It’s Valentine’s Day in London and everybody is either out sharing the love or being miserable from the lack of. In most cases I’d happily ignore the occasion, but it’s not often that one is sat in a roped-off area of Camden’s Proud Gallery in the company of Cassie, Katy and Ali, better known as the Brooklyn pop/punk/noise trio the Vivian Girls. Part of me thinks at the very least I’ve should’ve made some kind of effort.
Having made a substantial splash with their ultra-limited edition self-titled vinyl debut of 2008, now pressed in not-so-limited CD edition by their new label In The Red, the Vivian Girls have been courting accolades and attention at a pace that matches the girls own heartbreak beat. Such attention is not without merit, and while the band have only been together for a scant couple of years, their determination and DIY attitude has paid off in spades.
When trying to analyse their sound, many a journalist is keen to rattle off any number of obscure comparisons (who, honestly, has ever listened to The Shop Assistants?), but it’s hard not to listen to their album or watch the girls live and witness a band who are a sound unto themselves and have yet to harness their potential. In the most simplest of terms, the Vivian Girls are a mess of garage rock noise and girl-group harmonies played at a breakneck pace. It’s the sound of someone saying “let’s form a band” and making up the rest as they go along.
It’s not original idea by any means, but by the point where most bands are deciding on when to record their debut, the Vivian Girls are already ready for their second, and have progressed far beyond their initial germ of an idea. Their songs have a Mary Chain front — that fog of sound that leaves the individual instruments and vocals fighting to be heard, but amongst the punk-ish noise there are moments on the record that are sublime and hint at melody and structure that go beyond two chords and a 4/4 beat.
(Before we go much further, be warned, this interviewer had to contend with three girls talking at once, sometimes finishing each other’s sentences and sometimes overlapping opinions, in voices that are almost indistinguishable from each other despite guitarist/vocalist Cassie’s insistence that she has the deeper one, so the responses where not already indicated will be attributed to the United Voice of the Vivian Girls.)
Looking wary but game and fresh from arriving in the country via France, the girls are bent closely over my tape recorder as the noise from the venue is making it almost impossible to hear ourselves. Wondering whether these girls are too punk rock to succumb to hallmark calendar moments, I wish them a Happy Valentine’s Day and they all suddenly melt and swoon, as if they’ve waited all day for someone to mention it. So far so good. As to whether the Vivian Girls have their own Vivian Boys, they all wistfully nod in assent at the question and then suddenly laugh. “In Germany there were these three boys who loved us and we told them to start a band and call themselves the Vivian Boys… and I think they’re gonna do it”.
Home of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, the Vivian Girls Brooklyn street cred is given a different light when all three admit to being Jersey Girls and starting the band there. Cassie explains “Me and Katy are from Ridgewood which is in North Jersey, and Ali is from Tom’s River which is Central Jersey.” (“Jersey Shore”, corrects Ali.) “We put the band together two years ago. I was a junior in College and she (Katy) was a senior. We just wanted to be in a melodic punk band that was really fast and washy. That was our idea. And to write short, really fast songs. Which is why all the songs on the first album are really fast. But lately we’ve been writing slower songs.”
It’s not hard to envision the band sounding exactly the way they did as when they first started, as there’s a youthful naivety to their playing that comes down largely from the satisfaction of making noise, but it’s a curious thought as to how much the band have changed since the early days, and whether they’ve improved. The wording of the question throws them for a second, but Katy is quickest to respond. “It was just a natural evolution, I think. It’s not totally dissimilar. When we first started out we wanted every single song we wrote to be really fast and really short, and now we‘re branching out a little bit in a similar setting, which has a lot to do with us getting better at playing our instruments, since we’ve been doing it every day for the last two years.”