The UK/Austrian punks celebrate the Jun 24 release of their third album by releasing a live studio video of the single ‘Clowns.’
Petrol Girls have announced the release of their third album, ‘Baby’, through Hassle Records. The announcement follows the release of their pro-choice banger ‘Baby, I Had An Abortion’ and the Bandcamp-only single ‘Fight For Our Lives’, a track that honours 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 the new single ‘Clowns’.
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-aggrandising nature of call-out culture and moral one-upmanship is put on a 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 are 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 burnout, 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 patronising 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 humour where appropriate.
Though abortion isn’t exactly a light topic, a lot of the lyrics in the pummelling ‘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 laboured. 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 protects 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 summarises. “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.”
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I’m a London born and bred music journalist, a mediocre bass player and the occasional strummer of the guitar. In the ’80s I worked in recording studios and made a few records you’d probably recognise. I have written a couple of books and made the odd media appearance as a music commentator. I now call Brisbane home.