Interview Vivian Girls: The New Sound Of Doo-Wop

Speaking to Katy in the Vivian Girls’ tour van just after their state wide tour began, she lets us into news about the second album, what the girls are diggin’ at the moment and how touring is more of an adventure.

Speaking to Katy in the Vivian Girls’ tour van just after their state wide tour began, she lets me into news about the second album, what the girls are diggin’ at the moment and how touring is more of an adventure.

Touring in a band must be hard work, especially if your band is from North America. Driving from coast to coast, playing in every bar, warehouse and working mans club must push you to the limit. “It’s really fun, it’s like an adventure,” says fire haired bassist ‘Kickball’ Katy of Vivian Girls. For midday, and probably driving since the early hours from their previous show in Lexington Kentucky, Katy seemed a little weary of the interview happening. “Everyone’s asleep in the van, we’re driving right now”. Catching the girls at the beginning of their first cross country tour since last May, Vivian Girls have caused quite a storm since their first self-titled record was released at the beginning of 2008.

‘Vivian Girls’, the bands self-titled debut LP, was released on the Mauled By Tigers label in May 2008. The label sold out of the first pressing in 10 days. This shocked the band “We still haven’t been able to figure out why they sold so quickly. When Mauled By Tigers told us that they were going to press 500 instead of 300, all we could say was, ‘Really?? You’re not going to sell 500! We were high-fiving and were like, ‘How is this possible?” Then came eBay. ‘Yeah, someone sold it unexpectedly on eBay for $100,’ Cassie recalled, ‘and then suddenly everyone was selling it.’ The album was re-issued by their current label In The Red Records in the same year on both CD and LP formats after the original pressing on Mauled By Tigers sold out. “[The album] had a wider release in October [of last year],” in which the album acclaimed a critical reception from such publications as the NME and Pitchfork, who said “…but it puts the lie to its own message with heavenly madrigals and a hooky refrain that’ll burrow into your brain and replay like a mantra until you do, in fact, believe in something. Even if it’s just this really awesome new band.” The Rough Trade stores in London even featured the album in last years ‘Albums of the year’ list, which Katy states, “was a great honour.”

Coming back from South By Southwest in Austin, Texas just two weeks ago, the girls only had a week back at their homes in Brooklyn. “We played like seventeen shows, it was very tiring, and we played late too much…” Asking if they still spend a lot of time back home checking out new bands from the scene, Katy says: “we keep tabs of what’s going on [in New York], there’s this band The Beats, they’re just like fantastic. We all were at Cassie’s other band’s show Road… wait they’ve changed their name, what have you changed you’re name too?” asks Katy shouting over the noise of blowing wind coming from the windows and waiting for a reply from Cassie, “Ghost Town? They’re Cassie’s new band and they played a show and they played with this band The Beat and German Measles and it was really fun. There’s a band called Real Estate from New Jersey that we grew up with, they’re really good. ” Grabbing the attention of bands and critics alike with some major support slots within the first couple of months of when the girls formed in 2007, Vivian Girls started out as Cassie Ramone on guitar and vocals, ’Kickball’ Katy on bass and Frankie Rose on drums. “We played Music growing up in school and stuff. Me and Cassie both played Saxophone, we all really liked Nirvana and err they really like Hole, you know like 90’s rock bands”. Naming themselves after ’The Story of the Vivian Girls’ by Henry Darger, the band formed in 2007 and soon after recorded their first demo on CD-R that included five original songs and a cover of a song by the Portland punk band Wisper. In the beginning their drummer Frankie was dividing her time between two bands, Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts, “[It was a] time conflict, we wanted to tour a lot and she was in another band” Katy says in an interview with “One day Katy called me about Vivian Girls” says soon to be drummer Ali Koehler, ”and I said that if she ever needed help that I’d be happy to drum for them. I’ve played drums for a while, so…” but there is no love lost in the departure of Frankie to Crystal Stilts “This was really good for everybody. [Frankie] is really happy in Crystal Stilts”.

The band has created a mix of shoe-gaze, lo-fi garage punk and 60’s girl doo-wop groups. Cassie has said previously that; “when we started out, we just wanted to write songs that were fast, melodic, and fun. Reverb worked its way into our vocals after a few months, and then we started harmonizing more”. The vocal harmonies reminisce that of the Shangri-La’s, “we all grew up on 60’s girl group music, you know?” Katy says, “and Beach Boys Harmonies. Some of our songs we write all together but Cassie writes a lot, she writes all the lyrics and the melodies and comes to practice with a lot of songs that she’s already written and we just write our basic bass and drum parts to go along with it.” In November 2008, the girls started up their own label Wild World. “We’ve put out two of our records [on the label], ‘Surf’s Up’ 7 inch and we re-issued our first 7 inch.” On the ‘Surf’s Up’ Record, the girls cover the Beach Boys’ song ‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’, a band that has always “really inspired” them says Katy. The inspiration is not surprising with the sound of the Beach Boys being a big influence to their west cost surf punk they create. Asking her, being from the East Coast of the States, if the West Coast was an inspiration to their sound Katy hesitantly replies, “we really like the West Coast, haha.” Having only released one album, a handful of limited 7 inch singles and two EP’s, Vivian Girls have just finished their second long player. “It’s all done, it’s being mastered. It’s going to be released in September”. Asking if it’s being released on their own label, Katy replies, “No, this record will be out on In The Red”. Which shows starting your own self-funded record label is harder than people may think…

The band are currently embarking on a tour of North America, playing everywhere from Phoenix to Montreal Canada, the tour is a mammoth task ahead. “How do you prepare for it? I looked at your MySpace and saw your touring for something like a month and a half non stop…” “It’s actually two and a half months,” Katy replies correcting what I’d previously said, “right now we’re on tour with Aerial Pink Haunted Graffiti, and then when we go to Southern California, we’re going on tour with Abe Vigoda, it’s really fun”. Back in February of this year, the girls played a show on the NME Shock Waves tour 2009 with fellow lo-fi giants Black Lips. “That show was amazing. It was really good. This other band The Flash Packs played and they’re from America too and it was just fantastic.” The girls are back our side of the pond doing a major tour in May of the UK with good friends and high flyers of the London Underground DIY scene Male Bonding. “We’re flying into England May 13th. We’re playing at the Brixton Windmill, that place is great, and we’re playing somewhere else too, so we’re going up from London to Glasgow, for a bunch of shows there.”

At a time when lo-fi bands are becoming more and more, here and in the states, Vivian Girls are able to keep their heads above the clouds and not follow others, their own sound of reverbed/C 86 is being done everywhere from New York to Los Angles and over here in London. They are just doing what they enjoy and making music they would want to listen to. We will have to wait until September this year until we can hear if a progression has happened from the self-titled album to the ‘difficult second album’.

Photo Credit: Austin Warnock

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