The Regrettes liberated themselves from expectation in AltPress issue #402 cover story
For Lydia Night, life has been played out onstage. Since the age of 2, when she would sing Ramones songs during early evening soundchecks at her father’s nightclub in her birthtown of New Orleans, standing under the spotlight has been a fixture of her very being. By age 7, and having relocated with her family to California, Night had formed her first band, LILA; at 12, she became the youngest performer at South By Southwest, as part of the two-piece Pretty Little Demons, and was sharing stages with Ryan Gosling and his band, Dead Man’s Bones. All this made for the fact that by the time the Regrettes took shape back in 2015, you would have been hard-pressed to find a more experienced 15-year-old musician than Lydia Night.
Performing, then, is all the now-21-year-old has ever known. Until the world shut down completely, that is.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on musicians, and Night carries her own scars of the past 18 months. “I had a very big identity crisis in the beginning,” she reveals. “I went through a period of hating myself because my only fulfillment and ego boost came from being on tour. I was so depressed that if I didn’t figure it out, I wouldn’t be functioning. I coped with therapy and medication and communication.”
Night says today, sitting down with Alternative Press, that this pandemic period has been “very up and down.” “It started low because we couldn’t see each other, and that was really shitty, but it’s been slowly getting better in terms of what we’re able to create together,” she details over Zoom from her home in L.A. “Because I went through that and realized how many other parts of myself I liked, I’ll have a much healthier relationship with touring going forward. It’s given us all a new appreciation for it.”
Bandmate Genessa Gariano, who has also been in bands since their teens, agrees: “I do think that we have grown and learned the ways that we can take care of ourselves and each other on the road better than ever. Through these ups and downs together and separately and in the world, we’ve made it out the other side, and there is a certainty that we can make it through very hard things. I’m excited to go back out and prove to myself the things I believe I’ve learned.”
When we catch up with the Regrettes, they’re in the midst of playing a handful of shows to close out 2021. The band, formed of frontwoman Night, guitarist Gariano, bassist Brooke Dickson and drummer Drew Thomsen, dropped their last album, How Do You Love?, in mid-2019 to critical acclaim. Like many artists on the rise, however, the Regrettes had their plans cruelly cut short. “We had our biggest tours ever planned and a lot of amazing things that we didn’t even get to announce,” Night says.
They worried that their fans would forget about them: “Our jobs are in the hands of other people. So much of it is hoping people like you and what you do still, so it was terrifying to see what could have been.” That fear, it turns out, was for nothing. At their recent spate of comeback shows, the excitement of fans grateful to be back seeing their favorite band has been palpable: “I feel like all of the shows we’ve recently played were that much more fun, and people were that much more excited. Everyone is ready to go,” Thomsen says.
Shorn of little else to do, the band started to write new music while locked down at their separate homes in L.A., pulling together an album’s worth of material. “I don’t think there’s a single song that was written before the world closed,” Gariano says. Night adds: “The majority of it was written on Zoom. It was awesome. It was such a learning experience. I doubted myself as a songwriter and thought that there was no fucking way I was going to be able to write with strangers on a computer. It was amazing and really fun and a totally different technique.”
For the first time, Night worked with other songwriters and producers. As the world opened up and they were able to meet in real life, the band hunkered down in the desert in Joshua Tree for 10 days to write. “It was a balance. It was all over the place in a really beautiful way,” she says. Gariano adds that, after not leaving their apartment, that experience of being completely together was a highlight of the year: “We all had this moment of being able to breathe. It felt like the most freeing experience ever to be outside and with each other. It was next level.”
The music that they created was completely different than it might have been under less strenuous circumstances, in part because they were given time that they had never had before. “We had been on this constant touring rush and didn’t feel able [to] tell people that we needed five or six months to write an album,” Night says. Sonically, too, the music feels different than their previous output, in part because they felt liberated from expectation. “We realized that we could do whatever we want right now,” Gariano says. “We could come out with a fresh sound that’s authentic. Our fear had been taken away. There were a lot of factors, like the real-life fear hanging over us.”
Thomsen adds, “The illusion of things like that mattering got broken. We felt like something bad would happen if we deviated from our path.” The realization that as much as their career meant to them, it was relatively small in the grand scheme of things, gave them a sense of freedom: “Nothing is fucking real, so let’s go,” Thomsen says, laughing.
We were deciding for people that they wouldn’t like us if we sounded any different, but it’s not true
— LYDIA NIGHT
In inviting new producers into their process, they found space to experiment. “We put so much trust into the guys who produced the album, and it almost felt like starting a new band. We would go into the studio and fuck around with new gear and play whatever we felt like playing that day,” Night says. The lack of a schedule and the level of trust that they managed to build with their colleagues imbued the process with a freedom that had been lacking: “If I went in alone with whoever and fucked around on a keyboard, there were no rules for the first time because we realized we’d been putting those rules on ourselves. We found that it could actually be really fun.”
The band had spent so long focusing on what their fans might or might not like that they had stopped to consider what they wanted to do. “We were projecting a fear of what we needed to sound like onto the people who listen to us. We were deciding for people that they wouldn’t like us if we sounded any different, but it’s not true,” Night says. Gariano agrees: “It’s a life lesson for this year,” Gariano says. They found, however, that their fans connect with them on a personal level rather than to any particular sound. “When fans learn more about us authentically, they tend to accept us because they want to feel seen. They want to know who we really are just as much as we want to know who they really are.”
The Regrettes have a social media presence that gives their fans a direct line to tell them just how they feel, good and bad. Recently, however, they’re managing to care a little less. “If someone says something mean, it’s going to sting a little. But at the same time, more than ever, I feel like I don’t care. The only thing that matters is doing things that make you happy,” Night says. “You can’t impress everyone, and people will always either love or hate your music. Believing and internalizing and acting on that is something we’ve never done.” Thomsen adds: “I know that I like our music, and I know it’s what I’d want to listen to. For the first time, I know that if I saw someone talk some shit, it wouldn’t feel good, but I wouldn’t have that giant fear.”
In December, the Regrettes dropped “You’re So Fucking Pretty,” a dreamy synth-and-piano-led sapphic crush ballad. Its lyrics grapple with a crush on a woman, and its release in part functioned as a coming out for Night, who had never publicly discussed being bisexual before. “I think the only thing that felt scary was feeling invalid in my own experience. I still have that voice in my head telling me that I’m lying and I didn’t feel that way,” she confesses. “Then I remember and realize what the song makes me feel like, and those feelings come back to me. How can I tell myself I’m lying? I think with this song, that was the only thing I felt like I was going to have to overcome.”
Gariano, who is also queer, is quick to validate their friend’s feelings, exemplifying the mutual support that makes their band work the way it does. “Your feelings are so valid, from me to you. I hope we can all be there for you,” they add. “I came out to the world, and that was crazy. Everyone was so nice, and I was like, ‘Dude, what was I stressed about?’”
Night, who is dating actor Dylan Minnette, clarifies that her fear comes from worrying people won’t believe her: “Because I have been in a very public straight relationship for a long time now, it feels like weird timing on a personal level. I’m not single. I’m not with another queer person. It feels like something I’ve been wondering about myself for so long before I was with this person, but it’s easy to have that personal gaslighting going on.” Gariano again jumps to reassure their friend: “We’re so hard on ourselves, and you’re so hard on yourself, but you would never say that about anyone else.”
“You’re So Fucking Pretty” marks a shift on a cultural level, too. Just a few years ago, there were very few women artists singing about being in love with other women, which Gariano recognizes — “Tegan And Sara were carrying every queer person on their shoulders!” they grin. By contrast, Phoebe Bridgers, Snail Mail, chloe moriondo and others have all dropped hit songs that celebrate those feelings this year.
It’s important to talk about feeling invalid in your identity. It’s a constant battle; it’s a journey
— GENESSA GARIANO
The Regrettes are aware that they’re part of making coming out easier for everyone: “It’s important to talk about feeling invalid in your identity. It’s a constant battle; it’s a journey.” Gariano says. Dickson adds, “The more we talk about it, the more we realize we’re not alone.” The whole band are excited to be a part of that shift, and Night adds, “We can reach people who might not have a platform to talk about discovering their sexuality, but we can be a part of that change. It’s so cool that now that is just becoming another inherent part of culture, and hopefully, it will continue to go in that direction because it’s only doing good things for so many of us.”
When they dropped the single, their fans also adopted it as an anthem of self-love, posting pictures of themselves writing “you’re so fucking pretty” on mirrors and exemplifying the sense of community the band had worked to build. “It felt very special to me, creating this community outside of the music because of the music. We’ve always had this goal of making people feel accepted,” Gariano says. “That makes my heart soar more than anything. When I was a kid, online was a very self-deprecating space. It’s so cool to see people unashamed in saying, ‘I like myself.’ To see people writing ‘you’re so fucking pretty’ on a mirror for themselves and for anyone else to offer this support is so cool. I am so happy to be a part of any positivity.”
The Regrettes spent 2020 and 2021 overcoming personal hurdles and learning how to sit with themselves. Now, they’re hoping to spend 2022 in the company of their fans and community, sharing the fruits of that downtime. “Next year, we’ll be doing just a fuckton of touring,” Night says. “Having next year plotted out and knowing what we get to come back and do, I am so happy for us that things happened the way it did.”
Gariano smiles: “We’ve been doing so much behind-the-scenes prep work for all this for so long, and people online will be like, ‘When is it coming out?’ We’ve been doing everything for so long to make this happen, and it’s coming. We’re almost there. We’re finally able to drop some things and start touring. I can’t wait.”
This interview first appeared in issue #402 (22 for ’22), available here.