As examples of the incredible opportunities the growth of the internet has provided go, sitting down to interview Cultdreams, shortly before the release of their latest album, Things That Hurt, was a fine one. We sit in disparate locations, ourselves in London, guitarist and vocalist Lucinda Livingstone in Brighton and drummer Conor Dawson in his home of almost two years, Antwerp in Belgium, it’s an unusual band dynamic, and one that seems to be working for them, as Lucinda explains, “I was just saying how pro we are at the multiple Skype calling now”.
If being a band split over two different countries sounds like a logistical nightmare, the reality isn’t quite so painful, as Connor explains, “Antwerp to Brighton is actually closer than Leeds to Brighton, which is absolutely crazy”. Courtesy of the Eurostar and Skype, the band aren’t just making it work, they’re thriving on it, “when Conor was moving to Belgium, we did chat about it and it was like, “if there’s anything that you can’t make, we could think about getting someone else”, and then that just never ever happened. Conor played every show”.
As if one thing you’re not meant to do wasn’t tough enough, as well as living in two different countries, Cultdreams have also recently made the big decision to change their name, noting the potential cultural insensitivity of their previous name, Kamikaze Girls, a decision they’ve discussed at length elsewhere. We wonder if it was something the band were worried about, and as Lucinda explains, it was decision they didn’t take lightly, “the people that actually really do care about us, those people are going to understand and respond to it well, and those who don’t, it doesn’t really matter because what are they there for anyway?
Shortly after announcing their name change to the world, Cultdreams headed into the studio to begin work on their second album. The result is Things That Hurt, a record that simultaneously expands upon the sound of their earlier material without entirely ripping up the musical rule book. Lucinda’s lyrical pronouncements and powerful vocal remain prominent, as does Conor’s brutal hammering of the drum kit; the difference here is the ambition and scope of the sound. Things That Hurt is a widescreen record, full of lush textural soundscapes, a record far grander and bolder than you’d expect from a two-piece band.
Much of that ambition comes from a different, less pressured approach to recording, as Lucinda explains, “we only actually spent three more days than we did on Sea Foam, but we booked a weekend off in the middle so we did five days and then five days. It really helped and we changed the way we tracked the songs as well. We did all Connor’s drums and then we did one song at a time, so we didn’t just do all guitars and then all bass, then all vocals. We worked on one song at a time building it all up and that helped me loads because otherwise I do all the guitar, all the bass, all the vocals, all the backing vocals. It ends up being a lot of work for me, and my hands seize up from playing guitar and none of that really happened this time. The setting wasn’t super high pressure like it was last time either. Everything was just way more chilled, it was just a nicer experience all round”. The experience was also enhanced by the presence of unofficial third band member, Lucinda’s four-month old puppy Aubrey, “it worked pretty well she was good for morale…she was crying through the window through my vocal takes, and then we tried having her in the room and then she just barked so Connor had to take her outside. I mean she’s only a baby and she’s very needy”, as Connor jokes, “I want to be credited on the album as drums and chief dog-walker”.
It wasn’t just Aubrey who joined the duo in the studio, alongside regular producer Bob Cooper, across Things That Hurt, Cultdreams embraced collaboration. The album’s lead single, We Never Rest, features guest vocals from Katie Dvorak and David F. Bellow of The World Is A Beautiful Place. We ask how the collaboration came about, “the way that I wrote We Never Rest, we had the vocals all sort of overlapped, and thought this was the perfect place for some guest vocals and I was thinking of who could do it, and though Katie and Dave from The World Is… would be awesome. They’ve been good friends to us, and they came and saw us in Philly when we played to like ten people, they’ve been quite supportive of the band”. Elsewhere on the record old friend, and gifted jazz-musician Dan Barker-Bey adds a flourish to the sublime, Don’t Let Them Tell You Otherwise, working under Conor’s instruction to do, “a real cool jazzy solo, and he was like, yeah I can do that”. Dan’s presence was the result of a plan many years in the making after he went to musical college with Lucinda, “he does these ghosts notes that are like screamed notes and I remember when we were at music college together him practicing them for like eight hours a day, and I would be in the house thinking what the hell is he doing? And you know, now they’re on the record”. There’s a feeling across the record of old friendships and plans coming together, as Conor puts it, “it’s just life coming full circle”.
It’s a theme Cultdreams come back to regularly, the idea of this record being something they’ve constantly been building towards, “me and Conor have been playing music together for, it’ll be 10 years in October. Not always in this band, we were in a different band before, you can sort of hear it in this new record, influences from our old band, which was an unexpected thing”. That denser and more atmospheric sound is present across the record, we wonder if that was a conscious decision, or just where the songs took them, Conor suggests otherwise, “I think we’re just way better at doing what we want to do now, like we know what we want to sound like and we know how to sound like that”. Lucinda elaborates, “a lot of it is a confidence thing. Just having the confidence to be like, we’re going to do this, we’re going to write a really large sounding record that sounds like it’s not two people and then we’re going to play it live and it’s going to sound exactly the same”.
Creating such a bold and atmospheric record has inevitable consequences for the live shows that follow, “a lot of the new record is really challenging to play live because we’re involving loads more stuff. We’re pulling out all the stops to make it sound as big as it sounds from just the two of us. Which is kind of the exciting bit, but also it’s really hard!” We ask the inevitable question of whether they’d consider getting other people in to play live, Conor see’s both pros and cons to that, “it would be super fun to do a full band tour, but it’s also really fun just the two of us just jamming out on stage. I think up until recently we’ve just gone on stage and just hammered the songs out and it’s been like as fast and furious as we can make it. While now I think we’re making an effort to be not as 70’s punk as we can be. We have like loops and drum pads and stuff. Basically, we’re just selling out now!”.
Listening to the band’s sometimes brutal tour anecdotes, selling out doesn’t seem all that likely, following the release of their debut album, 2017’s Seafoam, they spent pretty much two solid years touring, all across Europe and America. A particularly barbaric eight week, DIY-tour of the states is one that has clearly stuck with them, “we’ve got to stage now, where we like our little comforts, so sleeping in the back of a van on a 12 hour drive from A to B, is really fun, but you can only do that a few times, not for eight weeks in a row”. The tales from that particular tour are often relentless, whether turning up in New Orleans to find the local support band taking the entire crowd off to eat ice cream down the road, playing in Sacramento the night Donald Trump became president, or collapsing, exhausted on a friends basement floor in Michigan after driving for twenty-two hours straight. We wonder if there was any part of that tour that was enjoyable, and Conor is surprisingly effusive in his praise of it, “yeah, I absolutely loved it! It was completely ridiculous and draining and mentally exhausting, it was absolutely ridiculous”.
A record that flicks rapidly between personal issues through to more society wide problems, one of the recurring themes of Things That Hurt is the idea of conformity and not fitting into, as Lucinda put it recently, “the traditional heteronormative lifestyle”. It’s something that Lucinda has been grappling with, “I was doing a lot of thinking, and a lot of reflecting, Really thinking about how I am as a person, and how I act with other people…I think that everybody wants to know what someone is, and I just don’t feel like it matters. I think I find that really hard to understand. I even get it when my dog goes to the park, someone said to me yesterday, “she’s got a blue collar on and a pink harness, so how do you know she’s a girl?” And I wanted to say, you’ve got to ask her, her pronouns. Everyone wants to put everyone in a very traditional square box and that’s not where everyone fits, I’ve definitely realised and accepted I don’t fit into loads of boxes and that’s okay”.
As well as asking questions of society as a whole, there are also moments on the album, where Cultdreams ask questions of the punk-scene they exist within. We wonder if they feel it is becoming a more welcoming scene to those who don’t fit the traditional straight-white-male boxes, “in certain bubbles it’s improving, but you know a lot of negative, horrible habits still exist, like people being homophobic, or transphobic or racists or sexist, it’s all still there. Sometimes it is still there in those smaller circles you might think are safe…it’s only ever going to change as much as we push it to, and if there’s big bands, much much bigger bands than us who have a platform and they don’t do anything with it, then it’s not going to get any better. It’s not enough for them to just show up and play, and if they think it’s enough maybe they need to learn more about it, because there’s so many bands doing it really well on a smaller scale, they’re making their shows accepting and they’re making sure its known that they have a zero tolerance policy”.
With such a triumphant second album only released earlier this month, it’s perhaps too early to already being wondering what the future holds for Cultdreams, however we wonder what aspirations they have for it and if music is a viable career for them, “I’m self-employed, so I play in this band, I play in Nervus and then when I’m not on tour I’m an illustrator. It’s probably like 70% of my living is being in a band. So hopefully it will just keep on going, and if it doesn’t, I guess that would be okay, but I’d really like it to keep going”. And keep going it surely will, with tour dates in mainland Europe and here in the UK to come in the next month, and many more in the pipeline, this dream looks like going on a lot longer yet.
Things That Hurt is out now via Big Scary Monsters. Click HERE for more information on Cultdreams.