Has anyone ever chosen a more appropriate band name than Annie Hardy?
Speaking with the 24-year-old singer and guitarist of Los Angeles’s Giant Drag, I find it impossible to imagine a moniker that better captures the depressing nature of both her band’s narcotic grunge-pop songs and her own almost comically defeated outlook on life. She expresses so much bemused disappointment in conversation, in fact, that the name almost seems like an understatement.
"Sometimes real life ruins all your fun," says Hardy with a chuckle, calling from a tour stop in Minneapolis. She’s not kidding, though — at least not entirely. Throughout our chat, the Orange County native airs a laundry list of grievances about the record industry, from frustrating decisions made by her label to the constant comparisons of her band — which also includes 27-year-old drummer and synth player Micah Calabrese — to the Breeders and PJ Harvey.
Her biggest gripe, however, seems to be that music journalists tend to make a big deal about her rather, uh, creative song titles: among them, "My Dick Sux," "Kevin Is Gay," and "You Fuck like My Dad."
"I just couldn’t think of titles for most of the songs, so I thought I’d use funny stuff," Hardy insists. "But I did that without thinking about releasing it and having it be reviewed and having certain people, like the British press, just focus on that. They make it seem that titles like ‘You Fuck like My Dad’ are more important than the music. It’s stupid.”
“So I don’t know if I’ll keep doing that [with the titles] in the future," she continues. "That’s a pain, though, because it’s just who we are. It was us just having fun."
Of course, most people probably wouldn’t describe Giant Drag as fun. On its full-length debut, last fall’s excellent Hearts and Unicorns (Kickball/Interscope), the band split the difference between Mazzy Star and Nirvana, unleashing a din of droning, heavily distorted alt-rock that’s perfect for Hardy’s angst-ridden outbursts: "No number of pills will fix my life today," she sings at one point; at others, "I haven’t felt so well for so long now" and "From here on out it’s only pain." But whereas, say, Kurt Cobain was quite vocal in interviews about his pain, Hardy remains tight-lipped.
"A lot of those songs are about experiencing something down or sad and angry," she explains. "But I really don’t like to discuss what they’re about."
Not that she hasn’t spilled plenty of her guts, at least in her music, since 2004. That’s when Hardy, who’d been casually recording cover songs and writing her own material, decided to take a friend up on his offer to have her open for his band. Rather than make Giant Drag a solo project, however, she asked Calabrese if he’d like to join.
"I was like, ‘Look, Micah, either you can play with me or I can go it alone.’ Micah was like, ‘Nah, I won’t let you go out like that,’” she says. "We thought about getting a bass player, but one day Micah started playing drums and the synthesizer at the same time. We were like, ‘Oh shit, that’s funny — but it also works.’”
After a rocky start — Hardy claims the first shows "sucked" — Giant Drag began to garner local radio support and landed popular monthlong residencies at the Silverlake Lounge and Spaceland. Then early last year, the band became a sensation in England with the release of its Lemona EP (Wichita). "Over there we started to sell out shows, and it was gnarly," she says. "Then we’d go to Omaha, and everyone would be like, ‘Who the fuck are you?!’ — except for one 80-year-old guy standing in the front row who drove four hours from Kansas to see us."
Of course, Giant Drag’s American fan base has grown considerably since then. Hearts and Unicorns continues to receive plenty of blog buzz, national press has been largely positive, and the duo played a well-received set at Coachella this spring. In fact, the main thing holding the duo back from a mainstream breakthrough seems to be that it’s no longer 1993, when similar acts such as Mazzy Star and, yep, the Breeders ruled MTV’s buzz bin.
Giant Drag’s label hasn’t given up hope, though. This spring Kickball Records rereleased Hearts and Unicorns, tacking on the band’s woozy cover of Chris Isaak’s "Wicked Game" in an attempt to gain airplay. Not surprisingly, the decision rubbed Hardy the wrong way.
"Micah and I both think [the reissue] doesn’t make much sense. I guess the label wants to give it a big push and have some sort of Alien Ant Farm thing go on," she snorts, referring to the one-hit wonders who became famous for their cover of Michael Jackson’s "Smooth Criminal."
"But that hasn’t happened yet," Hardy adds, hinting that life may not always be a giant drag after all. "So I’m not upset — well, not really." SFBG
Giant Drag with Pretty Girls Make Graves and Whale Bones
Sun/4, 8 p.m.
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF