Dream Nails are making music exactly the way they want to. It’s loud, raw and ready to pick a fight. First founded in 2015, the London-based band looked (and sounded) quite different. Known for their witchy punk attitude, the group released their debut EP DIY in 2016 and snagged a slot on Glastonbury’s first women-only stage, Sisterhood. Soon after, the band’s self-titled album arrived in 2020, via Alcopop! Records, setting them on track to become promising newcomers on the UK’s punk scene.
Now, almost three years since their first album, the reinvented British four-piece – Ishmael Kirby (lead singer), Anya Pearson (guitarist), Lucy Katz (drummer) and Mimi Jasson (bassist) – have returned. The revamped collective have swapped out their former witchy feminist image, and a few members, for a whole new era. The onboarding of lead vocalist Ishmael Kirby, known for their performances as drag king Cyro at Shakespear’s Globe and Royal Vauxhall Tavern, has amped up the band’s reimagined style.
On their new album, Doop Loop, Dream Nails get straight to the point. In ‘Good Guys’ Kirby’s blown-out vocals call out incel culture against rhythmic drums. Elsewhere, the band charge ahead with shouty tunes about “sweet revenge” and embracing the mundane joys of trashy TV and sticky plastic ball pits. It’s an evolution earlier fans might not have expected, but it’s one that works. As the band continue their UK/EU tour, we catch up with Kirby to hear more about the brand’s riotous new album and why Dream Nails’ reintroduction is worth taking note of.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Hey Ishmael! The album is out and you’re touring. How are you feeling about the response to it?
Oh man, I’m so excited for people to hear our music. I’m nervous about how it’s going to be received on a mainstream platform. I wonder if we’re going to be seen by the people that we want to be seen by or if we’re going to be censored. I don’t know this industry as well as I know cabaret and drag – I’m a bit terrified!
This is your first project with Dream Nails as the new lead singer. How have you navigated the transition from cabaret and drag to the music industry?
Therapy. My Brown non-binary therapist is like a big one. The cabaret and drag world prepares you for a different kind of barrage of hate and you deal with it in a very different way. Whereas, in the music industry, when a song about transmasc euphoria gets blanket-banned, you’re completely helpless. In the music industry, it still feels like it’s fifty years behind. I have to be a palatable version of Black, Brown, Asian, and fat just to get that song through the door.
How has Dream Nails been inspired by the sound and history of UK punk?
When I think about what punk feels like in British punk history, they had something to push against. Punk, for me, in the last 10 or 20 years, hasn’t felt like it has that much to push against. Funny enough, even though it feels like we’re flipping the script on what punk represents, we’re really traditional. The music we make is pushing against what mainstream music is.
Do you feel like punk and its new image have changed?
Oh, God, yeah. I do not understand how you can say you’re a punk without being political. Punk is political, and it doesn’t just go through music. It runs through everything like the veins of culture and fashion. [Dream Nails] like flipping the script of what punk looks like. I think that feeling of traditional punkness is us and that’s why I’m so excited to do live concerts and for people to listen to the album.
How has Dream Nails taken the ethos of punk and applied it to shows and new music?
I understand that being in this role in Dream Nails holds a lot of responsibilities. If I’m going to do it, I’ve got to do it right and making sure I feel safe in those spaces is one of those things. I’m very good at writing stuff and creating music that connects with people on a wider identity scale and I’m really grateful that I can do that. But, then, embodying it in that [concert] space and making sure people are accountable – and that you are accountable for what is acceptable or not – is a different thing.
Joining Dream Nails has given you a platform to speak out and lend a queer, Black lens to punk music. How have you felt since becoming part of the band?
There are many intense feelings! On one side I know I’m needed in the band and I’m connecting with transmasc people and Black people. This is the first [Dream Nails] album my voice has been on and I think we’ve genuinely created a good album. There’s the question of whether I’m disappointing a big fan group of Dream Nails. There’s a big fear that the band is going to be judged because of [our change]. If people don’t like the music, that’s fine. If people don’t like the music because of my identity, that worries me.
Your single ‘Ballpit’ is one of the band’s most streamed songs. What inspired it?
‘Ballpit’ came about because we were in Liverpool. I had just joined the band and it was the first tour. We had some really bad spaces where we were staying and it was pre-COVID times and not many people were around. We had a terrible gig, where everyone, the entire audience, left after the support band left. It was one of those nights where we ended up questioning what we were doing as a band. We all sat outside on the curb, at midnight, and Anya saw this sign that said “Balls Deep”. It was a ball pit underground somewhere and Anya convinced us to go. We went, looking like punks, to this adult-size ball pit with these sticky balls and had the best time. We just spent like an hour throwing balls at each other. It inspired us to write a song about doing something that we just wanted to do.
Outside of crashing a ball pit venue at midnight, what’s been a favourite shared memory of you and the band?
There’ve been some crazy incredible music moments where you’re all dripping with sweat and the crowd is jumping at the same time. You’re looking around at the band and you’re all in slow motion which is so cool. A mosh pit, too, is the ultimate moment!
You’ve got a new album out and you’re on a big tour. What’s the next big ambition for Dream Nails?
I would love for Doom Loop to be listened to by as many people as possible because I think it’s a very nuanced album. It feels like an album for the bangers, especially if you’re a rock-punk person! If you’re a person who is interested in things outside of the box or trying to find something new, Doom Loop is going to offer something that you haven’t heard before and that’s really exciting. Everyone needs release at the moment and Doom Loop and Dream Nails can offer that.
Following that, the basic goal is to play more live gigs in bigger spaces. I hope we get the same opportunities as our white, cis, straight counterparts bands do. For me, a Mercury nomination would be top-tier stuff.
Dream Nails’ new album, Doom Loop, is out now via Marshall Records.