Modern Adult Kicks With Hayley Cain of Hayley and the Crushers

<em>Modern Adult Kicks</em> With Hayley Cain of Hayley and the Crushers

Written by Andrew Daly

They’ve been described as “poolside glitter punks.” L.A.-turned-Midwest transplants Hayley and the Crushers are flag bearers for an undying punk scene. Veteran rocker Hayley Cain is a champion of self-awareness through music. Her bold, honest, and glamorous take on rock’s most energizing subgenre is as refreshing as it is tried and true.

Unafraid to wear her influences on her sleeve, Cain and her bandmates are dyed-in-the-wool throwbacks, bravely championing punk rock with pop melodies added to the mix. But for Cain, it’s not enough to just light a fire with her guitar; her lyrics in recent years have gained footing, providing deep insight to complement the artist’s up-front soul bellowing.

With retro vibes and the swagger to back it up, Cain and her band, The Crushers, have unleashed a tour de force in badassery with Modern Adult Kicks, supercharging the zeitgeist of its undying cult fanbase with single after grandiose single.

Now able to bask her finest hour, Hayley Cain dug into her past, revealing the origins of her musical chaos, the recording of Modern Adult Kicks…and where she sees herself 20 years from now.

Andrew Daly: What first sparked your interest in music?

Hayley Cain: When I was a little kid living in Hermosa Beach, California, my big sister and I would walk down to the antiques barn and thumb through old records. This was in the late ’90s, but we were always into retro stuff. Finding old Barbies and Supremes records and playing them on my little kid turntable while making up dance moves, as well as listening to the local oldies station, K-EARTH 101, always made me feel joyful and free.

My mom had CDs lying around the condo, too, like The Go-Go’s, Elvis Costello, some new wave, jazz, and even show tunes. It all seemed very fun and very glamorous (laughs) I was the kind of kid who wanted to be an ice skater purely for the sparkly costumes, and I think I was always a little bit of a drag queen and ham. I was waiting for my moment to graduate from singing into a hairbrush to singing into a crowd. (laughs)


AD: What influenced your inner drag queen and ham the most?

HC: As a teenager, I really loved Operation Ivy’s Energy album. That one blew my head off, and I learned many of those songs on guitar, by ear. It was a burned CD I got from a friend, who got it from her older brother. The aliveness in the music and pure urgency set me on fire. I delved into your basic punk – the Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash – as well as really interesting stuff like James Brown, the Stray Cats, and X, which my guitar teacher turned me onto. I was learning guitar at the same time as I was listening to all this music. I think devouring all of that music all at once influenced me in a very eclectic way.

Early on, I recognized that although each subgenre in punk was a bit different, the basic energy was basically the same. Coming from a childhood hooked on oldies music, I also realized that a lot of the basic pop hooks that I loved from classic radio hits could be sped up and mutated into a whole new monster. I always gravitated towards songs that gave me an earworm and encouraged me to press play again and again on my sh*tty, always-skipping CD Walkman. That is still what I aim to do. I love it when a friend texts me and says, “Damn you. I’ve had your song stuck in my head for three days.”

AD: Can you recall some of your earliest gigs?

HC: I remember seeing Joan Jett at the Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles, California. I was in elementary school. It was a million degrees outside, and she was wearing full-on leather pants. She got the audience to sing The Stooges” “Now I Wanna be Your Dog” at the top of their lungs. The audience was made up of regular everyday people, farmers, and stuff. It really showed me the power a woman can wield on stage. She seemed to be in complete control of her talent, her sex appeal, and her band. More than anything, she created an alternate world outside of this small-town environment. She conjured it all with her songs, sheer will, and her guitar. It truly changed me.

One of the best shows I saw as a teenager was Motörhead at the Wiltern in L.A. My friend and I got front-row VIP passes even though the show was sold out, just because we all dressed so punk rock, but who really knows why the security guard took pity on us? (laughs) There were also backyard shows in places like Wilmington and Southgate that showed me anyone could do it, even if they felt like an outsider. As far as gigs, my first one was with my first-ever band, an all-girl band composed of Redondo Union High School outcasts, and it was at the Teen Center in Redondo Beach. I was so nervous I nearly died. But it felt right. We all played so fast. I wish I had a video of that one.


AD: Describe the evolution of your style to where it is in the present day.

HC: I have always shot for a retro vibe, either by tone, structure, or theme. That has not really changed. But these days, we are looking toward a melding of “modern” and “retro”; I guess that is why this album is called Modern Adult Kicks. Along with (Crushers bassist) Dr. Cain ESQ, we are crafting songs that feel a bit more timeless. At least, that is how we feel about them today. That said, we still draw a ton of our inspiration from ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s music, both underground and radio hits.

For instance, we do a cover of late ’70s Milwaukee power pop band The Shivvers on this record. It’s a deep cut for most people. That’s a pure throwback, and we love to dig back into the bins and do something weirdly delicious like that. But in a song like “I Fall,” which Dr. Cain ESQ and I wrote together, that whole vibe feels modern. It feels like right now. I like the direction we’re going in. One foot in the past, one foot in the future. As pop as we wanna be.

AD: Take me through the formation of The Crushers.

HC: Around 2013, Dr. Cain ESQ and I were in a band called Magazine Dirty, which was a fun, good-time punk and roll band from San Luis Obispo. We opened for so many bigger bands during that time, like FLAG, Jello Biafra, [the] Adolescents, 7 Seconds, you name it. That whole experience was cool, especially since I was in my early 20s and learning about performing and green rooms and what to do and not do on stage. I would occasionally write songs for the band but only played the second guitar. I drank a lot of beer when I played. (laughs) One day, I realized I wanted to be singing the songs I wrote and running the ship, so The Crushers were born.


Hayley and the Crushers. Courtesy of Thomas Ignatius.

Hayley and the Crushers. Courtesy of Thomas Ignatius.


AD: What sort of fears did you have in taking that sort of plunge?

HC: I felt that I could be in a hometown hero band my whole life and open for other bands – or start touring and making a name for myself. I knew that it would be a thing that grew me as a person and that I would probably suck at first, but I won’t lie; I was scared sh*tless. So, I put my name on the band so that I couldn’t back out of it, but it also made me commit to the fact that if people loved us or hated us, I would have to be the one to take responsibility. That is never easy. I stopped drinking before shows and took on a real leadership role. I had to set up the gear and book the shows. I wanted to really grow into my own moment and make a statement. That is what led me to the Crusherverse.

AD: Tell me about the inception of The Crushers’ latest record, Modern Adult Kicks.

HC: [I was] sitting at the bar at a local Elks Lodge somewhere in the Midwest, [and] the TV was playing one of those cheesy easy listening stations. It was called “Modern Adult Hits.” Enough said! OK, I wish I could be that glib, but I will tell you a bit more since you asked. The band went through a lot of tough challenges over 2020 and 2021, like most human beings. It was a hard time for everyone. I had some relationship issues with loved ones that I had to deal with; I questioned my desire to even play music and tour, and with that, I had to grow up and face reality.

Also, over the pandemic Dr. Cain ESQ lost his ability to work. He sold his comic book shop just before the lockdown so we could tour more, and you know how that ended up. And our drummer, Action Ben Cabreana, was injured in a skateboard accident that left him unable to walk or drum. It was so bad that he was just barely able to record the songs he did for this album. It was fitting to go from Vintage Millennial, our fun-loving record that came out in early 2020, to something a bit deeper. Although we still have a lot of fun on Kicks, this record is a grown-up version of the band, and I had to put my big girl pants on to make it.

AD: “Cul de Sac,” “She Drives,” and “Click and Act Now!” have been an incredible trio of singles, and now there’s “Taboo.” Can you give me the rundown about them?


HC: “Cul-de-Sac” is about suburban isolation. It has some wicked cool keys from Paul Roessler. And “Click and Act Now” is about consumer culture and a big wet kiss to our love of ’90s East Bay punk; Dr. Cain ESQ spent about 15 years in the Oakland punk scene. As for “Taboo,” that is about chasing your most wicked desires and has a sort of Pat Benatar vibe. “She Drives” is about the short-lived bliss of running away from your problems, although you could probably never know that and just throw it on your next road trip playlist.

AD: What was the secret sauce to eliciting the special quality you seem to have found with this record?

HC: All of the songs were greatly improved by the creative minds on the Kitten Robot Records team. Thank Lemmy [Kilmister, of Motörhead] for our producer, Paul Roessler, who is from the early L.A. punk band the Screamers, which we will never stop bragging about. And, of course, Mass Giorgini, who mastered everything to perfection. I can’t say enough good things about him; he is a legend in his own right with a dizzying array of credentials that still is unbelievable to me.

But really, these songs were polished and doted over by a really cool family of creatives. And we are grateful that each single has had its own special va-va-voom, as well as its own DIY music video. We owe a lot to Josie Cotton for signing us to her label back in 2021. It was a fateful thing and something that we will never take for granted!


AD: What are some of the themes of this record?

HC: The buzz of Y2K chat rooms, drug addiction, isolation. There’s also a lot of longing. We wrote about real topics. But you can still dance to the songs. (laughs) That’s our way of dealing with life, I suppose. Dance away the pain? I think the album will become more important as we look back at our lives and really see what this left turn really amounted to.

AD: Paint us a picture of the production process. 

HC: The pandemic made it weird for all bands. We recorded half in San Luis Obispo, CA, in our home studio and local studio space, then split our time at Kitten Robot Studios in L.A. Paul Roessler recorded all my vocals with tender loving care and added incredible keys and backing vocals that give me shivers. We used to do most stuff DIY, so this represents a mix of recording philosophies.

We were still able to add our own zany weirdness. For instance, the sound of Dr. Cain ESQ slapping our home office desk made it into “She Drives,” while [we were] still [able to] maintain a new level of professionalism we had never been privy to before. We maintained enough creative control to go wild, but Paul has a way of making everything so integrated and layered. It is a true partnership for the books.

AD: As an independent band, what do you feel you need to do to gain a foothold in a competitive scene?

HC: Jeez. There’s so much work to be done. Too much, really. But generally? Go where the love is. They say you can’t get milk at the hardware store. That’s why we moved from California to the Midwest in 2022. We went where we felt that the Crushers fans really wanted more from us. Not to say we aren’t loved on the West Coast; we are. But there is something nice about being “exotic,” about bringing a dose of sunshine to a place that needs it. Standing out is not a bad thing and something you can only do if you know who you are.

So many bands are afraid to look dumb on stage. Don’t wear sunglasses on stage, ever. That’s a glaring sign that you have no idea who you are or what you’re about. Why shield the audience from the intimacy of knowing you? Go where you feel you are needed. Also, another word of advice that continues to serve me well: It’s not other people’s job to believe in you. That’s your job and yours alone. Once you truly believe in yourself, folks won’t have any other choice but to buy what you’re selling. Make sure you can stand proudly behind the product. If you can’t, that’s OK. Go back to the drawing board and keep working.

AD: Where do you see yourself in five, 10, 20 years?

HC: Five years: touring and writing books with my band and two small rat dogs. 10 years: the co-owner of a Coney dog stand that sells comic books and vintage swimsuits. 20 years: Getting my go-go boots fitted for orthopedic inserts, lounging on my epic tour bus, and continuing to be the weirdest person in my neighborhood.


Header image of Hayley and the Crushers courtesy of Thomas Ignatius.

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