Barnsley’s Hands Off Gretel talks independence, punk rock…and Coldplay
Barnsley’s premier alt-rock tour de force, Hands Off Gretel recently played an incredible show at The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds as part of their exhaustive ‘Still Angry’ tour, a belated celebration of the release of ‘The Angry EP’, which the group self-released on their Puke Pop Records label. I spoke to the group before the show to find out more about their influences, independence and the mammoth tour they embarked upon in 2021.
Hands Off Gretel are a fiercely independent group – everything from the artwork to the website is down to the work of lead singer and frontwoman Lauren Tate, “There’s so much for me to design and do, I love it though. When I first started Hands Off Gretel six years ago, I always had a vision for more than the music. I knew what it had to look like. I enjoy it – I tour and then I draw”. The group definitely seem to prefer the independent way of operating, drummer Sam Hobbins said, “I would never really want anybody in a suit from a record label, I like what we have. No-one is coming in saying ‘How about you just change this’, you know, ‘How about you just shut up?’”, adding, “It’s more rewarding when you know that you’re doing it all yourself. It’s a slow walk to get there but there’s something more rewarding about seeing it happen.”. Releasing their first EP ‘Be Mine’ back in 2015, with a largely different line-up, it is fair to say that it has been a long road to success for the band, although with 3 albums under their belt and a very well-received 25-date tour, their success doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down. Lauren commented on the groups success, saying “As far as we’ve come, doing it independently it’s just proven that you can. We’re able to sell gigs out and do well, whenever people tell me I’m not good enough it’s like – the proof is there that I sell everything I make.”. Bassist Becky Baldwin added, “The fans are more dedicated to you I think. If you were with a label they’d put you in front of loads of fans who are kind of someone else’s audience.”. Hands Off Gretel are certainly a group that are not willing to compromise for anybody else, including record labels, guitarist Sean McAvinue joked, “With contracts as well it’s like you’re gonna wake up in a bath with your kidneys missing and not realise ‘Oh I signed that off!’”.
The ‘Still Angry’ tour kicked off in Autumn of 2021, having been rescheduled due to the pandemic, and saw the Yorkshire quartet play 25 dates across 4 months, spanning the length and breadth of the country spreading the gospel of their immensely great songs and effortlessly cool performances. Sell-out shows at the Leadmill in Sheffield and The Deaf Institute in Manchester during the tour act as good representations for the level that Hands Off Gretel are operating at, they are truly a group who are on top of their game. When asked about how it felt to be selling out these venues, frontwoman Lauren Tate said, “You’re always worried no one will come even when you’ve had so many successful gigs. It’s always surprising to see so many people, especially at Manchester [The Deaf Institute], I’ve always wanted to play there.”.
Not too occupied by writing and performing all the songs, designing the artwork, designing and developing the group’s website, and self-releasing all their material, frontwoman Lauren also has 2 separate solo projects alongside Hands Off Gretel: “In lockdown I started a project called Delilah Bon which is like hip-hop stuff. never done hip hop in my life and then it happened because I was trying to write Hands Off Gretel songs and I was just hitting a wall. I felt like doing something else.”. Lauren released her first solo album, under her own name, at the age of 15, when asked about her writing process, the Barnsley-born singer explained, “If it’s quite soft and ballad-y that’s like Lauren Tate, and if it’s angsty and punky or rock or whatever that’s Hands Off Gretel, and then anything more like a beat that I can rap over then that’s Delilah Bon. It’s just made music more exciting for me because I’m not trying too hard.”.
With the November date at Brudenell falling towards the end of the tour, the group were able to reflect on what they say has been a surprisingly good tour: “It’s been a surprise because we’ve not released any new music and it was a worry that if we’ve not released any new music during lockdown would people still come and see us, but we’ve seen so many new fans.” says Lauren. The only hiccup felt across the tour was in Blackpool, with the group saying they had “a few hiccups”, in that Lauren had lost her voice, there was a power cut during their set and Sean broke his foot – Sean puts the serious of unfortunate events down to the influence of “voodoo”. Thankfully, though, there were no hiccups in the group’s performance in Leeds. The band delivered song after song of fantastic grunge punk anthems and their raw energy on stage translated to bursts of adrenaline throughout the crowd. If you were ever in any doubt as to why Hands Off Gretel are so well-regarded and are able to sell out legendary venues such as The Leadmill, you need only to see them live to realise that they are one of the most exciting groups around currently.
After what was truly a great gig, the band closed their Brudenell set with a cover of Nirvana’s ‘Territorial Pissings’. When asked why the group chose to cover that song in particular, Sean picked out the lyrics “Never met a wise man, if so it’s a woman” as something that initially drew him to the track. Lauren, on the other hand, said of the song, “I was scared to sing that one, I thought my voice wouldn’t suit it”, though based on the reaction from the crowd at Brudenell it’s fair say she would even give Cobain a run for his money! Lauren claims that the cover originated when Sean and Sam played the song at band practice, Sam noted, “It’s always been one of my favourite Nirvana tunes. It’s one of the least Nirvana-y sounding, it’s more of a punk tune than anything.”. This sentiment was in keeping with the fact that Sam chose American punk rock legends Descendents as his ‘desert island band’, “I’m a poster boy for their merch, I’ve got the tattoo. I don’t really pay attention to lyrics that much in records, but Descendents are the one band where they have profound meanings when I listen to the lyrics, and they’ve pulled me out of some hard times. They changed my way of looking at music.”. In terms of the rest of the group’s ‘desert island bands’: Lauren chose P!nk, bassist Becky went for Black Sabbath, if only for the variety of eras the group went through, and the ever-optimistic Sean chose Coldplay because, “I kind of think I’d pick something that’d make me kill myself really quickly. If I’m on a desert island, I’m not gonna survive, I just want to get it over with”.
On the topic of influences, Hands Off Gretel seem to be a tricky band to pin down to one particular genre – they have been branded as everything from indie to riot grrrl, “When I first started out I’d tag everything grunge and riot grrrl because they were my influences, so I wanted everyone that loved that music to find us and love us but now I just tend to say alternative rock, because riot grrrl has that DIY sound which sometimes we don’t have.” commented Lauren. The interview then descended into a debate about whether grunge is a genre or simply an era of time – with Sean noting that Pearl Jam would fit much better with U2 than Nirvana so how could they both fall under the same genre? Pulling us out of this potential dissertation topic, though, drummer Sam concluded “There’s elements from all different types of music, you could say that some of Lauren’s screaming could fit into metal, but you wouldn’t class us as a metal band. We kind of pull from a bit of everything really.”.
With brilliant lyrics, adrenaline-fuelled music and kick-ass live performances, the broad appeal of Hands Off Gretel means that their success isn’t likely to drop off anytime soon. Coming off the back of such a successful tour, and with new tracks presumably on the horizon, Hands Off Gretel are certainly a group to watch in 2022!