Interview: Screech Bats

Words by Maddy Howell

With the album release tour all announced and the lead single already gracing the playlists of many, London's Screech Bats are gearing up for the release of their second EP, 'Wish You Were Her' at the end of the month.  Now in a completely different stage of their career to that of their debut, the quartet seem set to truly cement their place in the punk scene. Born from the love of influential women, the hurt of their passing and the anger at everything in between - 'Wish You Were Her' is a masterclass in modern punk.

We caught up with drummer Lexi Clark to chat musical growth, Riot Grrrl and the everlasting problems with cis-het guys.

Burn After Writing: What was it that sparked your decision to begin pursuing music as a career?

Lexi Clark: Career, now that’s a word that doesn’t often feasibly fit next to music. I think being musically inclined was something that came very naturally to all of us from an early age. It’s not so much a decision to play music, it’s something that we can’t live without. We all need it to be balanced and functional as people.

I think every musician wants to be validated for their hard work by playing better venues, traveling to more places and sharing their music. Obviously the dream would be to have a career that at least somewhat contributed towards bills. But until such time that the music industry wants to take bands like ours seriously, we’ll keep slogging away at our jobs to be able to put the diesel in our tank to get to the shows.

BAW: As a band operating within the London music scene, there must never really be a dull moment. Do you think that your surroundings have played a part in your progress as a band thus far?

LC: Although we all now live in London, I wouldn’t say we are really part of the London scene. Like most Londoners, none of us are from London! The place where we first formed the band and practiced our first songs in Balham is now gone. Many of the venues we used to play or go to as young people are gone. We’ve had a lot more success in the Midlands and up north, or down on the south coast.

However, some of the biggest venues we have played have been historically iconic venues in London such as the Roundhouse and the 100 Club. Everyone knows there are a lot of dodgy pay-to-play gigs in London. That’s not something we ever want to encourage or be a part of. We’ve been really lucky to work with people like Camden Rocks, Punk 'n' Roll Rendezvous shows, Headcheck Records, and other DIY punk promoters etc.

BAW: Your upcoming EP, 'Wish You Were Her', is set for release at the end of this month. What differentiates this release from your debut and what are the overarching themes this time around?

LC: It sounds pretty cliché, but there has been a lot of growth in maturity as musicians since our last EP. When we recorded our debut, we had only been a band for six months. It’s been over two and a half years now. 'Wish You Were Her' is pretty dark in comparison. We’ve gone from songs about aliens and fucking in a park to songs about mental health and recovery, death and mortality to dealing with broken relationships.

Lyrically, 'Wish You Were Her' is about women who have, for entirely different reasons, had a profound impact on Esme’s life, but are no longer in it. We included a feminine face in the artwork to mirror the title but we've censored the eyes, giving the character anonymity, making whoever we are talking about a total enigma.

BAW: The first single from your upcoming EP, Get Better, was released last month. What was the inspiration behind this track?

LC: It is arguably quite a challenging and unusual song, but that is one of the reasons we decided to lead with it! It is our only track from the EP that is in 6/8 time and has a somewhat abnormal structure, but above anything is the message. The lyrics are much deeper than the surface appearance of missing someone - the song is about suffering from bad mental health and being put in recovery, ultimately understanding the value of the doctor and her staff who, in a very literal sense, saved Esme’s life.

The song has a positive message of how it is possible to recover, and we all feel strongly that this is a message that cannot be put out there enough during this current epidemic of still largely stigmatised mental health conditions.

BAW: 'Wish You Were Her' was recorded with James Routh of Sonic Boom Six, how was the recording process alongside him?

LC: James had been keen to work with us since the day we formed. We had to let him stew for a bit whilst we toured and perfected our sound as a band. Our first EP was extremely polished, and whilst that isn’t a bad thing at all, we wanted to go in a little more raw for this new EP. We spent quite a while with James pre-production, trying to figure out how to express what we wanted the record to sound like. I think we ended up with saying that we wanted a mix of between Jimmy Eat World's ‘Bleed American’, and Against Me!’s ‘Shape Shift With Me’.

We rented out an entire rehearsal unit in Blackpool which had a kitchen and plenty of space if we needed a moment. James is most known for his work with Sonic Boom Six and bands like The Karma Party, which have a very different sound from us, but he totally got what we wanted. What is also really cool is that Rio played a bass which has toured and recorded with Sonic Boom Six!

BAW: You’re going to be playing at this year’s Camden Rocks festival in June, how would you describe yourselves to someone who is considering whether to check out your set?

LC: Fast, fun, melodic punk rock with songs full of awkward emotions and feel good bangers. Seriously, don’t fuck about. Come and see us at 4pm at the Dublin Castle, 2nd June.

BAW: In 2018, it’s shocking that we still have to see female bands assigned to their own genre and constantly defined by their gender. What are your opinions on terms such as “female-fronted” and “girl band” and how they are still commonplace within the rock music industry?

LC: We aren’t a “girl band” due to the fact that we have a non-binary member. So when we get labeled as one, it’s pretty frustrating and boring. The language used to describe bands that happen to have female or gender non-conforming members is so different compared to bands which feature male members. Shall we call them boybands? No. The patriarchy wouldn’t like that. Most of us have been playing in bands for 15 years or so. Some of us were children when we started out.

That’s 15 years of being seen as a novelty, 15 years of having your equipment mansplained to you, 15 years of people (and in my experience only men) saying revolting things, or even sexually assaulting you when you’re trying to load in your amps, 15 years of sound people telling you, “you can’t be backstage, this area is for bands only”, when you are the headliner.

We think that it’s time for the phrase “female-fronted” to go in the bin. A decade ago, it was the only language we had to try and get gigs and meet other like-minded musicians. During that time, we would have tried to use it to our advantage to try and be taken seriously. The Franklys have just released these great t-shirts that say, “Female is not a genre”. Screech Bats are totally behind that movement.

BAW: With gender imbalance still a huge issue in this industry, what should cis-het guys be doing to act as allies?

LC: For a start, if they have gotten this far through the interview without clicking off the page at the previous questions, then that’s a good start! And that’s not being patronising. The most important thing when someone is trying to talk about injustices or inequality of any kind is to shut up and listen. That is the first step to being an ally. Don’t start commenting with the, “what about..” bullshit.

Listen, learn, and respect that you may never fully understand, as much as you try, what it is like to see the world through that person's eyes. Once you have listened and learned then the next step is to take action. This can be as little as calling out people who use sexist language online and at shows. It’s so easy to cower behind a computer screen and make vile comments. Treat misogyny the same way you would someone being racist, homophobic, transphobic or Islamophobic etc.

BAW: You cite the Riot Grrrl movement as an influence for Screech Bats. What ideas from the original movement do you think the current rock music scene should be adopting in order to combat the sexism within the industry?

LC: I think a lot of bands are too afraid to voice their political opinions in order to shift more records. Recently, especially in the pop/punk scene, it feels like there is a new story about a band member abusing their position every week. It’s really disappointing. Punk rock is supposed to be political. The legacy of those bands in the early 90s lives on through bands such as ours. Not to mention them being pioneers which have somewhat helped bands like ours be taken a little more seriously.

We may write melodic punk rock and, so far, haven’t written political songs, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be active in voicing our distaste at the world. Especially as an entirely queer band.

BAW: Alongside this continuing gender imbalance within the music industry, there has also been a recent influx of allegations of abuse against a number of high-profile individuals in music, as you just briefly mentioned. Do you think the music industry is handling these well and the appropriate action is being taken?

LC: We are very much outside of the music industry. We can’t really comment on how things are being dealt with internally with bands, management, and major labels. There are bands out there with members who have a history of sexual assault that are still being booked for shows and festivals. Why? Why keep booking these scumbags? Money is clearly more important than morality in these cases.

Many people and bands we know have boycotted playing shows with such bands. Shows are supposed to be a fun and safe environment. People who commit serious crimes or are abusive not only ruin the lives of their victims but also the credibility and longevity of their bandmates’ careers.

BAW: Is there any advice you would offer to women who are wanting to get into the music industry but are being held back by the sexist attitudes surrounding them?

LC: You can’t live your life being worried about people’s outdated attitudes about what you can and can’t do. It’s a shame that we are still having to repeat the same messages as the musicians who paved the way for us for the last 80 or so years! However, if you are looking to start a band, and are concerned about not being taken seriously or not being in a safe environment, then we would advise going to one of the First Timers events. It’s a safe space where you can meet other people who want to start a band. These kinds of workshops are run by some incredible people in the DIY scene in London and Brighton. I think Big Joanie started out at one of these workshops? And look at them now!

If you are stuck in a local scene that doesn’t respect you and you can’t relate to anyone, we are lucky to have the internet. You can reach out and find like-minded groups of people. As a kid, one of my favourite songs was Home is Where the Hate Is by The Fight. One verse really struck true to me, and continues to do so: “I wanna go far, and get away from here, to play music and make a point that’s clear to someone, who feels the same as me // But that won't happen soon.”. Sometimes you have to be brave and take the leap out of your comfort zone to find the people who think like you and share your passions. Sometimes they just happen to be on the other side of the planet! I was that kid in their bedroom, with poster-clad walls, who spent all their time playing guitar along to their records, not really finding those connections with other people who felt like them.

Being in a band is hard. It’s a struggle. It’s a full-time job. But that 30 mins on stage are worth every drop of blood, sweat, and tears.

BAW: What are Screech Bats’ plans following on from the release of 'Wish You Were Her'?

LC: Ideally we would like to hop on some great tours with some awesome bands and see the world. We are already thinking about writing the album before we even release this next EP! We would love to go to Europe. It would be a dream to play in the states with our friends in bands over there! (shout out to The Last Gang and Turbulent Hearts!). But ultimately, we hope that we can use 'Wish You Were Her' as a stepping stone to achieve greater things.