The Cover Story

Crawlers: “You give less of a f*ck as you get older… You start realising life’s too short”

Throughout various stages of life, we’ve all been guilty of changing who we are just to fit in. Crawlers, however, are having none of it. On spectacular debut album The Mess We Seem To Make, they offer a space for the outsiders, celebrate our differences, and – as they explain in their first-ever K! cover – show why you should always be your true, unapologetic self…

Crawlers: “You give less of a f*ck as you get older… You start realising life’s too short”
Emma Wilkes
Esmé Bones

“You should have seen our faces when we were told we got this cover,” Crawlers’ Holly Minto says. For the vocalist and their bandmates, this rainy afternoon in a Liverpool photo studio has been the stuff of teenage dreams. They’ve been goofing around with quirky costumes, spray paint and heart-shaped balloons (which drummer Harry Breen will later be spotted playfully batting at like a punching bag) for a Valentine’s Day photoshoot accompanying their first appearance on the cover of a publication that’s been a staple of their lives since adolescence. Not a bad way to celebrate, eh?

“My sister was the scene queen back in the day,” recalls bassist Liv May. “She would read Kerrang! and have all the posters on her wall, and I remember looking around and – you know what it’s like having a cool older sister – I wanted to do what she did. Then I started really getting into her bands as well.”

Once the shoot is done, the four-piece, completed by guitarist Amy Woodall, make themselves comfortable on a sofa and armchair in the corner of the room, and the conversation turns to the aforementioned day of love.

“Is it commercialising romance? Yes,” says Holly. “But I think it’s sweet that you can have a day that’s significant to your love of another person that’s not an anniversary, though obviously you should be doing that every day anyway.”

“It’s just an excuse to drink Prosecco and eat chocolate,” Harry quips.

“I mean… I don’t need an excuse personally,” Liv returns, which Holly happily backs up – “That’s Liv’s to-do list on [any given] day!”

And while gorging on bubbles and chocs sounds like the recipe for a perfect day, this year’s Valentine’s is just a precursor to an even more significant date two days later: the release of Crawlers’ debut album, The Mess We Seem To Make.

Congruent with Gen Z’s famously genre-fluid listening habits, it’s a record that emo kids and their indie friends can listen to while sharing earphones on the bus, proudly wearing different shoes on each foot while cutting to the heart of subjects that keep them up at night – mental health, sexuality, toxic relationships and, in Holly’s words, “the general self-awareness our generation has and yet how we never do anything about it”.

It’s a project that’s been years in the making, coming after miles spent on the road on both sides of the Atlantic, a viral TikTok hit in the form of powerful ballad Come Over (Again), and their 2022 mixtape Loud Without Noise. With every move they’ve made, the quartet have endeared themselves to an ever-expanding community of outsiders – lovingly known as the Creepy Crawlies – who in Crawlers have found a space to not only belong, but let their freak flags fly without shame.

Crucially, Crawlers know what their fans are going through. They were those young, angsty misfits once, losing themselves in the imaginations of artists, and finding a sense of identity. Holly vividly remembers hiding under their duvet with their friend’s phone (as their flip phone had no access to YouTube), discovering the likes of My Chemical Romance, Bring Me The Horizon and Pierce The Veil.

“From that point, I was a changed person,” they say. “I was wearing my little black lace choker with my uniform every day, I was listening to Avenged Sevenfold walking into school, I thought that was the hardest shit. But then I was in all the orchestras and Girl Guides because I loved hobbies, I loved having something to do. I’d be listening to My Chemical Romance while training for judo – I had a double life.”

“I’d be listening to My Chemical Romance while training for judo – I had a double life”

Holly Minto

Liv, meanwhile, was a quiet, shy child who was targeted by bullies from young age.

“It kind of made me go into my shell a bit, but I still found different ways to express myself,” she says. “I wore eyeliner every day in high school, badges on my blazer, I had hot pink hair but it looked closer to red so I got away with it. I spent a lot of my lunches in the art department or in the practice rooms, playing bass. When you’re into Evanescence at the age of 10 or 11, you stick out a bit more and people don’t understand why you don’t want to go round Topshop every single day and would rather spend more time in the music shops.”

“I was popular,” Amy adds with an awkward giggle. “My friends were all quite popular kids but I was the only queer one in the friendship group so I was protected by them, if you know what I mean.”

“Do you know what’s really weird?” Holly adds. “Something I really envy about 14-year-old Holly is that all the time, I was so unapologetically myself. I used to go on the computers at school and read fan-fiction and I wouldn’t give a fuck. I had my first girlfriend in high school and I went to an all-girls school so it was very taboo, then I went to college and I didn’t identify as queer anymore for the sake of fitting in – I had this weird era when I was more conventionally attractive.

“Even though I was very alternative, I just didn’t want to be seen as cringe. Now I’m 24, I’m back to being unapologetically myself like when I was at 14.”

“You give less of a fuck as you get older,” says Harry. “You really start realising life’s too short.”

“It’s like it’s cringe to be cringe,” Holly philosophises. “Cringe isn’t real!”

In the beginning, Crawlers’ fanbase was made up of numbers rather than faces. Like many artists their age, the first glimmers of success came during lockdown, where the only means of connection they had with their listeners was through a screen. It was during the tail-end of this quiet, disconnected period of life that Come Over (Again) caught fire on TikTok, without it ever being engineered for that purpose.

One particular trend that emerged, which was especially heartening for the band, involved a subsection of trans creators using the song in videos to talk about their experience of being deadnamed (where a trans person is addressed by the name they used prior to their transition, often with malicious intent). When fans heard Holly sing, ‘Take her name out of your mouth / You don’t deserve to mourn,’ they felt spoken to.

“[Bringing those conversations] into the mainstream is so important,” Holly explains. “You have one moment that breaks into the mainstream and you open a conversation to people who have never heard anything like that. With a pinch of salt, alternative spaces are amazing with their openness to queerness and transness, but with one moment in the mainstream, it starts a dialogue. People start questioning things, questioning themselves. When those incredible trans creators were using our song to talk about deadnames, so many people discovered what deadnaming was from that. Our music got us in that dialogue and I can’t even say that was us, that was the amazing trans creators who used their voice in that situation.”

Contrary to what your parents may tell you, it turns out that spending your formative years in front of a screen can prove useful. All four Crawlers happily admit that they grew up chronically online, living in the same sorts of virtual fan communities that they’ve since fostered themselves. It means the band and their fans have a shared language, as well as an accessible space. A role reversal has taken place of sorts – they were the superfans once, and although they now stand on the other side of the equation, they’ve never forgotten what that was like.

“What’s so funny is the way we blew up involved us being online figures; we were quite jokey and also very aware of online trends and online life,” Holly considers. “That was because we used to run fan accounts. I was on Tumblr loads and all those things I picked up along the way helped us craft our online identity. You get bullied for having these hobbies, but they trained us up for having a career.”

When the world opened up again, everything changed. The band could finally look into the eyes of the fans they’d been making; those who spent hours making outfits to wear to the show, who brought them gifts, those whose day, week or month could be made by getting to speak to – or sometimes hug – the musicians who soundtrack the twists and turns of their lives. They’ve even stumbled across fan-fiction written about them. “It was the most full-circle moment of my life!” laughs Liv.

“The fact that we mean this much to people makes me quite emotional”

Holly Minto

The band always hoped their music could provide a new generation of alternative youth with a safe space, and more importantly, a community. “It definitely happened organically,” Harry says. “We just sort of harnessed it.” Their bond with the Creepy Crawlies, however, has been something of a two-way mirror – just as their fans identify with them, seeing their younger selves reflected in the crowd hasn’t just been rewarding, but therapeutic. “The fact that we mean this much to people makes me quite emotional,” Holly admits. “It’s quite healing for my inner child.”

Consequently, Crawlers felt a sense of duty to their fans. “Once we started gigging, we thought, ‘We need to make this as safe and enjoyable as possible for them,’” says Amy.

It's especially significant that a huge section of their fanbase identify as queer.

“Having such young, queer fans gravitate towards us as well was very healing for us,” explains Liv. “I can only really speak for myself in this, but these young queer kids have the space that we didn’t have growing up and are so confident and sure of themselves and their identities. That’s something I’m envious of, because I didn’t get that – I only came out last year. I’m just glad these kids can come and be their most authentic selves and feel comfortable and safe with us.”

“A lot of fans raise us up and say we’re the reason for their success, but that just isn’t true,” Holly adds. “All we are is a soundtrack to their successes. We’ve all gone through our own problems and had someone soundtrack that, and we’re now the soundtrack for somebody else, which is incredible.”

Crawlers are here to be an album band. They might have had a day in the sun on TikTok, but they’re not here for fleeting moments that pass in a second and are instantly forgotten in the single flick of a thumb. They want something more substantial to their name – they want their Sempiternal, or their Black Parade. “There’s been this idea that artists are built on singles,” Holly says. “There’s no sonic coherence. But we’ve always gone in and used albums as references, we’ve always said we wanted to make an album.”

“Our manager always says that we’ve made the album that we wanted to make, and that’s so true,” adds Amy. “We’re on a major label, so it can be quite scary to think that we’d get pushed in a certain direction or to be told we have to write a certain kind of song.”

Incidentally, the label offered Crawlers the chance to fly out to America to make their debut, but the band sharply turned it down in favour of staying in Liverpool and producing something they perceived as being truer to themselves. “It would have been shit,” Amy reckons, if they’d gone with the big bosses’ plan.

They weren’t after an ultra-glossy, over-produced album with a list of collaborators longer than a Marvel credit sequence. “We ached for the nostalgia of growing up in that 2014-2016 era, with those low contrast, low saturation photos on Tumblr, where we grew into where we were,” says Holly.

Sonically, The Mess We Seem To Make owes as much to the gritty riffs of Nirvana, Queens Of The Stone Age and Muse as it does the unsparing emotional self-dissection of Boygenius or Adrienne Lenker. “Sometimes it’s hard to think, ‘Shit, where do we sit?’, but the answer is, we sit where Crawlers sit.”

Musically-speaking, their younger and present selves are shaking hands, but lyrically, its sensibilities are notably more adult.

“As I’ve got older, I’ve been reflecting a lot more on the trials and tribulations of my later teens and early 20s, and how much stuff I went through that I just blissed through till I couldn’t anymore,” explains Holly. “Now, being able to speak about them, I’ve been able to escape that headspace a lot more, opening up those taboo conversations with my friends and have an open dialogue.”

In fact, sometimes Holly’s bandmates won’t have been aware of something they’re going through until they hear them sing about it, and their first reaction is, ‘Are you okay?’

“It helps me understand [things I’ve been through] more by reflecting on it,” they continue. “By being vulnerable and saying exactly how I’m feeling makes the most therapeutic, cathartic music possible.”

Everything across The Mess We Seem To Make is bluntly, unsparingly real. It’s often poetic, yet executed with a rawness that will make you stop in your tracks as the weight of Holly’s words sinks in. Its subjects are varied, but pieced together form a picture of a notably darker time in Holly’s life. On the churning Hit It Again, they’re dancing on the uneasy divide between hedonism and self-medication, whereas the poignant Golden Bridge captures a dark night of the soul staring into the River Mersey, during “the worst time” in Holly’s life “where nothing amounted to anything”.

One of the album’s most prominent through-lines, meanwhile, is the way love and sex become tangled and conflated for one another, and the murky grey area between sexual liberation and seeking validation.

“Sex has become a lot less taboo now, which is an amazing place to be in because it shouldn’t be [that way]. But I’ve had sex just to have someone look at me, or for someone to take me seriously or kiss me, and say that they liked me and all that stuff,” muses Holly. “I think, as I got older, I started realising that I wasn’t doing it to be sexually liberated, but I was lonely and I hated myself. I think we’ve all felt that way, especially as young queer people.”

A good third of the album relates to the anxiety-inducing complexities of situationships.

“Why did we invent the word ‘situationship’? Why did we get so scared of commitment?" Holly questions. "Everyone’s like, ‘Well, if it’s not forever, what’s the point?’ The point is the present, and that’s how you’re feeling. Don’t be scared of that.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Kiss Me, a sweet queer love song Holly only realised they had stumbled into writing after Liv interpreted some of its early lyrics differently from how they were intended.

“When Hol showed me the lyrics, I took it as being about finding your feet in a new queer relationship and feeling like everything is falling into place,” Liv says. “I was just projecting what was happening in my life at the time onto the lyrics.”

“It felt like that was what the song was always about,” Holly counters. “That’s why being in a band is so fun – it means that everything [I write] that starts out as this vulnerable, scary thing gets new layers on it, which is so much more fun. It’s actually almost liberated a part of my queer self that I hadn’t explored in ages, hearing the way Liv perceived it, and I was like, ‘Let’s fucking run with this!'"

Holly still remembers hearing Panic! At The Disco’s Girls/Girls/Boys and feeling something click into place. Kiss Me could be that song for somebody else. “I would have loved to have heard that song at 14 years old.”

Once again, it all comes back to that teenager, hiding under the duvet immersed in music. Who would have thought they could one day become that voice for a new generation.

If you have ever felt invisible, Crawlers see you.

The Mess We Seem To Make is out February 16 via Polydor – pre-order or pre-save your copy now.

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