"Hello?", Giant Drag’s Annie Hardy answers sleepily as she gathers her senses for our Skype interview at midday in LA. Like the namesake of her recently released second album, sometimes, waking up is hard to do.
It’s been a long time since Annie, along with Giant Drag’s estranged other half Micah Calabrese, courted cult critical and fan acclaim with the release of their Lemona EP, followed by their debut album, Hearts And Unicorns, back in 2005. All sleazy riffs, crooked melodies and kaleidoscopic distortion, they were Wavves, Best Coast and Vivian Girls all before any of those guys had put on their first plaid shirt.
Giant Drag should’ve had a bright future, but as Annie reveals in the enveloping years her life took a helter skelter turn for the worse as she became consumed with drug addiction that resulted in three trips to rehab and packing up and shacking up with a “full psycho” boyfriend. To make matters worse, labels came and went promising to put out the band’s next record and then, like a lame date, just not calling back.
Getting clean last year and sick and tired of other people being in control of her destiny, Annie finally released the band’s second album, Waking Up Is Hard To Do, on her own Full Psycho label. Despite the fan and critical swooning that’s since followed, she remains firm on her promise that after a few shows this is the end of the band as ‘Giant Drag is a bit cursed’. However, new beginnings are also afoot as she’s busy with new bands PnP and Annie And The Psychos, as well as crafting because “crafts are pretty killer.”
Giant Drag may have drawn its last breath, but as she screams with renewed vitriol to a brash thrash riffs on the latest PnP release, ‘I’ve gotta have it my dad’s dick!’, it’s clear that Annie Hardy and her potty mouth are thankfully going nowhere.
You’ve finally released your second album Waking Up Is Hard To Do. How does it feel to have it out?
It feels really good, like I didn’t think it would feel good because otherwise maybe I would’ve worked this out much longer ago. It turned out really good and very surprising.
In your press release you said there were a lot of problems with people promising to put the record out and then not doing it. What happened?
I signed contracts and everything with an indie label out here in LA to put it out in October 2011 and it was a weird situation where nothing happened. I never even really heard back from them. Everything was off to a great start, Giant Drag had been guests on this show with I think literally 20 million viewers or something ridiculous like that - that show Pretty Little Liars - and they licensed four songs and we were guests on the show and it was going to be airing in October and I was like, “perfect that’s when the record’s coming out” and then nothing. A couple more situations happened just like that - people were like “yeah, I want to put it out” and then I just didn’t hear anything. I can only imagine it just wasn’t meant to be.
That must have been quite hard to deal with at the time, to have someone dangling a carrot at you and then saying, ‘no we’re not going to do it."
But nobody would even say “no, we’re not going to do it”, I just wouldn’t hear anything back again. I wasn’t trying that hard on my end either as something just wasn’t right. I was unknowingly getting ready to go through like nervous breakdown - it was all very weird.
You’ve put the album out on your own label, Full Psycho Records. What made you put it out on your own label? Did you just have enough of waiting for someone to come along and do it?
Yeah, all my problems with anything that’s ever happened with the band or anything I’ve ever had a problem with - y’know being forced to record songs that I didn’t want to and just having other people make decisions and persuade me to make decisions - I was just sick of it. So I figured I might as well do it myself as that way I’ve got complete control and I’m solely responsible for failures and successes.
Are you planning to release anyone else on the label?
I do, but right now I’m trying to figure how the whole music business works again as I was away for a second and everything’s very different. But, yeah I definitely want to be able to put out other people’s records and collaboration efforts between people.
Who did you work on the album with?
It was me and Joe Cardamone from Icarus Line. That was his first record where he wasn’t producing himself - he was producing me. He did a great job and now he’s turned out to be this really amazing producer and he’s got a studio by my house – I think people would be really surprised if they heard some of the records he’s been doing.
I thought he might have something to do with it as we were a bit slow with reviewing the album and he tweeted me and my editor saying “when are you reviewing it?” He’s pretty proactive!
Yeah, this is both of our babies. We both worked on it for so long we were in a studio for a year at the time. He’s my best friend as well so it was such a cool thing to be able to spend all that time making this thing with my best friend – it was real special for that reason.
Compared to your debut, obviously there’s a lot of time in between, it seems a lot cleaner structurally. How do you feel you’ve grown as a songwriter between albums?
On Hearts and Unicorns everything was a complete mystery to me. I put zero thought into writing songs - I was like, “oh, this is just how they come out. They’re beamed to me from a spaceship and they come out finished and then I add a cat solo”. Now I’m aware that I have some control over the situation and I put a little more thought into if I was a listener how I’d like to hear it, I guess.
Actually, that became an issue as I was putting too much thought into it and I think that might have had a little influence in why it didn’t come out for so long as when you make your first record you're not thinking of any fans - because I didn’t know I had any fans - but after your shit’s been reviewed it can get pretty daunting trying to please everybody, which is always what I was trying to do. In a way I had more of a sense of what I’d like to hear if I was someone else and more of a sense of being afraid of what someone else is going to hear.
There seems to be a larger variety of influences on this record - calypso jazz on ‘Mesif My Face’ and ‘Heart Carl’ is quite country. Was it influenced by what you were listening to at the time or do you think you’ve always had such broad taste?
I think it was a bunch of influences from all of the years I was on tour. I’ve always had a broad spectrum of music that I’ve liked, but it always got regurgitated through me as sounding new grunge, I guess. With Joe there it made it easier to facilitate people coming in, like Julian who played on Mazzy Star’s album - he plays pedal steel on ‘Heart Carl’. That jazzy one, ‘Messif My Face’, Micah’s friend comes in and he plays that crazy jazz piano.
So, having other people around that have extremely talented friends they could bring down there and add these different elements to it was really helpful as well. I’m really bad at asking for help in general, so having someone else there that can bring in other people it really opened a lot of doors.
You’ve got a gospel choir on ‘Seen The Light’ and it was interesting to me as Yeah Yeah Yeah’s released their single ‘Sacrilege’ around the same time with a gospel choir on too. Is it coincidence or were you like ‘you’ve stolen my shit’?
Well, that wouldn’t be the first time, hehe! I wanted a really big black gospel choir, but I think I was asleep that day so Joe just brought in a small choir of girls and I walked in after it was done and I was like, ‘perfect, dishes are done’.
I don’t know why this record is so weird, but I think it’s a pretty suiting thing for me - I don’t know if other people will see it that way. I kind of was afraid that other people were going to get really freaked out by how different it was, but so far the response has been really amazing and surprising.
Lyrically, you have a dry sense of humour that seems to run throughout. Do you think you use your humour to tackle serious subjects or is it just how you are?
It’s both, I’ve noticed lately more than ever that that’s been my long-term defence mechanism. When dealing with something painful and honest and vulnerable you’ve got to come back and attack that subject with equal amounts of humour and then that kind of then softens the blow.
On your debut you had ‘YFLMD’ (You Fuck Like My Dad). Has that kind of borderline sick humour ever gotten you into trouble?
It definitely has as in my old age I’ve only gotten worse with this. Even my Dad when I was working on the record was like, “people won’t understand this Annie, but you need to make another song title like You Fuck Like My Dad”. I was like, “I understand Dad and I will”.
The album's press release was very honest about how you had had breakdown. Was it important for you to be that honest?
I didn’t know at the time, because honestly that press release was just an email that I wrote to Jamie the press guy and he just like wrote that into press release and then sent it to me and I was like, ‘oh, shit. Yeah use that’. I’ll be that open with everyone one-on-one…. It’s been a couple of years of really being honest with the people around me and my parents were the people I was trying to hide this shit from. I just figured I should stop compartmentalizing my life and just let everybody know and it’s been a lot easier for me. I’m glad I did it, I’m glad Jamie did that.
You’ve said you had a drug addiction during your ‘success’ period. Do you feel it robbed you of that time?
It totally did. I never really had a great time or even fully enjoy the reality of what I was doing, especially on tour and stuff. I could be doing some amazing shit like playing Reading and Leeds festival and - because I was in England where they don’t make the type of pills I’d take so many of - I couldn’t enjoy myself because I was so worried that somebody would have pills for me as soon as I stepped off the plane back in LA. It definitely robbed me of my whole career I was on those, I missed a lot.
What prompted the change to try to get off the pills to make a change in your life to get where you are now?
I was prompted a few times to get off pills and I had three trips to rehab. What prompted it the most was hitting my fourth rock bottom where it wasn’t about drugs any more it was just about, ‘oh man, because of drugs and the way I live my life and compartmentalizing everything I’m now all alone with this fucking crazy person I’m in a room with and I’ve got absolutely nothing’.
At that point you can either give up or you can fucking rise up and start again and tell everyone to ‘eat a dick’ and do everything to care for yourself. That’s kinda what happened to me and that was the inspiration for all of this; the Full Psycho Label, for everything, I had to go and not give a fuck what anybody thought and make me happy and I’d never done that before.
From personal experience when you’re in that kind of situation, when you have the choices laid out, to sit and wallow or get on with it then you tend to come back stronger as you’ve seen the other side to not doing that and you know too well what the grizzly alternative is.
Totally. I really had no idea of a lot of things that I was in control of. I had no idea of a lot of shit that seems pretty common sense, but when you’re living a world where all you care about is making sure you don’t get sick because you don’t run out of drugs there are so many other aspects to life that I didn’t realise were there. It’s pretty fucked how much the drugs can take away from you.
Do you feel you’re now on the other side and you can enjoy life or is it still a struggle day-to-day?
I feel like I am enjoying life a lot more. There’s still struggles but they’re so much easier for me. I can meet them with a smile, whereas before every struggle was met with just more drugs and complaining about it. Now I take action right away and don’t want wallow in shit like a little bitch, so that’s been good. I really needed a perspective change.
At Full Psycho records (from looking at your blog) it seems like you’re surrounding yourself with good people rather than people like the ‘full psycho’ boyfriend mentioned in the press release. How has that helped you?
That’s helped me a lot. Surrounding myself with people that really believe in and are willing to help me - I never fully had that before and if I did I don’t know if I appreciated it. With this I’m able to pick and choose who I want on my team and who I want around me; it’s been a good way of protecting myself from people that end up being full psycho boyfriend types or friends because I’m usually the last one to notice and figure that out.
I started with a base of really good people who are my friends and happen to be really creative and talented as well. Since October, when we launched this, I’ve just been able to slowly bring in one person at a time and build something solid, rather than having something wildly successful that was built on a flimsy base. Like in Giant Drag nobody ever knew that Micah was quitting the band every year behind the scenes and I was just flailing and barely making it by at all times.
Your twenties are hard enough as it is let alone being in a band and having that lack of stability.
Totally and I’ve always had an extreme lack of stability, but like my twenties were out of control and awful. I lost my entire twenties as I was on pills the whole time and I feel like I’m maybe getting the chance to go back and maybe have one last ‘hurrah!’ for my twenties.
With everything you’ve been through did you find doing the album a cathartic process?
No, I wish I could say that. I noticed that writing songs my whole life I’ve written these future songs that wouldn’t really make sense to me at the time but later on in retrospect it will be like, “oh fuck, I’ve written a song about an experience that hasn’t even happened yet”. And, that’s kind of what happened with Waking Up Is Hard To Do ; I feel like it’s about right now, the last two years of my life, even though the songs were written in 2007 and recorded in 2010.
That record just started making sense to me recently because it’s kind of a happy record, like ‘Seen The Light’. I don’t know why I ever fucking wrote that song. That’s weird - I wrote that whole thing and demoed it all strung out on pills - I had not seen the light about shit. Now all the songs make sense to me now I’ve been through some shit and I’m able to be honest with everyone and tell them what’s up, but back then no the record made no sense and maybe that’s why I didn’t release it for so long. I needed for it to make sense.
It’s weird because, I hate the word ‘journey’, but there does seem like a clear journey to the record - it’s strange to think it was written in hindsight.
Yeah, that’s one of those weird things that allowed me to always go like, “I don’t know where these songs come from it’s magic, here I’ll record one. I think they make them from the future. They're maybe my only way of telling what’s ahead". Now every time I write a song I’m scared. What if it comes out all fucked-up like it’s a song called, ‘I’ve been hit by a train’ or something?
It’s like tarot...
Yeah, or that movie where everyone’s on a plane and crashes but they get off beforehand – Final Destination.
You’ve said that this is going to be the last Giant Drag record. Is it important for you to draw a line under it and move on?
I feel like it because it’s felt like Giant Drag is a bit cursed, maybe because of the name? Because that’s all everything’s been is like a giant drag? A huge bummer to try and make shit happen. Things always end up being let-downish. I thought maybe I wasn’t even aware of it, but I started a side project called PnP which stands for ‘Party n Play’ and I thought maybe my twenties were the giant drag and my thirties are going to be a huge party where I get to play.
There’s also Annie And The Psychos. Who are the psychos?
It’s really cool because I have band mates for the first time. My friend Monica Barciki who’s in that band [PnP]. She was kind of there with me - she was the one who got me out of that horrible full psycho situation - she’s been the dream person to play music with more so than even Micah. In the past I thought I couldn’t have a musical team as much as me and Micah before, but playing with Monica is a dream - she’s in both of those bands Annie And The Psychos and PnP. The drummer is also on the Full Psycho website acting as a Matt Pinfield type leading us through our monthly rediscovery of bands, like Cheap Trick and The Cure, his name is Nick Liberatore but we call him Stevie Nick. That’s already a lot more people than in Giant Drag, so it’s been really fun not to feel so ultimately alone as I always did in Giant Drag.
Do you have any fixed plans for the band?
Not yet as I’m still riding out the Giant Drag thing to see how that’s going to be finished-up and trying to set-up a UK tour for the Fall. I really realised the more I plan stuff and try to execute plans the less they work, so I’m kinda rolling with the punches of the universe and taking what’s out there and saying, ‘alright I’ll try that’. I have no idea how touring and shit works when there isn’t a big, invisible record label paying the bill for it all.
Your press release said you’d be playing shows with Charlotte and Tennessee from The Like. Do you think you’ll be playing with them?
I’m not sure how that’s going to work. I think I’ll either be playing with them or members of Annie Hardy And The Psychos. I’ve even spoken to Michah a little bit to see where he’s at with that, but I don’t know everything can change in a day. The more I announce stuff the more it seems to never come true... Every time I announced Waking Up Is Hard To Do was coming out something tragic happened or more of nothing, so I’m trying to do that actual thing I’m announcing and announce it when it’s actually happening.
On your blog you seem to be really into crafting. What is it about it that you like?
Crafts are pretty killer, I don’t think people realise how everything in life is a craft. Me and Monica are currently surrounded by a bunch of stuff to make guitar knobs, because we’ve been making knobs for guitars and effects pedals. People think we’re just decorating them, but no we’re making moulds and casting and some hi-tech shit that also looks really pretty.
I think when I was in that horrible situation I needed to be distracted by things like glitter and sparkly things; it’s really therapeutic to use your hands and make something and have a finished product that you made out of nothing. I think my life was in need of a lot of that especially if you’re trying to get of drugs - you think about those a lot- it’s good to dig your hands into a bunch of resin, you can’t even pick up drugs anyway!
Waking Up Is Hard To Do is out now. You can read the DiS review here