"I had been running, numbing and self-medicating": How The Interrupters turned abuse, trauma and depression into triumph on Into The Wild

Aimee Interrupter
(Image credit: Hellcat / Epitaph)

In August last year, LA quartet The Interrupters released their fourth album In The Wild. In many ways it was a familiar package, packed with the infectious ska-punk rhythms and holler-along refrains that had made their previous three outings so appealing.

In other ways, it was something completely new. Conceived and recorded during lockdown in a studio built by the band, it was made with minimal input from long-time friend, collaborator, producer and Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong (although he did make a guest appearance on the brilliant As We Live). With guitarist Kevin Binova at the helm they tried a few new things musically but the most immediately arresting thing about In The Wild was the searing honesty of vocalist Aimee Interrupter’s lyrics.

The Interrupters have always been a band with a lot of heart but songs like Raised By Wolves, In The Mirror and Jailbird took a far more personal approach than the singer had never allowed herself before. At various points the album delves into elements of Aimee’s troubled childhood, the abuse she suffered and the depression and other issues that followed. It was a brave and emotionally affecting album and one that Aimee says has served as a massive release.

On the UN International Day of Happiness , Aimee and Kevin explain how In The Wild helped her to confront her demons and empowered The Interrupters family to move on to even bigger and better things.

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You made In The Wild without Tim Armstrong. Did the fact that it was just the band make it easier in a way to make it such a personal record?

Kevin: "We just did what we had to do with the circumstances we were given. We had been doing some songwriting with Tim before the lockdown and then when the whole world shut down we took a break and made a live album and a concert film. They say necessity is the mother of invention and we turned our practise space into a recording studio. And because of the luxury of time that we had we were able to take our time and she went to places she otherwise maybe wouldn't have gone in other circumstances.”

Aimee: “The twins (bassist Justin Binova and drummer Jesse Binova) live next door on the same property and the studio is in the back yard. So it was just us four on the property for all that time, writing and recording. I had the time to really dig deep and reflect and do a lot of personal healing. And because I had that time I was able to go into deeper places than I've ever been and that's how it came up. I wanted to tell my story and I wanted this record to be my life story. And that's kind of what we did.”

Aimee, in the This Is My Family film which Kevin Kerskale shot in Tokyo, you talk about live music being escapism and letting you forget about your troubles for an hour. With these deeply personal songs, does it make it more of a gruelling or even traumatic experience?

Aimee: "That is such a good question. To start at the beginning, the twins and Kevin were physically building the studio. It was a garage and it took them six weeks to convert. During that time I started  treatment for my depression, because I've lived with major depressive disorder for as long as I can remember. It's all I've ever known and I actually just thought that was what life was, this state of depression. Because of my life and the trauma I've gone through, I thought that's the prison that I am trapped in; a prison in my mind for the rest of my life and I'd kind of resigned myself to it. I talk about it in the song Jailbird

“I found out about this treatment called TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), which stimulates the part of the brain that causes depression. I did it every day for six weeks and and they put a helmet on me and stimulated that part of my brain. It really helped me significantly with my mental health and my depression. I went from a 10 when I walked in - meaning when they analysed me I was the worst you could get - and when I was finished with my treatment I was a 2. I felt such a relief from depression and I couldn’t believe that the treatment worked. I was actually very sceptical but it worked and I would wake up in the morning and be happy I woke up and really excited about my day. And these were very foreign feelings to me. I'd never felt that before.

“So it gave me the strength to look at the things I'd been running from - the trauma and things from my past. And by facing them, I was able to find a peace within those traumatic things, writing about it and having that be very therapeutic. Getting it out, all the things that I wanted to say that I couldn't say before, I was feeling very creative about those things. For years I felt completely blocked by them, I couldn't go there. So when my condition was significantly improved and I was healing, I was able to find the strength to tell my story. And do it in a way that I found some real peace and real forgiveness with people I was very angry at. There was a lot of resentment and anger and I found forgiveness in a lot of situations.

“So to answer your question, I feel free of it, of how much it was hurting me before. I finally got a release and to sing it onstage truly feels like a victory.”

You released In the Mirror, the first single from In The Wild, three months ahead of the album: was this the first time you've felt that you've really been able to face yourself like that?

Aimee: “Yeah, I had been running from myself for a really long time and numbing myself and medicating myself and not wanting to look at myself. Because I was afraid of what I might find. What if I was to blame for all these things, what if it was my fault? When you have to do a personal inventory, that's scary. All that work was very difficult. I started writing In The Mirror 10 years ago, but I wasn't able to finish it until I did all of that work. I had the first verse and then I was like, 'Oh that's heavy, I don't know what I'm going to see when I look in the mirror, let's come up with another song and sing about something else.' It took me a lifetime really to write that song and to really find peace with who I saw in the mirror.”

Did the two of you sit down and talk about the lyrical approach and whether it was wise to be so open? 

Kevin: “We never really sat down and talked about it in that way because me and Jesse and Justin are her biggest fans. And [it was like] if this is the direction you want to go and this is what you want to write about, we're going to support it one hundred per cent.”

Aimee: “And they knew that for years there were things I wanted to talk about. With a lot of my writing, I would write songs where I’ve veiled it, and made it about other people. The band saw how I wanted to do it but at the last minute I'd go, 'Let's just make it about somebody else’.”

Kevin: “Songs we've had like Jenny Drinks, or even She's Kerosene, our biggest song, that’s a story of narcissistic abuse happening to a protagonist. But really it’s [Aimee’s] story of dealing with narcissistic abusers and we told it in a way that was more storytelling. Her wanting to do it in the first person and in a very autobiographical way made our job easier in a sense. Because we just wanted to support each song, make them as good and as honest as they can be and not get in the way. We all connected with the songs and it was the least amount of creative disagreements we've ever had in the studio. It was a beautiful process to be a part of and to be so insular, so isolated and so connected to each, I feel like that was the only way you can make a record like this.

“I'm just grateful to be a part of it and I support anything she wants to say one hundred per cent forever. I'm her biggest fan and I'm proud of her too. I think it's incredibly brave to put yourself out there like that.”

Aimee: “As another example, the song She Got Arrested is a song about domestic abuse and back when we it I really wanted to write about something I had experienced. But I had so much PTSD from my personal situation that at the last minute it was, 'No, it’s got to be about somebody else.' The woman fights back against her abuser so I created this fantasy about the woman taking the power back from an abuser. At that time I remember Kevin saying, 'If you want to tell your story I'll fully support you’ and I was like, 'No, let's make it about this other woman'.” On this record we have a song called Afterthought where it's first person and I'm telling my story for the first time. It took me a long time to get there but I really hope it can help somebody else who hears it.”

Would you say there’s a lot of positivity to In The Wild?

Kevin: “Circling back to some of these heavier topics and playing them live, that song Afterthought is a song about a domestic abuse situation but to me it's not really about that. It's about gratitude and triumphing over adversity and coming out the other side stronger. And I think those are the themes that we get onstage that fuel the fire of what we're about. Even Raised By Wolves, it's not about having a horrible childhood and having to figure it out yourself, it's a song about forgiveness.”

Aimee: “As the song says, ‘My teeth got sharper, my skin got tough.’ I became stronger because of it and so many of the themes of this record are me realising that I did come out the other side. I did get stronger, I did survive. I'm living, I'm not just surviving. Maybe before in my life I did feel like I was just surviving. Now I feel victorious, I feel stronger. Like the song As We Live, it's a song of celebrating life. It's about being excited waking up in the morning, which is brand new for me. So, because of those themes it does feel like this beautifully victorious moment. I overcame so much.”

Kevin: “It's a hopeful, optimistic record, even though it's dealing with some dark feelings.”

Do you receive messages from people telling you that your music has helped them?

Aimee: “We've gotten that a lot in our career and there’s no greater gift than to receive that message. But since we've released Jailbird, In The Mirror, Anything Was Better, the messages I'm receiving are overwhelmingly saying the music is helping them get through a really tough time and that our music has saved them. I can't really find the words to express what that means to me. Because music has saved my life, music has healed me, music has been my best friend and music is the reason I'm alive. So if I can pay that forward or if I could possibly be so blessed as to pass that gift to someone, that's a reason to wake up in the morning and a reason to keep doing what we're doing. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world.”

When you play live is it important to make those connections with the fans? We’ve seen you in the crowd, holding hands with people, and looking right in their eyes, and it feels like a huge celebration.

Aimee: “Yeah, those moments when I'm touching fans, those are the moments that make me feel not alone in the world, that we're all together. There's just this relief that there are other people that feel the way that I do and that we're connecting. I feel like they see my pain and I see their pain and it's like we are one. We're all singing together, we're celebrating, it's everything to me.”

You two are life partners: was that something you tried to keep quiet... or were we just dumb and didn't notice it?

Kevin: “We have kept it quiet maybe from the press, we didn't really talk about it across the first couple of records because we were trying to establish ourselves as a band and we didn't want to make it, 'This is a husband and wife band'. But as the band has grown, obviously our fans know and it's not like we hide it. It's just not something we talk about a lot but it's out in the open. We've been married for almost nine years."

Aimee: “It's nice that we're a family band. Kevin and the twins grew up together, they started a band when they were 10 years old. Really to come into this beautiful family unit, it feels like the family I've always wanted.”

It must be exciting to see band progress and the crowds grow?

Kevin: “Yeah, the family is getting bigger but the goal is to make it still feel like we're in that small space, connecting and singing together. We just want to keep taking that to as many places as we can and we're grateful for every single person that turns up.”

Aimee: “It's not lost on us how lucky we are to be doing what we love and we're just really grateful for every opportunity that we get. I know I speak for a lot of bands that when you can go out on tour after the lockdowns you have a deeper, richer appreciation than you ever did before. You just never know what the future holds and you can't take any moment for granted.”

Are there moments where you have to pinch yourselves over the fact that people like Tim Armstrong and Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong are now part of that big extended family?

Kevin: “Our minds are blown, these are our heroes. Tim and Billie Joe are amazing human beings and we've learned so much from touring with them and making music with them and watching how they operate with their bands. And it's always inspired us to want to be better - to play better, to play more.”

Aimee: “They've taught us so much and seeing them on those big stadium tours with Green Day - how they can take 50,000 people and make it feel like a club show. Everyone's singing, it's an intimate experience, Billie Joe's connecting with everyone. When you watch that every night you're in awe.”

Now that you've stood on those stadium stages, does that feel like somewhere you could belong?

Kevin: “I think if I'm up on any stage with Aimee, Jesse and Justin and we're playing our music, we belong. I feel right at home in a stadium, I feel right at home at [tiny London club] Blondie's and it's just about connecting with the people that are there. No matter what stage we're standing on, it always feels like family."

Paul Travers has spent the best part of three decades writing about punk rock, heavy metal, and every associated sub-genre for the UK's biggest rock magazines, including Kerrang! and Metal Hammer