“I shouldn’t say I like my songs, but I love [‘Throw Me A Bone’],” states Goat Girl guitarist Ellie (aka L.E.D), squinting in the blazing Austin sun. Immediately after describing it as a song that “hits you right in your chest,” - an apt tagline for such a winding, murky number - she catches herself being confident, adding a caveat.
“But we’re always so negative about our music, we’re too humble about it!” argues singer and guitarist Lottie (‘Clottie Cream’). Maybe she’s remembering the time when she claimed that the four-piece were “kind of shit” in a DIY interview last year?
Luckily for them, ‘Goat Girl’ is the kind of record whose greatness is patently clear, no matter how neggy its creators might be. It presents the band as one that isn’t happy to conform to expectation. They could easily have followed a series of killer early singles with a neat package of 10 or so warped indie bangers. Instead, they’ve made something that spans 19 tracks and 40 minutes, venturing into many sonic territories via fully fleshed-out tracks and weird, wonderful interludes. Even the opener - the on-edge ‘Salty Sounds’ - feels like an immediate move to catch you off guard.
“It starts with a smoke machine noise,” laughs Lottie. “Why did we do that!? It makes no sense. I think that’s quite a Goat Girl characteristic - that weird ‘What?’ [moment].” There are plenty more strange little happenings on the record that back her up and keep the record from sounding like anything else in recent memory. Creepy vaudeville piano on ‘A Swamp Dog’s Tale’ (which also features Sorry’s Lincoln Barrett doing spoken word)? Check. Out of control circus romp on ‘The Man With No Heart Or Brain’? Yep. “Sisterly harmonies” that sound like they were made by a pastoral folk band from the ‘60s? Sure. Millennial whoops, pop culture references that’ll go out of date in a heartbeat? Absolutely not. Drummer Rosy (Bones) notes that the group have already been “commodified in a lot of ways” - the South London band, the all-girl group - but all they really want is for the record to challenge people’s perceptions of them; to see them as something beyond those limiting tags.
“We’re always so negative about our music, we’re too humble about it.”
For the uninitiated, Goat Girl did form in South London and did come up through the same community of bands as Shame. They found a base at The Windmill in Brixton -a tiny venue famed for its resident hound, the late Roof Dog (RIP). “It’s a space where you can exist in any kind of art form,” explains Lottie. The band are grateful for it and the people they’ve met through it, but they don’t want it to define them.
They do so by the far-reaching sprawl of their debut instead. Recorded with Dan Carey at his Streatham studio, it’s the sound of a band reacting to the world around them, and not settling for its shit. “It’s a lot about gentrification and the wealth gap that exists in London, which is insane,” says Lottie. “It’s got to the point where even the UN is saying this is breaching human rights. How does that exist in a place that’s so seemingly functioning?”
It’s fitting that in the distance a block or two away is the incessant whirr of construction work. Goat Girl might be nearly 5,000 miles away from home, but the same issues surround them. “A lot of people blame the people that move to places [for gentrification] and I don’t think that’s necessary,” bassist Naima (Jelly) says, as talk turns to Austin’s position in the race to be the location of Amazon’s second US HQ. “The big corporations manage to lurk behind everything. These big companies avoid tax and fuck everyone in the arse, but then they give us such comfort it’s hard to turn against them.”
“As humans, we like everything to be quite simple,” rationalises Lottie. “We don’t like the grey matter that exists in between. That’s how politics works and why it’s so simplified for us - so we can understand good and evil.” Look at last year’s general election, or the European referendum the year before, and you’ll quickly see the narrative she speaks of in play.
“As humans, we like everything to be quite simple.”
Goat Girl have long said they don’t want to be a political band, but admit it’s hard to avoid talking about the state of things in their songs when “everything you do is political”. That said, there’s only one specific verse on their debut - the closing lines of the fiery ‘Burn The Stake’. In them, Lottie angrily howls ‘Build a bonfire, build a bonfire, put the Tories on top / Put the D.U.P. in the middle and we’ll burn the fucking lot.’ It’s a cutting take on Theresa May’s decision to ally with Northern Ireland’s far right-wingers, but even that could be related to a different situation, like a more general hatred of those political parties and their damaging policies.
It’s not just corporations and government officials that are in Goat Girl’s crosshairs. On the country fiddle-soaked ‘Creep’, they tackle the unwanted attention of the male gaze. The lyrics find Lottie imagining what she would do to the titular creep - ‘scum of life, silly brain’ with a ‘dirty trouser stain’ - if she could. ‘I want to smash your head right in,’ it finishes. That song might have been written about a specific incident when a man started filming the frontwoman on a train, but even at SXSW the band have had experiences that prove that kind of thing’s not a one off. On stage two nights before we meet, Ellie felt weirded out by the way a guy in the crowd was looking at her and her bandmates.
“That could have been paranoia,” she says now, “but I really felt it when I was on stage.” The band are in agreement with each other that they “can’t really do anything” in that situation, their words reflecting the way women are conditioned to minimise situations - shrug them off and ignore them to avoid putting yourself in unnecessary danger. They might feel unable to always stop things, but they say they’re determined to use their growing platform “for the greater good and protection of women”. “[Before], it was like, ‘You should just expect that, you just have to put up with it’,” Rosy says, referring to the current sea change in attitudes to women’s stories of harassment. “But you don’t have to. It’s so good that women are being believed now.”
“It’s so good that women are being believed now.”
On stage, Goat Girl don’t play into typical rock ‘n’ roll performativity - or indulge in macho behaviour to align themselves with their male peers. Instead, they are a blank canvas - neutral, fluid, behaving how they want. On record, they shun gendered expectations, too. ‘The Man’ has Lottie sneering ‘You’re the man for me’ as if she means anything but that.
“It’s almost a parody of how people think we should feel,” she explains. “Like, ‘I need a man to revolve my life around’. The way I try and sing it is like, ‘Oh, well done. Here’s a treat.’” Ellie is quick to add one thing, as her bandmates laugh at Lottie’s patronising tone: “We don’t hate men!”
Some listeners have been quick to tell the band that ‘The Man’ - which can also be taken at face value as a love song - isn’t as interesting as the rest of their catalogue. Rosy relays an anecdote about someone at a past show telling them as much. The drummer’s response? “We obviously have those feelings. We fall in love.” She pauses to look across the table at Lottie and Naima before adding with a wide grin: “We like boys!”
It’s funny, but also really important to have that tongue-in-cheek humour about something completely disastrous.”
They cite one man in particular as being one of their biggest influences - Ben Wallers of Scottish art-punks Country Teasers. He even gets a shout out on ‘Country Sleaze’ in the lyric ‘Wallers, find me you country tease.’ “I would never have imagined we would be on a name level basis with him,” Lottie says of their now-mate. “He’s an idol. He follows this idea that a lot of comedians do, in this satirical way. It’s funny, but also really important to have that tongue-in-cheek humour about something completely disastrous.”
Naima nods in agreement, before explaining how wide-reaching his influence is. “The whole weird South London ‘scene’ that everyone is always ranting on about is because of him completely. Every single band that I know [is inspired by him]. I don’t think he even knows it.”
It makes perfect sense that the “too humble” ladies would credit someone apparently equally as modest with playing such a huge part in their lives. It also wouldn’t be a surprise to hear another band saying the same about the Londoners a couple of decades down the line. They probably won’t tell you this themselves, but Goat Girl are one of the best new bands the UK has produced in aeons, with all the potential to become true GOATs later down the line.
‘Goat Girl’ is out now via Rough Trade Records.
Taken from the April 2018 issue of DIY. Read online or subscribe below.
Photos: Pooneh Ghana / DIY
Goat Girl are appearing at The Great Escape, Mad Cool Festival and Citadel this year. Head to diymag.com for details.