Jun 15, 2017
Celebrating Ourselves With Girlpool
Cleo Tucker wanted to know if I was going to the show. “The new Lexie is incredible,” they assured me, “I mean, Greta in general is incredible.”
“Greta” is Greta Kline, who performs spacey diaristic songs in minute-long chunks as the wistful Frankie Cosmos. “Lexie” is the new outfit she has put together with members of the punkish Atlanteans in Warehouse. “The show” is tonight’s sold-out Northside Festival set at Williamsburg’s Polish national home Warsaw (“where pierogies meet punk”), a showcase of the free-spirited talent of DIY music. Lexie were opening for Girlpool, the band that Tucker formed with Harmony Tividad, both current darlings of the music industry’s flourishing scene of young people making intimate records for their friends.
“Jillian and Dame and Tim from IAN SWEET?” Tucker gushed, referring to another opening band that earned raves, “they all went to Berklee [College of Music, in Boston] and they’re so well trained but they all just draw out of the box.”
Tucker and Tividad wear this blend of hype-people and headliner well. The pair’s unassuming stage presence Friday night shrank the gymnasium-like Warsaw stage to the intimacy of a living room, lending the performance an expansive sort of snugness. The charm of DIY music, in this case neither punk nor folk but with trappings of both, is the accessibility it projects. Tucker and Tividad perform their particularities—blowing not-quite raspberries from the stage and miming a scratch of a good doggo—with enough quirk to appear absolutely normal. Girlpool is a bedroom mirror, smeared with lipstick messages of how beautiful we all are. The band invites us to see ourselves with generosity. It’s radically welcoming.
The magnanimity that Girlpool extends is returned by the young demographic drawn to the music’s aching melancholy: when Jillian of IAN SWEET remarked that this was likely the largest crowd her band had ever played for, the audience clapped with encouragement. As Tividad set up her own equipment, doing a jig or two for the twittering crowd and smiling into her pedals as braver souls from the back shouted “Harmony,” Tucker gave us a few whoops. I wasn’t sure what the two were more excited about: that we had just seen Lexie and IAN SWEET or that they got the chance to play for us.
With aplomb, the band launched into “123,” the opening track of Powerplant, last month’s excellent sophomore effort. Fleshed out from the skeletal production of debut When The World Was Big thanks to the addition of drummer Miles Vintner and guitarist Stephen Steinbrink, the sound filled Warsaw with Girlpool’s hazy portraits of youth. By beefing up the instrumentation, Tividad and Turner risked alienating some fans beholden to imagining Girlpool as a wistful duo. While heads didn’t bang, exactly, the swaying hips indicated that the room was more than happy with this increment in Girlpool’s evolution—into a rock band.
Never sheepish nor preening, Tividad and Turner harmonized their way through their catalogue, occasionally exchanging instruments and occasionally playing as just a pair. The shout-sing of “Before The World Was Big,” anchored by Turner’s rollicking guitar riff, earned the same adulatory cheers from the audience as would friends bursting with pride. “So when we were driving through town yesterday,” Tividad recalled, beaming, “Cleo leaned out the window and roared: ‘Brooklyn, here we are!’” The two burst into giggles at the memory and we in the crowd joined, all of us in on the joke.
I caught up with Tucker and Tividad a few hours before their set to talk about success, the new album, and growing up in Los Angeles.
Brooklyn Magazine: I’m here with Cleo and Harmony from Girlpool…
Cleo Tucker: Uh oh. I think this has gone bad. [They’re munching on an evidently expired spread.]
Harmony Tividad: No! I hate that.
CT: Sorry, sorry. Continue! [They spit it out, laughing.]
I wanted to start us off with the first sixty seconds of the new album, since it’s a bit of departure from the debut. What made you decide you wanted to scale up with drums and cymbals?
CT: Basically, we wrote all these songs and discussed how there was a lot of opportunity to explore climaxes. We’ve always loved exploring dynamics with each other, especially getting really quiet and then getting really loud. With the new songs we were writing for Powerplant, we wanted to introduce new instrumentation to explore those dynamics differently.
Did that influence your decision to call the new record Powerplant? Power plants are maybe more explosive and dynamic—
CT: Never thought about that.
HT: Interesting tie in!
Well I was curious about the title of the record, since it’s the name of a song too. I was wondering what the significance was for you all.
HT: I think a power plant is an interesting idea because of the industrialization of emotion. When you have a bunch of experiences in a row where you feel a certain thing, where you grow a lot, you’re almost mass producing emotion with different people.
Is there a normative aspect to that idea of “industrialization of emotion?” Is it good or bad?
CT: I don’t think so. I think in a way, it’s kind of comforting and in another way, frustrating. The urge to discover and create is often frustrating, like a frustrating high.
I’m curious about your meteoric rise. What has been the hardest part about adjusting to success?
CT: The place where Girlpool is at now, it’s like when you get to the next grade of school—you’re prepared for it, because you went through all the previous grades. Now it’s just kind of what we know and what feels appropriate. I think if we were playing this show tonight [at Warsaw] three years ago, we’d be really confused. But it’s really exciting and just feels like our reality. And then there totally are moments where Harmony and I are like “whoa, what the fuck? What are we doing?”
HT: Yeah, I think we’re both ultimately resolved to add a gratefulness to everything.
You both grew up in Los Angeles. What was childhood in LA like?
HT: It was really fun and everyone was really alienating! [Laughs.] Like most childhoods, probably. LA is like any other city, there’s different parts, different zones, but there are glitzy elements that are interesting to interact with as a child.
CT: I went to a really weird middle school that had, like, sixty people total. It even had a zoo where they keep animals and nurse them back to health [laughing]. Yeah, I know, bizarre, but there was a rock band at the school and I really wanted to play in it! I was a weirdo, a guitar-playing redheaded person who was just kind of annoying. In middle school, I got really excited about covering the Beatles and shit, and then in high school I played jazz and discovered the DIY community in Los Angeles. That’s where Harmony and I met, going to shows at The Smell [a famed punk venue]. That’s when my life stopped being just a kid growing up and turned into developing my own self as Cleo. I got to establish my own plans instead of just being another part of this school system. Right when I got my license when I was 16, I started to go to shows downtown on my own. I associate LA’s DIY community with when I was granted my freedom as a person. It was an explosion of this weird internal revolution.
HT: Literal same. Everything you just said, yes.
I’d like to ask about Girlpool’s relationship to queerness, especially now that y’all are in the spotlight. I’ve read a lot of profiles that mention Girlpool’s appeal to young queer folks. I’m wondering what that feels like for you. Does that put pressure on the band to act in certain ways or to be a certain thing?
CT: Harmony and I went from just being people in high school to all of a sudden playing music and having people engage with it, people who develop their own relationship to who they think we are. It used to drive me crazy because I wanted to give the full dose of me whenever I interacted with anyone because it scared me to think that I could possibly be misunderstood. It just feels impossible to perform in my fullest pure way, to express all of myself, in one interview or one song or one window into my personhood. We both just do what feels good.
HT: Wow, I had chills as you said that.
CT: As far as queerness goes, or at least, my queerness goes, it’s a part of me. Girlpool is a thousand million infinite variables and that’s just one of them. I do think it’s really cool, though, that for other people, queerness is a vessel in which they find fruitfulness in our music.
Can you tell me a fun story about interacting with fans while on tour?
CT: Oh definitely.
HT: We were in Chicago and ran into our friend Rivka who runs Hooligan Mag. It was really random! We said “Hey, what’s up?” and talked for a second, and then said “Maybe see you at the show later,” because we were playing at Due Division that day. After the set, we got back to our friend Lily’s house, went to sleep because we were so tired and had to leave for Detroit the next morning. We get to Detroit, and we’re unpacking the car and we realize: “Holy fuck, we totally left our bass and our guitar in Lily’s house in Chicago!”
The only person who’s currently in Chicago with a key is Lily’s partner Dave, and Dave can’t drive all the way to Detroit because he has work. We leave so many pleading statuses on the internet and eventually I go “Oh my god, I forgot, Rivka lives in Chicago—maybe she has a car, or one of her friends does.” She’s my last hope—I don’t know many people in Chicago—and I was like “Rivka, do you know anyone who has a car? I have a really crazy favor to ask.” She was like “I don’t, but my friend Elmer does.” So I told her we need someone to pick up our guitar and bass and come to Detroit because we just don’t know how else we’re going to get it in time since we need to be in Toronto the next day. So this person, Elmer, texted me: “Hey, I have a car, I have work until 10:00 but I can come after and my friend Dora is gonna come with me. We’ll leave at midnight.”
CT: These two super sweet people left at like, 12:30 Chicago time, drove all night, and arrived in Detroit at 7:00 in the morning. I mean, we paid them some money, and we all got breakfast together. It turns out they had been at the Due Division set in Chicago! That was just a really sweet moment of making friends and cool people pulling through.
HT: I barely slept that night because I was so stressed about them getting there.
But they made it fine.
HT: Yeah. I think Elmer’s car broke down after, though.
Hey—at least he has a good story too.
CT: [laughs] I hope.
Greta Kline performs with Lexie, who opened for Girlpool at Warsaw
What has been on rotation recently? What have you been listening to as you tour?
HT: The new Sheer Mag songs are amazing.
CT: The new Kendrick, and obviously the old Kendrick. So good. We listen to a lot of Lana Del Rey in the car.
HT: Love Lana.
Thank you both so much.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Photos by Cole Giordano
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