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The rise and rise of The Regrettes looked unstoppable. But paused by COVID, Lydia Night began to wonder about everything. On their journey to rediscovering themselves and making their best album to date, she and guitarist Genessa Gariano actually found just how important this all is to them after all...
By now, the beginning of the story Lydia Night tells about the past two years is so familiar it’d almost be strange if a musician didn’t tell it. Forced home by the pandemic, The Regrettes found themselves at a loose end and in their own beds for the first time in years. It was weird but sort of welcome. There were worries about what the unexpected tightening of the touring revenue tap might mean. Time seemed best used to make more music. Stop us if you think you’ve heard this one before...
“It was weird,” she says. “I loved getting to spend time with my boyfriend and spend time with my two cats. On a personal level, some things were really incredible. It was like a break you weren’t expecting. But it was weird being taken out of that world you’re so used to.”
The story so far for The Regrettes had positively glittered. Picked up as teenagers – actual, school-attending teenagers – Lydia and co-founding guitarist Genessa Gariano, almost as soon as they started, were signed to a major label and found themselves on the stages of Riot Fest and South By Southwest. Their second album, 2019’s How Do You Love?, had seen them rightly hailed for the sharpness and punch of their slick power-pop. In the run up, they’d opened for twenty one pilots on the Euro hop of their Bandito arena tour. The Regrettes are not a band particularly well acquainted with life’s shallow end.
Able to decompress at home in California having had the stone of routine lifted, in the time away from the road a few more challenging thoughts were allowed to stand up straight. Aged 18 when tour buses across the globe switched off the ignition, having been in band-world since she was 15, the brakes suddenly engaging on the musician’s schedule gave other things that would usually go on the laterbase time to tap her on the shoulder and demand attention.
For one, she realised that the negativity she was feeling was more than just The Fear that tends to strike when a pandemic graffito-tags a looming question mark over the future. She describes anxiety, imposter syndrome, and says that sessions of therapy helped to untie the knots to work out what was going on.
The other worry concerned the very thing she’d spent entire adult life so far doing. Out of the bubble, Lydia began wondering about The Regrettes themselves. Examining her lot, what she knew should have been the best of times now found itself coupled to an inconvenient question: is it?
"That feeling had been existing in me for a very long time," she says. "It came very apparent in my depression I was going through during COVID. I felt such a wall and such a disconnect between reality my ability to grasp it, and grasp moments of joy.
“I think a lot of people who struggle with their mental health or with depression [have a moment where] you feel like you're going to Disneyland, or you're doing this thing that used to feel so good, and you don't feel it anymore. And it's terrifying,” she continues. “And you feel so much shame and guilt. I'm doing something that people are so happy to be doing, and I just don't feel good. I don't feel it, I don't feel anything. All I feel is fucking sad, and it's so scary.”
At the same time, a seemingly opposing thought occurred: what else do I have? As lockdown yawned on from weeks to months, it was a notion that would prove to be both question and answer.
“I think I wanted to believe that I really liked the time at home,” she says. “And I had levels that I really appreciated. But I was also struggling a lot mentally. It was two extremes. At first I was like, ‘Wow, a break for the first time in forever,’ but then I also felt, ‘What's going on? This is really scary.’ Until I was able to start writing about that, and start different kinds of therapy and whatnot throughout that, those thoughts just sort of existed. It was just such a lack of identity. It was a huge identity crisis.”
Eventually, the band – Lydia and Genessa, plus bassist Brooke Dickson and drummer Drew Thomsen – reconvened in Joshua Tree, California, to work on new music and flesh out ideas Lydia had already been working on at home. She says this was the first time in “a very, very long time” that the four members of The Regrettes had not just been in the same room as one another, but even had proper direct contact. “We didn’t even really FaceTime that often during the pandemic,” Lydia says.
Unsurprisingly, Genessa describes the re-breaking of the ice between people who had previously slept within feet of each other on a tour bus as awkward. Actually, the phrase she uses is that it was “like a very long hello”.
“We were kind of timid when we met up,” she says today. “It was scary. It was really scary. At first, we were like ‘Hello, nice to meet you.’”
But face to face, back together, trying to find a sense of purpose through creating music after being forced to sit in neutral, The Regrettes found something. Time apart and questions raised had meant they were almost forced to communicate their concerns and their feelings. And far from being a wedge, the energy between them was magnetic.
Musically, too, the expected static quickly dissipated. The songs Lydia had been working on were great. Playing them together and crafting them into a final form that would become Further Joy – together, four brains as a unit – was even better. They began writing new stuff, a song a day. And a newfound confidence to dig deep and say things that previously may have gone unheard added a currency of soul to match their creativity.
'Who am I away from this?' Lydia and Genessa had both individually asked themselves. Doesn’t really matter. Smooth seas not making great sailors, what chop there’s been has only made the important truth sharper when it emerged on the other side: this is, actually, who we are. Hello, Regrettes, nice to meet you again.
When Kerrang! catches up with them, we find Lydia and Genessa in a fine place. Physically, that place is their hotel Sacramento, the capital of California, where The Regrettes are preparing to put a full-stop on their first proper tour since 2020. Nobody’s gone down with COVID, no shows have gone south. Job’s a good ’un.
“Don’t say that!” laughs Lydia. “We’ll all get it now and have to cancel the last shows!”
Jinxed by Kerrang! or not (not, for the record), the pair are tired but happy. Further Joy is, by some distance, the best thing to which The Regrettes have put their name. The songs are as easily melodious as they are finely-tuned, a catchy, seemingly effortless big picture that closer inspection reveals to have been hand-detailed and expertly finished. “We were writing up until the last second,” says Lydia, “and we had so much time to work on ideas that we just didn’t stop, so some of the ideas grew way more than normal.”
The reconnection the band underwent in making Further Joy didn’t just help get the record over the line. As a way of defragging life that had been lived during a time when most people their age are still getting their shoes on with what they’d like to do with theirs, there’s a new perspective from within. Everyone can feel it.
“I think there was a whole spectrum of emotions for all of us,” admits Lydia. “I think the best way to put it is that we really found ourselves as a group. We found our band in a different way through this time.”
“It was a weird, kind of interesting thing, because it felt like we were isolated, but everyone was isolated,” says Genessa. “I think our identity… we had to kind of create, find it. We had to create ourselves and build ourselves up from the bottom. And that's great. I think it makes it so much better. We’ve found ourselves, we're stronger.”
“We literally had, like, a group therapy session last night,” adds Lydia. “There's nothing that Genessa could say to me [now] that could hurt my feelings, or I can feel upset about something or whatever. There's nothing, at the end of the day, that's gonna get in the way of our friendship.”
“I think we would never say anything to hurt one another,” continues Genessa. “But I want to understand why is it [someone feels a certain way]. I think that the fact that we are able to do that has transformed our shows. Onstage I feel so much closer to everyone. I look over at the others and I'm just like, ‘I love you!’ I feel like I'm smiling, cheesing hard when someone's doing something, just because I care so much.
“I think it super-super translates as well. I feel like I was a little Grinch before, but my heart grew, like, three times. And now, everything makes me so happy.”
It’s this simplicity of happiness that’s implied in Further Joy’s title. Instead of looking for the joy beyond a joy, and ultimately ending up wishing that you could see a forest were it not for the trees in the way, it’s realising what’s important. Often, even in the biggest or most seemingly complex situations, they are the most obvious of things that tend to make us the happiest.
In particular, the song Subtleties looks at this emptiness in the quest for more. Looking over the shoulders of others on social media has, if not created, then jet-fuelled the almost competitive worry that you’re not happy enough. Really, that you’re not good enough.
“I think it's just the human condition that we are never satisfied,” ponders Lydia. “Never feeling content. There’s a lot of toxic norms in the health and wellness social media space which really affected me. This idea of never being satisfied with who you are, and you need to do these specific things to be a better version of yourself, and [there has to be] constant self-improvement.
“There's totally a healthy level of that. You should, of course, always be trying to be the best version of yourself, and learning and growing. That's amazing. But when it turns into never being satisfied with where you are, it's really toxic and just a really fucked-up internet space.
“For a period of time I was deep into that. If the food I was eating didn't look like this person's food they were eating, or the amount in a day that they were eating or whatever… that's just fucking bad. And it's like a fucking waterfall of it. So that's where that specific song, that kind of self-loathing, really came from.”
Elsewhere, on the brilliantly-titled You’re So Fucking Pretty, an element of this comes up again. Realising she had something of a crush on another woman, Lydia found herself wanting to write about it, in a heart-fluttering track that celebrates love and crushes and emotions and feeling gooey when you see someone. But there was pause for thought. It wasn’t the news she was bisexual, so much as “imposter syndrome” that she wasn’t supposed to be writing about it, even though it’s who she is. That part was, she says, “the only thing I was scared of”.
“I felt I wasn't scared about people knowing I was bi, I was scared about people telling me I wasn't allowed to be,” says Lydia. “Which did actually happen. Like, there were weird things that happened once that song was released, where there were like, a few funny, weird things, people making comments about bi people. That was really hurtful and weird.”
Though it was Lydia’s idea, the lyrics were something of a collaborative work, something which helped find the confidence to put pen to paper and say exactly how she felt.
“We wrote that song in Joshua Tree together. I wasn't alone, and I had Janessa and Brooke to connect with me on my story and on the lyrics, and helped me find the words,” she says.
And for the iffy reaction from some quarters, upon its release as a single, much of the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Moreover, it was from people who saw themselves in it. And the thing from the band’s side is, three of the four members of The Regrettes could have done with having a song like this themselves.
“I think it's a funny thing, where coming out has to be this thing where you're entitled to know, like, who someone is, and more,” explains Genessa. “I was so excited to put this out, because I think it's something that I could have used when I was in high school. It was a combination of being like, ‘This is who I am,’ and also I know there's a lot of other people feeling that way. All of us kind of just talking about it and our shared experiences.”
Further Joy is an album that digests big bits of life in a way that is both intelligent and big-hearted. There is just as much celebration as there are soul-searching question marks in the lyrics and their roots. Where You’re So Fucking Pretty is a celebration of finding something out about yourself, La Di Da is a clever look at dissociation. At first seeming like a party tune Lydia says was intentionally born of “listening to a ton of early 2000s music where you throw your hands up in the air”, it’s actually about dissociation, and removing yourself mentally from a situation. Turn the party tunes up so you can’t hear what’s bringing you down anymore.
But, you guess, this is growing up. By reforging their friendships and rediscovering who they are, The Regrettes have not only found who they are – and, by the sounds of it, it’s who they actually were all along – but re-affirmed it. Talking openly, frequently laughing and with the apparent view that allowing the other to finish their own sentences is some sort of poor show, time spent with Lydia Night and Genessa Gariano is time spent in the company of two people tied together by the closest and strongest of friendships. It’s why they’re able to take a knock and come out stronger. Feelings of fear, or questioning what you’re doing is normal. Healthy, even. And it’s actually okay to cry at Disneyland when you know why.
“I wasn't able to really acknowledge that that was valid, and that it's okay to be at Disneyland and cry and be depressed at Disneyland,” says Lydia. “There's work to be done to get back to that [good feeling]. And we were talking about this last night. Now it feels so good to be on the other end of that, where I can go to Disneyland and have a great time again.”
“I’m not looking at what makes someone else happy, and that maybe that'll make me happy too, instead of looking right in front of me,” adds Genessa. “It's like, right now I’m sitting holding this ice cream cone with my friend. And yeah, I'm enjoying it. I love it.
“Yeah, this is so beautiful,” she concludes. “This is joy.”
Further Joy is out now via Warner.
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