Zombies, vampires, witches, ghosts and other macabre staples — these are the tools that Austin ghoul-pop trio Stretch Panic utilizes for exploring the human condition. Using these beloved Halloween archetypes, this charming three-piece spins haunted tales of characters trapped in nuanced states of emotional limbo. At the band’s core is a tender heart for misunderstood monsters.
That is essentially the through-line of the group’s debut LP, Glitter & Gore. Across 13 hook-heavy, kooky, thematically rich tunes, they exorcise their inner demons while conjuring new ones.
“I grew up in a haunted house,” says singer and multi-instrumentalist MJ Haha. “That’s why I love ghost stories and spooky stuff so much. Once I made peace with a ghost by singing to it. It was a song about how I knew what it was like to feel lonely and that I knew it felt very alone. Ever since, the house was a much friendlier place.”
Through the cutesy aesthetic and sparkly omnichord tones throughout their tracks, Stretch Panic doesn’t deny the darkness within the human experience. They embrace it, with kazoos and a cathartic energy. You can dig deeper if you please, but even if you stick with the campy fantasy-horror vibe, Glitter & Gore remains a quirky treasure box of Halloween treats.
How long have you been creating your art?
We’ve been an organized group since 2016, but all of us have been making music since we were kids. Being born just a few days apart in the same year of 1988, we naturally collided into each other while swimming in the Austin music scene in 2013 – it was a healthy, wildly thriving, and magical kind of time that we miss very much. Eventually we catalyzed as a project together, united by a love of Halloween kitsch, 60s doo-wop, the dancy unapologetic fem rock of the early 80s, and the chill silliness that arrived in music in the 90s.
Where are you from? How does that influence your art?
Jen and Cassie are both from Texas, and I am from New Mexico. However, I’m probably the best one to answer this question at a personal level, since I’m kind of the brainchild of the project. I do a lot of the story and lyric writing (and I do all of the art too), and so I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
I’m half Filipino, and I grew up in two different worlds, feeling at once a part of society and also very much an other. I also grew up in a very conservative, religious, and poor part of the United States, so either I was going to end up a very angry kind of person or an audaciously silly one. It’s the latter I’ve been keen on, so in that regard, my songwriting has evolved into these kind of silly sonic comics, but ones that still have some good questions. Like, “who is the other, the demon, the monster, and how can you really know where those boundaries are?” Some of the songs the monster is defined, like in “Batibat” – a Filipino demon that comes to punish those that have taken too many trees, and some are more ambiguous, like in “Burn the Witch” where the true monster is society.
What projects are you currently working on? Do you have any upcoming releases?
Beyond the singles “You Can’t Stay”, “Ouija Boy”, and the full album, I think the band has been doing a lot of life as the project. Cassie is going to music school and Jen has been working at being a human, and so have I! If I took anything from 2020, it’s to have an open non-attatchment view on the future.
Stretch Panic has a number of songs that would be amazing to get to record and release. Music is a core part of a good life, but at least for me, I’m looking forward to incorporating it in a quieter, less public kind of way. Right now, it’s a loud world with a lot of noisy illusions, so it’s easy to lose touch with the genuine joy that is making music. I’d like to spend some time learning how to listen deeply before writing again.
Why is music important to the queer community?
As I see it, music is an inevitable part of the human experience: it starts as simple as the rhythm of the heartbeat. Children naturally sing and dance and burst into laughter and obsession for it. In the anthological view, music is an active and core part of a community’s identity.
Music is so important to the queer community because I think in the songs that are for us, we can hear the queer heart and that it is still alive and beating. The queer heart is a rebellious one, a resilient one, a brave one, and one that has experienced such tremendous sorrow and yet is still fully capable of tremendous love.
What do you hope to achieve as an artist?
I’m not sure I think of my job as having something to achieve. I guess I think of my job as an artist more like a practice. My job is to listen, and then to respond to what I hear by making a thing, and then to let it go – either out into the world or to let it go to sonic compost. I can’t speak for Jen and Cassie though. Achievement is so subjective. Success too.
I suspect all of us would love the financial freedom to get to make the stuff without having the stress of making life happen on top of it. I think all artists want that. As for me, having the safety and the mental health to get to show up and do the work everyday, that would be the achievement.
Who are your top 3 major influences?
For this album? So many, but maybe these three are helpful: Cibo Matto, They Might Be Giants, and The Shangri-las.
How can we all support your work and talent?
You are supporting us so kindly now! In other ways to support, you could buy stuff. We have a Bandcamp, and more should be showing up there as we near the album release. Alternatively, we would love it if you shared our music with whoever you think would like a sparkling ghoul-pop dork-wave girl band out of Austin. We’d be absolutely thrilled if you remembered us around Halloween and even made a TikTok of it. Just hearing from you is exciting!