19
Oktober
Trinity Music presents

ARXX

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‘Ride Or Die’. It’s a phrase full of intensity and absoluteness – a commitment of unconditional, unwavering loyalty driven by love. As the title for the debut album from ARXX – the Brighton-based duo who have swiftly become one of the most exhilarating bands in the UK’s music scene – it’s a fierce summary of their whole ethos and unquenchable passion for music. “There’s no option to give up,” singer and guitarist Hanni Pidduck explains. “If we give up, we just lose the most important thing for us.”

Since coming together in 2017, the pair have proved that determined dedication through their infectious live show and a series of singles and EPs, including early releases ‘Daughters Of Daughters EP’ (2018) and ‘Wrong Girl, Honey EP’ (2019). Along the way, the duo have gained praise from NME, DIY, The Forty-Five, BBC Radio 1 and more, and risen through the ranks of the touring circuit bolstered by support slots with the likes of The Big Moon, Dream Wife and Pillow Queens.

ARXX’s success was never a given, though – not least because both Hanni and drummer Clara Townsend were reckoning with their futures in music before they joined forces. Hanni’s old drummer had moved to Australia, and she was struggling to recruit someone who would take the project seriously. Clara, meanwhile, was also finding it hard to find someone else to be as “all in” on music as she was.

Although they weren’t friends before Clara turned up to “audition” (although Hanni later revealed she was the only candidate), they had played shows together in their respective old bands and knew of and respected each other’s musicianship. That first proper meeting saw them click immediately and a great partnership blossom. “Once I’d met Hanni and we’d played a few shows together, I was like, ‘This is the funnest thing ever’,” Clara says. “I don’t think I’d really had that [feeling before] and we just couldn’t stop saying yes to everything for, like, three years.”

After finding each other ARXX didn’t sit around and wait for people to ask them or give them permission to do things either. Instead, as you’d expect from a band devoted to their work, they threw themselves headfirst into making things happen. Using the limited experience they’d gained in their old projects, the new bandmates set up their own gigs and tours, and searched for budget-friendly ways to get their music down on record.

“I’d spent so long waiting around that I just wanted to go for it,” says Hanni. “So we recorded really, really quickly. The first couple of weeks [together] we were in rehearsal three times a week trying to get a set together.” For touring, they looked to their peers, like Nova Twins, and asked how they could do the same things. “We found out there’s no rulebook of how you tour Europe, for example. It was like, ‘Well, I’ve got a car, there’s two of us, we’ll both fit.’ So that’s how you get there and then you just message people on Facebook and say, ‘We want a gig,’ and it really worked.”

As ARXX have grown as a band, so too has their sound. Early tracks were rage-filled blasts that once served a purpose for Hanni, the duo’s principal lyric-writer, who first started writing songs in her youth to fill “a desperate need to find some way of expressing” herself. As she dealt with the issues that were causing her anger, though, she no longer felt the need to “lose my shit and thrash around”.

Slowly, the songs have become poppier and more polished, excavating the hooks that have always been at the heart of songs like ‘Y.G.W.Y.W. (You Got What You Want)’ and ‘Tired Of You’. Hanni cites being brought up on country music – aka “slow pop music” – as one reason why their songs have gravitated towards pop, while Clara also grew up on a diet filled with the genre, taking early inspiration from playing along to the likes of Pink, Katy Perry and Mika in her bedroom.

The collaborators they’ve surrounded themselves with have also steered them to new ground. Long-term producer Steve Ansell of Blood Red Shoes and mastering engineer Katie Tavini (Pillow Queens, Arlo Parks) – both of whom worked on ‘Ride Or Die’ – have been instrumental in the band’s growth. “He’s got a real pop sensibility about him and so do we, and I think it just marries up so well,” Hanni says of Steve. “We’re so lucky to have found him because he really gets what we’re trying to do. Katie just might be the best mastering engineer we’ve ever met – she’s really sensitive to what she’s doing. She’s very particular with what she does and makes everything sound great in different ways.”

Satisfied with where they’re at on their sonic journey, ‘Ride Or Die’ serves as a wider introduction to ARXX. Its artwork – created by Brighton artist Bonnie And Clyde – reflects that, showing the band on the front cover standing in the countryside, surrounded by things you’d more commonly associate with the desert. On the back, the scenario is flipped. It represents the blending of the two musicians – Hanni’s rural upbringing and Clara’s youth growing up in Dubai.

The album is a bold, bright record that puts Hanni’s personal experiences front and centre in the collection of songs. Lyrically, it’s honest and literal; not shying away from saying how things are – a move inspired by the singer and guitarist’s love of Kate Nash. “Her lyrics are so honest and sometimes almost cringe-worthy with how literal she’s being,” Hanni explains. “You write about what’s happened for you and you’re not writing for anybody else.”

That songwriting approach started with ‘The Last Time’, a gleaming, emotional recount of the aftermath of a break-up that its writer describes as being freeing to write. “The first like was, ‘Packing up your things to send them back’ and I’d literally just done that,” she recalls. “I came home from the post office and was really emotional and just wrote exactly what I’d done. Maybe there’s this pressure to be more intelligent or poetic in your writing, but I literally just wrote the exact experience I had.”

A rerecorded version of ‘Call Me Crazy’ featuring Pillow Queens shows ARXX at their most uncompromising, candidly sharing Hanni’s experiences with mental health. The subject shows their keenness to not gloss over life’s struggles. “If you’re trying to give an honest representation of yourself, that included the tough stuff as well,” Hanni reasons. “That felt really important to sing about and not have it be some really big deal. It should be normal to talk about it.”

For those already familiar with the pair’s sound, the dance-y tangent some tracks take might be surprising. But it’s a move that suits the band well and offers up more room for invention. ‘Deep’ “nearly broke” the band, but eventually found its final form via inspiration from a playlist they’d had on in the studio. “There was a lot of Muna on there, a lot of Maggie Rogers, Timbaland, a lot of St. Vincent,” Clara remembers. “We just went down this weird edgy-pop [rabbit hole].”

On the metallic stomp of ‘God Knows’, meanwhile, they play with Auto-Tune, Hanni’s voice coated in the effect, smoothing her vocals into something worthy of a sci-fi theme song. Before any lyrics, chords or sounds came for that track, though, it existed in the duo’s heads as what scene it would be in a movie. “We had this idea that it would be like nighttime when you’re driving through a city and there’s all neon lights everywhere,” Hanni explains. “It really sits in that vibe of Dua Lipa or The Weeknd for me. Without the Auto-Tune, though, it sounds like a country song.”

Unpredictable and enthralling, ‘Ride Or Die’ encapsulates a band brimming with ideas and not afraid to go to new or unusual places with them, without compromising on pop immediacy. It thrives with passion and excitement, a result of its creators’ continued commitment to following where the music takes them. As musicians deeply in love with what they do, their ambitions for the future are humble, like being able to sustain the band as a career or just continue doing it in any form, but their debut album can’t be denied – ARXX are on the path to gigantic things.