The Cover Story

Static Dress: “This genre has so much to be explored, but no-one wants to do it because everyone’s too scared of not being cool for 10 minutes”

In a world where so many artists are afraid to stray from the norm, Static Dress stand as one of the most inventive and inspiring acts in the burgeoning new wave of post-hardcore, unafraid to push what it means to be a band. Dive into the Technicolor rabbit hole...

Static Dress: “This genre has so much to be explored, but no-one wants to do it because everyone’s too scared of not being cool for 10 minutes”
Mischa Pearlman
Olli Appleyard

It’s going to be a long night for Olli Appleyard. The Static Dress frontman is sitting behind the wheel of his car (don’t worry, it’s parked) talking on Zoom about all the things he has to do later this evening. Behind him, just visible in the shadows of the back seat, are huge boxes that contain all the merch for the pre-orders of Prologue…, the band’s debut EP and also their first physical release. Everything Static Dress have released prior to this has been digital-only, but these boxes represent something more tangible, more real. It’s a sign of a dream beginning to come true…

“Everything’s moving so fast I can’t take a minute to let anything sink in,” he admits, although sitting in his car as dusk falls, he seems very calm. “It’s all coming at a pace where my brain’s in a state where I’m like, ‘Now, I need to do that, now I need to get on with this.’ It just never stops. Here I am with all this merch, so I have to go home and sort that out, and also edit videos. It’s going to be a fun evening for me, for sure.”

Really, though, Olli wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, the frontman has deliberately made Static Dress something for himself to get thoroughly lost in, in the hope that others will too. It is, of course, also a vehicle for catharsis, but from the beginning it was clear that the project confronted emotions in a different way, creating a vivid alternate universe centred around a semi-fictionalised version of Olli. That’s why Prologue… is being released alongside a comic book, a noirish tale written by Olli and illustrated by Tanya Kenny, which also includes photos and lyrics to the songs on the EP. Indeed, the second side of the cassette version contains an audio comic walkthrough and a track-by-track interview. Couple that with all the hidden messages and recurring imagery in the band’s videos, and it’s clear that Olli’s approach to Static Dress is, to say the least, incredibly – if not unusually – dedicated. That’s very much by design.

Formed as recently as 2018 in Leeds – Olli is originally from Bingley, some six miles from Bradford and 14 or so from where the band started life – Static Dress was conceived as what the vocalist hesitantly calls a “social experiment”. He’d been working for some bands and labels, offering them ideas for how to market beyond the usual Facebook ads and Instagram posts, but nobody was listening. Everybody just wanted to conform to the system that was already in place.

“The way the industry goes,” laments Olli, “is if it’s not a technique that’s already been proven and done by four, five, six, seven other people, they tend to shun and reject it.”

And so he decided to start Static Dress in an attempt to work off that frustration and test his ideas. The band – these days completed by founding bassist Connor Riley, drummer Sam Ogden and a mysterious touring guitarist known only as Contrast – released their first single, clean., on August 16, 2019 without any fanfare or expectation.

“I wanted to put as much as I could into one release,” says Olli, “and just be like, ‘Yep, this is the best that I could do.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, if we get 300 views in the first week, I’m going to be stoked – and that’ll be the project done.’ I was going to go back to taking photos and going on tour with my friends, and that’s me happy. And then we dropped it and I was like, ‘Oh, okay – there’s 16,000 views on the first day.’ And then it kind of snowballed from there, chaotically.”

"I just wanted to try something different, try something new because I'm a bit of a massive nerd when it comes to stuff like that"

Hear Olli discuss his initial aspirations for Static Dress

Since then, that snowball has kept rolling. The band played Download Pilot, have toured with the likes of Creeper and Higher Power, are heading out with Funeral For A Friend next year, and are the subject of intense speculation on their own subreddit. The hype and the excitement is very real. 

“I just wanted to see how far something can be pushed,” Olli explains, “instead of just trying the bare minimum and doing the laps, the circuits, and the touring and touring and touring. I wanted to see – if I put as much effort into the videos and the marketing and the branding – how far I could just take it. And then it ended up doing way better than I thought I was ever going to. And I’m like, ‘Shit!’”

He grins the grin of someone who is genuinely shocked by everything that’s happened, not least in such a small amount of time. Ask him why it’s happened, though, and he has an idea.

“What’s at the core of that,” he offers, “is the care. Every single thing I put out, I put that much fucking care and attention into it, and I think people notice that. Like, if we get sent a poster for a show that’s happening in a few days, I’m not just going to take the JPEGs that I got sent from management or the promoter or whoever. I’ll go to a shop, print off the poster in the shop, bring that home, put it on the wall in the set I’ve made in my house, take a photo, put that into Lightroom, edit that. The entire process will take me four hours vs. something that should take me a matter of seconds, because I’m making sure every single element of what we do is the best that it can be.”

The world of Static Dress is a dark and mysterious place, somewhere that’s not quite fictional, but not quite real. Rather, it lies between the two – all of both and none of one. Everything within it is interconnected, carefully constructed in painstaking detail. Nothing is there by chance. You can, if you wish, ignore that, and just focus on the songs. They veer between sleazy ’90s alt.rock, visceral post-hardcore and off-kilter electronics, and they work incredibly well on their own terms. Most fans, however, have started peeling back that the layers on the surface to discover – or attempt to discover – what lies beneath. That could be recurring images of a red dial phone or QR codes, which were inserted into the band’s lockdown livestream and linked to exclusive material. It could be the hidden messages and codes in the Prologue… comic book, or that aforementioned second side of the Prologue… cassette. It could also be something that, as yet, only Olli knows about. To some extent, he’s like a benevolent Jigsaw, plotting devious ways to give back as much as he can to those who have fallen in love with his music.

At the same time, he’s not afraid of losing casual fans – something he’s actually anticipating with the release of Prologue… Technically, there are nine tracks on the EP, but there are only four ‘real’ songs, five if you count the corrosive 67 second-long explosion of foreplay (is not my forte). The other four songs are punctuated with experimental, atmospheric soundscapes. Opener a_distraction… is the sound of a car crash punctuating a quiet, peaceful night, while the 62 seconds of EP closer to the hotel… starts with the sound of a match being lit, before – if the last panels of the comic are anything to go by – a Molotov cocktail is thrown and a car drives off. It ends with a demonic voice repeating, “Don’t scream.” The overall effect is less like an EP, and more like listening to a movie.

“I can’t wait to piss so many people off,” Olli laughs. “Honestly, I can’t wait for so many people to be like, ‘Oh, this is shit,’ and just toss it aside, and then I'm sitting there saying, ‘Look deeper than what you’re getting given.’ The very last thing I wanted to do with this was go, ‘Here’s the music that you want.’ What we’re giving you is a prologue to what you want. Look deeper, get more invested and you can get it way sooner than you think. There’s cryptic stuff hidden in this that if you have the time or the effort to put in, you can get six months ahead of where everyone else is going to be. That’s the kind of reward I can give. And I know it sounds weird saying, ‘You get rewarded for this,’ because I feel like I should be grateful, but at the same time, I’m doing everything I can to make you try and enjoy something.”

You can tell from Olli’s language that although Static Dress are a band, he’s the one with total creative control – as much over what doesn’t come out as what does. Indeed, he says there are so many songs that’ll never see the light of day because their quality isn’t high enough. But it’s more than just the music he controls. It’s absolutely everything. He even, for example, took the photos for this Cover Story. That control is less megalomania, however, and more because he just really, really cares. This is his life, his passion, and he doesn’t want to compromise his art for anything. It’s also a way to be in control of himself. Sober for about four years now, Olli is clearly in possession of a hyperactive brain and imagination – one that, he says, doesn’t cope well with drink or drugs. He’s the first to admit he operates at a very different frequency to most people.

“I’m just very weird!” he laughs. “I’m not normal and I know that, and I’ve been told that for a while. So if I did drink or do drugs, I don’t think my hands would stop! I’d be like, ‘Alright, let’s go!' It’s kind of scary to think about, because it’s like a kind of Limitless sort of thing. In that film, he takes a pill and just never stops. If I start that, I’m going to end up just burning out and ruining my life!”

"I want to be able to get enough to survive, but then I to be able to put as much money back into the band so this can be more enjoyable for everyone else"

Listen to Olli share his ideas for Static Dress' legacy

From all the work he puts into Static Dress, it’s easy to see what he means. Indeed, there are reports he writes around 20 pages of notes for each song, detailing the narrative behind it all and fleshing out the world in which they exist. He began doing that after he wrote clean., but it’s continued in earnest ever since, blurring the line between who he is in real life and who he is in his songs. When it comes to the latter, he says it’s about 30 per cent him, and 70 per cent a character he’s created.

“I hate writing songs about myself,” he admits. “I’d much rather create a character that I can forge into some kind of weird creature that’s way more creepy and way more involved. I think the story will end one day, but it’ll continue going for as long as I can span it out.”

Does that mean that when he reaches the end of this narrative, that’s the end of Static Dress? Is the lifespan of the band only as long as the story he’s telling through it?

“Oh no!” Olli says defiantly. “It can continue. I’ll just start a new series. It’s like Black Mirror or American Horror Story – if we’d have released the bad songs that I didn’t ever want to release, it would have been like a different season every EP or so. I’m always going to be reinventing and trying to push the bar out and do different things. The reason I’ve got no tattoos or piercings is because I want to be an adaptable person who can change the way they are at any given moment. I don’t want to ever be rooted to be any certain kind of thing. I want to be an individual who can change be be whatever they want to be.”

Despite how well things have been going, Static Dress are nevertheless in their infancy. They’re building a hardcore following, and they’ve played some big stages, but they’re still very much an underground band. That doesn’t bother Olli in the slightest. Firstly, because he has absolutely no desire to be famous, and secondly because he’s seen how heavy and abrasive bands – like Code Orange, for example – have been able to break through to the mainstream.

“It’s so possible!” he says with enthusiasm, before a diatribe begins. “I just don’t know why everyone put this ceiling on rock music as a whole, like ‘Oh, well, it’s good for rock music.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, fuck yourself.’ It can literally go far. This whole genre has so much of a larger ceiling to be explored, but no-one wants to do it because everyone’s too scared of not being cool for 10 minutes.”

That leads to a lengthy indictment of how the music industry is run, of capitalism, and of 21st century culture. They’re all anathema to Olli, and he’s not interested in any of it. Longevity is his goal.

“I’ve been in writing sessions,” he admits, “and I just can’t do it. I really tried to be a cog in the machine and I hate everything about it. It’s not what I want to do; it’s not what inspired 10-year-old me to want to keep listening to music. I never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, as long as this band is going, want to do the obvious. Because all anyone does is come out, do single one, single two, here’s an EP. If the EP does really well, they either go on to do single three, single four, then there’s another EP, or they make an album, and everyone’s like, ‘This was a success. You got an A B and C playlist. Brilliant. Now go on to the next album.’ And I’m like, ‘What has this changed? What has this changed for anyone?’ Nothing.”

It’s that, more than anything, that’s most important to Olli. He doesn’t just want to redefine how a band can operate, he wants to tear down the foundations of the entire music industry. He wants to – and undoubtedly will – keep doing this on his own terms, but ultimately, it’s about a lot more than just Static Dress.

“I want to try to change the game from the ground up,” he says matter-of-factly, as if it’s no big deal. “I want to change it and be like, ‘Stop releasing your music in normal formats! Stop advertising and doing these Facebook-sponsored ads that suck and ruin everything which you’re trying to do.’ But ultimately, I want to create a community from it. I want a place where people can share art and music and use this band as a platform so people can find other people like themselves and work together, to hopefully push individuality and creativity among people.”

It’s a refreshingly altruistic ambition, one that grounds the band around passion and love for what they do, rather than record sales. Certainly, if Static Dress suddenly start shifting units and racing up the charts, Olli wouldn’t complain, but that’s never going to be the goal. For him, the music – and its unique, disturbing and dystopian world – is always going to come first.

“If you’re too busy chasing the green, you’re never going to make it,” he says. “I want to get enough to survive, but then I want to put as much money back into the band so this can be more enjoyable for everyone else. Like, you could sit there in a Ferrari or a Porsche, and that’s cool, but when I die, that’s going to stay here and then someone with more money than me is going to buy it and move on. All that stuff’s sick, and to be able to have that one day would be amazing, but I want people to be able to come to a show and go, ‘Okay, mum and dad, what’s the best ever show you saw back in 2022?’ And they say, ‘I went and saw A, Y or Z band, and it was the most mind-blowing thing in the world.’ Now that is priceless.”

Static Dress' Prologue… EP is released December 3. They tour with Creeper later this month – get your ticket now.

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