PHOTO CREDIT: Derek Bremner
THE mighty Screech Bats are one of…
the most exciting and tightest bands around. I have been speaking to them about their new single, Get Better, and what the story behind the song is. The band’s lead, Esme, breaks down the songs on their forthcoming E.P., Wish You Were Her (out on 30th March), and the emotions that go into each track. The band talk about their formation and the artists/albums that inspire them – and how they are feeling about a future gig at Camden Rocks Festival.
I ask how important independent venues are in terms of their growth and exposure; what it was like recording with James Routh (of Sonic Boom Six) in a Blackpool for their E.P.; some of the new talent we need to be aware of – what Screech Bats’ ambitions/goals are for the rest of 2018.
Hi, Screech Bats. How are you? How has your week been?
This week has been equal-parts exhausting, exciting and disorienting - as our tension and anticipation, that has been building for the last two years, waiting to release some new music climaxed and spewed into the world in the form of Get Better: the single from our newly-announced E.P., Wish You Were Her.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?
We are Screech Bats: Esme on Vocals, Lexi on Drums; Kit on Guitar and Rio on Bass. The best way to describe our sound would be ‘Melodic-Punk-Rock’ - swaying more towards the Rock side of things.
(Think Alkaline Tri-meets-Against Me! with a ladle-full of uncomfortable emotions).
There is natural closeness and understanding in the band. How did you guys all get together? Was there a mutual attraction and mindset from those first rehearsals?
Yes, we are close. Lexi brought us all together having played in a band with Kit - another band with Rio - and then introduced Esme through a mutual friend. The first rehearsals were definitely a little nerve-racking because you have no idea whether it’s going to work; whether you’re even on the same page musically or whether you’ll have that chemistry when writing. We were lucky and we gelled quite instantly - most probably because none of us takes ourselves, or each other, too seriously.
In fact; Esme is probably the most ridiculous person you will ever meet…in the best way possible! (Esme adds the edit: ridiculous, yet charmingly witty and devilishly handsome).
Get Better is your new single. Can you talk about its inspiration and how it came together? Do you all pitch in with the songwriting process?
Usually, Kit will demo an idea of a song then we take it to practice; change bits here and there and adds in our own parts etc. Esme tends to take care of the lyrics and melodies – occasionally, with help from us lot. Overall, it’s a collaborative effort, no matter who brings the ideas to the table.
Get Better, put simply, is about suffering with mental-health (issues) and the road to recovery. It is based on a personal experience of Esme’s and appreciating the value of a certain doctor who, quite literally, helped save her life.
I know there is a spotlight on mental-health and recovery. Is the capriciousness of mental-health something that has affected you all? Do you think it is vital to raise these issues through music – and, hopefully, de-stigmatise a rather dark and ‘taboo’ issue?
Yes, 100% - and this is not a point we can stress enough.
Issues with mental-health have certainly affected us all, in very different ways, but it’s probably one of the reasons why we are so close. We believe it’s beyond-important to raise these issues and it needs to be de-stigmatized for sure. Lexi, in particular, is still upset over Chester Bennington’s death…because it was preventable.
Although, in light of tragedies like these; we are stoked to see more and more people with notable fame using their platform to openly discuss their own battles with mental-health - and also to see it becoming an issue much more seriously addressed in our National Health Service - and an issue employers and workplaces are beginning to take as seriously as ‘physical’ illnesses.
Still; so many people suffer in silence and these are the people whose lives are at risk. We want to destigmatise this topic and put out messages of comfort in the knowledge sufferers are not alone and, moreover, the message that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel and a happy future…even when this feels impossible.
The E.P., Wish You Were Her, is out on 30th March. How does this E.P. differ from your debut? Do you think you’re more confident and experimental as a band this time around?
We’ve really grown these past two years from our first E.P. and feel that we have finally established ‘our’ sound.
Our first E.P. was loads of fun: the topics we wrote about were often whimsical and the whole thing was pretty polished sounding. It was perfect for us at the time but now our boots are a bit scuffed - and that’s how we like it. We’ve tried to capture a much darker side to the band with this E.P. - and, definitely, think we’ve achieved that.
I understand the E.P.’s title refers to various women who have made an impact in your life, Esme. Are there particular figures that influenced particular tracks? Were all the experiences (with these women) positive – or were there some negative interactions/relationships that had quite a profound effect on you?
Writing the lyrics to this E.P. has been incredibly cathartic for me and, even before the idea that I was going to use these words for songs; I just wanted to get some of these words down and out of my head to help me process some big life-changing events in my life.
Get Better is a thank you to the doctor who completely rewired my brain from someone who was just waiting for the next time to be alone so she could kill herself…to someone who wants to live life to the full and enjoy every second of it. I have suffered from myriad mental-health issues for as long as I can remember and we have a history of severe mental-health issues on both sides of my family; so I don’t remember a time where depression wasn’t part of my life. I never thought I could be the person I am now: if you had shown me a snapshot of my life as it is today to me four years ago I would not have believed it.
Of course, there are other factors that helped me on this road to recovery: my family for their constant love and support - even when I felt like I didn’t deserve it - my friends who have stuck by me when my behaviour was unforgivable and utterly abhorrent and, of course, our band - having this creative outlet and the camaraderie with my band-mates has helped more than I ever thought it could - but this song is for the catalyst of the biggest change in my life; without whom I honestly believe I would not be here: my doctor. I wanted to get these words out; not only as a thank you, not only for myself; but on behalf of everyone she helped and continues to help through the course of her career - but also as a way of reaffirming to myself that I was doing better and I will continue to work at being better…
Finally; as a way of showing people that, yeah, recovery is tough but it happens…and even in the absolute depths of despair; I want to give people living proof that there is a light at the end of the tunnel – and, hopefully, that serves as a reason not to give up.
Blood in My Hair is about the death of a friend - who died suddenly and was far too young to go. It’s hard to quantify this relationship with words like positive or negative: our friendship was immensely positive; the loss of this person was immensely negative. I was at the age where you feel invincible - late-teens, early-twenties - riddled with drink, drugs and parties: death simply wasn't part of our lives.
The only people I had known who had died had died old…and that felt a long way off from all of us. Losing someone the same age as me with no warning made me really have to consider the reality of what death was. At the time, I was too immature to deal with it and this is why. At the stage of life I am at now; I feel strong enough to look back and think about death and grief - and really think about what it means. Of course, I have no answers. I have been on this Earth a blink of an eye, like the rest of us, but it was an oddly enriching experience to look at death from all angles. During the song, I revisit the night where we all found out - who I was the - but I also try to think about the idea of Heaven and Hell and how this girl had died so young…and as we were all such f*ck-ups, if there was a Hell, we would all be going. Alongside this; I tried to look at the idea of death just being a part of life and does anyone really want to live forever? Should we want to live forever? Perhaps the knowledge that we are finite isn’t scary and we can breathe a little easier knowing that we are just here to enjoy the ride: at some point we will return to nature, dust; the universe, nothing…or whatever we were before we were something. Despite yelling “I’ll see you in Hell” several times in the song; it is intended as another positive-message-one. Haha!
Just Like You is about a one-night stand: an entirely different interaction to the aforementioned tracks. I had a hard situation where, for me, I fell pretty hard for someone who saw me just as a bit of fun. I was enormously hurt and focused all my attention on working out what was wrong with me; why was I so unlovable. But, to get over these feelings, I tried to focus on the situation with her. Knowing this person well; I came to realise that she just needed the self-esteem boost. She was ageing…and not ageing well. She had always only relied on her looks, her party lifestyle and sexual (or romantic) attention to feel validation - and now her looks were waning; she was just clutching at vulnerable, lonely people to feel better about herself.
Realising this helped get over the rejection and, the more I look around me; the more I see other people in the same kind of situation: facing rejection and hating themselves because of it rather than seeing it as the rejecter’s loss (that they are missing out on someone rad). Although; I guess the song is a bit of a ‘f*ck-you’ to this person - and it feels good telling her that I now KNOW there are plenty more fish in the sea…and I now KNOW I’m great and worth something
In the end, the message of the song is: don’t give a damn about people who don’t treat you with respect. Just because one person doesn’t see how awesome you are doesn’t mean the next one won’t…
What was it like recording with James Routh of Sonic Boom Six - often until the early hours in a Blackpool rehearsal room? Did that configuration progress your music and provide fresh impetus?
We absolutely LOVED it!
We had free-roam of the studio (which was inside a rehearsal room complex). There was an upstairs with a kitchen and dining area - where we could go and make ourselves proper meals, get some downtime and crack on with other work (Esme, being a tattooist, had a lot of drawing to do). It was our temporary home. There's something quite special when you take the band into a studio - especially in a completely new environment -; it's really inspiring; ideas are flowing and you're all in the zone.
We've known James for a long time so it was all pretty natural: everyone was pretty chilled and we were able to discuss and try out new ideas without anyone getting irritated or rushing us through the process.
Your palette of subjects ranges from ageing and sex to gender-balance and relations; death and life through to depression. How much of your own relationship experiences go into the songs?
The lyrics are entirely based on our own experiences. We find the music is much deeper, more passionate and easier to perform with conviction; when we are performing work we can relate to, believe in and have lived through. Esme says that, in her personal experience, songwriting (just) can’t happen for her if she’s not sticking to the old rule of ‘write what you know’.
Do you think it is important to keep fresh and depart from the fatigue of the mainstream – the same commercial songbooks that have appeal to Spotify punters - but not those who want to dig deep?
It's a difficult one…
In the end; I think we just write what we write, we write what pleases us; what makes us feel good and what we personally would like to listen to. We all come from different musical backgrounds, and when different influences infuse, people tend to put you in a bracket - but I don’t think we are actively trying to kick back against the mainstream and, to be honest, we don't even think about it!
This week is Independent Venue Week - it is an exciting time to highlight the best spaces in the U.K. How important are these venues to you guys and your music? What feeling do you all get from performing your songs to a willing and hungry crowd?
SO IMPORTANT! Independent Venue Week is frickin' awesome. It just highlights how many awesome venues are up and down the U.K. We're so lucky here. Music is rife and we have so many amazing U.K. bands. Without these venues, we wouldn't be able to play shows, tour or, probably, even be a band. We want to share our music with everyone - and these venues enable us to do so. It's always heartbreaking when you see another of your favourite venues shutting down for some twat to build flats on.
Performing is an incredible feeling; nothing beats it - especially when the crowd are into it. When people like your music you connect on a whole new level.
It seems, in the industry, female bands are seen as a novelty and genre on their own. Does it annoy you there seems to be this rather sexist and ignorant attitude?! Do you think there will be changes in attitude as fantastic new female-based/led groups come through?
It's draining that we still have to talk about this: it's 2018; who gives a fu*k what gender your band members are…either you like the music, or you don't.
We still get heckled so, unfortunately, it is a subject we still have to address. People ask us ‘who’s girlfriends we are’. If we are backstage; people book us as a novelty. One of our favourite comments to date, when we were loading our gear into a show, was: "Oh, look: the strippers have arrived!”
Attitudes have been changing thanks to lots of strong artists/bands of all genres and genders - particularly since the Riot Grrrl movement (God bless Kathleen Hanna). It's just a shame they haven't changed quickly enough.
Anyway…attitudes will continue to change; we have lots of hope…
I hear hints of the great Punk bands of the 1970s in your sound. That mixes, in my mind, with great Alternative/Indie U.S. bands of today. Who are the artists you are all inspired and bonded by?
We are heavily influenced by Punk-Rock bands who, in turn, have been influenced by bands in the 1970s - such as X-Ray Spex, Crass; early-Adam Ant, Bad Religion (yes, they're officially a 1970s band) etc. We have certainly taken our own influences from 1970s Punk, it would be stupid not to; but a lot of our influence has come from Against Me!, Alkaline Trio; Blink-182 and The Distillers, to name just a few.
IN THIS PHOTO: Calva Louise/PHOTO CREDIT: John Mo Photography
Are there any exciting new artists you recommend we check out? Which hot acts should we get our ears around?
Calva Louise: easily one of the most exciting bands on the circuit right now. Excellent people, incredible music - and a mind-blowing live show.
Petrol Girls. Although they are not ‘new-new’ – still; not enough people have heard of this band -and EVERYONE should stop what they are doing and have a listen…
Youth Man. Again; they have been making waves in the Punk scene for a while but deserve a bigger audience. We have been lucky enough to support them a few times now - and they put on absolutely electrifying live shows.
IN THIS PHOTO: Petrol Girls/PHOTO CREDIT: Isha Shah
If you each had to choose the one album that means the most you; which would they be and why?
Lexi: Good Mourning - Alkaline Trio
Esme: By the Throat - Eyedea & Abilities
This is a DAMN hard question - and I had to make a shortlist; but I have picked this album because it’s one I always come back to. I have never related to words like I relate to Michael Larson’s lyrics - they are life-changing and this album, his last collaboration album before his death, serves as a constant and heartbreaking reminder of the pain it can be just to live. This is an intensely philosophic album, addressing a huge range of topics with such morbidity and, still, so much wisdom and hope. It seriously affected my approach to lyric-writing - and still influences me heavily today.
Kit: Take Off Your Pants and Jacket - Blink-182
As ridiculous as it sounds; this album really taught me to play the guitar. I spent all my teenage years in my bedroom playing along to my Blink’ records by ear. This album came out when I was thirteen - and that's when I started my first band. I really did fall in love with a girl at the rock show (a lyric from Blink-182’s Rock Show) - and married her!
Rio: Live in Munich 1977 – Rainbow
It’s an incredible moment in musical history featuring some of my favourite musicians at their peak. It gets me every time. I’m such an anorak when it comes to live albums, especially around that era - as all my favourite bands were at the top of their game, then, it would seem. The calibre of music then was something else.
You have a big gig at Camden Rocks Festival on 2nd June. How excited are you about that?! Have you decided on the set-list for the date yet? What other gig dates are you looking forward to this year?
We haven't decided on the setlist yet. We'll decide nearer the time in case we've got a new tune we wanna throw in there, too.
Yes, we are extremely excited - Dublin Castle, 4 P.M.! We're putting together a tour in April, actually, so keep your eyes peeled.
Hopefully, we will confirm some more festivals later on in the year also.
What are your ambitions, as a band, this year? Do you have any goals you want to conquer?
Goals this year would be to play some of the 'bigger' festivals such as Reading, Leeds and Download, etc. We also want to complete our debut album this year.
Is there any advice you’d offer likeminded bands coming through right now?
Be resilient and have thick skin. Remember why you're doing it in the first place and run with that. Decide on your morals, your message; what you believe in and stick to it: don’t let the bastards keep you down.
Do you all get time to chill away from music? What do you all get up to when you’re not creating music?
Absolutely not: we never chill. Haha! Esme is the owner of a busy tattoo studio (Boileroom Tattoo) where she and Kit are both tattoo artists - and they also do regular conventions and guest spots around Europe. Rio plays in other bands and Lexi works full-time in music - as well as another band.
Finally, and for being good sports; you can each choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Lexi: Skyscraper - Bad Religion
Esme: I'm Mandy Fly Me - 10cc
Kit: Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart - Against Me!
Rio: Anti Love Song - Betty Davis
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PHOTO CREDIT: Derek Bremner