Analogue Music | Petrol Girls

Petrol Girls

By Matt Conner

Everything is political.

The very fact that dominant ideologies would have us believe we can compartmentalize life into things that are or are not political is part of the problem, which is why Ren Aldridge and the rest of Petrol Girls are so damn busy these days.

If you've not yet caught onto the frenzied punk of Petrol Girls, Baby, the band's newest album, is a superb place to start. For all of the raucous noise of albums past, Petrol Girls' new album is as three-dimensional as anything they've released, with all the anger and emotion of albums past partnered with more vulnerability than ever before.

As Aldridge told us in a recent conversation, a long and severe round of depression was a starting point for some of these songs, and perhaps that's where the more rounded-out sound comes into play. Petrol Girls aren't shy about both shouting at the powers-that-be and admitting how hard it to keep doing so. Therein lies the beauty of their work and the substance that continues to inspire so many.

Analogue: Most songwriters are writing about love lost or personal feelings and here you are trying to address issues at a macro level. Does that change your own expectations or hopes for what happens with the song?

Ren Aldridge: I think it’s still about emotionally connecting with people, right? Music has so much to do with emotion, and I think politics has a helluva lot to do with emotion, too. I think we’re particularly seeing that with figures like Trump. That election was far more about emotion than politics.

In terms of the music that we write, it’s both in terms of people who are involved in these political struggles having an outlet for that. “Fight For Our Lives” was written directly from my experiences protesting femicide here in Austria, from my need for an outlet to deal with the emotions of constantly facing that most vicious patriarchal violence. The intro lyric is “Like another bedsheet painted with the blood of a sister,” and I’m literally sitting next to a pile of another six banners I’ve had to paint because another six women in Austria have been murdered by men.

"One woman is murdered every 10 minutes globally. Abortion rights are under attack, not only in the U.S. but in the world. There’s so much going on. So yeah, fuck it, I do feel like artists could do more."

It’s a way of processing those emotions, but it’s also about finding joy in political struggle or finding celebration in that. That’s a really, really big part of it. Having an abortion is a celebration of abortion, that those of us who have access can do that. It’s a celebration that I can live my life the way I want to live it and that’s really valid.

In “Violent By Design,” which is dealing with the intersection of gender-based violence and police brutality, the choruses are humorous because they’re ridiculing this idea that privileged people like myself have which is that the police are going to protect us. That’s both in solidarity with the communities that are most brutalized by the police, but it’s also in recognition that they’re fucking useless on gender-based violence.

But I also want to say that I do subtly write about relationships in our music because I think they are also extremely political. I guess the way I approach that is quite subtle, but I also think that people writing about things like love and things like that is a totally valid form of expression. But I would say I have limited time for a man whining in misogynistic ways about his ex-girlfriend. [Laughs]

Analogue: Do you wish more artists were speaking up to address the world in which we live?

Ren: Oh god, it’s hard. I mean, for some people, having a stage is political in itself, but I do wish more of us were able to use the platform we have to speak about this stuff. We toured with La Dispute, and maybe they’re not so overtly political in their music, but the way they used the space to allow people from various campaigns to have their tables set up and stuff like that—that’s really valid as well. I don’t think it always has to be directed through the music. I think there’s so much power when we physically gather in places and feel shit together. That’s a moment that has a lot of political potential and it’s something that artists can definitely think about.

I guess where I do get frustrated is when you have bands full of straight white men and they use that platform literally to just whine about ex-girlfriends or make crappy statements or it’s just, “Beer, man!” That I don’t have so much time for. I want to say, “Do better, y’know?” One woman is murdered every 10 minutes globally. Abortion rights are under attack, not only in the U.S. but in the world. There’s so much going on. So yeah, fuck it, I do feel like artists could do more. [Laughs]

Analogue: That attempt to be diplomatic lasted a good few minutes at least. [Laughs] We’re talking shortly before the release and it makes me wonder what sort of emotions sit with you at a time like this? Is it exciting? Vulnerable?

Ren: Probably all of that. It hasn’t really hit me yet. I still work. I’ve been traveling. I wrote an article all day yesterday as a response to Roe vs. Wade. I’ve been making femicide banners. So it doesn’t stop. I don’t really feel like it’s fully hit me yet, but I think it’s interesting that you picked up on the vulnerable side. Sometimes, especially with previous records, I listen back and think, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m telling everybody that.’ [Laughs]

Overwhelmingly with this record, especially with the emphasis that we placed on making it more playful than what we’ve done in the past, I think I’m excited. Performing these songs live has been such a joy. I think that’s where the energy starts to become more reciprocal. When you feel the crowd really feeling what you’re trying to do, it’s really magic.

Analogue: Is that playfulness in response to lyrical messaging that can be so serious or asking tough questions?

Ren: It’s partly strategic and it’s partly just what I needed. It’s strategic in terms of my belief that humor is so politically powerful. I think taking a piss can be, in some cases, far more effective than a more serious interaction. My example of that would be when I’m encountering anti-choice demonstrators and in the past, I’ve just been angrily screaming, ‘I’ve had an abortion and I’m not sorry’ at them. But the “Baby I Had An Abortion” grew out of the feeling that the interaction was so limited. I feel like ridicule has so much power.

So there’s that side of it, but in all honesty, this record is about coming out of a very severe depression. Coming out of that, I realized that I needed to be able to be all parts of myself. I need to be silly and sarcastic and fun as well as the times when I’m angry or sad. In far-left movements, I definitely feel like I can have to be serious and sanctimonious all of the time but it’s just not who I am.

Analogue: You’ve mentioned a few songs, but I had to ask about the closing song, “Bones.”

Ren: Those chorus lyrics were the only ones I was able to write when I was severely depressed. Joe sent me the chorus riff and I emotionally connected to it so strongly. All I was able to write was, ‘Take away the noise and I am bones / Built the rhythms of my life on all this.’ It was winter and complete lockdown in the pandemic. We are from Austria, but we got stuck in the U.K. because they closed the borders. It was a really bleak time. I was approaching 30 looking at my life and realizing I’d put everything into this band and political activism. I had no security or anything to show for it. I went through a few weeks where I woke up at 5:00 a.m. sobbing thinking I’d fucked my life up.

So for me, that song is so much about facing up to the fact that choosing to music comes with two sides. I say in the song that I can’t dance differently. I love this life and I mean it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard.

VISIT: Petrol Girls

*Photo: Hanna Fasching