Words: James Frostick
Image: Ella Maximillion
At the end of June, Brisbane’s Rebel Yell released its debut album Hired Muscle through Rice is Nice. The record is filled from top to tail with resonant electro – a mesmerising intersection between vulnerable openness and furious cry of anger. We spoke briefly with Rebel Yell’s Grace Stevenson about the album’s creation and thematic intent.
For the uninitiated, Rebel Yell’s brand of electronic music is forceful and authoritative – an intimidating assemblage of subterranean rhythms, dissonant dance and tender expression. Since the arrival of 2016 EP Mother of Millions, Rebel Yell (also known as Grace Stevenson) has been honing her brand of dark techno into a sharp weapon, prodding bodies into movement and forcing participation with hypnotic production. Hired Muscle is a step up in the production stakes – a realisation of talent and vision intersecting at the right place and right time.
Rebel Yell shields vulnerability with imposing sonic defences, giving enough space to explore these tender aspects without judgement and fear. Although the music was built partly as defence mechanism, Rebel Yell deftly turns defence into offence, unleashing a concussive force of clamorous noise instilled with confidence, anger and independence. The tables are turned on malignant forces and repressive behaviours – Hired Muscle plants a flag in the musical territory for the marginalised, carving out space from the foundations of the oppressive establishment built by patriarchal forces.
Hired Muscle clears out the corners of the mind – the ones fraught with fear and doubt – and encourages listeners to turn their immediate space into a dance floor. The industrial clatter of each track becomes a freeing and galvanising force for release, banger after banger of uninhibited EDM – a beat to match the excited pulse that goes with progressive societal change. Listen to the album below, but also spare a moment to read through the chat I had with Grace just before the Hired Muscle’s arrival.
WW: Last time we spoke you were still discovering your voice and how you were figuring out how to translate it through a unique brand of dissonant and immediate noise. How has your journey progressed since Mother of Millions?
RY: Look, I’ve had a bit of a gear upgrade and a bit more confidence bumped into myself. I’ve lost a few items that added to the noise and gained some simpler pieces that add more layers. Next release I’ll be bloody singing my heart out with, like, the smallest bit of delay or something crazy like that.
What was some of the feedback you received from that piece of work that helped build confidence in what you were trying to do?The feedback from Mother of Millions was beyond what I expected (I expected nothing so what I got was very nice). I was pleasantly surprised and how people liked the music, clips and, most importantly, the live shows. It really made me to want to push Rebel Yell further and see what else I was capable of.
When did you first start piecing together the bones of Hired Muscle?
‘High Authority’ was the first track written for the album and released in early 2017. It’s been coming together since then really and all the way up to October of 2017 when I wrote and recorded the last track ‘Human Transaction’.
Did the work start out with a cohesive plan and approach, or is your process more fluid?
I definitely had a theme for the album and I asked the collaborators to follow it lyrically too. In terms of physically writing the music, it’s very much fluid. I write new songs from jamming around and gradually forming a structure. Sometimes I’ll just feel creative and play or sometimes I’ll take inspiration from a song – believe it or not, usually a fkn Justin Bieber track or something!
As a solo artist, what criteria and standards do you apply to your music before you can deem it complete?
I have to admit, I can be impatient and my judgement of completing tracks is something I want to change. At the moment it’s a bit too cavalier, but working with people like my brother in the mixing process has helped me realise I need to take more care and be more patient. I’m going to be recording the next release in a different way too, to improve production quality and overall a slightly different sound.
What sort of musical elements have you added to your repertoire that will be most evident on the record?
Hired Muscle has definitely stepped up my game in terms of production – I’ve replaced the noise synths with more layers of synth rhythm and allowed for more structure and lyrics for these tracks. Towards the newer songs you can hear the vocals slightly more clear, as more confidence grows.
I’ve always been intrigued by Rebel Yell’s impenetrable and imposing aura and its dance-floor appeal. How do you approach crafting your music while being conscientious of both aspects?
Aw shucks. The more I get ‘into it’ on stage and the more ‘commanding’ I am, the more I see people dance and feel more a part of it all. When I’m crafting I’m thinking of vocal lines that will create that presence and drums that are at the right BPM to keep everyone moving.
In terms of thematic content and lyrical intent, what sorts of topics do you use Rebel Yell as a vehicle for exploration and delivery (particularly in Hired Muscle)?
Hired Muscle follows the theme of confidence and the importance of women, queer and GNC voices in the industry and everywhere. I use the lyrical content as a way of expressing feelings and views on experiences that have happened to me, a bit of a release I guess and in that maybe is where the ‘darkness’ of the musical sound comes from.
What has the album process revealed about you as an individual and a creative entity?
As an individual, I am impatient, I’m fair – logical even – but need to slow down. As a creative, to be honest I feel like this album has freed me a little bit and I feel so much happier as a person.
What is it about this collection of music that excites you the most?Hired Muscle was more thought out then Mother of Millions, so I am excited that there is more meaning to the songs and that people are starting to recognise them when I play them live, that is definitely the funnest part.
What do you hope listeners take away from the record?
I hope firstly, that they enjoy it! And that it’s okay to be vulnerable, but it’s okay to be tough. You gotta stick up for yourself and for your friends and that’s what Hired Muscle is about.