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Fast-Forwarding From Slow-Motion: An Interview With Giant Drag
John Freeman , April 3rd, 2013 07:18

With the sudden release of a second album, Waking Up Is Hard To Do, Giant Drag’s Annie Hardy tells John Freeman why it will be the nü-grunger’s last record and how, after years of illness and addiction, she is now ready to launch three new projects

A few weeks ago, with little warning and even less fanfare, Annie Hardy of Los Angeles alt. rock outfit Giant Drag, released the band’s second album, Waking Up Is Hard To Do via her personal Bandcamp site. While the album’s arrival felt like a sudden jolt, it has taken Hardy seven long - and incredibly difficult - years to finally reveal the follow-up to 2006’s superb debut, Hearts And Unicorns.

And that’s not all. A hastily-written press release accompanying the new album is awash with headline news. Waking Up Is Hard To Do will be Giant Drag’s final act - bar a handful of farewell shows - and Annie is now working on a number of projects including a record label, Full Psycho, and two new bands, the “upbeat punk” of Annie Hardy And The Psychos and the more experimental PnP.

However, before getting to the new stuff, it’s reassuring to hear that Waking Up Is Hard To Do is a fitting finale for Giant Drag. Hardy’s brand of “nü-grunge” (she’s very specific about the inclusion of the umlaut) still packs a punch as her SoCal drawl crashes between pain, venom and nonchalant contempt. The songs date back to 2007, but a series of record-label woes and health and addiction issues would ultimately suggest to Annie that “the Universe didn’t seem to want this record.”

I first saw Giant Drag play in Manchester in April 2006. It was a strange night: the band were raw and brilliant but Annie was continually heckled by several boorish men. I remind Annie about the show when I speak to her via a Skype video link. “I remember,” she tells me with a broad grin. “That was the first show where a lot of people were yelling ‘show your tits’ and started the trend for that happening on that tour.”

I apologise on behalf of all Mancunian males. She tells me it could have been worse and we relate our bilateral disgust at the ‘throwing-pint-pots-of-piss’ antics that certain lad-rock bands seem to attract. We agree that Giant Drag were unlikely to have ever drawn such a demographic. “If, at the end of my life, I never achieve enough as I’d hoped,” Annie reflects, “I will think that at least I didn’t have a bunch of people getting piss thrown on them at one of my shows.”

With the ice broken, Annie and I begin to pick through the last few years. It’s a conversation which is, in turns, bleak and also full of laughter. Annie tells me about her decade-long addiction to prescription painkillers and about the torrid relationship that would change her life forever. Throughout our chat Annie seems genuinely happy – and after hearing her story, that feels like the best present for any Giant Drag fan.

The new album was released pretty suddenly but what’s the story behind it? It’s been a long time since Hearts And Unicorns.

Annie Hardy: Well, everything happens for a reason, I’m sure. The Giant Drag album has been finished and mastered since 2011. Most of the songs were written and demoed in 2007 with Joe [Cardamone of The Icarus Line]. So, when all hope was lost after Interscope stopped production of what was going to be this album and then dropped me, we still had these amazing demos. The only thing that kept things moving during that time was financial help from Mickey Madden from Maroon 5, who executive produced the album. We played the songs for Mickey and he believed in them and offered to help us finish them. However, it’s then been set up a couple of times to come out, with another label and distribution, and then for absolutely no reason it has stayed stagnant. I was pretty convinced that the Universe didn’t want this record.

Why was now the right time to put the record out?

AH: Finally, I felt comfortable in putting it out. There was a great deal of time when I didn’t think it was a good record and I didn’t want it to come out. But, I had been really influenced by outside sources. This whole past couple of years I have been realising how much I do get influenced by outside sources when I really have always known [that] the right thing to do has been inside me. Maybe I had been hesitant about putting it out because of how vulnerable and honest it is, which wasn’t something I meant to do, but is something I keep hearing in the feedback about the record.

You have said that this is the final Giant Drag record. Why does the band need to finish?

AH: I think without an end in sight it gets to be confusing for me about what I am supposed to do. The new music I am making doesn’t sound like Giant Drag to me and so I feel it needs to be another project. It’s not fair to start a band with new people but call it Giant Drag and somehow have credit taken away from them.

I’m aware that you have had a number of health and addiction problems over the past few years. Would you be prepared to talk about them a little?

AH: Yes. I want to talk about this. I’m not saying I am here to help people but if what happened to me happens to anyone else then I am definitely happy to share my experiences. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in the early 2000s. I was put on Norco, which is a type of [semi-synthetic] opiate, and I began to take a lot of extra tablets because I wanted to get high. The whole time that Giant Drag was in our ‘success period’ in the UK, I was on those pills, but I was always suffering from fibromyalgia and in constant pain.

That sounds like a really difficult place to be. How did you get off the Norco tablets?

AH: I went to rehab to get off the Norco and then had to get off the drugs I was put on during a second rehab - which included Subutex, which is like methadone, Neurontin, Robaxin and Valium. I was thinking I was sober for three years when really I was having a whole different kind of high. After I finally got off all that, I realised my pain levels were nowhere near as bad as I thought they were. When you are taking that much painkiller you have no grasp of what your natural pain levels are.

At your worst, how bad was the addiction to Norco?

AH: I got really bad. They don’t have Norco in England where I was spending most of my time. I couldn’t physically get my hands on enough of the things to even go on tour. I’d get on a plane with about 500 tablets and, by the end, I was taking 15 at a time up to four times a day.

Jeepers, Annie – 60 tablets a day? That’s a lot.

AH: Yeah, I know. I go off, hard. I had an intervention from management at the time and they got me into rehab, that first time. And, it wouldn’t be my last time. In fact the first rehab didn’t work at all, and then after that I was taking 15 at a time. I never hid it as I have this problem with over-honesty sometimes, so it was easy to get interventions as everyone knew what was going on. I wasted so much money on the stupid things and they didn’t even work. It was really hard. It is still a struggle – I’m still on some prescription medication but I’m not being over-prescribed anymore. I was over-medicated for my entire 20s. It’s weird – almost a whole decade. I was 23 when I started taking them and now I’m 31 and I’m still not through it.

Do you have any pain nowadays?

AH: Not really. I realised that a big part of my pain was down to the guitar I played in Giant Drag. It was a Gretsch and weighed 30 pounds. I didn’t realise that through all the touring and sitting in fucked-up chairs and the most painful part of getting onstage every night, was that my guitar was so fucking heavy. I never explored that aspect. I’m pretty small and now I have a Dan Armstrong guitar that is 5 pounds and it sounds rad and it looks cool – and it doesn’t hurt at all. It seems dumb in retrospect.

I also believe you recently ended a very difficult relationship. Would you be okay to tell me about what happened?

AH: Yes. Out of all the drugs and stuff and various other difficulties I’ve had, that was by far the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to me. My ex-boyfriend had low-grade schizophrenia and I was coming fresh off the heels of being dropped by Interscope and other things that I had not mentally dealt with. I was on drugs and I did the drugs to not deal with all kinds of shit. So, I was not going to be able to deal with what happened in a healthy way.

I got into this relationship with somebody I didn’t even like and it became like a hostage situation where there was almost a Stockholm syndrome thing going on. One day, after I’d been with this person quite a while, he went from being himself to nobody that I recognised. He’d been through some traumatic shit with his family and he went full psycho. That was the day that set into motion a great change in my life. It blew my mind and I was diagnosed with acute stress reaction. People who don’t deal with shit well can get this disorder. I’d been with this person in a virtual hostage situation. I was separated from all my friends and family and isolated and alone. I lost my mind too. I was with a schizophrenic person who was telling me I was crazy and I didn’t have any outside perspective, so I went totally insane.

That sounds like a terrible situation for all concerned. How did you extricate yourself?

AH: On the day he went full psycho, I realised how ill my boyfriend was and everything clicked. I started crying in a way that I’ve never cried in my life. I cannot even describe it – I cried for six hours and it felt like my face was falling off. Maybe it’s just America, but people don’t want to talk about mental illness and they definitely don’t want to help you. People are happy to help about drugs. They are sociably acceptable - that shit’s fine. I had been helped by people all through my life but I suddenly experienced this phenomenon of people behaving like utter dicks when it came to this crisis, and I felt so alone.

After I realised nobody wanted to deal with me, I was down so low that it occurred to me that it couldn’t get any more fucked. From that came this feeling of freedom that I’d never had in my life. The feeling of not giving a fuck what anyone else thought and feeling free. Two days later I got out of that situation when I ran away, while my boyfriend was asleep, and it started this long period of recovery to get back to where I am right now. I got to sort of start my whole life over again. That’s what inspired the whole Full Psycho label and concept – being able to change your thinking and change your life.

Tell me a little bit more about the Full Psycho label.

AH: I have bunch of ideas of where I would like it to go in the future, but right now it’s a label, there is a craft-making aspect to and it may have [a] TV [channel]. It’s about trying to get as many different ways to be involved with the viewer or listener as possible. I was so lonely when I was with that boyfriend out in the middle of nowhere, away from everyone else, and I really wanted people to be around me and be creative with me. My friend Monica [Barcicki] was a real help in getting me out of the situation with the ex-boyfriend. She started coming out to visit me and she was the only person who did that. She was the one who gave me the perspective that what I was going through was insane. She totally saved my life in giving me that perspective. She would come and we would make crafts together and I had so much fun, as I was having such a hell-on-earth time. She now plays in these two new bands with me. Two people were brought together under really weird circumstances and the resulting music and craft that has come out of that has been so great - I’m just trying to do that with as many people as possible.

So, what do Annie Hardy And The Psychos sound like?

AH: Monica brings an aspect of 80s glam metal to the table and I’m bringing my same old 90s nü-grunge – with an umlaut, don’t forget the umlaut – style. What’s coming out of that is what I hear as a natural progression of Giant Drag. Annie Hardy And The Psychos are making uptempo punk songs. When you get off all those downers everything is a lot faster. I’m a lot faster these days – I’m not in slow-motion anymore.

And you have another project, PnP. What can we expect from that?

AH: PnP is my free jazz-fusion weird band. I’ve made it kind of impossible for that band to be successful with the content of the songs. Some of the PnP songs are 100 per cent improvised and people tend to really not like those although I fucking love them – I think they are amazing. I did that on purpose because with Giant Drag I was so eager to give everything out to the fans without keeping anything for myself. I often think that had a bad effect on me. I only kept my Norcos for me and I couldn’t even keep those because I kept taking them!

Finally, and it’s not meant to sound like a trite question, are you happy?

AH: I’m happy for the first time ever. Unfortunately, I had to learn everything the hardest way possible, but I think I’m learning how not have to learn things the hardest way possible. At the end of the day, I do this all not for myself but for the people around me that I care about. I just want everyone else to have a great life. I just want to do cool shit while I am alive and I don’t think that’s too much to ask. I am just trying to figure out what the path of least resistance is for that, because I really know how to resist. Everything is a lot easier when you give in and let nature take its course, instead of making shit complicated.

Waking Up Is Hard To Do is out now via Full Pyscho