Lydia Night of The Regrettes disagrees with my theory that growing up in LA makes being a performer seem like a more realistic, graspable possibility than growing up somewhere less glamorous. “I was in Santa Monica, which is like its own small town within the bigger city. I was taking art classes and my art teacher turned out also to teach guitar lessons. It was so easy and accessible for me, but that could happen anywhere,” she says.
However, she doesn’t dispute the fact that that the children of, say, Kidderminster, would be significantly less likely to be in a band with Ryan Gosling when they were 12. Night has had a laser-focused vision of rock stardom since her dad took her to see all-female rock band The Donnas aged five, and hasn’t hung around. The guitar lessons began at six, she started a band called LILA (Little Independent Loving Artists) at seven, and in 2013, aged 12, her next duo, Pretty Little Demons, became the youngest band ever invited to play the influential Texas festival SXSW.
At the same time, she was singing as part of an on-stage choir with Gosling’s band Dead Man’s Bones. “She’s the kind of kid who makes you feel like you wasted your childhood being boring and uncreative,” the Hollywood star said at the time.
Her current quartet released their debut album in January last year, the international assault began this year and she won’t turn 18 until October. Precocious, yes, but don’t doubt her because of her age. Those who dare to patronise have already been cut down multiple times in her songs. The single Seashore, with its characteristic mix of swinging Fifties sweetness and prickly noise rock, begins, “You’re talkin’ to me like a child/Hey I’ve got news, I’m not a little girl/And no, I won’t give you a little twirl,” before going on to announce, “I’m like nobody else, so you can just go fuck yourself.”
In the video, she dresses as Joan of Arc, a Suffragette and the American President. She’s working hard to be a role model as a strong woman – participating in LA’a Women’s March last year, and publicly registering to vote, even though she’s not yet of age, at last weekend’s Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago – but an honest one too. The Regrettes’ breakthrough song, A Living Human Girl, announces, “I’ve got pimples on my face/And grease in my hair/And prickly legs, go ahead and stare,” again undercutting the lovesick, boyfriend-focused girl group sounds of the Fifties with loud guitars and feminist lyrics.
“I thought with this first record it was really important to make some sort of statement about the box that a lot of young women are put into,” she tells me. “I’m really lucky to be raised in a very open place like LA, by parents who never said any of those things to me, but in Middle America and a lot of different places around the world, there is such crazy pressure for women to condition themselves to be this person that’s ready for a guy. Everyone is trying to please someone and it’s so hard to get out of that mindset. I felt so much happier when I stopped caring about pleasing everyone.”
She and her bandmates Sage Chavis and Genessa Gariano, who are three and four years older respectively, will head to the merchandise stand after gigs to bond with their predominantly young and female fans. She met the bassist and the guitarist at West LA’s School of Rock, an after-school programme for budding musicians. Drew Thomsen, their new drummer of two months’ standing, can offer the boy’s perspective. Do people expect Night, the pretty, supercool rock and roller, to have life all worked out already? “To an extent, yeah,” she says. “But if someone asks for advice I’ll just give my honest opinion and remind them that I’m not a trained therapist or dietician.”
Last August, she wrote an article on the online publishing platform Medium entitled “Finding My Strength to Conquer Body Insecurity”. Even though it sounds like she has navigated teenagerhood with considerable success, it’s remarkably honest, including the admission: “I do not have an eating disorder—and I have not ever had one. I’ve thought about what that would look like several times and considered it. I do not self-harm, which I have also thought about. I have tried a few times to gag myself over my toilet, and that never worked out well, meaning nothing came out. I used to tell myself that I couldn’t even get that right.”
She also reveals that she hates photoshoots and interviews, which doesn’t bode well, but she seems relaxed today, calling on Skype from her LA bedroom, with a pink Dickies hoodie and pulled-back blonde hair, in front of a wood-panelled wall that makes it look disorientatingly like she’s lying on the floor. These things come and go, she says. “Even now, when I’m super comfortable on stage to the point where it’s not even a thought, there are days when you wake up and you’re just not feeling yourself. You feel shitty, don’t want to look at yourself and don’t want others to look at you, but you have a show that night. I’ve had to learn ways to get myself into a headspace where I’m not beating myself up, where I can take myself back to who I really am. It’s hard.”
Having cool parents helps. Her mum was a teenage drummer in a metal band. Her dad has been a radio DJ and music video director who now runs a trailer park motel and Hicksville Pines Bud & Breakfast, “California’s first marijuana-friendly hotel”.
“My dad never invalidated what I was feeling, even if it was something as ridiculous as ‘Someone didn’t like my shoes and it’s the end of the world!’ That helped a lot with my confidence,” she says. “Listening is the biggest thing.”
He also immersed her in great music, to the extent that she says her earliest favourite band was The Ramones. The Regrettes have covered Ballroom Blitz by The Sweet, the Fifties Christmas song A Marshmallow World, and put a rocket up Dion & The Belmonts’ A Teenager in Love. Most recently they took on Helpless, from the musical Hamilton. A fun EP at the start of this year, Attention Seeker, followed the album, titled Feel Your Feelings Fool! and they’re setting aside September and October to write and record album number two.
Before then, there’s an imminent London club show and then the honour of being the first band on the main stage at Reading Festival. “Playing on a main stage is so amazing. We just did it for the first time at Lollapalooza. There’s so much space to run around. It’s so fun.”
It’s an exciting promotion, but she isn’t stopping there. “I don’t have a set timeline, I just want to let it happen how it’s gonna happen naturally, but this is not even close to where I want to get. On a writing level and as musicians, and also on the scale of where I see our success, we’re not close to either. I want us to be as big as we can be and the best that we can be.”
Still two months from adulthood, she’s got a long way to go and plenty of time to get there. There’s much more to come from this tireless teen from La La Land.
Aug 22, Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, N1. hoxtonsquarebar.com