On the last day of BIGSOUND 2018, Sydney-based performer HANDSOME has had a realisation.
“Last night I danced for half a song and lost my breath. I feel like I probably need to exercise a bit more to actually do this role a bit of justice.”
It’s understandable. Brisbane’s BIGSOUND is a massive event full of long days and late nights. It can be draining. But Caitlin McGregor, the performer behind the project, wouldn’t have it any other way.
HANDSOME is a massive change for McGregor. She first came to attention as Caitlin Park, releasing two albums of folk music with subtle electronics. As HANDSOME, McGregor has fully embraced those electronic touches, crafting what she calls “tomboy pop”.
“Caitlin Park just got to a point where it didn’t feel like me much,” she says. “I grew up a bit, so my taste in music changed. I opened my ears up to stuff that I’ve always loved and wanted to try things out and not be afraid of it, like jumping into bed with gospel, R&B and electronica that I’ve always loved. Also, I made some new friends and learnt that dancing was fun and not terrifying. From there, your perspective on the music that you want to make and the way you want to make audiences feel changes.”
Dancing is a massive part of HANDSOME’s live shows; a big difference to the quiet and understated folk of her past. “I learnt that dancing was fun and not terrifying,” she explains. “In HANDSOMEin the live show I don’t play anything, I just sing, which is a really fucking amazing difference. It really changes the way for me to have fun on stage because you really only have to concentrate on the one instrument and also entertain the crowd and be charismatic, whereas with Caitlin Park stuff I had to do all of those things. I think it got more stressful than fun.”
McGregor has just released her debut EP as HANDSOME, titled No Hat No Play. “Firstly, it’s a really great phrase to say out loud,” she laughs. “Conceptually, it’s about the idea that where expected to believe that the generation above us always knows better than we do. So the idea that you feed children with rules that apply to say who they should be and not let them be who they are.”
Those restrictions on self-expression are a big theme throughout the EP, with McGregor exploring her own queer identity. That theme is especially present on ‘Late Night Ball Game’, her collaboration with electronic producer and friend Rowan Dix, aka Joyride. “It’s a queer story of coming-out and the ridiculous nature of that still being a thing. It’s also about being a part of the queer community or a gang that validate and love you for who you are. That’s what the EP celebrates.”
Unintentionally, ‘Late Night Ball Game’ was released during the 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite, an incredibly stressful time for the LGBT+ community. It also proved to be a bizarre experience for McGregor. “It came out in a way like I was coming out all over again as a queer woman,” she says. “I was just like, ‘I did this 10 years ago, why does it feel like I’m coming out all over again?’ But it was good, and I think for that reason a lot of younger queer people and fans felt like they had the strength to do that too. People have approached me online and at shows and said that those songs really changed that for them, and that’s a huge part of why the project started in the first place.”
Celebrations will continue as HANDSOME tours in October. Her BIGSOUND showcases were filled with dancing fans, with one being lucky enough to be pulled up to the stage by McGregor. “I want it to be like that for everybody,” she says. “I want it to be like that for people who come to the shows and hear the music and feel validated by who they are.”
No Hat No Play is out now. Follow Handsome on Facebook here. Catch her on her upcoming tour:
12 October: Red Rattler, Sydney NSW
18 October: The Old Bar, Melbourne VIC