Hanging Freud interviewed about “Persona Normal”

Photo by Luis Naressi

Glasgow-based Hanging Freud creates dark post-punk music that unites ethereal elements with drum machines and abrasive sound design. It’s a duo comprised of Paula Borges and Jonathan Skinner, both of whom also release music with side-projects.  They recently put out their sixth album as Hanging Freud, Persona Normal. The following is an email interview with Borges.

What is your musical background, and how did you come to start Hanging Freud?

Jonathan grew up as a trained classical guitarist, but after giving that up a long time ago, started producing. He was in his late teens and was listening to a wide range of music, from mainstream alternative to hip hop to experimental electronic music. He spent years working as a clerk in a record shop, so he was shaped a lot during that period when he was discovering all kinds of great things. However, his main background is production-based; he usually talks about techno/electro and hip hop productions as his biggest influences, even though those things are very different to what we do.

I started training on the piano as a child and then discovered punk rock and joined bands and all that. However, I was always very much into different types of music, from post-punk to experimental and folk, and have always had a strong interest in women making music. I think the influence of artists like Throwing Muses are probably stronger than most of the artists we are compared to.

I was tired of making music in the traditional rock band format, and we found that our broad range of ideas, influences and ambitions when it came to making music were compatible, and decided to give it a go.

It’s an interesting band name – is there a story behind it?

I wish I had an interesting story, but the truth is that the name occurred to me so long ago I’m not sure I even remember the thought process behind it. It was definitely something that came up while writing lyrics – I was writing a lot about psychology and the concept of mental illness in relation to society back then – and when I am writing, there isn’t really a deliberate process, it just comes out intuitively. I guess we thought it sounded interesting. I like it that people can infer deeper meanings to it, even feminist ones, which would make sense too. We recently discovered that apparently there is an actual hanging statue of Freud in Prague.

Your music has strong songwriting as well as creative sound design and production. How do these things play off each other in terms of your creative process?

I do all of the songwriting, as that is what I have always done, while Jonathan takes care of the production. But when it comes to writing, arranging and recording the music itself, we both contribute. With every album, these dynamics tend to change a bit. For instance, most of the tracks in Nowhere were written on guitar before being “translated” into synths, whereas with Persona Normal, I was already comfortable enough with synths and beats to start writing directly from there.

Did you have any particular goals in mind when you began making Persona Normal?

I try not to control the direction and just let things happen, but we knew we wanted to make something more direct, and perhaps more aggressive and less “romantic” than Nowhere. This seemed like a natural progression, as things around us were becoming more aggressive and direct anyway. I was also determined to experiment a little bit more with vocals, which I am still shy to do, but I wanted them not to sound so pleasant and soft.

The drum machine has been a key part of your music. Is there a particular drum machine that you tend to use? Or is it more of a case of finding the right sounds for a track?

We like using all kinds of sounds if they work well but on Nowhere and Persona Normal we used a lot of sampling from the 707, because it provided a certain consistency. I’m not sure how orthodox this is, but most of the beats are something I “finger drum” and then are looped and arranged, like a puzzle really.

Has living between the UK and Brazil impacted or influenced your music in any specific ways?

Definitely. These are very different societies, with widely different musical and cultural traditions, even though the kind of music that we do is actually very popular in South America, and there are so many interesting artists doing similar things there. On the one hand, moving back and forth is something that makes someone feel slightly detached from things, but it is also something that provides a lot of inspiration from your surroundings. It was never boring. We’re now based in Glasgow, which is a great place and has also been incredibly inspiring.

Looking at your Bandcamp page, I see that you both have a few different projects in addition to Hanging Freud. Could you discuss those and how you approach them (compared to Hanging Freud)?

Yes. I still play a lot of guitar and some bass, and write songs using that format, so Borgesss is a way to release them. It’s all very lo-fi. I’ll be working on more guitar songs and have finished recording a piano EP as well, which will be under the name Lady L, as a reference to Sylvia Plath’s poem. Jonathan has his solo work under the name of Com With, which is focused on electronic sound design, deconstructed dance patterns, noise and vocal contributions. Curse Monkey is his other solo project, which is soundtrack music with modern classical elements and ambiance.

You’ve been releasing music on your own imprint, Tiny Box. Have you pursued releasing through other labels at all, or are you firmly wanting to remain independent?

We have worked with labels, and we are open to working with them. There are many cool labels out there.

Do you perform live at all? If so, how does your sound or approach compare to the recordings?

Yes, and we’re looking forward to performing stuff from Persona Normal live. The album was recorded before lockdown, but we only really finished it during it, so we have not been able to do it since. We’re not particularly interested in making everything sound exactly like the recordings, so things are tweaked and even rearranged, and my guess is that they probably sound a lot louder and more aggressive than you’d expect from listening to the records.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to mention? (singles/videos, side projects, etc)

Absolutely. We still have a few more videos to be released from this album, one of them another animation from the same person who worked with us for the “Too Human” animation. Her name is Kyara Jereissati, an artist from Brazil, who also makes music as Ratpajama. Another video was done by the artist Rômulo Martinz, who also created the artwork for the album. In 2020, during lockdown, we recorded and finished another Hanging Freud album, which will be released next year, and we’ve already finished writing material for another two EPs, to be released after that. We were recently in the “Miniatures 2020” compilation, and will be featured on the LP “A Divina Comédia”, a compilation of Brazilian post-punk artists, to be released this year. As I mentioned, Jonathan is currently working on his solo stuff and I have some guitar and piano material to release. We’re also really looking forward to playing gigs around Europe and South America, or anywhere really, as soon as that’s possible and safe for everyone.

To purchased Hanging Freud music, visit: hangingfreud.bandcamp.com.