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Welcome to WEEDKILLER: Ashnikko on ‘Worms’, nature and their epic concept album

New single 'Worms' offers a glimpse into the technicolour world of the pop maverick's long-awaited debut record

By Joe Goggins

Ashnikko press shot, 2023
'WEEDKILLER' is out on June 2. (Photo: Vasso Vu)

“I love trees, very, very passionately, and I love mushrooms. I love being outside in nature,” says Ashnikko.

It’s hard to come up with a single, neat summation of Ashnikko’s remarkable debut album, but that love of the natural world might be as good a reflection as any. On their debut album WEEDKILLER, Ashnikko offers a sprawling, highly conceptual record that sees them meticulously craft a fantasy world all their own, and then invites us in. It’s a realm both fantastical and recognisable, a dystopian fantasy world in which machines have laid waste to civilisation by harvesting organic material; the album charts the protagonist’s quest for revenge.

The real-world parallels are obvious; WEEDKILLER is a record reflective of environmental concerns and the unsettlingly rapid march of technology. “I’d say more than half the songs are within the conceptual world,” they say on a Zoom call from Paris, where they’re preparing for their first appearance at the French capital’s fashion week. “And then, some of them read more like diary entries, pertaining to my personal life. I mean, the whole thing’s about my personal life; it’s just that a lot of it is shrouded in metaphor.”

As vivid and wondrous as the world Ashnikko conjures on WEEDKILLER is, it’s ultimately one that’s drawn in their own image;  thematically, it takes its cues from the work of Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Patrick Rothfuss, and musically, draws inspiration from the uncompromising women Ashnikko grew up admiring, with Björk, Missy Elliott, M.I.A. and Hayley Williams all among them. “Music and fantasy literature are my two great loves,” they explain, “so to mix them together feels right. It all started with a short story I wrote two-and-a-half years ago, and it was a joyful process developing it into this bigger thing that has all the different facets to it. The WEEDKILLER has many different faces, and many different enemies.”

The clip for new single ‘Worms’ offers a glimpse inside the Ashnikko dream factory, as the record’s central character hurtles through the WEEDKILLER world in what the lyrics describe as a “what-the-fuck monster truck”; imagine if the War Rig from Mad Max: Fury Road was customised to Ashnikko’s specifications and you’re basically there. The landscape of the ‘Worms’ video, meanwhile, is a “post-apocalyptic wasteland” that involves a lurid spilling out of the cultural reference folder in Ashnikko’s brain; at its root, though, the track tells a story about heartbreak.

“This fae is grappling with the tragedy of their world being destroyed by weedkillers,” Ashnikko explains. “They’re kind of roaming this desert with a giant weapon on the back of their tank-like monster truck, and fighting off these weedkillers in this great battle. And they’re trying to convince themselves that everything is OK, and that this heartbreak is something they can deal with, but it’s definitely something they’re destroyed by. It sets up the story really nicely for the other songs that I have that are deeper in the concept.”

‘WEEDKILLER’ features collaborations with Ethel Cain and Daniela Lalita. (Photo: Vasso Vu)

The songs on WEEDKILLER are rooted in Ashnikko’s own experiences, but it’s difficult not to see the environmental subtext to the ‘Weeds’ video. Sure enough, there will be a political edge to the record, as they reckon with climate change and other major issues of the day; ‘Possession of a Weapon’, for instance, deals with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the appropriation of women’s bodies as a political football in the US. “It’s so close to home for me; it’s extremely gut-wrenching. We’re going back in time as a country.”

Environmental concerns, too, hang heavy. “One of my favourite books is ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer,” says Ashnikko. “And she talks a lot about reciprocity with nature, and giving back, and being conscious and aware of what you’re taking and what you’re putting back into the world. And I think we’ve definitely lost that in modern society. I feel that as a touring artist, as well, being aware of how that is affecting the planet. It’s fucking difficult. So, with this record, I just want to have more consciousness in my work, and in my life, and harmony with the world around me. I think the concept for WEEDKILLER is the perfect blend of technology and nature.”

As much as the world that Ashnikko has conjured with WEEDKILLER feels like one that is searingly of their own design, it still contains multitudes; the record’s central character, they say, is part themselves, part fictional creation, while the collaborative spirit that is already a hallmark of their career to date is present on the album, with Ethel Cain and Daniela Lalita making guest appearances. “Two people that I really fuck with! Ethel is one of my favourite artists ever; I think she’s been the top artist on my Spotify Wrapped for the last two years. And then Daniela helped on production and is featured on ‘Super Soaker’ – she’s an incredible artist. I was never going to work with anybody who wasn’t into the concept, and they both really enhanced the world.”

Worms is out now. WEEDKILLER is available via Parlophone on June 2. Ashnikko plays seven UK shows from November 30

Ashnikko, November 2023:

30 – London, Alexandra Palace

December 2023:

1 – Manchester, O2 Victoria Warehouse

3 – Birmingham, O2 Institute

5 – Nottingham, Rock City

6 – Glasgow, O2 Academy

8 – Leeds, O2 Academy

9 – Bristol, Marble Factory