PETROL GIRLS, first interviewed for IDIOTEQ in 2016, have announced the June 24th release via Hassle Records of their third full-length studio album Baby today. The announcement follows the release of their pro-choice banger, “Baby, I Had An Abortion” (listen below) and the bandcamp-only single “Fight For Our Lives,” a track which honors the global movement fighting against femicide and gender-based violence. Both blazing cuts appear on the forthcoming full-length.
The latest taster of Baby comes with new single “Clowns.” You can also watch a live session video of the band performing “Clowns” at Middle Farm Studios (filmed by Martyna Bannister) above, where the album was recorded with Pete Miles on production duties.
Says vocalist Ren Aldridge: “Clowns really showcases the vibe & musical direction of a lot of the record. It’s playful, a bit unhinged and built on a repetitive riff. It was so much fun to write together.” “Clowns” began with a lot of comedic placeholders riffing on “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel (“We are the clowns from the left / But they ain’t joking on the right”) that ended up staying in. “I was like, wait a minute, I can actually just rewrite these lyrics and make them fit this with a political twist on it,” Aldridge laughs. “It started off as a joke, but I do actually think there’s political weight to what I’m trying to say there.”
Since their formation in 2012, Petrol Girls have been known for playing fast-paced, chaotic punk that takes aim at everything from sexual violence to immigration policy, but over the last few years their sound has evolved in a more nuanced direction. Their 2016 debut album Talk of Violence was a blast of pure political rage, while 2019’s Cut & Stitch saw Aldridge exploring familiar themes from a more personal perspective. Now their latest offering Baby sees the band turn another new corner. This time, by embracing irreverence.
“Preachers” sets the tone for the rest of the album both sentimentally and musically. The self-aggrandizing nature of call-out culture and moral one-upmanship is put on blast from start to finish, while a post-punk instrumental veers between angular riffs and a power chord chorus. During the writing process, guitarist Joe York became interested in “minimalism and madness,” taking influence from everything from electronic music and hip hop to New Wave bands like Talking Heads in terms of groove, repetition and playfulness – all of which is put in the shop window on “Preachers.”
With three out of four band members – Aldridge, York and drummer Zock – living in Austria, most of the songs were written in a practice space in Graz, with bassist Robin Gatt writing their parts afterwards. Although Aldridge went into the album with the intention of addressing burn out, femicide, abortion and police violence, the issues are handled with varying weight. Much like the album title – a word that could be interpreted as endearing or patronizing depending on the context, as well as a nod to the album’s poppier sound and pro-choice lead single – the lyrics find a balance of directed anger and tongue-in-cheek humor where appropriate. Though abortion isn’t exactly a light topic, a lot of the lyrics in the pummeling “Baby, I Had An Abortion” are intentionally puerile. “It was really fun to just be like, I’m gonna rhyme incubator with see you later, fuck it!” she says.
On the flip side, tracks like “Violent By Design” were more labored. PC Wayne Cousins’ trial ended up happening the first week that Petrol Girls were in the studio, putting his brutal murder of Sarah Everard once again at the forefront of the news and people’s minds.
“I wanted to do something on police violence, abolitionists politics and kicking back against carceral feminism,” Aldridge says. “I was thinking about the time my friend was arrested and strip searched by The Met, horrifically. I was thinking about Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and about Sarah Reed. I was thinking of Marcia Rigg, and all her campaigning work since her brother Sean died in police custody. All of these things were going around my head.” The activist Janey Starling, who also features on “Fight For Our Lives,” co-wrote the lyrics.
“Thank god, because I definitely bit off more than I could chew,” says Aldridge. “I wanted the track to incite other white middle class women like myself to reject the idea that the police protect us, both in solidarity with communities that are routinely brutalised by the police and in recognition of how useless and actively dangerous the police are with regards to gender based violence.” The result is a chaotic instrumental more in line with Petrol Girls’ early sound, with razor sharp guitars and guttural vocals as Aldridge cries “Whose law? Whose order?”
“My balance of where I put my energy has moved away from just grieving injustice and more towards working out what needs to change and how do we collectively do that,” Aldridge summarizes. “That’s something I needed for my mental health as well, because I can’t live in a constant state of grief and anger. I need to have purpose and vision in the ways I’m fighting back.”