If you can picture Joan Jett fronting The Ramones while drinking a cola-flavored Slurpee at a record shop you’ll have an idea what to expect from Hayley and The Crushers. The power-pop surf-punk trio hail from San Louis Obispo, California and are fronted by Haley “Crusher” Cain alongside her bassist/husband Dr. Cain “Crusher” Cain and drummer Dougie Tangent. Their music is the perfect soundtrack for the intro credits of an early ’00s teen movie that takes place in the ’50s. This year they released their third record Vintage Millennial and a 7″ single titled “Jacaranda.” In 2019 they played 100+ shows touring cross-country while living exclusively out of their van. They put on an energetic live show; and you can watch them live on Saturday October 24th via the T1 Fest- a benefit for JDRF, who fund research and advocate for people suffering from Type 1 Diabetes.
We chatted with Hayley “Crusher” Cain about the making of their most recent record, what their band’s tiki drink would be, and her podcast Sparkle and Destroy.
AF: How was the process of writing and recording your third record?
HCC: Making our new album Vintage Millennial was kind of a blur. We were touring and playing live a bunch in 2019, so the songs came pretty quickly and with a lot of urgency. Our home drummer here in San Luis Obispo, Benjamin Cabreana, is very high energy and eager to learn new songs, so we just kept feeding the beast till we had a whole set finished. I wrote “Gabbie is a Domme,” about an old friend who had become a dominatrix, in one sitting, without a ton of drama or overthinking. I remember being surprised by that, and knowing in my head that there would be glockenspiel. It was almost creepy how quickly some songs came to be, just me and the guitar. There’s something really freeing about knowing you have to get a record done quickly, between tour dates or a deadline you’ve set yourself. You just make decisions. Ideas that might have languished for years, rotting in my notebook (“I Don’t Wanna be like Johnny Ramone” and “Shoulda Been Shangela,” which was about a drag queen that the band loved on Ru Paul’s Drag Race) just kind of leapt off the page and into life. For that reason, I think this album is a real time capsule of our lives at the moment, right now. Then there are songs like “Kiss Me so I Can,” which my husband/bass player, Dr. Cain, and I wrote together. It was a little labored but in a good way. We were tasked with making a groovy sort of Crushers-style love song that still felt universal. We wrote it in real-time as we faced the reality of what constant van-living and ambition was doing to our relationship. I think anyone can relate to the idea of never feeling like you have enough time for your loved one (even if you live in a van/apartment/house with them), or feeling split between two lives and desires. Honestly, it felt quite exposing, but like a natural next step. “Poison Box” was also a collaboration between us – I was in Berlin for the holidays with my sister, and I was inspired by the GDR museum, which showed life in Germany before the Berlin Wall fell. My husband sent me a few guitar riffs over voice memo one night and I wrote the song at my sister’s Berlin apartment after a night of drinking. Everything felt urgent and crazy in 2019. We also tried to write a bit more for production than on Cool/Lame, which is basically a representation of what we do live. We tried to keep spots open for organ, additional drums, claps, and general weirdness, which I think add a lot to our sound, and we’d like to keep that going. Dr. Cain’s sly surf song “Forever Grom” is one of my favorite tunes on the album, even if it truly is a quick interlude and just a total wild card. Fun fact: all the waves and seagulls you hear on that track were created by either Dr. Cain’s amazing vocal abilities or a steel tube being rubbed against the nether regions of my Gretsch guitar. I feel really lucky we were able to do vinyl in 2020, despite all the issues happening in the record pressing world and the wider world in general. Travis Woods from Eccentric Pop Records believed in Vintage Millennial, even if it might be the weirdest album on his label to date. All you need is one person to believe in you and you just decide it’s a good idea. That’s a little known secret of the business!
AF: What are jacarandas, and what do they mean to you?
HCC: Wikipedia says: “Jacaranda mimosifolia is a sub-tropical tree native to south-central South America that has been widely planted elsewhere because of its attractive and long-lasting pale indigo flowers.” I can confirm this is true! In my town of San Luis Obispo, California, these purple trees start blooming in May and continue through the summer. In the summer, everything is brown (burnt by literal wildfires) or just dried by the sun, so these insane purple trees really stand out. I wrote the song as I was longing for the road. We spent 100 days on the road in 2019 with two Midwest Tours and a few West Coast tours and I started writing this song between dates, when we had come home briefly to tie up loose ends. Dr. Cain was selling his comic book shop of nine years and I had quit a column I had written for the local alt weekly for about five years. The color of the trees inspired me and I loved the idea of a song that’s a wake up call. Maybe I just hadn’t been home in a while, so the trees seemed even more technicolor than usual. I felt like they were a cosmic sign, that they were speaking to me and letting me know it was okay to get the hell out. Of course, now I am back at home and have had to completely eat every single word of that song. It’s been humbling. I am grateful to live where I do and to have my friends and family and dogs here.
AF: How has quarantine affected your creative process/routine?
HCC: I just feel like I am always working at 30%. The battery in my soul is low. I don’t have the boundless energy to write demos and I certainly don’t have that urgent feeling that comes with preparing for/booking the next tour. I feel sort of like I am swimming through peanut butter. I continue to write my song ideas down in my notebook, but they take longer to come together. Band practice has helped. Making demos has helped. But everything is slower, less fluid, clunky. That’s got to be part of the underlying and ongoing trauma of 2020. I am not into “victim mentality” at all, but we need to realize we are all in a slowly boiling pot and that is going to have real consequences on our mental health over time. Someone said this recently and it really stuck with me: “It’s like we’re all in a fire. And it’s slow burning. And it’s invisible.” This is stress, anxiety and depression compounded and stretched out like we’ve never seen before. All I know is I am writing down the freaky stuff that I have seen during COVID (a guy wearing a gas mask at the grocery store; a lonely hopscotch created in chalk by kids on my street surrounded by positive affirmations) and I know it will all go into a song, a book or something. Dr. Cain has been surfing a lot, Ben has been skating, and I have been doing yoga in my backyard. You have to find something that completely takes your mind off the election, the state of our country, COVID. You just have to.
AF: If Hayley and the Crushers were a tiki drink, what would it be?
HCC: A super sweet, surprisingly strong Madonna Rum Punch from Madonna Inn, the late ’50s pink palace of a hotel located down the street from my house! It has multiple rums, a maraschino cherry, an orange slice and a cute little skewer.
AF: If you were to do a Halloween-themed cover, what would it be?
HCC: Our song “Neurotica” is about a teen witch, so that is as spooky as we have gotten! The only horror movie I can really watch without peeing my pants is Gremlins, and I’m pretty sure that’s actually a Christmas movie and a teen comedy and not at all supposed to be scary. But it is! It’s so scary. An instrumental surf punk version of the Gremlins theme song would actually be pretty frightening (on many levels).
AF: Have you had any paranormal experiences?
HCC: As for paranormal experiences, I wish I could say I have had some. I always wanted to see an alien or communicate with a forlorn ghost in a Victorian nightgown. Maybe it’s because I grew up with atheists, but boring old science has literally ruined my sense of otherworldly fun. Kim Wilde, who we cover on Vintage Millennial with our song “Water on Glass” is always talking about aliens and stuff. Her latest album is called Here Come the Aliens. It’s funny when you Google someone you admire from the ’80s and you realize that they now go on talk shows recounting their paranormal experiences. I’m jealous, really. I can only hope to be that eccentric one day.
AF: Tell us a little about your podcast Sparkle and Destroy. Who would be your dream guest?
HCC: It’s like an audio zine, and it’s not supposed to be fancy by any means. It’s half interview and half just me rambling about art and my life. I worked as a journalist for about 10 years and I loved the experience of being able to walk right up to someone you found interesting or cool. It’s powerful stuff, to be able to interview them and just pick their brains (as you know). I also had a real paper zine for a few years, which was super fun if not insanely time consuming. When I quit all that so I could focus more on music, I really craved being an interviewer again. I was meeting all these rad women on the road or elsewhere. A sound woman here, a guitarist there. So now I have my own excuse to walk up to some stranger and say, “Can I interview you?” Funny that people will usually say yes. I couldn’t believe that Alice Bag said yes. My dream guest, Josie Cotton, has already been on the show. Guess I should pack it up and go home!
AF: When it is safe to have shows and tours again, are there any structural changes you would like to see in how they are run and in the music scene as a whole?
HCC: Considering we book all own tours, make all our own fliers, chase down all our own press, send out all our own advances, and promote all our own shows on our own dime—sure. I’d love to see a return of dedicated, professional venue bookers in the United States who are paid well enough to help with some of this crucial work. I find myself doing the job of the venue when it comes to promotion and even organizing what times the bands will play, because more often than not, you don’t even get an email confirming the gig. We create and print fliers and literally send the paper versions to venues, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but think about doing that for every show on tour. Then there is contacting local press/radio etc. We buy our own ads to promote the shows we play, even as we are spending a lot of money to travel across the country to be there. This work helps all the bands on the bill and the venue, not just us. Of course, some venues do have good promotion, but, in general, I think the money isn’t there anymore. These jobs are just going away or not paying well enough to attract the right people. I know they used to exist, because older music people tell me about those glory days when a venue would actually tell the local paper about a show. Of course, papers are going away too. Venues are closing down left and right during COVID so I feel bad saying anything critical. They will be so weak and needing of support when and if they reopen that all I can hope for is an open door and a few drink tickets.
AF: What are your plans for the rest of 2020 and beyond?
HCC: We have a new album we are working on! Stay tuned. It should come out next year if all goes to plan. We are also doing a live stream on Saturday Oct. 24. T1 Fest supports funding and research for folks suffering from Type 1 Diabetes, which is a big issue for our former drummer, who had to quit the band due to medical reasons.
We have a new single coming out this winter that I think will surprise and delight y’all. The song is about one of my first punk loves, Black Flag. I used to sit in the barn and play Black Flag and Ramones songs over and over, trying to sing as snotty as possible. Now I am ancient, in my 30s, and still feel that sense of excitement about punk. It’s an homage of sorts! We’ve been filming a music video for the song and I have to say it’s pretty silly. It has been a morale boost for sure. There will be a new shirt and cassette associated with the new single, so watch for that. We are supposed to head to Europe in summer 2021, but we will see if that happens. Our band has already voted by mail and we encourage everyone to do so! We thank our Crushers worldwide for all the love and support during these “uncertain times.”
RSVP HERE for Hayley and The Crushers via T1 Fest 2020 with Dan Vapid of Dan Vapid & The Cheats and The Methadones, Jen Pop and Poli Van Dam of The Bombpops, The Radio Buzzkills, Death and Memphis, The Usuals, Capgun Heroes, and The Lettermans on Saturday 10/24 6pm ET.
More great livestreams this week…