Stony Sugarskull: From Gaia To Girlhood
“The last centuries have been dominated by male characteristics as we can see in the phenomenon of the amount of wars. Gaia suggests the idea of the revolution of love to overcome conflict, love towards yourself and others/the environment to build a sustainable future.”Stony Sugarskull
Have you ever felt the need to wrap yourself in black lace, adorn your hands with the chunkiest of silver rings, and then bob your artfully dyed head to an ominous synth in the corner of a very dark, very smoked out club? Yes? I thought so, it’s a universal experience for all of us who grew up listening to Bauhaus, or Mazzy Star, or even the more whimsical side of goth adjacent music that is the eminent Kate Bush. For those of us who were, like me, introduced to this scene a while after it was driven even further underground, we are lucky if we catch the odd themed night, or perhaps we scrape together a mint to see The Cure on their sporadic touring circuits. But overall I would say there is a seeming lack of new mournful, thought provoking, and distinctly spooky music that is being released in the modern age. I crave it, so that we today can experience a sliver of those spiderwebbed moments of gothic intrigue that the original scene did. However, the moment I pressed play on the first track on the Spotify of the band we’re chatting about today, I felt my daydreams become altogether more real.
So with that rambling tale concluded, I would like to introduce you to the esteemed artist that is Stony Sugarskull. Excitingly, we have found each other at rather a tumultuous time for the now LA based singer-songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Dr. (Yes, Dr) Monika Demmler. She started her project, titled Stony Sugarskull, back in 2017 with the release of totally spaced out, drone-y, and intriguing EP “Gaia”. My personal favourite is certainly the final track of the 4 titled “Party Girl” wherein Dremmler apathetically recites lyrics “I’m a Party Girl, a Rocking Rollercoaster” throughout the chorus, it was stuck in my head for days and reminded me a little of “My, My Kind of Girl” or perhaps even “Somebody like Me” by the Ramones. But in the case of Dremmler’s tune, we get to see the party from the perspective of the woman character in Joey’s lyrics, which is a wonderful broadening of the musical perspective, yes to more songs like this! Overall Stony Sugarskull’s EP has a tinge of 60s surf music about it, splattered with a taste of gritty punk, which is ultimately all rolled up in a cocoon of blown out jangly guitars and simple drums. I was hooked! The next release from Stony Sugarskull came in the form of a totally brilliant album named after another strong female presence in nature, “Lioness”, which came out back in 2020.
Their work on this album was so titled to empower other woman artists to do their own thing, find their own style, and run with it, which adds another gorgeous layer to this already well constructed album. The work begins with the track “House on Fire” which has one of the most fascinatingly agitating opening riffs I’ve heard in a while. The album continues through to heftier, more up-tempo tracks like “Empty” which is juxtaposed alongside the ethereal and totally calm “Turtles”. Now then, the track that I feel best embodies the feeling I was chasing in the opening paragraph of this interview, is titled “Bentley”, and finds itself near the close of this album. If, after you listen to it, you like the track but think to yourself “hey, I wonder what would this track would sound like arranged in three totally different ways”, you’re in luck. In 2021 “Bentley Eins”, “Bentley Zwei” and “Bentley Drei” were released in a handy little packet titled, aptly, “Bently (Remix), and it’s a truly cool trip to see the artist experiment in such a way. Please comment below what your favourite Bentley arramngement is. Anyway, I digress, “Lioness” comes to a close with the melancholy yet gorgeously jangly track “Veronica” where the combination of Dremmler’s vocals and the accompanying guitar totally engulf you, and the track ripples as water does when the surface is disturbed by a breeze.
Now, as for what’s next for Stony Sugarskull we have her latest single “Princess” which was released only a week ago! It’s certainly a more upbeat track than what’s come before, and woven into every verse is a truly whimsical tale of believing in flying carpets, Queens, and Princesses, and honestly at it’s core it’s just a purely joyful track to which I recommend listening. Furthermore, we have another single titled “Lovecraft” to expect from Stony Sugarskull this month, which I’m very excited about as the title gives me the Arctic Monkeys’ “You’re So Dark” vibes. And if you were thinking to yourself, well surely there cannot be more, excitingly you’re quite wrong as there’s also another album in the works set to be released later this summer! Anyway, thank you as ever for taking the time to listen, and I will now leave you to read on to learn about the origins, the ins, and the outs of the project that is Stony Sugarskull.
“But yes, I think everyone should feel like a princess – be in what you said – be free, feel young and follow your inner voice!”Stony Sugarskull
Hello, hello! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. Let’s start this super simple, would you mind introducing yourself for our audience, and perhaps letting us know where you’re from?
Hi! Thank you so much for having me 🙂 I’m Monika, just moved to LA and now part- time based in Berlin as well. I perform under the name Stony Sugarskull.
Alright, let’s get into it! You released your first full album, titled “Lioness” in 2020, which was recorded under your own label “Sugarskull” records. What inspired you to set up your own label, and how did you find the process of releasing through it?
What inspired me to set up my own label is kind of the fact that I’ve been doing maybe lots of label work by my own so far. As you have all the tools nowadays to release your album yourself and with this comes the fact that no-one tells you what or how to do something, I just gave it a try. I do like to be independent and on the other hand, I’ve also liked to learn the process of releasing an album. In the future, I’d love to release artists I like on the label and support great music. The process of releasing was as I mentioned a learning experience: I paid a promotion company who did not do their job as supposed to, for example. So I ended up working on it by myself and surprisingly got great results.
I was also curious about the title you chose for your debut… what drew you to name “Lioness?” I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to the 2011 album by Amy Winehouse which is of course titled “Lioness: Hidden Treasures”, and I was wondering if there is any connection at all?
The title for my debut album was chosen accidentally in a way. Leron Thomas (Pan Amsterdam, Iggy Pop) once called me a lioness. I found that an interesting name and felt kind of proud to have overcome some struggles to the final release of my first album. With Lioness I thereby intended to encourage other female artists in a way to “do their thing & own style.”
I was reading on your Spotify about how the feeling behind this album was centred on “mirroring the socio-political downfall of the 21st century”, which is some seriously heavy subject matter. In the “Louder than War” interview that you did you mentioned how the album drew inspiration from your doctoral research, and I was wondering if you could talk a little here about how your degree fed into the concept for this album?
My doctoral research was based upon the fact that we’ll see a systemic breakdown. However, I did not know then that this was starting about to happen so quick omg. With Lioness, the A-Side is loud and bit crazy, then the B-Side is mostly focused on quiet songs, reminding of a new beginning. Some of the tracks are named after natural phenomena/animals. A breakdown is always loud, disturbing and sometimes hurting. Then silence follows and with it the resurrection/creation of a new phase – maybe age in which we need to find a balance between a back-to-nature trend and technology, a meaningful symbiosis of ecology and technology for our future lives.
Also, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between “Lioness” and one of my favourite Talking Heads tracks “Nothing But Flowers”, which, for those of you who haven’t listened (although I recommend it!), is a song that parodies our civilisation’s move towards mass industrialisation by describing a society that is totally green, and totally un-industrial where people reminisce about cars and Dairy Queen’s. The way that you chose to order the tracks in particular reminded me of the Talking Heads song, as it begins with songs like “Electrified” and moves towards something more natural like “Butterflies”. I also loved the way that the opening track “House on Fire” was super uneasy, sharp, and jangly, while the album concludes with a gorgeously stripped back “Veronica” which focuses on light guitar and your truly gorgeous vocals. I was wondering if there were any artists, songs, albums, or musicians in particular that you drew inspiration from for this album, or just ones that you find particularly intriguing and would recommend to our readers?
This is a very difficult question when it comes to inspiration. I write or create songs not thinking about anything, e.g. waking up in the morning and I have a riff on my mind – then working on the actual song creating. I guess I am influenced by music from the 1970s (Led Zeppelin, The Velvet Underground) as well as church or folk music from Bavaria where I grew up.
Despite it being your debut album, “Lioness” not your first release, as you also have an EP titled “Gaia” from 2017. The EP has a totally spooky and spaced out element to it, and I truly felt I’m was stood in the corner of a goth club somewhere in the 80s, lost in a daze, as I was listening . When compared to your 2020 album it certainly feels your sound has changed a little, while still keeping that retro goth-y tint to it. However, that’s an outside perspective, how do you feel you’ve changed since releasing your 2017 EP?
Oh – that’s interesting 🙂 The songs on Gaia are some my very first songs and their structures are kind of unusual to song writing – I didn’t know what I did to be honest haha. The Lioness album has more improvisational elements in it. I guess Berlin inspired me in that. The new album Princess is more guitars-based and maybe the song writing is more organised.
“…I work very spontaneously or maybe I let the creation speak itself and step back. I do have vague ideas of what I can imagine but they always change on the spot.”Stony Sugarskull
Hopping forward to present day, you have something most exciting in the works at the moment, an album titled “Princess”, which set to be released later this year! I read that you have been collaborating with Kristian Bell of “The Wytches”, and as someone who’s seen “The Wytches” live a couple of times thanks to a friend who’s a big fan of them, it sounds like a totally perfect musical match. How has the process been for this release so far? What drew you two together and inspired you to collaborate? And also, most intriguingly, what can listeners expect from this new album?
I saw the Wytches live around 8 years ago at the Shacklewell Arms in London and really loved them instantly. What drew us together was our common friend Carla Sandwell last year. After a gig at the Lexington in London she told me “you should work with Krisan Bell from the Wytches – that could be a great match.” At the same time, I just got a funding from Initiative Musik Berlin for the production of my second album and was ready to go. Kristian was up for it and so I went to Yaxley town hall (Peterborough) in November for two weeks. Kristian recorded on an old tape machine and played the drums as well as the bass. It was one of the best recording/ production times I had so far and I’m very happy about the outcome. Luke Oldfield finished the mastering this spring and also did a fabulous job on it. What listeners can expect from the album is – let’s say a bit Nirvana?
I noticed on your Facebook that you were also collaborating with Brighton based art pair “The Postman” on the album art for this upcoming release, which is super cool. I would definitely encourage everyone to check out their website, or if you’re a Brighton local, keep an eye out for their super sick pieces of street art around the city! I was wondering how you guys came to collaborate on the artwork? What drew you to this art style and what do you feel it says about the album itself?
I love their artwork – yes! My friend Martyn Goodacre had the idea for the cover. The Postman worked on Martyn’s photo of Kurt Cobain among others. We did a photoshoot in my flat in Berlin and Martyn sent the pics to The Postman who did then an amazing cover – I think it’s actually one of the first of them. I really love the cover as it sparks of liveliness – the feeling of being alive – and that’s what we all need now, right? 🙂
While I was scrolling through your Spotify, something I picked up on was how all of your album titles connect to images of strong female characters throughout nature such as, “Gaia” being the mother of all life or a “Lioness” being an infallible figurehead who defends her family. What drove you to choose such images of strength for each of your albums? How does the title connect to the subject matter you explore in your music?
Gaia for example is one of the first goddesses human beings ever prayed to. During the last couple centuries she retreated and is supposed to come back now. Gaia impersonates strong feminine characteristics – which are becoming more important nowadays. The last centuries have been dominated by male characteristics as we can see in the phenomenon of the amount of wars. Gaia suggests the idea of the revolution of love to overcome conflict, love towards yourself and others/the environment to build a sustainable future.
The title of your latest release however, “Princess” has an arguably less raw meaning behind it than previous titles. To me it conjures up images of being young, free, and connects more to girlhood than womanhood or motherhood like your other titles. I was curious about what drew you to this new concept, what you wished to explore within it, and how you chose this title as your next step?
With “Princess,” I wanted to indicate the record itself as a song collection of the musical pearls I created during the pandemic. But yes, I think everyone should feel like a princess – be in what you said – be free, feel young and follow your inner voice!
Excitingly, there is already a music video up on your Youtube for a track that shares the same title as the upcoming album, “Princess”, and as I was watching it I felt as though I had fallen into My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” album cover, which was amazing. As well as this video also have a couple more up for tracks like “Veronica” and “Empty” from the album “Lioness”. All of these videos have a similar kind of dreamy, soft focus feel to them, how did you come up for the concepts for your videos, and where do you draw inspiration from for the aesthetics? And also, what do you feel your videos add to the track itself?
On music videos I work very spontaneously or maybe I let the creation speak itself and step back. I do have vague ideas of what I can imagine but they always change on the spot. I also love to collaborate with filmmakers and be open to their ideas as I only see the music from my own view. For me it’s very exciting to see what happens creatively when those two art forms come together and explore themselves.
Alright, moving onto touring, your most recent tour in the UK has just come to a close, with the final location being The Old Dispensary in London on April 29th. How did you find the tour, what did it feel like to play live? And also, do you have any standout moments from this jaunt around the UK?
The tour was fabulous as was playing live! Every place we played had some sort of magic in it – I love Blondies/team London and their margaritas, Brighton was full of surprises too – we shot a music video at the Brighton beach with a weird mermaid costume. While I was lying on a stone, I got loads of attention from the tourists standing on the pier. Bath is a beautiful place too and the audience at the Royal Oak was fantastic! The Old Dispensary is an amazing place with five all varied acts at one night. Can’t wait to be back in England in December 🙂
Okay, I think that’s all of the questions I have prepared for you today, thank you so much for you time! Here is the opportunity to let us know what the future holds for “Stony Sugarskull”, and go ahead and plug anything I may have missed!
Thank you so much, Meredith! I really enjoyed your questions 🙂 The single “Princess” is now available to stream online worldwide… In June the single “Lovecraft” will be out with the music video we shot in Brighton. And finally in August the album comes out – I can’t wait to show you! Thank you for your support and hopefully I’ll see you soon!