Addict Music Interview – Vivian Girls
June 27, 2011 by Tshepo Mokoena
If this doesn’t happen to be your first ever time in the Addict interviews section, you’ll already know we don’t shy away from the lo-fi band crushes right now. Still, chatting to Vivian Girls feels like talking to the great-grandmas of garage pop: these ladies were swinging their fringes to scuzz-heavy songs before people like Big Deal and Bleeding Knees Club even had their recording equipment sorted. We caught up with them to hear about what it’s like being labelled Brooklyn ‘scenesters’ and why London shows are awesome.
First off, congrats on Share The Joy: it sounds great. It’s pretty different from your first two full-lengths though. What do you think has changed in your creative process?
Thank you! I think if anything has changed, our sensibilities are more refined and we are more willing to experiment.
How long were you working on the record for?
We started working on the record in August 2010 and finished in November. However, we didn’t work on it every day – we’d go over to Rear House a few days a week and work for a few hours. It was a good method for us, because it gave us space from the recordings so we could go back and listen with fresh ears.
What’s your typical songwriting process like? Do you each tend to bring ideas to the table, or work collaboratively from step one? Or is there one main songwriter?
I write most of the songs, but it is fairly open. The way it usually works is I write something alone, and we all hash it out together to turn it into a Vivian Girls song, but we have written several songs collaboratively as well. I consider Vivian Girls to be exactly in the middle of the spectrum of totally collaborative band ——– songwriter with backing band.
Share The Joy has a more polished sound, and obviously more expansive approach. How did it feel bringing longer solos and musical interludes into the new songs?
Pretty natural. I imagine it was an unexpected direction for us to go in, and it’s always fun to screw with peoples’ perceptions, but we were just doing what felt right to us.
We’ve noticed you’ve had a few line-up changes over the last few years. How does that impact upon your live shows, and the way you all interact musically?
It hasn’t really been as big of a deal as people make it out to be. Almost every band I can think of has had as many or more line-up changes as we have. But to answer your question, it has always worked out because Katy and I both have very defined roles in the band. Each time we’ve acquired a new member the dynamic didn’t change all THAT much; individual personalities aside, the band has always worked in pretty much the same way.
Clearly you’ve seen the whole Brooklyn ‘scene’ blow up and get lots of media attention since you first came out. How much does that sort of thing affect you? Are you ever tempted to believe the hype?
It was weird to see happen, because the press’s perceptions of the Brooklyn scene were and are really far off from what it’s actually like to be an artist there. Every piece I read seemed really narrow-minded and didn’t take into account many of the amazing bands that help make our community thrive; instead calling something a “scene” without knowing what they were talking about at all. The best example of this is that we were getting attention right around the same time the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart were, and the press tried to make it seem like we were from the same scene, but we had never met or played with them until both our albums were released and we happened to be on tour in England at the same time. The Pains are wonderful people and we’re friends with them now, but it was just incorrect to assume that – because we are both from Brooklyn. If you want a more realistic view of the scene from which we came, look up bands like Hunchback, The Good Good, Dynamite Arrows, Bent Outta Shape, Ringers, Dead Dog, Stupid Party, and Shellshag.
What does the local Brooklyn music scene mean to you, now that you’ve seen and toured so many other cities?
I am still a big believer in the Brooklyn music scene. It has been interesting to watch it progress. I’ve lived there since 2004, and the scene seems to turn over completely every two years, but it’s always been great.
What do you make of London audiences at your shows? Where have you played some of your favourite shows on the American leg of your tour so far?
London is one of our favorite cities to play. We have always found that the audiences there are super receptive of what we do, and we tend to not get as much backlash in the UK in general as we have in the US. On this tour, some of my favorite shows have been in Portland, Chicago, and Washington, DC.
Finally, who are you listening to right now? Where do you tend to find the inspiration for writing your music?
I am currently obsessed with Greg Sage’s solo album Straight Ahead, and this one girl group song “Cause I Love Him” by Alder Ray. I find inspiration mostly in pop songs from the 60′s and 70′s, dark garage rock, and mid-century songs with an element of novelty or weirdness.