By Chyrisse Tabone, Tampa Correspondent
An Interview with Hands Off Gretel in London at the Camden Unicorn–July 2015
Hands Off Gretel: Lauren Tate, singer and guitarist; Sean McAvinue, guitarist; Laura Moakes-drummer;and bassist (in-between).
Rock At Night often checks out new bands on a regular basis that have a great sound, are unique, and really need a boost in getting their music out in the world. I came across Hands Off Gretel after fellow photographer and friend Chris Patmore recommended that I check out the band. Well, I watched a few videos of Lauren Tate (pre-Hands Off Gretel days) and was blown away! Here was this petite, teenage girl with spiky multi-colored dreads singing Janis Joplin songs with a mature, sultry and slightly gritty voice of someone beyond her years. Then, I flipped to her Hands Off Gretel videos, which showed her skills at songwriting, stage presence, and delivery of punk-grunge-grrl rock with as much gusto as female-fronted bands like Hole, L7, or Sleater-Kinney. I knew I had to see and meet the band while in London.
Accompanied by pals and Rock At Night London correspondents Amanda Cunningham and Chris Patmore, I had the opportunity to interview the band prior to their gig at the Camden Unicorn in London. We casually sat at a picnic table with the multi-talented Lauren Tate (did I tell you about her adorable original artwork which adorns the band’s merchandise) and fellow band mates—Laura Moakes (drummer), Sean McAvinue (guitarist), and Danny Pollard (bassist). Please note the band currently features Hayley Smith as its new bassist since Pollard is taking a break from music to spend more time with growing family.
Please read the light-hearted, fun interview below:
ROCKATNIGHT: Lauren, I’ve been doing a little online research about you. It looks like you were a YouTube sensation before starting Hands off Gretel. How did this come about? Did you just start singing covers?
Lauren: I started doing covers when I was about 14. I started singing Pink songs and then people would suggest covers for me to do. From that I got a whole lot of people looking for me to do my own music.
ROCKATNIGHT:I guess you wrote a lot of songs and then got the band together, correct? What is your method of writing?
Lauren: Usually I start with guitar and then I write a vocal melody over the top. The lyrics then come last and then I send the songs to Sean and he puts guitar in them. Then, I send them to the band. We have a practice list and we practice twice a week. They make the songs usually faster and they put their own things to them (to make them better).
ROCKATNIGHT: So basically it’s a collaborative effort. How would you describe the genre? Pop punk?
Lauren: I would say ‘grunge’.
Sean: I’d say the same thing.
ROCKATNIGHT: I saw on Youtube you did an acoustic version of a Janis Joplin song. Do you plan to record any acoustic numbers?
Lauren: I don’t know about a full acoustic album but we might do some acoustic tracks to kind of soften the album up. ..maybe.
ROCKATNIGHT: Have you done any ballads?
I used to do a lot of ballads and then the stuff got a bit more aggressive. Maybe when I calm down I might do ballads again.
ROCKATNIGHT: So this aggressiveness…is this (playing music) perhaps an outlet for how you are feeling? Is this how you vent?
Lauren: Yes, definitely. Yes, it’s the only way we can get anything out (vent) without getting in trouble.
ROCKATNIGHT: How would you describe yourself?
Lauren: Hmmm…quite strange. I don’t know. That’s really hard! Maybe quiet and in myself….but at other times I can’t stop talking and I’m really LOUD. I want to be the loudest and the silliest.
ROCKATNIGHT: When you are stage….you are entertaining. You are probably not that persona? You are entertaining…
Lauren: On stage I am louder than everyone else but I am that person offstage too. It is not just a stage persona that I put on.
<Lots of laughter from the group>
ROCKATNIGHT: Now, tell me how she really is?
Laura: She’s quite quiet but she can be quite bossy. <Lots of laughter>
Danny: Hilarious! I’ve never seen anything like it!
Sean: Driven. That’s the word I would use to describe her.
ROCKATNIGHT: You are taking the safe road.
Sean: She’s a vocal talent (a musical talent) but over the past two years it has become directed focus. Driven is a word I would apply. She has found the music she wanted. Like her causes…have been a heavy influence on what she writes.
ROCKATNIGHT: I understand totally where you are coming from. To be successful, you have to have a burning passion and desire—and nothing else matters. I mean, you have to be totally focused.
Laura: The thing about Lauren is she won’t give up until she gets it. She’s very passionate about what she does.
ROCKATNIGHT: Type A personality?! <Laughter> Yeah, but you’ve got to be that way to make it!
Any thoughts on ever going to the US?
Lauren: Yes, yes…that’s the dream! Online…that’s where most of our fans are.
ROCKATNIGHT: I used to live in Venezuela so I know they like American and British music!
Actually, I’ve been speaking to a lot of musicians who want to come to the states to play. I didn’t realize you had to pay a lot of money for a VISA . I always thought you could apply and that was it.
Danny: I knew a lead singer who wanted to sing in America but couldn’t get a work visa. They had to ask a random person there (to sing). That’s how hard it is to get a VISA, no matter where you are.
ROCKATNIGHT: Now, I understand you were just at Camden Rocks Festival. What was it like there?
Lauren: Awesome! It was phenomenal! There were thousands of people! After we played we actually queued for about an hour to get back into the venue we actually played at. It was that busy!
Laura: It was great exposure for us.
ROCKATNIGHT: Now, I play the drums. So, Laura <pointing to Laura> I really like you! When I play the drums, people scrutinize me, like they are trying to look for something wrong (like they are comparing me to a guy). You know what I mean? Like ‘she’s good for a girl.’ What has been your experience as a female drummer and why did you decide to play drums?
Laura: It’s the only instrument that I ever stuck with (much to my mum’s frustration). I just love it and I love the fact there aren’t that many girls …there should be more. My aim as a drummer is to influence as many females . I am also an ambassador for the Hit Like a Girl competition, which an American-based competition.
ROCKATNIGHT: Are there any drummers that you look up to?
Laura: I do love Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and Taylor Hawkins, as well. But my actual favorite female drummer is Hannah Ford with Prince. She is just awesome!
ROCKATNIGHT: (To Danny) Who inspired you as a bass player?
Danny: I took my inspiration from Mike Kerr of Royal Blood or Timmy C from Rage Against the Machine. Weird, weird bass players, basically.
ROCKATNIGHT: (To Sean) Do you use effect pedals? What kind do you like?
Sean: I like my stompies! <laughter> It generally started when I was younger I was like ‘Oooh stomp’ or ‘Oooh distortion button” (but I’m sure you are this way as well with the drums). You want to hit the shit out of everything. And if you’ve got that whole righteous feminist anger out there, you want to hit the shit out of things. For me, with a guitar, you break your strings and mangle your fingers—stomp boxes. I don’t care what kind of effect you have…Was it? Kurt Cobain? He had that grunge digi-tech pedal that he didn’t even use.
ROCKATNIGHT: Is there any kind of message you guys are trying to get out there? Are there any topics or themes that are prevalent in your music?
Lauren: The new songs have a lot of messages in them. I’ve kind of become addicted to Ryko or something like that. A lot of the songs are about girls and insecurities. They can be the loudest in the room. It’s about getting in that feeling that makes you feel embarrassed…and anything about anything. It’s about being true to yourself ..like getting what you want and not being embarrassed about what you want—you’re gonna get it. There’s lots of songs about being insecure and girls—lots of songs about girls .
ROCKATNIGHT: Do you see yourself as kind of a mentor or role model for young girls? I’m sure a lot of young girls look up to you.
Lauren: Yes, but already (although I don’t feel like I’m doing anything) come in and say I am inspirational. I would love to be a role model.
ROCKATNIGHT: Maybe because you aren’t afraid to dye your hair blue? You do everything that they wish they could do. You are up there on stage….you are energetic. They wish they could be that way—but they are too afraid. Maybe that is it. People are afraid of what others will think.
On another topic, where does the name of the band come from?
Lauren: I wanted something that was around a fairy tale, like Hansel and Gretel. It’s about a candy world with a witch and that kind of stuff. It is the only fairy tale where the girl saves the boy so it is really ‘girl fronted.’ I wanted to base the name around a fairy tale because you are creating the world you want and she’s the hero.
ROCKATNIGHT: Is the concept kind of like Spice Girls on steroids? Girl power? I guess you are trying to show young girls you can be aggressive but also feminine at the same time.
Sean: It’s like ‘Keep your hands off of her because SHE is a powerful girl! ‘
ROCKATNIGHT: Like, ‘She’ll F*CK you up!’ <laughter>.
Quotes on Lauren’s guitar: Crush Your Critics and Stop the J word Jealous from killing grrl love
OK…so when you are not playing music, what do you guys do for fun?
Danny: I drink. <laughter> I have a little girl I spend time with. I’m a Dad and this is my second to last gig with Hands Off Gretel. I’m actually leaving so I can spend more time with my family. So that’s what I do for fun as well as this.
Lauren: Well, I don’t have a social life—at all. This is all I do. This is it. I just write songs and draw pictures. …and spend all my time in my room.
Laura: I got out with my friends. I go snowboarding. I do just general fun things when we aren’t practicing.
Sean: I tend to read.
ROCKATNIGHT: So what do you like to read?
Sean: I don’t know…anything…shampoo bottles…
ROCKATNIGHT: Well, we can give you an instructional manual to read while we are here doing the interview…if you want <laughter>
Laura: I enter competitions. How sad is that?
ROCKATNIGHT: What kind?
Laura: Anything! I won a holiday trip so me and my mum went to Grand Canary and stayed at a five star hotel for free!
ROCKATNIGHT: Is there anything that you would like people to know about?
Lauren: We have a single coming out in late-Summer or Autumn…and it is a song we are going to play tonight.
ROCKATNIGHT: Do you have a new album or EP coming out?
Lauren: We are recording an album in the winter. It should be out early next year for release. It’s going to be a full album with new material.
ROCKATNIGHT: What is your discography?
Lauren: We have one EP called Be Mine and it has three tracks. We released it when we first started the band.
ROCKATNIGHT: How long have you actually been together?
Lauren: Since February of this year (2015).
ROCKATNIGHT: So, where do you hope to be a year from now?
Lauren: I hope to be in America.
ROCKATNIGHT: Out of curiosity, what do you think of when you think of America? Do you imagine L.A. or perhaps New York?
Lauren: I’ve actually been there twice to Clearwater.
ROCKATNIGHT: You are kidding. I go there all the time! I don’t live too far from there. So what do you think of when you think of America?
Danny: I think of Walking Dead. I might not even go to America. There are zombies everywhere.
ROCKATNIGHT: Don’t you know we have a Zombie Apocalypse going on over there?
Danny: That’s why I’m staying right here.
Laura: We watch Breaking Bad.
Danny: Yes, crystal meth and zombies.
“Janis Joplin Covers”
The images may not be reproduced, copied, transmitted or manipulated without the written permission to Rock At Night and the photographer. Use of any image is a violation of the United States and International Copyright laws.
I grew up in a household full of rock music, studied journalism in college, and then became a scientist.Although my science career has served me well, music has always played a major role in my life. I grew up reading "Creem" magazine; I play several musical instruments as a "hobby";and it seems a camera has always been in my hand. Now, I am combining what I love the most--music and photography--serving as editor of Rock At Night. My motto: life is short...no regrets. Chyrisse