When you think of the UK punk scene, Burnley, Lancashire, is probably not the first place that springs to mind. But the picturesque market town, formerly one of the Industrial Revolution's most prominent mill communities, is now home to one of alt-punk's most exuberant, engaging, energetic bands: All Hail Hyena.
Since going viral on social media back in 2022, this musical threesome have been making waves with their distinctive, infectious mingling of punk, grunge and alternative rock.
All Hail Hyena’s music is a potent, irreverent brew. Serious about what they do, but not necessarily how they do it, the band’s mischievous side is ably showcased by signature tracks 'Crowdsauce', ‘Beetles & Slugs’, and ultimate crowdpleaser ‘Stranger’s Song’.
We got to witness the raw energy of All Hail Hyena for ourselves last Friday, when they travelled 170 miles to perform at Banbury’s top live music venue: Also Known As.
Noted for their tight musicianship and dynamic stage performances, and all too used to travelling far and wide to entertain an ever-growing army of fans, the band, bedecked in their trademark pyjamas, didn’t disappoint.
For our exclusive interview, we had pizza and a chat with drummer Rob Ashworth, bassist Tom Cross, and guitarist and lead vocalist Jay Stansfield, before their Banbury gig. The pizza was excellent; the chat even better.
Funny, honest and self-deprecating in a distinctly Northern way, the Hyena boys spilled their beans on the band, the creative process behind their music, the paramount importance of friendship, and how not to smoke a can pipe.
If you're a dedicated fan, or just discovering them for the first time, get your PJs on and come with us as we journey into the ever-so-slightly bizarre world of Burnley’s alt-punk torchbearers: All Hail Hyena! ♣︎
All hail All Hail Hyena. Please introduce yourselves.
JAY – Hello, my name is Jay Stansfield, and I am the lead singer and guitarist of All Hail Hyena.
TOM – And I’m Tom Cross, and I’m the bassist of All Hail Hyena.
ROB – Hello, my name’s Rob Ashworth, and I am the drummist of All Hail Hyena.
Lovely stuff. Please describe the band for anyone who hasn’t heard you before.
TOM – We try to avoid describing the band as much as possible.
ROB – Wonky, progressive, alternative punk. How would you describe us, Jay?
JAY – Like that, yeah. John Robb [music journalist and frontman of ‘80s post-punk band The Membranes] came to see us in Manchester a few years ago and he said we fit more into one song than most bands fit into an entire set.
High praise indeed. What’s your secret sauce?
TOM – We’ve all been playing together for 20 years now, in various different outfits, so I think the secret sauce is just that we know each other too well, musically and otherwise. We just sort of know what everyone's gonna do, when they're gonna do it, to a large extent.
JAY – I think the extra thing for us as a band, as well, is the kind of music that we've listened to growing up. Me and Rob, particularly, listened to a lot of alternative music, and that's really influenced us.
TOM – And I just listen to a lot of Nirvana, which keeps us rough.
ROB – We love ‘60s and ‘70s prog, krautrock, Fugazi, Shellac, the eclectic side of harder rock. And like Tom says, there’s definitely grungy elements as well. But we also love a lot of post-punk stuff, like XTC and Elvis Costello.
Let's go back to the beginning. When and how did the band start?
JAY – We started 8 years ago. I was playing a lot of solo stuff, and releasing albums with Rob, and we'd done tours and all sorts of stuff, but I kind of got to an end. It was taking its toll on my mental health. I had a manager, but we weren't on the same page. I found it very lonely. It just got too constricted. So, me and Tom got together, and I was like, we need to just do some kind of splurgy music.
TOM – I think it was a case of trying to get back to the vibe we had when we were younger. It was like, do you ever just want to blast out some chords, like we used to when we were kids?
JAY – I said yeah, let's just do it. So, we started a punk band.
Is being in a band more comfortable than it was as solo performer?
JAY – Much more comfortable. It's just a better expression, you know, because we can really thrash it out.
TOM – And there’s no filter. We can tell each other if that part's shit and you need to do something better. We know each other well enough to not be upset by that kind of critique.
Brutal honesty. You’re clearly very comfortable with each other.
TOM – I've known Rob since I was 7. I’m 39 in a week. Jay and I have been friends since I was about 19 or 20. We’ve known each other for half our lives or more. We've been there through marriages starting, marriages ending, children being born. We've shared genuine, serious, massive life events with each other, and supported each other through that.
ROB – We're absolutely friends before band mates. The friendships are paramount. The band is fun, but the friendships are for life. I think that's the key for doing anything successfully.
Now the question you must surely get asked most often. Who thought up the band name?
ROB – I'm out.
JAY – It came from an encyclopaedia. We were trying to think of a name, and we saw an old volume of an encyclopaedia that ran from ‘Hail’ to ‘Hyena’. It had it on the spine. There was already a local band called Bird to Beast, and we thought we can’t really call ourselves ‘Hail to Hyena’ because it sounded too similar.
TOM – We changed it to All Hail Hyena because it sounded better.
Tell us about your stage outfits. Who came up with the pyjamas?
ROB – I’m out.
TOM – We’re performing for people. It’s not a gig, it’s a show. We find it strange that bands can play a gig in the same clothes they did the sound check in. And we’re old and it means we’re ready for bed when the show’s over.
JAY – On stage you’ve got to put on a performance, especially if you’re a frontman. If you’re going to use your ego anywhere in life, do it on stage. You do get bands where the egos are in control even when they’re off stage; that’s when there’s a problem.
ROB – I think being in a uniform gives you a sort of strange confidence that you don’t have if you rock up in jeans and a t-shirt. It’s like when you’re wearing a mask, you can be a bit sillier because you’re playing a character. Once we get the pyjamas on, we’re All Hail Hyena. It’s still us, but with the saturation turned up 20%.
Rob wasn’t there when the band started. When and how did he join?
TOM – When we started, we asked Rob if he wanted to play drums. He said no. We found another drummer. It didn't work out. Eventually we came back to Rob and said, look, we're desperate, we've got a gig in two weeks. Will you just do this one gig? And here he is, six and a half years later, still playing with us.
JAY – That was an absolutely vital gig, that was. It was at The Continental in Preston. It was a fundraiser for Tim Smith of Cardiacs.
TOM – Cardiacs were a genre-defying, mind-bending, experimental rock band of the mid-to-late ‘80s, early ‘90s. Tim’s no longer with us, bless him, but at that time he was suffering from a debilitating illness and required 24-hour care. There was a lot of grassroots funding from his nationwide network of fans. We were happy to be part of that, which made it all the more imperative that we found a drummer, so we could go ahead and not let them down.
JAY – We got embraced by the Cardiacs fans. They absolutely took us under their wing. They’re just wonderful people, and they all care about each other. It’s a real community, which is unusual. And now we’ve got that too, which is amazing.
ROB – We've got fans out there tonight who’ve come three hours to see us, from St Helens. We can’t believe they’ve showed up.
We believe one of your fans here tonight is the guy whose reaction went viral on social media when you played a surprise gig for him. Tell us about that.
TOM – Yeah, his wife arranged that we secretly come and play for him. It was under the pretence that he and his brother were going to have a jam. They’re musicians as well. They took him to the pub and when he got back, we were there. The moment he walked through the gate and realised we were literally playing in his garden was the moment someone filmed and put up on Reddit.
JAY – I didn't even know was Reddit was! It changed everything, that video. Something like 12 million views in the first week. Our Spotify listeners have been going up and up since then, within a day.
ROB – Yeah, I think it was the day after that our song went from less than a thousand streams to something like 33,000. It was unreal.
JAY – It was like what would happen if you had a really expensive marketing team. But we managed to do it without one. We got to present our music to people who would never otherwise have heard it.
ROB – We were lucky, in a way, because we’d put so much work and effort into the band before any of that happened. When people realised who we were, we already had music videos, we had releases on all the platforms, we had decent looking marketing stuff, and our online presence was there. We didn't have to think, oh god, we'd better react to this. We could just enjoy it.
Is it fair to say that moment transformed the band?
TOM – For sure. I mean, obviously there was a peak when the viral moment happened, and we were kind of sat there going, oh, this is wonderful, this is great, but it isn't going to last. But here we are, 18 months later, still getting a significant amount of play.
ROB – Before it happened, we would release an EP, an album, and we'd maybe get a few hundred streams on a track. After it, we've released, I don't know, three singles, and really ploughed into the marketing on the last two – did videos and all sorts of stuff, all completely self-funded, no label or anything – and we've got tens of thousands of streams on those new songs.
JAY – We've never had this level of fan base before. It’s really exciting.
ROB – The irony is, all the Spotify stats are 90% skewed towards the US. I'm assuming Reddit is mainly a North American platform. It’s a kind of cruel blessing. We’re breaking America, but we can’t afford to play there!
What effect did Covid have on the band?
ROB – We recorded an album. We did a couple of lockdown gigs. It was in that weird period where you were allowed to go to the pub, but you had to stay sat down. It was strange.
TOM – I think we'd be lying if we said it didn't sap some momentum from the band. We pride ourselves on being well rehearsed, but we couldn’t rehearse as much. A lot of our material comes from us jamming together. If we’re not jamming, we’re not coming up with new stuff.
JAY – I think Covid made me value the band more. I mean, it could happen again, so you’ve got to really savour everything that’s going on, and not take it for granted.
How do you write your songs? Where do the ideas come from?
JAY – Sometimes there might be an idea from Tom or myself. It could be five notes or something. Then we'll jam around that, and shape it, and listen to it.
TOM – We have a high level of quality control. If we've been jamming around an idea for 4 or 5 weeks and nothing has come of it, that's a sign we need to bin it off and move onto something else. Or if we come to a rehearsal and one of us can’t remember the chord sequence, or whatever, a week later, that’s a sign that we need to think again.
JAY – That’s a sign of old age, that. Old age and hard living.
ROB – We’ve tried to come back to things, but we've always decided again, for the second time, that we binned it for a reason. It doesn't turn into a finished song until we've all had our hands on it.
What’s the best thing about being in a band?
ROB – Making noise with your mates.
TOM – Our drive here today has been three and a half hours. That’s a long drive, but it's just been so much fun, hanging out with you guys, taking the piss out of each other.
JAY – I really enjoy the way that our music makes people feel when they're watching us, and the way they respond to us. I love that feeling.
ROB – We’ve got a fan family of people we’ve really connected with. They love the band, and we love them. It’s like having those moments where you go, holy shit, what I’m doing actually matters to these people. It’s mind-blowing. We never take it for granted.
Were there times when it wasn’t necessarily like that?
TOM – Absolutely. I remember driving to places like Halifax and playing gigs to literally just the other band members and the bar staff.
ROB – And gigs in full venues where no one's listening.
JAY – Yeah, they're the worst kind of gig. Genuinely the worst.
Which prompts the question, what’s the worst thing about being in a band?
TOM – Back pain. Long days. Tiring days. But the bottom line is, if there were more negatives than positives, I don’t think any of us would still be doing it. We’ve always said, if we’re not having fun, that’s when we’ll call it a day.
JAY – I don't find the band very difficult at all. The hardest part about it for me, if there is anything, is balancing it with family. But that’s not really been a problem. We have understanding spouses, and I’m really, really grateful for that.
ROB – We're in a different space than a band in their 20s. They can do whatever they want, whenever they want. We've got commitments.
If you could be in any band, now or at any time, excluding All Hail Hyena, which would it be?
TOM – Easy. Queen.
ROB – You'd make a good John Deacon, I think. I’m trying to think of a band that isn’t crazy and self-destructive and awful. Pixies.
JAY – I think I'd be in Flaming Lips.
Good choices. What were you listening to in the car on the way here?
ROB – Pavement. Nirvana, Animal Collective, Flaming Lips.
JAY – That's all that was in Tom’s CD collection. No Spotify DJ playlists in his car.
Give us an album everyone should own.
JAY – I’d probably say ‘Carrie & Lowell’ by Sufjan Stevens.
TOM – That’s a shit choice. ‘A Night at the Opera' by Queen.
ROB – ‘Five Leaves Left’ by Nick Drake. I think it’s coming to light that we don’t actually listen to the style of music we play! You’re quite a Taylor Swift fan on the quiet, aren’t you, Tom.
TOM – I'm a big fan of TayTay, absolutely.
Moving swiftly on. To really get to know you, we’d like to ask you some random, quick-fire questions. Please answer promptly. No thinking time. What's the best way to start the day?
TOM – Cigarette and a cup of tea.
ROB – Tea and toast.
JAY – Brush your teeth and then have a brew.
ROB – No, wouldn't you have the brew first and then brush your teeth?
JAY – No, no, no! You should not do that because if you get up and eat, there's still bacteria on your teeth from the night before, shitting all over your teeth. And then you add to it and they’ve got something else to shit.
What's something you think everyone should do at least once?
JAY – Get married. At least once.
ROB – Get divorced. Or try to learn a musical instrument. It just unlocks part of your brain that I don't think is wired in until you do something like that. You don’t have to be good at it; just have a crack at it.
TOM – Go to Disney World. I've literally just been, and it is genuinely the most magical place I've ever been to, with not a scintilla of sarcasm. It genuinely made me feel like I was a 4-year-old boy again.
What's something you will never do again?
JAY – Get married!
ROB – I think I’d have to concur. I’m not doing that again.
TOM – Have children.
What movie title best describes you?
TOM – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
JAY – That’s good for all of us, that.
If you were a condemned man on death row, what would be your last meal?
JAY – Caviar. Why not? It’s horrible, but it's expensive. Yeah, I’ll eat fish eggs before being electrocuted.
ROB – Cheesy beans on toast, with a crack of black pepper on top.
TOM – Shit, that's such a good answer! Very middle class. I wish I'd thought of that. I was just going to go with pizza. I’d happily eat pizza for every meal, and I don’t see why death row should be any different.
What's the luckiest thing that's ever happened to you?
TOM – When I were about 8, I was in the market town of Skipton, and I found a £20 note on the floor and bought my family fish and chips with it. It’s been all downhill from there, but the fish and chips in Skipton is great.
ROB – The luckiest thing for me is being in seven car crashes and never sustaining life-changing injuries. Seven car crashes as a passenger.
TOM – Yeah, we were in one very serious crash together and both of us only sustained minor whiplash. I wasn’t the driver.
JAY – And I narrowly escaped death when my appendix nearly exploded.
ROB – We have an album called ‘3 Organs Down’ for a very good reason. We’ve all lost an organ. Two appendix and a gallbladder.
JAY – Should that be appendices?
Two Appendix and a Gallbladder: the less successful sequel to Four Weddings and a Funeral. What the dumbest thing you’ve ever done?
ROB – I smoked a can pipe the wrong way round, in front of lots of people. How old was I? Sixteen, maybe. First time I ever smoked weed. I’m smoking this can pipe and I’m like, oh yeah, this is great, and it were the wrong way round. I was just sucking on the bottom of an aluminium can.
TOM – Yeah, the best bit was you telling us how good it was!
What's the best advice you've ever received about a life in music? Or do you have any advice for someone starting a music career?
ROB – It's a shit business.
TOM – True. Don't expect anyone to give a shit about what you're doing. You've just got to give a shit about what you're doing yourself. You should never take yourself seriously. Just take what you do seriously.
Sound advice. And what’s next for All Hail Hyena?
ROB – Because we have people in other countries that like our music, and we can't play for everyone, obviously, yesterday we filmed a live session, in a church near Bolton, that we’re going to do as a streaming gig that people can buy tickets for.
JAY – And on 13th of October we’re supporting Bag of Cans and TV FACE at Sunbird Records.
Thanks guys, we really appreciate you chatting with us today. The interrogation is over. We’re sure you'll have a great show tonight. We're looking forward to it. Any final words?
ROB – Give us your money!
JAY – Support each other as much as humanly possible, because the music industry won't do that for you.
TOM – That's deep. Jay. To quote a great man, be excellent to each other.
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