Interview: Ali Hirsz (Idealistics) “The doctors were saying to my family I think you should say goodbye.”

It’s tough catching a break in the music industry. There are all sorts of things to scupper your plans. Then if you’re a woman there are the issues encountering misogyny (yes it is still a thing). So imagine what Ali Hirsz has been going through. She’s not only trying to make her way in music with her band Idealistics, she’s also doing this while suffering from a very serious medical condition.  The music bizz would rally round in support surely? As it turns out it’s mostly the opposite that is true.  Gary Trueman met up with Ali to talk about her band, her condition and her treatment by people within the music industry.

How would you describe your band sound?

“This is a difficult one because we change. Every time we put together some new songs, like for the new EP, it’s always quite different.  Generally though we’re within the indie rock area. But we have so many different influences. We came together through Manic Street Preachers, we love Wolf Alice and Muse.  But then you get like one off songs from random bands we like too. That’s how we get a lot of our weird, crazy sounds.”

So who is in Idealistics and what do they do in the band?

“I write the lyrics, play bass and do the vocals.  George plays guitar, writes the music and also does vocals.  George is also my partner. And we have Dom my sister on drums. She also adds little bits to the lyrics and helps write the music. It’s quite a close knit way of working.”

You have your partner and you sister in the band. Do you ever have difficulty not discussing band stuff out of band time, say during family time?

“That’s one thing we haven’t got the hang of. It’s awful. We’ll be at family evets and One Of us will be maybe we should do this, or that would work so well in this song. The rest of the family just roll their eyes. There are five of us siblings plus both parents, so there’s quite a few of us. The whole family is very much involved in the band so they don’t mind. My eldest sister Jen does a lot of the artwork and my little brother Tim plays violin so he’s done things with that. He’s also brilliant with tech things and I’m not. My parents have been supportive since day one. My eldest brother introduced us to the Manics, so without him there would be no Idealistics.”

You’ve recently released an EP. Tell us a little bit about that.

“So we’d just convinced my sister to join the band on drums. We were putting it together and trying to think of what songs would work together that would have a running theme. During the writing of a lot of the songs I was in hospital in London, I was there for five or six weeks. We had a very early demo of Take Your Words Back which is the second song on the EP. I wrote the lyrics and it’s about the relationship between a patient and a doctor.  I was treated as a guinea pig. I wrote the tune as well, just the verse. I had to write in the shower room because it was the only place that was quiet enough, not on the ward. So George has this really shit demo of me whisper singing into my phone. The first track is Scandalous which has been the lead single from the EP and it’s done really well. That’s about the sexualisation of women. I wrote it from the Hollywood point of view but it works everywhere really. Timeless Goodbyes is about the most personal song we’ve ever written. That’s about when I was first in hospital, clinically malnourished and in and out of consciousness. I was very sick and the doctors were saying to my family I think you should say goodbye, there’s a good chance she won’t be walking out of here. Illegal Love is one of the first songs we wrote as a band but we’ve revamped it. That’s about a story I read in a newspaper about a teacher who abused his student. The EP finishes with My Rules which kind of closes off the medical side of things. It’s an upbeat nice way to finish the EP.”

We ought to run with the medical side of things really. Why were you in hospital, what did you have, and how did that affect you?

“I was born with a genetic condition called Elos Danlos Syndrome of which there are many different types which is the confusing part. I have got a rare form of it and doctors are currently putting me through some quite intensive tests to find out exactly which one. Basically I have a connective tissue condition.  So things that are held together by connective tissue aren’t really held there with me. So my joints dislocate and on average I get that about three times a day. My skin splits because it’s so fragile. I can just catch myself on a table and suddenly I’ve got this gaping wound. I bruise all the time. I get prolapse of my organs because they’re not being held in place. I have blood pressure problems. I have six different relating conditions through this one I’ve got. I’ve also got this random bit which doesn’t often come with this condition where my two major arteries have collapsed in on the first part of my major intestine. What this has led to is that I can’t keep food down. It’ll be two years this May that I’ve not eaten. So they put tubes up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach trying to get me feed in different ways. None of it was working which is why I spent so long in London. They were trying to find a safe way of feeding me. There was this way where they have put a feeding tube into my heart but with my heart problems they were very concerned to do that. But that was the best way so I just have to be more careful. It currently goes into my arm and then into my heart, but they want to change that soon to one going into my chest.”

So you’re playing in a band, fighting this condition, and then you’ve had people turning you down for gigs because of that.  Is that true?

“It’s awful. To be honest I never even knew something like this could happen. When I first had the feeding tube it was out of my nose and would tuck behind my ear. People were so weird about it. Pubs I had played in for a year or so were saying no, that’s not the kind of scene we want in here. People were saying I would deter a crowd. We had promoters, some really big ones, saying I’d never represent someone like you. I thought what could I really do about it other than just fight back. Then they changed the feeding tube to my arm and I thought people would be less weird about it but it only got worse. People were saying they didn’t want to see someone with something coming out of their skin, and I was like but what about piercings? It was just total ableism and it goes on a lot in the industry. We’ve been turned down for festivals. We’ve been promised slots then after I had been into hospital and had the tubes in they were saying no, we’ve given it to someone else. It was tough on the whole band. George and Dom are having to take the aftermath of what I’m going through. They’re not just band mates they’re my family and they have to deal with the emotional side of it too. They’ve seen the state I’ve been in and it’s terrifying for them. No one knows what’s around the corner. If I get an infection in my line it’ll go straight to my heart and that’s it. So they’ve got all the emotion from having someone close very ill and then we’re being denied gigs because people think it’ll deter crowds. I’m not expecting special treatment. I can look after myself. I’m trained to look after me.”

There are people that support you too surely?

“We have our managers and they’re amazing and how we met them was amazing. Before my sister joined it was just me and George and we were getting rejected because of the tube up my nose. We had kind of called it quits. We weren’t getting anywhere, no one wanted to support us. We went to Wales for a gig. We went to see the frontman from the Manic Street Preachers (James) and he asked if anyone wanted to come up and duet. Dom was with us and was screaming to get me on the stage. I got up and James gave me such a push w to want to continue.  He pulled me back at the end and told me to not let anyone tell you you can’t do this. He gave me some great words of advice. After the gig these two lovely ladies came running over and were asking who I was and I never in a million years thought they would become our managers. It’s great to have Rita and Malicia supporting us so much. Some journalists are awful, some are lovely. Someone from the BBC was interested but when they took it to their manager they said it was a bit gross with the tube… I was like whoa! So not impressed with the BBC either.”

You also mentioned earlier one of your songs is about the treatment of women in the industry, about their sexualisation.  Would you like to expand on that? Anything personal to you?

“Yeah, at my very first gig when I was about 15 or 16, me and George and two other band members walked in.  We were supporting a band and I was nervous and excited.  The first thing the frontman from the other band said was how original, a girl to get the crowd in. I thought it would be a one off but it’s a constant thing. The line ups on festivals speak for themselves where people have taken away all the acts with only males. It’s not that there aren’t enough female artists it’s that the promoters won’t book them. The mentality is crazy. Or they will just book women as so called eye candy.  We’re equal, we’re talented and we’re human beings as well.”

We need to talk about the fact that you don’t just do music. You have your medical condition but it’s not stopped you doing what you want to do. You also do horse riding too.

“Yep, I’ve always been big on animals. We were raised with animals and we’ve had them with us from a young age. We have two standard poodles which are pretty much with me everywhere. I got really into horses and I do a lot of horse riding. I’ve been riding for about nine years now. When I was old enough to care for my own horse and pay for my own horse my mum and dad let me have one. I kept saying I can only have one and I can only care for one. Now I’ve ended up with three beautiful horses that I’m totally in love with. Aside from that I do lots of horse riding. I break in and do odd jobs for certain people. It’s a very rewarding job for me. It was only later that my doctor said I’ve probably saved myself from major back surgery and a wheelchair by riding. It straightens your spine. So all those times my instructors were barking at me to straighten my back, actually it fixed it. At the time I was really angry with them but I do have to thank them.”

Where do you see yourself in a few years time. Where would you like to be with yourself?

“Well Glastonbury would be lovely haha. Obviously I would love to continue doing everything I’m doing with the band. I would like to be playing festivals. I’d like to break the mould a bit with the whole you can’t be female and disabled and up on stage and stuff. I really want to arrange a charity gig and have loads of different artists play. I think that would be great. All this misogyny and ableism really needs to be stopped and I want to continue fighting back against it. An album would be nice as well.

Interview and photos by Gary Trueman