Published Oct 23, 2009Sitting in a Toronto coffee shop the week before the release of Little Girls' debut album, 20-year-old Josh McIntyre is a little worried. After an opening slot for crazed Israeli rockers Monotonix the previous night, the band's guitarist had his guitar amp repossessed. "He had it for a little longer than he was supposed to have it," he says dryly. A replacement needs to be wrangled before the band set out for their gig in Hamilton tonight.
Despite the setback, McIntyre appears relaxed, undeterred by the small hiccup in a banner year for what was originally intended as a side project from his regular gig in Pirate/Rock. "We'd practice here and there and then I'd just go home and start recording things on my own," he explains. He uploaded those home recordings to a cryptic looking MySpace page under the name Little Girls and things quickly snowballed. Before 2009 is out McIntyre will have racked up a pair of EPs, opening slots for bands like Wavves and Japandroids and a full-length album called Concepts, out on Paper Bag Records. Even the touring band McIntyre initially assembled was caught off guard by the success and the group had to split ways after it became apparent that the gig would require a much bigger commitment than they originally anticipated.
"I had almost no preconceived notions of what I wanted to do," he says of his earliest recordings. "It was just... I don't want to say I was free but I had no idea. I put them up and had no expectations of ever playing them live. So when I put the band together I had to almost look back and try and figure out what I was playing ― most of it was one take and/or made up on the spot."
Upon first listen, it's easy to dismiss Little Girls as the latest instalment in the ever-crowding field of lo-fi Joy Division sound-alikes. "I do like that lo-fi stuff," he admits, "but I feel like there's been an abundance of it in the past year." He sometimes wonders if some of the bands even bothered trying to write actual songs. "It's become more just about 'Look at how I recorded this.'"
While many of the bands Little Girls are compared to have their feet firmly rooted in the rock world, McIntyre traces his musical lineage back to sneaking listens to his older family members' copies of Nas's Illmatic and Wu Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) when he was in grade four. "I wasn't really allowed to listen to them. It added this mystique." His more guitar-driven influences didn't materialize until a few years later when he started listening to punk and metal. He attributes his diverse taste in music to his eclectic ethnic background. "My mom's from Trinidad and my dad is Scottish. I had a whole smorgasbord of music lying around the house."
Despite the array of influences, McIntyre says hip-hop was always his passion. "J. Dilla's probably my biggest musical influence," he says. He learned the bedroom recording techniques he used to make Concepts from years of crafting hip-hop beats and self-releasing records under names like J. Mac Productions ("my ode to Boogie Down Productions and J. Dilla") and Gold School. "It's sort of a strange evolution from what I was doing then to now," he says, "but there is a correlation to the way I'm recording it. I recorded the whole record the way I'd record a hip-hop record."
Concepts starts with the earliest Little Girls recordings and ends with tracks recorded in July. "It's sort of like a timeline from the very beginning of Little Girls to now. It gives you an idea of where the band is going." Despite the title, and described by his record label as exploring themes of "growing up," McIntyre says it's not a concept album. "It's not necessarily about me being young," McIntyre explains. "It's just about youth in general." Of course, any discrepancy over Little Girls lyrical content is moot since McIntyre's vocals are completely inaudible in all 11 of Concepts tracks. "I spent a lot of time mixing [the lyrics] down," he says. All the lyrics and most of the drumming on the album were recorded through the mic on his MacBook. "I do that for a reason. I don't like talking about the lyrics and I don't want the vocals to be a guy singing on top of a record. I want them to be layered."
Little Girls lyrics aren't the only thing McIntyre has purposefully obscured. He's also gone out of his way to hide his own participation in the project. In one of the few press photos where he's not lurking in the shadows, McIntyre obscures his own face with Gil Scott Heron's Pieces of a Man LP cover. Even the band's name itself was an effort to distance himself from his work. "I wanted it to be more of about them music than just putting a face to a band," he says. "I just wanted to make songs, put them out there and see what people thought about them. For a while even my friends didn't know. They'd say 'have you heard this Little Girls band?' And I'd be like, 'no, I don't know who you're talking about.'"
He admits that as Little Girls profile rises and more people come out to see the band that anonymity is becoming harder to maintain. Not that there's anything wrong with that. "It's just funny to look back a year ago, I was just working and playing music. We used to put out our own music, we'd make them ourselves, make the artwork and put them out. Now people are investing money into it."