Hex Girlfriend

Hex Girlfriend have spoken to NME about their journey from a low-key collaboration in university halls to high-energy sold-out shows on the London DIY circuit, their “political” new EP, and existing outside of the shadow of a famous father.

The industrial pop project of South London-based musicians James Knott and Noah Yorke – the son of Radiohead frontman Thom – explained how they have enjoyed thriving on their own terms.

“I just don’t get the fascination,” said Yorke of people comparing the band to his father’s work. “This is a lot more Dead Kennedys than it is The Smile.”

Having just returned from a writing trip in Los Angeles, the duo said that new material will likely see them pursue a more political direction inspired by their experiences in the US as it gears up for the presidential election.

“The EP is sort of about how fascism hides between the doors of golf clubs,” Yorke said. “There’s a good quote [by James Waterman Wise] about how when fascism arrives in America it’ll be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.”

“Initially it was a flurry of ideas, and in LA we had a chance to step back and focus in on something,” Knott added.

It will follow recent single ‘Café Culture’, which the band said was inspired by the way they feel artists are often required to spend more time marketing themselves than they are creating art.

“There’s this whole ‘grind-set’ thing that musicians are meant to have when they’re self-promoting. I think the main thing for us is keeping that completely out of the creative process. If you’re thinking too much about that stage when you write or record, then you can shoot yourself in the foot,” Yorke said.

A high intensity video that features the band donning trademark white make-up also reflects live performances that see Hex Girlfriend focussing as much as possible on intensity and audience participation.

“The live show is something that we always try and tell people to witness because you’re going to get more out of our music,” said Knott. “There’s a lot of character involved in the show, it’s not just about playing the song. Being on stage helps me detach from everything that’s stressing me out for a moment, and I really hope that that’s how it is for people watching it as well.”

Check out our full interview below as they band tell us about their on-stage persona, staying independent, and being taken seriously in their own right.

Hex Girlfriend
Hex Girlfriend CREDIT: Josie Cronk & Mihai Feflea

NME: Hi, Hex Girlfriend. You’ve just returned from a songwriting trip in LA for your debut EP. How are things shaping up?

James Knott: “Being in America gave us a lot of context to write about. The EP was already going to be quite political, but going to America where everything’s very exaggerated, it exaggerated what we wanted to talk about.”

Political in what sense?

Noah Yorke: “It’s about the right wing and fascistic tendencies that have always been there but are now coming back. Being in America and talking to people with the election looming over, I can’t imagine what it feels like to live in a country where it feels like Trump might be back again, a reality TV show host turned wannabe dictator. Like, watching him sell playing cards and branded bibles, and the fact that that works? It blows my mind. That guy? Our great leader? The fucking messiah? You’re sure about that?”

Knott: “I don’t think things are so great here either, but it was strange seeing some of the TV channels and their attitudes towards him, how it’s a lot more normalised.”

That American brashness could be said to have something in common with your music, which is often very in your face and immediate.

Yorke: “I think that’s a compliment. That is where we want to be. It’s that golden era of MTV that we’re going for, melded with a lot of noise. Nine Inch Nails mixed with Christina Aguilera or something like that. It ties in with the whole cartoonish-ness of what’s going on over there, the re-emergence of fascism in the form of a reality TV guy. It’s a mad concept to me and it ties in well with the direction we want to take, which I guess is a little bit more serious and a bit darker.”

Knott: “We’ve been doing this for a while now. It started out as just us in uni halls, in my little room with some speakers having a lot of fun with it. Leaving uni and getting a bit older there’s still a lot of fun, but there’s also some stuff that we want to say. That’s becoming more of an important factor to the music. Whereas I think a lot of the stuff in the past was not so concept driven, it was just about having fun and letting loose a little bit.”

You’re also in a unique position given that Noah’s father is Thom Yorke. Do you think that creates an extra hurdle in terms of the band being taken seriously?

Yorke: “I would hope that it doesn’t, because I’m trying to distance this from that as much as I can. I think that hopefully over time that question stops coming. People can think what they want to, but I don’t think about it really. I feel like sometimes the question comes a bit loaded, like, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this, what gives you the right?’ Well, I just feel like putting a fuzz pedal on sometimes.

“People take music seriously and that’s fair enough, I take music seriously too, but it doesn’t have to be like that all the time. Some people read way too much into the whole thing which is just a bit exhausting. But I’ve also reached a point where I just don’t really care. I just don’t get that level of fascination. Like, if you want to ask [my father] about stuff, ask him. I didn’t write it. I think it can be boring to read about.”

You were both studying popular music at Goldsmiths. Did you feel much kinship with other students?

Knott: “I never went to class! And also, just speaking to people is hard.”

Yorke: “I find it hard to network with other musicians, I like to be in my own little space and do whatever is in my head and I find it hard to explain that to other people. I’ve loved playing with other musicians live, but I find the talking part hard, sitting at a computer and producing.”

Knott: “I’ve got ADHD, and something I’ve learned to accept is that collaborating can be quite challenging unless it’s definitely with the right person. I can get so focused on something and it becomes difficult for me to share the vision. If I have an idea in my head I need to commit to it.”

Hex Girlfriend
Hex Girlfriend CREDIT: Josie Cronk & Mihai Feflea

It’s interesting that your onstage personas seem to be the exact opposite of that introversion – very theatrical and, as you described it, a communal experience. Why do you think that is?

Yorke: “It comes from from watching bands that I really liked growing up who would do that kind of stuff. Watching Dead Kennedys videos where it’s just total insanity, this crazy manic energy. There’s a very manic part of my personality that doesn’t often get to come out, so I wait until about 10 minutes before I go onstage, then that’s it. I forget where I am. It’s removing that self conscious element. It’s a part of my personality turned all the way up. I’m really grateful for that because without it I don’t know what I’d do.”

You release entirely through James’ label Sly-tone. How important is it for you to remain independent?

Knott: “If you’re able to do something yourself, then there’s no reason not to give it a go. I didn’t do music business at school or anything like that, just some very short-term internships at a few independent labels, and I kind of just thought, ‘This would be fun to have a go at’.

“I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t keep releasing independently, it’s something I’d encourage everyone to do, at least just as an experience to learn how things work. It puts you in a better place if a major or an independent label does come to offer you something. For me it’s just been a lot of fun, and it’s helped me to meet people because music can be quite a lonely thing sometimes if you’re just sat on your laptop.”

Yorke: “Signing to a big label is a little bit overblown. That’s how it used to work; your career used to hinge on that. But I don’t think it does in the same way anymore. A lot of these deals aren’t very good for the artist.”

Knott: “If we signed to a major label they’d probably make us make a TikTok, that’s kind of enough reason not to.”

Hex Girlfriend’s latest single ‘Café Culture’ is out now via sly-tone. The band perform at Unbarred Brewery Taproom’s JOY x Unbarred Brewery party at 2pm on Friday May 17. 

The post Hex Girlfriend: “This is a lot more Dead Kennedys than The Smile” appeared first on NME.


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