Ten years ago, Annie Hardy was seemingly on top of the music world, or at least well on her way there. As lead singer, songwriter and guitarist of Giant Drag, she combined coolly groovy pop melodies with grungy power chords in a way that felt brash and new. The San Clemente native was both charmingly idealistic and archly sarcastic, and she belied her innocent-waif look with such provocative yet enigmatic songs as “Kevin Is Gay” and “YFLMD” (as in “You Fuck Like My Dad”).

In 2006 alone, Giant Drag appeared at Coachella and the Reading and Leeds festivals, and Hardy — deemed one of the Top 50 Coolest People of the Year by NME — sang onstage with The Jesus and Mary Chain and recorded the profanely irreverent incantation “Pink Cellphone” with Deftones. Even after drummer-keyboardist Micah Calabrese left the band, Hardy continued to perform sporadically under the name Giant Drag with other lineups before mysteriously dropping out of sight. She re-emerged last year with a series of low-key monthly solo shows at El Cid, where she debuted a brace of astonishingly vulnerable new songs of heartbreaking loss and redemption.

So what happened?

“Whatever your name is — whether it’s a band or a business — it always takes on the energetic frequency of the name,” Hardy explains in an interview at her North Hollywood home. “Giant Drag was always these huge bummers.”

After Giant Drag broke up, she started a short-lived new project, PNP (“Party ’n’ Play”). “Our best song was a 51-minute freestyle improv musical called ‘AIDS Vampire,’” she says, before explaining that most of the recording has disappeared. “I lose everything all the time,” Hardy admits. “Some parts were so offensive, I couldn’t send it to some people, so I chopped it up into pieces.”

“When I turned 30, I started an extreme transition, getting spiritual and taking responsibility for myself and doing things myself,” says Hardy, who’s now 35.

Annie Hardy; Credit: Asia Whitney

Annie Hardy; Credit: Asia Whitney

She drifted away from the music scene completely when she moved to Rancho Cucamonga to live with a controlling, manipulative boyfriend. It was only after one of her friends spirited Hardy away in the middle of the night while the boyfriend was passed out that she finally realized how dysfunctional and soul-crushing the relationship had been.

She didn’t fully get back into music right away, even after she fell into an intense and tempestuous relationship with a new lover, Robert Paulson, who was better known as local battle rapper Cadalack Ron. Although their relationship was off and on, Hardy was determined to settle down into a life of domestic simplicity once she became pregnant.

“I did put all my musical equipment away when I was pregnant,” she says. “I was done with music because I thought I was going to be a mom.” Following a long and difficult labor, Hardy gave birth at home to a son she named Silvio. Tragically, the baby died less than three weeks later from SIDS in March 2015. He was only 17 days old.

At first, the new parents grew closer after Silvio’s death. “Fate brought us back together,” Hardy says. “We did gardening until 4 a.m., all night, whatever it took to not be in so much unimaginable pain.” She also felt compelled to make music in tribute to her departed son. “The only instrument hanging around was my autoharp, so I wrote ‘Mockingbird’ on autoharp. After my son died, it all had to come back out. … Writing these songs saved me.”

The achingly tender acoustic ballad “Mockingbird” was the first of several songs in which Hardy tried to say goodbye to her lost son and make sense of his sudden death. The austerely funereal, organ-pumped ode “Batman” (named after the superhero onesie Silvio was wearing the day he died) echoes the fragile, childlike yearning of Daniel Johnston. The Icarus Line’s Joe Cardamone encouraged her to keep going and produced enough songs for a new Hardy solo album, Rules.

Not every track is about loss. “Jade Helm,” co-written with Cardamone and featuring drums by The Germs’ Don Bolles, is a bizarre, apocalyptic fable about a soul-bartering starlet who moves to L.A. to make it in show business, set against an Orwellian backdrop of war and FEMA camps. “Soldiers on the street/Cameras watch from rooftops, recording everything,” Hardy murmurs over a gently rolling wave of keyboards and hypnotic guitars that sounds like a hazily paranoid lost track from Neil Young’s On the Beach.

Even stranger is “Jesus Loves Me,” a weepy yet trippy piano ballad laced with bittersweet streaks of violin from That Dog’s Petra Haden. Hardy sounds both solemnly sincere and a little cracked when she blearily confesses, “These days, everyone can blow me/Talking shit, acting like they know me. … They can all make fun of me, but I know Jesus is my homie.”

“Music has a spiritual aspect,” Hardy explains. “You’re kind of like a radio dial. You’re either tuned into static or some disembodied spirit’s frequency that starts feeding you, from start to finish, a song. … Everyone on this planet is sort of blocked off from that inner well of emotion, so I’m trying to send a bucket down there.”

Hardy’s sadness doubled when Paulson died from a drug overdose at the age of 34 in January of last year. Not knowing what else to do, she plunged into keeping as busy as possible. At the El Cid residency, she began improvising spontaneous songs based on three words suggested by random people in the audience. This ability to freestyle complicated musical arrangements and silly lyrics that resolve into satisfying stories grew out of her live Periscope show, Band Car, in which she drives around and creates songs based on suggestions texted in real time by her fans. She’s often accompanied by friends who supply beats while Hardy simultaneously sings, plays keyboards, comes up with melodies and adapts the nonstop texts into lyrics.

“I’m a Gemini, so we love to multitask,” she says.

Has she ever gotten into an accident while driving and performing? “I made contact with another car while on Band Car,” she admits, adding that the collision was minor. “Luckily, it was a hit-and-run — I hit them, and they ran!”

Annie Hardy and her cat Trammell C, whom she had made star of his own YouTube series; Credit: Reza Bahrami

Annie Hardy and her cat Trammell C, whom she had made star of his own YouTube series; Credit: Reza Bahrami

Additionally, she has two ongoing YouTube shows, Spirit Anniemalz (a psychedelic look at insects and other natural life in her backyard) and King Trammell C’s Kingdom (a comic feline-reality show starring one of her cats). She's also on Patreon, where supporters can access her unreleased demos and other recordings.

“I’ve ruined my life trying to make everyone happy,” she says. “I’ve been going through hard times for so long, I’ve stopped regarding them as that.”

Annie Hardy performs every Wednesday in January at the Redwood Bar & Grill. You can hear more of her music via Bandcamp.

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