Interview: itoldyouiwouldeatyou

Words by Maddy Howell

With their catchy and relatable, yet intriguingly original take on indie-punk, UK-based queer seven-piece itoldyouiwouldeatyou have been pretty unstoppable of late. Now two EPs and a bunch of singles into their career, the septet have evolved time and time again, keeping their sound irresistibly modern and accessible.

Fresh from unveiling their latest music video and with the release of their latest EP swiftly approaching, we caught up with vocalist Joey Ashworth to talk filming videos, scene inclusiveness and the undeniably camp nature of My Chemical Romance.

Burn After Writing: The members of itoldyouiwouldeatyou have all had their time playing in a variety of different bands, is this project the sole focus now or are you still balancing a few things at once?

Joey Ashworth: I think for me, Ollie, Sean, and Josh this is definitely the main thing that we do. Holly has her solo stuff under the name NALA, which I think we would all encourage her to place above itoldyouiwouldeatyou, but she balances the two.

Johnny Foreigner aren’t really gigging at the moment so Alexei is pretty free in that respect. Alexei is also in Yr Poetry though which is obviously a very big deal for him, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about juggling projects. However, if the two were clashing we would probably find someone else to play guitar for us and let Lex go and do his thing, we don’t want to hold anyone back.

So essentially, yes this is our main focus, certainly right now when we’re recording and leading up to stuff, everyone seems pretty focused on it.

BAW: As there are seven of you, does it ever become difficult to ensure that all members are represented equally within the songwriting process, or are you all on the same wavelength?

JA: We’re definitely on the same wavelength. In songwriting, it normally comes down to Josh writing an instrumental of what he wants to do and then I’ll do a scratch vocal for that. Then we’ll all get in the room together and workshop it, during that workshop process is normally where everyone else gets on it.

Sean will write their own drum part and have a lot of input in how it moves rhythmically, as well as giving some ideas on bass guitar, and we’ll work on getting the rhythms fully tight as well. I think that everyone is represented well, but then also it’s easy for me to say that because I’m the singer, so I’m always gonna have my stamp on it.

BAW: Do you still all live on opposite ends of the country as well?

JA: [laughs] Yeah! So, me and our bass player Ollie live together in New Cross with our friend Sam, who is doing our music videos now. Luke lives in Petersfield, near Portsmouth but is probably moving up to Wimbledon. Sean and Holly live in Leeds, Lex lives in Birmingham and Josh lives in my hometown Godalming which is near Guildford.

BAW: How do you manage the band with everyone being scattered all over the place?

JA: Normally we rehearse the day of a show, so that's as much rehearsal as we get. We book out big stretches of time to write and stuff, and we do a lot of writing just via emailing things to each other. Most of the work gets done when we can all find the time to be in a room together though, for sure.

I really envy bands who all live in the same area. This is the most serious project I’ve been in and in my experience, this is just how you do bands, with everyone doing a billion other things - that's how bands work, right? As I understand it, there are bands where they all live next to each other and they can actually be like, “oh yeah, we’re gonna do this today”.

I think it makes us more professional that we’re separate though because it means that when we do something we really think about it and really talk to each other. Whereas I think if I lived with the rest of the band, or really near them and we were hanging out all the time, I feel like we’d get bored and just do some dumb shit. There's this sort of professional barrier with us now where I can be like, “okay we need to do this press, get some nice artwork” and stuff like that and there isn't really the chance for us to, I don't know, call a song a curse word or whatever it is that bands do.

BAW: You briefly mentioned your friend Sam, who directed the video for the lead single on your upcoming EP, Get Terrified. What was the inspiration behind this video and how was the filming process?

JA: As I said we live with our friend Sam who directs music videos under the name Chevy Blazer. Basically, he went to film school, he’s really smart and he’s really good at what he does but he was looking for a way of doing more to get a portfolio together. I was like, “hey man if you ever have an idea for a video, we should do it!” and then eventually he was just hitting me with ideas like every couple of days when we’d be having a drink or something and it was like, “oh, okay, you have a lot of good ideas, do you want to just do the next video?”.

So he sat me and Ollie down and explained what he wanted from it, we sent those ideas to the band and they were all really happy with it. Me, Sam and Ollie spent loads of time talking about what vibe we wanted to create, so he could work things out from that and what I kept saying was what made me and a lot of people who listen to our band feel really safe and included when we were younger were bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy. Those bands were so good at connecting to their fans and speaking to the feelings of the people listening to them, and that's important to us, we want people to feel listened to, as well as being able to listen to our music. So I decided that I wanted to create the feeling in our video that I felt when watching the video for something like Helena and that’s what I said to Sam. Sam was like “I think you mean a bit more like I’m Not Okay?” and I was like yeah, you’re right actually, that’s a better video [laughs].

So this basically led to me, Sam and Ollie spending many late nights kinda drunk watching through all of our favourite music videos from our childhoods and eventually Sam just said, “so essentially we want a more camp side of that whole thing, yeah?”, and it clicked. I feel like My Chemical Romance were such a camp band and were actually a big thing for a lot of kids who are in the queer punk scene in allowing them to realise that part of themselves. They had a very outwardly flamboyant way of doing music and that really spoke to me at the time, so we just wanted to turn up the camp side of it, and think about queer inclusiveness.

We filmed the video upstairs at a pub we like to go to in New Cross and the people in there seemed to really like us. It was kind of funny because Ollie and I used to go in there every day and would be very business-y because we didn't have wi-fi in our new house yet, so we’d just sit and use the wi-fi in there and I think they thought we were doing an important job. One of the guys came up to us and was like, “what is it that you guys do?” and I explained that we were in a band and were just sorting out tour emails and things and he was like, “oh cool, so you play tours and things?” and I think he thought we were a much bigger deal than we are, but he was a really sweet dude.

So we asked if we would be able to film the video upstairs and they were totally up for it. However, the day of filming was a day when they were all off for a staff party in the evening and had another pub covering them so we couldn’t use the upstairs room whilst they weren't around. So we politely asked if we'd be able to have five hours in the morning, and that worked out fine, so we just got there really early and filmed all the indoor scenes there.

We filmed the exterior shots up near Goldsmiths near the big church thing where they do the art stuff, and then we did a couple of the interior shots at our house as well. The experience of filming it was lovely, everyone was super sweet and up for it, and up for learning a silly dance - it was really fun.

BAW: The music video was also produced alongside the queer art theatre group, Clumsy Bodies, how did that collaboration come together and what inspired you to work with them?

JA: Jess and Ollie from Clumsy Bodies are old friends of Sam, the director. I met them at the pub a year ago, and we didn’t even talk about art stuff at all, we were all just drunk but I really got on with them. Sam told me that they were doing some really cool theatre stuff with queer people and people who maybe would find it hard to otherwise get into that stuff. They’re all really talented people in different ways, Jess does lots of poetry and spoken word stuff and Ollie is a really good director, so when Sam suggested working alongside them we were super happy.

They were so professional it was mad, I knew they were nice people from the pub but then when we got down to work it was like a military operation. Not in a scary, violent way but more in an organised way, I felt very much in good hands. Every other video we’ve done has been great, we’ve never had a bad experience shooting a video but I’ve always felt very much on the clock, whereas with this it was more like I could just do what I wanted to be doing. If I had an idea I could say it to Sam, and I know Sam really well so he’d either say, “that won’t work” or, “yeah, that’s a cool idea, let's do it” and I completely trust him.

BAW: The song Get Terrified itself echoes the community values that itoldyouiwouldeatyou have come pretty renowned within their scene for advocating. Where do you think the issues lie in terms of segregation in the scene at the moment and how can we combat this?

JA: I think so much of it is just about listening to people, being nice to them and treating them like human beings. I think that the thing with our music video shoot is that everyone was extremely polite -  and not in a boring way - but in a way that everyone was just there to be nice to one another and listen. I think that when we play shows with good representation and things like that, they often have the same vibe, with people just being respectful.

There are so many people in this scene and in the wider movement that this sort of politics is a part of who otherwise wouldn't be listened to at all. I think it’s all just mostly about respect and being kind to people. However, that’s a very catch-all thing and a lot of people who are (perhaps accidentally) part of the problem think that they’re being very polite when they're not. I think that’s about education, not necessarily at a state level but just people educating each other, standing up for each other and explaining things in a nice and polite way.

In no way do we have the answers for this though, all we want to say to people and how we want to make people feel is that we’re listening and if you feel like you’re not being heard then hopefully you do feel heard when you're listening to our music or at one of our shows. We always want to talk to people and stuff like that because I want people to be able to feel in some way represented.

Obviously, there are people that I can’t represent. While I’m non-binary, to a lot of people I am still male-presenting and also whilst I’m Jewish I am not a person of colour, so I can’t speak for a lot of different groups of people - but I want to listen.

In the music, I'm often talking about myself and my own feelings, but the point is that all of us in the band feel like there should be this big community of trust amongst a number of people. In a way, it’s kind of what punk was supposed to be about, this place that you can go to and it’s kind of okay. That’s what punk was always sold to me as but so often wasn't like that and so when we do stuff together, we try and make it how we wanted the punk scene to be when we were growing up.

BAW: So, there’s a pretty big shift in the sound of your 2016 EP, 'I Am Not Your Fault', to that of the latest singles. Did something spark that change in dynamic or was it a natural transition for the band?

JA: There’s a couple of answers to that. Josh writes a year ahead, so Josh has a billion demos and we go back through them and say shit like, “dude, that’s really good, where did that come from?”. He’ll just be like, “oh yeah, I’ve had that for a year”, and that’ll be the next thing, so often we’re just following Josh’s muse.

On this EP it’s certainly that, this is what Josh thought was next with how he was writing the guitar parts, so how I wrote vocals, how Sean wrote drums, how Holly wrote bass, all this stuff just folded into that. With the next thing we’re doing, which we haven't properly talked about yet, it’s probably a lot wider in contribution. I always want the spine of our records to be Josh’s music, because I know how to slot on top of that and I also think that's our sound, but there is a track on the next thing we’re doing where the instrumental was written primarily by Sean and our guitarist Lex and we all just slotted in around that. So it does seem to be opening up a little bit more.

With the difference between 'I Am Not Your Fault' and the singles, it sparks from the fact that every time we release something we want to look like grown-ups. I don’t really like the EP before 'I Am Not Your Fault', I think it’s dreadful, there’s some good bits in it but it’s basically a pop-punk record. It’s lots of distorted power chords and if I’d been slightly less self-aware there definitely would have been some “woo”’s, jumps and gang vocals. There’s nothing wrong with that and I like a lot of records that sound that way, but we’re basically just trying to seem like grown-ups.

So every time it seems like there's an element of our sound that is in any way juvenile someone goes, “no, I’m not a baby, I don’t need to have a powerslide”. I guess you could call it evolution, or you could call it devolution into our own arses.

All of that said, I guess my job is that I want to keep my vocals kind of poppy. I’m happy with the music going wherever it needs to go and I don’t want to have too much control over that, I just want people to be able to hum along to my bit. I think that makes the music so much freer, pop can sound like anything as long as you can hum the vocal.

BAW: Alongside the change in musical direction, there also seems to be a little bit of a topic shift in the themes you’re discussing. Divine Violence places more of a focus on your personal issues as a queer individual than you've ever really discussed before. Do you think any of the scenes you are operating within have any reasonable representation of queer or trans artists and is that changing?

JA: I like to think that it's changing. On the one hand, there are bands who we’ve played with like Nervus and artists like Queen Zee who are awesome, and what they’re making is really good and there’s obviously representation there. So in my bubble, as far as the people I talk to and interact with, it’s been a while since we’ve been offered an all white dudes bill. As far as the shows we’re getting offered I’m not sure whether that's because we’ve pivoted and started talking about it or whether different people are asking to put us on or if there has been genuine change.

But as far as I can see, it’s very rare that we have to play a bill where its a bunch of (I’m sure very well-meaning) predominantly white, young men making post-grunge or shoegaze. Not that there’s anything wrong with those genres, they’re great.

I don’t want to imply that we’re representing everyone. I can count the number of people who we work with who are people of colour on one hand because the representation is so poor, especially in punk music. I can’t speak for any person of colour but I think there is an energy to a lot of classic punk music which is very much a young white man’s energy, it’s not a safe zone and it’s a very aggressive thing. A lot of positive stuff came out of all that but I think that certainly in terms of race there is a long way to go before there is proper representation.

BAW: With the themes that itoldyouiwouldeatyou delve into within their songwriting, you can often be deemed as a support network for listeners struggling with their own personal issues. Where do you find your own support networks?

JA: I think often it's the same thing, I often feel like I’m not great at talking about what’s wrong with me personally and I struggle with that a lot. I also have a lot of issues trusting people with that side of things, but for some reason, I don't have a lot of fear putting it into music. I think that's because of the idea that the people listening to it may feel happy and safe.

It’s enough of a support network right now to be able to yell my feelings at a bunch of really nice people in a dimly lit room. I also have a bunch of really great friends who I can talk to about stuff and I am getting better at talking about my own issues. I also know a lot of people who are part of mental health Facebook groups and things like that and I can see the good that things like that do, with people who feel totally hopeless being able to look out for each other.

BAW: What advice would you give to young queer people who are struggling to find a way in which to constructively vent their frustrations?

JA: I feel like quite a privileged answers would be to say, “make a song about it”. Whilst I do think that’s a good thing, I am lucky to be studying and to be supported by student loans and things like that, so I can afford to spend some of my time making music. I would say that so often what is positive is also what helps, so for me, that’s writing music.

I also think for a lot of young, queer people, who are statistically more likely to be or have been homeless and experience the particularly nasty parts of life, hanging out with other like-minded people can help. So often that is just going to shows or a local meet-up and meeting people who understand.

The reason this can be constructive is because so often it's linked political activism, demonstration, and protest, which is incredibly good in itself. People talk about politics like it's a past time because people don't really want to talk about it, which is fair enough because it's scary. But it’s also a functional part of a human being’s mind surrounding what they think about what people should be able to do. Doing it as a constructive thing as one might do a hobby and pursuing change that way is a fantastic way to be, and I want to be more like that. I know a lot of people who live their lives that way, where they are either studying/working or organising varous froms of civil disobedience and it's incredible.

BAW: What are your plans following on from the release of the 'Get Terrified' EP in April?

JA: We’re doing a tour with Kermes, who are an excellent band that Sean is friends with, we’ll be selling the EP at those shows too. Then we’ve got lots more music to come out this year, how that’s going to happen I don't think I can talk about yet but there is lots more coming. It’s even sadder, even angrier and hopefully even more grown up.