‘From Caplan To Belsize’ saw Muncie Girls standing up to the things they disagreed with.
Written over two and a half years, the band made it up as they went along, following a gut feeling and the loosely trodden path of what their friends’ bands typically did. Created within the community bubble of Exeter’s The Cavern, their debut album saw them grapple with feelings of escape, uncertainty and unease while feeling distant from the world at large. “All my life I’ve felt let down, and that’s perhaps why we feel safer underground,” offered ‘Learn In School’, but still, Muncie Girls never turned away from the spotlight.
After its release, the band went everywhere. Playing shows and bringing that carefully crafted sense of home turf community with them, their fizzing anthems protested giving in or accepting the way things were by singing songs of the normal, everyday struggle. There was a belligerent flicker of hope. A roaring belief that your quiet, unspoken worries weren’t alone, and neither were you.
“At the time, we just took it day by day and had a great time travelling around and having nice things said to us. Looking back, I realise how lucky we were with that whole album. People were so nice, and we had so many opportunities,” says Lande Hekt. Before they released their debut, the band carried themselves with this naïve, shiny, optimistic shrug. This sense that “we’ve made some songs and we think they’re good. We haven’t really thought much beyond that, but we’re just going to put them out, and we’re just going to see what happens.”
“We didn’t know that anyone would even care. At that point, we had so many friends, and people that play in bands and go to shows in our the scene, who we knew would support us and be nice about it. That was kind of why we were doing it because that’s what being in a band meant to us. It still is the main thing, going to shows and operating within a scene, but it was just this bizarre thing of people who we didn’t know caring about it as well. That’s weird, but it was awesome.”
‘From Caplan To Belsize’ is a driving, relentless record that refuses to look back, needs escape and wants change. ‘Fixed Ideals’ is more reflective, less concerned with the horizon and instead, is just trying to make it through the night. If their debut was Muncie Girls Versus The World, album two is perhaps what happens when the world wins. Maybe it comes from “getting older and more miserable,” maybe it comes from seeing things as they really are.
You don’t need us to tell you that a lot has changed in the past two years. The Cavern, the venue that first connected the band and always gave them a platform, a community and served as a home base for the group and their friends, burnt down. “The year leading up to us recording this album, The Cavern was just a hole in the ground. That was a strange time. Our band formed there, and I worked there since I was 18. For a lot of people, it is a scene, not just a place,” starts Lande. That loss, and all the others has fingerprints across the record. ‘In Between Bands’ is mournful, full of nostalgic wit and quivering disbelief but as the band ask: “Take me back to before that smell. Before buried hope and a burnt out shell. Before the rubble and the ‘time will tell’,” they’re not just talking about that one fire.
‘Fixed Ideals’ isn’t afraid of the world. It never tries to bury its head in the underground. It’s seen the world. It knows the score. Still, Muncie Girls aren’t backing down. Last time we spoke was Reading; the band had recorded nineteen songs, and it had been the sort of gruelling experience Lande dubbed “hell on earth.” Now, “It’s been a long enough time, so I’ve had my brain in survival mode and forgotten the trauma of it. Now I just have positive feelings towards the record.”
There’s a lifetime in ‘Fixed Ideals’. Written over a long space of time, the songs fray and knot together. “With the first record, it was obvious what it was about. Each song had one theme, and it stuck to it. This record is a little more, not complex, but it’s harder to pinpoint what each song is about. It’s almost just documenting my more manic thoughts.”
Songs about friendship also deal in mental health and the lack of funding for the NHS, with a hint of expectation, ownership and self-care. There’s the ignorance of family alongside toxic masculinity and daydream aspirations caused by our role models. Money worries share a space with the refugee crisis, victim blaming and slut shaming on one side of the scales, loneliness on the other. “I felt like I kind of said everything that I wanted to say really obviously with the first record,” offers Lande so for this one, they look at how those politics fit into living.
The title once again comes from Sylvia Plath. “I wanted to call it ‘Perfume, Politics and Fixed Ideals’ but that’s too long. It’s about how politics affects your personal life and how it’s not something that you just decide to think about as and when. It’s how it’s always there. ‘Fixed Ideals’ is a little bit of stubbornness and not backing down from your opinions.”
The band have always written personal, intimate songs but on ‘Fixed Ideals’, there are no barriers. There’s nothing to hide, and nowhere to bury it. The opening song is about absentee fathers, (“maybe I think it’s weird; five kids with four different women. Of those five, I’m the only child you chose to keep hidden”) and “that’s the one song where I was a bit like, ‘Oh god am I really putting this song out?’” before pushing back her shoulders. “’You know what, I am putting this song out’. That’s why it’s the first track because if I’m gonna release it, then it’s got to be the first one. I’ve got to get it out the way and be confident with it.”
Muncie Girls have a lot to say on ‘Fixed Ideals’, and there’s no fear in saying it. But, as with everything the band do, there were no firm intentions going in. There was never a meeting between the three of them to discuss political leanings, topics of debate or what they want to stand for in 2018. The band don’t do plans. They just sorta know.
“It’s hard to know what a lot of the lyrics are about because I’m not looking at the lyrics as I write them. It’s like when a kid draws a picture in class, and it’s all about death,” but they didn’t do it with any intention. “I never know exactly what the songs say or are about but I think writing about how you’re feeling is helpful. We’ve always just written songs because it felt good.”
That feel good fray is what gives the band their neon edge. There’s a lot of music that deals with The State Of Things And How Awful It All Is And Maybe We’re Doomed, but Muncie Girls stand with their friends. Wearing a grin as armour, they’re impenetrable together. They have a back catalogue of empowerment, but they know there’s no shame in feeling hopeless. On ‘Fixed Ideals’ they allow themselves to be powerless. “It’s a little bit darker. On the first record, I remember making an effort to be more positive. ‘Right, this whole song is ridiculously negative, let’s round it off with a positive ending’.” This time, like they sing on ‘Falling Down’, “I’m gonna stop smiling when it doesn’t feel like the right thing.”
There’s a loneliness to ‘Fixed Ideals’. From the closing line “I grew up powerless, and I’ll die just the same” to all the friends that have been lost along the way, the band know being alone. And sure, it gives the record a sense of bleak abandon, but it also means those connections are treasured. The energy between Lande, Luke and Dean is fierce. There’s a search for satisfaction in the music. It stomps about, making a bid to reclaim joy. Every song does something different, from the soapy chirp of ‘Bubble Bath’, complete with straw and glass-half-full blow to the twinkling mania of ‘Isn’t Life Funny’ and the scratched fury of ‘Locked Up’. There’s excitement and inspiration behind every twist
“In ’Clinic’ which is all about going to see a therapist, there’s the line ‘I woke up early that Tuesday as I did then every week and the more times I did that, the less I felt like a freak’ which is kind of positive.” Then there’s the leaning vulnerability of ‘Picture Of Health’. “When you’re feeling low, it’s hard to look after yourself. Just cooking or doing your laundry can be difficult and even if you’re feeling quite savage, it’s a lot easier to do that for your friends because you don’t want to see them sad and not coping so you kind of just rally and do it for them, even if you wouldn’t be able to do it for yourself. It’s about friendship, and if you can do that for each other, then you can both get through the tricky times.”
The band know that shared burden, and 45 degrees lean well. “What keeps us going as a band is just the fact that the one thing that we all want to do the most is to be in a punk rock band and keep doing it for as long as we possibly can. We’ve got lucky in the fact that we’ve each found two people that we care about and share our ideals with and wanna do exactly the same stuff and are nice, who value being kind and decent. That’s been a huge thing. I’ve seen bands split up; bands have been and gone since we’ve started. We’ve been going for a while now, so I think we’ve just got really, really lucky and it’s kind of easy to keep it going.”
So while the band have had a quiet year on the front line, they haven’t pressed pause on being Muncie Girls. There’s no time for holidays when there’s work to be done. “It doesn’t feel like we’ve had a break from Muncie Girls, in eight years. Or ever, really, but it’s great.” ‘Fixed Ideals’ sees them pushing forward through the mire and the band are matching that pace. They’ve got new visas for their first US headline tour which are good for a whole year, so they want to tour over there as much as possible, the economical, practical dreamers that they are. But other than shows in new places, “What else do bands do? I don’t know. What is the next thing? We’ve already done everything we’ve wanted to do so I don’t know. We’ll just do it again I suppose. We’ve already played to a lot of people but if we could play to more people that’d be insane so obviously we’d love to do that. We’re just going to keep going and see how it goes, but we’ve always said that.”
Taken from the September issue of Upset. Muncie Girls’ album ‘Fixed Ideals’ is out 31st August.
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