Banned by Youtube, fêted by Steve Lamacq and dubbed “this generation’s Sonic Youth” by US mag Venus Zine, Bristol-based duo The Hysterical Injury released their second LP LifeDeathLife earlier in 2019 with a typically DIY limited edition handmade cover and zine. John Clay caught up with the band as they prepare to support Beak> on tour.
So, I’ve moved back into the construction that is LifeDeathLife and let’s cut to the quick; opening track ‘Hope A Softer Thought’ is far more expansive and hi-fi than anything else you’ve done. Was this a conscious decision?
Yes I think it was. I wanted to explore the space in our sound much more and also what we could build arrangement wise. I thought about this as a record and deliberately ignored any limitations playing it live might bring. I wanted to explore the possibilities of what a HI song could be.
… And in doing so you’ve pushed away from the playpen of rock. Do you see the similarities between this LP and early Massive Attack? So many textures that betray an appreciation of art in the dance arena.
Ahh I like that – the play pen of rock! Yeah I listened to one of our early EPs today as I remastered it for Bandcamp and I surprised myself by enjoying it! But also, it’s so different from LifeDeathLife.
I love Blue Lines as a record and did in my formative years too… if there’s a similarity it’s an unconscious one… probably ‘cuz I live in Bristol!
Portishead also does spring to mind. Do you think that moody trip-hop such as Tricky and the like is a heritage people could understandably lump you in with, or are such approximations lazy and purely coincidental?
Coincidence… though the Portishead one I get because Jim Barr, their bass player, produced this record!
I loved Tricky’s first record and all of Portishead’s stuff but there sooooo much stuff happening in Bristol now that inspires me – Avon Terror Corps collective, people like Bad Tracking, Kinlaw and Franco Franco, EP/64, bellies! MXLX, the Young Echo collective who have given us Vessel, Ossia, Jabu, ManonMars and loads more… it’s thriving at the moment.
Perhaps the world needs to brush up on their Bristolian awareness. This album is far more introspective than the last, at least in mood and vocal expression. What harder thoughts have you been having as opposed to hope?
Ahh god… yeah, the usual existential crisis, what I now understand as having been blocked up, locked in… I know I’m not alone in the pain of life… but yeah, ‘Hope a Softer Thought’ was a thought I had written in my note book responding to some shit that I got based on a complete misunderstanding… but also paranoia is an evil beast… so it’s my message to paranoia, just because something is negative does not make it any more true.
What led to this track kicking off the album? It really sets the tone for what’s to come. It’s only in the last three tracks that your music resembles past output.
I think it’s my favourite and that’s why… I also wanted to set a new beginning from the outset.
Did you know going into record that this was to be the last album, and if so, was such knowledge a freeing one musically?
No I didn’t know at the time… it was when it came to promote it. I felt empty. It’s extremely hard sending your music out over and over again, clawing for opportunities and I was fucking exhausted with it. We thought maybe this is our time.
The turn of events in the last few weeks has been a shock and surprise!
We are just announcing that Beak> have asked up to support them on their upcoming UK tour and we are doing it!
Well then, that bit of news changes the whole interview a bit, doesn’t it? Well done.
Sorry to hear you felt done with the whole knocking on the door responsibility. Your music is so worthy.
It’s mad isn’t it!!!
Thank you for saying that we’re worthy…
‘Sounds Outside’: Let me in on what this song is about? Any anecdotes you could share in regards to the writing process?
Yeah, I love this one… it was again a day dream when I was staying in London with The Penelopes as we were writing their new album. We listened to The Cure’s ‘Pictures of You’ non stop. It was a heat wave and the noise from the street sounded like the ocean.
It became so involved in my thoughts that I got carried away on the ambient sound and this song came from that feeling.
It’s a song that is undoubtedly you, and yet, it sounds like an attempt to break into the American market. Ever thought about attempting to get your music on a TV show over there? Stranger Things is doing a season 4 after all…
It’s very hard to get your music on a synch unless you have a hit… but you never know. I’d love it if Stranger Things used a song! I just love the idea of songs having their own life. Once you’ve made a song that’s it. It’s out of your hands, they are their own things after that! It’s amazing really!
And a synch can change the image of the band dependent on what the music is continuously hooked up with. That said, I’d love a gritty crime drama to be connected to ‘Mother Rain’. What’s the song about?
Yeah, it would be ace in DARK or something.
It’s about the feeling of ennui, completely at a loss, no feelings and no inspiration and alienation. It’s a desperate plea for water or nourishment to fill the bereft desert metaphorically – in other words: ‘what’ is gonna help me move out of this inertia?
The odd thing is you must get a sense of satisfaction after penning it, right?
Well, I feel like it articulated my feeling, which made the song feel complete… but it was a long time until I actually moved on from that feeling!
Having moved and changed from that feeling has made me feel refreshed.
The following track on the L.P ‘You Weren’t So Kind’ sounds more cheerful despite the title. A palette cleanser after the down feeling of the last track, yes?
Well, sonically yes… but it’s meant to contrast the lyrics which describe the boring mundane way awful things can just happen and then your life is changed for a while until you process them, in this case the character made a relationship mistake and it cost her.
But it could cost anyone in this situation it’s not explicitly about male or female it’s just relationships as a thing that we all experience.
The contrast works for me although it’s such a nice song that I don’t meditate on the meaning quite so much. It doesn’t remind me of that thing in films where something horrible is happening onscreen but the music is joyous. The rape scene in A Clockwork Orange for instance. Contrast really is the main thing you do in this record. The title reflects that. Care to tell us more about it?
Yeah, the contrast of this song was one of the things that drove me to complete it and put it on the record.
The title came from poet and Jungian therapist Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She explores the Life/Death/Life theme a lot and especially in her book Women Run with Wolves (which incidentally is for all genders I’d say) which was given to me by my therapist when we parted ways and who helped me more than I can ever tell her.
Life is made up of many life and death moments metaphorically and I understood myself a lot more while reading about this. The collection of songs we wrote towards this album were chosen to reflect that.
Any particular part of the book that you would cite as a companion piece for a song? A lyric pertaining to a certain realisation perhaps?
Just the theme of Life Death Life itself, it’s a main theme in the book.
‘The Green Dream’ sounds very much like vintage Hysterical Injury. Was this song written early in the sessions for the album?
It was about half way maybe? We made a few like that actually… I liked the folkyness to it, which is why it got picked.
One of the strongest melodies on the album followed swiftly by one of my fav tracks. I wanna know all about ‘The Crow Flies, The Driver Crashes’. Kinda gothy. The drive of the song and the use of synths reminds me of ‘The Forests’ by The Cure. Single material in my mind. Release it!
Wow thanks! It was a bit of a turning point that one… it was one of the first tracks we wrote for album. We had written an album after Blood Burst EP but never released it and don’t like it now. So this song was the drive to explore a different side of HI.
I was thinking about refugees and I wanted to write something using the world’s various symbols for peace. E.g. white poppies, pax cultura etc.
Stop the press … A missing album? Surely there might be a few tracks worth reworking?
Oooofff not sure about that! I loathe to go back.
‘Constant States’ has a rather nifty use of double tracking on the vox. Do you hear your voice in your head sounding like that or is it a case of, ‘Oooh, studio trickery! Let’s press buttons!’
Haha it’s a bias – I love double tracking. I just wanna double track everything always! But Jim hardly used my DT takes.
It’s all over your work. It might just be your signature sound. Part of it anyway. Perhaps it’s healthy he held some of it back. It works for ‘Crystal’ (that track could have been on your debut L.P). Thankfully ‘Feathers Brushing Steel’ is one voice. Sounds vulnerable, but not endangered. Solitary is a word that comes to mind. Tell me about this closer. Listening to it now actually.
Yeah, it could be, comes from learning to demo on 4 track cassette machines I reckon! ‘FBS’ is a thought that turned into sounds. Came from a jam with Tom initially, but I just really liked the sparse bass sound and didn’t want to fill it in… it’s a landscape. But the image feathers brushing steel came from my friends sculpture. He welded a cage and put little clocks on top of the ribs and had red ribbons ticking inside instead of clock hands. I loved the sensation of it and helped me describe a conflicted mind in the lyrics.
You seem at home within abstracts and feelings rather than full on political lyrics which seem all the rage these days. Ever feel a social pressure to comment on world events and the such?
Haaa yeah I feel a pressure from time to time mostly when I see the amount of thin slicing of politics and people that goes on social media. I get annoyed about it but I fuel my work with these reactions – why am I throwing up in the ‘Mother Rain’ video? Because what is around us is nauseating – lack of understanding in people for the contexts of other people and the online outrage of everything ever. I don’t need to add to that, I just mix my feelings and ideas into my work where it meets sound and other things.
Why is there so much of it around? Is it our way of processing what’s going on or are generalisations part of the problem? Is this tribalism via political rantings without fact checking our new status quo for the long-haul?
I understand people need to process and I am behind having a conversation that is about processing… generalisations, judgements and passive aggression are what I see mostly, and it scares me.
Perhaps people are being emboldened by public figures that have less of a filter than the ordinary Joe?
But there is a lack of critical thinking going on… maybe my expectations are too high… I think we should be able to say anything but also talk about it, challenge, learn, listen, understand: insight is invaluable.
I agree on the lack of critical thinking. It could be a symptom of people not being prepared to consider alternatives to their first flash of thought. Social media having no mediators is not so bad, so long as people moderate themselves. Perhaps such things ought to be covered in P.S.H.E now? There must be a billion cases of teens talking themselves into awkward corners on platforms like FB, all because they weren’t engaging brain with typing hands. Lord knows what kind of middle aged people such unbridled souls will turn into. The opposite end of that nightmare is upon us now. So many people of a certain age not handling themselves with decency online.
Oh yeah, they should have it in classes, I think that’s a lot of the problem … the way education has gone in the last five years. It’s ripped out anything other than testing memory and surface learning… kids are so damn bright too, give ’em a chance and they think a lot!
Do you think one day they’ll be teaching Hysterical Injury songs in school? Well, one can dream. Maybe you could cite this during your stage banter when you’re on tour with Beak>. Excited? How did that pairing come about?
Haaaa well, I teach on a song writing degree and my brother just joined one of my classes as the drummer soooooo…
I’m extremely excited about the tour with Beak>
As you know we’d let the HI beast fly and went into retirement. Well that was 6 months ago… then a couple of weeks ago out of the blue I got a text from Billy of Beak> asking if we could do the tour. Just couldn’t turn it down. Thought it would be great to play the album properly too. On lovely stages.
Will there be a London date(s)?
Ahh no there isn’t! Which is really unfortunate. No Manchester one either which is a shame.
What? That’s it. End of interview.
I’m disgusted! Give me Beak>’s tour management number. We shall have words!
In all seriousness, thanks for the time and honesty in this chat about the life, death and life of Hysterical Injury.
Believe in magic.
Haha you never know! Thank you John! It’s been a great thing to chat and thanks for taking the time and care.
Interview by John Clay