Interview: get yer Hands Off Gretel

Hands Off Gretel 003
Sean McAvinue/ Laura Moakes/ Lauren Tate/ Danny Pollard

Those who have taken an interest in the rock, metal and alternative music scene in and around Yorkshire of late will have heard the name of Lauren Tate. More importantly, they will also have heard her extraordinary singing voice.

A soulful instrument powered by impassioned songwriting, Tate’s musical talents, thoughtful approach and impressive work ethic have ensured millions of YouTube views of her cover videos and original material as well as the attention of pop music moguls.

But Tate has continued to beat her own drum and carve out her own path, taking a DIY approach to her music and remaining true to her vision for herself and her band. As the woman herself says: “Imagine it’s your baby, that’s what I do… and I would never sell my baby.”

Tate has now launched her new outfit, Hands Off Gretel, pulling together everything she has learned over recent years in to a group with their feet grounded in the 90’s alternative rock scene, but their eyes set firmly on the future.

For those who may not yet be familiar, tell us a little bit about Hands Off Gretel and how you came together.

Hands Off Gretel are a four piece alternative band that came together in October 2014. I formed it after the backing band, supporting me as a solo artist literally fell apart after my guitarist fell down the stairs, just before we were about to record our first video, breaking his hand! The rest of the band wanted to carry on and replace him for the rest of the gigs we had planned, but I just couldn’t do that, so I waited for him to mend.

I began to realise I was ready for something completely new. The EP I wrote had been very important to me and reflected how I felt at the time, but I found performing it live lacked the excitement and the fun I wanted to have on stage. I wanted an exciting project with brand new songs I’d wrote from a more upbeat lively place in me. I picked up the electric guitar and started to write a completely new sound, it just felt right to start a band and start all over again.

Lauren, what drove the transition to a full band from your solo material under your own name?

I recorded my first ever EP My Reflection and built a band around that, playing the songs that had already been recorded. I am a big believer in things happening for a reason and Sean falling down the stairs changed everything for us! I’d started writing new music just waiting for the moment I could leave Lauren Tate and start up this new project of mine. As soon as I did that, a massive weight was lifted and I was creatively happy again.

As you started recording together as Hands Off Gretel did you have an idea or vision of how you wanted your music to sound?

From recording the demos at home myself, without noticing, I’d got a pretty solid vision in my head. I sat with the producer Pete Thompson of Flat Wave studios for hours and hours, days at a time because I felt so confident in the sound I wanted to hear. I probably drove him mad, but I couldn’t let go of my vision, I pushed it hard and now I listen to the exact thing I wanted. It’s perfect.

Has the writing and recording process differed at all for the band vs. your solo material?

I write all the songs, I work best that way. I like to really think about what I’m writing, I can let it flow and jam around but I always find the best songs I’ve wrote have been the ones I’ve worked at alone in my room, that hasn’t changed. The recording process was a lot quicker having musicians around me learning new songs, but since recording my solo EP I’ve become much clearer on how I want it to sound. It wouldn’t have taken half as long as it did if I hadn’t been so driven to hear what was in my head. The process hasn’t been that different, I think it’s just me that’s been different this time.

Can you tell us a bit about your three new tracks, “Be Mine”, “My Toy” and “Other Town”? Are there specific stories behind them? What influenced the music and lyrics?

The song “Be Mine” was the first of the three I wrote. It’s kinda’ about not knowing what you want, being confused, not wanting to give too much to a person, but at the same time wanting the person to be only yours. It’s about being quite mean, being damn confusing and misleading, which is something that a lot of people are towards others but daren’t admit. I admit it though.

“My Toy” is about wanting to have someone, like a little girl owns her doll. The song has several different meanings, sometimes it’s a person I see, sometimes it’s more innocent and I’m actually talking to my toys in my room at night when nobody else is there. That song is my own little fantasy world.

“Other Town” is a damn fun song to play and sing, it’s about the start of it all really, moving forward and letting go, it’s about feeling good and being positive. I like being the happy Lauren.

Are the tracks indicative of any forthcoming album do you think?

I really like the sound we have with the three songs, the rest are in that vain with some songs being more punk and fast, others being softer and more sweet and the rest heavily soaked in grunge sauce, we are covering all bases, there’s a lot of dynamic going off. I’m dying to hear them on an album!

You mention in the Hands Off Gretel bio that you ‘look up to female musicians with integrity and attitude that don’t rely on overly-sexualised imagery’. Can you tell us who has inspired you in that regard, how they’ve influenced you and why you consider them important?

I have been massively inspired by Kathleen Hanna Of Bikini kill, Julie Ruin and Le Tigre, after watching her documentary The Punk Singer I was just in awe of the powerful women in that scene. I watched the performances of girls screaming and shouting about rape and things girls shy from and I tingled and tingled shouting “Yes!” at the screen.

I read Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus and once again I had that feeling. I love seeing women who aren’t afraid of the world out there and all it’s opinions on them, it makes me feel strong seeing them because I am just a girl too and I can be just as powerful as anyone.

Hands Off Gretel 004You’ve said that L7’s Bricks Are Heavy is one of your favourite albums but that you sometimes feel cheated that you weren’t around at the time that bands like L7 were first on the scene. Are you stoked that L7 are back together and playing live again?! Can we expect to see you at this year’s Download singing along to their set?!

Oh my god, I couldn’t believe it when I found out. I’m awaiting their tour dates. Babes in Toyland have also come back and I’m seeing them in Manchester. It feels like the perfect time for Hands Off Gretel… Heres my chance to play a show with the women that I thought had died 25 years ago.

How did you discover the music that you love such as the 90s Riot Grrl scene? Can you remember the first time you heard the styles and sounds and thought “Yes! THIS is my music!”?

Being only 17 it took me a while to find these women, nobody introduced me to them. I just had to search and search until I found it. I found The Distillers first, they were my favourite band for ages, I felt the coolest girl in school listening to Brody. Then I found Hole, and I was instantly addicted. Musically and vocally I heard the closest sounding band to what I was trying so long to describe. I searched and searched for more, and they all ended up being from the 90s scene, then I found Riot Grrl and fell in love.

You’ve launched Hands Off Gretel with three free tracks and have previously used crowd-funding to help get your music recorded and released. Do you think that the major-label model has gone the way of the Dodo, or do you think the more independent approach just suits your mindset and music?

I love doing it all myself. It’s cheaper, but way harder. Everything you see has been done by either me, my mum or the band. It’s the cutest team ever. There’s so much freedom doing it yourself, which is great if you know what you want, not so great if you have no ideas. But I’m full of ideas so the independent approach is perfect for Hands Off Gretel. I am indeed a megalomaniac.

Who did you work with for the video of “Be Mine”?

Ah, that video was so fun to shoot. My Mum videoed it all for us! We all new little about what we were doing, or how to do it, but we did it and it looks great, just like I wanted. My mum rocks!

The visuals and colours in the video seem to these eyes to be reminiscent the early 90s alternative scene – kind of hyper-real and richly coloured. Were you deliberately trying to invoke that style of music video?

Yeah! I wanted it bright and vivid, that’s all I kept saying when we where thinking of ideas for the video. I imagined this colourful look, like something out of Sesame Street.

Now that the band is announced and you have new material out, what would success look like for Hands Off Gretel? What would you like to see happen?

I want to play and play, play as many good gigs as we can and build up a live following. I really want to connect with people, I want people to come up to me after a gig and tell me Hands Off Gretel has been something they’ve been waiting for. I want to play festivals, record an album, make more videos and eventually tour and be greeted every night with happy faces in the crowd feeling as awesome as we do stood on the stage. I want to take this band all the way, wherever that is.

You’ve previously turned down approaches by the likes of Simon Cowell’s A&R team and have instead spent time developing your own style and sound. Do you think young musicians are given enough opportunity to develop their own talent these days or the space to find their own musical voice?

Doing your own thing will always be much harder. Things get offered to you when you’re young and unsure and when something big comes along you instantly see both success and failure and it’s scary to know what to do. To do your own thing and get somewhere you just have to keep doing it, believe one day it will work out, and push and push your own project, imagine it’s your baby, that’s what I do… and I would never sell my baby.

Which new artists or bands – male or female! – are you listening to at the moment? Who should we be paying attention to?!

Only recently I found two girl bands I really like, and I couldn’t believe it… they aren’t from the 90s and they still actually exist! One is a three piece all girl grunge band called Valentiine and the second is another all girl three piece The Coathangers, those girls are so cool. I’m also a massive fan of Allusondrugs, a five piece all male grunge band from Castleford, they are the most captivating live band I’ve ever seen.

What next for Hands Off Gretel? Where can we see you live in the coming weeks and months?

Our first gig is a local one at Barnsley Rock and Blues club on the 7th March, the event is also International Women’s Day so that’s pretty damn cool. You can check out all our upcoming gig dates on our website, www.handsoffgretel.co.uk!

Check out Hands Off Gretel’s video for their track “Be Mine” below:

You can listen to Hands Off Gretel’s three new songs and download them via the Soundcloud stream below:


Hands Off Gretel will play the following upcoming live shows in 2015:

07th Mar: Barnsley Rock & Blues Club
03rd Apr: Frog & Parrot, Sheffield
02nd May: Venue TBC – Barnsley
29th May: Plug, Sheffield
05th Jun: Verve Bar, Leeds
11th Jul: Beanfest, Rotherham
18th Jul: Venue TBC, Camden

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