Photo by Derek Bremner
"We're activists first, musicians second."
Such is the way for UK punks, Dream Nails. Founded in 2015 by feminist activists, the group mixes political rage, pop punk joy, and spreading awareness on social issues (and raising funds) wherever they go. After releasing their debut full-length album in 2020, Dream Nails has built a reputation for their inclusive and riotous live shows, spunky attitude, and a message that encourages people to take up space in a society that's built on patriarchal oppression.
We were stoked to connect with these self-described punk witches to talk about the politically-driven messages behind their songs, their newest addition, Leah, musical influences, their newest single, "Take Up Space," and give advice on tangible ways people can create political and social change if they don't know where to start.
Can you introduce yourselves and what you do in the band?
Lucy: I am Lucy (she/her) and I bang on the drums.
Mimi: Mimi (she/her) I play bass.
Anya: I am Anya (she/her) and I play guitar! We all do backing vocals too, don’t be shy you guys.
Leah: Hey I’m Leah (They/Them) and I’m on lead vocals.
How did Dream Nails get started? Where did the name come from?
Lucy: The band was started when chief shredder Anya met our previous singer Janey while they were part of a feminist direct action group. The band’s heart is political, the absolute bangers came a bit later.
Anya: It’s true!!! And the name comes from a nail salon in Tottenham!
Mimi: Lucy and I met on Gumtree when she answered my "Drummer Wanted" ad! We played in a band a few years before Dream Nails started. I joined Dream Nails about 4 years ago.
Leah: I’ve been a fan of Dream Nails for a while and joined as Lead singer this year, It’s still not sunk in I’m part of this punk witchy dreamyness!
Dream Nails is known for being a feminist band, talking on issues ranging from politics, the LGBTQ+ community, and more in your songs. Where do you find inspiration for these songs? Do they come more from a personal place or more so things that are happening in society?
Mimi: We always want to have a good mixture of songs as well, some are political, some are queer and some are just fun!
Anya: Obviously the personal is political for a queer feminist band like us. Plus music has the ability to evoke powerful emotional responses, so we often find ourselves having an emotional response to a political issue and want to explore and communicate that through punk rock! We try to come at things from a new angle, like talking about climate change by writing a summery pop punk track that sounds like it’s just about going to the beach, but then breaks down into geopolitical chaos.
Leah: I think as a trans, black. Enby person my existence is political, and so my art is too. Dream Nails speaks from lived experiences in many different capacities because we're all coming from a different place. To be able to express that through pure bops is so cathartic and necessary for the band, and our listeners.
Your sound encapsulates the riot grrrl ethos that was prevalent in the 90’s yet still has hints of playfulness throughout the songs. Was this always a conscious decision when creating your music?
Mimi: We also make zines to go with each release, which is similar to the 90’s riot grrrl era. I think we are more conscious of writing bangers. Our sound has definitely evolved a lot in the past few years.
Anya: Haha, yeh! We have always been influenced by the riot grrrl movement and bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney, but our playfulness has more in common with pop punk bands we loved growing up, like Green Day and Sum 41.
Leah: I guess history keeps moving in cycles and punk never dies! So there's elements of the riot grrrl movement with our spin, which is rage and joy throughout the music. The playfulness is fluid and always present, we go from stillness to head banging in a second and that's something that draws people in, the ability to evolve and surprise ourselves.
You currently have a new singer, Leah, who joined after Janey announced her departure. Can you talk about the process in finding Leah to replace her?
Mimi: We had a rigorous audition process, and luckily after about 10 auditions Leah was still up for it! Leah is incredibly talented and we are so excited to go on tour all together in September.
Anya: It feels like fate that Leah has joined our band! They’re an incredibly accomplished performer, actor, drag artist and writer - we’re so excited to see what happens creatively for our second album!
Leah: I honestly said yes to auditioning because when do you get an offer to audition for Dream Nails and not say yes?! I never thought I would actually get to be lead singer. I just wanted to be there to meet them all and jam and have a cool story to tell my friends. But now actually It's such a perfect fit, my work has always ALWAYS been punk and music is central to it all. By around the 10th audition I really wanted to get it (still not expecting too) and I believe I screamed for a good while when they told me. It just feels so right.
Photo by Marieke Macklon
You just put out your latest single, "Take Up Space!" on Alcopop! and Dine Alone Records, can you talk about that? What was the inspiration for it and what was the process like in putting it together?
Anya: It actually started with the question: ‘What would you do if cis het men didn’t exist for 24 hours?' The lyrics explore things like sunbathing topless when it’s hot and going hitchhiking without being worried about getting killed by a man.
Mimi: We recorded it in Liverpool over a weekend with Tarek Musa (Dead Nature, Spring King) who was the producer for our debut album. We had so much fun recording that weekend, and experimenting with new sounds we’ve never explored before.
Anya: Yes, like using an old tape deck to record parts!
Leah: The old tape deck was the one! It's such a relatable track. Such a simple premise but feels so far away for many of us. To have the freedom to do whatever you wanted without the fear or cis het men attacking or harming you. Small acts of rebellion!
You’re also touring your first album in September, what are you looking forward to the most on that tour?
Mimi: This is the longest tour of consecutive dates Dream Nails have ever done! I look forward to the many Chip Advisors (where we review chips on the road), meeting everyone and just being together again. It means more especially after the few years everyones had.
Anya: I can’t wait to dance and rage together again. Being together as a community means even more than it did before. Fuck zoom!
Leah: I can't wait for the tour life, soaking in every place we play, the people, the vibes, and just having some good quality band bonding and audience bonding time. Owning the stage with punk fury!
In a previous interview, there was a line that stood out, “we’re activists first, musicians second.” I find that those two kind of intertwine, as punk, especially riot grrrl, is known for being political and speaking out on issues that oppress people. Can you speak further on that in regards to Dream Nails?
Mimi: I think it’s really important to re-invent what ‘punk’ is. I’ve seen a lot of punk documentaries in my day, and some people think it’s punk to piss on someone. Also, a lot of old punks ended up being far-right, racist, misogynistic creeps. It’s punk to take care of yourself, to take care of each other.
Anya: We use our band as a vehicle for positive change, raising money and awareness for campaigns we care about like Medical Aid for Palestinians, No Sweat, and Abortion Support Network, as well as changing gigs for the better by working with Good Night Out.
Leah: I believe if you don't say anything you aren't standing for anything. We have a duty to our community to speak out. Punk isn't being reckless, it's the fight, the rage, the fury, being unapologetic in who you are and who you stand for irregardless of the cost in a patriarchal society. As Mimi said, it's punk to take care of yourself and others!
Last question, can you give any advice to someone who may want to create change yet doesn’t know how or have the courage to?
Mimi: I recently felt this way so I joined like 5 climate activist groups. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have time, we are all working to survive in this capitalist world, rest if you need to!
Anya: If you’re working, a really positive and simple action you can take is to join a trade union. Solidarity in the workplace is how we got things like sick leave, holiday pay and laws to protect us against discrimination!
Leah: Start at home, look around you who are the people you surround yourself with? How often do you check your privilege? You can only do the activism that is available and accessible to you. The person that shouts the most is not necessarily doing the most, talk to each other, ask questions and look after that mental health. Also give what you can. If you have some money spare to buy something, who are you buying it from? Buy from black businesses, donate to someone's top surgery fund, find community, see where you can help in your everyday life.