Goat Girl on overcoming adversity to make their triumphant third album, 'Below The Waste'

Interview Goat Girl: For Better Or Worse

Having collectively weathered a series of significant personal storms, London now-trio Goat Girl are once more on solid ground. New album ‘Below The Waste’ sees them digging through the debris and laying the foundations for an expansive alternative future.

In the grand scheme of things, three years away isn’t a long time. But for Goat Girl, the road between 2021’s ‘On All Fours’ and their just-arrived third LP, ‘Below The Waste’, has been a lengthy one.

Aside from the ubiquitous, pandemic-shaped shadow that lingered over their sophomore release, the South London cult favourites have themselves navigated serious challenges – not least of which was when their now-former guitarist, Ellie Rose Davies, received a cancer diagnosis. Ellie made the decision to step away from the band just before they recorded ‘Below The Waste’, leaving the remaining members – vocalist / guitarist Lottie Pendlebury, bassist / vocalist Holly Mullineaux, and drummer / vocalist Roo Jones – as a trio for the first time.

“It was strange at first,” Lottie begins today of the dynamic shift. “But it felt kind of natural for it to happen at that point. And because there were fewer of us, it kind of opened up more doors for us to swap instruments around – essentially, there was more space within the music to fill, so we had to be quite creative with how we were going to figure that out.” Holly agrees, noting that “when someone leaves, you naturally assess your own position within what you’re doing, and we did that and came to the realisation that we were all really motivated to finish this record. It kind of galvanised us to make it work in this new way.”

We’re speaking on a typically miserable May day, hunkered down in one of the band’s favourite Deptford haunts before they good-humouredly brave the drizzle for this afternoon’s shoot. And indeed, despite shrinking in size, Goat Girl have never sounded fuller. Working alongside John ‘Spud’ Murphy (Lankum, black midi), they revelled in a sense of creative freedom born from a relative absence of time pressure or external expectation. “With the last record, I felt a little bit more on-edge about lyrics,” says Lottie, “and there’s a whole different psychological approach you have...” “The difficult second album,” deadpans Holly, nodding sagely.

This time around, however, all bets were off. Having signed with Rough Trade for three albums, they elected to treat ‘Below The Waste’ with the maximalist attitude of those whose future is unpromised, adopting an approach Lottie sums up as simply: “Let’s just do whatever we want”. In practice, this translates to a record that nods to noise-rock, folk, synth-pop and more, with its 16 tracks clocking in anywhere from sub-30 seconds to over six minutes. There’s a veritable orchestra of instruments on display, largely played by the band themselves (violin, banjo, taishogoto, Mellotron, organ and more all enrich the album’s collagic sonic landscape) and some of its most compelling vocal moments are bolstered by a choir comprised of Goat Girl’s family and friends.

There is, we suggest, a sense of tentative optimism to the project; where their 2018 self-titled debut was jagged and raw, capturing the zeitgeist of the Windmill scene’s first wave, ‘Below The Waste’ imagines alternative futures, using contrasting motifs of human consumption and the natural world to explore concepts of greed and consumerism, adaptability and resilience. “I think it’s a bit more nuanced in its approach to talking about things,” affirms Holly. “The first record was super angsty, very young and full of rage, but I feel like this is more confident and self-assured. There are still visceral moments within that, but it’s just done in different ways. Sometimes something can be shouted and be really direct, sometimes it can more subtly expose the absurdity of the situation we currently find ourselves in.”

Goat Girl on overcoming adversity to make their triumphant third album, 'Below The Waste' Goat Girl on overcoming adversity to make their triumphant third album, 'Below The Waste'

“Hope is a very important revolutionary tool.” – Roo Jones

Inspired by both the magical realism she was reading, and the dystopian surrealism of the lives we were all living, during lockdown Lottie was drawn to “the unnaturalness of nature that exists in a city”. She explains that “being close to nature, but not really being able to experience it, kind of means that we have this weird, distorted relationship with it.” On ‘Below The Waste’, this sense of the uncanny is manifested throughout: it’s in the tape-bent bird chirps that introduce opener ‘reprise’ and in the industrial sonics of ‘where’s ur <3’, while lyrically, ‘play it down’ speaks to notions of socially-enforced suppression compared to nature’s unbounded power.

Especially given the current bleak state of things (our conversation spans the BDS movement, the music industry’s monumental wealth disparity, Lottie’s work with the grassroots venue-championing Sister Midnight project and more), retaining belief in the possibility for change is paramount. “Hope is a very important revolutionary tool,” says Roo. “The way to break people’s spirit is by making them feel like they don’t have any power, but knowing that you do is a great step in getting towards where you want to be.”

Indeed, over the past few years, hope is something that Goat Girl have learned to hold close. “We’ve had a lot of obstacles,” Roo acknowledges, exchanging a small, knowing smile with their bandmates. Holly nods: “As a band, and as friends, we’ve just been through so fucking much. Els was sick; I basically went through domestic abuse for a long time and had to move out of London to get away from it; there are tracks on this album about Ro’s struggles [with substance abuse and addiction]. I think that’s one of the reasons that maybe [releases] take so long with us – the band is important, but we’ve all got to make sure we’re okay as people and as friends first.” She pauses. “I’m so proud of us – I think we’ve done really well to be where we are now.”

Goat Girl on overcoming adversity to make their triumphant third album, 'Below The Waste' Goat Girl on overcoming adversity to make their triumphant third album, 'Below The Waste'

“As a band, and as friends, we’ve just been through so fucking much.” – Holly Mullineaux

Within ‘Below The Waste’’s immersive 16-song run, the three tracks that explore the band’s different perspectives on Roo’s addiction and recovery are poignant standouts; collectively, they’re the most vulnerable, and the most powerful, that Goat Girl have ever been. ‘words fell out’ and ‘take it away’ (Lottie’s and Holly’s respective offerings) are achingly tender, encapsulating the pain and relative powerlessness of watching a loved one lose themselves. ‘tcnc’, meanwhile – which stands for ‘take care, not crack’, a mantra their mum came up with – is Roo’s own take on their experiences, its claustrophobic intensity and incantation-like lyrical delivery creating a sucker-punch rallying cry for recovery. “Not gonna crack like that / Already had a spat with crack / Never go back / Put my gears in whack and charge / Full steam and attack,” they spit.

Having this tripartite narrative woven into the album was entirely unintentional, merely a product of the band writing about what they were going through at the time, and Roo themself was initially unaware of the other tracks’ subject matter. In fact, they only discovered what ‘words fell out’ alluded to when the trio were discussing the LP’s running order, and Holly made an offhand comment about thematic links. “You kept that one quiet, didn’t ya!” Roo teases Lottie. “I was playing it at you for ages as [Lottie’s solo project] mushy p,” comes the reply. “Oh yeah,” Roo laughs, “and I was like, ‘I love this song!’”

In this way, these tracks are particularly polymorphic; as well as being vignettes of a deeply difficult time, they’re also evolving with the band, taking on new meanings and associated memories as they’re recorded with and performed alongside the very people they concern. “I knew I wanted to write about the experience, but at the time all we could focus on was helping Roo get better,” says Lottie. “And so it was a cathartic experience to actually debrief with myself through music. Because when you suppress those feelings, it’s really hard to unearth them again, but music and writing has that power of freeing it from you.” Roo gives an impish, slightly ironic grin: “It was good material – yoouuu’re welcome!”

Wide-eyed and open-hearted, ‘Below The Waste’ truly pushes the envelope of the band’s prior experimentation. It takes in light and dark, yes, but also buried beneath the intricate layers is a more elemental foundation. Earth, fire, air, water. Rock, mud, blood, feather. In their thematic and compositional rejection of oppressive structures, Goat Girl tap into something primal, flooring the listener not with sheer force, but with faith – in the future, and in each other.

‘Below The Waste’ is out on 7th June via Rough Trade.

Tags: Goat Girl, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the June 2024 issue of DIY, out now.

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