Partway through MUNA’s live show at The Garage in May, just as the “country section” of the set had been announced, a trio of homemade Stetsons are tossed on stage from the crowd. It’s an absurdly perfect pop culture moment, like something from the closing scenes of a romcom where the bunch of ragtag misfits finally win the hearts of their schoolmates. “I know that some people thought that we had choreographed the cowboy hat moment, that those were our props,” guitarist Naomi McPherson tells GQ. “It was not. They were made for us, and it was so sweet.”
Then again, the LA trio’s career really is starting to look triumphant lately. For “Silk Chiffon” – last year’s invincible, Phoebe Bridgers-featuring ode to queer joy, and the first single from their new self-titled album – the band even cast a cinematic nod to cult classic But I’m A Cheerleader for the music video, another moment of bliss cast in hot pinks and baby blues.
Annie Clark needs oat milk. The request arrives quietly and politely just before we speak, a hushed nothing off-handset before she picks up the phone and greets me brightly. Does she need any of mine, perhaps?
“Oh, it’s crucial,” the 39-year-old riffs back to me from her studio in LA. “Could I borrow some? Would you do that? I need to reach my maximum caffeination, and I haven’t met my quota for the day. Oat milk’s an integral part of it.”
If it seems like a wholly unremarkable exchange between a musician and a journalist, you may be unfamiliar with the various tales of Clark’s mercurial attitude to press interviews over the past decade or so. Previous set-ups have included requesting interviewers crawl into a small space to “challenge” both parties, playing pre-recorded answers to boring questions, asking the interview if they “enjoy doing this,” or simply refusing to answer at all. The result has largely been a proliferation of beard-scratching discourse about who or what constitutes the ‘real’ St. Vincent, or the ‘real’ Annie Clark, and how much one might inform the other.
“We’re not here to talk about us as individuals,” Hyde says. “We’re not here to talk to people. We’re here to just play music.” Evans is equally perplexed about the purpose of music interviews. “They wouldn’t care about who we were if we weren’t playing in a band, so why do they wanna know who we are as people?” he asks. “If you’re, like, a politician or something it makes more sense, because they literally say what they believe in all the time. But we don’t do that.”
There’s an argument to be made that, in the age of unfiltered access to artists and public figures, the self-styled mystery around the band offers something fresh, an antidote to round-the-clock social feeds. Then again, the masquerade is only sustainable as long as people believe there’s something thrilling – or even valuable – behind it.
“It is very funny that I’m forever etched with this old side of myself, and then this new side of myself,” Bethany Cosentino points out, referring to the bittersweet contrast of her hand tattoos: one side reads “trust no one”, the other “let it go”. The Best Coast singer is seeing a lot more of the humour in life’s dualities lately, particularly since getting sober and writing one of the best albums of her career. “Also Lana Del Rey has that tattoo, and I love Lana Del Rey, so I was like, ‘That’s sick, maybe I’ll do that too…’”
Alongside multi-instrumentalist bandmate Bobb Bruno, Bethany is extremely – and rightfully – proud of Best Coast’s fourth LP ‘Always Tomorrow’, a record released in February this year but born in a moment of wish fulfilment years ago. Lead single ‘Everything Has Changed’ was an elbow to the ribcage of critics who presumed naivety in her songwriting, but it was also prophecy to a life she hadn’t yet started: one that didn’t revolve around waking up in tears after another messy blowout.
Izzy Camina is awake, but only just. After getting up and crushing some poorly-made coffee in her LA home, she stares up into the sky, hoping the blue light outside will offer some additional sustenance. When NME calls, the laughter on the other end of the line betrays a 24-year-old for whom four hours’ sleep is entirely manageable. “I’m a ten hour girl, but fuck it,” she giggles again, freshly caffeinated and ready to take on the world.
It’s the kind of energy that burns through ‘UP N DOWN’, the singer’s first single that dropped back in December. A paean to the saturnalia of youth and all the lows that come after, the bass-driven track captured something most of us were feeling: an unshakeable impression that we might be dancing through end times. “Humanity is sick,” she sings, “but it feels so much better when you seal it with a kiss.” It’s unmistakably the work of a young artist who’s already experienced her share of highs and lows.
Dana Margolin is not surprised that her band’s on the cover of NME. If anything, she’s wondering what’s taken everyone so long. “We’ve always been like, ‘Yeah, obviously we’re really good and we know it,’” the singer tells us from her home in London, and it’s not immediately obvious how straight she’s playing the line over the phone.
Porridge Radio, Margolin’s gang of world-beaters in waiting, have already spent five years playing DIY shows and hawking ‘zines around Brighton. “It’s funny in a way to get all this attention now,” she says. “I could have told you that ages ago!’”
And you know what? She’s got a point. Following their low-key, lo-fi 2016 debut album ‘Rice, Pasta And Other Fillers’, the band’s new record ‘Every Bad’ is set to be unleashed on March 13, and it’s spectacular. Vulnerable and vitriolic, punk rock and pristine, it’s the sound of four young people thrust into a burning planet and making sense of it the best way they know how: by writing the kind of songs that are destined to be screamed back at them from the crush barriers.
There’s a scene in Allie X’s recent video for ‘Regulars’ in which the artist wanders into a laundromat – 10-inch heels, shaved eyebrows, dressed head-to-toe in black – and picks out a plaid jacket from one of the machines. As she totters back out and tries it on, still stumbling in those insane heels, the jacket seems to say: here you go, fuckers, I’m one of you now; it screams into the suburban parking lot. “I don’t take shit anymore, I really don’t,” the artist tells NME, calling out a male-dominated industry that’s been judging every step of her career for years.
But then Allie X has always operated on the peripheries of pop stardom and goth chic, caught between one desire to be embraced as a commercial success who speaks in universalities and another to sing eerie lines about her proximity to fresh laundry. “I feel like there’s this desire to disappear into the crowd and be normal, but also this real desire to be seen,” she explains to NME over the phone from Brighton, where’s she set to continue her support slot on the latest Marina tour that night. Disappearing into the crowd feels like an unlikely option.
The General Election on December 12 is set to be the most significant in a generation. In the most obvious terms, it will determine which way the Brexit pendulum finally swings, but there’s much more at stake, including the future of the NHS, affordable housing, taxation, immigration and the environment.
Culture and creativity are also in the mix, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pledging to invest £1 billion in arts spending if elected. Yesterday (November 24) he launched his Arts for All charter at London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East with a few friends – including M.I.A., Emeli Sandé, Billy Bragg, Ken Loach, Clean Bandit, comedian Rob Delaney and a video-linked Lily Allen. It’s big. It’s bold. It’s hugely ambitious. Does he really think he can pull it off?
NME speaks to the man hoping to end nine years of Conservative rule to find out.
Pete Wentz is driving around LA, speaking to me over the phone about his newly-launched range of jewellery and apparel, Ronin. As far as rock star business enterprises go, it’s certainly extravagant, and the website’s description of the rings, pendants and hoodies held therein – “born out of the idea of wandering, a samurai without a master, and the free dreams that accompany facing the world on your own” – adds to the initial sense that Wentz’s professional career may have ballooned into parody, the kind of project Connor 4 Real from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping might have signed off on. “We would go and sample products in the jewellery district in downtown LA, learning why one gold looks more yellow than the other,” he tells me when I ask about it. “It’s been a really interesting learning experience.”
But then Pete Wentz, to borrow Lana Del Rey’s favourite American poet Walt Whitman, is large; he contains multitudes, and some of those multitudes just happen to involve samurai-themed lockets. Among other projects, he owns a clothing company, a film production company, a nightclub, and a minority share in American USL soccer team Phoenix Rising. “It scares me sometimes, watching him,” Patrick Stump once joked. “The two seconds you’re not with that dude he’s made 30 decisions that are going to affect our band for the rest of the year.”
Ah yes: he’s also, you may recall, the bassist in Fall Out Boy.
Like most 16-year-olds in 2019, Alfie Templeman finds himself growing up torn between a maelstrom of political uncertainty, environmental crisis and, well, tweeting pictures of your face photoshopped onto a dog. Unlike his peers though, Templeman’s face has been showing up in some even less likely places – namely splashed across billboards in LA and Times Square. With gloriously hazy new single ‘Used to Love’ adding to an already impressive list of early releases, he might need to start getting used it.