Feminists, punks, witches: Dream Nails are the band who have hexed Donald Trump, headlined Glastonbury’s Sisterhood stage, DIY in their approach to music and radical in their approach to the scene. Currently seeking crowdfunding to self-release their second EP, Dare To Care, they’re also the band who prefer herbal tea to getting trashed, and self-care to self-destruction, making punk all about creation and care rather than destruction and disregard.
But this band isn’t making music merely as a way of leading collective hand-wringing or passively bemoaning the ills of the world, rather using it as the vehicle through which they are seeking to kickstart social change and deliver activism. And they want others to get on board with their mission too.
As drummer Lucy explains, “Four women playing instruments rocking hard on stage is a profoundly powerful feminist act, even if we are just singing songs about chips. Which we might do because we love chips. I am so touched every time we play because of the response, and the best are when women come up to us after we play and tell us they are gonna start their own feminist group. I wanna be the band that launched a thousand bands!”
Singer Janey agrees that as a form of resistance, rebellion and protest “music is vital” and that their approach is driven by feminism and a punk attitude. It’s something she feels links them to a long lineage of women refusing the expectations society imposes and living in ways most true to themselves. It’s a message they sing loud in their songs as well as being the ethos of the band. “Dancing and joy are the ultimate tools of subversion and self-determination” explains Janey, “especially when they happen in public, and there’s a long history of women dancing at protests. Music facilitates that, and we love being able to create those spaces.”
Guitarist Anya agrees: “Music brings people who often struggle alone back together and allows them to share something that’s bigger than them. Music also makes you brave. People tell us that our song ‘DIY’ motivates them to do things they’re scared to do. And, for example, I hated being called a Tomboy as a kid but listening to ‘Tomboy’ by Princess Nokia makes me feel proud that I don’t fit into an idea of what a woman is supposed to be.”
Lucy continues “The kind of things we sing about are difficult to articulate. I’m sick of seeing women called out as feminist killjoys when they are trying to communicate something. Music, like Janey said, is joyful and galvanising in a positive, transformative way.”
But the band haven’t always found acceptance in the punk community, as their preference for positive action rather than destruction goes against some of the ingrained attitudes in the scene. As Janey explains: “Punk in the past has unfortunately been defined by toxic masculinity – we get told we’re not ‘punk’ because we like herbal tea and early nights, but we work day jobs in homelessness and refugee support and we’re tired after throwing all our anger out onstage. In this increasingly divided world I think that’s more punk than getting pissed and behaving like a knobhead…Punk means channeling anger into creative expression and throwing all your energy behind a better world through music and activism. It means challenging power and norms and creating space for alternatives.”
Lucy picks up “Punk means not letting anyone making you feel like you are not good enough to do something, like playing in a band. It means harbouring in yourself a defiance and self-confidence to express yourself however you want and are able to. For me this means playing drums, for someone else it might be sewing patches or drawing bad-ass illustrations – anything!”
Anya sums up the band’s definition of punk: “Punk is ‘you doing you’. Define that how you want and back yourself, 100%.”
The band formed after Janey decided she wanted to form a punk band when she met Anya, then playing keyboards in Leisure, an electronic indie band. Lucy adds “I’d never played in a band before and had only been drumming for 18 months when I saw the ad on Facebook for a feminist drummer for a punk band. I wasn’t that confident but trying out was the best thing I’ve EVER done.”
Their feminism and the music can’t be separated, with Janey saying “My mission in life is to stop violence against women. Dream Nails is a creative platform to support women, and speak about the violence we face in a way that offers solidarity. At a show last night in London, I actually got the whole crowd to pull out their phones and save the number for the National Domestic Violence Helpline, so they have it ready for whenever they or a friend might need it. I always want Dream Nails to be a simultaneous source of power and joy for women.”
Anya continues “With Dream Nails, we crack open what feminism means, what it’s like to be a feminist, a woman, an activist, and explore it with our songs. Like that feeling when you wake up on Saturday and you’re really tired but you really need to go to the protest cause Fascism is like, taking over Europe. Or how fucking angry you feel when some douchebag has just made a rape joke. Or telling a female friend that they’re going to love and fuck again, even though they think they won’t because they’re going through an agonising break up and they can’t see past it. Feminism is all of this combined and so much more.”
Committed to intersectional feminism, the band believe it isn’t just enough to talk about things, but vital that action is taken too. This might be on a personal scale of self-care, or it might be as part of a larger movement. With recent single ‘Deep Heat’ the band added their power to others around the world in hexing Donald Trump. Janey said, “I’ve always identified as a witch – both in the sense that witches challenge conventional wisdom but also create their own solutions! Also weird things and strange coincidences always happen around me and people call me a witch. I’ve always loved crystals, herbs, oils and natural remedies to things, and I think there’s a lot of political power behind combining a strong resistance to patriarchy with a deep and caring love for your health, body and sisterhood. That’s why I’m so obsessed with affirmations and incantations – there’s so much power in them!”
Anya explains: “Since medieval times, witchcraft has been about developing communities of female knowledge outside of, and in direct challenge to, the patriarchy. That’s why witches were hunted down and killed by the state in Europe and the US. They represented women’s intellectual, sexual and spiritual freedom. They posed a direct threat to men. When we write hexes, we’re drawing on centuries of badass women. Plus I’m really bad at making decisions so I’m like, get me those crystals and goddess cards!”
Their Dare To Care EP brings together all these views and comes with a zine made by the band. “The EP is all about caring for yourself and the world”, Janey says, “Care on a political scale means pushing for justice by any means necessary. Punk is typically associated with radical anarchism, but not actually community or radical love for each other and the world we all live in. It’s cool to care about stuff, it’s fine to sometimes feel weighed down with despair, and it’s important to be gentle with yourself and look after yourself. The EP and zine combines all of this – with lots of nice messages, reflections, song lyrics and ‘secret women’s wisdom’.”
Planned for release around Halloween the band will be busy while pledges come in as they support Petrol Girls on a European tour through the summer, plus their own dates in Germany and the Loud Women Fest in London on 2 September. Like many of the bands around them in the emerging new punk movement, driven by female-identifying artists, the band are as much about care and mutual support as they are challenging the status quo and are adamant that networks and media supporting women in music are vital.
Anya tells us: “When we first started out, female-only platforms and networks were the first ones to support us and to recognise we had something good going on. They’ve got their ear to the ground and they’ll take risks on new female artists who they believe in. We’ll always be grateful! People are mostly really supportive, but we also need to navigate more subtle challenges to our position as female musicians. We’ve a minority of fellow musicians (who are guys) try to bring us down, male sound engineers act obstructively; micro-aggressions that are barely noticeable but really jarring.”
With feminism co-opted by much of the music industry as an angle on which to boost sales, Dream Nails are a band who are living their values. Celebrating community building as much as inciting the smashing of the patriarchy through highly melodic and catchy songs, delivering important social messages while getting you singing along and dancing down the front.
Dream Nails’ Dare To Care EP is open for Pledges here. The band support Petrol Girls through August and play Loud Women Fest at DIY Space for London on 2 September 2017.