Gretel Hänlyn: I want people to suffocate in my music”

100%: The West London musician opens up about her intoxicating new EP, collaborating with Mura Masa and the importance of proper self-care.

Gretel Hänlyn woke up 15 minutes before our interview was scheduled to take place, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from her fresh face. It’s really unlike me,” she says, Zooming in from her parents’ place in Acton, West London, sitting on her bed in PJ bottoms. I’m usually an 8am-er, but I forgot to set my alarm last night.”

No harm done. Hänlyn’s had a lot on her plate over the last few weeks, not least because she’s also fresh from dropping her second EP, Head of the Love Club. Released last month, it’s a collection of indie-rock tracks tinged with melancholy and romance in equal measure, with her sultry delivery at its heart.

The nihilistic Wiggy stands out: Do you need me? /​Would you come to my show? /​I’m your pet, really /​And I just wanna be owned”, she sings. As does the pining, Cranberries-inspired Today (Can’t Help but Cry): I tend to feel displaced /​You say you’re happy to see me /​You always have such grace /​And every time I see you, I /​Can’t help but cry”.

Written over six-ish months, Hänlyn, 20, didn’t realise there were so many common themes on the EP until she sat down to produce it with her close friend and collaborator Mura Masa (she brought her haunting vocals to his synth-laden track 2gether, off his acclaimed album demon time).

I often don’t know what’s on my mind until I sit down and write it,” she says. The actual head of the love club is a real person who was and is still in my life. It was one of those obsessive infatuations when you don’t really know where you stand with someone, and you’re getting mixed signals that drive you mad.”

Hänlyn leaned into that madness with appropriate intensity, inspired by it rather than put off. There’s something so gothic to me about wanting someone so badly that it drives you away from yourself,” she says.

Where does this penchant for the gothic come from? Turns out, her parents – mum’s an artist, dad’s a builder – have really good music taste”. I was getting 80s goth influences from my mum, then from my dad’s side it was all Pink Floyd and Nick Drake,” she says.

It took Hänlyn until she was about 14 to start properly absorbing those records – at the time, she was more into One Direction and Take That. I think that’s actually what’s shaped the way I approach songwriting,” she says. I come at it from a pop perspective, basically trying to write pop music as if it’s a rock song.”

Ultimately, Hänlyn wants her listeners to feel completely entrenched in the immersive musical world she’s created. I want them to suffocate in it a little bit,” she admits, laughing. That’s how I like music to make me feel. But I also want them to feel intrigued and maybe a little relieved to be hearing something so honest.”

10% Where were you born, where were you raised and where are you now based?

I was born and bred in Acton. I’ve never moved. I’m a West London girl to the core.

20% If you were cooking to impress someone, what would you make?

I’d start with crisps and nuts on the table, then I’d whip out some prawn toast. I recently started making bangers and mash quite a lot, with red wine gravy and caramelised onions. Peas on the side. Dessert would be a pear and chocolate tart.

30% What’s a piece of advice that changed your life?

You are your own main character. So why not root for the main character? Root for yourself because you’re the centre of your universe. Be nice to yourself.

40% Love, like, hate?

I love cats. I like going out and surrounding myself with mates, having pints, stuff like that. Something I really hate is velvet when it’s not proper velvet – a shit version. Every bit of fluff attaches itself to it and it drives me fucking mad.

50% What’s the weirdest DM you’ve ever received?

Someone once sent me a message asking how tall I was. I responded about a week later, and it wasn’t that funny, but I said: About as tall as a goblin.” Three weeks later, he asked again. Like: Seriously, how tall are you?” Then every other day, he kept asking. In the end, I weirdly respected how committed he was to the whole thing. He had about three followers. I told him I was 5’8” and he just said, Phwoar”. I never heard from him again.

60% What’s a bad habit you wish you could kick?

Cigarettes. I don’t chain smoke but I’m one of those people where if everyone is going to the smoking area, I’ll come along and have one. And just having proper self-care, which is so important, especially when I’m preaching about main characters and looking after yourself.

70% You rule the world for a day. What goes down?

A lot of people would be fired. I’d put people with actual experience in charge. Then I’d build one really, really big hot tub for us all to get into, so we could stew like little tea bags. We could all drink a cup of it, like a little ritual.

80% Do you think that would help strengthen our minds and bodies?

It could make us horribly ill, but either way, it would be a connecting experience.

90% How did you celebrate your last birthday?

Every time I’ve had a birthday since I was 17, I’ve wanted to have a party and then I get so terrified of having my different friend groups in the same room. Last year, I was in the studio with Mura Masa on my birthday. He got me some lovely earrings – he’s a very fashionable man. Then we had a very nice, very spenny Thai meal. I’m going to be in the US for my birthday this year, with him again, actually.

100% It sounds like you’re in good hands, right?

Yep. Good presents and good company!

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