“I came up with the chorus, and triumphantly thought, ‘Oh my god, I’ve nailed it!’,” Stina Tweeddale remembers. “I took my headphones off and thought, ‘Holy crap, it’s SO creepy down here’. I’m pretty sure I saw a shape at the window, and then bolted upstairs shouting ‘CAT! Are you asleep?!’”
When Stina and drummer Cat Myers decamped to an old water mill turned cottage in the middle of Scotland at the end of their extensive tour for Honeyblood’s self-titled debut, they found inspiration for its follow-up from much stranger, darker places than they had anticipated.
“In the basement where we set up, there was this little room where the mill was, and there was a little window in the door, and we joked about a face being in the door all the time,” Cat remembers, equal parts joking and genuinely fearful. “We’d be jamming and it’d be really really loud, in the dead of night, and we’d keep looking at this door, paranoid that there would eventually be a face there.”
Vocalist and guitarist Stina, a self-confessed fan of overblown horror narratives, feared the worst. “You know how it goes,” she begins in a drawn out Stateside accent, “there’s a band on tour, driving to a weird gaaaas station…”
“The drummer’s always gonna get taken out first though,” Cat hits back. “Look at Spinal Tap!”
“You are the only one who can empower yourself.”
Speaking in a significantly brighter, sunnier South London the day before the band head off to take one last holiday before beginning rehearsals for their soon to be never-ending tour, the people, places and moments that helped sculpt the band’s new album are clearer than ever.
The wheels have been turning for Honeyblood’s second age ever since Stina called on Cat, an old friend from the insular Scottish gigging scene, to fill in on drums for a fast-approaching series of tours after the departure of Shona McVicar towards the end of 2014.
Cat was on holiday in Croatia at the time, with a series of theatre performances coming up, but threw herself into the challenge. One rehearsal room jam later - and the thought of “let’s just see if I can rearrange my life one second!” - the pair headed out on the road. The rushed nature of this coming together meant Cat - with her roots in “straight-up rock”, and a Foo Fighters devotee - was able to put her stamp on the band’s live show immediately. The result was a significantly beefed-up incarnation of Honeyblood, taking the band’s live show away from the roots of their debut, self-described by Stina as a shoegaze record, “even if I didn’t write it as one.”
It was after this extensive amount of touring though - which the pair try and fail to tally up on their fingers - that they began to venture into new territories. “I’d never had to write an album in a specific amount of time before,” Stina says, explaining how pressure started to show. “We would come home from tour and people would constantly say, ‘So, have you written any songs?’ and I’d say, ‘Fuck no!’ I was being told to write songs from every angle, because the time to record the album was coming up quickly, and we found ourselves with just two months to go.”
It was that tension that birthed the album’s first song, and title track; its self-confessed “cornerstone”. “I kept on thinking about how good I had to make this song,” Stina remembers. “It’s a built-up frustration, and exactly how I was feeling when I was trying to get my head around the fact that we had to write a second album - it’s literally kicking and screaming.”
“Let’s just see if I can rearrange my life one second!”
It then didn’t take long for the rest to flow more freely. And with more experimentation came more anger. “I think it’s a good angry, though,” Stina says, optimistically. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being angry. You shouldn’t just lay down and die.” It’s that sentiment that makes the album “a chaotic empowerment”, free of the fear of “being wrong and being messy and being angry. So many people are so caught up with doing things the ‘correct’ way, and there comes some inner power from rejecting that, and not having any fear, regardless of if it’s the so-called right way.” “Just make it your way,” Cat concludes.
Indeed, the ‘right’ way to introduce ‘Sea Hearts’ to its protagonist - one of Stina’s closest friends - probably wasn’t to accidentally, drunkenly play it to her one night, but the messiness gives ‘Babes Never Die’ its charm. “Then she just turns around and says, ‘Ah, this song’s shit!’.”
Luckily for us, she didn’t take it to heart. “Someone, at every step, tells you that you’re doing something wrong, or that you’re constantly living in this world of uncertainty. The only person you can really depend on is yourself, to keep on going and believing in you, because a lot of people won’t. It comes with the uncertainty of releasing a second album. You don’t write albums for people to tell you something about them - you write albums because you need to write them.”
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being angry. You shouldn’t just lay down and die.”
On first heading to the isolated cottage, the freedom allowed Stina to explore a few different methods of songwriting, all firmly character-based. “When we went to the mill, and saw that it was so creepy, it just filled me with absolute fear,” she says. “The spookiness of that place fed into the songs.” The results - including some of the album’s highlights, ‘Justine, Misery Queen’ and ‘Hey Stellar’ - marked the conclusion of a new approach she’d been itching to test.
“Every song on this album, the characters are there, fully formed and completely individual from each other. I can see them - they’re actually people. Sister Wolf is a person. Justine is a person. Stellar is a person. Pretty much everyone who writes their first album writes it from a personal perspective - it’s a rite of passage as a songwriter - but for this second album, I wanted to try and write about characters, and distance myself from being so personal. I love imagery, and painting a picture, so every song on the album ties in with all these themes. The more and more I listen to it, though, I think ‘Oh, fuck, I’ve just written another album about me’.” The initial blueprint for the album was to pen a more visual, imagery-based record - “going to that mill just completely changed its course.”
That wasn’t all. Bringing Cat into the fold has been an interesting and revelatory step for Stina, who describes herself as “an absolute control freak.” “I can sometimes be a bit intense,” she admits. “I want to simplify everything. It doesn’t have to be so simple that it’s boring, but if it’s good and effective and simple, that is the key to songwriting. I will always believe that. That’s what I wanted to make, and that’s why Honeyblood is the way it is.” Cat’s introduction has seen more layers emerge in the band’s sound, and a rebirth of a live set-up that the pair remain tight-lipped about, despite clearly bursting with excitement.
“It’s about having your own mantra.”
Behind all of the unexpected twists and turns that the album took, the heart of ‘Babes Never Die’ still lies in its title track, a motto so strong that it’s branded on Stina’s skin. “I always said I’d never get anyone’s lyrics tattooed on me - I could never decide on them.” It just turns out that this particular one ended up becoming one of her own. “You are the only one who can empower yourself, you can’t wait around for someone else to do it. And when people try and drag you down, only you can do that,” she begins, explaining her decision to get inked (on Valentine’s Day of all days), before crafting an album that cuts to the heart of what she believes.
“I’d been saying it for years - the first time I went to London as a band, we bumped into loads of amazing, creative people and I thought, ‘Wow, these people are total babes - they’re totally nailing life’, and that’s where it came from at the start. I’ve been drunkenly yelling it at the end of nights out for two years,” she explains, before Cat interjects, revealing “she’s been trying to turn it into a hashtag” to fits of laughter. “It’s about having your own mantra, and sharing it with the people that like your music. All of my favourite bands did that. All the riot grrrl stuff - that influenced me so much, because you feel included, and part of something. Because I’d been saying this for years and years as my girl scout motto, that was what I wanted to do. I thought ‘I can make something out of this’, and use it to show other people.”
It’s the sign of a band who have gone above and beyond in every sense on their second album, with each piece relating back to those three words. “That’s me, lying on the street. I’m that guy, shouting at the top of my voice. Babes never die.”
Photos: Cat Stevens / DIY.
Honeyblood’s new album ‘Babes Never Die’ is out on 4th November via FatCat.
Taken from the new, October 2016 issue of DIY, out now. Subscribe below.