October 29, 2013

Interview: Alanna McArdle

That time we ate french fries with Joanna Gruesome's Alanna McArdle.

Joanna Gruesome played something like 10 shows during their less-than-a-week CMJ "tour." That being said, I only managed to see them once, which I partly blame on all the 21+ events at CMJ – not cool! In case you don't know, Joanna Gruesome took CMJ by storm, which was no big surprise to me. I'm revealing a huge writer bias, but I love those guys; I previously asked them to curate a Monday Mix for THE LE SIGH and have been listening to Weird Sister nonstop since it debuted. Joanna Gruesome is composed of Owen Williams, George Nicholls, Max Warren, Dave Sandford, and Alanna McArdle. It was so nice to meet them in real life after talking to Owen and Alanna on the Internet, and I can't think of a better first impression than taking them behind a Shea Stadium dumpster to hide from the cold. That was 3 days into JG's whirlwind CMJ extravaganza, but they somehow managed to have the energy of a very well-rested band. The next day, Diana and I attempted to catch the band at Brooklyn's Rock Shop. The G train has to be the most evil subway line, it would literally take us two stops closer, make us transfer, and then reverse directions. After probably and hour and a half, we finally emerged from the underground frustrated, desperate for donuts, and certain that we missed Joanna Gruesome (we had). We found a cab (which was no easy feat), and promised Alanna we were on our way. When we finally arrived at the venue, we weren't nearly as exhausted as JG, but I think we were all ready to chill on the roof and eat french fries.

I'm sitting with Diana, Alanna, Owen, Max, and Dave on the roof of the Rock Shop. We are surrounded by beers, fries, and the residue of spent cigarettes. The size of American rolling papers is discussed, as are other differences between American and British culture, most heatedly, the fact that most of the band is considered underage in New York. I step inside and see that Nicholls is on the phone, maybe checking in with his family? It was at that moment where I realized how surreal it must be to be 19 or 21 and suddenly your music starts blowing up, you're picked up by Slumberland Records, debut an amazing first LP, and are flown to a different continent where you are constantly shuffled to different interviews, meetings, photo shoots, and concerts. When I'm talking to Alanna on the roof, I can't tell if the overwhelming nature of that situation has fully hit her. I think for everyone, CMJ was a lot of meeting Internet friends ~in real life~, but speaking with Alanna was more like hanging out with a new friend. I could rave about how sweet Alanna is for another paragraph, but I'll stop and let the interview explain for me. As a brief intro, not only is Alanna the singer of Joanna Gruesome, she also performs soft, vulnerable songs as Ides and is a member of The Misery Chicks collective.

THE LE SIGH: Where are you from?

Alanna McArdle: I am from London, England, via Canada.

TLS: Have you ever stage dived?

AM: I have! It was like so un-me because it's taken me a long time to ease into being in a band where I don't play an instrument so you have nothing to do with yourself, and like the first 8 months I was in Joanna Gruesome I used to stand completely still and be like, “I don't want to be here.” But then we played an Art Is Hard all-dayer, and all our friends' bands were playing, all our friends were there, and everyone was wasted and having a great time. Everyone was crowd surfing during our set, people were getting up on stage and jumping off, so I was like “I'm gonna do it too”, and I was so scared because I'm also really tall and I was like, “Oh god they're going to drop me.”

TLS: But they didn’t?

AM: They didn't! I looked at my friend in the audience and was like, “I'm doing it,” and he did a cheerleader clap and I was like you are ready I am ready and I crowd surfed and it was awesome!

TLS: Oh man, I would be nervous about kicking someone.

AM: I mean, I was really impressed because Max and Owen both crowd surf with their instruments. I don't know how people do, it's like the most rock and roll thing in the world.

TLS: Your show last night (at Shea Stadium) got kinda intense for a minute there, some people hit the floor.

AM: Yeah, I saw some guy fall really badly. It was way worse at the show after, for Speedy Ortiz, it was so weird and out of place, because it was like these 3 dudes who just like took control. They got really really violent and then Speedy Ortiz was like, “Hey, keep it nice don't hurt anyone,” and then they started having a physical fight and then the bouncer came and this dude starts punching the bouncer and the band looked horrified, and you would be, because you're playing and you want everyone to have a good time and it's like chaos.

TLS: Since it's almost halloween, do you have any funny halloween memories? I was trying to remember if I have any weird costumes...

AM: You know what is really sucky, even though I really like halloween, I've never really gotten into it that much because with every holiday the pressure of organized fun becomes too much for me and then I end up not doing anything. This is a very British thing, I don't know if it will translate well. But there's this guy named called Nick Griffin and he's the head of this horrible political party called the British National Party and it's really really really racist and he was on this thing called Question Time, which is like a show where politicians and journalists get on and talk about issues. He was on and everyone was really outraged that Nick Griffin was on Question Time. People in the audience can ask questions, and a kid who went to my boyfriend at the time's school was there, and he went to a Jewish school and Nick Griffin is notoriously anti-Semitic. So this kid gets up and asks him a question and everyone we knew was like oh my god yes he did it, so me and my friend dressed up as ng and this kid for halloween once. But then we didn't actually do anything! We were just in her house carving pumpkins dressed up!!

(TLS note: After this interview, I did a lot of reading about Nick Griffin and he is awful!)

TLS: How have you felt about CMJ so far, or what has been the biggest adjustment? You guys have gotten big very fast and you're young, we're the same age, it must be kinda weird.

AM: Yeah, it's weird being here because obviously it's like the coolest thing ever to be told, “Oh, you can go to America for free and play shows with your band,” that's like the best thing anyone could say to us, ever. But I didn't really know what to expect, I was pretty nervous about it. And we've been playing loads of shows, so it's been stressie but fun.

TLS: Yeah, CMJ is a lot of networking.

AM: The Shea show was so far the least “industry” show. We were all like, yes, we're so happy because it was like, that's the type of venue we like to play and we play in all the time back home, and people here are really cool and everyone seems nice and the bands are cool, but then it was like, you played, time to go. I really wanted to see Pity Sex! I think we're playing with them tonight.

TLS: Actually, I think they played this afternoon.

AM: NOOOOO! Aw, that sucks, that's the other thing, we haven't really been able to see many bands.

TLS: Yeah, this probably hasn't been the most relaxing trip. I liked watching you guys have press photos taken last night.

AM: Apparently we don't have enough press photos because we hate doing them. We didn't have any for a really long time, and when the album came out our label guy was like, “You need to get some press shots done,” so we literally got our friend to take some pictures of us in the woods and there was one good one, and it's not even that good.

TLS: I liked when she told you guys to act like you were friends.

AM: It wasn't as bad as when we did a photoshoot for NME. We were at this place and after like 4 hours we got our photos done. They had this studio they rented and they got there and didn't have any props, so they took some fire extinguishers and we came in and they wanted us to pose with them. We were like, “We're not going to do that,” and then the photographer was like, “Oh, okay,” so he puts the fire extinguisher in front of us and we were standing behind it, and they obviously didn’t put it in the photo because that would look weird, like us with a fire extinguisher

TLS: Ugh, I wish the fire extinguisher photos had been taken, I would have totally used one for the interview photo.

AM: They also had a mop, so either you pose with a fire extinguisher or a mop.

TLS: What vibe were they going for, geez. Wait! This isn't really a question, but have you ever googled Ides and found the New Jersey band with the tagline “That touchy feely band with the chick singer."

AM: YES! Oh my god! Sometimes when I play shows the promoter doesn't know what they're doing and they put a link to the “touchy feely chick from New Jersey.”

TLS: Okay, final question: how does it feel to be performing as Ides and as part of Joanna Gruesome, you get to express yourself in two completely different ways.

AM: Yeah, it's completely different. I think the main difference for me is how much more nervous I am when I play as Ides, every show I feel like I'm going to be sick and then when I'm playing I'm like "God, everyone hates it," because it's one of those things, like, when I play with Joanna Gruesome I can see the crowd's reaction and people dance and jump around and you're like, "Oh, they like it," because they're visibly showing they like it. You can't really do that with my music, like, it would be weird if someone started dancing to my music, like I don't know if you're hearing it right, so then it kind of leaves me just always having a crisis of confidence, like, I don't know why I'm doing this. It's really really hard being alone up there.

Listen to Joanna Gruesome on bandcamp.

Written by Quinn Moreland