The Brooklyn three-piece discuss the distorted, dark madness of their upcoming record.
Onstage and in press photos, Weeping Icon look less like a music trio and more like a triad of exasperated witches. However, when I enter the Brooklyn record store where drummer Lani Combier-Kapel works to interview her and bandmates Sara Fantry (guitar) and Sarah Reinold (bass), they’re not unleashing any of the bone-chilling cackles that punctuate their live performances. They’re not downplaying the band’s eeriness, either: “We just started going crazy a little bit sometimes,” Lani admits.
This insanity reaches a fever pitch on the punk group’s debut album, Weeping Icon. Its unhinged instrumentals and distraught howls betray a fiery frustration at the world—at this generation, at this scene. Noise artist Sarah Lutkenhaus, the band’s since-departed fourth member, contributes unsettling static, strange echoes, and all sorts of deranged sonic effects that only heighten the mayhem. We spoke to the three about the circulation of DIY, fame, self-expression on the new record.
AdHoc: Would you call this a concept record?
Lani Combier-Kapel: Yeah, I would say it’s pretty conceptual…now. I feel like when we were writing it, maybe not so much, but piecing it together, we realized that there were themes throughout the record. We wrote it over such a long period of time that our moods and emotions just kind of created this arc in all the songs. The second half of the record is a lot more emotional—or, not emotional, just like more oozy—and the first half is more like raw energy—screaming.
Sara Fantry: We might come to practice and start talking about something that we’re frustrated about or something that we’re passionate about, and then, as we write, it just really quickly snowballs into a concept. I think it reads as a concept album, but more likely, it’s probably a concepts album [Laughs].
What are some things you discussed at practices that ended up being themes on the record?
Sara: Definitely frustrations with the systems we encounter—whether it be work, anger at bosses, anger at a partner, frustration with the scene. I guess being musicians for a long time, knowing a lot of people in music, we’ve been exposed to a lot of behind-the-scenes things that are pretty ugly—and a lot of those things are rooted in, you know, sexism, or racism, or even just more passive things…like hierarchies. [As] Lani says in the album, “That’s just the way it is.” A big concept we work with is power dynamics and frustrations with people’s insistence on doing things a particular way that puts others down.
I found your description of “Ripe for Consumption” fascinating—about the intense “mutation” artists go through when transitioning from independent platforms to larger stages. What made you want to write about this? Would you rather remain in the underground than pursue mainstream success?
Lani: That song came just from working in the DIY scene in New York City. I was working in venues, booking shows for so long, doing all these things and kind of seeing how people basically would rise to the occasion, if it came, to step over someone else. But, I think, specifically, that was about press at the time: how people kind of swoop in as a spokesperson for this place or this thing. You just see a lot of people freaking out about press and how [that] can mean that you’re there and that you have a part of something in history—[even if that means stepping] over another person to put that out there. I saw that a lot when I was working in DIY.
Sara: It’s funny you mention chasing this concept of “I was there.” I was just listening to an incredible podcast called The Ballad of Billy Balls, and it was narrated by iO Tillett Wright, who grew up in the Village—just about our age, a little bit older. And it’s about his story with his parents and his mother who was a figure in the punk scene, and it talks so much about the drugs and the dark side—all these children born to parents who couldn’t raise them in a good situation and were so fucked up on drugs and sort of ruining their lives.
And I’ve just been thinking so much about how we glorify these kind of things. It’s sort of hilarious, because I really think that fame is done. Fame as we know it is over in the media generation, and that’s another theme we work with on the album: just how everybody on social media is fighting over everybody’s attention, and it’s an unsustainable model.
When it comes to if we could get famous, it’s definitely not something—I think as pragmatists—that we chase. And as people who just want to create our art and hopefully make a difference in the world by standing up for ourselves and saying things that we think need to be said—you know, we’re just trying to put that stuff out there, but I don’t think that our values can be sacrificed. I think what we’re doing has so little to do with our egos and so much to do with a desperation to see the world change and —
Lani: For expression.
Sara: Yeah. And just a plea to other artists. I feel like I make art because I want to be one of [the] many artists who have souls—who want things to be better and are tired of seeing narcissistic and selfish sociopathic personalities take everything in this world. And I’m tired of seeing good people succumb to the sadness, feeling like they’re not worth putting things out there.
Lani: When people feel the privilege to speak over someone else, then they’re talking over someone else’s voice. Maybe you were there. But was that person also there? Were they speaking? Do they have a voice? I would like to see more of that in the world: just thinking before you speak, thinking before you take acknowledgement for something. And I think that’s what we’re kind of dealing with as well—[feeling like our] raw expression shouldn’t take up the voices of anyone else. In that way, we’re just going to be ourselves no matter what.
The record has a morbid atmosphere—full of distortion and menacing rhythms, and especially with all of the interludes. What experience were you hoping to create with this all-encompassing musical landscape?
Lani: Yeah, there were four people playing on this record, but we’re only a three-piece now, and I think that other person definitely brought in some extra evil sounds [Laughs]. But [there’s also] tons of laughter on this record. I think a lot of that we wanted to incorporate into our record—what we do live. We haven’t played that many live shows recently—I feel like the past two we played we didn’t necessarily go super crazy. [But in the past] for example, I have gotten up off the drums and walked around [the] stage, laughing and screaming and stuff.
I think a lot of what we do is just pure expression. I hardly had lyrics for a lot of the stuff I do until the very last minute, which you could probably hear. So a lot of it is just literal screams and feelings.
Sara: We just want to fucking scream—we’re all dealing with sexual harassment, sexism, feeling nullified. I think we all have a lot of darkness to let out, and I think a big part of this band is going to the dark place a little bit.
But Sarah Lutkenhaus, who was our fourth member, is a noise artist, so noises on interludes—not all of them, but a lot of [them]—[were] her. I could hardly believe when we got into the studio and she started playing how horror movie it sounded, and we all started playing around. [Uniform’s] Ben Greenberg, who recorded us—he’s like one of our favorite artists—just really encouraged us to play around with stuff. So Lani’s playing the gong, and we’re all kind of just going nuts.
Lani: Crazy church bells.
Sara: Sara’s a sledge doom bassist, so she’s always bringing the darkness, and as we got together, Lani started laughing maniacally, Ben even started laughing maniacally, and we were joking for the whole two days, like, “Wow, we really are creating a horror-movie soundtrack.” And now, that’s actually my dream: to make horror movie soundtracks.
Lani: Great, same. That’s what we’ll do once we get famous. We’ll create horror movies.
Sarah Reinold: Maybe we’ll actually get money that way [Laughs].
Can’t wait until tomorrow to listen to Weeping Icon? No worries, we have an early stream of the album right below. Godspeed.