Friday, August 28, 2009

Interview: Vivian Girls

Inspired by a photo from Ignacio Genzon

This weekend the Vivian Girls are returning to Chicago, as they begin their new “Nightmare of Sound” tour promoting the release of their second album, Everything Goes Wrong. I first learned of the all girl trio while researching the artist, Henry Darger, whose manuscript is the source of the band’s namesake. I was immediately drawn to the omnipresent resonance of angst and chaotic beauty that has become a signature in the lo-fi band’s style. Their self-titled debut album was a self-released hit becoming unavailable from popularity until their signing with In The Red boasted the necessary album re release. In the year since, the girls somehow found time to put aside 8 days to record a second LP while continuing on their never ending trek globally. You have two opportunities to catch them this Sunday, August 30. Permanent Records, will host an acoustic performance at 6p with Black Moth. That evening at 9p, Vivian Girls will be at the Empty Bottle with their tour mates The Beets and Daylight Robbery. Earlier this summer I had an opportunity to interview the trio via email, Cassie Ramone was kind enough to uncover some of the hidden secrets of the Vivian Girls while not budging on why in fact Kickball Katy has her nickname.

Drawing From Music: So I have to admit, I was actually looking up some information on Darger for my thesis when I stumbled upon your Myspace page. Who is the fan and was the entire manuscript read? What was it that stuck out or that you guys related to enough to take on the name Vivian Girls?

Vivian Girls: Our original drummer Frankie came up with the name. It was the only name we could think of that wasn't totally dumb. We thought the idea was cool because the Vivian Girls are both feminine and masculine, and they battle evil. We definitely haven't read the manuscript. It's 15,000 pages long!

DFM: It seems everywhere I read you guys are constantly touring, talk about hard working. Is touring something that plays a large role with the band’s creative processes. Are most of your songs written on the road? Can you explain the process a little?

VG: We practice and flesh out new songs on the road sometimes, but generally our songs are written at home. Usually I write the songs but sometimes songs come from a part that Katy or Ali writes that we jam on.

DFM: If you were to tell a story, or paint a picture that would best describe your music to someone who has never heard it, how would it be?

VG: It's the story of a bored seventeen-year-old girl from 1962 who drops out of high school and moves to a New York City of 1982 to try to make it on her own. She gets into heavy drinking and dates all the wrong men and she's surprised that guys don't want to marry her because all her classmates were engaged by the time of the Homecoming Dance. After years of sleeping around and drug use she tires of the scene and takes a yacht out to an obscure Caribbean island, where she builds a tent on the beach and spends the day watching the sun set.

DFM: What are your roots as musicians? How did it come to be that Vivian Girls exists (including the switch out of Frankie Rose for Ali)? Who were some of the childhood musical influences that aided in the molding of the musicians you are today?

VG: We all started playing music in our school bands, Katy and I on saxophone and Ali on drums. When it came to starting bands we were influenced by Olympia bands like Bikini Kill and Beat Happening, because they did it themselves and showed us that we could do it too.

DFM: So what are some of the differences we can see in this new album in comparison to your first album? After being signed now is the process much easier, or have you guys tried to keep the DIY aspect that has aided your success?

VG: The second album is darker and longer. It's still pretty raw and definitely meant to be played loud. We've definitely kept a DIY mentality when recording and mixing the second album; we were very involved in the whole process.

DFM: What would you say is the constant idea or themes you try to address in your music? Would you describe your music as more abstract or literal?

VG: It's both abstract and literal. The songs are all about real-life experiences that happened to me that are written about in a universal manner.

DFM: I know it is probably out there somewhere, and I haven’t looked enough but where did the “kickball” nickname come from?

VG: Katy was in a super secret kickball society in college. She's not really allowed to talk about it, though.

DFM: It’s funny because a lot of times when listening to your music I kind of forget that your girls (I really hope there is no political incorrectness in this question. If comes off this way please forgive me not my intention…haha) Anyway, when I hear live shows and see posted pics get that high school pitter patter that a guy gets when he has a school crush. What sort of girly Tiger Beat things do you guys do that most people don’t know about?

VG: Swoon over Evan Dando and collect Lisa Frank stickers. We talk about boys and crushes a lot.

DFM: Are there any new bands or music that you’re listening to? Any bands you are dying to see this summer?

VG: Yeah we're into The Beets and Real Estate. Also just saw the Fresh and Onlys and they were awesome. I'm dying to see Yellow Fever - they're from Austin and one of the best bands around today but we don't get to see them very often!! And I think they're playing New York when we're home, so we're very psyched.

DFM: If there were any character in history from any media (TV, literature, comics, etal.) that you would best liken yourselves (all 3 of y’all) to who would it be? Why?

VG: Rachel, Monica and Phoebe from Friends, because we all have alternating hair colors and we are all friends.

DFM: Do you let current news related issues affect your creative/writing processes with your music?

VG: No, not really. We pay attention to the news but it doesn't have anything to do with how we write music.

DFM: Was music something you grew up with and studied, was it always a career goal or a distant fantasy? What are your future hopes for Vivian Girls, how do you guys see yourselves remembered in the far-off future?

VG: I think it was always more of a distant fantasy for us. We were all in bands for fun but none of us ever saw music as something that could be a career. I hope that we'll be remembered as something more than just another lo-fi band of 2008.

DFM: Ali. What was your musical history prior to joining Vivian Girls?

VG: She played drums in her school band since she was 10 but she didn't get serious until she was in her first band when she was 16. She's been in bands ever since.

DFM: Katy and Cassie, is there an embarrassingly hilarious childhood story you could share about an experience that ultimately brought you guys closer?

VG: One time we heard that Matt Sharp (of the Rentals and Weezer) was playing a solo show at a tiny venue in Midtown and we were so afraid it would sell out that we got there at 9 AM. Of course, we got there way too early and no one was there. We had donuts and then Matt Sharp and his tour manager showed up and we all ate donuts together and listened to the Cure. It was super nerdy and we were very star struck but it definitely brought us closer together.

DFM: And finally, aside from music, what would you say are some of your personal outlets?

VG: Drawing, sleeping, hanging out with friends, watching TV, yoga, video games, etc. That's all of ours mixed together.

Vivian Girls

Monday, August 24, 2009

Modest Mouse-No One's First and You're Next.

After great success from their most recent release, Modest Mouse has been on what seems an endless tour. Luckily Isaac Brock and crew were able to put together this EP to satisfy our hunger until their next full-length release. No One’s First and You’re Next is the compilation of unreleased tracks and B-sides from their previous two albums. The music retains al the classic characteristics of Modest Mouse that initially sparked my interest while exhibiting a more mature and polished finish. Their talents and creativity have always played ahead of the curve and that momentum was propelled by the addition of The Smith’s Johnny Marr who brought another unique quality to the table. These eight tracks demonstrate the successes in this new marriage while reminding us of the unfathomably dark ideas that conceal themselves in Brock’s imagination. In Good News for People who Love Bad News, there were harmonious lead-ins, explanations of emotions and an introspective investigations of one’s own worth on this Earth. We Were Dead Before the Ship Ever Sank, moves its listeners onto a separate plain casting our spirits in this earthly surrounding testing our self-esteem from an alternate perspective with a harder and more punchy delivery in their sound. The explorations of death and celebration of opportunities in life have been signature ideas constantly challenged in Brock’s music and are still present in this most recent EP. The band attempts to straddle the contrasting plains created in their previous two LPs, playing devils advocate with the concepts of life after death while creating intrigue in how Brock continuously challenges himself as a musician finding alternate toe tapping forms to translate these murky notions. Much buzz centers around the track, “King Rat” primarily because Heath Ledger prior to his death began work a video for the song which was ultimately completed by it’s co-director, Dan Auber.
Unfortunately for Modest Mouse fans the future does not seem near for a release of new material, but this EP is an excellent bridge for us to revisit all the wonderfully intricate tendencies in their discography. Ultimately it builds its listeners to the chewy center of epic guitar goodness and recreates an overall retrospective sensation of the positive attributes from the six albums created in the past 12 years.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Julian Plenti-Julian Plenti is Skyscraper

Interpol is a New York Indie Rock band that has gained a reputation for their post-punk revival style. Their latest album, Our Love to Admire marked the band’s move to Capitol Records and was not the most creative endeavor on their part. With that said, I was excited to hear, Paul Banks, the band’s vocalist was to release his first solo record Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper. A slight departure from the sounds of Interpol but also a reminder of the early strengths they revealed when first arriving on the scene.
“Unwind” the opening track is rightfully titled, almost immediately you feel this sense of relaxation and looser sounding chords in comparison to the music made with Interpol. Although carrying a similar punch, it sounds like Julian Plenti; Banks’ alter ego carries interests in multi instrumental orchestration and creating a variation in the overall musical tonality. “Skyscraper” the second track, there is an overall alteration to his approach with a delicately laid out intro, allowing listeners to scale the skyscraper arriving at its peak. Paul’s baritone plays such an intricate and important role in the music centered on him, pensively serving a lullaby of reality and emotion. It’s very interesting to see a more romanticized perspective in contrast to the upbeat art rock stomps most familiar with Interpol’s music. “Games for a Day”; the first single of the album and fourth track is seemingly the first hint of a similarity to Interpol. A familiarity rings in Julian’s sound as though Banks felt he needed a comfort zone and utilize Interpol’s successful characteristics to introduce his new moniker. By the middle of the album, his music unwinds a little too much for my taste. I begin to hear an over production in its style and his subject matter seems a bit dated and unoriginal. Fortunately, with “On the Esplanade” a page is turned and Julian returns to his path of an introspective journey to define his creative future while comparatively looking back to his urban footsteps while exploring a more mountainous terrain. As the trend seems to continue for artists to venture away from the bands they have created a career with to explore creative alternatives while on hiatus. Paul/Julian seems to expose a hidden facet, his musical abilities are layered and not as one dimensional and flat as Interpol’s recent out has made them seem.
“Madrid Song” includes a sweet-laced piano melody throughout along with a garbled sample to support his prominently present vocals. The final two tracks of the album which have lyrics seems to be Julian’s internal conversation or reflection about his idea of a current relationship. On one aspect, he claims his possession of her while in the next his pessimistic side has subconsciously given up all hope of whatever mystery may lie within. The album is concluded with an eerie instrumental track leaving the listener in a haze of hopefulness. The album is an apparent attempt for Banks to re inspire his creative identity. It is a fine blend of the musician we have come to enjoy with Interpol and an introduction of a gentler aspect of the man behind the mask. Aside from his slight stray, it’s an overall success in branding a facet of Banks’ creativity and creating an excitement for Interpol’s future as this would be a strong aide in the evolution of the post punk band.