‘Is that the good doctor?’
There’s my opening question. Not to my interviewee though, but Dr Kiko, the London-based Italian tour-managing a quickfire UK and Dutch jaunt by cult US indie rock duo Giant Drag.
He very quickly hands over the phone, perhaps worried I might ask him to prescribe me something, like the GP at the heart of a certain Dr Feelgood number (‘Everyone needs a shot of R&B, so come on down to my surgery’). And soon enough, I’m on to Annie Hardy.
If you don’t know Annie’s story, you’ve some catching up to do, but you could do worse than check out a few online videos – try the promos for ‘Kevin is Gay’ (and the Jimmy Kimmel Live! Appearance), ‘Stuff To Live For’, ‘This Isn’t It’ and ‘Devil Inside’, plus the revealing 2009 Groupee sessions’ footage, not least ‘Swan Song’ and ‘YFLMD’ – and streamed tracks for her ‘nu grunge’ outfit, then pop along and see her while she’s in the country. Think PJ Harvey, or maybe Cyndi Lauper fronting Nirvana.
Is this quirky California girl enjoying a dismal and nippy British winter?
“It’s very cold – much colder than I’m used to, but …”
She’d not long arrived when we spoke, but was she steadily acclimatising?
“I’m trying to. It’s a lot wetter here than home too.”
I get the impression that some visitors from the Southern hemisphere and the west of America love to come to the UK in winter so they can get to wear more clothes. Is that the case with Annie?
“Not really. I’d rather wear less clothes. Don’t want to sound like a slut, but I like to be warm. I like to have that option. But then when I’ve played a show I’ll be sweating and I’m too hot, so I can’t win. But at the end of the day you end up adjusting.”
On the day we spoke, Annie was in Hackney, East London, all set for that evening’s tour opener at Oslo. Did she have a busy afternoon ahead?
“Yeah, we’ve got to pick up more gear from the music store, then have a very long soundcheck. We’ve never played like this – back home we were using electronic drumkits and practise amps, so this is a rather sizeable change of pace.”
‘We’ in this case is Annie (guitar, vocals) and co-rider Colin Deatherage (drums and synthesiser – and while that sounds an unlikely combination, it certainly works). Has she got plenty of merchandise to share with us?
“Oh yeah, I’ve a lot of handmade merchandise that I brought (over). Basically, that’s all I brought. I literally didn’t bring one pair of underwear with me. Instead, I brought handmade jewellery and other stuff I make.”
“I hope so.”
Or maybe they’ll come your way tonight, thrown on to the stage, as would be the case at Tom Jones concerts back in the day (and probably now, but I haven’t researched that).
“That’s never happened before … but I’ve had people throw tampons at me. Not like Carrie … I was on stage once and asked for one, and all these tampons came my way. I was like, ‘Shit! Does that work for money? I need a dollar!’ Then a bunch of money came my way, and I thought, ‘Fuck, yeah, I think I’m on to something here!”
I was going to say, after the oft-repeated 1967 Marianne Faithfull police raid yarn, the Rolling Stones would get Mars Bars thrown their way on stage, yet you got sanitary items. What does that tell us? I’m not sure.
“I think it tells the story that whatever you want in life, you’ve just gotta ask for it.”
Absolutely, and it seems that Annie’s got to know the UK and mainland Europe fairly well over the years, with plenty of mutual love between artiste and crowd this side of the Atlantic.
“Oh, totally. I feel more understood by the kind people of England and Europe in general.”
Ever try to put your finger on why that might be? What do we get that maybe you don’t back home?
“Well, you know … I think it’s my sense of humour. I have more of a dry sense of humour.”
She looks to dwell further on this, coming up with something about Stella Artois being an import back home that people will pay a lot of money for, while Budweiser is expensive to ‘you guys’, but at home ‘regarded as crap’. But I’m more of a real ale man, and I’m not sure I know anyone who craves a Bud, so that analogy’s a little lost on me.
The Netherlands is definitely good for the amber nectar though, and discussion followed about Giant Drag’s Amsterdam-based support act, Deutsche Ashram, a gifted duo comprising Lancashire alternative and indie scene luminary Ajay Saggar and talented Dutch singer Merinde Verbeek, previously featured on this website, and brought into the frame by Dr Kiko, apparently.
While I recommend you all catch up with their two LPs so far (the new one, neo-pop opus Whisper Om, is just out, with details here), Annie suggested that while she doesn’t tend to listen to a lot of music these days, the bonus for her was that Ajay was helping out with sound on a tour for which ‘everyone’s multi-tasking’.
And Ajay and Merinde will no doubt be a positive factor in the organisation of three tour dates in the Netherlands on this jaunt, not least one at the Paradiso, where they both work.
“Yeah, it all worked out pretty well.”
Actually, in the Resurrection tour press release, she delves a little more into that mutual love with her UK and European fans and how the tour came together, stating, “The best part is that, like last tour, people are helping me out of the kindness of their hearts and because they think I’m a good person and believe in my talent. Quite a change of pace from the projections of the fallen people that surround me here in America.
“It’s life-affirming and validating and restorative to my spirit to be able to come back and take Giant Drag on another run around the only place that matters, Europe and the United Kingdom. This tour, which I’m calling Cum Back Tour for the time being, will be cast with people who mirror back to me my own positive traits. I’ve had fatal humility for the past few years. Fuck that shit.”
Any of these dates Annie’s particularly looking forward to? Any cities and towns she felt she owed it to herself to return to?
“I thought Bristol was really great, the best show of the last tour. And then someone was telling me last night that Stonehenge is on one of the major ley-line points and vortexes of the world. So that makes sense now.”
Something that can be said of the Glastonbury Festival site too.
“Yeah. and that’s so cool.”
I’m sure she would have enjoyed her visit to the good (cargo) ship Thekla this week then, on a return to Bristol. But has she got time to properly see places on this swift schedule, or is it a case of set up, play, wham bam, thank you mam?
“There’s no time whatsoever, although one of the shows I believe has gotten cancelled, so maybe we will have time. I’m hoping to at least get down to some freezing cold beach somewhen, looking for crystals and gemstones. You guys have a lot of Victorian mines out here. I keep watching YouTube videos of this girl and her Mum beachcombing, finding all these rubies and korite, all sorts of things. I’m into all that shit! I think that’s in Scotland.”
I subsequently followed a link and found a Northern Mudlarks video, filmed on the Fife coast. But by the time you read this, Annie will have returned south of the corner, possibly with a bag of new undies and sparkling garnets. heading for tonight’s visit to Yorkshire (details below), the Resurrection tour having wound its way from London to Bristol, then Newcastle and Nottingham before dates in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Meanwhile, debut Giant Drag LP, Hearts & Unicorns, from 2005, is finally about to be released on vinyl, through Yeah! Right Records, and there’s a new Annie Hardy solo EP, Saves, out too, released in digital format through Full Psycho Records, described by Annie as, ‘Flow state songs that came out finished from start to end, as if I was receiving a fax from the seventh dimension’.
But I guess the big question is ‘why now?’ Why go back out there as Giant Drag, way beyond the 2013 farewell tour, rather than as Annie Hardy?
“I don’t know. It just kind of worked out. I did a sixth anniversary post of the farewell tour, and (Dr) Kiko saw that on Instagram and suggested we did it again. I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s!’, one of these things you say and then nothing happens.”
Unbeknown to Annie though, the doc decided to look deeper into it, with her blessing, and ‘about five minutes later he’d produced a two-week tour that would usually take several weeks to do.’
But it won’t be easy for Annie, who, post-farewell tour, has suffered so much loss and tragedy. Her infant son and his father both died within the same year, while friend and bassist Alvin DeGuzman died of cancer, and even her cat was tragically killed.
However, through it all somehow, she transmuted that pain, 2017’s debut solo LP Rules following, my subject transforming ‘into Annie Hardy 3.0, a ballsy powerhouse of freestyling comedy mastery with the same vulnerability and tender heart that has always been her mainstay’.
When I listen back to an at-times heart-wrenching Rules, paying its own special tributes to lost loved ones, I think of Van Morrison’s life-affirming, ‘The Healing Has Begun’. Some three years on, it’s a stupid question maybe, but was that album a case of you trying to make sense of a lot of things?
“Yeah, that was a really profound healing experience. My son had died and I was in the studio recording Rules, when … actually, today’s the anniversary of when Robert, my baby’s father, died, while I was making it. And strangely he was due to go to the UK and the Netherlands, exactly where we’re going.
“He never made it, obviously, but it’s pretty crazy that the tour starts on the same day he passed away. And we’d never played the Netherlands that much. It was just once last time, so for it to be the same route that Robert was doing is super-bizarre.”
Will this tour set be exclusively Giant Drag songs, old and new, or with a smattering of solo tracks too?
“I do a small acoustic set in with it all, but I don’t know if it’s solo stuff. I’m not really playing anything off Rules, ‘cos it’s so fucking depressing as a record. It’s mostly – pretty much equally – old Giant Drag and newer Giant Drag. But with the solo stuff … there’s not a big difference, y’know.”
What’s going to be playing in the van this time? You suggest you’re not a big listener to other music.
“I prefer not to listen to anything. Usually it’s talking. We’ve not had any long drives yet though. I don’t know. My life’s become so much better for that – my creativity has become out of this world because of it, and I feel a lot less oppressed.
“When you’re writing music, you can’t help but regurgitate stuff and judge yourself against all the greats that you listen to. So I’m releasing a lot of the judgement, because I’m not hearing music.”
Do you tend to fill empty hours between soundchecks and so on with pen or guitar in hand? Or do you wait to get home for all that?
“I’m kind of writing all the time, although I go through dry spells. Because I get inspired by my life, mostly through upset, I’ll start recording music or writing as some last-ditch effort in the moment of trauma or serious upset – it’s the one thing I can do, turning all the negativity into something good.”
Do you recall where your first live performance this side of the Atlantic was, and how it went?
“That would have been … fuck! Somewhere … not London. I wanna say Norwich or Nottingham. It went all right. It was not too dissimilar to now. I had a new person playing with me, because Micah (Calabrese, her original musical partner, the pair working together from 2003) never wanted to be in a band. He has life skills, like building computers. But he helped me train that guy and we came over and I think it was good.
“To be honest, I don’t have a lot of memories of that (first) tour for one reason or another – whether it’s because it was over a decade ago, or because I was getting wasted, or whatever. But it must have been a good time.”
Who was the first act you saw live or on television, or heard on a radio or a stereo, and thought, ‘This is what I want to do with my life’?
“That’s a good question. Probably Nirvana, back in the ’90s.”
Bear in mind that Annie was born in 1981 and hadn’t quite become a teenager when Kurt Cobain took his own life. He clearly had a big impact on her though.
Were there ever day-jobs to pay for her rock’n’roll lifestyle and dreams?
“I think the last job I had was in a coffee shop. But I was like, ‘You know what? This is fucking not it! I’m just going to fully commit, because I know this is what is meant to be mine. I’m going to live and adjust accordingly.’
“Then I think I got a DJ job, at some Hollywood bar every Saturday night for $200. And I moved into a closet under the stairs at my friend’s house, where I paid $200 a month, so one week of work covered my rent, and I was there … I got signed while I was living in that closet.”
“Ooh, my cat. Besides that, I can live without most of the rest of whatever’s going on in America behind … happily. But Goostine … he still makes my heart ache.”
We briefly got on to pet therapy there, and the trauma of losing a loved pet, before switching subjects again, this time to Giant Drag’s version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ and how Annie regularly tells audiences the story of how she wrote that song as a little girl, and Stockton, California-born Chris stole it (from a girl who was only eight when it became a hit). Has he admitted his guilt and paid up her share of the royalties yet?
“Not yet, but I do think at some point somebody must have clued him into my pre-song monologue. I don’t learn from mistakes! I can’t stop. The joke’s been going too long to stop now.”
If you had to write a list this week of ‘Stuff to Live For’, as per another live favourite, what would be on there?
“Well, active creation I would say. That flow state, the point of … I think (Abraham) Maslow called it a peak moment when you achieve self-actualisation … which I think I did last time I was over here. I just had this feeling of oneness with the universe, having a place in the world … that was a timeless, spaceless place of being in the act of creation.”
There’s a bit more on Annie’s ‘flow state thinking’ in the tour press release, where she adds, “I operate in the flow state, that space of inspiration and creativity that exists outside of time and space, where all you require is freely given to you by the universe, completely effortlessly, merely because you’re allowing it to come in. Kiko is whirlwinding through booking his first tour with the greatest of ease operating through this principle.
“In life and with my music and professional career, the more I try, the worse something gets messed up. The less I try to exert control over things, the bigger, bolder and more beautiful life continues to get. I’m excited to hit the road with an all-sober touring party of angelic souls and be able to experience these beautiful countries with a clear mind and balanced spirit. Even though it’s going to be cold as balls.”
And if she could step into the time machine and head back to the dawn of 2000, four years before debut Giant Drag EP, ‘Lemona’, what advice might Annie Hardy 3.0 give her 18-year-old self … and do you think she would actually listen?
“She wouldn’t have listened … but I would have given her this advice – stay single, don’t date anyone, and never take that first pill … ’cos they’re too good.
“Although ultimately, I don’t regret anything, because it took all the bullshit I’d been through to get me to this place I’m at now. Although it’s an incredibly lonely place that most people aren’t able to go with me, one day that may not be the case. I could be wrong, but … ha!”
Giant Drag Resurrection Tour 2020, remaining dates: Wednesday, January 29th – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds; Thursday, January 30th – Deaf Institute, Manchester; Saturday, February 1st –Vessel 11, Rotterdam; Sunday, February 2nd – Paradiso, Amsterdam; Tuesday, February 4th – dB’s, Utrecht; Wednesday, February 5th – Het Bos, Antwerpen; Thursday, February 6th – Music Hall, Ramsgate. For more details head to the band’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter platforms. You can also keep in touch with Deutsche Ashram via their Facebook and Instagram homes.