A couple of months ago, I phoned my mum to tell her I’m going away just before for Christmas. The first thing she asked was “where are you going?” When I replied with “Chicago,” she knew. There could only be one reason for me to go to Chicago in December.
When mum started listing reasons why this is a bad idea, I could see her points. Yes, it’s very irresponsible and spontaneous. Yes, I might be ill from the exertion of such a big trip, and yes I hate flying. No, I don’t have a lot of money. I know it’s already snowing in Chicago right now, so there is a chance our flight home may be delayed. Sorry, but I’ll have to see grandma and my niece and nephew for new year instead of Christmas.
But despite her reservations, mum gave me her blessing. Because she knows what this trip means to me.
When I was 15, I discovered the band Kill Hannah. One of my friends sent me Crazy Angel, and I hated it. But I was feeling adventurous with music at the time, so I looked them up on YouTube and found Lips Like Morphine. I liked that one, and burned it to a CD to play in mum’s car. She liked it, too.
‘All the nights when I was scared, and when it got too weird, it was the songs that saved me’
A few weeks later, I found Scream. I don’t know what it is about this song, but I became obsessed with it. I played it in the car as well. Mum and I turned it up loud and sang. I knew that I had to listen to this band more, and so I bought my first Kill Hannah CD: Until There’s Nothing Left of Us. I imported the American version, because the UK one did not include Scream. That album went in a car as well, on repeat, for weeks.
I scrawled its lyrics over all my journals.
At 16, my life changed in several ways. By the end of the year, I felt like I had been hollowed out and didn’t know what to fill myself back up with. During this year, Kill Hannah released their third studio album, Wake Up the Sleepers. This joined all their other music to become my soundtrack. Kill Hannah were there when I left high school, they kept me feeling cheerful through a summer spent working nights in a gift shop, and they were there when fate stepped in and did the last thing I expected by taking one of my friends away. She was one of the strongest, brightest people I have ever known, and the thought that I would lose her had never once crossed my mind until it happened. That night, I cried through my shift as I served customers then went home and buried myself under my duvet with my iPod.
I started sixth form the day after her funeral as a sad, anxious mess. Kill Hannah were there then, too. Keeping me awake at 7am when I got the bus each morning. Keeping me sane through the times when I just couldn’t stop crying, when I couldn’t sleep, and when I pulled all-nighters to finish essays. Wake Up the Sleepers went in the car, too. On shopping trips, when I missed the bus and needed a lift, on spontaneous drives along the coast road.
‘Let’s slow dance to our own heartbeats’
In 2010, I went to my first Kill Hannah show. When I saw them announce a UK tour, I had to go. My older brother made this possible by offering to drive me and a friend to Birmingham and back so we could go to the show there. From my hometown, it’s a 6 hour round trip by car to Birmingham. I will never stop being grateful to my brother for volunteering for that journey! We plied him with food and petrol money and off we went.
We queued outside the venue for two hours. Despite being May, it was freezing. We had no coats, because we are hardcore gig-goers.
They played Scream. I screamed. Then a crowd surfer went past and kicked me in the head. It was awesome. They also played a cover of Just Like Heaven by The Cure, a song I didn’t know at the time but I will never forget the atmosphere when that acoustic guitar music began.
I bought American Jet Set from the merchandise stall. It went in the car on the way home. We didn’t get back until 3am.
‘And I’m not running anymore, I’ll stand and face it all, I’ll fight for every breath until there’s nothing left of us’
After Birmingham, I joined Kill Hannah’s street team, the Kill Hannah Kollective. I logged on to their website, and instantly received messages from other members. These messages quickly grew into friendships. For the first time in my life, I was part of something. I was astonished how so many people from all over the world had come together just because of a band, and how much love and support we were able to give each other. Apart from a group to promote Kill Hannah, we are a support network, a little corner of the internet where no-one is ever alone. The KHK never give up on anything, ever. When things got tough, I repeated that to myself. Although small, the KHK are an army. I received a KHK wristband in the post as a gift from one of the Generals (yes, we have military rankings! I’m actually the Lt. Colonel for UK East) and never took it off. I’m still wearing it now.
This video for the song Home was made by a KHK member, and it says so much more about the strength of the KHK than I ever could. Also, the last clip? That’s me!
I also started reading Mat’s blog, the Raccoon Society. Not all the posts are live anymore, but it was a community where you could write in and chat to other people and Mat would answer questions and give advice. I loved his style of writing, and how he was able to help so many people. It inspired me to start blogging, in the hope that maybe I could someday do the same. Recently, Mat published a book called Weird War One: The Antiheroes Guide to Surviving Everyday Life which has the best of the Raccoon Society in it. If you’re looking for something to cheer you up, sort you out, and make you smile, then go ahead and read it. You’re not the only lonely heart out there.
I bought For Never and Ever, their first studio album, from eBay. It went in the car. On Christmas day in 2010, mum and I played New Heart for Christmas. By now I knew about New Heart, the Christmas gig Kill Hannah do every year at the Metro in Chicago. I was desperate to go, but when you’re 17, have little money, no confidence, and have never travelled alone before, just going to the next town is a big enough deal never mind a whole other continent. But I consoled myself with the thought that one day I would be able to make it. I put it on my bucket list.
‘It looked like the perfect day, in photos we were smiling’
In 2012, I returned to Birmingham to attend another Kill Hannah show (this time driven by my parents, who then drove straight to London afterwards and booked into a travel lodge so I could go to the show in Islington the following night. More eternal gratitude!) This time, I got to meet my online friends and together we paraded through the streets with a banner. I remember how we each held the edge as we walked, so the design could be seen by all. We wanted everyone to know who Kill Hannah were, and what we stood for. I held my head up and smiled at onlookers, fearless, unbreakable.
Before the show, I got to attend a meet and greet. Pretty much all I remember of this is giggling and my brain going ‘rhgfuigsj dh wdh dkjdhbkjsx’ because I was meeting this band, these people who had produced this music that had become such a huge part of my life. I remember giving Mat a paper raccoon, and lots of Skittles. Then we had group photos, before we were whisked away to queue for the show. We got spots at the barrier, and the sound of our combined voices singing Nerve Gas was enchanting.
I bought The Beauty in Sinking Ships and The Curse of Kill Hannah afterwards. They went in the car on our late night drive.
In Islington, I attended their sound check and felt all tingly when they played Hummingbirds the Size of Bullets. Such beautiful, allegorical lyrics. That concert was one of the best nights of my life. Mum got to go, too. And we managed to drag dad along, even though it really wasn’t his thing! We stood at the back and danced, before I reclaimed my spot at the barrier with the KHK.
Later in 2012, I started university. On my last night in my hometown, I sat on the beach with my dog wearing my brand new purple Doc Martens. I took a photo, and captioned it with a Kill Hannah song.
Kill Hannah were played when my new housemates and I made dinner. They went on my wall when my friend sent me a signed poster from New Heart. When I moved house and was afraid to sleep in a strange, dark room, I put their songs on shuffle beside my bed.
‘Be my love, and race the dream together’
Also at university, I met someone. Josh had never heard of Kill Hannah, and as you can imagine I soon changed that. I lent him all my CDs, and he fell in love with their music at the same time as he fell in love with me. We’ve been together for three years now. All that time, we’ve anticipated seeing them live together. He’s coming to Chicago.
When I saw the announcement for this year’s New Heart, I figured it was no big deal. It was just like any other year – again I didn’t have to means to go, but perhaps next year I could when I’d found a job and some stability. Then I saw it said ‘final show,’ and the last 7 years of my life crashed in on me. All those moments, memories, and lyrics. All that time daydreaming and thinking ‘one day.’ The thought that I wouldn’t ever be at New Heart made me feel ill. Even more, that Josh and I would never get to see them together, I’d never get to be with my American KHK friends, and that I wouldn’t get to say goodbye.
Well, Josh took one look at me said ‘we’re booking a flight.’ So we did. And this is one of the most insane things I have ever done. ‘You’re going all that way just to see a band?’ people keep asking. Yes, yes I am. But not just a band. I’m going because teenage Amy needs to. The dream of attending New Heart kept her sane, and I can’t rip that away from her. I’m going for Josh, so he can see them and we can sing to Crazy Angel together. It’s one of my favourites now. Also, I get to visit a new place and talk to online friends in the flesh instead of through a screen. Two of the most important things to me are travelling and people to travel with. Because of Kill Hannah, I have both of those. This is about so much more than music.
I’m not going to get all dramatic and be like ‘this band saved my life.’ Maybe when I was a teenage emo I would have said that, but now I just want to say thank you. Kill Hannah gave me a purpose, an escape route when I had nothing. Without them, life would have been harder, and I would have missed out so many wonderful experiences.
‘Don’t ever give in, even when you’ve got nothing to lose and no way to win’
Saying goodbye to Kill Hannah will be saying goodbye to a big part of my life. But I still have their music, and I am sure that no matter what I end up doing it will be a part of my future. Even after the band have gone, I can’t stop being KHK. It would be like asking me to stop being a writer, or a friend. Like I said, the KHK never give up on anything. And we’ll fight for our dreams until there’s nothing left of us.
Amelia Starling is a writer and folklorist. She graduated from the University of Winchester with a degree in Creative Writing, and is Senior Editor for Folklore Thursday. She loves travelling and collecting stories, and spent 15 months living in Japan doing this alongside teaching English. Amelia blogs about folklore and fairy tales at The Willow Web. You can follow her on Twitter @amyelize.