Anger and Joy: Dream Nails on feminism and punk rock

Aside from casting spells through their music and hexing the patriarchy, we talk to Dream Nails about what it means to be DIY, the importance of self-care and promoting inclusion in music

Feature by Amy Kenyon | 23 Nov 2018

"We like to call songs hexes because we feel like they produce enough power to take down the average male in the street."

Riding high on a new wave of feminism, Dream Nails are a DIY collective of self-proclaimed 'Punk Witches' from London. Aside from casting spells through their music and hexing the patriarchy, ahead of their upcoming appearance at Book Yer Ane Fest XII in Dundee the band take some time out from writing to talk to us about being DIY, the importance of self-care and what music venues can be doing to promote inclusion and to encourage more women in the music industry.

A term we don’t come across very often, the band tells us what being a 'Punk Witch' means and how this influences the sound of Dream Nails’ music: "Being a ‘Punk Witch’ is about embracing the DIY spirit of punk," says guitarist Anya Pearson, "the energy and reliance of that movement with a global sisterhood of people who share knowledge, support, compassion. I am not practicing but used to do spells on crushes when I was younger which were very unsuccessful, I must say.

"Punk is traditionally really macho and dominated by men and we feel that we are way too femme to fit into punk, and on the other hand we are way too raw and way too political to be called indie-pop... so we decided to make our own genre. We talk about what it means to us as a collective of women owning our own power." Frontwoman Janey Starling adds that "creative spaces are sacred, and witch punk is the product of four women’s energy combining to create something magical for the world to enjoy."

Witches were traditionally made up of covens or groups of women who would share and pass down knowledge from generation to generation. Pearson describes how her mother, who is also a musician, taught her how to play guitar from an early age, acknowledging that not everyone has a matriarchal figure or role model to show and encourage them how to play music: "I was really intimidated by all of the boys who used to learn guitar at school. I know a lot of women who would have loved to learn an instrument like guitar but they never had the confidence. Not everyone is lucky enough to have their mum teach them an instrument."

Image: Ant Adams

Dream Nails didn’t have any female artists to look up to when they were growing up: "Lady Gaga was my inspiration though she’s not really a punk," bassist Mimi Jasson says. "Later in life I started listening to riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill); [they] really inspired me. Even though the riot grrrl movement was not entirely inclusive, it was a step in the right direction."

Dream Nails decided to be a part of the change they wanted to see, so formed their own all-female punk rock band: "We want to be the band that starts 1000 other bands," says Pearson. When asked what could be done to encourage more women into the music industry, she answers: "Ultimately there’s nothing stopping you except your own sense of entitlement. It’s about empowering yourself because you can do a lot of things. You are capable and that’s the message that we are trying to send."

After they began performing in front of crowds, the band soon realised that in order to encourage more women into the industry they would have to ensure that the venues they performed in were safe and inclusive spaces. They do this by enforcing a 'women and non-binary people to the front' policy at their shows and have been encouraging venues to do Good Night Out training. "My life’s mission is to end violence against women and I believe that music is a powerful platform to challenge male control and empower women and nonbinary people," Starling tells us. "As feminists, we stand against male control and we prioritise the experiences of women and non-binary people... People know it’s non-negotiable and that if men don’t move, we don’t play."

“We didn’t write songs about rage to sing it into the eyes of guys," adds Pearson. "We are there to sing it to people who might actually understand it from their perspective... I think that’s why people are so on board with what we are trying to do – they believe in the real anger and joy that we are bringing to our music."

In true DIY spirit the band are entirely self-managed, booking and organising all of their own shows. When asked what it means for Dream Nails to be a DIY band, they make it clear that it's much more than just being self-managed – it’s about demonstrating that you’re self-sufficient and capable of doing it yourself in a patriarchal society. "We practice that as a way of life..." states Jasson. "Being DIY is refusing to listen to the little bugger in your head who says you're not good enough," says drummer Lucy Katz, "and pursuing a project or the development of a skill because you want to and the world deserves and needs what you have!"

Although being an entirely self-run band comes with its challenges, Dream Nails make sure they take the steps to look after each other and to ensure their own self-care. "Living in a patriarchal society," says Jasson, "you have to take care of yourself and that means doing more in the way of self-care than what the patriarchy are trying to sell you. We’re not a band that gets wasted every night. We drink a lot of water and make sure we eat properly. We go to bed and make sure we get enough sleep. We definitely like to make sure that we prioritise our own lives and that we have enough space to do so."

An important aspect of this self-care is ensuring that the band have lots of fun while on tour which helps to reduce stress levels both on and off stage: "All of Dream Nails have a great love for [artists like] Green Day, Sum 41, Blink 182," says Pearson. "What really appeals to us about pop-punk is [the] ability to be goofy and funny and to have lots of energy on stage. We want to have a great time, to do lots of stupid stuff, tell jokes and to enjoy ourselves in a way a lot of our punk heroes would because it feels so liberating."

A good outlet for Dream Nails' propensity for silliness is their Chip Advisor video series, where they rate the quality of the chips they come across while on tour. The band tells us about the first one they filmed in Berlin: "It was about 5am and we’d just been rejected from the club for the second time," Pearson says. "We realised that we loved the pun 'Chip Advisor' too much not to do one for every place that we went to."

The band acknowledge the importance of taking some time out from Dream Nails to ensure they can return re-energised and with a fresh attitude towards their work: "We do sing a lot about self-care and about caring for each other," says Pearson. "It’s important to practice what you preach so we are trying to take some downtime but we are excited to say that we are working on our first album. We’ve released two EPs and a single already but we’ve never made an album and I think it’s about time we made our first LP."

Dream Nails' Best Chips

Anya Pearson (Guitarist)
"The best was in Austria up a mountain near Innsbruck, and the second one was in Blackpool near Blackpool Pleasure Beach. So they were both 10/10 fries experiences."

Janey Starling (Singer)
"N15 fish and chips near our rehearsal studio in Tottenham, even though the man salt shamed me."

Lucy Katz (Drummer)
"Uppsala, Sweden because the ketchup and mayo was squirted by the boss man from a pair of giant condiment udders."

Mimi Jasson (Bassist)
"I have to say best chips were at Handmade Fest in Leicester, where they did a veggie poutine."

Dream Nails play Book Yer Ane Fest XII at Abertay Student Centre, Dundee, 30 Nov-2 Dec