Heather Gabel knows just how to make your skin crawl. Perhaps by the searing crack of a whip; or the strands of black hair coiling snake-like onto her wet skin. Rogue hands clawing for a host in the mud. Flames feasting on the earth like a virus on flesh in the video for "Wildfire," flooding your senses with dread.
"I want people to feel afraid," she says. "So many people live in fear all the time because of who they are. My songs are about turning it back on the people who prey on [them]."
HIDE is not just a band, but a multimedia, multisensory collaboration between fine artist Gabel and percussionist Seth Sher. Birthed in 2014 from Chicago's DIY electronic scene, the post-industrialist duo specializes in rattling sonic collages, tied together by Gabel's steely growl. In 2015 they joined Marilyn Manson on tour with just an EP in tow. Now out on Dais Records, HIDE's full-length debut, Castration Anxiety, is a collection of siren songs for predators of all kinds — "rapists, marginalizers, oppressors," stresses Gabel.
Live in the basement of Manhattan bar Home Sweet Home, the stage becomes a hotbed of kinetic fury: Gabel thrashes wraith-like above the strobe lights, while Sher opts to work in the shadows. "My angel, your demon," Gabel moans caustically into the microphone. "Both fucked and unbelieving." While watching HIDE, the term chiaroscuro comes to mind — it is a dramatic lighting technique that starkly defines a subject's shape by pulling chiaro (the light) out of oscuro (the dark). For Gabel, there is no room for anything in-between — not in her visual work, her music, nor her life.
"I'm not really about the grey area," she says. "I like the direct hit."
The artwork for Castration Anxiety features a provocative rendition of Michelangelo's Pietà: In the photograph, Gabel reclines nude into the arms of the Virgin Mary, who is donning an Islamic burqa. It speaks to the marriage of disparate worlds that shaped Gabel, who was born to an Egyptian Muslim father and a Canadian Catholic mother. She spent most of her youth moving from state to state, which perhaps primed her for a life on the road, managing punk bands and designing merch. After nearly two decades in that world, it's hard to believe that HIDE is Gabel's own first musical project. "People like names they recognize," says Gabel. "They'll say, 'Oh, you did a shirt for Green Day,' but that never informed my own work. I want to push myself in a different direction."
Gabel resides in Chicago with her eight-year-old daughter Evelyn. But so far 2018 sees Gabel working in New York City's Carlton Arms Hotel, where she has spent the past month as an artist-in-residence. She takes a break from dousing the hotel walls in black ink to discuss her music, parenting in a gender-variant family and touring with Marilyn Manson.
YOU'VE DESIGNED SO MUCH ARTWORK FOR PUNK MUSICIANS. WHAT FINALLY MADE YOU DECIDE TO MAKE MUSIC?
HEATHER GABEL My friends Seth Sher and Brett Naucke were starting a project in 2014 and I just wanted to try and sing in it! I was really into doing things that were really scary for me, things that I had no experience doing, and it just worked out. I still design things for bands, because that's my job — my visual work, and now HIDE, is about me.
HOW DID YOU AND SETH START COMING UP WITH SOUNDS?
Well, Brett and Seth would riff on their own shit and then I would be like, "OK, this is my vibe and this is what I'm gonna say." Once Brett wasn't involved in the project anymore, I had more input with the actual song structures. The equipment is pretty rudimentary. We got some janky old synthesizer that we only use 'cause it has a really sick guitar setting. We got this little Eventide delay, a compressor and a mixer. Seth makes a lot of his own samples. I'll collect field recordings, like a door slamming or a chain dropping. We pull from movies or from other songs, but most of the time it's pretty unrecognizable … like some black-metal guitar note, stretched 30 seconds and pitched way down, filtered all crazy. I feel the amount of empty space in the compositions really highlights everything else, so there's lots of dynamics with not too many components.
WHAT DID YOU HAVE IN MIND WHEN YOU STARTED WRITING CASTRATION ANXIETY? THE LYRICS ARE SO GNARLY — I'M INTO THEM, BUT SCARED OF THEM, TOO.
I love that. I like that's how it makes you feel because, yeah, this world is gnarly. I want people to feel afraid. [Laughs] I'm afraid of a lot of things and I don't think that that's fair. What these songs are about is turning it back on people who prey on other people. Rapists, marginalizers, oppressors. I want them to feel the way that we do.
SO MUCH INDUSTRIAL MUSIC IS ABOUT A PUSH-PULL DYNAMIC: BEING DRIVEN TOWARD THINGS YOU FEAR, BATTLING THINGS YOU WANT. FOR EXAMPLE, BEING A WOMAN WHO DESIRES MEN, BUT KNOWING THEY CAN BE FATAL TO YOU.
That's true if you're a man, as well!
TOTALLY. THERE'S SOMETHING SO SELF-DESTRUCTIVE ABOUT DESIRE.
It's all fucked. The fantasies I have in these songs … are not cool. Like I don't really want to hunt someone down in the woods and kill them with a smile on my face. I don't really want to wear their skin … but I do. I've never not felt like everything was fucked — not since I was nine or so. Like there's beauty in the world, I love connecting with humans, I'm so grateful for art. There are a lot of things that give me hope, but I don't think everything's cool!
HOW DID YOU COME TO REALIZE THIS SO EARLY ON?
Growing up in both Christian and Muslim environments, I found neither one of those environments was supportive of little girls. I mean, I couldn't even go in the mosque — I had to wait outside. And at church I noticed there were no altar girls, just altar boys. So from a young age I rebelled against gender and sexuality norms. I resent that you need to define yourself so other people can decide to fuck with you or not. And especially after having a child — an eight-year-old watching everything I do has brought things into much sharper focus for me!
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A PARENT NOW? ESPECIALLY IN THE AFTERMATH OF SUCH A POLARIZED CHILDHOOD?
My relationship to my parents and my relationship with Evelyn is like night and day — but by my own design. I avoid gendering her. I try to do that with everyone and I appreciate when people do that with everyone else. A couple of times Evelyn's asked for "they" pronouns and I go with it — or she's asked for "she" pronouns and I go with that. I wouldn't say, "When you die, you go to heaven," because that's easy. I say, "When you die, nobody knows what happens, you don't breathe anymore and that's it." And maybe that's scary, but I don't fucking know everything. It's important, I think, for kids to know that grown-ups don't know everything.
DOES EVELYN HAVE ANY INTEREST IN MUSIC?
Evelyn loves Bruno Mars. But they also watch HIDE stuff and say, "Oh, you make cool videos." My friends buy her records sometimes — some we discover together. She got a copy of [Nine Inch Nails'] The Downward Spiral for her birthday last year. We were on this family trip, passing through the Grand Canyon and she was singing along to the liner notes. … In "Closer" she doesn't sing, "I want to fuck you like an animal" — she sings, "I wanna crunch you like an animal." I'm not censoring her. She just doesn't swear.
IT SEEMS YOU HAVE A LOT OF FUN AS A PARENT!
People talk shit on kids, or talk about getting "mom boobs." They'll post some meme like, "Oh, all my friends are getting married and having kids, and I'm over here raging with the devil." Dude, it's so sad you think you have to choose one.
MEANWHILE YOUR ALBUM COVER'S LIKE, "I'LL SHOW YOU MOM BOOBS."
[Laughs] I guess I will! Someone recently was like "Oh, you're an exhibitionist." And I was like, "That's on you. I don't give a fuck."
I ASPIRE TO ACHIEVE THAT LEVEL OF DON'T-GIVEA-FUCKNESS SOMEDAY.
Look, I'm 41. It didn't happen overnight.
SOME OF HIDE'S EARLIEST GIGS WERE TOURING WITH MARILYN MANSON IN 2015. WERE YOU A FAN BEFORE THAT?
Antichrist Superstar is a sick record and I didn't realize that until a few years ago — Evelyn and I got into it together. I took for granted that there was good music when I was growing up, like Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Hole — I was listening to political punk like Econochrist, Crass and Rudimentary Peni. I thought, "Marilyn Manson [is for] those people who wear Korn shirts at my high school." Then I hung out with him and found out he liked a lot of the same bands! I enjoyed spending time with him.
WERE MANSON FANS RECEPTIVE TO YOU? OR DID THEY MAKE YOU WANNA GIVE UP?
Manson fans just wanna hear the hits. Like there was some guy at The Rave in Milwaukee, he got pissed about the Depeche Mode cover and yelled, "Gay!" You just said something was "gay" with, like, no irony? [HIDE] got booed at the same show, but I actually didn't mind — I got super pumped that people hated us. By the end of the set I was smiling. I was like, "I'm getting paid and then I'm gonna hang out with Marilyn Manson in a haunted pool downstairs. What are you doing later? Throwing up?"