Muncie Girls are doing it right.
Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Emma Swann.
“Idon’t know how anyone else does an album but we were perplexed,” admits Lande Hekt. “How do you get this many songs together?”
With a handful of Very Good EPs behind them, Muncie Girls set into the unknown with the goal of creating a full-length. There was no path to follow so the trio had to go their own way. Two years later and ‘From Caplan To Belsize’ is poised for release. Across ten tracks, the band cut to-the-point statements of intent with hopeful doctrines of change and lay them against a backdrop of buoyant punk. The highway isn’t for everyone.
“I’m a little bit nervous about responses but mostly excited,” continues Lande. “Most people haven’t heard it yet so we’ll literally be finding out if people hate it or not. You never know, we might get hate mail and that is nerve-wracking.”
“I don’t think I’d mind that much,” says Luke Ellis with a shrug, before Lande double checks, “Hate mail?”
“As in, I honestly don’t care that much. I’m super happy with the album. I’m proud of it and it’s just cool to get it out there.”
“It’s cool that it’s even happening because it’s been so long since we started writing, then we recorded it and there was a lot of just emailing with nothing really happening,” adds Dean McMullen. Muncie Girls aren’t a band who like to sit waiting for stuff to happen.
The trio grew up in Exeter, and forged bonds over gigs and collectives based at the city’s best-known venue, The Cavern. Seeing local bands escape the confines of the area to go on tour, they set about following suit. They met more and more like-minded people and “basically just made friends with everyone.” The decision to make the jump from EPs to an album was a natural one with the band “wanting to do it properly rather than just put anything out. I’ve always thought that EPs are easily forgotten about. You think about all your favourite bands who became successful or popular and their EPs, you didn’t know about them. The only way you found them was if you discovered this rare record on Discogs or whatever. A first album is what you remember a band for. We wanted to be careful about what we were doing and to make sure we liked it as well.”
The first couple of songs for ‘From Caplan To Belsize’ were written two-and-a-half years ago, with the rest following in sporadic bursts. “It wasn’t like, ‘let’s write this song then and by this month we’ll have that song done’,” explains Lande. “It’s finding that balance. Getting songs written in time but not forcing them,” continues Luke. “It becomes this random mix of songs coming out of nowhere over the course of two years.” Not that you’d know it from listening.
“It’s been challenging to a certain extent. We’ve enjoyed doing all of it but we’ve put so much into it. It’s taken so much effort. Now it’s finally coming out, there’s a real sense of achievement especially because we’ve done it; just the three of us. We’ve had our highs, we’ve had our lows and now we’re just enjoying it.”
‘From Caplan To Belsize’ is a wonderfully assured record but that’s a reflection of the band as individuals rather than a considered master plan. “We didn’t try and make a certain thing,” ventures Dean. “Lande wrote some songs, we put them together and they came out like that. We didn’t think too much into it.” After years of playing together, the band just, “carried on from what we were doing before. We all listen to punk rock but our favourite bands are different. Our musical influences are playing with friends’ bands more than anything else.” The cohesion across their debut is borne from Muncie Girls’ comfort with one another. It’s felt in every note played and every word spoken.
The lyrics deal with everything from social politics and the state of the current government, to escapism and trying to find your place in the world. It’s a pointed mix but “every song is open to individual interpretation. There are a couple of political songs but mostly it’s personal,” explains Lande. “I wrote ’Nervous’ the year before the most recent general election and it was a total comment on the privatisation of the NHS. I really wanted to write a song where I’d be addressing politicians and David Cameron. That whole thing really upset me and writing a song was the only way to deal with that. I guess things that bother you are going to come out creatively.” Other songs were crafted as streams of consciousness to process the world around her but for the most part, “they just came out of nowhere.”
The political nature of ‘From Caplan to Belsize’, like the recording process and the band’s sound, is just a natural occurrence. “We’d never say bands should talk about certain things because they have a platform,” starts Luke. “They should be free to do whatever they want because if bands felt like they had to do that, it would feel fake. It just comes out naturally in who we are and what Lande writes about.”
“We’ve never spoken about it. I hope they don’t mind,” she adds with a smile.
“I don’t know if we feel responsible but seeing as we have a certain platform, it’s definitely a good idea [to talk about certain issues],” Lande continues. ”We don’t have to do it and we don’t feel like anyone expects it of us. It’s just something we’re interested in. It’s all things we tend to agree on and they are important things to us, so it makes sense really.”
Despite the heady lyrical content at the heart of the record, it’s not a heavy listen. There’s hope, inspiration and a love for the scene that’s given Muncie Girls a voice. ‘From Caplan To Belsize’ encourages you to use yours. It’s something the band did speak about because they “didn’t want to bum everyone out. We did try and resolve some of the complaints or moans that we write about. And also those two are positive people,” Lande starts, pointing at Dean and Luke, “So it made sense to put some hope into it.” That message is reflected in the title. Referencing a mental hospital from Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’, the journey from Caplan to Belsize is one routed in getting better but there still being a way to go.
“I’ve always been a massive fan of songs with heavy lyrical content that sound super poppy and catchy. A lot of Lande’s lyrics, whether they are personal or political, do have serious messages behind them but as soon as we arrange them as a band, it turns out like a pop song,” grins Luke.
“It’s so classic,” sighs Lande. “I write them in my bedroom and it’s like, ‘oh my God, what have I written? This is such a doom anthem. Literally, what’s the point,’ but then I take it to the band and it always completely changes into something listenable.”
For every conversation about the world at large, Muncie Girls’ debut also looks at the band’s place within it. There’s a sense of finding yourself and not being intimidated by that. “With the age that we are, we’ve all felt the pressures of having to grow up. It’s such a privileged kids thing to say but it’s true. It is sometimes hard to find your place in life,” Lande says. “For me, it was a couple of years of not really knowing what I was doing or where I was working and trying to fit it all in. I was just super confused.”
“We have those problems but it’s relatable to everyone because no matter what age you are, you still have those notions of ‘what the hell am I doing? Where do I fit in’,” adds Luke before Lande sums it up as “existentialism.”
“Doing this band, we’re poor all the time and it does make you question ‘is there any point in what we’re doing’, but we love doing it so we carry on,” Luke starts. “We all just want to carry on doing it and part of that is probably growing the band a bit cos, y’know,” continues Dean. “It has to, to be able to carry on. We just want to carry on playing music and writing songs.”
The band have spoken about their future a lot but they still don’t know what they want to achieve. “It’s a difficult question because we’re already super happy with our situation. Maintaining that is the priority. Doing bigger shows would be really fun but the shows we do now are really fun. It’s hard to say because we basically just love it. We have the most fun ever so it would be stupid to say we want to do other stuff. The way we’re going just feels so perfect and really legit. This is how it should be. It feels right. It doesn’t feel like we’ve made any bad moves so if it just continues, that’s awesome.”
Muncie Girls are going to spend the foreseeable future embracing the album release. Unsurprisingly, they’re just going to take everything as it comes. “If literally three people take something away from this record, that’s fine. That’s good,” Lande states before pausing. “Who knows. I don’t think any of it’s really that considered. We tried to put our personalities into it and we hoped for the best,” she adds before summing up both art and artist. “It’s really scrappy. I just hope that people like it.”