Published Jul 04, 2019Cut Your Teeth is the fearlessly personal debut album by Vancouver four-piece Necking. The album, out July 5 via Mint Records, is as stinging as heartbreak and fuelled by all the self-pity, self-doubt and anger that come with it. Of Necking's four members — singer Hannah Karren, guitarist Nada Hayek, bassist Sonya R., and drummer Melissa Kuipers — all but Hayek went through breakups while writing the album.
In an Exclaim! interview, Kuipers describes her former relationship as a wacky, on-again, off-again journey: "It was one that really messed with my self-esteem, and I think that maybe before that, I was okay with being by myself."
During this period, she adopted the mantra "I still exist," which became the obvious chorus of Cut Your Teeth's "Still Exist." She repeated the phrase while performing mundane activities alone: going to work, buying groceries, calling her mom, eating dinner, going to bed on time. Repeating the phrase became a way to remind herself that she did not need outside validation after all.
Cut Your Teeth is about regaining one's footing and sense of self. Ultimately, it's about personal growth, and the band vent about more than just shitty relationships. Gentrification, power imbalances, virtue signalling, useless academia — none are safe across the band's 22-minute demolition derby of turbulent, sharp-tongued rock. Contradictory emotions swirl throughout the album. They disarm listeners and leave them laughing without smiling, in a state of nervous, paralytic confusion.
The band forged Cut Your Teeth locally with producer Jesse Gander (Japandroids, White Lung) at Rain City Recorders. Melissa wrote most of the lyrics, but every member contributed words, too. The nine songs they ended up with mix very specific experiences with general ones shared by each member.
"Drag Me Out," one of the album's thematic centrepieces, was written by Kuipers at a time when she still wasn't used to being alone. Going out failed to make her feel much better, but it did make her feel alive, like a real person out in the real world. At the time, that was enough.
"When I was sitting alone in my apartment, I just felt like I stopped existing because no one was around me or talking to me or validating me." The song, she says, is a plea: "Like, somebody please get me outta here!"
On Cut Your Teeth, Necking's members also look outside themselves, towards the spaces they occupy. At least, the members do so to the extent that they acknowledge their complicity and privilege when it comes to gentrification.
"No Playtime" focuses on the shuttering of Vancouver's art spaces, with Karren asking, "Who am I to talk? Went to private school. Hung out in dives 'cause we thought they're cool."
And while all four members did attend private school, Hayek maintains that, "As long as you have integrity, you can reconcile that. I like to think that I acknowledge the fact that I am privileged, but I can't help that I like [punk]. I can't help that I identify with this kind of culture."
"In that particular verse, we're taking a step back," adds Kuipers. "We know that we're a part of this too, but that doesn't mean that it sits well with us."
"That's one of my favourite lyrics on the album," Sonya R. adds, "because it's weird to be so self-righteous in the song and not admit where we come from."
With that in mind, Necking focus on how they engage with and contribute to their chosen communities now.
They're also focusing on self-care, and part of that is learning to embrace being alone. Often, the differences between loneliness and aloneness get overlooked. But by processing their breakups together, Kuipers has learned a key one.
"[Aloneness] is this feeling where you're comfortable by yourself, you can just do things, and that's fine. You can spend a night alone, and you still exist, and you don't feel like you're losing your shit. Loneliness is this unbelievably overpowering weight, [but] learning how to be alone is learning how to deal with that feeling and just riding it and enjoying that time."
The group takes a silent, contemplative pause after Kuipers' stream of revelations. Finally, R. interjects: "I'm never alone or lonely. I'm a fucking rock star."