Cruelty: At The Heart of True Vulnerability

No matter the change in scene, emotional turmoil remains a mainstay of musical expression.

Be it critiques of violence or declarations of the heart, lyrical admission stands as one of the most prevalent forms of true vulnerability. As of late, amidst unceasing flurries of societal disillusionment, many artists have been finding space witBrihin raucous dissonance and brash performance to confront issues of fragility head on – a chorus of extroversion as a means of sensitivity.

At its heart lies Cruelty. Evolving amongst an underground realm of artistic fervour, Cruelty encompass a dark elusiveness that arouses, quite effortlessly, undeniable intrigue. Rife with melancholic brooding yet remaining instinctively charming, the band have announced themselves as purveyors of intensity in contrastingly delicate matters.

Within, five self proclaimed “mild-mannered” musicians stand – using the natural fervour that swelters from such primal and dissonant music as an exercise in cathartic release – raw, unfiltered, overwhelmingly exposed in it’s openness. This vulnerability translates into an honest and empathetic sound – a band establishing themselves through  their sense of transparency.

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A nice place to start would be to discuss the latest single, ‘Leather Boy’. The release had been a long time coming for you guys, it’s interesting that there’s been no change in terms of your view of the song over a year? Because usually after a year you might have recorded more stuff or written more stuff that will take priority?

Will: I really didn’t like the song when we first recorded it, because we were going to put that out as our first song and I was really insistent that we didn’t, and in my head never thought we’d end up releasing it.

Then when we thought we should release a new song, I listened back to it and didn’t hate it as much anymore. But a lot of my vocals have changed since we recorded it, just from playing it live, we recorded a lot of the vocals for it more recently, a few weeks ago. So it feels a lot better because of that. 

Kieran: It feels fresher doesn’t it, it feels like a new recording. 

It’s also interesting recording vocals that are as forward and energetic as yours because usually you’re performing amongst all of the noise of a band – but when you are in the booth by yourself it’s so hard to get that same forcefulness to it?       

Ben: Well when we did those two singles we did it where we had a handheld mic and then a room mic as well, so we could still perform. That was the main thing cause you’re right, there’s so much energy that goes into music like this, so to just be there, doing a Christina Aguilera, holding a microphone, is strange.

Do you feel, between live and recording, the personality of the song changes?

W: It does, but I really don’t want it to, that’s what I always struggled with because I’ve never really been a fan of studio recording, it’s a live thing. 

B: All of our influences draw from the eighties, The Cure and Killing Joke side of things, and the way they are produced is so minimal and squashed, but then you see those bands live and they are massive sounding. We definitely have that same feeling, even Kyle’s drums – they are so hard hitting, and I like to think that (in a live setting) we are more punchy. We’ve always tried to achieve a similar thing with the recordings. 

W: We always wanted to be a gothy indie band on record, and then a hardcore punk band live.

But do you think there’s a miscommunication between record and live then, if you are trying to portray those two things differently? 

B: I think they are separate things, and I think that can be really nice as well. 

W: I think we use it really well to flow from one into the other, so we can fit into different places opposed to playing a certain kind of show or have a certain kind of audience listen to the records. There’s a lot of crossover, cause if the record is a lot softer, then the show will be a lot more aggressive – and vice versa, if the show is a bit much, the songs and the recordings are still there to show we’re not just a loud and angry band. 

It’s difficult as well trying to isolate a single song – as hard as it is to isolate vocals when you’re not playing live, so to isolate individual parts when a live show is much more of a rounded thing as a whole, it’s hard to capture the same atmosphere. Is it difficult to try and capture what’s come before and what came after?

W: For me, Cruelty has always been very performative. So it’s always been important for me to be able to capture that in the recordings, and that is tricky when you are isolating each section of the song, and thinking about everything a lot more individually as opposed to how it all comes is together and how it flows. But I think it comes across that there is definitely a difference in terms of sound and feel to the record in the live recordings, but also I feel like they do translate really well to each other.

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With it being released on Permanent Creeps, does that have any influence on how you’ve done it or how you expect it to be received?

W: I don’t know really, that came after we recorded it so the song was already kind of there. But having that connection to that side of the scene really helped in terms of us knowing who we wanted it to reach. So it was less thought about in terms of making the track rather than how it would be received. 

K: It felt quite natural with Permanent Creeps I think, because we saw how Ditz and Football FC did. It’s DIY but it’s still outreaching into radio. 

W: It was playing that show with Lumer, which was their release show with Permanent Creeps, where we realised it made sense. What really excited me about Permanent Creeps was that they were a promotions thing before a label, or at least that’s how I knew them, that’s how I was aware of them rather than a label. So that was a nice tie-in to the performance aspect for me, that we were releasing it through a promotions group as opposed to just a record label. I feel because of that the live aspect of releasing a single, as in doing release shows and the performative aspects through social media, were really a lot more of a focus in terms of the release of the single. 

It’s interesting because in terms of the business aspect the independent promoters are branching into different avenues now, and I think that makes it more attractive to bands because they have a better understanding while also reaching out further because of it? 

W: With Cruelty, I always wanted everything to be consistent with a consistent group of people. So always try and use the same photographers, the same producers, the same videographers, the same designers, have a real feeling of consistency and that the band are greater than just the musicians, there are more people involved. So again, being able to release through Permanent Creeps, with the fact that they are doing it as a label and a promotions company just means that its two things that are put together. 

Again the positive of going with Permanent Creeps over a record label or a big industry name is that there is no outer dictation on how you present yourselves, how you write and how they present you. All the artistic and musical direction is completely down to you. Whereas record labels won’t like things and they’ll want you to change things and want to market you in a particular way? 

W: We were planning to release it, but not as quickly as it has come out, we still had loads to do with it, like re-recording the vocals, making the artwork, making the music video, which altogether would’ve taken forever. Then as soon as Lloyd was up for it, he said we had three weeks to have everything dead on. It really did kick us up the arse. 

K: Also that made us make different decisions about the single as well. 

W: Yeah because we had to, creativity through restriction, in this case time restriction. 

There were so many ideas before we had a deadline for the music video, so many ideas and so many different things that we wanted to try that it was kind of impossible to try and narrow it down, then we get the deadline and we ask what we can do in this amount of time, that’ll definitely work and that we’ll be happy with. It narrowed it down, was really simple to set up and worked really effectively, hopefully.

Going back to the music itself, I love how it’s obviously so intense and it really grabs you, but your lyricism is so vulnerable, it’s human and it’s warm against this really grasping intensity. Is that something that was integral in its contrast? 

W: Yeah I think so. I’m not much of a musician – I’m not an amazing singer and I’m not an amazing lyricist in terms of being good with words. But the one thing I could do was be super honest, in all the music that I used to listen to honesty was a really important thing. So I asked what I could bring to this, and if it wasn’t for that it wouldn’t be genuine, and if it wasn’t genuine then there wouldn’t really be a place for me in it, because everything else would level out to be fairly average. 

So I think that’s what people can connect to, the fact that it isn’t super polished or competent but it is – to a certain extent – real. It justifies itself existing for that. I want the lyrics and the delivery to feel needed, and if I was just writing lyrics for the sake of writing lyrics for a song, then it wouldn’t feel like it justified itself being in the song.

Do you think it’s the responsibility of musicians to lyrically tackle issues that are in the public mindset?

W: To a certain extent yes, I think it’s really important for bands to have a political consciousness, but I also don’t think that has to be overtly political. That’s the thing, I’ve never written any of our lyrics and actively thought that I need to write something that’s going to reach other people, or tackle these issues or have a set goal in a statement that i’ve wanted to make. But I think that just comes out naturally and it all moves together.

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It’s interesting to correlate the rise of post-punk shall we call it, these rise of bands, and then also conversation that’s quite delicate. The two don’t really sit together that well, but it’s actually difficult because it’s almost giving the talk about all these touchy subjects the face of an angry punk band? 

Ben: There’s something so cathartic about it though. From the music side of things, speaking for ourselves, is so draining, it takes a lot out of us to play the parts. Whether that’s a lack of good musicianship on our part from playing one note too fast or whatever, at the end of the gig you are tired and emotionally it takes a lot to do the music. Lyrically as well, for Will to expose himself in speaking about these things and for us to play this type of music, it all works together. I think that’s why post-punk especially has had such a revival because it’s love ballads and these sad songs that’s done in a way that is violent and aggressive and, especially if your tackling these things rather than doing a sad slow ballad, the complete opposite 

Will: It’s like making yourself vulnerable to the fullest extent you can, and I think if you are opening yourself up, and you want to fully do that, there’s no way it’s not going to sound quite aggressive, and fast and attacking. If you want to write a slow, sad, ballady song, then you can do that and it still be raw but you are putting restraints on how you want the song to sound. But as soon as you fully let go, even if the song is slow or a bit more low-key, it’s still going to have that raw aggression that post-punk has. 

There’s chaos in the emotion that post-punk and the music that you guys make captures, there’s the complete vulnerability of it but then also the complete mind-fuck of what is going on with all the contrasting emotions. It’s interesting to consider whether a band would be considered as post-punk or whether they would even succeed if they weren’t tackling the sort of issues that everyone seems to currently be doing. If everyone was making the same sort of sound of music but then the lyrics were about nothing of substance, would it make sense? 

W: It’s really noticeable whenever you read about any alternative or indie band, everyones super interested in what they are saying, which is really nice that people are thinking a lot more about it rather than if it just sounds good, or catchy, or if you can dance to it. 

B: Well I feel like everything we were writing, whether it be the lyrics or the music, is needed. We need to write this stuff and play it. We’re not trying to write the next number one, sorry I went into radio dad mode then. 

W: I think the audience affects the band a lot more now, because people want to be reached out to a lot more. People are asking for bands to address these things that affect them, it’s not even completely self-serving.B: We’ve had shows where the crowd is just as passionate as Will who’s delivering it. It’s nice to feed off that energy as well. 

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It’s interesting when looking at labels and categorisation of genre, do you feel like with the label you are given is generally suiting of you? Or do you think it’s more of an individual thing that people aren’t picking up on? 

B: No I don’t think it matters. To quote Love Island, “it is what it is”. We’re not trying to be or play a certain type of music, this is just what the music we make sounds like. 

I feel people have this incessant need to define people and put them into different boxes because of what they do, why they do it and what they tackle, when really everyone is doing their own thing and you can draw comparisons between people. 

B: This is the thing, we all come from the same sort of teenage backgrounds, but now we’re at an age where we’ve all sort of matured slightly and we only draw from those sort of aspects once in a while. We’re like-minded people who don’t particularly have similar tastes in music but all we bring different aspects to what we make. It’s not our place to say we are a pop punk band, or a post punk band, it’s not that. If people want to do that then alright. 

K: I think in the early days for a while we questioned what is our sound, and we had five songs that were really poppy, and five that were synthy hardcore, and it just didn’t work. 

W: Every time we’d take a minute and write a song that sounded like a certain something, we’d get in the studio and spend three hours playing the same riff over and over again, it’s overthought. 

B: We’ve got a strange curse where we’re very productive but in a very small amount of time, maybe two hours every month, where we’ll write a song and think it’s good, then we won’t see each other for three months. 

K: I don’t think we’re a band that can meet up every week and write that like that, it just doesn’t work. 

W: We write something if there is something that needs to be written. The issue we were having was that everytime we were writing something because we felt like we should be writing. But then we wouldn’t get in a rehearsal studio for months and we’d all go through different stuff and we’d have issues or what have you. So then we’d come back and we’d write a song because it needed to be written. That goes back to the honesty thing, I really believe music or any sort of art needs to justify itself existing, rather than existing for the sake of it, and I think that’s what happened there. Maybe in a few years we’ll have more than six songs. 

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Do you feel particularly competitiveness with yourselves in where you want to get to?

B: I personally don’t, again drawing back to the cathartic thing, we all do so many things within our lives, whether that be musical or the day to day, that when we do this band, whether it be a gig, or recording, or just rehearsing, it’s an outlet. I don’t think for us, success isn’t anything to worry about because we just want to play shows, it’s a cleansing, you’ve got your shit out. 

It’s one of my favourite things about this band, when you see us live sometimes we come across as a bit moody and scary, but we’re very mild-mannered, nice boys. Seriously though we were at a Rough Trade gig and we were talking about fruit teas and hot squash, then Kieran plays this massive intro note and suddenly we’re in it. It’s nice to have that juxtaposition.

It’s an image thing as well isn’t it, it’s weird what an image can do?

K: I don’t think we’ve ever talked about how we stand on stage, or how aggressive we look. It’s just a group thing that we do when we are together. 

W: I think if I was talking in between songs it wouldn’t work for what the set is meant to be doing, it would take away the energy. I think that people take from that that we are more moodier than we are because there’s no space for us to have a chat, we are there to do the set and we do it, because the set demands that. 

Again that’s reflective of how you see it as such a personal pursuit, it’s something that’s come to you that you want to perform and write, it’s a cleansing thing that’s within you guys, you don’t need to stop and break it? 

Kyle: It would break the catharsis. 

B: It might increase our merch sales. 

K: I feel like the times in between songs, and the before and after, are just as important as the songs themselves sometimes. 

B: We’ve always been very lucky to have a group of people who have supported us, particularly in Bristol, but even in places like Leeds and London, we find them. It’s nice.

Looking ahead, perhaps when you do have that album, what would you like people to take from it? 

W: Really whatever people need from it. I don’t want to dictate to people what they take from what we are doing. If people need something from us, they can figure out how to get it from us I guess? Not in a standoffish way, we’re there to give everything we’ve got, and it’s up to other people how much they want to be affected by it, and to what extent they want to follow through with that. 

 

Words: Ciara Bains and Ross Jones

Photography: Amia Watling

 

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