Dream Nails: “Queer punks are here. Black punks are here. Trans punks are here… Back us, we back ourselves”

British punk quartet Dream Nails’ new album, Doom Loop, deals with incels, toxic masculinity, sexual assault and the “joy and grief” of being queer, with vibrance and fun. “We take what we have to say very seriously, but not ourselves…”

Dream Nails: “Queer punks are here. Black punks are here. Trans punks are here… Back us, we back ourselves”
Aliya Chaudhry
Marieke Macklon

Dream Nails put a lot of effort into the shoot for the cover of their new album, Doom Loop, including having guitarist Anya Pearson lug a heavy, large, golden mirror to Kent all the way from London. It was, she says, "a nightmare”.

At said shoot, bassist Mimi Jasson asked for a photo of her lipstick and teeth. When the band got the images back, they decided they’d have to abandon their original plan. “It was very obvious that our high-level concept for the album cover hadn't really worked, whereas this image of Mimi's teeth with the purple lipstick was iconic!” Anya laughs.

Mimi’s photo, now the album artwork, encapsulates the brighter side to Dream Nails. Their music delivers clear-cut messages and unflinching resistance, but with playfulness and vibrancy.

“I love the juxtaposition of the album title, Doom Loop – i.e. negative, dark, heavy, difficult and a smiling, brazen, vampire, messy face," Anya says. "Actually, it's an image of joy and carefree attitude. It's quite nice to have that bouncing off the title of the album. It undermines it in some ways.”

Dream Nails formed in 2015 after meeting through a feminist direct action group, and released their self-titled debut album in 2020. Doom Loop is their first record with frontman Ishmael Kirby, who they met through the drag scene. The songs meld together falsetto refrains, upbeat rhythms and bouncy melodies with fuzzy guitar, blistering riffs and blaring bass.

To drummer Lucy Katz, their music varies from R&B to metal in their feel. “I actually see that as being part of our queer identity as a collective," she says. "Not that we defy definition, but that we can't be easily put into one thing or the other and that we enjoy playing in between and being everything all at once.”

Anya came across the phrase doom loop, a political term meaning 'a crisis that's eating itself'. “It's often used to refer to economics, financial crashes, but it can also be a psychological term where it's a negative spiral of your mind,” she explains.

The record has two distinct halves. The first details the doom loop, while the second fights back against it.

“We can see history repeating itself, we can see hatred following the same trends that our parents, that our grandparents experienced," Ishmael says. "So many things about culture at the moment feel like we’re stuck in a doom loop. We wanted to reflect that and also challenge it with how we can break it and disrupt it in the most punk way we know how.”

On Doom Loop, despair sits alongside optimism. “It's very queer in its way of thinking,” Ishmael says. “I always think that you can't have the joy that you have being a queer person or being a trans person without having the grief. There's that balance that is fundamentally queer. To experience euphoria, you have to experience severe pain, because that's what your existence is socially.”

“We have joy and we also have anger,” adds Lucy. “There's space for all of these things. We can hold them all together. And that is punk.”

Take Ballpit, with its delightfully groovy bassline, which emphasises the importance of having fun. “We're very playful and we take what we have to say, and what we have to do, very seriously. But we don't take ourselves very seriously,” Lucy says.

Doom Loop’s overarching theme is masculinity, explored through different lenses. Geraniums details experiences of sexism from a young age, while Good Guy discusses how men hide toxic behaviour behind the phrase. Case Dismissed deals with the experience of reporting sexual assault to the police. “It's about what that feeling is, of your trauma being paperwork,” Ishmael explains.

Anya wrote Sometimes I Do Get Lonely, Yeah, from the perspective of a young man who becomes an incel, turning to documentaries and books, including Laura Bates’ Men Who Hate Women, for research.

“What struck me is that becoming radicalised as an incel really could happen to many men,” Anya says. “And it appeals to this sense of loneliness, disempowerment, disenfranchisement, often poverty, or lack of aspiration, social isolation… These are things that many people experience. And the more I started thinking about what it might feel like to go on that dark journey and find solace in the darkest of places, the more I realised that it's a very human story.”

This sort of empathy runs throughout Doom Loop. What they're getting at, says Anya, is "wanting the listener to have more understanding”. On the more hopeful side, Femme Boi is a celebration of trans masculine euphoria – and provides much-need representation within trans masculinity.

“I wanted it to be a song that was not about white trans masculinity either,” Ishmael says. “I wanted it to be an anti-colonial, trans masc euphoric song. Because also this pinnacle of what trans masc-ness is, is not my experience or what I want it to be. My body is completely different from that. That is also so western in its way of thinking. By breaking that, you're breaking other things as well. It's intersectional, which is fun. And it's cheeky.”

Dream Nails’ mission extends outside of their music. “It will always be the case that we love writing banging tunes and playing shows, but our music is a vehicle for our politics,” Lucy says. “Without that, we don't see much point in doing what we're doing.”

That also involves making zines, which they’ve done to accompany each release. The current issue, which the band will be selling online and at shows, is a joint effort between Dream Nails and their fans, who had not heard the record when they contributed. The zine, organised around the theme 'time is a circle', contains the lyrics for Doom Loop along with articles, recipes and cartoons.

“People wrote about their family, concepts of queer time, how they were coming out [of] their own circles and finding release and revolution,” Anya says.

Dream Nails have also been bringing zines to new audiences, using their Arts Council England funding to host zine workshops for LGBTQ+ youth groups across the country. “It's been a lot of fun,” Lucy says. “Teenagers are really sassy.”

And they’ve also been doing workshops to empower young musicians. “Another branch of what is really important to us as a band is demystifying the music industry and helping tool up anybody who wants to be in a band and has something to say, just making them feel a bit more confident that they too can do it,” Lucy says.

Anya sums up the band’s outlook with, “We're just having a laugh and trying to change the world in any way that we can.”

“Queer punks are here,” Ishmael concludes. “Black punks are here. Trans punks are here. And we're just doing the thing that we love and want to do. Just back us, we back ourselves.”

Doom Loop is released on October 13 via Marshall

Check out more:

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?