I didn’t think I had it in me to be floored by a rock band anymore, especially one that didn’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 couldn’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 Braids’ 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 group—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 that’s just getting started.
Let’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 something… 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 that… White Noise Machine was brought to the table entirely by Jilly.
So we don’t have one way… 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 Cry… so eclectic and layered and exciting… 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 we’re all so different… we’ve all got very different personalities. I’m very outgoing, loud and weird… 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 Jilly’s wheelhouse.
Janie: I guess my background with music is more Jack White and Smashing Pumpkins… 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 she’s from Memphis and grew up in Pittsburgh… I think that really influences her spirit…
Janie: Yeah… I grew up in the city where they say rock was born… I guess I’ve just loved music as long as I can remember, even though that sounds so corny. But really what I bring is that I don’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 shredder…
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 honesty… sometimes quiet, sometimes really fucking loud, but always genuine. If the song calls for a crazy fucking guitar solo, she’s like no problem… 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 sincere… wow.
Jilly: I feel like I’m a pretty analytical thinker and enjoy thinking in complex ways. I add a lot of the harmonies… 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 college… I bring some of that to the table and I guess a kind of, I don’t know, maybe a quieter energy.
Hollye: Jilly’s really good at seeing music in all its parts and finding little nuances. There’s been quite a few times we’ve been rehearsing a song and Jilly’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, Jilly’s silly and she’s goofy and incredibly smart and very sweet.
Hannah: I think I’m the bitch of the band. I bring this raw, punk drumming energy… I was born in Manhattan, the birthplace of punk rock… kind of like Janie… and I feel like I have like a primal, like minimal style.
Hollye: Yeah, and you’re also silly as a goose… maybe that’s our connective tissue… we’re all insane.
It’s written in other interviews that Razor Braids has a distinctly New York vibe… but I want to dig deeper… 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 me… 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 city… people don’t come here to commit, and you will get your heart broken.
And I was just like this dude is crazy… but now I’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. It’s difficult to have deep, genuine connections with people. I mean I have these ladies, which is really beautiful… but then again some of the closest friends I know from Tennessee. So I think obviously that comes up.
I also feel like shit’s just tough here… money, jobs, life… things just tend to be harder… 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 ago… four people were in the audience… 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 people… even when doing things with others… you still feel that you’re on your own. That’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 literature… 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 relationship… 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 here… but often that doesn’t lead you to real connections. You still feel lonely. We’re sad… I’m sad.
Hannah: But also New York is great… the City of Dreams…
Hollye: Yeah… I mean, there’s also a lot of energy here… and the scene is, you know, coming back to life. It’s a hodgepodge of things. That’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 To… and I think about how many times I’ve cried in public and cried on the subway… it’s a very unique-to-New York experience. If you were anywhere else, you’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 shirt… because it was 2016… I don’t know… one of those years… 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 it’s going to be okay. And then he got off the train and I was like now that’s fucking New York… that’s beautiful. It made me cry harder.
You guys have such an engaging stage presence, as if you’ve been doing this a long time… 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 weren’t standing still by any means… but there were limits. We just go now. I don’t care if I look ugly or what… I’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 Idles… 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 that… like by jumping into the crowd or like spitting on people… engaging with everyone at the right time, doing things that are unexpected or surprising.
Hollye: There was something else really insane about that Idles performance… the moments when the lead singer decided not to be crazy, when he would just stand so still, so commanding. I am fascinated by that… 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 riff… 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 show… and one of the loudest.
Hollye: Jeremy, their lead singer, mixed our record… 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 back…
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 voice… she’s a great songwriter, a great person too.
I could cry… has been described as “darker” and “more mature” 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: That’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 we’ve become more like what Hannah was saying earlier… noisier… more distortion… some of the songs are more lyrically complex. We’re better at writing, period… writing together, writing for ourselves, and writing for each other. It’s going to be whatever it is now but elevated… 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 words… but when we play our new songs, ones we haven’t recorded, it really feels like us.
Hollye: I feel like that too. Because we’ve done it… 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 ways… challenging Jilly and I to write a new harmonies.
Now we’re thinking how extreme can we be? How weird can we be… and still be ourselves? It’s really fun. We can really just play.