Austin-based indie rock band Stretch Panic fills an unusual niche: their songs are based around witches, vampires, demons, and other Halloween creatures. Their debut LP, Glitter & Gore, delves deep into this quirky theme, not only for the fun and humor of it but also as a means to make incisive observations about people and society. The album is out Friday, February 19, but it’s premiering exclusively via Audiofemme in a track-by-track video series below.
The members—MJ Haha (vocals, guitar, synth, omnichord), Jennifer Monsees (bass, vocals), and Cassie Baker (percussion, vocals)—had been friends for years and were working on separate projects until Halloween 2016, when they got together to create a song about ghosts and monsters. The experience inspired them to write more songs around the same theme, and they’ve been playing them in Austin ever since, naming their band after the 2002 cult classic PlayStation game about a girl whose sister gets possessed by demons.
Though they’ve since been reworked, many of the songs on the album were written during these early days of the band, reflecting the love of the otherworldly that stems from the members’ childhoods. “It’s an easy thing to find a common love for a Halloween aesthetic,” says Haha. “Halloween vibes, getting dressed up—we’re all later ’80s kids, and a lot of the culture and movies that came out when we were kids were fun monster movies. There’s just a friendliness to that spooky atmosphere and a playfulness.”
But even in its fantastical imagery, the music addresses topics more relevant to real life, such as toxic relationships and political misogyny. “A lot of those motifs are used to have further conversations about complicated feelings and different kinds of relationships, whether that be romantic types of relationships or friendships or relationships with yourself,” says Monsees. “That’s kind of a thing we find ourselves doing: using these kind of fun, silly imagery to talk about real things.”
“Vampire Love,” for instance, features a spoken conversation between a vampire and someone shocked to see them covered in blood, along with a catchy chorus about “vampire love sucking me dry,” expressing the emotions involved in a relationship with an emotional vampire. “You Can’t Stay” similarly uses energetic percussion, groovy bass, and sassy vocals to portray both a literal demon possession and a quarrel between lovers that ends in one person calling “the priest” on the other.
“It sounds almost like ‘called the police,’ and it almost sounds like the person is finally standing up for themselves and ridding themselves of this person who’s possessed their lives,” says Baker.
“Burn the Witch,” driven by electric guitar and shouting that’s somehow equal parts dark and peppy, was written as a reaction to Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” exploring how we continue to verbally “burn women at the stake.” The phrase “blame the woman” repeats in escalating volume—a line that’s “very specific and can also be applied to a million different situations,” says Monsees.
The title Glitter & Gore actually comes from lyrics to “Spirit Juice,” a previously released song about drug addiction that’s not on the album, marrying together the band’s interest in the “sparkly and colorful” and the “morbid and dark,” Haha explains.
Stretch Panic have played tons of live shows, but have released just one EP—2017’s Ghost Coast—so the band is happy to finally put out more recorded music. “We’ve put so much energy into those specific shows where we’re connecting with people who live in the same city as us,” says Monsees. “It’s exciting to be taking these steps to be able to connect with more people, hopefully around the world.”
The band raised money to make the album on Indiegogo and first demoed the songs at home using Logic before bringing them into Austin’s King Electric Recording Co. studio, where sound engineer Justin Douglas recorded and mixed the music. “We brought ideas and feelings and emotions and vignettes of poetry, and he was able to turn that into sounds,” says Haha. For instance, they told him to make the guitar solo in “Vampire Love” sound “like a shooting star,” and he used a guitar pedal he crafted himself to do just that.
While much of the band’s discussion of the supernatural is tongue-in-cheek, Haha has had real-life experiences with such. She grew up in a haunted house in rural New Mexico and remembers trying various ghost-busting remedies, like sprinkling salts in the house, before getting the idea to play the autoharp and sing a song “acknowledging that it really sucks to feel alone and I understand.”
“I had chills and goosebumps all over my body as I was singing this song,” she remembers. “And ever since then, the house was in a lighter and sunnier place. I think the ghost is gone. It just needed to be acknowledged.”
In a way, that’s still what she and her bandmates are still doing today: speaking to the lonely ghosts inside us that want to be seen and heard.
“It was scary,” she adds, “but I’m grateful I learned how to live with something that scared me because I think that made me a lot stronger.”