WORDS BY ISADORA SCHAPPELL '17, MUSIC EDITOR & JACOB KARLIN '17, ARTS EDITOR
IMAGES BY ELIJAH STEVENS '15, PHOTO EDITOR
Girlpool’s Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker claim they are different people. That’s hard to believe as they finish each other’s sentences on everything from their upcoming album to Spy Kids to LA prep schools to their experiences opening for Jenny Lewis. Though Harmony and Cleo differ in levels of appreciation for peanut butter and spicy food, the two best friends clearly agree on their love for honest, raw, and well-crafted songs. Harmony says of their music, “When you’re making something real and honest, and love music and get it, the world can try and tear it from you, but only you can allow that to happen. If you love music it’s what you love. Or with anything: if you love something, it’s like it.” Their music, described by Pitchfork as “fuzz-punk”, and by the New York Times as “skeletal, skeptical punk”, sounds as if you and your best friend could actually channel all your teenage angst into something people want to hear.
Harmony and Cleo are those best friends, and they share that energy openly when you meet them - though it helps when you’re putting a warm bowl of food in their hands right after they get off the road. After a panicked run to Wesshop, where we debated what food to give a band that we really like/want to join (ultimately choosing stirfry), Girlpool arrived. They had driven from Philadelphia, where they live now, and we chatted about their experience moving from LA to the cold brutal lands of the East Coast. They needed to get out of their parent’s homes, they said, because of the constant touring they were likely to do. There was never going to be a convenient time to move out. They wanted go somewhere affordable and cool, so they chose Philly.
The girls met at the DIY space “the Smell” in downtown LA, but they didn’t start the band until later. Cleo says that Girlpool started with an after school phone conversation. She went home after school one day and saw that Harmony posted a status on Facebook about wanting to be creative. Really creative. She messaged her on Facebook and was “like oh fuck I really want to create too”. She says, “We were equally as excited at making music. We talked on the phone about how we were creatively stressed out. We wanted to play more music.” And thus, Girlpool was formed.
Harmony says, “We were both playing in bands but we wanted to create a project that would be more honest. That’s what we were talking about, making something very real. And straightforward. Like no bullshit, sort of.” This notion extends to their look. There is little in the way of stage antics during their performance. Their voices, at once ethereal, play against a non-distortion laden punk aesthetic. They gush to us about their love for songwriters: Vashti Bunyan, Bob Dylan, Conor Oberst. Their lyrics are angry - “leave me, get out of the door/I can’t handle your shit anymore”-, they stab at society -“I go to school everyday/ just to be made a housewife one day”-, and dig into the personal lives -“I’m uncomfortable looking in the mirror/seeing that my skin is clearer”. It’s their strong songwriting, embedded in their lo-fi punk aesthetic, that has carried them from the start.
After “the Smell”, the band started crafting songs and took whatever opportunity came their way. Cleo describes their first show, at a friend’s Santa Monica backyard party, as not going well: “I think I forgot some stuff. We like definitely fucked up. We had been a band for like a week I think. We were really going all out. I feel like that kind of set the tone of our band to say yes to everything.” Girlpool has had some incredible opportunities to say yes to in the past few months: they opened for Jenny Lewis, toured Europe, toured the country and are now preparing for another tour of Europe, playing with bands like Alex G and Waxahatchee.
They also just finished a new record which will be out later this year. We asked for a release date, to which, at the same time, Cleo said “I’m not sure yet”, and Harmony “We’re not supposed to say yet!” They recorded with Kyle Gilbride from Swearin’. Cleo says “We recorded at this place called Bath House, in Philly, and it’s a cult punk house. Some people from Swearin’ live there, and some of the people who play in Radiator Hospital. So we recorded there, in the basement.” Harmony quickly added, “It was very cold. We were holding on to space heaters the whole time. Literally, like our bodies would huddle around the space heaters. It was kind of fucked up.” But that’s exactly the kind of intimate community they’d been seeking in moving out to Philly.
Cleo and Harmony are clearly psyched when we ask them about musicians that they like today. Cleo says “We’re huge Dear Nora fans, which is a really cool band. And other friends’ bands, Quarterbacks, Stephen Steinbrink, just there are so many awesome musicians today.” To which Harmony adds “Like Told Slant. Eskimo. There’s just a bunch of good music.”
Though they have played around the world, are well established and critically acclaimed, Cleo says they maintain an outsider approach to the music industry “I feel as uninformed as anyone else, going into this so young it’s kind of a lot of information you’re taking in all the time. We talk constantly how much there is that goes into making something that’s so pure and honest and real is like, all these others things are irrelevant to what it is.”
The two have been through a lot together since their first backyard party concert, but they appear inseparable. Cleo says “We stretch each other. Her strengths are my weaknesses, and vice versa.” Harmony added “Sometimes we switch roles. It’s like an exciting change.” Until a few weeks ago they even shared a room. We asked if living in separate locations will be a good thing to which they laughed and Cleo quickly said “I mean we only live like a mile from each other.”