Interview by Erandhi Mendis // Photography by Giulia McGauran
Melbourne duo Cry Club are back in full force with their bedazzled-punk new single Cry About It. Dropped in the lead up to their second album Hocus Pocus (June 23), the track sees guitarist Jono Tooke (he/him) and vocalist Heather Riley (they/them) diving deep into the relatable fantasy of being able to “[tell someone] to fuck off, and not regretting a single word.” It is an unrestrained, guitar heavy 80s glam moment – that at times feels like the unlikely, but welcome marrying of Bikini Kill and Radiohead. Ramona caught up with Heather and Jono to chat all things Cry Club, exploring grey areas and learning patience.
Hi Heather and Jono! So lovely to chat – where are you today?
J: At our home studio in Naarm/Melbourne!
H: With the heater on FULL blast
We are so excited at Ramona that Cry Club is entering your ‘villain era’. But before we get into that, can you share a little bit about how Cry Club formed and your musical journey?
J: We met on a plane to Japan and became super close friends years before Cry Club ever kicked off, so it all started there which ended up being a great way to kick off a band. It’s tough out there so doing it with your best friend makes it a lot more doable. As for the musical journey, it feels like so much of what we’ve done is just have fun and explore! Like we’re such avid listeners of a wide variety of stuff, so Cry Club has become the outlet to explore whatever is exciting to us in the moment
H: It’s also our second attempt at making music together, while we were still in Uni, Jono sent me some demos to put some vocals on and I literally never touched them. I was wayyyy too scared. I made an offhand post about starting a Cure cover band a year or so later and Jono messaged me like “HEY remember those demos?” and actually got me in the room! I think we went into it with the idea of it being a pop project, but we’re both punks at heart with such eclectic taste. We still start with that pop foundation and now we just see how far we can push it, how weird we can make a song while still keeping things listenable. If it isn’t exciting to us, we’re pretty ruthless about scrapping entire songs and starting again.
Let’s talk about your new single: Cry About It. What inspired it and why was it important to create?
J: This song had such a long journey!! It started out as this song called “Weird With Women” and was an early exploration into combining riffs and dance music years ago. It was inspired by this time I was at a show and this person drunkenly introduced themselves and told us about how they had a crush on someone in the band playing that night, etc etc, but gave off the most rancid ‘sad-boy’ vibe while doing so. Only week later, there was a swathe of Instagram stories going around about how that person was a wildly manipulative piece of shit, which was: Not! Surpising! While in lockdown though, we opened it back up and wondered what it’d feel like to take the theme of the song and just put it into a just massive riff rock song haha
H: God there are just so many men I wanna take down a peg. Jono recounted that story to me while we were working on the song and I immediately thought of like a dozen other dudes I’d met who were exactly the same. Men who catch you in this position where they wanna just dump all their problems on you because they don’t want to deal with them, like GET A GRIP DUDE. The song kinda embodies those explosive, aggressive fantasies you have while you’re gritting your teeth and nodding politely. Writing songs like these is kind of like exposure therapy, if I practice how to assert myself, it becomes easier to actually do it in the moment, instead of letting people walk all over me again and again.
These latest releases feel super visual – did you have any preconceived ideas of how you wanted this era of work to look like?
J: A huge thing for me was wanting this new era to be more specific than the first – I think as you evolve and improve as artists, one of the things that shows up in that is specificity! So this time around we landed on this movie poster aesthetic, wanting each single + the album to feel like it’s containing its own narrative. For the album cover though, a huge thing for me was wanting to have it pair well with the first record – I’d love to be able to look at all our records as a matched set and have each feel like there’s some kind of through-line.
H: We had so much TIME to put this one together. Our first album was super reactive in terms of releases so it was really nice this time to have the whole thing done before deciding on the singles. Initially we looked at maybe toning stuff down visually to match the sound, getting a bit more serious with it, but it never really felt right- that’s not who we are as people or artists, so people would’ve gotten a big shock if that’s what they expected at gigs. We didn’t wanna leave behind the people who prefer our pop-leaning stuff, so having the visuals get more campy acts as a little bridge to bring those people along with us and maybe open them up to stuff they might not have listened to otherwise. Through the first album, our relationships with our photographer Giulia and Rose Chong Costumes became something special, so we really got to test the limits of our combined creativity and get more ambitious with the artwork as a whole!
Back to that villain era – how do Cry About It and Hocus Pocus differ from work you’ve previously put out?
J: Honestly a huge thing for me has always just been about surprising people, I always want a new song from us to feel like an event! In terms of Cry About It & Hocus Pocus though, there’s always this push & pull within us that’s between confidence & vulnerability and it feels like each song demonstrates each end of that spectrum! Also this might just be for me, but I love just how Big of a song Cry About It is + it feels like Hocus Pocus is me living my shoegaze fantasy alongside a true ballad. Pushing both ends is such a creatively exciting thing.
H: They’re less introspective, in a way! Less “this is how I’m feeling” and more “this is what I’m doing”, very action-focused but also a bit more morally grey? Previously, we were looking at interpersonal relationships, how to navigate situations where someone has hurt you or what happens when two people have both made mistakes. There’s a little less patience for that with the new releases, like Hocus Pocus is actually quite a nasty song! Keeping someone at arms length because you like the attention is objectively pretty cruel! With Cry About It, is it appropriate to put a stranger on fucking blast like that? We acknowledge the consequences in the songs, but I don’t think we could’ve written something where we’re so objectively in the wrong on the first album, but we have the ability to do that now.
What was the biggest lesson for each of you while making your second album Spite Will Save Me, (out June 23rd!) – either professionally or personally?
H: When given the tools and the time to prioritise ourselves, we really make it work. Lockdown gave us a taste of what it would look like to make Cry Club a full-time job, and it was honestly incredible! We were writing almost every day, we had the space to take risks, let ourselves get sidetracked, fail a bit, and try again. Making music gets insanely expensive, and if you don’t already have that money on hand, you need to work yourself to the bone just to meet the costs of touring and releasing music the way you want to. I also had this simmering fear that I had just gotten lucky with a few songs, Cry Club is my first experience with songwriting and the music industry- I’m an acting graduate! I’m not a songwriter! But the sheer amount of songs we wrote in lockdown was astonishing- proof that this does work, we can make a career out of this. That small taste of full-time music motivated me to do everything in my power to make that a reality.
J: God I hate that the answer is patience. This record was written in 2020, then recorded in 2021 and then we’ve just had everything go wrong til now so the idea of it even coming out is just a massive relief haha. I think a huge thing as well is that this record helped boost our confidence in our own decision making, we’ve always had people tell us to trust ourselves more, and I think this record is just the next step in that process – with us coming to the end of the process feeling capable of making only bolder and stronger creative decisions in future.
What art were you each consuming while making this record? Books, music, film, food… what was inspiring you while creating? And are there any key inspirations or references that we can hear in the new music?
H: God so much, again it comes back to how much time we had in lockdown! I had the time to watch everything I had put off for ages, primarily Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. That’s like essential Cry Club lore by this point, the soundtrack in particular leans so heavily on classic rock which I think subconsciously lead to us making songs like Somehow! I also finally played Undertale and Lisa which opened the door to explore horror for the first time. I was watching everything I could get my hands on, Hereditary and Midsommar, the Suspiria remake, Malignant, The Apostle, Blade, The Descent, The Ritual, The House That Jack Built. Probably not the healthiest mindset to be in but it absolutely influenced the heavier tone of this album from my perspective. Lots of massive theatre companies were streaming past performances for the first time as well, so I got to see a few of my favourite Beckett and Brecht plays for the first time! I really wanted to keep that theatricality in our work so it was a huge source of inspiration as well.
J: A huge thing for me was that during the Melbourne lockdowns, I lived such a routine heavy life that also involved consuming all this new fun stuff! Like, we’ve always been inspired by the visuals of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, but lockdown was the moment we could each do the deep dive on that. For me as well, I watched all of what had currently aired of Drag Race, which flaws (RuPaul) and all, which is a wild experience as it feels like this creative arms race of who can both challenge and excite the judges the most. Also gotta shout out all the music we revisited from our teenage lives that inspired so much of the genres we explored – a lot of this new record is just us thriving in the fantasy of doing the music that we cared about most as teenagers.
We love platforming artists who push for diverse voices within the industry – how important is identity and representation to this next body of work?
J: I think for us, there’s always this angle of queerness that informs so much of how we present ourselves that also helps curate our audience. Like, we create stuff that’s theatrical, camp, angry, confident and vulnerable – this huge range of stuff – that feels like we’re both exploring the versions of ourselves we want to be in this aspirational way, but also in a way that reflects where we currently are pretty honestly. It feels like those are somehow contradictory, but the ways those 2 aspects push against each other is a really great place to write from.
H: I know some artists don’t like being pigeonholed as “queer” music and yeah like what is queer music?? That label is immensely important to me, especially as a trans person, when the world around us is getting rapidly dangerous to exist in. As a community our anger is often channeled into protest, but that comes with the responsibility of convincing people that we deserve to exist, it’s a very particular and controlled anger. We want our shows to be a vehicle to express, just for a moment, all the other nuances of that anger without feeling like we have to adapt it for people who don’t understand. Same goes for joy and the expression of that too! Trans women are particularly vulnerable at the moment, like if you want to wear a skirt, a dress, or makeup for the first time, I want you to feel like you can do it with us. We will embrace you for who you are and who you want to be, and we’ll have your back.
Music is a whole identity in and of itself, particularly when it’s our job. When you’re not writing and playing music what are your favourite things to do?
J: Honestly so much of being a musician in the current era is about your skillset that surrounds it, and it’s pushed me into spaces like video and design that have been super fulfilling! I’ve made peace with the idea that I just like to Make Stuff, so having the framing of Cry Club lets me learn and explore all these other avenues of creativity. Also I will be finishing this interview and immediately opening the new Zelda game so there’s that too haha
H: God it’s so easy to go insane when you don’t have a life outside music. I picked up roller skating (specifically park/vert skating) last year and it changed my life. Skate culture in general is a very bro-y thing but most roller skaters are women, queer people, and trans people who’ve formed such a vibrant and supportive community that’s been so healthy for me. Skating is all about accepting failure, learning a new trick means failing over and over again until one day you don’t! GOD I really can’t overstate the positive impact on my mental health. Physically, the exercise is great too aside from copping a broken rib last year, but even that was a learning experience about the limits of my body and knowing when to rest lol. When I’m not throwing myself off ramps, I’m usually sitting in front of my Xbox looking for whatever weird new indie game I can sink my teeth into (currently it’s Dredge!)
What are you most excited about post album release?
J: Thinking about what’s next! This whole thing has taken so long to get right, the idea of looking at other songs is just so damn exciting to me! Like: there’s a future both with this record in touring it, but also after that there’s a future with new songs that we’re stoked about! (That being said I feel like I should also just take a week to just stare at a wall to decompress haha)
H: I can’t wait to see how the songs feel live! The first album existed in a live setting before any of the songs were recorded, and this new album is the exact opposite. There are still songs on here that have never been played live so I’m immensely hyped to see how people respond. We have our own ideas of what the songs are about and what they mean to us, but the real magic is in seeing how other people interpret them. I’m a huge champion of the ‘death of the author’ philosophy for this reason- people having completely different interpretations of the songs is what keeps them fresh and alive, I can’t wait to see how this album evolves.
You can keep up with Cry Club on Instagram