On their second album, DREAM NAILS are breaking the cycle by fighting back with empathy. Check out the latest cover story for our New Music Friday playlist edit, The Cut.
Words: Linsey Teggert.
“We want to make the world a better place with our music. We want to be one of the biggest queer political bands in the world,” states guitarist Anya Pearson. It’s a grandiose statement for any musician to make, but listening to Dream Nails’ vital and vibrant second album, ‘Doom Loop’, it’s impossible to deny that this ambitious goal is within their reach.
It’s been over three years since Dream Nails released their self-titled debut, and their full-length return is the first to feature new vocalist Ishmael Kirby, whose presence has reinvigorated the group on both a creative and political level.
“Ishmael is a fantastic drag artist and actor; they’re a performer, a singer, they write poetry and plays,” lists Anya. “They’re just one of those really annoying multi-talented people!” she laughs.
“I think we’d always thought of ourselves as a ‘band’, but we’re really a collective,” adds drummer Lucy Katz. “Any band is more than the sum of their parts – we’ve always tried to not have the focus solely on the lead singer; obviously, they’re the front person, and on stage, they bind the whole thing together, but we’re four equals, and we all bring a lot to the creative process. The dynamic has definitely shifted, as it would if any of us were to be replaced, but with Ishmael coming from a completely different background, both personally and creatively, it’s been amazing.”
When it came to creating their second record, Dream Nails knew they had to dig deeper this time around, something which Anya describes as “losing their creative innocence.” Gone was the excitement that comes with being able to record a first album; instead, the focus was on how their creative journey was going to evolve.
“We developed our own idea of what punk is, how we are a punk band and what that means for us,” explains Lucy. “When we made our first album, though Anya had been in bands all her life, Janey, our previous vocalist, and myself hadn’t ever made music before. For me, punk was about enthusiasm and not letting technicalities hold you back from voicing your politics.
“What Anya said about the loss of creative innocence really chimes with me; this album is punk in the sense that we’re still outsiders and observers, but we’re channelling that punk spirit in a different way by trying to make sense of things rather than trying to ‘Fuck shit up’. We’re outsiders, but we’re trying to drill down into why certain things are the way they are.”
The overarching theme that Dream Nails drill down into in ‘Doom Loop’ is masculinity in its many forms. Whether that’s shining a light on the dangers of toxic masculinity and the oppression of patriarchal systems or celebrating trans masculinity and diverse identities, ‘Doom Loop’ is a vehicle to explore the many nuanced facets of masculinity, both positive and negative.
This statement of intent is announced from the get-go with riotous album opener ‘Good Guy’, an infectious pop-punk banger that examines the classic trope of the ‘good guy’ that’s used to lull people into a false sense of security.
“I feel like we’re in a good position as curious observers to comment on masculinity in all its forms,” says Anya. “We all stand outside of cis masculinity: Ishmael positions as trans, and Lucy, Mimi our bassist and myself position as cis women. Our first single, ‘Good Guy’, examines the classic idea of ‘the good guy’, which is basically a fake ID for men getting away with shitty behaviour. Then, contrast that with a track like ‘Femme Boi’, which is a celebration of masculinity and trans freedom. There are a lot of male characters to play with across the album, but we don’t make any really obvious conclusions. The whole point is to make provocations that people can take and make their own conclusions from.”
“We want to be one of the biggest queer political bands in the worldAnya Pearson
“The album is an interrogation of how masculinity affects us at different moments in our lives, both personally and politically,” adds Lucy. “There’s ‘Geraniums’, which is about the lads at school who wouldn’t let Anya be in a band, ‘Sometimes I Do Get Lonely, Yeah’, which is written through the mind of an incel, then there’s ‘Case Dismissed’, which is about how one of us was treated by the police.”
One thing that is incredibly apparent on ‘Doom Loop’ is the sense that joy can be an act of rebellion. Though the record examines complicated and, at times, even life-threatening issues, it’s defiantly and unapologetically fun.
“We’re angry, and we’re joyful; that’s our secret recipe!” laughs Anya. “It’s important to explore how those two different emotions interact with each other. Our gigs are places where people who have to fight, whose existence is often an act of rebellion in itself, can come together and share joy and let loose.”
“I feel like our thinking on this has developed, even more so since Ishmael joined the band,” Lucy explains. “People from any kind of marginalised community or a section of society that feels violence more than others, I think they’re almost expected to focus on their trauma. I work with refugees, and I do creative writing and performance, and they’re always being asked about their trauma and their journey, but they just want to write about having fun and the things they enjoy, why they’re survivors and why they are alive.
“We need to be able to express joyful stories, and we need to be able to express hope. I know Ishmael would say something similar themselves as a person who is Black and a person who is trans, that, yes, they’re important elements of their identity, but they also just want to have fun! That can be just as challenging for people sometimes, so we’ve definitely doubled down on the joy element as well as the anger.”
One such track where Dream Nails have managed to distil the essence of pure joy and rebellion is the hooky, electro-tinged ‘Ballpit’, which was inspired by a trip to an adult ball pit, which is both horrifying and hilarious at the same time.
“They were dirty balls!” sniggers Anya, “they were covered in slime and dirt, but we spent a full hour diving in and out. We’d played a gig in Liverpool, which was terrible, and I felt so downhearted, but I noticed a sign across the street for a place called ‘Balls Deep’ (that was genuinely the name), and I begged everyone to go, and we had such a great time. ‘Ballpit’ was about condensing that sense of joy and freedom into a song.”
Many of the tracks on the record, like ‘Ballpit’, are huge radio-friendly bops that are massively accessible: does it bother Dream Nails if people are just enjoying their music on a surface level, without understanding the message?
“I suppose the lyrical content of ‘Doom Loop’ is a lot more provocative and challenging than our first album, but it’s maybe packaged in a slightly more accessible, appealing format,” says Anya. “We’re talking about trans revolution, but we’re tying it up in a bow for people, so people can enjoy the music without maybe even realising what the song is really about. I think that’s quite subversive.”
“It’s true that there’s more tension on certain songs between what the song is actually about and how it sounds,” says Lucy. “Sometimes I Do Get Lonely, Yeah’, is told from the perspective of an incel; it’s the story of their own radicalisation, basically. Anya had to do a lot of gnarly incel research for that one! But the song itself is almost R&B; it’s very chill and about 100bpms slower than anything we’ve ever written before.
“We developed our own idea of what punk is, how we are a punk band and what that means for us”Lucy Katz
“It definitely depends on the song, but to speak generally, art is a stealth weapon. It’s a great way of hiding and concealing your politics – not to reduce them or even make them more palatable – just in the hope that something is going to drip down and sink in. When you create a piece of art for public consumption, whatever it is, you don’t get to control how it’s received, so if you’re going to publish or release something, it’s free of you by that point. If someone just wants to bop along and doesn’t necessarily go much deeper than that, well, we can’t really be worrying about that, to be honest; that’s just creating another doom loop!”
It may seem like the whole world is one big doom loop right now, but how would Dream Nails define the concept, and how do we break the cycle?
“It’s the repeated cycles we find ourselves in; it was originally a psychological term for the negative feedback loops in your mind,” explains Anya. “More recently, it’s been used to describe economic depression and recession, but the more we thought about it, the more it felt relative to masculinity being in its own doom loop, stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“The ultimate message of the album is that you have to submit in a way; you have to engage,” says Lucy. “Of course, punk is about resistance and rejection, and there’s a massive place for both of those things, but sometimes pushing against something and grappling too much isn’t going to help you engage or find a way through. You’re just going to tire yourself out and separate yourself.”
“In the doom loops we address on this record, we suggest that the answer is engaging with one another and using your empathy,” Anya adds. “Resistance is important, but in a world where people aren’t talking to each other anymore, whether that’s the political left and right or across different genders, we need to be engaging with each other and having conversations as well as doing the kicking back that punk is so famous for. Otherwise, we’ll go on and on forever… and that is the doom loop. We’ll just be chasing our tails forever.” ■
Dream Nails’ album ‘Doom Loop’ is out now. Follow Dork’s The Cut Spotify playlist here.