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They Never Rest: Cultdreams Talk 10 Years Together

Wednesday, 16 October 2019 Written by Laura Johnson

“Neither of us are the same people, are we?” Cultdreams vocalist and guitarist Lucinda Livingstone says to drummer Conor Dawson. “Both of our lives have changed so drastically from what they were. When we met I was 17, and then when we started a band together we were 18 or 19. Think how much you change from being a teenager to then being...I don’t know if I would call either of us an adult, but when you think about it, it’s mad.”

The end of October brings about a milestone for the bandmates: a decade of playing music together, first as Kamikaze Girls and currently as Cultdreams. With neither having yet hit 30 that’s no small feat, especially since Dawson claims he’s “nearly been kicked out of the band at least seven times.” Livingstone denies this wholeheartedly: “I don’t think even once.”

“I have changed a lot,” the sticksman explains. “I used to have a thing called ‘Connor humour’, where I was trying to be the worst person in the entire world. Then I stopped doing that, which is good. I feel like that has saved our friendship.”

“Then I’ve been moving house for 10 years of my life,” Livingstone reflects. “I’ve just been moving around everywhere. I’ve had ten thousand million different jobs. I said in an interview the other day, actually, this [the band] has literally been the only constant thing that I have had in my life that I have done for this long, ever.” 

Being in a mid-level band nowadays means sacrifice—forgoing much-needed quality time with loved ones, extra hours at work or a job altogether in order to play an hour-long set to strangers in an unfamiliar place. But it’s par for the course for the duo, who consistently put their music first.

“There’s a lot of things that we have to do to still be able to do it,” Livingstone explains, while also admitting to having at least two ‘wobbles’ a year, asking “what the hell am I doing?”. “But then at the same time the positive of that is that we’re almost at a point where we’re doing our 13-year-old bucket list.” 

Life is not without its challenges, though, and this band have overcome their fair share during their time together. ⁠One Young Man, the opening track on their 2017 debut album ‘Seafoam’ candidly detailed Livingstone’s experience of being robbed at gunpoint in 2014, with the rest of the record openly discussing personal trauma.

Their new album, ‘Things That Hurt’, tackles difficult topics with similar candour. “Take my meds on time don’t smoke too many cigarettes, dress appropriately for the binary I’m meant to have,” Livingstone sings on We Never Rest, which features guest vocalists Katie Dvorak and David F. Bello from emo band The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die.

One of the more shocking revelations, however, was delivered by the single Not My Generation, which finds Livingstone declaring “I wish I’d never wrote ‘SAD’” in reference to Kamikaze Girls’ 2016 debut EP, a solid fan favourite. Admitting it was out of frustration, they said: “It’s hard to know how to phrase this, but I think it was: wrote an EP about mental health at a time when people weren’t talking about it, and then everything changed. Not because of the record, but the way the NHS and society approached mental health issues changed for the better.

“But then I essentially felt like everytime I sat down and spoke to someone about the band they would ignore Conor and talk to me about what I had to say about mental health. Everything was about it, and it was overwhelming. We did open ourselves up to have a bunch of conversations about it, but I didn’t open our band up to have us promoted in that way. I didn’t ever want it to be, ‘this band are really cool, they talk about mental health.’ I wanted it to be like, ‘I really like this band.’”

Dawson remembers a slew of inappropriate questions, which he attributes to widespread ignorance on the topic, while Livingstone also admits that back then they weren’t aware of the option to refuse to answer. Now they have more confidence and clarity in these sorts of uncomfortable situations. They apply the therapy they’ve received for PTSD to other aspects of their life, and it’s working.

“I struggle to find happiness in a lot of things, but I don’t in this,” they say. “This is the one thing that I know I come and do and I’m good, and I feel good about it and it makes me happy. Turning all the negative stuff into good stuff, it’s a nice feeling.”

For the lyrics on the band’s new album, Livingstone’s catharsis came from a more political standpoint than it has previously, while still being deeply rooted in the personal. “We’ve just watched it all happen while we’ve been away [on tour]. So when you’re reflecting and writing you can’t unsee it all and ignore it all,” they say.

While still Kamikaze Girls, the duo embarked on an eight-week tour of America in support of ‘Seafoam’. The trek coincided with Donald Trump’s election campaign, and they described the scenes across the pond as surreal, with people in pickup trucks screaming in the streets and honking their horns. It was a sight to behold. 

Brexit also played a role, and was a catalyst for Livingstone’s desire to become more politically informed. “I don’t remember growing up knowing anything about politics or being told anything about politics,” they confess. “Then when Brexit started happening I definitely took way more time to just read about things. I’d never voted until the Brexit vote because I felt so uninformed and uneducated about it all that I didn’t know what I was doing. But I think touring through so many political climates and issues made me more savvy.”

With Dawson having relocated to Belgium a few years ago, the current political climate in Europe is one that will directly impact Cultdreams’ future, as it will many other touring bands. Jokes about their next release being a Dutch language political album aside, they’re able to make it work, for the moment at least.

‘Things That Hurt’ began its life in autumn 2018, with the pair going back and forth with voice memos and Dropbox files. That September, a couple of hours before opening for Enter Shikari, they holed up in a practice room and jammed out ideas. “I feel like we got the sound of the album we wanted then,” Dawson admits. 

The band then didn’t see each other again until the following March, with Livingstone busy touring with Nervus as their permanent bass player over the winter. When they returned, as everyone was gearing up for Christmas —they don’t celebrate anything like that⁠—Livingstone was preparing to dig in to the new material. Voice memos, lyrics they’d been writing for the last two years, “random stuff floating around,” were all brought together. 

The record was demoed meticulously and recorded over 10 days this March with “good egg” Bob Cooper, who’s produced everything they’ve made to date, at Crooked Rain in Leeds, where they made their last album. He and Livingstone have a shared love of experimenting with guitar pedals, and with the guitarist being endorsed by Earthquaker Devices, there’s no shortage of options.

“We just start making chains and we swap things in and out of the chains until we find the perfect guitar sounds that we want,” Livingstone says. “It just turns into a hot mess, but then you find the bones of the sound and you’re like ‘cool, that’s what we want the album to sound like.’ Then it’s really fun to swap bits in and out of your core sound.”

The band’s experimentation also extended to the vocals on the record, which the eagle-eared among you may have noticed are significantly lower in the mix than on previous releases. “With the way the music progressed and the way that it all sounded we wanted them to sit at a point in the mix where they were there, but it wasn’t necessarily...” they trail off.  “It’s just like another instrument, ” Dawson jumps in.

With the difficult second album completed, an accompanying summer tour of the UK and Europe in the bag, and their 10 year anniversary on the horizon, it’s already been a big year for Cultdreams. Which begs the question, what’s next? 

“We just wanna go off again, do all the stuff,” Livingstone says. They admit the previous year was too quiet by their standards and are determined to make the most of the next one, with a November UK tour supporting Milk Teeth already in the diary. So, here’s to the start of the next decade of Cultdreams. Whether acknowledging achievements or overcoming adversity, they never rest.

'Things That Hurt' is out now through Big Scary Monsters

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