Bristolian blackened post-hardcore band Svalbard have just released their second album It’s Hard To Have Hope on Holy Roar Records. The album is absolutely raging, featuring their most overtly political lyrics to date, with songs covering such delicate subjects as revenge porn, abuse, rape, feminism, mental health, abortion and even animal welfare.
We spoke with vocalist, lyricist and guitarist Serena Cherry to discuss the issues that inspired this fantastic album.
You’ve just released your brilliant second full-length album, It’s Hard To Have Hope. The immediate thing that struck us is that lyrically and musically, the band seem to be moving into a hardcore punk direction with much more direct and politically-charged lyrics (especially when compared to the early EP work). Do you agree, and was this a conscious decision the band made or did it just come about naturally?
We didn’t really think of it as a hardcore punk direction, we never really sit down and decide what genre we want to sound like before writing. Personally, I’m not even really into hardcore punk, so I can’t say that it’s been a direct influence on me. All I know for sure is that I made a deliberate, conscious effort to be as transparent with my lyrical content as possible. To make sure the meaning of the songs was obvious, and to write songs about specific injustices that deeply affect me. I suppose in the way that the lyrical content is far more overtly political, that draws some parallels with hardcore, but hardcore punk isn’t really something we aspire to be as a band.
Did you want to really challenge your listeners and bring your politics right to the surface?
Yeah, lyrically it’s meant to be an uncomfortable listen. It’s meant to unflinchingly take on difficult subjects like sexual assault and revenge porn. The kind of subjects you could probably never talk about with your mum, for example. We wanted our stance on these issues to be as blatant as possible. The more your words are condensed, the deeper they burn.
Each song on the album covers a fascinating and relevant topic. Would you be willing to share the inspiration behind ‘Unpaid Intern’, have any of the band members had to work as unpaid interns themselves?
No, we haven’t ever worked as unpaid interns because none of us could ever afford to! As working-class kids, we have never been in a position where we were comfortable enough financially to work for free. That’s what the song is about; how unpaid internships basically restrict the poor from access to certain job roles. Speaking personally, as a writer, I have had several companies offer me unpaid internships and I have to turn them down because…you know, I have to pay rent and bills and stuff. I can’t just go a few months without income. So I know too well that feeling of a door of opportunity slamming shut in your face, not because you don’t have the appropriate skills, but because you are poor.
‘For the Sake of the Breed’ is a song that really stands out on the album. Animal welfare is not a topic often covered in music… Please tell us more about what drove you to come up with this song.
Every time I walk past a pug and I hear it struggling to breathe, I feel sick. Every time I see unhealthy, brachycephalic pets being heralded as fashion accessories on social media, I feel sick. I just cannot get my head around this idea of choosing to pay thousands of pounds for a pure-bred dog that has health problems, when there’s thousands of healthy, happy, homeless dogs in shelters. Are we that vain when it comes to animals? Have we seriously got to the point where we prioritise their ‘cuteness’ over their health? It’s fucked up.
‘Feminazi?!’, ‘Revenge Porn’, ‘Pro-Life?’ and ‘How Do We Stop It?’ all very much speak from a woman’s point of view. Do you consider Svalbard to be a feminist band, and are you personally striving to give a voice to the struggles that women still face every day?
Yep, we are proudly a feminist band. We will shout about equal rights for as long as it takes to smash the patriarchy. Someone reviewing the album said that we ‘shouldn’t sing about feminist topics when we are not an all-girl band’ which absolutely baffled me. You don’t have to be female to be a feminist. Every single member of Svalbard wants equal rights for all. Just because Liam [Phelan, guitars/vocals], Adam [Parrish, bass] and Mark [Lilley, drums] identify as male doesn’t mean they can’t be feminists too.
One of the songs that really hits hard is ‘Try Not To Die Until You’re Dead’… Was there a personal story that you (or any of the band members) have been through to inspire this song?
‘Try Not To Die Until You’re Dead’ is about a parasite that I caught in the States last year, which attached to my stomach organs and systematically began shutting them down. Suddenly, I couldn’t eat, sleep, play music, go to work… I was riddled with incapability for months and it was an experience that shook me to my core. Unfortunately, the parasite leaves permanent damage, so some of my organs will never work properly again. I will be in pain every day for the rest of my life. In general, I’d say the song is about all invisible illnesses. From mental health issues to colitis, it’s about how difficult the struggle can be when part of you starts shutting down and it seems like you won’t ever get better… And people get dismissive because they see no ‘physical evidence’ of the illness.
To leave on a more positive note, if you (and each band member) could be any animal for a day, what animal would you choose to be?!
Ooh, I like this question! I’d be a Capybara, the bulbous friend to all the animal kingdom. They’re so placid and sweet-natured. Liam’s nickname is ‘Big Bear’, so obviously he would be a bear of some variety. Mark would be a Binturong, lazing happily in a tree. Adam would be a Panda because he’s vegan and they only eat greens!
…And finally, what is next in store for Svalbard?
We’re going to throw a curveball and write a dreampop album like Shelter by Alcest. If I say this enough, it’s going to come true, right?! Realistically? Touring. As much touring as we can fit around our crummy day jobs! We will be touring the UK with Modern Life Is War in June and we are playing a few festivals such as ArcTanGent and Fluff Fest this year. The record has been released in Japan so I’m really hoping we get to tour there next year, Tokyo is my favourite city in the world!
It’s Hard To Have Hope is out now on Holy Roar. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French