“I cold-DM’d this label, Under the Gun,” Clementine Zimmer of the band AXE said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I said, ‘Yo, I wanna put this out on tape’ … It came out on New Year’s and our last release came out on 4/20.” Zimmer and her bandmate, Collette Keating, high-fived.
When not plotting ways to spruce up their Spotify royalties through band-branded used tissues, AXE is a queer, Berkeley-based band that mixes punk rock, eclectic rock and hyperpop. The band consists of Clementine Zimmer (vocals, guitar), Collette Keating (vocals), Kevin Gibson-Weinberger (synth/keys), Kaamya Talwar Sharma (guitar) and Toby Darci-Maher (drums).
Keating and Zimmer met at UC Berkeley during their Golden Bear Orientation. Despite being friends since their freshman year, AXE did not form until the middle of the pandemic; while this presented a fair share of challenges, Zimmer and Keating noted that they found a natural fit in the Bay Area’s punk scene.
“We’ve got some homies that are making music, which is super cool,” Keating said. “A lot of these people we became friends with naturally, like Clem and I became friends. Then everyone ended up making music together. It was more organic than just being based in the music.”
The band played its first show at the 52nd anniversary of People’s Park, during which the group had to perform karaoke-style due to the backing band’s absence. Keating noted how they would make the tempos too fast-paced to perform live, and they would later have to adjust their songs’ tempos as they formed the band.
“Now, we know what we sound like more,” Keating said. “We tend to make songs that we know a live band can perform. We love fast songs, but sometimes we have to tone it down.”
Keating explained how performing songs lives alters their relationship with their music.
“After you make the music, you normally just let it go. You don’t have as much of a connection with it,” Keating said. “But when you’re performing, it keeps you connected … it keeps you in that cycle where you’re coming back to these songs, performing them differently and interacting with the crowd differently.”
Regarding songwriting, the band takes plenty of inspiration from cinematic universes. Released in April of 2021, AXE’s latest EP 1300 A.D. even includes a synthy, lofi cover of Enya’s “Only Time” from the film “Sweet November.”
“She’s an amazing musician, and I love synth music,” Zimmer said. “Without her, none of the dark synth music would exist. Shout out to Enya. She made it all happen.”
The band once drove around San Francisco blasting Enya’s “May it Be,” which is from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack; AXE’s admiration for Enya also intersects with appreciation for film and television, which have been a recent source of inspiration. Keating explained that they view the band as having the energy of a medieval sci-fi film, mixed with some cheesy horror — Keating connected AXE’s spooky aesthetics and sound to the horror-comedy “Army of Darkness,” while Zimmer compared the band to the Scooby-Doo franchise.
Each song from 1300 A.D. is written in the context of a different cinematic universe. Many of its songs were written about “Army of Darkness,” while others are inspired by movies such as cult classic “Jennifer’s Body.” Understanding this world building is core to AXE’s songwriting process.
“You’re tapping into something via some world you already know or you’re creating something for yourself,” Keating said. “That’s how we’re able to express whatever emotions we’re trying to get out or like what we’re trying to express –– through these other channels.”
The group’s songwriting is gradually shifting, especially as the band currently works on its first full-length album. So far, AXE has about five or six songs finished, including a track about someone desperately seeking gas to huff. The upcoming record leans into a new angle, one of desperation, and marks a slight turn away from AXE’s campy horror and the cinematically grounded songs from its last EP.
Although the newly formed act’s sound is still evolving, AXE plays and collaborates with other bands that are mostly queer, and Zimmer shared that the band’s queer identity has helped them forge connections in the scene.
“It’s fun to be a queer, trans band,” Zimmer said. “That’s kind of an important part of our music. It’s not super explicit but there are some strong hints in there for the gays … It’s definitely cool that there’s a lot of queer people making music.”
AXE’s debut LP and split Exoskeletal will be released summer 2022.