The best word to describe ‘Postcard From A Living Hell’, the debut album from fast-rising Sydney band RedHook, would be chaotic. It swings from alt-pop to nu-metal, punk and electronicore without so much as a moment’s respite, taking listeners on a rollercoaster of sounds and emotions. It’s a direct reflection of the band themselves, at once unapologetically fierce and vulnerable. NME sees that in a meeting with frontwoman Emmy Mack, squirrel away in a quiet corner of her busy hometown pub. “I’m chaos,” she chuckles, declaring that eccentricity is at the heart of RedHook’s ethos.
“That was the one thing we were set on right from the start of this band,” she explains, “that we never, ever wanted to be boxed in. And it’s funny: with the ‘Bad Decisions’ EP [released 2021], we really confused the industry. A lot of the agencies and labels we talked to said, ‘We don’t get it, are we putting you on tour with Northlane or The Veronicas?’ And we thought, ‘Both, baby!’ And we totally could Join us on both of these tours! So with this album we intentionally wanted to double down on that – to fuck anyone who tries to categorize us.”
That kind of staunch individuality is hard-earned for Mack, who admits she’s “always struggled with [her] identity, especially as a femme artist playing heavy music”. The version of Mack we often see on stage is a brave empress of intensity, commanding hordes of adoring devotees to mosh as if their lives depended on it.
Mack calls this her “psycho badass persona,” which she “loves[s] to embody” in the present – but it is also exactly that: a persona. “I’ve always felt this pressure to be like this all the time,” she says, “but when I’m not in that kind of mood, it doesn’t feel right to pretend to be.
“I think femme artists have always been very easy to get hold of because the gatekeepers of the industry have made it that way. But we’re all really complex, nuanced, flawed characters—I’m chaotic and multifaceted, and I want to be free to explore all sides of that in my music.”
In doing so on ‘Postcard’, Mack dissects his own identity with a meticulous eye for detail, never shying away from the sides of himself that most other artists would rather ignore. This involved mining years of trauma – some inflicted on her by colleagues in the music world – a “terrifying but extremely debilitating” process that irreversibly changed her. “I just threw up my heart and soul — all the ugliness I had inside me,” she says. “Everything is on this record. It’s pretty raw.”
A strong example is the album’s second single, ‘Jabberwocky’, which draws on Mack’s experience of being sexually assaulted on RedHook’s first international tour (a UK tour in 2019). It is named after the monster in Alice in Wonderland, which Alice defeats by convincing herself it’s not real—a metaphor for how Mack would “cope” the trauma she absorbed from that experience. Except life is a lot less like Lewis Carroll’s imagination and we can’t conquer our demons by suppressing them. So, leaning on his deeply held belief that “music is the most powerful form of therapy”, Mack confronted his trauma by writing ‘Jabberwocky’.
“I want to make music that people can relate to and help them feel less alone in their darkest times” – Emmy Mack
“I actually wasn’t aware of that [how traumatised I was] when I started writing that song,” she says, “and it wasn’t until I actually confronted what was happening—like, really, really confronted it in myself – that I was able to process it properly. I don’t even have the words to describe that experience, but writing that song was so integral to my healing process. If I hadn’t written it, I probably would have just kept going through this cycle of denial, thinking I was fine, and then having these random anxiety attacks and emotional breakdowns when the slightest trigger came up.”
Similarly healing was ‘Imposter’, a searing break-up anthem punctuated as Mack “still mourned the relationship that inspired it”. She explains: “As anyone who’s been through a really crappy breakup would know, you go through these phases of being like, ‘Fuck you, I don’t need you in my life! I’m a strong, independent woman !’ But then you have your vulnerable times when you miss them and you start thinking, ‘Well, maybe me able to forgive them.’ But when I had ‘Imposter’ there, whenever I started to feel my resolve weakening, I could listen to it and say, ‘No, Emmy! This that’s how we feel!’ It helped me process that experience and put it behind me and avoid wanting to run back into the inferno.”
To make ‘Imposter’, RedHook teamed up with Yours Truly frontwoman Mikaela Delgado, whom Mack praises as “a queen and a goddess, and my goodness, one of the most talented vocalists in the world”. The process itself, she says, was “just so beautiful for both of us in so many ways” – not the least of which was that Delgado was “going through the exact same experience that I was”.
“We’re traumatized so badly by everything we’d been through,” Mack explains. “The first time I heard all the parts she added to that song, it just blew me away. I was in tears. And then I showed my boyfriend – who is now out drumming for Yours Truly in the US – and he was in tears. We were all just a big, beautiful, hysterical mess… In a goddamn way, it was kind of healthy.”
The healthy roundabout is ultimately Mack’s modus operandi: using RedHook as “an outlet to process and express the damn things I’m going through in a healthy way,” which in turn can inspire fans to reckon with their own struggles.
“The most important thing I can do as an artist is create music that helps people,” she says. “I want to make music that people can see themselves in and help them feel less alone in their darkest times. Because that’s what music has always been to me. It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s so true; there are so many artists and albums that have helped me feel like I wasn’t a freak—that someone else understands what I’m going through.”
Mack exorcised many of her demons on ‘Postcard’, but she assures us that RedHook won’t mellow on future releases. “I think the most important song I’ll ever write—the story I most need to tell—hasn’t been written yet,” she reveals. “It’s a work in progress. I feel ready to tell that story, but I just have to write the song… And I’m scared to do it… But I’m also really, really excited.”