On their debut EP, the London-based grunge band catalog all the different ways control manifests in our lives.
The coronavirus pandemic has effectively shattered the illusion that we have some control over our lives—one minute we were all planning to go to shows or festivals, and the next we’re isolating indoors for months. Although London-based grunge band Gaygirl recorded their debut EP Pleasurehead last October, they nonetheless deal with the feelings of powerlessness endemic to our turbulent times. Pleasurehead sees the quartet detail all the different ways control can manifest in our lives, from being controlled (“MNausea”), losing control (“Mikkel”), and being out of control (“Killing It”).
Building upon previous singles like “Hair” and “Sicknote,” Pleasurehead sees Gaygirl move away from the fast and loud garage rock of their earlier releases for something more considered and sinister. Listeners are introduced to this change of sound with “MNausea,” which borrows heavily from the minimal structure of noise rock and opens with a trembling bassline courtesy of bassist Tom Coyne. At first glance “MNausea” is about being controlled, but singer Bex Morrison’s menacing lyrics hint that she’s just playing at coy when she sings “I’m just the meat under your cleaver / Lie on my side for you to eat the flesh / I bleed for you.” Who is actually in control gets called into question as the track closes, with Morrison switching from the subdued “I’ll hold you nightly” to an echoing promise “I’ll haunt you nightly.”
The rest of Pleasurehead plays with this idea of who is really in control, with the embittered break-up song “Mikkel” detailing how the sudden dissolution of a relationship, while disorienting, can actually be freeing. “Pleasurehead” sees Gaygirl riotously buck against control as Morrison sneers, “Get on your knees if it pleases them / Fuck your needs if it pleases them.” While the previous three tracks are about regaining or maintaining control, “Killing It” revels in the loss of control as the track cycles between measured and chaotic, Morrison’s voice dissolving into a series of whimpers and yelps as guitarist Lewis Clark and drummer Louis Bradshaw bring the song to its crashing conclusion. Pleasurehead is a meditation on control that is just as slippery as control itself, and whether or not Gaygirl think that it’s better to let go or hold onto control, the band’s debut EP is a promising progression in their sound.
AdHoc spoke with Morrison, Clark, and Bradshaw about their debut EP, how the band met, and what they’re up to in quarantine. You can read the full interview below, and stream Pleasurehead which is out now via Permanent Creeps.
AdHoc: How did the band meet?
Bex Morrison: I was a street fundraiser, one of those people that signs people up for charities on the street. On my first day I actually met Lewis and he signed up for my charity. We just got talking about music, and we realized we had a lot of the same interests and influences in music so we decided to start writing together.
Louis Bradshaw: I met the original bassist at a party because he was friends with one of my friends at university. He asked me if I wanted to come and have a jam, and I really liked them.
Do you all come from musical backgrounds?
Morrison: We’re all from different musical backgrounds. I’m actually from a more classical music background. I was a violinist.
Lewis Clark: I was forced to learn the piano as a child, which at the time I thought was horrific having to do piano lessons and exams. But I guess it later paid off because it brought me into music. I self-taught myself the guitar.
Bradshaw: I started playing drums when I was nine. I’m really into jazz stuff as well, which is really quite a contradiction. A lot of my playing is sort of influenced by that. I used to play in jazz big bands and steel pan bands, orchestras and stuff when I was younger.
Your EP sounds different from your previous singles; what influenced that transition in sound?
Morrison: There’s not really a reason. I think with our first proper singles it was sort of our faster, more immediate tracks. That’s still definitely a side to us, but we have a whole range of things that we do and with the EP I think it was important to show that that’s not just what we do. To show different sides to us, because we do have different elements—and I think that comes from the fact that we do have different influences as well.
Bradshaw: If you come to a live show of ours, I find that the sound is kind of defined in the set, but obviously singles are a burst of energy. You can’t always define the sound of a single really—the EP is more of a collection of the sound.
Why did you decide to name your EP Pleasurehead?
Morrison: The third track of the EP is called Pleasurehead.
Clark: We’re super lazy.
Morrison: We’re just not very good at coming up with title names. It kind of just made sense for the whole EP. The subject of the whole EP is loosely based around the idea of control and losing control. The song “Pleasurehead” is about losing control of your own pleasure, and it just kind of made sense with all of the tracks together and the context of what the songs were about. The first track “MNausea” is about the idea about being controlled, being in the palm of somebody’s hand. The second track [“Mikkel”] is on the verge of losing control or not feeling in control. The fourth one [“Killing It”] is not knowing what you’re doing anymore, and I think that’s a feeling that everyone can relate to. No one is ever sort of balanced. Control is kind of how we live our lives, and sometimes we’re in and sometimes we’re out.
I found “Pleasurehead” to be very similar thematically to “Hair,” where losing control isn’t necessarily framed as a bad thing.
Clark: It’s maybe breaking away from people’s viewpoint of you or what they expect you to be like.
Morrison: Yeah, it’s this expectation thing and just being like “Screw that.” I’d say that these are pressures that everyone faces in different ways.
What songs are you most proud of on Pleasurehead?
Bradshaw: I like “Killing It” because I just like how crazy it sounds. The structure of the song goes a bit out there, and I’m partial to that.
Morrison: That was probably like one of the most fun ones to do in the studio because we didn’t have many boundaries with what we were going to do with it.
Clark: I really like the first track “MNausea” actually. I think it sets the EP up pretty nicely and it’s quite dark. It kind of comes to a big climax towards the end, and then from there the EP is louder. I guess it kind of pushes and sets the tone for the rest of the EP.
“MNausea” actually features a switch up at the end, where the narrator goes from being controlled by someone else to saying “I’ll haunt you nightly.”
Bradshaw: It’s kind of like the flip at the end. I think she’s been pushed to her tether and she’s just like “No!” That was the idea behind that. [The name] is kind of just a play on amnesia and nausea.
Clark: Another made-up word by us. We’re going to start our own dictionary.
Do you have a background in creative writing?
Morrison: I write all the lyrics. I don’t have any experience in writing. I think one day I just decided I wanted to write songs. I used to write poems when I was younger, and I’ve actually revisited that in quarantine. I kind of just write for the sake of writing.
I sometimes come up with things when I’m in the shower or boring places like that, but I think also when I go and see live music, even if it’s something pretty far-removed from something I do, for some reason it just really sets me up. After I’ve gone to a gig I will always be going into the toilet and writing down lyrics. That’s definitely probably my biggest inspiration.
Clark: So right now we’re probably screwed for lyrics.
What do you want people to take away from your debut EP?
Morrison: We’re sort of really pleased with the EP as a whole because it is a bit different from what we’ve done before, and in some ways that feels a little bit scarier because you know you think what are people going to think of this.
Bradshaw: It feels like a bit of a milestone, so it’s nice to have out there.
Clark: Given our previous singles there is a difference in sound. I think it’s maybe a little more serious than what we’ve released before. I just hope people enjoy it really when this has all blown over.
Are you working on new music while in quarantine?
Morrison: Yeah, we are. So that’s also exciting. This sort of environment makes you write things that are different as well.
Clark: It has weirdly given us more time than we’ve usually had. So before everything locked down, we were all working jobs and you just got limited time to work on new ideas or even rehearse them. So now just feels like unlimited time to go over ideas, spend more time on creating parts that sound good and feel right, and giving us time to evaluate what we’ve written. It just stops that process of rushing because before if we’ve written new material we’ll want to play it at shows, so we’ll get an idea together and get it going as quick as we can. Now we have the time to really look over what we’re writing, make sure we’re happy with it, and that it means something.