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Girlpool Keeps It Simple
Best pals Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker’s fun excuse to write and record music together, Girlpool, is perhaps the strongest example to date of internet hype and positive blog write-ups upping the profile of a band true to its DIY punk roots. In three years, the duo has gone from teenagers itching to form a punk band to internationally touring fixtures of the indie rock world, without compromising its spontaneity or can-do attitude.
The quick ascent of a two-piece harmonizing over simple, introspective punk songs would have been unimaginable when a group like Screaming Females or Black Lips started over a decade ago. Those bands paid their dues in punk house basements and on short tours pieced together via Myspace messages long before they became forces on the global touring scene. The world was made smaller by the internet for these bands, but that small world was not ready to warm up to them overnight. It’s a different world in 2015, though, as the instant gratification of Snapchat or Twitter has some music fans wanting the next new thing to ooze up from the ether quickly.
This fast track to indie stardom produces more than its fair share of duds. It’s okay, though, as those bands either out themselves as internet trolls, call it quits at the first sign of inner-band turbulence, reach the easy-to-ignore pop charts, or tour with Mumford & Sons. These bands should not overshadow talented, imaginative groups that eventually would have gotten their just due.
So far, Girlpool has given us just a tiny sample set of its songwriting capabilities: a self-titled 2014 EP and full-length album Before the World Was Big (Wichita Recordings, 2015). Those songs and a constant flow of touring activity have been adequate enough to just justify social media hype and win over the ears and hearts of journalists and veteran songwriters.
At risk of sounding ageist, this small body of work often captures a maturity some might not expect from two teenagers. Cuts like “Ideal World,” an expose on the unfairness of life that might force listeners into therapy, aren’t cutesy cassette tape club garage-pop. “Chinatown” is another keeper, as it’s a depressing, lovelorn song you’d expect from someone in their 30s or 40s who has loved, lost, and divorced a time or two. It’s easy after digesting these songs to view both Girlpool members as songwriting prodigies. Keep in mind that these young women are just now adjusting to early adulthood, so they presumably have plenty of personal highs and lows on the horizon they can masterfully craft into future album tracks. And with them playing a different tour stop seemingly every night, they have ample chances to improve as vocalists and musicians.
This songwriting depth is enough to make listeners lose sight that Girlpool’s members are still living their teenage years. When they met each other just three years ago, they were high schoolers and regulars at hometown Los Angeles all-ages hangouts like The Smell. The pair quickly decided to start a band to follow in the footsteps of creative peers. “When me and Cleo started Girlpool, we just wanted to have a project together,” Tividad says. “We started with bass and guitar and were going to fill it out, theoretically.”
The band remains a two-piece, with both members sharing vocals and switching bass and guitar duties. Perhaps adding a drummer anytime soon would be poorly received by live audiences. Girlpool’s swift rise to prominence has been built partly on the pair doing it themselves without all three pieces of traditional rock instrumentation. Bucking trends has led to fiscal rewards, and you can’t put the proverbial toothpaste back in the theoretical tube. That said, the duo does not rule out changing its winning bass, guitar, and harmonies formula. “Harmony and I are really open to experimentation in styles and instrumentation, so there’s no limitations aside from us wanting to work together writing and making music,” Tucker adds. “Our current setup seems normal and natural to us, so it’s interesting to see people react to what they see as different.”
As a two-piece, Girlpool tours frugally, making long drives in a car instead of a hulking, gas guzzling Enonoline van. Being crammed in a car for hours on end isn’t the typical life for college-aged women, but it surely beats the freshman experience.
The duo aims to play all-ages spaces in each town, if possible, as they are also under 21 and trace their roots back to DIY spaces. “We find it so important and amazing to play all-ages spaces,” Tucker said. “We try our hardest to play all-ages constantly, though they are easier to find in some places than others.” Atlanta has an all-ages spot suitable for Girlpool’s crowd – for now, at least – at the Masquerade. The duo’s first Atlanta appearance was there Aug. 9th during the Wrecking Ball Festival, a two-day celebration of early aughts emo and pop punk. Though the girls were stuck playing the Hell section of the venue opposite co-headliner Thrice’s set outdoors, a decent crowd still watched the duo perform. “That was fun, as we were able to catch up with a lot of friends who were also playing the festival,” Tucker says.
They’ll be back Nov. 11th, playing Purgatory with co-headliner Alex G. If you’re wanting an excuse to Tweet these ladies or drop some Atlanta-centric advice at the show, they’re already wanting to know where they can find the city’s best slice of peach cobbler.
Early 2016 should find Girlpool’s profile as a touring act reaching new heights. The band plays Australia in January, followed a month later by a string of U.S. dates with Wilco. That tour includes a two-night stand at the Tabernacle, Feb. 10th and 11th. “He’s really an inspiration of ours, so we’re really flattered and can’t wait,” says Tucker of Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy. It’ll be the second time Girlpool plays a string of dates in a larger room with a songwriter who has been touring since the girls were young children. The previous high-profile tour mate was Bill Murray’s alleged love interest, Jenny Lewis. In both cases, the veteran artist reached out as a fan to Girlpool’s booking agent.
Months upon months of tours have eaten into the group’s downtime and songwriting sessions. Still, for a band that writes about life experiences, each show could be the impetus for a future song. “Every city is contributing to the big picture and next idea,” Tucker says. “When that idea becomes a song, it leads to other songs.”
People the girls meet on tour can also spark their creative process, from fellow teens and musicians to enthusiastic record collectors. “We feel so inspired by the people that come out to our shows,” Tucker says. “There’s a lot of really cool people in the world, and it’s so cool that we get to reach out to them.”
Even at a time when a lesser-known act like Chilbirth or Mannequin Pussy can get some internet traction and make a few year-end lists if a clever, catchy song reaches the right ears, Girlpool’s quick ascent is almost like a fairy tale – with the gruesome middle parts written to scare children skipped in favor of an instant happy ending. It’s as if Harmony and Cleo won a cosmic lottery, and they don’t even remember scratching off a ticket. “It’s not what we expected,” Tucker says. “We didn’t go into this project thinking this kind of reaction was going to happen.”
All of this talk of hype, buzz, and cosmic lotteries is not meant to demean Girlpool’s current talent or potential to become great. For every disposable hype band, there are groups like Girlpool, Cayetana, GLOSS and others that are using their digital platform to further punk’s messages of peer acceptance and personal creativity.