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June 2020

Cut & Stitch: Petrol Girls rip up expectation to create an album worth believing in

Billed as “a patchwork of different sounds, ideas and feelings”, Petrol Girls’ new album ‘Cut & Stitch’ is a reflection of our times.
Published: 1:30 pm, May 28, 2019
Cut & Stitch: Petrol Girls rip up expectation to create an album worth believing in

A band to believe in, Petrol Girls are one of the best around for channelling societal frustrations into a unifying call to arms. Tackling everything from the environment to mental health, their new album ‘Cut & Stitch’ might just be their most challenging yet - and it arrives after a difficult few years, as vocalist Ren Aldridge explains.

Hey Ren, tell us about your new album - what kind of headspace were you in going into it?

Honestly, we weren’t in the best state. Thank fuck we did the record with [producer] Pete Miles. He was absolutely lovely to all of us and really helped us through what was quite a difficult time, and come out with a great record on top!

I can only really speak about my own shit, which it’s fair to say I lost, quite a few times, while in the studio - I don’t mean aggressively, I just got super low. I was completely burnt out. I’d finished a full-time Masters, then moved out of where I was living in Glasgow and onto a month-long tour, with no solid plan of what I was doing next. That tour was a rough ride - Joe had his bag with his passport stolen in Paris, both the guitars went missing on a flight, I got the flu but also had to power-through, and Zock and Liepa drove the whole thing! It was pretty killer.

We hit the studio not long after that. I still didn’t know where I was going to live next. We’d played a sweet show with Propagandhi, RVIVR and Dead To Me in London, slept for a few hours then gone directly to the studio for five weeks. I hadn’t really slept for two nights because I had to deal with some super urgent legal stuff while we were travelling. We were all a bit of a state really!

I’m telling you all this for two reasons. Firstly it gives some background to the lyrics of a few songs. ‘Weather Warning’ is one of the last tracks that I put vocals down for - and those lyrics were literally me dragging my sinking mind out of its hole and back into action. ‘Rootless’ is about craving a home and a community but not knowing where to go next. I was trying really hard with this record to be a bit more open and allow some vulnerability. I think you can hear my voice breaking a bit, which I’m pretty embarrassed about now because I struggle with showing vulnerability. But I’m trying to do this because I’m sick of being treated like a one-dimensional rage whirlwind or like I’m super tough and need bringing down a peg or two - there aren’t any bloody pegs left!!

Which brings me to my second point: I know I’m not the only person in a band, and especially not the only woman in a feminist band, that’s struggling with how much is demanded of them on top of a very precarious lifestyle. That’s a big part of what ‘Monstrous’ is about - arguably the most cathartic lyrics I’ve ever written, from “this is not all of me” to “I can’t give you any more.”

“I’m sick of being treated like a one-dimensional rage whirlwind”
Ren Aldridge

Did you approach this record in a different way to your debut?

Absolutely. This record was written almost entirely instruments first with vocals added on top. There was some restructuring as well, and I think ‘Burn’ began vocally a few years ago. But I was living in Glasgow while the others were in Austria for a lot of the writing process. It was challenging to approach a lot of it vocally - I kept joking that it was like throwing my feelings into giant walls of math! Most of the interludes, all of ‘Rootless’ and parts of other tracks were written in the studio, which isn’t something we’ve ever done before. It’s always interesting to write from different directions.

You’ve described ‘Cut & Stitch’ as a patchwork, how did you go about taking complex, disparate ideas and crafting them into a cohesive record?

Honestly, I’m not really sure if it is cohesive or if it needs to be. I guess musically it ends up somehow coherent because each band member has a distinctive style, and however we end up bringing songs together they always have our fingerprints on them. Personally, I write vocals quite intuitively and emotionally so it’s only once I step back that I can see how it all fits together. Politically I think it ends up being coherent because capitalism tends to be the root of most of the issues that we touch on.

But one thing I love about the idea of patchwork is that it’s a way of bringing together very different things without requiring them to lose that difference. It resists homogeneity, and I think this is a useful way of thinking about solidarity - especially in feminist struggles. We don’t need to all be the same to work together.

Have any of the lyrical themes you touch on become more pertinent since you penned them?

This is such a great question! I was actually given the opportunity to keep expanding on the lyrics in a pamphlet for Rough Trade Books, which is coming out in May alongside the album. I feel like there’s so much more to say on the ideas and points that came up in that. It’s frustrating, actually. I’ve just submitted the final text, and there’s already so much I want to add to the chapters on Sweatshops and the Environment.

‘Tangle of Lives’, the second track on the record, is about the ways that we are connected with, and dependent on, so many of the other species on the planet, and how the individualist mindset that’s catalysed by neoliberalism, alongside the entitlement of rich neocolonialist capitalist wankers is destroying the Earth. I just started watching Our Planet, and I’m as upset as anyone about the walruses, as well as the completely mind-blowing statistics that I’m relieved Attenborough is no longer glossing over. There’s also a video doing the rounds online of George Monbiot telling Frankie Boyle on mainstream TV that the answer to the climate crisis and ecological devastation is overthrowing capitalism and rewilding the land wherever possible. I couldn’t agree more. I saw an article this morning with the headline that half of England is owned by less than 1% of the population. It’s fucking archaic. There’s so much land that could be rewilded - we need natural forests to soak up the catastrophic levels of carbon in the atmosphere. We also need affordable housing that’s environmentally sustainable and actually decent enough for people to live in. It’s all possible. If the rich can throw billions of pounds at a fucking cathedral, then they can give over land and money to save the fucking planet. P

Taken from the June issue of Upset, out now. Order a copy below. Petrol Girls’ album ‘Cut & Stitch’ is out now.

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