I didnâ€™t think I had it in me to be floored by a rock band anymore, especially one that didnâ€™t carry the nostalgia of that period of my life before I discovered clubbing. Then, on a trip to New York several months ago, I caught the second half of a Razor Braids show. I couldnâ€™t tell then if it was the music, which at its loudest matched the brazen punk and indie rock of Mike Krol, or their style of performance that was more captivating. They embodied perfectly how their intricately emotive melodies cascade into pure and unbound noise.
Their first full length album, I Could Cry Right Now If You Wanted Me To, solidifies Razor Braidsâ€™ identity and marks the first milestone in their evolution. Bandleader Hollye Bynum picked up the bass in 2017 as a means of coping with a traumatic head injury, and has since brought together a formidable groupâ€”Janie Peacock, Hannah Nichols, and Jilly Karande. Each member has their own distinct background, none too alike: childhoods of country, punk rock, and choir underlie a collective thatâ€™s just getting started.
Letâ€™s start with something basic… how do you guys come together to write music?
Hollye: I feel like things shift every time we write a new song. At times, I write a little nugget of somethingâ€¦ or, like with 42, I come up with a really simple version on the bass, and bring it to everyone else. With Don’t Stop and Manipulator, Janie brought a string of riffs so we wrote the bassline and vocals around thatâ€¦ White Noise Machine was brought to the table entirely by Jilly.
So we don’t have one wayâ€¦ someone brings the structure or the bones, a seed of something, and then we all work together to shape it. I think that’s what makes I Could Cryâ€¦ so eclectic and layered and excitingâ€¦ we are all contributing our individual flair on the songs.
How would you guys define that flair? Do each of you bring a different sensibility?
Hollye: One thing we love about ourselves is that weâ€™re all so differentâ€¦ weâ€™ve all got very different personalities. I’m very outgoing, loud and weirdâ€¦ I’m also from the south and grew up listening to country music and folk. Obviously I listened to pop, but I feel like pop is more Jillyâ€™s wheelhouse.
Janie: I guess my background with music is more Jack White and Smashing Pumpkinsâ€¦ that kind of stuff. I think I take the distortion and grunge from those musicians and try to incorporate it into our songs.
Hollye: Wait, but let’s talk about how sheâ€™s from Memphis and grew up in Pittsburghâ€¦ I think that really influences her spiritâ€¦
Janie: Yeahâ€¦ I grew up in the city where they say rock was bornâ€¦ I guess Iâ€™ve just loved music as long as I can remember, even though that sounds so corny. But really what I bring is that I donâ€™t just love to play, I love to listen and be around people who live it. When people talk about Memphis, they say the city lives and breathes soul and rock. I’ve always tried to incorporate that in my life as I’ve moved away.
Jilly: Also Janie is a straight up shredderâ€¦
Hollye: There’s no huge disconnect between Janie on stage and Janie in real life. She is just always living her truth, always just being herself. She brings a real honestyâ€¦ sometimes quiet, sometimes really fucking loud, but always genuine. If the song calls for a crazy fucking guitar solo, she’s like no problemâ€¦ let me lay, let me bend my back backwards all the way ground and do whatever needs to be done to make it happen. It’s really sincereâ€¦ wow.
Jilly: I feel like I’m a pretty analytical thinker and enjoy thinking in complex ways. I add a lot of the harmoniesâ€¦ twinkly guitar parts and other things like that. I grew up playing folk guitar and listening to a lot of lyrical singer / songwriter stuff. I sang in choirs growing up and in a cappella groups during collegeâ€¦ I bring some of that to the table and I guess a kind of, I don’t know, maybe a quieter energy.
Hollye: Jillyâ€™s really good at seeing music in all its parts and finding little nuances. There’s been quite a few times weâ€™ve been rehearsing a song and Jillyâ€™s like hey, actually, in the measure before we go into the second pre-chorus it would be cool if on the third beat, everyone kind of dropped out. How is she thinking so clearly about one little moment! It’s really delicate. It’s really genuine. And I mean, Jillyâ€™s silly and sheâ€™s goofy and incredibly smart and very sweet.
Hannah: I think Iâ€™m the bitch of the band. I bring this raw, punk drumming energyâ€¦ I was born in Manhattan, the birthplace of punk rock… kind of like Janieâ€¦ and I feel like I have like a primal, like minimal style.
Hollye: Yeah, and youâ€™re also silly as a gooseâ€¦ maybe that’s our connective tissueâ€¦ we’re all insane.
Itâ€™s written in other interviews that Razor Braids has a distinctly New York vibeâ€¦ but I want to dig deeperâ€¦ what’s the worst part of living in New York and how does that manifest in the music?
Hollye: I mean I was sitting in a cafe when I moved here almost 10 years ago and there was this real weird dude sitting beside meâ€¦ we ended up splitting a cigarette outside. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy to start, but then he was having visions or something and was like
promise me, you will never fall in love in this cityâ€¦ people don’t come here to commit, and you will get your heart broken.
And I was just like this dude is crazyâ€¦ but now Iâ€™m like did he put a curse on me? Did he put a spell on me?
I have the worst luck dating and even with friendships in New York. Things just move so fast here, and you don’t have a ton of time. Itâ€™s difficult to have deep, genuine connections with people. I mean I have these ladies, which is really beautifulâ€¦ but then again some of the closest friends I know from Tennessee. So I think obviously that comes up.
I also feel like shitâ€™s just tough hereâ€¦ money, jobs, lifeâ€¦ things just tend to be harderâ€¦ the anger towards all that comes through in our songs.
Jilly: I remember we performed an acoustic version of The Drugs Aren’t Working at a singer / songwriter showcase like two years agoâ€¦ four people were in the audienceâ€¦ and Holly said a very poignant thing I’m gonna paraphrase. That song, part of it is about how you can still feel so, so alone even when surrounded by so many peopleâ€¦ even when doing things with othersâ€¦ you still feel that youâ€™re on your own. Thatâ€™s the weird paradox of New York. It comes up in a lot in our more thoughtful, a little sadder, songs.
Hollye: You’re right. If anybody reads this and is like she stole it it’s cuz I did rip it from literatureâ€¦ there is a quote about feeling alone in a sea of people. That song in particular addresses that feeling and talks about all the ways a person tries to connect and tries fit in. Like taking a bunch of drugs just to see if you can feel what you think other people are feeling. Or going to sleep so you can dream yourself into friendship or relationshipâ€¦ something you don’t have in real life.
Also, New York is the place to fuck it up and try a bunch of different things. You can do anything hereâ€¦ but often that doesnâ€™t lead you to real connections. You still feel lonely. We’re sadâ€¦ I’m sad.
Hannah: But also New York is greatâ€¦ the City of Dreamsâ€¦
Hollye: Yeahâ€¦ I mean, there’s also a lot of energy hereâ€¦ and the scene is, you know, coming back to life. It’s a hodgepodge of things. Thatâ€™s also represented in the music, not just sad shit.
Hannah: I think about our album title, I Could Cry Right Now If You Wanted Me Toâ€¦ and I think about how many times I’ve cried in public and cried on the subwayâ€¦ itâ€™s a very unique-to-New York experience. If you were anywhere else, youâ€™d have your car and could do it privately.
Hollye: And it’s so vulnerable. One time I cried on the train in front of this guy who was wearing a vote Bernie shirtâ€¦ because it was 2016â€¦ I don’t knowâ€¦ one of those yearsâ€¦ I was crying, really letting it loose, and right before this guy gets off the train, he comes and just puts his hand on my shoulder and says whatever it is, I promise you itâ€™s going to be okay. And then he got off the train and I was like now that’s fucking New Yorkâ€¦ that’s beautiful. It made me cry harder.
You guys have such an engaging stage presence, as if youâ€™ve been doing this a long timeâ€¦ is that true? Or did your style take off after everything started opening up again?
Hollye: No, that’s straight up after the pandemic. Before, we werenâ€™t standing still by any meansâ€¦ but there were limits. We just go now. I don’t care if I look ugly or whatâ€¦ Iâ€™m just like going for it, absolutely going for it.We all felt, during the lockdowns, that when we got out we were going to go crazy. We just run that wave now.
Are there any bands you see at shows and think: oh my god yes this is what our music should look performed?
Janie: I mean, we just saw Idlesâ€¦ that performance shook us. At one point the guitarist took off his shoe and played the guitar with it. I was like I know what I’m doing at our next show. Someone passed their instrument around the whole crowd. I love that kind of interaction with the audience.
Holly always does a good job with thatâ€¦ like by jumping into the crowd or like spitting on peopleâ€¦ engaging with everyone at the right time, doing things that are unexpected or surprising.
Hollye: There was something else really insane about that Idles performanceâ€¦ the moments when the lead singer decided not to be crazy, when he would just stand so still, so commanding. I am fascinated by thatâ€¦ the contrast of being this fucking confident person, holding their hands up to hundreds of people, and then all of a sudden there’s a big drum hit and guitar riffâ€¦ then he goes insane.
Hannah: I mean, I feel like A Place to Bury Strangers is worth mentioning as a Brooklyn band with a great live showâ€¦ and one of the loudest.
Hollye: Jeremy, their lead singer, mixed our recordâ€¦ but yeah, he leads Pure Adult with his partner. They push themselves to the extreme, dance with their entire bodies. Once, one of them threw his guitar into a trash can at the end of the set and left the venue as it was feeding backâ€¦
Janie: Jeremy’s shirt was ripped by accident. I just love that kind of stuff.
Beyond Pure Adult, who else do you think deserves more exposure outside of the scene?
Hannah: One that immediately comes to mind is PowerSnap. PowerSnap rips. They’re a power trio. The singer has such a powerful, unique, and deep voiceâ€¦ sheâ€™s a great songwriter, a great person too.
I could cryâ€¦ has been described as â€œdarkerâ€ and â€œmore matureâ€ than Nashville. Where is the writing going now? Is it even darker, even more mature? Or are you guys done with the dark, the mature?
Hollye: Thatâ€™s such a great question. Because we had so much time to make the record, we’ve already written a fair amount of new material already. I think weâ€™ve become more like what Hannah was saying earlierâ€¦ noisierâ€¦ more distortionâ€¦ some of the songs are more lyrically complex. We’re better at writing, periodâ€¦ writing together, writing for ourselves, and writing for each other. It’s going to be whatever it is now but elevatedâ€¦ hey, women contain multitudes.
Jilly: I think it’s interesting because the stuff we’re writing now is truly from the four of us together. In our last album, some of the tracks already existed before this iteration of the band. I don’t really know how to put it into wordsâ€¦ but when we play our new songs, ones we havenâ€™t recorded, it really feels like us.
Hollye: I feel like that too. Because we’ve done itâ€¦ we’ve made this one record, we’ve put out Nashville. Now I’m playing these little games with myself, challenging myself to write in new waysâ€¦ challenging Jilly and I to write a new harmonies.
Now weâ€™re thinking how extreme can we be? How weird can we beâ€¦ and still be ourselves? Itâ€™s really fun. We can really just play.