Girlpool: No Culture Icons
LA duo Girlpool won’t be held up as an example to anyone
“We don’t wanna be role models – I think we’re just trying to do our thing and be real to us. I don’t think being a role model should be the goal of anybody in any field. I think what’s important to us is just to be real to who we are and play music and do what we love to do.”
When Girlpool talk, they say what they mean. That rule applies to their lyrics, their shows, and interviews. “There’s no front that we try to put up in our music,” continues one half of the band, Cleo, when I ask why she thinks they’ve been almost unanimously reviewed as having a ‘magnetic’ live energy. Questions put to them are sometimes answered with one decisive word accompanied by a heavy, self-assured silence. Should I have been surprised when so much of their music is stripped back and raw? When this is a band that sings, “I’m uncomfortable looking in the mirror, seeing that my skin is clearer”? Girlpool don’t deal in fluff or flattery, and it’s hard not to admire them for it. Everything they do seems to reflect this core manifesto. As Cleo puts it, “There are really no boundaries as far as truth goes. That has to be the ultimate when we’re writing together or else it feels wrong.”
With such self-assurance you forget just how young they are, and it’s even easier to forget when you listen to their music. At just 18 and 19, their hybrid of scrappy indie pop and punk spirit is liberating, a snapshot within a wider rallying cry of new DIY bands across the US and UK. They’re having none of that soppy shit. “Our intention is to just write songs that are honest and true to ourselves”, starts Cleo “–and feel good,” finishes Harmony. “When we first started we just wanted to make a cassette to share at DIY shows in LA, because we just wanted to play.”
And when quizzed on listing underrated bands from the UK and beyond, a pattern emerges: their UK band of the moment are friends Playlounge, and after much thought, they manage to whittle down their US recommendations to New York’s Quarterbacks, Philly’s Spirit of the Beehive, and All Dogs, an Ohio outfit – all DIY bands.
That sense of DIY community may have been instilled in them at The Smell, the legendary LA alcohol-free venue where all-age, five-dollar shows have been running since 1998. This volunteer-run spot is where Girlpool first found each other, and they stress that “The Smell ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼has a total communal vibe – it’s really powerful and super special to us.”
The venue also provided the setting for the video for irresistibly bratty single Blah Blah Blah, directed by Siri Anderson, who also directed the superb documentary The Punk Singer, which traces the life of riot grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna.
Although they still both proudly identify as feminists, the duo are tired of being invariably defined by the issue. While their publicist politely asked us to steer away from the topic, what they did open up about is being grouped under the ‘girl band’ heading. Cleo is resigned to it: “it’s kind of frustrating because that’s not just what we’re made of, we’re made of a lot of different things. To be categorised under one theme is frustrating, but what can you do?” To be fair, it’s hard not to get carried away on the feminism bandwagon after hearing Slutmouth, their grim dissection of a patriarchal society through the eyes of someone that’s had far, far too much of a bad thing. “Sometimes I wanna be a boy, ‘cause I feel like a toy”, they somberly harmonise, “I go to school everyday, just to be made a housewife one day”.
However far they want to distance themselves from the ‘role model’ tag, Girlpool’s spare, straightforward, self- effacing wisdom offers a powerful example to any young person striving to find their way. Their simple truths and direct delivery have been a breath of fresh air for audiences everywhere, and this run of sold-out UK shows was surely just a taste of things to come.
Girlpool’s debut album Before The World Was Big is out 1 June via Wichita