In search of magic: The Hysterical Injury Interviewed
Long time Louder Than War favourites The Hysterical Injury have a new EP due out on March 20th and it’s great, showing there’s still a hec lot of mileage in their bass meets drums, noisepop meets grunge, sister meets brother shtick. In the buildup to the release Ben Tansey met up with the band for Louder Than War to talk about the EP – amongst other things!
I’m meeting the Hysterical Injury – siblings Tom and Annie Gardiner – in the cosy surroundings of The Bristolian café, comfortably nestled just off the bustling parade of Stokes Croft. The light is low, the air warm and inviting and Tom gives me the best advice I receive all day: “Order the hot chocolate”. It’s urbanely calm and unpretentious, the perfect location to chat songwriting, the local scene and future plans.
No sooner are we all huddled around the table – Tom and I with our enviable mugs of frothy delight, Annie with some unidentifiable cloudy yellow liquid – that conversation turns to the fragmented musical landscape of Bristol. They talk of scenes within scenes and being forced into rivalry with friends as promoters book similar gigs on the same night. We discuss the vibrancy of the scenes and the eclecticism of music within the city, but acknowledge the creeping sense of competition and the emergence of a financially orientated business model that fails to fully reward the bands that sustain it. Annie recalls a dispute with a London promoter who refused to even cover costs; the band nearly packed up and went back West until at the last minute he relented and reached begrudgingly into his pocket. She fears that mentality is breaking out of the capital and infecting the rest of the country. “I’ll play my hardest no matter what,” says Tom, “There could be four people in the audience, it doesn’t matter, I just love being on stage.” What they won’t do is get taken advantage of.
Early incarnations of the Hysterical Injury back in 2007 saw them as a three piece. When guitarist Rob Jackson left after 18 months the band felt he was irreplaceable and continued as a two-piece. “We were really ropey for a long time” admits Annie. Rob’s lasting legacy was to leave Annie with a Fuzz Factory effects pedal*. “I’d never used pedals before,” says Annie, “I didn’t feel like I had the coordination for them.” It didn’t take her too long to sort out her footwork and soon the irreplaceable Rob had been replaced by half a dozen small metal boxes. “You’ve undergone a massive transformation [since Rob left],” praises Tom, “You’ve become a monster!”
Later on in the conversation Annie repays the compliment, espousing Tom’s skills as a drummer: “He plays it like it’s a musical instrument, he’s so versatile. That’s the mark of a great musician”.
Versatile is a word that could describe them both. Tom cites his early influences as Jimmy Chamberlin (Smashing Pumpkins), Chad Smith (Chili Peppers) and Brad Wilk (Rage Against The Machine). Annie remembers several weeks at university when she felt physically unable to stop playing guitar along to Sonic Youth’s ‘Daydream Nation’. Alongside their alternative pedegree the pair recall a shared early love affair with the Beach Boys, Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album and Madonna.
Tom didn’t become a full time member of the Hysterical Injury until 2011 after original drummer Lee Stone departed. Even though he played on some early demos he was too busy with other projects to join the band. He arrived just in time to play on the album ‘Dead Wolf Situation’, spending two weeks learning the parts and a further two weeks rehearsing with Annie before entering the studio. “It felt like any other session,” he remembers, “It was weird playing someone else’s parts.” Now of course the pair – who recall as children being made to duet on the violin before school as dad accompanied on the piano – are a tight, almost telepathic unit. Tom assures me: “The best is yet to come.”
As we talk it doesn’t take me long to realise why the Hysterical Injury are so bloody good: they take music incredibly seriously. As they work the band constantly flip between composer and listener, keeping the ideas that have “the magic” – as Annie puts it – and ditching those that don’t. They record every practice; Annie recently deleted seven and a half days worth of material alone. Fortunately they reassure me there’s plenty of good stuff left! Tom lets it slip we can expect “at least one more” EP before the year’s out. They’re both deep thinkers and it’s obvious they think about music all the time. They both have degrees in music and both teach music in various capacities. Put simply: they’re proper musos. There are few bands who can mention (90s metalers) Fear Factory and (experimental vocal composer/performer) Meredith Monk in the same interview. Tom tells me last night he spent three hours watching videos of drum solos on YouTube. “Tom’s amazing” says Annie, “He can play the same part five or six different ways, adding different accents and inflections.” What is most impressive is how sparingly their technical chops come to the fore. I contrast their melodic and tightly structured noise pop with some of the more straight-up-punk (but equally as brilliant) bass’n’drum duos I’ve seen who hit no more than three notes very hard and shout for a minute and a half; “Oh we can do that too,” reassures Tom, “It depends what the song calls for.”
Their diversity makes them a difficult band to pigeonhole. Lead single “Under Milk Wood” (stream at foot of this page or on Soundcloud) off the new EP ‘Blood Burst’ announces itself with a harshly unmelodic bassline awash with distortion akin to ‘Goo’/’Dirty’ era Sonic Youth before settling into a Fugazi-esq syncopated groove, who even get a name check in Annie’s sweet soprano. Her delicate and decorative vocal melodies recall the intricacy of Regina Spektor or Joanna Newsome, a wonderful contrast to the raw power of the rhythm section.
Stand-out track “Woken With A Warning” channels the grungy chord progressions of early favourites Smashing Pumpkins (Tom would steal his sister’s copy of ‘Siamese Dream’) with a vocal reminiscent of PJ Harvey and Sleater-Kinney.
Some songwriters have their preferred techniques, the Hysterical Injury will try anything and everything. Annie tells me she’s been reading Doris Lessing’s Children of Violence series (about a young woman’s social, sexual and political awakening) and picking out favourite phrases. She likes her lyrics to be personal but not read like a diary entry; there should be enough ambiguity to allow the listener a choice, to find within the words their own interpretation. Musically they’ll come to rehearsals with prepared material and knock it into shape together, or otherwise improvise until they stumble onto that illusive “magic” Annie talks so much about. They’re also prone to some on-stage experimentalism, stretching out songs or inventing whole new ones on the spot.
Before we leave the warmth of the café I ask them what they have lined up for the future. “More!” says Tom. “More records, more gigs.” The band love working in the studio. Part of what made recording ‘Blood Burst’ so enjoyable was working with Gordon Raphael, producer of the first two Strokes records and ‘Soviet Kitsch’. “Gordon was amazing,” enthuses Annie, “He really got the pop element, and he’s so efficient. Easy going and great with people but disciplined. He’s a very sparkly person!” There’s a UK tour in March to promote the EP – the band play a launch gig at The Sportsman opposite Colston Hall in Bristol on March 27th – and then, fingers crossed, we’ll have another release before the close of 2015. I ask if they’d ever pursue a major label contract or do they enjoy the DIY approach too much? “If the opportunity arose and it was right for us then yes, of course,” says Annie, “But if not or it wasn’t right then that’s okay, we’ll just keep doing what we’ve always done. We feel a bit like aliens anyway, we’ve always done our own thing.”
The Hysterical Injury are a thoroughly modern band for occasionally troubled, modern times. They’re fiercely independent and can proudly claim to make their living solely from music. They are uncompromising, hold themselves to the highest of standards and stick relentlessly to their vision. Around them exists a community of like-minded bands and artists, even if sometimes it feels like everyone’s scrambling for the last seat on bus. They exploit social media and the reach of the internet in expert fashion and have, through bloody hard work, risen to become one of Bristol’s most prominent bands. Even if Annie does drink weird-ass tea.
* chaotic fuzz effect by ZVEX, famous amongst guitar nerds for its wild oscillations and feedback; used by Matt Bellamy, J Mascis and Nels Cline.
You may wish to pre-order the EP, which comes both as a digital download and as a limited edition book and CD version, in which case head over to their Bandcamp.
The Hysterical Injury can be found online here: thehystericalinjury.co.uk. They’re also on Facebook. For band news on twitter follow @hiband, for Annie news follow @anniehysterical and for Tom news follow @TomGDrummer.
All words by Ben Tansey. More writing by Ben on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.