punks, but that was basically it.

However, I know that they are one of those young bands that have been much involved in the rising movement speaking up about mental health struggles and personal trauma, especially among young men, and how to create an environment where people can feel comfortable and talk these things through. That’s something that’s really interesting to hear more about in a world where mental illness is becoming one of the biggest threats to young people’s lives.

When Sam, Joe and Alex made a stopover as the headliner act at Molotow, we just had to sit down with the lads and chat about mental health issues, being on tour with their boys in Slaves and when we can expect a debut album.

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Growing up in Tunbridge Wells in South/South-East England, about a four-hour drive from London, Sam put together Lady Bird by bringing in Joe on drums and Alex on guitar in 2016. The boys grew up around the members of Slaves, and naturally they were signed by Slaves’ own label, Girl Fight Records, for their debut release, the “Social Potions” EP, and are still the only project on the label.

Their big bromance with Slaves evolved into an almost month long support slot on Slaves’ UK tour in November last year, and just before the tour they released their latest single “Reprisal”, a single that got stuck on the editor’s deck.

After an incredible year we’re very interested to hear what will happen in 2019 and how they can make use of Slaves’ musical platform and all the attention they got during the tour, especially how to transform it into something to put out to their increasing fan base.

Album in 2019? “In the works is a good way to put it”

I was at your Reading gig, a great gig, and it’s great to see that you have got your name out in the UK.
Joe: That’s good to hear because there’s so much coming out of the UK at the moment, like The Murder Capital who just put out their first single that we love; Fontaines D.C. have an album about to come out; then you have all this London stuff like Shame; and Black Midi, one that I have been hearing a lot of and I think I’m going to see them soon, a friend just got us tickets.

The best thing of being on this circuit is that you hear about so many bands and you never know when you’re going to manage to take yourself to go and see them, and then you just end up playing with them.

Alex: There is actually a proper circle, like levels of bands, and you do just ending up knowing everybody. There’s so much crossover with all the bands, which is really fun when you actually become friends with people, like Willie J Healey who was on the Slaves tour that we just did. You become mates with them and talk about their process, and you learn so much from these bands and the way they do things.

Sam: We love Willie, write that.

Alex: I wasn’t even that sure about him, musically when I first rehearsed to the tour, and then I watched him live every night and I just didn’t stop listening to his EP.

Everyone is doing their own thing, very much in their own way as well, so we’re all on our own circuit and we all got our own ideas, and we’re going about more in our own way.

It feels like there’s a lot of diversity and less genre lines now, like these little pockets of people that try to do stuff and be creative. The last two or three years have been fucking incredible.

But all these new bands must make it a bit difficult to become visible as well, to get your own space.
Sam: I think that being really honest is a good way to start. We always talk about everything and that’s something I really value in this band; we talk about everything, we discuss things and we get everything to be exactly as want it to be. And musically we’re just fucking honest about the way we want to portray ourselves.

Joe: That’s true, but we definitely had concrete influences, like in The Streets and in our boys Slaves. Every band has concrete influences and every band have to find their voice.

You made quite a tour with Slaves last year and probably got the opportunity to play all kind of different venues and stages. What does it mean for you to get that kind of support slot? Have you noticed any difference in attention after the tour?
Joe: We haven’t really done much since that tour. But yeah, definitely, because they were the biggest crowds we’ve played in front of (laugh).

Alex: We probably played to more people in that two and a half weeks than we ever played to in our entire lives (laugh).

Joe: I would say every few nights! Every few nights of that tour we played for more people than we ever played for before.

Alex: It was telling on the tour when people were turning up in Lady Bird t-shirts, people actually turning up to see us at Slaves’ gigs. You looking down every night and see a fucking Lady Bird t-shirt, “Wow, there’s a Lady Bird t-shirt on instead of the Slaves”, even if it is a Slaves show.

I suppose it has given us a direction and a place to have a strong foundation of which to work from. From this point it’s all about taking what we’ve created already and consider what we’re doing, what is Lady Bird and where are we going. And that’s all coming out in writing at the moment.

Our direction, separate from that momentum we had with Slaves and Girl Fight, although we still work very close with them, that’s ready to be built upon and become Lady Bird’s own thing.

But what was great was seeing how people were turning up for us. I’ve been thinking about it a lot that what we’ve been so blessed with is like Slaves supporting us. We haven’t got a traditional label involved or a certain manager coming in like “We’re going to it this way”. It being friends of ours who have a big spotlight on them just turning it on to us, and that has enabled us to not only do exactly what we wanted to do but be supported with encouragement from people who really care about us, but also get the eyes that are on them even if they just glance at us and then turn away again.

It’s a different way of getting seen, a different way of support and coming up.

After last year’s EP and some singles can we expect an album in 2019? Is it in the works?
Joe: In the works is a good way to put it (laugh).

Alex: We’re basically in the beginning of writing now and it feels exciting. I certainly feel really creative and we’re working with a producer that is really inspiring us.

Joe: When we all were growing up in Tunbridge Wells, this guy Lee was like the in-house kind of nutty producer at The Forum [venue]. He produced both of these two [pointing at Alex and Sam] when they were teenagers, and he’s been living in Iceland for a few years.

Sam put this band together, Sam got us on it, and when we were first making songs Sam was talking about his friend Lee who lived over in Iceland like “He’s amazing, we got to go to Iceland, we just have to do it”, but obviously we didn’t go there – it’s Iceland (laugh)!

We did our home coming gig at Tunbridge Wells’ The Forum at the end of the year and Lee just turned up there without telling any of us that he was going to come, basically announces himself at the end of the show, “Hey! I saw your video at Reading a few weeks ago and I was like ‘what the fuck, what am I doing in Iceland, I got to move home’” (laugh). So he’s back and sort of made himself a fourth member for the time being.

Sam: And we’re really sure that this relationship will evolve into an album, it certainly feels well.

You released your debut EP “Social Potions” on Slaves’ label Girl Fight Records and also single “Boot Fillers” but your latest single was put out by Lucky 7 Recordings. Have you changed label?
Sam: It’s on Lucky 7, yeah. Essentially we got busy with that single, “Reprisal”. We produced and decided to put it out by ourselves without really consulting them which is why it’s not on there. But obviously we’re working so close to Girl Fight that it’s really no conflict between us. It felt right at the time.

Alex: It’s just how that process worked, wasn’t it? We just recorded the song and had it ready and we kind of needed to get it out before the Slaves tour and obviously they were busy with their tour, so that was a conversation we never had really. That’s kind of why we released it on Lucky 7.

Joe: It’s an open conversation as well with Girl Fight. It’s a beautiful thing and really exciting, but the main point of it is the creative process going on there, and they just want to support us in that.

I don’t think anyone involved in this relationship on our side or on that side want to write off the possibility of a label coming and being like “Let’s take this wherever we can take it”, but at the moment this is what we do and Girl Fight is definitely still going strong.

But you’re also the only band at the label at the moment?
Alex: Yeah, they kind of sow projects and just focus on us.

Sam: But they’re still looking for and encourage other bands to step forward and continue to put their stuff out.

Joe: Yeah, if they find another band I think they would definitely be up for working with them, but it’s just about finding that band they want to put all their time into. We’re filling up too much of their attention already (laugh), we’re not that little toddlers anymore.

Sam: Everything we do now is writing and laying down some demos in the studio which inevitably lead to and album or two, but at the moment we also ask questions about what we want to do for the time being. Stay tuned really in that respect.

Alex: But there will definitely be music out this year, we will have new stuff for people to listen to but they might have to wait slightly longer than they want to for an album.

Talking about vulnerabilities

Mental health is serious and in recent years it’s been talked about more openly than ever. However, that still doesn’t mean that everyone is talking about it. Actually, men aren’t talking about it much at all. Traditional masculinity doesn’t exactly lend itself to introspection, discussing feelings, or even feeling those feelings.

There’s still a lingering stigma for a few reasons. Men tend to view mental illness as a sign of weakness that you should just be able to “get over”, and through history many have viewed it as a title given to those who are just “crazy”. But luckily masculinity is evolving, and there’s bands bringing these issues into the spotlight.

Slaves and Idles were speaking up for opening up about mental health issues in DIY Mag last year and Idles introduce their song “Samaritans” as a song about “a mental illness called masculinity”.

And for Lady Bird going through similar experiences as many young men do today, it’s important to address the issue of mental health and bring about a change in how men perceive their role.

You’ve been quite open about mental health issues and personal traumas, and we’ve had this discussion in our interviews with several male artists last year, and for some reason it seems like 2018 was the year when also men started to talk about mental health struggles. But why do you think it happens know, a bit late I would say, because it has been a problem for decades and especially among creative people?
Joe: As soon as there’s a deep cause made by a significant portion of society, the rest of it reflects that. I wouldn’t want to venture where it started but in the last couple of years there has been a general shift with people, to some degree a reflection of the state of international politics and what’s going on there. A lot of people see a potential for a lot of chaos and a lot of people feel disaffected.

Mental health is a permanent issue, it’s not something that just suddenly happens. We’re all social beings, we’re all full of love and we’re all insecure on whatever it is, and somewhere at some point there was courses made for people to start talking about this and start doing something about it. As soon as something like that starts happening and people see that it got a positive effect, everyone wants to be part of it.

Alex: It got to a point where a lot of young men starts the process where you start to deal with it; for dealing with your own mental health you have to be able to talk about it. I just found myself being more honest after people started to address these things I was going through. When people were asking how I feel I wasn’t answering “Yeah, I’m fine”, it was more like “I’m fucked, I’m not in a great place at the moment” (laugh).

Joe: There’s a lot of talk about young men’s mental health at the moment but it’s not a gendered problem. I sometimes struggle to sleep at night and I listen to a podcast, and one of my favorite podcast’s is one by Fearne Cotton who is a broadcaster from the UK and used to present Top of the Pops when we were growing up, a really cool young woman.

She talks to various people that she knows as friends or within the industry about their issues, what they have gone through in their lives or whatever. She explores it through the lens of people who had creative success, whether it’s journalists, artists or musicians, and she talks to them about the things they are going through in their daily life and their mechanisms of making sense in their lives, and it’s great that they’re open about it.

Alex: In terms of the male-female thing there has been much more in the history of men like stiff upper lip, “I’m a bloke, I’m ok, I’m strong”. It’s got to a point where so many people were killing themselves and people got incredibly depressed. Maybe it’s a reaction to the way the politics of our country has been led for a long time.

But basically, it’s that stiff upper lip, that’s the problem, this toxic masculinity. It’s just being honest with your emotions really but men haven’t had the space so much to be able to talk about those emotions. I don’t know how that changed or why that changed but the fact that it has is powerful.

Sam: With regard to that split between men and women in there, it’s the social orientation of their roles in the overall society, so obviously we’re in a blessed time in terms of equality between men and women although it’s still a lot work to be done.

The social standard as far as growing up as a young man is the expectation coming from our grandparents’ or great grandparents’ generation where men came back from the war and it was like “They had to fight for this and that” and suddenly it will be “I’m the man of the family”, and it has founded this whole idea which isn’t necessarily the reality for many other people. But this idea that they got, to step up to some sort of expectation, it’s that kind of dynamic that’s crumbling away and leaving a lot of men to feel disempowered.

I think that women have the same struggle and struggle with mental health issues as well, it’s just that their social orientation is completely different. To be honest, women as mom’s are bombarded with mental weakness through the amount of things that they got to take in their life – that’s their expectation. The expectation is just different.

But do you have it as general themes in your lyrics as well? “Social Potions” seems to refer much to anxieties for instance.
Sam: Alex and I were having a great conversation about Damon Albarn’s new project The Good, The Bad & The Queen that is having similar social commentary with this idea of Brexit and post Brexit that he translates into lyrics.

But I think it’s all just ideas really, isn’t it? We can tell our story from our experiences although some people might say that we’re occasionally political. I think that social commentary is more of an accurate description of how we go about, but all we can talk about is what we’re used to in our environment, and mental health is definitely something we have experienced; we’ve lost friends that lost the battle against mental health and that has become important to us in that respect.

The whole EP is kind of based on that vicious cycle, mentally, but with the aid of a substance.

Alex: For me that’s kind of where the story is placed. The story is about disrespect for oneself and the realization that it doesn’t have to be the case. “Social Potions” is like hope really. It’s about “You and me baby can work together to banish this destructive behavior”; that epitomizes it all.

Joe: I think that where we’re coming from and where this opening up a dialogue of mental health issues is coming from as well, is like realizing the unity of the personal and the social. It’s like “You’re not going to change the world by focusing just on politics” or “You’re not going to change the world by focusing just on yourself”, but if you really do have a sincere desire and can master the courage to really work through the negativity inherent in your life, which is causing trouble, then that will naturally impact your environment.

We’re living in a time where young people feel disaffected. Politics will achieve, to be frankly if you’re British, a “Fuck all” mentality because the first time we got close to have our votes counting for anything, we were promised free education and within a month it was taken away, and that was a massively significant moment in politics for our generation.

So if people go like “Ok, if we can’t change this world that way, then what can we do about each other? What if I love myself more? What if I love my friend more? What if I help my friend to love himself more?”. What I mean is, like gradually, if you learn to love yourself properly, you learn to love people who aren’t your friends properly. And people have started to take care of each other now.

That’s a shift that has been taking place; you see that with Idles and what has happened with their fan base – that’s massive – and Dream Wife that invite people to come to these dialogues before their gigs. And this is just what bands are doing, that’s just a micro-cosmic reflection of the society at large but that’s what it is about – using your energy and power inherent in your life to make good.

The 2019 resolution

We’re just a few weeks into 2019 and there’s a lot of things to come. What’s the ambition for this year? Where do you want to be at the end of the year?
Sam: The record is happening!

Alex: By December I want to be listening back to our first album (laugh), that’s my aim.

Sam: And on top of that I want the campaign to be under way and everyone we want to be onboard of it to be behind us.

Joe: And I want this energy of self-transformation that we were talking about – mutual self-love – just keep growing like fucking mad and I want to be one of the bands that really kicks that forward this year.


Photographer: ©Teresa Enhiak Nanni
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About The Author

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.

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