“Exeter has always had a great music scene because of our local venue, the Cavern” explains Muncie Girls bassist and vocalist Lande Hekt of the bands south westerly home town. “We were 16 when we learnt how bands could tour, put out records, and hold friendships all over the world.”
Despite the relatively youthful start, the trio, completed by Dean McMullen and Luke Ellis, spent a full six years putting in the hours (and miles) touring and releasing a clutch of EPs and singles before their debut, 2016’s From Caplin to Belsize finally saw the light of day. Perhaps consequently it’s a record that exhudes confidence, whilst at times covering very personal subject matter. From start to finish it feels considered and refined. “Those years of touring in a Peugeot 206, blindly trusting stranger upon stranger and recording and releasing whatever songs came to us in whatever way seemed appropriate, will no doubt become the best years we shared as a band” Landa reminisces. “When we finally got round to doing an album, it was only because it seemed like the next thing to do. There wasn’t much planning before that point.”
While the content of the record clearly comes from a very personal place, it’s title is a reference to the asylums in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar – with literature acting as a catalyst for Hekts own writing. “If I’m reading a book around the time of writing a song, words will flow more freely. It’s hard to draw inspiration solely from awkward conversations that you have. So I find that good writing can set an example for me, grant me permission to articulate myself. I think I read the Bell Jar a few times when I was writing for the album, but the songs themselves are more personal to me than someone’s literature.”
A stand out moment on FCTB is Respect, a song about lad culture – a subject that feels like it’s more part of public conversation than it’s ever been with the ongoing issue of campus assaults affecting a third of female students. It’s an engagement with politics and social issues that the mainstream UK music press would have you believe is on the wane. Landa disagrees. “I feel as though a lot of contemporary bands either have overtly political lyrics or make their feelings clear in other ways. How can they not, the way things have gone.”
That political engagement and fury at the state of the world runs deep. Album opener Learn in School feels like a call to arms for the young, bemoaning the state of political education in schools, and it’s a thread that runs through the album as a whole. Does taking such a defined stance invite confrontation? “I think maybe we don’t reach as far as a politically opposing audience. Having said that, there are some good YouTube comments that I’ve read when I’m bored! But they’re more broad insults rather than direct lyrical criticism. I’m glad to give people something to do with their afternoons.”
Muncie Girls have been vocally critical of the overt masculinity of the music world, while festival bills and the industry as a whole are under increasing pressure from public opinion to be more representative – but is that being a more overt conversation affecting change in the ‘real world’? “I’ve seen more and more non-men in bands since we started touring, so I definitely think that things are getting better” observes Landa, “But I also think that there are probably cycles and waves meaning that people have spoken a lot about women in bands in the past, and have done less after they’ve become tired of it, and are more now. So basically it’s really hard to tell if things are changing or not. Certainly people are doing tonnes of positive things towards revitalising stale male dominated rock culture. I hope we can all stick at it!”
This weekend sees the band return to Leicester after a festival-defining set on the main stage of Handmade Festival earlier in the year – but what have their experiences of the city been so far? “Until recently we’d never been to Leicester but it’s the birthplace of Sue Townsend so I was well happy to visit! We had a great show there with Skating Polly (who rip) last year and played Handmade Festival this year which was great. We’re super excited about coming back! Plus there’s a wonderful Buddhist cafe that we’ve got to go back to. Great cake there.”
Get tickets to Muncie Girls show at The Cookie on Friday 1st September here.