If Honeyblood’s Stina Tweeddale were to personify the band’s new album, she would opt for “a creepy moustache man in a smoking jacket, swigging a glass of brandy, smoking a cigar, and reading a horror novel to whoever will listen.”
An unexpected choice, perhaps, but not when you know Stina a little better. She’s obsessed with horror stories, the more “amusingly gruesome” the better. Late 90s cult series Buffy the Vampire Slayer particularly hits the spot, and she’ll even watch “really crap horror like Poltergeist” to get her creepy kicks. Like everyone else, Stina also recently binge-watched the hugely popular Netflix series Stranger Things, though she’s not a fan of one of the internet’s most loved characters: “I’m really not that concerned about Barb,” she deadpans in her Glaswegian twang during our Skype call. “I’m team Eleven. And Winona, obviously. She should have definitely had more screen time.”
This excitement of being frightened by film feeds directly into Stina’s songwriting, with new album Babes Never Die riffing off voodoo, midnight, magic, and more. Stina’s “favourite novel of all time” Dracula and Buffy and Angel’s love story inspired the song Love is a Disease, while first single Ready for the Magic is inspired by the power of the vocals and chord progressions of Astrud Gilberto’s disco bossa nova-era hit Black Magic.
Stina admits that the writing retreat for Babes Never Die may have also influenced its infusion of the uncanny. “We rented this old water mill that had just about been made liveable inside,” Stina recalls. “It was the scariest four nights of my life. I was petrified. The people who lived there had intentionally made it even more creepy, too – in the room we recorded, they had this big massive painting on the wall that had this dead moose on it being eaten by a vulture and a wolf, and blood everywhere. I just stared at that for four days.”
While Honeyblood’s eponymous debut album was “very personal”, Babes Never Die sees the duo take a step back from explicitly personal narratives. Instead, it takes on a series of intricately etched narratives that each has a defined “moodboard” of colours, images and signifiers – an approach inspired by Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, the band’s former tour-mate.
While the stories switch from song to song, the attitude of the album remains resolute throughout its 39 minutes: defiant, hook-driven and powered by Cat Myer’s no-nonsense drumming. There isn’t a song that doesn’t warrant a fist-pump – while their debut self- titled EP was heavy-lidded, swooning lo-fi, Babes Never Die is an unrelenting rollercoaster of perfectly constructed mosh-inducing indie-pop. The ‘Babes Never Die’ mantra is also tattooed on Stina’s ribs. What is it about this three-word phrase that clicks with her to the extent that she’d have it indelibly inked to her side?
“It’s difficult to convey to people as for me it’s very emotional and raw,” Stina admits. Instead, she’s attempted to convey the essence of ‘Babes Never Die’ via the visuals drawn from the album so far. The album artwork shows a girl with matted hair and a dirt-streaked face scowling directly down the camera’s lens from the depths of a wintery wood. The video for first single, Ready for the Magic, depicts a family of girls gone feral in an abandoned Scottish farmhouse. Filled with the same black humour Stina admires in her source materials, the video ends with the children burning the band, kitted out in “dad camping trousers”, at the stake.
“You might assume that a kid is vulnerable, but children can be so super strong, and have this wild emotional side to them,” Stina explains. “I think that ties in with what ‘Babes Never Die’ is – to never let yourself be underestimated. I feel like people think young girls are weak, but I wanted to say, “no, actually”, and totally turn that on its head. Like, imagine if you think that’s someone’s a little quiet weakling – and a small girl is a classic reference of that – and then they go out and kill people!”
The amount of consideration that’s been poured into the album is palpable, and Stina describes periods when she was working for months on songs and writing twenty to thirty melodies for each chorus in order to find the perfect fit. “There were points where I was writing this album as I was thinking, ‘oh, nothing’s good enough’, freaking out, freaking myself out,” she remembers. However, intuition found a way: “When I didn’t think about it and just kind of let go, a song would pop out. Where does that come from? Why can’t I do that on demand?” Fittingly enough, she finds answers in the great unknown. “No one knows where that comes from. It’s bizarre. It is like magic.”
Babes Never Die is released 4 November via Fat Cat