Interview

Piglet: “The government has completely failed us, so we need to step up for each other”

Things will always be changing – and that's good

Some bands are defined by their sound. Others are defined by how they make you feel. Charlie Loane is in the second camp with Piglet. There’s no one stylistic trait that can sum up what he’s doing. Part songwriting confessional, part bedroom pop experiment, Piglet songs actively shapeshift across their runtime. In our chat, Belle And Sebastian and Comfort come up as points of inspiration, two Scottish bands that sit at opposite ends of the indie accessibility spectrum. The latter he calls one of the best live bands going. 

That musical fluidity can be heard in the many DIY bands Loane has been part of since moving from Belfast to London at the age of 18. There’s Speed Training, the freaky pop duo he formed with Caitlin Power, who he’s been writing with since childhood. There’s Leather.head, a tense and political post-hardcore band who’ve released two frenetic singles this year. There’s also Great Dad, his former group who focused more on the abstract fringes of production and songwriting. All of these collaborations have had their influence on this solo material. Some members even pop up to play parts or to offer advice.

Despite these varied points of inspiration, emotional directness is the constant for Piglet. This is music that wastes no time in getting the point across. Take ‘It Isn’t Fair’, a song created in response to the inhumane waiting times and mistreatment faced by trans people attempting to access NHS gender services. Written five years ago when Loane was very much stuck in a certain part of that system, the song has only been properly finished since he has been able to spend some time away from that space.

“Coming back to it now feels really different,” he tells me. “Since then, I’ve been seen by the GIC [Gender Identity Clinic]. I’ve had hormones and surgery through the NHS, and I’m just doing so much fucking better. I was in a completely different frame of mind. It was easier to record the song.

“Obviously with transitioning, it’s not ‘I’m going from A to B’. That’s a very reductive and bloody cis way of looking at things. But being where I am now in my life, it was easier to put the song together and think about the fun production ideas, and also just be well enough to commit to doing things, to take care of myself enough to work.” 

Charlie Loane is frank and funny in conversation. He’s quick to self-deprecate, and tells me a couple times that some of his lyrics are shit. It’s also his first ever interview. Even here, like in the music, there’s an easy openness. 

“I was initially going to rewrite pretty much all of the lyrics,” he says. “There were a couple of shit ones. There probably still are, but it’s out there now. I was going to completely rewrite the chorus because repeating ‘It Isn’t Fair’, I thought it came off whiny, [although] if there’s anything to be whiny about, this is appropriate.

“But I used to think it was whiny to the point that when I played it live in my old pop-punk band [Worm Hears], I used to sing ‘wah wah wah’, taking the piss out of myself a bit. I think I felt a wee bit uncomfortable standing up, where now I just feel like, ‘Fuck this’. Most of the time you’re playing to a mixed group of people and you don’t know how they’d react.”

Part of Loane’s frustration came from a want to express the nuance of a conversation that frequently lacks it when taken out of trans people’s hands. But it was his earliest songwriting partner, Caitlin Power, who helped him see the value in what was there. 

“I wanted it to be more political, and make it clear that our struggles are connected, to talk about privatisation and all these other things. Caitlin, who I’ve been playing music with forever, told me not to do that. I’m actually glad I didn’t. It would have been wordy.”

The song was released through NTS’ Work In Progress programme. They helped to finance a great music video, directed by Harv Frost. The two met through a trans healthcare fundraiser set up by Frost. Proceeds from the single’s merch also go to We Exist, a trans hardship fund. Community action had been a clear throughline for Piglet.

“The government has completely failed us, so we need to step up for each other wherever we can, whether that’s donating money to fundraisers when you can or things similar to that. I’ve never really thought about it. It just seems like the natural thing to do. Everybody feels a lot of pressure to do something about how fucked up the world is. Giving money to charities is important and really helpful, but at the end of the day, we shouldn’t need to be doing this. People in the community shouldn’t have to be in that position.

“The more that we can fight towards not being in this position, the better. Creating systems like charities needs to happen, or else people are going to die. But it feels important that we push for systematic change. That’s across the board, that isn’t just about trans healthcare.” 

There’s a strong sense of community baked into Piglet. Part of that comes from his time playing at places like South London venue, label and community hub Sister Midnight.

“They just do it all right in my opinion. They take care of the people there; they make sure that everybody is okay; they don’t take any bullshit; they make sure that everyone is as fairly paid as possible, and they’re really transparent. Whenever they were in the wee venue [a now-closed basement location in Deptford], there would be a bucket, and all the money from the door went to the bands. It was kept simple, and they are super encouraging.”

Loane counts himself lucky for the people who’ve supported his art like this. At the centre of that is a tight-knit collection of collaborators. Many of them can be seen in the nine-piece Piglet live set on YouTube. On ‘Dan’s Note’, Loane stops to thank the positive masculine role models in his life. Dan is the person playing the cello in that performance. On the song, he reflects on a letter left by Dan after Loane let him stay in his flat during a tough time. 

“It was just so thoughtful. It wasn’t like ‘Love you, bro, thanks for doing me a solid.’ It was talking about the sounds of the trains outside, the books he’d borrowed. He’d popped some quotes in it and spoke about the warmth of friendship. It was really beautiful and uninhibited. There was no facade in trying to act any kind of way at all. 

“It reminded me of all the other moments I’ve had like that with male friends around me, and how lucky I am to have that. I’m so fucking lucky for the nice men in my life. It makes me a bit emotional, because I know lots of men who really struggle to express themselves emotionally or to know what’s going on with them. Quite often, because of the shape of the world, that ends up directly harming other people.”

Piglet was born out of good relationships like this. His first EP, Alex’s Birthday, came about when his friend Alex McKenzie asked him to play some songs for a birthday party, encouraging him to properly go for the solo stuff. McKenzie would later contribute saxophone to ‘Mill’, a brilliant track that turns Piglet’s musical shapeshifting into a powerful mantra: “Nothing feels as certain as a constant evolution and change.” It’s a sentiment that captures the expectations placed on Loane as a trans person.

“For a long time, I felt like I needed to answer what kind of queer I am,” he says, “so that I knew, but more so I could explain it to people in a way they would understand. When I didn’t feel the same way as I did two years ago, it was like, ‘Oh god, I can’t come out again.’

“Now, I understand that things will always be changing, and that’s good. That’s the nature of it. If you’re queer, you’re not worried about fitting in to binary definitions of things, whether that’s relationships, gender identity, or sexuality. Growing up when we grew up, there was fuck all understanding of trans people, but there was also no understanding of sexuality and gender being a separate thing. I was trying to work out my sexuality, and I couldn’t understand what this fucking feeling was. I think because we conflated gender and sexuality when we were wee, it’s hard to figure them out at the same time. I lost a lot of time to that one.”

You get the sense from this new batch of singles that Piglet was always meant to be doing this, but Charlie Loane only found songwriting after other doors were closed on him.

“Previous to being 14, I had basically not been that interested in music. I was just playing football all the time. That was my sole interest. Then, as I got to the age of 11 or 12, I stopped being allowed to play on the boys team. I was a bit like, ‘What the fuck.’ There wasn’t loads of girls’ football either. I felt weird about that in some kind of abstract way. I had to just sit in my room and read and play music.

“The football thing was maybe the first of a handful of things where I realised that my life wasn’t going to be like the other guys on the football team. It wasn’t so much the sport, but this realisation.”

He learnt the guitar as a way into writing songs and formed a punk band with friends from school. The first song they played was a cover of ‘Banquet’ by Bloc Party. Charlie sang, because he “wasn’t good enough to play the riff”. 

“We’d do wee gigs at pubs and stuff. There were funny times of us trying to remain in the pub without being kicked out until our set, but getting fucking kicked out anyway. Lots of being underage, running around and trying to get away with shit.”

A decade on, Piglet has moved from dodgy pubs in Belfast to DIY basements in London, but the big difference comes in the community and collaborators he can confide in. Before our chat ends, he shouts out Sister Midnight’s crowdfunding campaign to turn the Ravensbourne Arms into a community-run venue. “They’re not there to profit off the community – they’re a part of the community,” he says. An even easier pitch is that venues like that lead to music like his.

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