When founding HAWXX members Hannah Staphnill and Anna Papadimitriou met, they had no idea that their band would become what it is today. Hannah was working in a recording studio as an engineer when she heard Anna playing through the wall: “I thought, bloody hell, she’s good, so when she came in again I would put her in the rehearsal room nearest to wherever I was,” says Hannah. Anna sent over some demos and they had a jam with Hannah on keys, but at the time, they were both playing “bluesy rock”. It was only when Hannah grabbed a guitar for one track that “something special happened”.
Next, they added Jessica Dann, who Anna met doing a “really underpaid” session gig, and Julia B. Cadau, who they “found on the dark web”. Together, they found their sound, metal with melodic vocals and four-part harmonies. Their songs and shows are a rallying cry for women, trans and LGBTQ+ people everywhere, and they’ve built a loyal fanbase. Their crowd-funded debut record, Earth, Spit, Blood and Bones, is an optimistic, rage-filled achievement for a band who have done pretty much everything on their own.
We caught up with HAWXX ahead of their European tour with Halocene.
ROCK SOUND: How did you find the sound that we hear on Earth, Spit, Blood and Bones? It’s a lot heavier than where you started.
HANNAH: “We have been a bad influence on each other. I’ve got my roots in metal, but when we met, I was doing lots of different types of music. I really liked Anna’s demos, but we came to metal through some car journeys. Anna picked the music, and I was like, oh, you like that music! You know Satriani’s guitar solos! Then we jammed together on Trooper.”
ANNA: “On one car journey, we broke out into ‘Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr’ by Trivium.”
HANNAH: “I didn’t know anyone else who was into that music. Everyone in the band had a metal phase so we all dragged it out of each other, it was inevitable. It felt like coming home. The tunings just got lower and lower.”
RS: Did you bond over caring about the same stuff, too?
HANNAH: “If you’re going to play powerful music, why not? You need something you really believe in to accompany that powerful music. There has to be a powerful message as well. On some metal songs you either can’t understand the lyrics or it’s about a king in a lost world or whatever. It isn’t massively relevant for me.”
ANNA: “You’re not going to experience catharsis through the king in the lost world. It’s not transformative.”
RS: There’s one track on this record about religion –’Bite’ – do you have a religious background that you’re responding to?
ANNA: “Me and Jess both have had religious experiences. Jess had a religious upbringing, I was brought up atheist but I had a conversion when I was 16. I came out of that at 22. It was intense. That song is about having that pure desire for faith or something spiritual, something deeper, but how religion can contort that into something toxic and based in power and corruption. That’s why we wrote those lyrics about how there’s holiness in queerness, in pride, in witches, in unforgiveness and all the things that the Church says are unholy, but behind closed doors there’s a whole lot of unholy stuff going on. I saw that firsthand. We’re reclaiming what is true and pure.”
RS: As a band, I guess live shows are your own worship space to preach a different set of beliefs.
ANNA: “We really wanted that because we’re channeling specific energies. We’re aiming for that cathartic communal experience. We want to form that sense of togetherness, sisterhood and solidarity. It’s about more than throwing your body around, it’s about leaving this space holding onto something. The church is so restrictive and hypocritical. It’s about keeping everybody down.”
RS: You’ve self-released this record, and you’ve managed to build your own hype. Was that a deliberate move to retain autonomy?
HANNAH: “We’ve always been pretty DIY. We’ve built things up from the ground up and had them evolve organically. With this release, the more we thought about it, the punk, DIY aspect fits with what we’re doing.”
ANNA: “We have an amazing fanbase. We crowdfunded over £12,000 to make the album. We’re a well-oiled machine for an unsigned band and we really feel love and support from our community.”
RS: When it came to the songwriting, were there any artists that inspired you?
ANNA: “We are all into heavy music, but we all have quite different tastes, which I think informs the sound. Jess and I love King Crimson, and Jess has a jazz background in drums so her playing is not precise. It’s so fluid and creative and elevates the sound to this whole new place. Songwriters and poets are quite important to us. We’re obsessed with Boygenius for everything that they are. We love that vulnerability, because we have a lot of rage, but we also have a lot of tenderness. We’re obsessed with MUNA too. Even if that’s not directly evident in our sound, energy-wise, there’s definitely a correlation.”
RS: Are you trying to build a community the way those artists have?
ANNA: “100%. What’s really powerful in an artist is when they hold the space for their fans, which is a really hard thing to do. In terms of queer rage or feminist rage, we want to make a brave, active space where people step forward. We’re all doing it together. A good example is the music video for ‘Death Makes Sisters of Us All’. We had 30 women and non binary people come to the shoot, and we all just sat in a circle singing this song together. We all knew that feeling of feeling unsafe on the streets. We are all tired of attending vigils for murdered women. No one had to say anything, but that was one of the most powerful experiences we’ve ever had as a band. It was such an honour.”
HANNAH: “There’s a part of the video where we asked some people to scream. In those screams, you can see what they’re channeling, and it gives me goosebumps every time. They needed to let it out.”
‘Earth, Spit, Blood And Bones’ is out now.