Ted Hughes was a bit of a bastard. This is the proclamation Muncie Girls vocalist and bass player Lande Hekt and I make when we begin our interview. I’m telling her about how my high school writing class teacher asked me to participate in a lecture competition, one where I presented Sylvia Plath’s works, and she would present on Plath’s husband, Ted Hughes, with the class deciding who was the better poet. Sylvia Plath’s husband was infamously awful to her, and not exactly the greatest poet, in my deeply important opinion, but—as men usually get to be—was successful anyway.
It is no secret that the Exeter, UK, punk band, which includes Hekt, Dean McMullen, and Luke Ellis, often draws inspiration from the American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath’s works and then craft eardrum-shaking rock songs from them. "Gas Mark 4" from their stunning debut, From Caplan to Belsize, is a referential of The Bell Jar, Plath’s first and most famous novel. The group is readying the release of their sophomore, Fixed Ideals, out August 31 via Buzz Records. At 13 tracks in length (cut down from a hefty recorded 19, Hekt says) it doesn’t feel long or linger too much. This album, too, is a nod to the poet. In Plath’s poem "Sonnet: To Eva," one stanza, in particular, struck a chord within Hekt:
Not man nor demigod could put together
The scraps of rusted reverie, the wheels
Of notched tin platitudes concerning weather,
Perfume, politics, and fixed ideals.
Hekt says, "a line will inspire me to write a song. I think a lot of the time I end up lifting a line or referencing [a book]. It sounds like I’ve intentionally written the song with a nod to it but actually what I’ve done is… just kind of jogged my creativity." "Fig Tree" on Fixed Ideals is another nod to Plath—this time the more infamous scene in The Bell Jar where Esther Greenwood conjures a scene of figs representing choices that she, in her young life, faces and, if wrongly selected, could face failure.
Punk and literature have harmoniously lived together throughout rock history; a notable example of a living legend, a punk poet-prophet, of sorts, Patti Smith, whose work as both a writer and musician are symbiotic, informing the other. (Hekt herself has often been compared to Smith as a sort of hybrid of both her with Veruca Salt’s 90s grunge sound—the highest of compliments.) "I think that punk and literature… you need to have an attitude where you’re critiquing things. You’re not taking things as they come," Hekt explains. Which is why it appeals to her when she’s writing songs. "I feel like… writing and literature are challenging most things people tend to—not most people but people who aren’t so creative—tend to accept. I think if you have that frame of mind naturally you’re going to be drawn to those things and maybe that’s why people tend to be into both things."
With criticism and punk music, so often comes the insertion of politics, something Muncie Girls have faced with their earlier EPs and debut. And that’s fine! That was their goal. While From Caplan to Belsize was more overtly political, Hekt says she felt like she said all she needed to say on that record. "The songs aren’t as clean-cut" on Fixed Ideals, she says. "I’m trying to make a connection with how politics affects us—or me personally—and how it can affect people’s way of life and relationship and everything. So, I would say it’s a really political record, but it’s not as clear in the sense that, yeah, there’s not one song about feminism; there’s not one song about the Tory government. It’s more like those themes creep in everywhere." (Opening track, "Jeremy," for example is about Hekt’s father who is right-wing.)
On the track "Falling Down," Hekt wrote more personally about drinking, which she hasn’t done for almost a year. "'Falling Down' is funnily enough… I didn’t know what it was about," she says with a laugh. "This happens a bit where I’ll write a song and not know what it’s about until, like, months later. But it turns out to be about is drinking. It’s about a hangover, which I didn’t realize. There’s a line in it: "Go to bed / Wake up smart." So it’s kind of like talking about having a hangover and waking up the next day and knowing not to do it again." The track is surprisingly tender, while at the same a bit biting about some dumb shit we usually do to get through our youth. The song sounds fuller, largely due to the three-piece trying their hand at a four-piece without any additional person. Hekt learned guitar in addition to playing bass. It’s a smart, pop punk tune—jaunty and cheeky, almost, with an earnest and infectious chorus that is absolutely sure to get stuck in your head.
Hekt also tells me that the songs on Fixed Ideals often deal, too, with the ways people can disappoint you—rather, "how it feels when people choose to let us down." Which brings me back to literature. Books, like music, help us sort through the knotted mess that is the human existence. Plath wrote of her own internal turmoil, both inherited and besieged upon her; of the ways, the world and the people in it confused her or wanted to minimize her. Muncie Girls' "Falling Down,” and Fixed Ideals as a whole, tap into that same energy too but the feeling is inherently positive in the end. When it feels like the world is letting you down, there is, blissfully, somehow a great deal of comfort knowing you’re not alone with that and that there are resources to help you figure it out.
Sarah reads. A lot. Follow her on Twitter.