Hands Off Gretel’s Lauren Tate talks Angry EP, fairy tales and safe gigs for women

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Hands Off Gretel

Hands Off Gretel’s Lauren Tate took time off the band’s tour to have a chat with Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody and she didn’t hold back.

Hands Off Gretel are in the middle of a UK and Ireland tour, having just finished three dates in Ireland before setting off around GB and the soon to be released Angry EP.

It’s been a full on journey for Lauren Tate ever since she left school, playing in bands and doing solo projects before she settled on the Hands Off Gretel formula.

Having seen the band a couple of times at Rebellion and last year in Liverpool, we were keen to hear what Lauren had to say. She’s been vocal on social media recently calling out internet trolls and bullies as well as promoting safe gigs for women.

We caught up with her for a chat on the phone.

Getintothis: Where are you and what are you doing?

Lauren Tate: We are a band based in Sheffield and at the moment we are writing punk rock, alternative rock music. And we’ve just released our new EP. No, shit, we haven’t. No, we are just about to release our new EP – the Angry EP.

Getintothis: Tell us a little about the band, how was it formed and what was the idea behind it?

LT: Originally, I was a solo artist for a few years, I focused on writing my own music. But that band kind of fell apart. I realised around about [age]15 that I was really interested in punk music and heavy rock music a lot.

Inspired by bands like Hole and Nirvana – grunge, a lot of grunge music. So I quit my solo band. My guitarist Sean and I started jamming. I made, like a fake band name. I had originally planned to continue the solo thing, but then I just started writing these angrier songs as a bit of fun.

And [I thought] well if my solo stuff doesn’t work out, then screw it, I’ll just sing this way.

But then eventually, [I thought], actually, this is what makes me happiest and it should really be what I focus on. And then, yeah, we just built the band around that, really. My passion to just create loud rock music. We’ve had a few different members, but finally now, I feel this is the line up I needed back then.

Getintothis: How did the name come about?

LT: I knew instantly what I wanted things to look like. I drew it all out. I had drawn the dresses I was going to wear. I’d planned everything at the beginning. I kept thinking it was like a fantasy, but I wanted it still to have a kind of edge to it.

I didn’t want a sweet name. I wanted it to be kind of sweet and sour. It was actually my Mum who said “Why don’t you base it off a fairy tale? Like Hansel and Gretel” And then I think I said something like: “Hands Off Gretel?”

“No, Hansel and Gretel” and then, I went, “No, Hands Off Gretel, it’s brilliant”, it’s like the Gretel side of the fairytale, but by removing Hansel’s name it was that kind of female presence that I wanted in the band name. So, it worked.

Getintothis: Your current tour is called the ‘Don’t Touch Tour’. Is that the same kind of idea?

LT: Yeah, definitely. When I wrote that song, it was after a few girls had messaged me about something that had happened at one of my gigs.

I got a few messages from girls saying that they were in the crowd and a man behind them had been feeling them up. I can’t believe that happened, but they said they didn’t want to message me, yet they had to tell me because they couldn’t tell anyone [else].

[They said] ‘It’s really put me off coming to see you again because I’m scared it will happen to me again. One girl who sent a message was, like, 14.

I then put a post up addressing in general how people need to look out for this kind of behaviour, because it’s truly putting girls off coming to gigs. And I [feel]I’ve got to kind of protect them. It’s obviously in the name – Hands Off Gretel – but just by saying ‘Don’t Touch’ – it’s just little daggers – reminders for people.

Hands Off Gretel (credit Neil Chapman)

Getintothis: We’ve noticed you’ve talked about the behaviour of men at gigs, but you’re not the only one who’s had that kind of issue – we’ve seen posts by bands like Witch Fever and Tokyo Taboo also making similar kinds of complaint. Do you see any scope for improvement? Do you think things are getting better, or changing?

LT: The first time I wrote about [this]was last year, towards the end of our tour.

The year before that, most of my gigs were pretty much men entirely, like maybe for a room of 100 men there would be 15 girls in the crowd. And that was already pretty much hard for me to stand, because it’s what I write about. I imagined I’d reach much more of a female audience.

[But] last year, I started getting way more girls coming. And I was like, ‘What’s happening now?’ I’m reaching these people, but then by that point I’d realised I got men who were following me for the wrong reasons – I didn’t realise before, I think I was maybe more naive to it.

I was just grateful I was selling my gigs out but then I realised when I involved that kind of energy from people who were listening to our scene with people who were just stood there, taking photographs of me.

Not, like, moving or listening. I’d say, like, this song I’d play ‘Kiss Me Girl’ – I’d like to see a few more girls come forward – can we make room for a few more girls at the front, you know, we’re all here together. But I was just noticing that no-one moved and there was this kind of barrier.

A barrier of these, like, 50 year old men, and I started to realise there’s a divide in my crowd that I don’t know how to address because I’m trying to connect to the people who are stood two rows back. I never want to offend anyone or say anything wrong.

I’ve always been worried if I said anything like “Girls to the front” the people would be like “Whoa!, We paid to see you” It’s just certain people, I guess, that stand there taking photographs. It became the same thing every night, yet I’m trying to create something for these young girls. It’s difficult.

But, to answer your question, after all that, I think, yeah, sometimes just by speaking about it, I can tell my gigs feel different. I don’t have to ask girls to come forward any more because I think within the crowd people are already involving them – it’s already a mixture.

But then I’ll land on a certain gig where the whole tour will be great and there will be just one gig where there will be individuals – really drunk guys.

I played a gig in Germany where this man threw a drink at me. And I have these girls looking up to me, I’m looking in their eyes, and they’re looking at me, listening to my every word, and then I have a drunk guy next to them wanting to mosh and throwing drinks at me. Trying to deal with that divide in people is really hard.

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Getintothis: Presumably you want to make it a safe space for everybody, particularly for women.

LT: Sometimes I really think it is. I’ll come away from one gig and I think this is impossible and I can’t do it any more. And then the next night and I’ll be, like, “Oh My God, that was brilliant”. It just depends where you play, it’s different everywhere we play.

Getintothis: The EP is called The Angry EP. Any particular thing you’re angry about, or have we already covered that subject?

LT: After the tour last year, I’d started writing about safety at gigs for girls. And around that time, I thought I’d got a few songs, like She Thinks She’s Punk Rock ‘n’ Roll, Don’t Touch, Bigger Than Me – those were the songs I thought were the most relevant when I felt like this.

They were the only songs I’d not recorded, so last minute I just felt I should get in the studio and write these angry songs. Not writing them for anyone else but myself.

The plan was never really to build much promotion around it. I didn’t want people to think it was a big release. I just wanted it to be quite raw and relevant to what I was talking about at the time.

Getintothis: Yeah, it seems like the timing’s quite appropriate, really.

LT: Yeah, definitely.

The Angry EP

Getintothis: You’ve already done three dates in Ireland of this tour. How did they go?

LT: Really good. Cork was a bit strange because it was so late.

We thought we were going to have to cancel that gig because the ferry was delayed with the storm [Ciara] and everything. And then we did cancel it, but then we realised we could make it in time. So there was confusion over that. People said they’d cancelled transport and didn’t come, but we’d arranged to play and they were like “Oh, shit, we missed you”. So that was a bit of a weird gig.

But then Dublin and Belfast really picked up. I think Belfast was one of my favourite gigs. It was really good.

Getintothis: In what sense, what was so good about it?

LT: The people. [I try] to reach out and connect between songs, because that’s how I know what the atmosphere is like. We walked on the stage and everyone was screaming, they knew all the words to all the songs.

Every word I said, people were shouting stuff back to me. It was just such a good vibe and everyone I spoke to after that gig told me it was one of their favourite gigs. I don’t know what makes good gigs good, but for some reason it’s just a feeling in the room.

Hands Off Gretel Tour

Getintothis: You put up a video on Facebook [recently], a pretty personal video talking about what you described as a social media shitstorm, online trolls and so forth. That must have been a pretty tough thing to do.

LT: Yeah. I recorded about five different versions of the video.

It was so long as well. It’s just hard to summarise because I know that every single person is going to pick at what I said. I wanted to do it in one take; I didn’t want to edit it and make it seem like it wasn’t genuine.

At the same time, I didn’t know whether to post it. In one aspect I just wanted to forget about it and just let it go, but at the same time these trolls would always come back and I’d never addressed it in the hope they’d get bored.

But they never did get bored. I just thought now was a good time to try and draw a line under it. So far so good.

Getintothis: Have you any plans for new music after the EP has launched?

LT: After this, we’re touring and doing festivals. We don’t have any other releases in mind just yet.

We’ll play these shows and then it’s back to writing again. No recording plans, but writing will happen next. I’ve been going at it quite strong since I left school and when I started this band. It’s just been constant. After this tour’s done, I’ve just said I want to take a bit of time to refocus myself.

Playing gig after gig after gig and the creativity doesn’t flow like it did before. So, I’m going to take some creative time to think of the next chapter for the band.

Getintothis: You do all the artwork, the design and all the T-shirts, album covers

LT: Yeah. Recently, on the outside, people might think I’ve not been doing much, sat on my arse.

But for me, it’s constant. My brain is already in January next year. I’m already thinking that far ahead because you need to be so far in front, you’ve got to have things ready months before they come out. That means I don’t really take breaks. But I owe myself one, so after the tour’s done I [might]go on holiday, or something.

Getintothis: Last question. Is there any band you think we should be listening to?

LT: One that I really like right now is Nova Twins. To see women of colour doing stuff in rock is so good. There are so many people out there that need role models.

People can look up to a white girl, but its not the same. There needs to be people like them in the spotlight. They’re amazing, I love them.

Update – perhaps not surprisingly, the tour has been postponed. The band issued a statement recently:

In light of the latest government advice in relation to Coronavirus (Covid-19) we feel we have no alternative but to reschedule our entire Spring tour. We know how disappointing this is for so many of you that have bought tickets, booked accommodation and made travel plans to come and see us. We are extremely sorry to have to do this, as we have planned and looked forward to this tour for many months and it is the last thing any of us want to do.

“We feel that to continue with our tour would be irresponsible of us and the last thing we want to do is risk the health of our fans. We also have two members of the band (Sam and Sean) that both have underlying medical conditions (diabetes) which puts both of them in a higher risk category in terms of complications from the virus, bringing its own risks and uncertainties for us too, if we were to continue touring. We are working behind the scenes with our agent, promoters and venues to secure new dates as soon as we can. Tickets will remain valid for our rescheduled dates, which we hope to announce very soon. Thank you for your patience and understanding and stay safe everyone. We are truly sorry.

HANDS OFF GRETEL

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