Cruel Hearts Club Interview with Gita and Edie Langley
At the start of a Cruel Hearts Club song, listeners might hear the vocals and jangly guitar sounds of women-fronted pop punk bands from the 90s, especially groups that filled Lookout! Records sampler cassettes and CDs. The Donnas, the Eyeliners, Go Sailor, and so many more. The Cruel Hearts Club aesthetic conjures punk and grunge bands from the past, summoning the spirits of Kathleen Hanna, Kim Shattuck, and Courtney Love. Yet they’re also of the present moment, bucking sexist practices in the music industry that try to tell women ‘you can’t be in rock a band and be a mum, too.’ Gita, Edie, and Gabi are doing it, and they’re showing other women how to follow in their footsteps.
Cruel Hearts Club is made up of sisters Gita and Edie Langley on vocals, synth, and guitars, and Gabi Woo on drums. The band has only been in its current form for a short time, but they’ve already released some buzzing singles and music videos to match, and they’ve supported Sting and Iggy Pop on tours in the UK and Europe. Before the lockdown, they opened for the Libertines and gained more fans of their retro-yet-decidedly-21st-century sound.
I got a chance to talk with Gita and Edie shortly after they’d released their second single “Suck It Up” and while they were making the music video for their newest release, “Blame Me Too.”
AG: Cruel Hearts Club is a relative newcomer, but you’ve been involved in music for a long time, right? How’d the band get started?
GL: We’d been playing in bands, Edie and I, for a few years in various guises, and then we decided our sound was getting more guitar-y and we needed a drummer. So we met Gabi and went from there.
But before that, our mum and dad came over from Australia in the 60s. They landed in this hippie commune in Norfolk, and my dad met this guy who taught him how to make ocarinas, wind instruments. When they started having kids—there are eight of us—we all learned to play these little instruments, and then it grew from there. I learned the violin, Edie learned the cello, and there was just music in the house the whole time. And Gabi is a classical pianist as well. We’re all classically trained. I went to the Royal Academy of Music in London, and so music has been in our blood since time began, really—it’s second nature. I can’t imagine anything else.
EL: When I was 18, I moved to London, and my three older sisters already lived here. I’d always wanted to move to London, so I moved here with about £50 in my bank account and into the tiniest room you can imagine. Me and Gita started doing music in a three-part harmony group called the Langley Sisters. I loved it, but we wanted to do more modern stuff, so Gita and I decided to start Cruel Hearts Club together, and we found our drummer Gabi through a mutual friend.
AG: The band has a distinctly 90s grungy pop-punk sound. I have a few guesses, but who are some of your biggest influences or inspirations?
EL: Me and Gita are slightly different, and I think that’s why it works. We’re pretty similar in music tastes but from different angles. I’m more grungy, maybe. I love Hole and Nirvana, and Brody Dalle, who’s in the Distillers, and I can’t even say what bands Gita likes [laughs]. Our musical tastes together work.
GL: I’m a big fan of Grimes. We love the sort of 90s grunge bands like Elastica and the Breeders, and Edie’s a big fan of the Distillers . . . . god there’s so many. I love Gwen Stefani. It’s never one specific genre. There are so many inspirational women out there.
AG: A lot of people used to describe some of those bands as “girl bands,” which often feels like a sexist qualifier. Do you think that kind of labeling persists?
EL: When I picture it, we’re not a “girl band,” we’re just a band, although promoters still like to say a “girl band.” I’d really like to think it’s a lot more equal now, or at least, we’re getting there.
AG: It’s very cool that you put your kids in your video for “Suck it Up.” You let everyone know you’re mothers in addition to being musicians, despite a lot of sexism you must face. How do you do it?
GL: It was only about a year or so ago that we felt we were in a position where we couldn’t talk about it. It was more like, ‘don’t talk about it, get on with it,’ you know, you want to seem sort of young and free and the rest of it. But we got to a point where we said, you know, we’ve gotta own this and be an inspiration to other mothers out there who have got young children. You can still be in a rock ‘n’ roll band, and we want to inspire other women who are mothers to know they can do it, too.
It’s hard, but we have great families, our husbands and partners are all musicians as well, and we just work around it. When the kids are at school, we’ll go to the studio [laughs]. And then when we can, we bring the kids along, like a family affair.
I think the industry has been changing over the last few years, you know, in terms of festival lineups and thinking about gender equality. Of course, it’s still not the case—there still aren’t enough women-fronted bands at these festivals. They’re still very male-dominated, and I guess we experienced a fair bit of misogyny in the last few years with various management, labels, what have you, and we decided to stick two fingers up to that to say, “it doesn’t matter.”
AG: I don’t want to ask you to name names—
GL: Shame them! [laughs]
AG: —but what did that misogyny look like?
GL: I don’t want to name names, of course, but it was an instance where we were going to be working with a manager, and he didn’t know we had kids. It sort of came up in conversation when we were talking about working together, and then it just went cold. No calls back. Six months of calls like, “hey where are you?” And it was pretty obvious why that was happening. What an idiot!
AG: But Sting was just the opposite, right?
GL: Yeah, absolutely. Gabi was six or seven months pregnant when we did that gig, and Sting was like, “this is punk rock, and it’s so cool that you’re out there doing it.” He’s a feminist. He said he loved the band, he loved what we stood for.
You know, before we did the gig, we were a bit like “oh my god, we’re supporting Sting!” Everyone we mentioned it to in the music industry had a Sting story, and they were all different but all great. I think he’s just generally a massive dude. It’s funny—everyone had their Sting story, and now we have our Sting story!
There are quite a lot of men out there who would find Gabi’s drumming distressing [when she was pregnant]. There were quite a few comments online like, “how dare you do that to the baby?” And we were like, “how dare you, for a start!” It’s so ill-informed. She obviously wouldn’t be drumming if it weren’t safe. We made sure she didn’t carry anything! [laughs]
AG: So how’d you end up supporting Sting last year in Lyon?
GL: We just have a great booker, Charlie, and it was in this amazing ancient amphitheatre. It was really special, a beautiful evening, and the audience really listened. After the show, we ended up hanging out with Sting, and like I was saying, he was really supportive and amazing. He promised, “I’m going to get you girls back!” And he has been true to his word. [In September, Cruel Hearts Club is set to be doing six shows at the Palladium supporting Sting.]
AG: And you opened for Iggy Pop shortly before that Sting gig, right?
GL: Yeah, we supported Iggy just a month before the Sting gig in Budapest, and that was crazy.
Iggy is just huge, isn’t he?
Anyhow, the crew, everyone involved, they were all amazing. I think there’s a lot of love out there, and other musicians want to support one another. Generally other musicians and other people are really kind.
EL: It was our best gig, for sure—well, the whole experience. In the first minute, my pedals weren’t working and I felt like I sounded like shit, but the crowd was going crazy at Budapest Park. And then we got to meet Iggy afterward. Meeting Iggy was like meeting Santa Claus—all of us lining up! [laughs] We were all like, ‘we love you!’ and he was like [in an American accent] ‘love ya too!”
AG: Speaking of music being a family affair, do your kids ever see you play live?
EL: It depends where it is. We’ve taken them to some festivals. Gabi has been taking her newborn to soundchecks, but I personally like to keep it quite separate. I think for everyone, my kids are actually quite homebods and don’t like loud music. They can be quite shy, and I’m a different person when I step out in the band. It’s nice for me to be independent for those moments, and then I come home satisfied and, hopefully, you know, a more complete person. I can come home and be a better mum. When they’re older, I think they’ll come out more.
GL: The daytime festivals are the nice ones for the kids to see, and I think it’s really important for them to see us doing it and to be proud of what their mums are doing. They get to run around backstage and be rock ‘n’ roll kids. They were all in our video for “Suck it Up,” so, they’re sort of heavily involved in all the music side of things and the filming side of things.
AG: Besides the music video for “Suck It Up,” you’ve been working on some other great stuff, too, yeah?
EL: Yeah, we just did our single launch for “Suck It Up” at The Lexington in King’s Cross [in London], and that’s a really cool venue for bands like us. We rammed a 200-capacity venue, which is so much better than having a 1000-capacity venue and having it partially empty. It was a really cool space.
We recently recorded “Blame Me Too” at my boyfriend’s band’s place in Margate, The Albion Rooms. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll bar and hotel. We’re recording our new music video for our single “Blame Me Too.” [The video and single were released on May 22.] We’re all recording separately, obviously! It’s going to be a ‘bedroom angst’ video, a 90s-inspired work, getting our boyfriends and husbands to film us. So we’re getting a few bits done despite the lockdown.
AG: The lockdown is really tough on musicians. How is it affecting Cruel Hearts Club?
GL: It’s gonna hit us really, really hard. All of our gigs for the next who-knows-how-long have been canceled, but we don’t know what’s in place for the future. On the positive side, we’re all going to try to be super creative and to make the most of the time in some weird way. In weird times, though, people do create the most amazing music, so we’ll knuckle down and do that. The big bands will be fine—they’ll survive. But it’s just a particularly hard time for musicians.
EL: I think when it’s safe, we’re all going to want to go to gigs more than ever. In the meantime, I don’t love playing by myself. I’m so used to having my sister there. I need Gita there, and Gabi. Once the three of us can get back together, we’d love to do streaming gigs.
AG: Going back to the music video work, I love that you’re creating a DIY music video for your new single during this strange and truly tough time. Are you intentionally calling back to the era of the music video, that seminal moment in grunge and pop-punk music?
EL: You know, I’ve spoken to managers and various people I know, and they say: “Don’t bother making music videos. You’re going to waste your money, you’re going to waste your time. It’s all about quick content now, and you need to do quick clips now.” But that quick content doesn’t bring me joy.
Music videos have always been exciting for me. I’ve always thought, I’m going to make music videos, even if it’s a bit of a vanity project for me. I love the whole idea of it, the whole making of it. It’s very stressful, and the editing always makes me cry, but I love homemade videos. Me and Gita made one for our old band, and it makes me feel happy when I see it. We went to a karaoke bar, wore wigs, and ran in the rain. It’s “New York Versus Paris.”
AG: What are some of your favorite music videos?
EL: Basically, Hole. If I think of a music video that inspires me, I think of “Celebrity Skin” [the Hole music video directed by Nancy Bardawil. who also made a number of videos for Veruca Salt in the mid-90s]. Then there’s a band of the minute doing quite well, Black Honey [fronted by Izzy B Phillips]. She makes really cool videos—very cinematic, badass videos. I think they have more money to spend on videos than we do. We do all of ours DIY.
As far as music videos go, I felt an immediate affinity with the band after watching their films for “Suck It Up” and “Blame Me Too.” They must be kindred spirits with those of us who loved the Kim Gordon and Spike Jonze video for the Breeders’ “Cannonball,” or some of the works Michel Gondry directed for Björk and the Foo Fighters. At moments in their new “Blame Me Too” video, the members of Cruel Hearts Club seem like they could have come straight from an MTV shoot. The nostalgic light leaks and tungsten colors, combined with frenzied edits and vintage fashion, underscore the trio’s ties to the women punk rockers who came before them while cementing them as a force to be reckoned with in the present. If you haven’t yet seen the video for “Blame Me Too,” check it out here.
Audrey J. Golden is a literature and film professor who lives in Brooklyn, NY. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and you can check out her personal website to learn more about her writing and her archive of books, records, and ephemera.