PUPIL SLICER are responsible for one of the most talked-about debut albums of 2021, the caustic and abrasive Mirrors. Sitting down to speak with guitarist and vocalist Kate, and drummer Josh, felt like witnessing a band on the brink of the big time.
“It’s really cool,” says Josh. “I went out and bought Metal Hammer today and there was a double page spread on us, it’s surreal!”
Kate adds, “Fantano retweeted it [news about their album being released] and screenshotted that he was listening to it. This is crazy, I’ve been following him for years! It would be really weird if he reviews it. That would be, like, I would know we’ve made it.”
The band, of course, are a long time in the making. Emerging from the ashes of a post metal band, Kate and Josh started playing heavier, more technical riffs together and, with their old bass player, they came up with a name…
“PUPIL SLICER… the stupidest band name I’ve ever heard.” proclaims Kate proudly. “We wrote the first EP but we didn’t really put much more effort into it. Then the bassist quit and he was the original vocalist, so me and Josh were just left with this project. The common ground me and Josh found were bands who don’t pigeonhole themselves – Dillinger Escape Plan, Code Orange, Converge. Bands who are pushing the boundaries.”
“We decided to write an album and do it properly,” says Josh, “put a bit of our savings behind it. First and foremost we wanted an album that would kick off live. But it was only when Kate started writing lyrics, opening up about her personal life, that it became something with a bit more structure. That’s when it really came together.”
“Yeah, I think it elevated it a bit.” says Kate, “Some of the songs, the ones written earlier are a bit more simplistic. But when I started pouring myself into lyrics a bit more, those are the tracks which have been better received. I do think the emotional honesty created a better performance. It was my first time doing vocals, so it’s nice that they’ve been well received!”
Sharing songs you’ve been sitting on for years as a band is a weird experience. Sharing songs which are as personal and painful as these must be even weirder.
“It was definitely a catharsis and a documentation – but I’ve also had people message me to tell me how much they relate to the lyrics, which I’m not sure how to react to!” Kate muses on the lyric writing process, “I tried to maintain more of a level of mystique and storytelling because I wasn’t sure if maybe the lyrics were too personal. But I do think the best songs are when each listener comes away from a song with something different.”
Kate never wanted to be the frontwoman, “We were looking for a vocalist for ages! There was a period of like a year where we were looking and I was just doing vocals live, and NOT having a good time, I still can’t do them properly without hurting my voice! We just never found anyone who clicked and now I’ve written this album I’m not having anyone else perform these songs! Guess I’m stuck with it!”
Josh adds, “It’s super weird to see these songs out in the wild, people forming their own opinions of them. Some of the songs, especially HUSK and WOUNDS, we’ve been playing for years.”
“It was a shot in the dark, writing the album.” says Kate, “We were just writing whatever we wanted to write, we weren’t sure how any of it would go down. There was a lot of experimentation on this album, lots of just trying things out to see what we liked. It was really cool to have people say that they like what we’re doing – we weren’t sure if the album was just going to sound ridiculous. It gave us more confidence in the future to do more weird stuff.”
Mirrors is abrasive stuff. It’s chaotic, aggressive, challenging music that Kate, Josh and Luke make. Not everyone’s going to be on board with a woman in this scene, let alone a trans woman. On Trans Day of Visibility, Katie posted to the band’s Instagram to set the record straight – Mirrors is largely about gender dysphoria.
“It’s caustic, abrasive. There are elements of protest and fucking the system – we’re still a punk band at the end of the day.” says Kate.
“It only takes one person to say something negative,” says Josh “and everyone comes out of the woodwork. Just shut the fuck up. I’m not gonna give them the time of day.”
“I haven’t made a press release or really discussed the fact that I’m trans.” says Kate, “For Trans Day of Visibility, I just wanted to make a post to say – by the way, the person who wrote this album is trans, and I tricked you all into buying 500 copies on trans flag-coloured vinyl! But I didn’t say that upfront in case it put people off. I wanted them to judge the music first. I wrote the songs in a way that they can be related to with any kind of negative feelings, not just dysphoria. There’s just not really a reason to bring it up. I don’t want to risk negative attention.”
“But the post went really well! I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put it up but if someone reads literally anything about us, they’ll know I’m trans. I don’t want them to think they’ve got one up on me so I just put it on the band’s page. But the comments were all really positive! I’m sure the bigots just escorted themselves off and I’d rather they did that anyway.”
Josh smiles, “It was a good day to do it and it really made me happy to see all the support! Kudos, I’m really glad you did.”
Kate adds, “I think the point of Trans Day of Visibility is to make you aware that there are people around you who are trans, and you might not even know it. So when you’re saying bigoted or hurtful things, someone could hear you and be upset. So don’t!”
Finally: a discussion about our ideal Download lineup and headliners.
Josh instantly chimes in. “I know mine. Chelsea Wolfe. One of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. She blew me away both times I’ve seen her. It would sound massive on that stage. It would be so good.”
“That’s a really good choice.” says Kate, “Spiritbox or Code Orange. Imagine Code Orange but with Download mainstage pyrotechnics budget. That would be SICK.”
Josh adds, “If it was gonna be Download, maybe Chelsea Wolfe Friday, Code Orange Saturday, Spiritbox Sunday. That would be good.”
“I saw Code Orange with Dillinger Escape Plan in New York and they are SO GOOD live.” says Kate. “They would be a dream band to support.”
“Rolo Tomassi, Svalbard maybe? There’s so many out there!” says Josh.
“How about Thoughtcrime? They’re Cyber grind, mathcore, super retro. Music straight off myspace, it’s ridiculous.”
“I’d rather see that then like Biffy Clyro and Kiss – AGAIN.” (us too, Josh)
Kate has the last word. “Stick us on the mainstage at Download, that would be great. Thanks.”