This week London-based drag-pop hybrid Lynks released Smash Hits Vol. 2, a follow-up EP to the explosive debut released last summer. After a string of incredible songs and videos, we needed to get to know the person behind the mask a little bit better, so we called Lynks to chat – and a very intriguing and enlightening conversation it was too.
We go through their origins as a “shit house” producer, finding their drag name from a preferred scent (Lynks originally debuted as Lynks Afrikka, from Lynx Africa), the challenges of doing a drag show in the indie scene, writing songs about anything that captures their attention, the musical and aesthetic progress between the two volumes of Smash Hits, and hopes for 2021. Enjoy!
Let’s start by going through your origins with music.
I started making music when I was kind of like 16-17 in a really tragic sort of rip-off Disclosure house way that all my friends were doing.
Is that what you were listening to at the time?
At the time, yeah. That was when we were all like, ‘Yeah, I love clubbing even though I’m not legally allowed to go into clubs’. I remember I literally would just like, find songs, I like to kind of cold try and copy them, completely recreate them, and kind of use that as a way to learn how all of the Logic software and stuff worked. It was really fun. Not very creative, but fun.
Do you remember which songs you copied?
Yeah, “When A Fire Starts To Burn”. So trashy, it’s a great song, but it’s just quite funny. I feel like I’ve come a long way. So I started doing that, and then I made sort of a bunch of shit house. And then sort of that turned into sort of like sad boy James Blakey type stuff. Consciously trying to make stuff seemed cool.
I started performing that live when I was at uni. It was good, but I always felt very conscious of how I was coming across. I never felt really fully relaxed on stage. Whenever I was making stuff, I was thinking, ‘Oh, like what are the people listen to this gonna think of it? Are they gonna think it’s like, cool. Is it going to be the right thing?’ Which I think isn’t the best way to make music.
What kind of reactions were you getting when you played live?
Great crowds. But then again, it’s like classic uni gigs where your mates so they will tell you you were great, even if you were crap. I don’t think I was crap, but it was just it was a bit generic, like it was fine, but it wasn’t very me.
What name were you using at the time?
My real name. I don’t want to say it though because you can still find it all online – I want to keep it under wraps because it makes me cringe. But then I kind of like I had loads of beats and stuff that I was making for fun and I thought they were like really trash and not good. And then I remember showing a couple of them to my friend, Rafi and he was like, ‘I love this. This is so cool.’ And he was putting on a gig and his friends’ basement and was like, ‘There’s this gig in two weeks, it’s gonna be really small, you want to try and do something weird?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, go on then.’ I wanted to do something really like draggy thing with it. So I wrapped myself in loads of binbags and put some white face paint on and black eyes and red lipstick – really rough.
You were already a big fan of drag at this point?
Yes and no. I think like a lot of people I’d only just started to sort of discover it because I’d watched Drag Race and I was like, ‘This is cool.’ But I hadn’t really got into like the drag scene at that point. It was kind of through Lynks that I got more into the scene, which is really good. But at that point, my references were limited to like, Drag Race and the Alexander McQueen documentary. So I did the show in the basement and the response was so insane. And I was like, ‘okay, there’s something here. This is way more fun. I just had the most fun I’ve ever had on stage.’
Did you have vocals on your beats at that point?
Oh yeah, vocals. It was not that far off what I’m doing now. It was me and then three backing dancers – we learned the dances in like two hours. We just like flailed around on stage for a bit and sang. I mean, there’s some videos of that performance and it’s so messy in retrospect – again, cringe, which is probably for the best because that means I must have gone somewhere with it. It was good, though and like people really liked it. I was like, ‘Oh, this is what it’s meant to feel like performing.’ I was fully just relaxing into it and just following my gut instincts rather than constantly thinking about how it was coming across. And it was just like, so liberating. And yeah, from that point on, it’s just kind of got out of hand, basically.
So this was in Bristol and you weren’t as involved in the drag scene yet – were you into the live music scene there?
Yeah, I was very into the live music scene, but I hadn’t got into the drag scene yet. That was something that I got more into through doing Lynks. It’s been funny, though, when I started Lynks I definitely saw it as a drag act, and a lot of the first shows I did were drag shows where you do just like one or two songs, and then you stay in drag for the rest of the night and chat to strangers and stuff. It’s a very different experience. I think over time it’s kind of moved more into the music world, which has been an interesting transition. I’d love to do more drag shows. I mean, obviously, there’s no shows it’s all happening right now. But I think when they start again, I do want to try and do more like drag stuff because it’s so much fun.
So when did the Lynks Afrikka name come along?
The Lynks Afrikka name came along at a party in Bristol, I think a week or so before that first show. The theme was ‘greatest of all time’, so it was really open-ended. And so obviously I decided to go as a can of Lynx Africa as the greatest smell of all time.
Sure! Were you a user through your teens?
Shamefully, I still use it sometimes. I actually really like how it smells. So I went as the can of Lynx Africa and then I was talking with my friend Ben about drag names and we were just brainstorming, and I was literally wearing the Lynx Africa costume, and Ben was then like, ‘Lynx Africa’, pointing to my shirt, and I was like, ‘Yes. That’s it’. But I’ve changed it now to Lynks. When I called it Lynks, Afrikka, I was like, ‘this is this dumb thing that I’m going to do at one party’; I hadn’t really thought that it was ever going to go any further than that.
So then you put out a few singles before the EP? Were you just putting them out on your own or did you have help with that?
They were essentially on my own. “Str8 Acting”, which was kind of first major one I did, I did that through Spinny Nights. I mean, even now, I’m still just doing it by myself. I am a very do it yourself kind of person – a bit of a control freak, which I think it has its benefits and downsides. Up till this point everything on every track is all me – it’s all mixed and mastered and produced and everything in my room. It definitely creates a sort of DIY sound, which I think people like – which isn’t intentional. I’m not trying to make it sound DIY, that’s just the best I can do. I’m trying to make it sound extremely professional.
I think it doesn’t sound that DIY. It’s got it’s got a nice, charming mix of the two I think. But how about lyrically? Do you sit down and focus on writing? What do they come to you like certain moments? Are they inspired by real life events?
It’s all different. I think the best songs I’ve written I don’t tend to sit down and write them. They normally come like really early in the morning, after I’ve woken up but my brain hasn’t started working yet. Or really late at night when I’m really drunk after a night out or something. I think when I’m using my full brain power and I’m actually trying to focus on writing stuff I just get in my own way. But then occasionally I won’t be thinking about I will just realise that I’ve accidentally written a whole song in my head without really trying. When I’ve made a beat or something I find it really easy to just start saying vowel sounds over it like gibberish, and then out the gibberish the words come. There’s one song I was just doing now before I called you, which is going to be about – you know when you’re on like a dodgy streaming site or something and on the side there’s ‘women in your area looking for fun’. Something from her point of view.
I want to take it as far as you can. I want to see how catchy I can make a song about like, IBS. Taking something really rogue and weird and out there and not normal to be in a pop song and then trying to make it as commercial as I possibly can.
Is that way you’ve called your EPs Smash Hits?
We had an old Smash Hits CD that we used to play in our car, but I think it was more just I like the idea of basically being insanely cocky about whatever I put out. And if you call the EP Smash Hits, then maybe people will believe you.
In all your press stuff and your videos your face is always covered. How does that play into the themes?
I mean, you can psychoanalyze that a lot. I think I wouldn’t need to do it now, but when I first started doing it, the idea of performing this kind of music, like this crazy stuff, onstage was just like… I couldn’t do that as me. That was too scary. It was too out there, too exposing. When I started doing Lynks I just didn’t really have the sort of confidence, the self-belief to do something this stupid and crazy, to sing a song about béchamel sauce on stage as myself.
So it’s kind of about like, you put a mask on, you’re completely protecting yourself and you can do a show. And if it fails, you can go backstage, take the mask off, take the makeup off, and walk out and no one’s gonna know that it was you. It just helps you really let loose on stage as well. Now I have consistent backing dancers, but they used to be just sort of whoever was free, and they’d put the mask on and they always say ‘that was crazy, it was like an out of body experience!’ You get on stage and it’s like you lose all inhibitions. I think what’s scary about being on stage is being seen and being seen and worrying that you look nervous, but as soon as you put a mask on, no one can see your emotions. And so you’re kind of completely safe to just do whatever and no one’s gonna see you sweat. Well, they’ll see me sweat because I sweat a lot – but they’re not gonna see me emotionally sweat.
But now I think I’ve gained so much confidence, mainly through doing Lynks, that I feel like I could just do it as myself now. But equally I also love the aesthetic, the sort of gimp, Leigh Bowery aesthetic. I find it really awesome. And I love making clothes as well; I make all my own costumes. It’s another creative aspect. It’s so much fun. I love it.
Nice. A big part of what Lynks’ appeal is that lack of inhibition of what you’re singing about as well.
I was just watching the video for “Everyone’s Hot (And I’m Not)”, which is crazy. Did you choreograph that?
We choreographed it together. Those girls are some of my best friends, we’ve done so many. Even before Lynks we’d done shows before with each other. And so when we get together no one’s really in charge, we all just kind of chip in. And honestly, making that video is the highlight of my 2020. It was so much fun.
And you’re gonna try and reproduce that on stage when you get to play again?
Yeah, we are…
Can you sing all that and dance all that at the same time?
Well, I guess we’ll find out. I’ve been doing doing a lot of running. So that might help.
Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.
Honestly, I have no idea. Our plan is like when we start doing shows again that we want it to be more choreographed and more professional – like properly slick. Still with the crazy side though, too. But I just don’t know if I’ve got the cardiovascular energy for it. But I mean, the girls definitely could, so in the worst case scenario they’ll do the dances and I’ll just be like, bleh. I love doing the dances though, I’d feel like I was missing out I think.
Are there many other people that you know of who are kind of doing this one foot in drag one foot in music? Anyone that kind of inspired you?
Not so much inspired, but since I’ve started doing it I’ve found some people. There’s Ash from Happyness, who is the drummer who drums and drag, and that’s pretty cool. Because the thing with mine is the music’s quite queer. I don’t know how you can, like, quantify the queerness of music, but you hear it and you’d kind of expect the person singing it would probably be doing something weird, whereas Happyness are a beautiful, wonderful indie band – you listen to that you’d never suspect anyone in it was in drag. And so I remember the first time I saw them, I didn’t know that there was a member in drag, and I was like, ‘This is awesome!’ It felt like a moment.
As a queer person in a music space, it’s quite often that you do just feel almost like you’ve snuck in, and you’re not really meant to be there, and you’ve just managed to sort of trick everyone and that’s how you’re there. It’s almost like you’re undercover in a strange space or something. And so then when you go to an indie band gig, and suddenly on the stage, there’s someone that is really in drag, the most openly queer thing you can do, it’s pretty awesome. So when I saw them live for the first time, I think that was my first time experiencing drag on stage at a music venue from the other way around. And that was quite inspiring, I was like, ‘Oh, I get how that feels from the other side now’. And it made me feel even luckier to be doing it on stage. Doing drag in music venues can be really challenging, but I feel very proud to do it.
What are the challenges?
Less so now, but when I was just starting and supporting acts… maybe the acts were great, but their fanbases would be quite so straight-laced – not homophobic or anything, but uptight a bit. So I’d get on stage and there would be like full on faces of like, kind of disgust. Maybe they they walk in, you’d see them mouthing to a friend ‘What the fuck?’, film like 10 seconds, then walk out – clearly for like an Instagram story that says ‘WTF?’ It just gives you thicker skin. It’s not ideal, but equally, I think if you’re going to do something as out there as Lynks, you know you’re going to get a bit of that.
When you perform at drag shows, it’s the most incredibly inclusive space and you can literally go like, ‘I did a shit just now!’ and the crowd will go ‘YES!’ Whereas when you’re supporting a punk band at a gig in like Deptford you have to really learn to read a room, learn how to get an unfriendly act on your side, which is the most invaluable skill I’ve found. And I think that is something I’ve learned through doing indie gigs. So challenging, but I think, on the whole, really helpful, actually. And also, the indie scene has just been my really accepting of me anyway, so it’s no complaints at all.
Yeah, but it seems like there’s a lot of fertile ground for that kind of cross over. In a way, you’re a trailblazer.
I hope so. I think a lot of people are doing it now. I haven’t seen maybe seen as much in the indie scene, but there’s acts like Dorian Electra, and so many people in the PC Music world, and a lot of queer femme rappers that are like really being very outspokenly queer in their lyrics and in their aesthetic. I think it’s just sort of in the specific world that I’ve come up in, I think I feel a bit more on my own. But I think in music as a whole, you can see it’s happening. It’s happening so quickly. It’s very exciting.
Do you consider your music political?
I think not intentionally, but… I think it’s funny; as soon as you’re outspokenly queer, you don’t have a choice. It’s gonna be seen as political, whatever you say. If you’re challenging the expectations of how society thinks you’re going to act, that’s inherently political and you don’t really have a choice about it. So I guess in that way, yeah. I sing about social issues, but I don’t think I think about politics much – except for in “Pandemic” where I did roast Boris Johnson, that was fun.
So you put out Smash Hits Vol. 1 in the summer, at the height of the lockdown, I suppose, at that point.
It was. It’s funny, I wasn’t necessarily going to put any music out like long form. I was just gonna keep the like live show being the main thing. But when that stopped, I was like, ‘well, I need to adapt to this’. So that’s why it ended up coming out then.
You called it Smash Hits Vol. 1, so did you always know the next one was gonna be Vol. 2?
I knew that I had in the works 10 songs, five of which were done. So I just was like, ‘well, let’s do part one and two, that makes sense’. I like to set challenges myself so I have to be productive. With “Str8 Acting”, the first time I put it out before the EP, I set a release date before the song was finished; I gave myself four weeks, and was like, ‘well, you’ve got to do it now!’ So I guess by doing Vol. 1 I said, ‘Well, you need to make a Vol. 2 now – get working.’
Do you see a lot of development between the two?
I think Vol. 2 is miles better than Vol. 1. I think they’re different. I think that Volume One was charming; I think it’s someone finding their feet but in a really crazy fun way. Whereas I feel like Vol. 2, I feel like each song has a real proper distinct point of view, and has a fully cohesive statement to it – except maybe “This Is The Hit” because that’s just gibberish. And also, I just think production-wise it’s a massive step up. I didn’t have a synth when I did Vol. 1, I was just doing everything with free Logic stock samples, and I got an actual synth to do Smash Hits Vol. 2. That in itself has made everything sound so much fatter and juicier.
Previously I was still working out my aesthetic – and it’s going to change more – but I was doing the hair helmet thing; I was like ‘this is kind of cool, but I’m not really sure why I’m doing this’. Whereas now Smash Hits Vol. 2 is coming out after almost a year of lockdown and I’ve had so much time during that to think about what I want Lynks to be, and aesthetically I’ve definitely arrived at something now. I don’t think I’m completely there with the sound yet but I feel like I’m definitely getting closer to what I want it to be.
The first song shared from Smash Hits Vol. 2 was your cover of Courtney Barnett’s “Pedestrian at Best” – was that chosen because you knew it would get people’s attention because they know that song?
I wasn’t sure “Pedestrian At Best” was going to go on the EP, but then the response was really amazing so I thought, ‘Yeah, fuck it’. I performed a live stream during lockdown, and this was a live stream where I performed loads of songs that I hadn’t released yet and all this cool stuff, and of course, every single comment was like ‘that cover you did is amazing, you should release that!’ I was like, ‘Okay, I guess I will’. So it was just people wanted it, so I put it out. And it’s good. And to be fair, I probably did attract some indie music fans that I wouldn’t have normally reached out to and they seem to like it. I’ve only had one person message me being like, ‘this is so disrespectful to Courtney’. Like, brah, it’s a cover.
Do you know if Courtney has heard it?
She has heard it. And she says she really likes it, which is very nice. I love her so much. That that first album, Oh God. I like I think I listened to that when I wasn’t that deep in music yet, and the lyrics just blew my mind. It was very like, ‘Oh my god, you can write a song about going swimming in the pool, seeing a hot person and then like choking on the water and needing to be resuscitated’. Like she did that. Mind blowing. Yeah, you can write about literally anything. I love that album so much.
Then we should mention “Brand New Face” as well, which I think might be my favorite Lynks song. Even though when my girlfriend walked in on me listening to it, she was like, so baffled, like, I guess it is a bit of a confusing one.
Yeah I think it’s probably my weirdest song I’ve got out so far. That’s very much one of the songs like I had the concept in my head, and I was like, ‘let’s do this’. It was the idea of someone who gets a tiny bit of work done, then gets more work done, and then gets more work done, until they’re completely unrecognisable. There was an old version I used to do gigs, it was way more heavy and it ended up with a really sad ending where the character looks in the mirror and doesn’t recognise themselves and regrets it. But then over lockdown I was like ‘actually, would that happen?’ If someone wanted to do this, if they really hated their face that much then they’d be fucking over the moon to have a brand new face – it’s their dream. So now it’s got the ending where they’re walking around in this daze looking in car windows like, ‘I’m so beautiful’. Yeah, it’s pretty creepy. It feels straddled between children’s TV vibes and body horror.
Yeah, exactly. There’s some really visceral imagery. Do you see it as a commentary on our appearance based society? Or is it just a bit of fun?
That’s definitely socio-political. It’s all about how our society just encourages people to just like, if they don’t like the way they look – fix it! You know, whether that’s through like a cream, or a filter, or makeup or whatever, and it makes me sad. I think we’re trained to think that that covering up and changing the way we look is like self-care, and it’s not, it’s pretty fucked up. I definitely feel that myself. There’s stuff that I don’t like about the way I look, and I look in the mirror, and I’m like, ‘What can I do about that?’ And that shouldn’t be the attitude; it should be like, ‘what can I do to like that about myself or to accept that about myself?’ So that’s kind of why I was going for with it. It’s so funny, the songs seem really bubbly on the surface, but then as soon as I start talking about them, I realise they’re all so depressing.
Yeah, but in a cathartic kind of way. And especially when you do get the opportunity to play them live I’m sure they won’t feel depressing.
So apart from working on music, what else has been keeping you sane over this year?
Learning to sew. I couldn’t sew before, and I spent loads of time on that which been fun. I’ve been I’ve been working as a tutor in psychology, biology, maths… they don’t know about Lynks… I’ve been writing quite a lot like scripts, which has been fun.
Theatre or film?
Oh, I guess theatre, but over lockdown I haven’t been really writing specifically for one or the other. I’ve been writing sort of scenes.
Are they along the same themes as your music?
Not really, they’re quite different. The main thing I’ve been writing over lockdown is not autobiographical at all, but kind of based in personal experience. I’m not gonna give it away because I probably will actually do something with it eventually.
So you do have aspirations of bringing it to fruition?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. I love theatre so much. When I was at uni, I’d write a play and then I’d be like, ‘Okay, cool, we’ll put it on now.’ But in the real world, what the fuck? How do you do it? I don’t know. You have to draw up so much money.
What about pop culture intake?
I’m a massive TV/movie snob. Best thing I’ve watched this year has been Top of the Lake, which didn’t come out this year, but I had heard nothing about it and it was apparently massive at the time. It’s fucking incredible. It’s got Elisabeth Moss in it, it’s got Nicole Kidman – it’s got great people in it. Yeah, amazing.
All right. I guess I should finish by asking you what are your hopes for 2021 with Lynks?
Um, world domination. A set a set of scented candles. Each of a different one of my body parts.