"Thanks for telling me who I really am"

Interview of the musician Donna Haringwey by Marie-Emmanuelle Arouet.

« Thanks for telling me who I really am » is a relevant critical vision questioning the mutations and complexity in our modern society of digital age. Between the lines of this message, what was the crucial moment that triggered in you the creative process of this concept album? Who is the title directly addressed to?

The whole album is about the total absurdity of communication on the internet. Many times I've felt like humanity really needs to figure out on how to navigate the more social bits of the internet in the past 7-8 years, especially while reading dumbass toxic shit on 4chan or reddit (I also find a lot of funny or interesting shit on there obviously) or cancelling or virtue signaling comments on social media (which can sometimes be important in order to call out shitty people in power positions). The problem I see though, is that a bunch of humans are totally consumed by sadistic shaming methods on the internet and I feel really sorry for people who try building up their egos by putting other people down. Social media has in a way become the guillotine of the 21st century as everybody seems to blame everybody for their miseries. Even if a bunch of these accusations might be true, the generalisation and categorisation of individuals or groups of people in the way its done by any sort of people on the internet (woke leftists, incels, alt right people, nihilists or whatever/whoever etc etc) is violence imo and people have to really start taking responsability for their unthought shitty self-promoting actions. Thats what the album is about and the title is directed to people who build up their egos through these public sadistic shaming methods. The only thing I am certain of, is that people need to be kinder and empathic to each other if we don't want to fuck up even more peoples mental health. This goes for everyone basically putting their opinions out there on social media in an uncontrolled and unreflected self righteous way.
Your music is a real soundtrack of our current time: free, impulsive, cathartic and committed at the crossroads between punk, hardcore, metal, noise and dance music. Obviously, you are defining yourself by your own standards and do not care about the conventional. From a personal perspective, can you tell us what enabled you to grow as an individual and to build the very authentic sound of Donna Haringwey?

Thanks for the kind words! In one sentence its because I do not want to impress anyone when I make music, except myself. I mainly think I make the music I make because I've been writing music for nearly 15 years now and hating scenes since day 1 in being in one as a teenager. I always felt a bunch of people were making music in order to fit into some sort of scene or please certain listeners or peers. I prefer looking inwardly and taking inspiration from what goes on inside of me. As for the genres Punk, hardcore, metal, noise and dance music - all these genres played a crucial role in my life up to now, so I think its just natural that my music sounds like a mixture of all of these genres.
Being part of the new electronic punk subculture is a tag that you never advocated. However, there are strong connections in the stylistic attributes of your project and evidence to what can be achieved with a proper DIY mindset. Where do you stand on this issue? What prompted you to create your own platform ‘Accept’? As well as to make for the first time your own video clip - « Cybesadism »?

Making these videos for the album was loads of fun, as I could dive into (for me) unexplored creative territory. The other thing is, I simply do not have the budget to pay people fairly for making videos for me. They take a shit load of time and energy to make and offering one of my friends who does visual art stuff for a living 200 Euros or some other shitty fee just feels a bit insulting and inappropriate. So yeah, I made these videos myself and learned a bunch of new softwares. I find it crucial to dig into non-musical subjects to keep my motivation making music going and for the development of ideas outside of the little bubble my brain lives in.
Regarding having created my own platform Accept... I do not want to do any compromises when it comes to my music. I just want to do shit my way and not even bother speaking to someone for approval. Its my music and I do everything exactly my way – as simple as that. I did send the music out to a few labels which I really like but as you see it did not work out, and honestly I am really happy about that. A wise older musician friend of mine once told me 'be careful what you wish for' and honestly I could not agree more. If one of those huge labels would have agreed, A) I would be getting (if I am lucky) 20% royalties on my own music and B) more importantly accept probably wouldn't exist.
How did the collaboration between Diane Edwards, Zanias and you come about in regard to this innovative approach of the artwork?

Diane is a good friend from London and we used to be flatmates. As her room was next to mine, she heard a lot of Donna Haringwey over the time and she always was very encouraging and supportive of my music. I love her art, I remember one day she just winged some visuals at a pub some friends were playing at and I was so mega blown away as she obviously wasn't prepared at all and just made amazing stuff on the spot. We have worked on a bunch of projects together since we know each other and because she is a fan of my music I asked her to do the cover for me, which she absolutetly nailed! Alison and me experiment a lot with visual artsy stuff, which is super fun – so obviously I wanted to have her involved in the artwork as well.

As I mentioned earlier, your music conveys something very impulsive and sincere, especially when it comes to rough materials, rage-filled vocals and the predominance of purifying drums. What place do improvisation and chance take in your creation process? How do you compose and record such challenging music?

I do not improvise in the conventional jazzy way, but I use a lot of randomness when I work on sound design. Lately I've been just remixing myself constantly which gets me to new cool places I wouldn't have ended up at in the first place: I make a track and then completely break it down by throwing it either into a granular synth or samplers. I get pretty cool sounding stuff in that way and at the same time recycle old stuff.
When it comes to writing lyrics and singing/screaming, everything is super planned out and controlled. I really take my time to find a flow and think about it for forever as I am still quite insecure about it. With a few tracks on Venal, I redid the lyrics and vocal bits over 3 times as I never was quite satisfied with anything I came up with. I definitely view this part as one I still have loads of room to improve – and you will hear these improvements on the next album which has been in the making since the pandemic for sure : ).
I try to keep the vibe impulsive but think a lot about what I am doing as I do not want to make the same thing twice. If something works, then good, I'll make a record, but for the next record I need to find a new methodology otherwise I get bored. Milking a recipe is lame af but sadly in the musical landscape we live in the only thing that works if you want to earn your living with music - growth and innovation are not really promoted as promoters seem to book the 5 same artists over and over again, as those will bring them security and stability. I do not blame promoters either as I believe a bunch of them have issues with the precariousness of their jobs as well. I do really think the only thing to blame here is the feedback loop which was created by the systemic conditions we live in (capitalism) and its not very easy to break out of it because every body is grinding hard and just trying to survive somehow. Btw all the lyrics on my record Venal are on this issue and my existential struggle with it.
You composed « Thanks for telling me who I really am » in 4 years. In the meantime, you released « Venal » a 7 tracks EP on Strange Therapy. How did you organize your thoughts, so that one does not encroach on the other?

I didn't compose it in 4 years, I worked on it for 4 years. The compositional bit took approx. 3 years and the engineering bit took a whole year – shout out to Gian from Dadub studio for mixing and mastering it and doing a super sick job, hit him up for mixing and mastering jobs! I also was working part time at a synth manufacturing company and doing sound design for moving image – definitley two big reasons for making the process of working on the album way longer than it should have been. While TFTMWIRA was in its mixing stadium, I wrote Venal. And since mixing and writing music are totally different things it was no problem at all to be doing those things in parallel.
Anyways, I am way faster in writing music nowadays, as I honestly did not know how to produce properly while writing TFTMWIRA. The album is in its technical aspect really something like a Bachelors Thesis in music production in my eyes - kind of an accumulation of production knowledge I had to teach myself over those 4 years. Plus I quit my job and I am poor af but at least I have time to just work on my music – so yeah people reading this: book me or me and my drummer and offer me/us a decent fee please, thank you : )

Through creation we are all given the opportunity to push strong boundaries. It is something very striking that emanates from the texture of your sound, which also captures a relevant palpably live energy. How will you embody this aspect in front of a live audience? What will your set-up look like?

I have two live set ups now. A solo show and one with a drummer. Both shows include a light show which underlines the sound desing and songs structures and makes everything just more intense and immersive. I recently played a solo show in Prague for the super lovely wrong crew. Their crowd really brought back my love for playing live and showed me how well the set up works in front of an audience. It was super fun to play – you can check out some videos on my instagram to get a better idea of the show!

I was particularly moved by « Falling », which oscillates between digital hardcore/punk frame of mind and this extreme sensibility which brings the track to a whole different dimension focused on something transcendent. Can you tell us about the story behind ‘Falling’?

Falling is the song which took me forever to finalise... The second bit of the song is inspired by one of my favorite hip hop producers: clams casino. He is kinda the person who invented cloud rap. Cloud rap is super etheral and moody and I really resonate with stuff like that. The lyrics in this bit of the track have AI generated lyrics. The algorithm took a bunch of asap rocky lyrics (clams casino did a bunch of really cool productions for asap) and moods I applied and spat out these weird insults: 'bitch thats that, bitch pass that, where the ket at, gimme my life back'
kinda funny but also very fitting to the lyrics in the first bit of the song: which is a homage to a person I once knew, who completely lost their mind through getting into a downwards spiralling mental loop and acusing everyone they knew on all sorts of social media for their expirenced misery.

About « Creatinine Toothpaste », throughout this apocalyptic soundscape, the violin seems to be trapped in a perpetual struggle against itself until it ends on a disillusioned note. Would you say that there is no more hope in the fight of our human comedy? How did you come up with the idea of using a kind of violin to translate these emotions?

There are actually two doublebasses playing really high notes in the song not a violin. I wanted to use an instrument which stands in contradiction to my usual instrument choices. I think the contrast of the really processed unpredictable field recordings and the predictable sounds of string instruments work really well together. Its like throwing something familiar and predictable with something totally unpredicatble and alienating together. The whole arrangement of the song is inspired by a super cool animation a friend of mine showed me by Boris Labbe called La Chute. The whole thing is super chaotic but also follows certain patterns, just like the track.
The industrial/noise/punk scene has been, and nowadays still is, a very male- dominated field. What do you think are the possible solutions to this gender imbalance? Can you highlight some female artists whose work is worth seeing?

I think its crucial to keep pushing people who are underrepresented in society. In the end I believe a huge sociological change will finally take place if people are able to finding role- models when they are kids. For myself it was definitely easy to find these role models – I just needed to switch on MTV and see some pop/skate punk band playing: so 10 year old Donna went like 'If those boys can play in a band, I can do shit like those boys as well'. So yeah, I picked up a guitar after my parents got me one and I practiced every day until I could write my own songs. Girls and every other human need to have this 'indirect' encouragment and rolemodels as well, as I do believe it would really normalise for example girls skateboarding or playing drums or whatever seems to be considered more 'boy-ish'.
On the other hand there is an underrepresentation not only of genders but especially of a specific social class in music. Most kids who go into creative activities do so because they come from middle class backgrounds and certainly have an advantage towards kids from poor families or they are from countries with governmental plans supporting musicians. This issue is never talked about in music journalism neither is it tackled at concept oriented festivals as imo its appearance is subtle and way more difficult to trace. The thing I am trying to saying is that identity-politics issues are easier to point your finger at because they are more visual and we live in a very visual society. The huge income inequality and its social consequences late capitalism brings are a bit harder to post about in a selfie on your social media accounts.
I really like acts like Debby Friday, Eartheater, NAKED, Kavari, Alice Glass, Sophie (Rest in peace) Laura Les from 100 Gecs. Even though not all of these acts sound stereotypically noise/punk etc, they do stuff in a different and very unique way which for me makes the act 'punk'. Imo you really cannot put a genre label on any of these artists.

Bad to the Bone –  Donna Haringwey « Thanks for telling me who I really am » – Itw By Marie Arouet

Bad to the Bone has been founded and is published by Hervé Coutin


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