Published Sep 28, 2008Its been a whirlwind year for Brooklyns Vivian Girls. Having formed in 2007 out of a number of bands the members were in, the Girls (Cassie Ramone, Kickball Katy and Frankie, who was recently replaced by Ali) began the routine of playing parties and releasing limited edition vinyl. Earlier this year, all 500 copies of their debut LP (released by Mauled By Tigers) sold out in just over a week, quickly forcing bloggers to acknowledge the demand for their lo-fi garage sweetness. Now re-released by In the Red, Vivian Girls is an effort that far exceeds its original miniscule expectations, and rightfully so. What they do is nothing innovative but thats the allure: Vivian Girls seize the moment with their music, wrapping up a DIY punk stance into noisy two-minute pop songs steeped heavily in reverb. Theres also timelessness to the songs, mostly reminiscent of 70s garage, but "Where Do You Run To harkens back to the 60s, with a tambourine beat and a bad-ass chorus thats more akin to the reputation of the Shangri-Las than their music. But the Girls ability to simplify is their strength, as they turn "No, a repetitive one-word song filled with uninhibited thrashing, into something infectious, which speaks loudly for the rest of this gorgeous little record.
What's the deal with the name the Vivian Girls? There seem to be a few of them - from Australia, Berkeley, and then a band called the Vivian Girls Experience. Was that something you were aware of? Has it caused any problems so far?
Katy: Yes, the name has definitely been taken. We actually never thought we would become popular enough for this to become a problem, we were only planning on playing in people's living rooms and basements. Also, it feels like every good name has been taken, and so we didn't see the harm in it. We played a show with Ninety-nine, a band from Australia that has a member of the old Vivian Girls in it, and she didn't say anything about it!
I assume Henry Darger's work [The Vivian Girls Emerge] was the inspiration for the name?
Katy: Yes, it was. Frankie, our old drummer, thought it was a good name, and Cassie and I agreed. We are definitely not super fans, though, we haven't even seen that documentary! People always ask us, "So, how did YOOOU feel about the documentary?" and we just say "NEVER SAW IT, SORRY." We aren't experts.
From what I've read, the band formed in a really upstart way. What inspired you to start a band?
Katy: We have all been in bands before, just local punk bands. None of us ever thought that Vivian Girls would get as much attention as it has, it was a huge surprise. We didn't start the band to sell a ton of records, we just wanted to play parties.
Mauled By Tigers originally released the album in a limited edition of 500, which sold out in ten days. Were you surprised by how quickly people bought the record?
Katy: Totally. Once again, we never saw it coming. When we decided to make 500 instead of 300, we crossed our fingers and hoped there were that many people out there who wanted one.
To me you were relatively unknown at that point. What do you attribute to the rapid response?
Katy: I think people really liked the Wild Eyes single, and as soon as people found out about the In the Red stuff, more people started paying attention.
What made you re-release it through In the Red? Did you change the record at all - artwork, bonus tracks, etc?
Katy: We love In the Red, and felt so honored that Larry [Hardy, owner] was interested in putting out the record. He really is the best, and we have some really great label-mates now. It is one of our favorite labels ever, and we were totally taken aback when he asked to reissue it. We didn't change the songs, but it was remastered, and apparently Cassie changed some of the art, but she never told us what. I guess people will have to figure that out.
How did you determine what the band would sound like? Was there much discussion or practicing before you settled on how the band sounds now?
Katy: When we started, our one goal was to play fast and be melodic. We still do both of those things, but the reverb and harmonies were added a few months later. The sound definitely grew organically, it was not figured out beforehand. We never sat down and discussed what we should sound like, it just happened.
One of my favourite things about the LP is your use of reverb. It gives the songs an almost ghost-like presence. Was that effect something you were working with before you went into the studio? Is it something that involves a lot of fiddling with pedals and/or amps? How does it work out when you play gigs? Is it a vital part of your sound?
Katy: Reverb has definitely become the most essential aspect of our sound, but it is difficult to achieve live. We were using one reverb pedal on Cassie's lead vocals before we recorded the album, but after we recorded the LP in January, we realized that all of the voices needed to have that same effect. Right now we use three Holy Grail pedals that we run each mic through, and it's a real pain to set up sometimes. Holy Grails are made for guitars, not vocals, so the volume output is too low for a lot of PAs. However, we have found that when we rely on sound guys to use house reverb, they NEVER put as on much as we want, because reverb doesn't work well with PAs and monitors. Recently, at bigger shows, we have hired our friend to do sound, so he can use the excellent house reverb to it's fullest potential. Right now I would have to say our live sound is still hit or miss, although more on the hit side these days, and depends almost entirely on the quality of the reverb-y vocals.
What made you decide to harmonize the vocals together?
Katy: I think we realized that not every band gets to have three girl vocalists who can all sing. We didn't want to take that for granted.
I kind of hate to ask this question since I don't like playing the gender card, but was it important to keep the band an all-female act? Was there any sort of policies put in place when the band was formed?
Katy: We never really paid that much attention to the whole all-girl aspect of our band. Most of the bands that we are friends with are all dudes, we have male and female fans, and I would like to think that the fact that we are all girls has nothing to do with our sound/success. We just happen to be girls. Ali and Cassie have been my two best friends for years, long before Vivian Girls ever started, so it's not like we scoured the streets looking for another girl to fill our ranks. Ali just happens to be our really good friend, who is REALLY good at drums. She was in her high school's marching band!
Time Out NY called you a "post-girl group." Is that description anything you can identify with? I certainly hear some of the Shangri-La's in the Vivian Girls, and to me they were the archetype of what people consider a girl group.
Cassie: Yes, we can identify with that. The Shangri-las' songs were really dark moody but also with pretty harmonies. That's basically what we're going for.
I just read Ali recently joined the band on drums. What happened with Frankie? How would you say Ali has affected the band?
Cassie: We asked Frankie to leave. It wasn't working out with her. Having Ali in our band is so great. She's a wonderful drummer and we all get along really well.
Katy: Ali is the best girl in the world, we are so excited to have her in the band.
What type of ambition do you have for your label, Plays With Dolls? Will you be opening it up to releasing music by other artists?
Cassie: Plays With Dolls is actually not our record label. It is our friend Matt's record label. But we are starting our own label, called Wild World. For now we're going to use it to put out our own seven-inches but maybe someday we'll put out other bands' releases. (In The Red)