Fans of the British indie trio Kero Kero Bonito might be surprised by ‘Hell Is Here’, the first single from vocalist Sarah Bonito’s new project Cryalot. Unlike the colourful art-pop of KKB’s Bonito Generation or the dreamy rock music of Time’n’Place, ‘Hell Is Here’ is an anxious electronic song with black metal overtones, concrete shattering bass, and bleak lyrics: “Crystallise the pain / Nothing is the same / Hell is here / And is here to stay.”
Sarah wrote the song (and the upcoming EP that it appears on, Icarus) while going through a dark period, afflicted by heavy depression for the first time in her life. There was a trigger in her life that led to these feelings, she explains, though she doesn’t wish to delve into specifics. “It was strange,” she says. “I’d be on tour with KKB, and normally after a few months on tour you miss home and want to go back to your life. But with me, there were points where I wanted to stay on tour forever, because my personal life was going down the drain. At points it felt like KKB was the only thing making me hold it together.”
Working with the producer Jennifer Walton (who was also a member of Kero Kero Bonito’s touring band), she recorded a number of songs that explored these feelings. The Icarus EP is a direct reference to the Greek myth – Sarah first encountered the story of Icarus in a songbook at school, and was drawn to the story of a man who tried to exceed his potential as a human and fly as high as he can (even if he did fail, at the end of the day). For all the EP’s dark moments, though there are flashes of brightness – the cathartic release of ‘Touch the Sun’ and ‘Hurt Me’ – but as Sarah explains, these ultimately came from the same emotional space too. “Even in those dark moments, there was a glimmer of hope,” she says. “I was going backwards and forwards with those thoughts. There’d be moments in those days where I felt like I was out of it, where the darkness was gone, but then you go back in. And that in itself was very painful.”
Sarah is speaking over video chat at her home in the outskirts of south London. The original painting used for Kero Kero Bonito’s ‘The Princess and the Clock’ single cover sits in the background behind her. A day earlier, she and the band (Sarah, Gus Lobban, and Jamie Bulled) performed at PC Music’s takeover of London’s KOKO, where every artist on the bill had a 10-minute slot to play with. “It was interesting to see what all the artists did with those 10 minutes,” she says. “We did a theatrical set. There was an imposter KKB singing, then there were angels dragging them out, and then we came on and did our thing. It got me thinking we should do KKB: The Musical, a show with panto vibes.”
Sarah spoke to Rolling Stone UK about how she started Cryalot, why she was drawn to the tale of Icarus, and what’s next for the project.
What are the origins of Cryalot?
Cryalot: I came up with the name because there was a period where I was literally crying a lot. I was going through a really dark period for a few years, from 2018 and going over lockdown. Lockdown amplified it, times a thousand. Cryalot was an outlet for those moments. Even though those moments were really painful, I didn’t want it to end with those tears of pain. I wanted to own those tears and make something out of it, so that I’d not be letting it control me completely.
“I was going through a really dark period for a few years. Even though those moments were really painful, I didn’t want it to end with those tears of pain. I wanted to own those tears and make something out of it”— Cryalot
How did you make the jump from wanting to explore these things to actually doing it?
Cryalot: With the musical side of things, it clicked when I met Jennifer Walton. She was a live member of KKB, and I toured with her between 2018 and 2020. She’s a great producer and her solo music has this darkness that I was really drawn to. When I met her, I started properly thinking that I wanted to make something with her. It really helped that we’d had these two years touring and getting to know each other. We were spending almost all our time together and had this foundation, so when we got into the studio I was more comfortable expressing these more personal ideas.
Was Kero Kero Bonito not the right outlet to explore those emotions and ideas?
Cryalot: It was more that KKB is me, Gus, and Jamie. It’s all three of us. So it wasn’t like I couldn’t express those things, it was that this project is a personal thing. It’s songs that wouldn’t necessarily come out of KKB. It’s still me, but a different side of me; KKB and Cryalot are still in the same world.
What was the first song you wrote?
Cryalot: It was ‘Hell Is Here’. I was really in the midst of these dark moments. The theme of that song is about defeat. The whole EP is about the Icarus mythology, and this song explores what happens after he gets burned and descends into the sea. When I was in that dark period, I was going through anxiety and depression for the first time in my life. I’m a creative person, and there had never been a time where I didn’t create, but for the first time these things that gave me joy didn’t give me anything. I was finding it hard to get out of bed. It really did feel like hell. That’s when I thought, ‘Hell is not below me. This reality feels like hell.’ It really felt like it was going to last forever. So the song is about those feelings of powerlessness and despair. Life can feel like heaven on Earth, but really quickly it can twist into these dark things.
Why were you drawn to the story of Icarus?
Cryalot: At my school, they had this songbook, and one student every day could choose a song to sing with the rest of the class. When it was my turn, I’d always choose to sing about Icarus. I remember seeing this image of a figure with wings, which were not angel wings but looked human-made, flying into the sun. That imagery really got me. This song was a bit different to how people normally interpret the mythology. I think the common interpretation is that it’s a cautionary tale about man overreaching his limits, that if you fly too close to the sun you’re going to fall and drown. But this song celebrated the courage of Icarus. He’s the only human who flew that high, even if he ultimately drowned. The sea is named after him – the Icarian Sea. The song is about that feeling, of risking it for that moment of glory, of being more than what human beings are. That’s what makes human beings amazing, that sometimes you can become more than human. It’s what I try to live up to in my life.
I wanted this EP to be about this mythology because when I went through this dark time, I forgot about that. I was stuck in this place, so I wanted to hear it myself: remember that mythology, remember what you were drawn to when you were seven years old. You can be in a dark place, but you can change it. The EP explores the success, but also the failure, of risking it all. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns if you do this. When I started writing, I somehow knew that once the music came out, I’d be truly out of that dark place. And it’s kind of crazy, because two years later, it’s true. I still experienced it and this project wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t, but I’m not in that place anymore. So the EP is my attempt to rewrite the interpretation of not flying too high, but celebrating being human and that burning feeling of trying to become more. We’re going to fly as high as we can!
I’ve seen you DJ under the name Cryalot at a Harlecore party before. Is there a link between the sort of music you play in those sets, and the music you’ve made on this EP?
Cryalot: There is definitely a link. When I DJ, I like to play hardstyle and hardcore. I really like it when the songs have sad lyrics, but the instrumental is very happy. It almost feels cathartic to play that music and dance with everyone in the crowd. It really helps me let go of those dark moments. Those fast beats are like a dopamine hit, but the lyrics can have this sad theme.
“When I started writing, I somehow knew that once the music came out, I’d be truly out of that dark place. And it’s kind of crazy, because two years later, it’s true”— Cryalot
Do you think the EP might surprise some people? They might see you posting sweet videos of the foxes living in your garden on social media, then now you’re putting out a song called ‘Hell Is Here’?
Cryalot: For sure, I can totally see that. I’m definitely the girl with the foxes, but I’m also the girl from ‘Hell Is Here’. And this is the first time I get to express that side.
Do you have plans to continue Cryalot into the future?
Cryalot: I’m at the stage where anything is possible now. This EP feels like the start of something more, it’s opened up a door. I really enjoy working with Jennifer and it feels like the start of something great.
Cryalot’s Icarus EP is out 26 August 2022