Peeping Drexels: Sophomore Debutantes

Picture the scene. Titanic riffs descend on you like cascading skyscrapers in an apocalyptic collapse. You cover your head pointlessly and try your best to make it out of this whirling orgy of noise and fuzz and grit in one piece, but after roughly (exactly) fifty-seven seconds the pitch-black thunderclouds recede and the rainstorm of jagged riffs is replaced with a piano-led coda, channelling the euphoria of early ‘90s psychedelia. A long sunset follows a sudden tornado of barbed wire, and all you can do is hug your knees and try not to cry.

The above is not the hypothetical plot treatment for a version of 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow written and directed by the late Andrew Weatherall, but instead the mid-point of ‘Miami Lounge’, the opening track from Peeping Drexels’ sophomore EP Bad Time. By their own admission, Peeping Drexels originated with an intent to model themselves on the Windmill post-punk archetype and their 2018 debut self-titled EP stands as an artefact of this ambition – full of the kind of angularity that, in neat historical harmony (and despite coming out in 2018), seems to reflect the generalised despondent malaise of the 2020s about as well as swing music did the post-war optimism and decadence of the 1920s.

It’s at the point described above, and at several others across its runtime, that the trajectory of Bad Time bends at a right angle away from any expectation you may have formed of the band releasing that debut in 2018. In its oddly serene moments and in its very-much-not-serene moments ‘Bad Time’ advances a sordid narrative of hedonistic devastation and neon-drenched paranoia, and sees the band reinventing post-punk sleaze into something much groovier. For the two minutes of ‘Miami Lounge’ before the cataclysmic riffs described above even metastasise the listener is treated to a swaggering and colourful disco-punk overture that should at least tip you off to the fact that something coming up is going to be different.

Track two, ‘Pit’, is probably the clearest example of this nascent dark-boogie-punk philosophy. Before the song even bursts into life we’re met with a moody synth build that sounds like the soundtrack to an ancient temple level in a video game you dimly remember from your childhood, but twenty years hence you’re not sure was real. The song is melting-pot of styles, and by rights its constituent parts shouldn’t really work: the disco hi-hats, the hip-hop drum machine sweeteners, the indie-pop chorus guitar, 80s action movie closing guitar solo and pop synth pads all stacked precariously on thick slapped bass should – under normal rules – fall apart not long after it gets off the ground. But its stitching is a simultaneously sullen, licentious and vulnerable vocal performance delivered in the post-punk mode, and knitted together thus the song in fact transcends its disparate ingredients and squares up to banger status.

I could go on about the EP – about the creeping debauchery of ‘High Heels’, or the incongruous ecstasy of ‘Part II’ – but suffice to say, a band capable of weaving together a buffet of distinct, abstract influences into post-punk you can dance to is destined for great things. To find out more, I sat down with housemates and bandmates Dylan and Jake a little while after the release of Bad Time to discuss not only the EP and their schemes for the future, but also apparently Tom Jones, Blade, and Spider-Man. 

Peeping Drexels? Where does that name come from?

Dylan : I mean, I don’t really know what it means.  We were looking for band names and going through all the books I had at my house. It’s a character that Doctor Seuss wrote about in his old political cartoons before he was doing children’s books. You know the phrase “peeping Tom”? It was a family tree of this Peeping Tom character, and Peeping Drexel was one of the relatives and we just saw it and thought “oh yeah”.

So you’ve had your second EP out this year. How did that release go? How did it all pan out, especially in the context of music being illegal?

Dylan: It was kind of difficult because we started recording it maybe three months before the first lockdown, so everything was half-finished when we locked down. Then the studio we were recording at didn’t open back up so we were kind of stuck in limbo about what to do about it. We ended up just re-recording everything and I think it kind of worked in our favour because the songs grew a lot more. 

Jake: We had a bit more time. We had very rough versions of all the songs and by the time we got to the second studio we’d had time to listen to them and be like, “Oh, we need to change this, we need to change that”. It worked out better for us to do it in two parts.

Dylan: I think the whole time we were doing it we were thinking about it more of a debut EP, because I think the first one we released was very much four singles that we put together. This was written as a cohesive project in this tracklist, so it’s very much more like a debut.  The first EP we think of as kind of a test.

Sort of a slightly up-market demo tape, or something along those lines. 

Dylan: Yeah. 

This second one is different – or first one, the other one being the zeroeth one – because it’s sort of like boogie punk.

Dylan: Boogie punk. I like that.

It’s really groovy but it’s using a post-punk language. Where did that sound came from? Because it’s a bit of a departure from the first one. 

Dylan: I think with the first one we were making music that was expected of us.  We’ve been playing together for ages and when we first started we  were just trying to be a classic post- punk Windmill band. Then we decided that we want to make some music that we’d want to listen to. We don’t only listen to guitar music – ‘Guitar Music’ is probably the thing we listen to the least. We started taking more influences from what we actually listen to.

Jake: With the first one, the songs were each written for the next gig – we were never writing songs thinking about it being one whole project. We wanted this one to be a whole package rather than just sparse singles. 

Where and how did you guys come together as a band?

Dylan: I started the band with an old member. We weren’t really taking it seriously – we were just playing live whenever we could, which turned into every week, and then that turned into twice a week. Then it became three times a week. It was an excuse to go out, more so than actually make music we wanted to make. I think as soon as we got our first Windmill gig was when we were like, “we should put a bit more effort into it”. And then we did, we wrote the first EP and then dropped it. 

It just sounds like you’ve gained momentum – the classic life cycle is that you start to realise that you’re actually quite good, and then you start to realise why you’re quite good, so you work on that and then you just get better and better and better.

 (long pause)

I asked my questions in the wrong order. I always do this. I’m quite a chaotic interviewer. 

Dylan: We’re quite a chaotic band, so it fits.

If you could support anyone, who would it be? We’re talking I guess like an Ally Pally-sized venue.

Dylan: There’s going to be very different answers for either of us. I don’t know. 

Jake: My first thought would be like Tom Jones. Or if I could go back to the 60s and play with all those people like Santana. I think it’d be pretty cool. Or like the Stooges, but just because I want to see them

And just stand at the back with a lager. “Hey man, I saw your set, you’re really great Iggy Pop”. 

Dylan : I agree with on Tom Jones. I think that’ll be banging. 

Jake : That’ll be good because you can say that you played with Tom Jones. Only the best play with Tom Jones. 

Dylan: I’d love to be on like a bill where we’re the only band and its just rappers. Opening  for Kanye would be the goal.

Jake: Or like, playing at the Gathering of the Juggalos.

Dylan : Oh, yeah. That would be good.

So that’s your combined answer. 

Dylan: Yeah. Tom Jones headlining, ICP and Kanye on the same bill, and then we’ll be opening.

Wow. God, the pits. The pits, mate. 

Dylan: The pits for Tom Jones, filthy. 

When you’re recording, there’s always someone who makes all the brews – a brew boy  – and they’re either told to, or they do it off their own back. In your band, who is the brew boy? And are they here right now? 

Dylan: I’d say if someone was going for a beer run or a tea run it would be Theo. 

Jake: Yeah.

Dylan: We have a newer member who only joined last year. 

I can see where this is going.

Jake: He’s the brew boy now. I’m too busy to be making tea when I’m in the studio. 

Dylan: Whenever we’re in the studio Jake is doing all the engineering and everyone’s kind of waiting for their turn. 

Where do you look for inspiration? I guess this is prompted by the breadth of Bad Time as an EP. 

Dylan: It’s so varied. There could be anything. Music we’ve listened to recently or films you’ve watched or even just imagery you’ve seen while on the bus and stuff like that. Anything really.

Jake: Musically, I kind of wanted it to sound like someone was flicking through a radio station. I quite like albums where they have all these interludes. We took inspiration from as many things as we could and because we live together we’re always just having conversations about music and putting on records that we’ve just bought. All those things kind of melded together.

Dylan: It definitely isn’t strictly music. Even stuff like atmospheres in video games, or one shot in a film or something –  that can influence a whole song. High Heels is very influenced by like the opening scene in Blade. I’d say that influenced that song more than any music.

What’s the opening scene? Is that the nightclub one, with the blood club? Or is that Blade II

Dylan : Yeah, that’s the scene we’re talking about. I’m not sure if it’s Blade or Blade II

It’s the 90s crystallised into one scene.

Dylan : Yeah. It was like a mixture of that scene, and the Twin Peaks film. There’s a nightclub scene where you can’t hear any of the characters speaking because the music’s too loud, so they put subtitles on it. And also the Social Network as well. There’s a scene where they’re in like a club and you can’t hear what they’re saying, because the music’s so loud so they’re just shouting over each other. Lots of nightclub scenes kind of influenced that.

A tour of nightclub scenes across varied media. Blade has my favourite line in it, which is “Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate uphill.”

Dylan: Yeah. Blade‘s good man.

Jake : The last one wasn’t that good, though.

Blade is so far ahead of his time as a film. So ahead of its time.

Dylan: Trust me, trust me, when you see these Marvel films these days they’re not doing what Blade did.

Jake: Those old superhero films are just so much better than the new ones. The best Spider-Man films were the ones with Tobey Maguire in. 

Dylan: Especially 33‘s the best.

Spider-Man 3 is a cinematic masterpiece. What’s next? What have you got planned?

Jake: We’re thinking about doing another single. Hopefully we can get that done soon.

Dylan : We’re moreso thinking about live stuff at the moment just because venues are opening now. We’re sorting a tour for September. We have the next three EPs written, so it’s just us getting money to record them. 

The hustle.

Dylan: Exactly, it’s the hustle. 

Jake: When we dropped the EP we didn’t have a gig so it was kind of hard for us to bounce off it, but the tour is going to some places up north we haven’t been before.

Dylan: We’ve got Sebright Arms on July 9th which will be our last London headline before the tour, for the tour we’re mainly focusing on just getting out of London. We’re doing a little Europe leg in October – we’re gonna have a few gigs around in the Netherlands and France. We just want to spread the seed about.

Words: Ed Hambly // Photos: Jojo Danielle

Peeping Drexels’ ‘Bad Time’ EP is out now. You can purchase and stream the release via Bandcamp.

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