INTERVIEW: Joanna Gruesome | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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With their often forthright feminist and anti-homophobic lyrics spewed over a blistering punk and DIY soundtrack, Cardiffian group Joanna Gruesome have built up a strong reputation for storming live shows and cramming a multitude of ideas into their taut, often short songs. Their latest LP Peanut Butter was a flurry of noise but showed off their gift for balancing the chaos with moments of clarity, with something genuinely interesting to say.

Ahead of their sold out show at the Head of Steam in Newcastle, I talked to songwriter/guitarist Owen Williams about their latest album, drawing on the ghosts of Gruesome past and I found out the best DIY bands to check out.

Peanut Butter has received rave reviews just as Weird Sister did, were there any paradigmatic shifts between the two records?

I wouldn’t say paradigmatic but my intentions were to sharpen the songwriting, to increase references to the occult and to feature a semi naked picture of the group on the cover.  Maybe this accounts for the positive reviews.

You’ve gained a lot of admirers for your short sharp and to the point tracks, is there a reason behind the shortness of your tracks? Or do you envisage yourselves writing noise-rock epics?

I think there are two reasons for this: 1. I don’t particularly like to repeat a chorus more than twice. 2. We play reasonably quickly. But I try to cram as many hooks and dissonant sections into our songs as I can, so it’s always very confusing when we finish recording a song and realise it is around 2 minutes and 20 seconds. Before we recorded Peanut Butter I assumed it was a vast, expansive record of endless tangents but experts tell me it is 22 minutes long, which is considered short by traditional LP standards. I don’t imagine us writing noise rock epics.

You have a very varied sound, do you all have a hand in the writing of the music?

Generally it works like this: I spend an unreasonable amount of time writing the bones of the song, the melodies, the lyrics etc. I travel to George’s house. He writes guitar sections and sometimes melodies. We teach the song to Dave, Max, Roxy and Kate. If we are uninspired or short on time we summon the ghosts of former Joanna Gruesome members/ the anguished spirits of deceased rock royalty and ask for advice/steal hooks.

Who are your major influences? Do you have different individual influences and do these play a big part in the creation of your sound?

When I’m walking around I pretty much exclusively listen to Broadcast, Jackson Browne, Mariah Carey, and Anne Briggs but in the real world I spend all of my time at shows watching and playing with incredible DIY bands. I think I find melodic influence from all of these people, and from pretty much anyone who actually writes *songs* and I find rhythmic influence from ignorant hardcore punk music. I think some folk music works it’s way in there and recently some avant garde knob twiddling and drone violin.

You’ve done quite a few split singles with some great bands, are there any plans for anymore in the future? If not are there any bands that you would like to do a split single with?

No plans at the moment but we always like doing a split.  I saw Priests last night, would do a split with them I reckon.

Joanna Gruesome - Rachel Hodgson 2

“We’ve taken the inevitable cue from Linkin Park and structured it so that one vocalist shouts and one sings”

What can we expect from the upcoming tour? How has the two lead vocalists changed the band’s dynamic?

We’ve taken the inevitable cue from Linkin Park and structured it so that one vocalist shouts and one sings. While Kate is shouting, Roxy plays the guitar. While Roxy sings, Kate plays the keyboard and sometimes hammers an obnoxious analogue synth.

Your live shows are always pretty exciting; do you think your tracks take on a different life when you play live? Also do you prefer playing live or being in the studio?

We are sloppier, faster, louder and more ignorant when we play live. But here’s the twist: we are often wearing a choreographed band uniform. I prefer playing live rather than playing in the studio for this reason.

One final question, there seems to be a number of bands associated with Joanna Gruesome, so who should we be on the look out for in the near future?

Well me and Roxy play in/have played in bands such as Grubs, Two White Cranes, Caramel, Trust Fund, King of Cats, The Sleepy Boys and Towel. Kate played in the queercore band Pennycress and plays in Damn Teeth. George plays in a band with Max Boyce, Dave played in Saturday’s Kids and Max also plays in Caramel. I would recommend these bands as well as this non comprehensive list of bands we are friends with/have heard of/have exchanged tweets with:

  • The Spook School
  • Oh Peas
  • Slum of Legs
  • Lower Slaughter
  • Royal Limp
  • Shopping
  • Good Throb
  • Palomica
  • The Living End
  • Frau
  • Tony Molina
  • Twisted
  • Aye Nako
  • Primetime
  • The Jelas
  • Ravioli Me Away
  • Laura Cannell
  • Downtown Boys
  • All Slumberland and Fortuna POP! bands

Joanna Gruesome play at the Head of Steam, Newcastle on Saturday 19th September.

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