Album Stream:

Aye Nako

“Silver Haze”

(GFP Premiere)

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introduction by maria rose sledmere

words by aye nako

In the mid-2000s, pop punk wasn’t just a balm for aching hearts; it was an emblematic rejection of the mainstream, a source of comforting identity among bands who considered themselves outsiders. Ultimately, however, much of its saccharine medicines melted into the generalising narratives of white Western culture, offering less an alternative perspective than one concocted from the patriarchal dominant it apparently rejected. Brooklyn-based Aye Nako revisit the core elements of pop punk—its addictive riffs and melodic lilt—and synthesise a spiky, lyrically intricate form well-fitted to working through the complicated emotional and political questions of genuine identity politics, especially those related to the experience of people of colour and those in the LGBTQ community. Latest album, Silver Haze, due to be released on 7th April via Don Giovanni Records, but streaming in full for you here, from today, reveals a new maturity to their sound, complementing the increasing nuance of their songs’ political themes.

The record has less of the polish of noughties emo than the grunge-fringed pop punk of the nineties; think Pavement injected with the musical equivalent of ProPlus, an exorcist’s howl and a dissident’s political fury. Not the kind of sarcastic, tautological repartee of a Twitter row but the old-school eloquence of punk’s frustration and rage: “Congratulations / you’re still alive / a peppered moth / born in the night”. Beyond the wall of blistering guitars, coiling metallic riffs and thudding drums, what emerges from the bittersweet lyrics is a voice both powerful and hurt, an urge towards self-expression that struggles against identity’s very breakdown. On each of the tracks, Aye Nako tackle memory and nostalgia, the struggles of navigating sexual and racial identities, the gritty reality of complex relationships and the emotional rubble left in their wake.

As the band explain below in their poignant and careful explanations, the purpose of these songs is to make sense of alienation, not only from the world but from oneself; to help explore how internalised social beliefs, from childhood to adulthood, are projected not just on the mind but also the body. Suitably, this music is viscerally physical: chest-bursting choruses combined with bone-crunching riffs and vocals whose earnest and yet sometimes affectless delivery leave us electrically in tune with the band’s pain, struck with a shared sense of numbing otherness.

At a time when the LGBTQ community are being punished by draconian laws, music that is honest and heartfelt, that connects the personal to the collective, is more important than ever. The following track-by-track guide provides an earnest and fascinating insight into songs whose devastating aphorisms—“I guess there’s only one kind of truth / my love’s kindled in solitude”—speak truths to anyone neglected by the sugarcoated and white-washed romance of mainstream culture.

You can stream all twelve tracks from the album via the playlist here, and read Mars’ and Jade’s guide to the record just below. Check it out…

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Track-by-Track Guide

words by mars ganito & jade payne

Mars: The album starts off with a track called We’re Different Now. I made the music while messing around in Garageband. Originally, I wanted to have little interludes with weird/interesting sounds or speaking over some synths throughout the album, but it didn’t work out that way. The sound clips are taken from my childhood cassette tapes. Growing up, I would carry around a small radio or TalkBoy and record everything. I chose my favorite, least embarrassing clips of my childhood best friend and me talking and laughing. At the end, the kid version of me saying “We’re different now” echoes and fades out. That particular sentence stuck out to me because, little did I know, twenty years later, we would grow up to be very different people who very much don’t see eye to eye. In a way, this track is sort of a prequel to “Spare Me” found later on in the album.

I always feel the need to scream more in my songs, but I’m a pretty quiet person, except when I laugh. Sissy was supposed to be that song, but I held back again. I have a lot of screams that I keep locked inside. This one is about my frustrations with my gender, street harassment and a general feeling of danger when I leave my house. There are inconsolable parts of me that I bury because this planet is not ready for femme/effeminate queer and trans people. Hell, this place can’t even respect straight cis women. I wish I could feel ok wearing lipstick, crop tops and things like that whenever I want, but I’m literally terrified someone will kill me.

Jade: Half Dome. When we went to the west coast in the spring of 2014, it was the last time that things would feel pure for a long time. A tumultuous descent out of a toxic relationship, in which I experienced deep, white erasure from my partner, was soon to follow. Racial trauma leads to a constant physical feeling of anxiety in your stomach that makes you forget how to breathe. I would long for the time Joe and I camped in Yosemite, and made it to glacier point, stoned out of our minds, upsetting the family in the next campsite over. I’d long for the time we went to Santa Cruz, walked across a train-track bridge, and played laser tag at the arcade by the beach. I would think about the phrase “every cloud has a silver lining” and think about how I wanted this horrible time in my life to be over already and cross over to the silver side of the line.

We all carry some level of emotional baggage from past relationships, whether it’s with friends, family, or partners. I was infectiously heartbroken over a lover that lived on the other side of the world. We had both abandoned ship & left our things in an explosive argument, unresolved. it haunted me every single day, no matter how much I tried to bury the painful reminders. Nightcrawler is about unpacking difficult memories with the hopes of reaching a kind of enlightened, better place where you can finally let go and move on. It’s about the measures we take to heal & make sense of the inner turmoil.

Mars: I stopped explaining my song Muck at shows because I know it makes some people feel uncomfortable, but I’m uncomfortable too. I was born and raised on feeling so ugly because of my blackness. I saw it from my family. I saw it on tv and in the movies. I saw it at school. Blackness was not to be valued. It wasn’t a positive trait. How is a child supposed to feel comfortable in her black skin if all these external voices are directly and indirectly pounding into her that her blackness is a thing to be ashamed of? Only in the last three or four years have I started to work on my internalized anti-blackness, a lifetime-long journey, and this song was written around the peak of my epiphany.

Gift of Hell

Jade: The Gift of Hell. I sent my friend Sadie this meme of squirtle in a fire extinguisher box and she wrote back “I wanna break it anyway.” For some reason, that phrase resonated with me and it became the chorus of this song.

I thought about the paradox of how dark times and trauma can sometimes be the only way to healing on a greater scale. Could my personal hell be an unexpected gift? We still live in a world where we’re taught to suppress our feelings. It’s hard to break through, especially when you’ve already fallen many times.

Particle Mace. After two weeks of hell, we went our separate ways and I suddenly found myself stranded in Texas. Feeling crumbled, with two weeks to kill, I took my severance pay and went to southern California to find my stronger self and mend my wounds. I secretly hoped the universe was on my side and would reward me for my troubles. Maybe I would find a better kind of love. I spent the next two weeks aimlessly crashing around on friends’ couches, going on day trips to the beach, the mountains, and the desert, waiting for some cathartic thing or person to sweep me away and erase the recent events, Eternal Sunshine-style. In the end, I felt close to something, yet still deeply alone. What I didn’t realize was that I needed the solitude.

I was raised and lived my life as a Jehovah’s Witness, from the time I was born until I was 18 years old. This is a kind of life that is deeply misunderstood by anyone who hasn’t lived it. I grew up extremely sheltered and protected from the rest of the world, conditioned to harbor and suppress my inner desire to be “normal”. We weren’t allowed to do things like participate in holiday activities at school, go to sleep away at camp, or attend a friend’s birthday party at the roller rink. I saw myself being made fun of all the time on TV shows.

Arrow Island is a letter of reassurance to my depressed-teenage-queer-self, that says her life has meaning and potential. Her feelings matter. She will be taken in and accepted. The first verse references the movie Fried Green Tomatoes and how the Bible story of Ruth and Naomi was used as a fictional analogy to Ruth and Idgy Threadgood’s dangerous love and dedication to each other – the kind of femme friendship I had always wanted, but was never fully allowed to experience as a teen.

Mars: As I mentioned in the first track description, We’re Different Now is sort of a prequel to Spare Me. I was listening to a lot of Nirvana around the time, so I was messing around with a fake chorus pedal effect in GarageBand when I wrote this one. It’s about cutting out someone in your life who doesn’t respect you. In particular, it was my childhood best friend. We spent so much time together and had this connection as kids, people thought we were related. We’ve lived in different cities for the last 10 years, but stayed in touch somewhat regularly. I reached my boiling point where I couldn’t keep hearing the disrespectful comments about women, queer people and black people.

Nothing Nice came about around the time I first began EMDR therapy. I suppose it’s not that fun to listen to a song about an adult struggling to heal from a history of child abuse, but me and childhood self needed it to happen.

Jade: During a dark time in my life, I relied a lot on crystals, especially Black Tourmaline, which was said to ward off negative energy from outside forces and restore purity. The things that once gave me joy now seemed to only contribute to my sadness. Then the line during the first chorus is “when laughter stings, I know that something is wrong.” I reached a point where even hearing other people laugh made me feel bitter because it had been so long since I’d laughed. And the line in the pre-chorus talks about forgetting “the melody of my favorite song.” This line came from an episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete, where little Pete hears his favorite song on the radio, but then he never hears it again (until the end of the episode when he stumbles upon Polaris playing it in a garage) and it crushes him. He lies awake desperately trying to remember what it sounded like and feeling utterly defeated. He was on a quest to recapture the moment. I’d experienced a deep loss wanted to remember what feeling good felt like. I was sick of falling into the same patterns, falling in love with those who had more power than me; I was clinging onto rainstorms that perpetually had me falling and sinking down the drain. I couldn’t learn to say no, but I knew I needed to learn to protect myself.

Mars: When I was 18, I was so depressed and sank so low. I was “living” at the bottom. But I scored my first job at a Maybelline factory near my hometown in Arkansas. Maybe She’s Bored With It is a play on their advertising slogan, “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline”. Joe, my best friend/our bassist, helped me come up with the title. This is a shorter song, so it’s just a snapshot of my time working there. It was pretty miserable.

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‘Silver Haze’ is released on April 7th, via Don Giovanni

You can buy it here

facebook.com/ayedontnako

photograph by Ali Donahue

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