Tell the World
Ten Questions for Vivian Girls
This music was once the province of Britain. No one from America understood the Shaggs' Philosophy of the World for decades, because there was nothing to understand. It's fun to get together with your friends and make a clatter. That's it. It probably helps if you keep your songs short, because no one has enough time to get bored. Brooklyn three-piece Vivian Girls—Cassie Ramone, Kickball Katy, and Ali—understand this. You just know that they record entire albums in half a day because to do anything else would be dull. Play what you can to the best of your ability and move on. I can't imagine anything they create from now on sounding like their glorious swirling and clattering debut, Vivian Girls—they've also released three 7-inch singles—because then they'd be faking it.
I sent a few questions off to the ladies recently. Maybe you'd like to see the answers?
1. The first pressing of your album earlier this year sold out real fast—do you have tons of friends?
Katy: "Ha ha. We wish!"
Vivian Girls lift their influences from the right direction—the Wipers, Nirvana, the Shangri-Las—but of course sound nothing like... well, the first two. Indeed, Vivian Girls are so naive about their musical heritage—Fizzbombs, Shop Assistants, Talulah Gosh, especially Girls At Our Best!—that they describe their sound as "shoegaze." Um, the Brit shoegazers of the early '90s never jarred. And to call My Bloody Valentine shoegazers is like saying Sonic Youth are a pretty good noise band. True, but missing the point.
2. Your songs are all a decent (short) length—do you get bored with music easily?
K: "I would have to say we all have pretty short attention spans... songs over three minutes long get really boring really fast."
Vocals overlap with vocals. Drumbeats overlap with drumbeats. The sound is supersaturated, not to the extremes of Times New Viking, but pretty bright nonetheless. This is heartland Everett True music, in case anyone still cares.
3. What would your definition of pop music be?
K: "Structured songs with hooks."
I was forewarned by the usual suspects: the girl bloggers (Alex Loves You and Your Silly Pop Songs), the boys with Orange Juice held high in their hearts (Unpopular). I knew what was coming. I couldn't resist. I didn't want to. The Vivian Girls' "Where Do You Run To" is like Detroit all-girl band Slumber Party's first and third albums, times 100. How you going to resist that?
4. Are you aware of the indie-rock heritage the boy critics say you draw from—the Shaggs, Shop Assistants, Slumber Party, Talulah Gosh, the Whyte Boots...?
K: "Before being in Vivian Girls, I hadn't heard of most of our 'influences.' I know that Cassie hadn't either. We are pretty fond of those bands, but we were unaware of them until we were compared to them."
Cassie: "The Whyte Boots' song 'Nightmare' is the coolest song ever, but it's also easily mistakable for a Shangri-Las song, and the Shangri-Las are one of the few 'girl' groups we are influenced by."
Hey, "Nightmare" is a total rip of a Shangri-Las song—but, man, who cares when pop music sounds so traumatized? And you just know Vivian Girls haven't even begun investigating Lori Burton's Breakout CD—they've got their whole present spread out in front of them. Man, that hurts.
5. Most of these bands don't survive past one single or an album. Is that a plus?
K: "Well, luckily for us, we aren't one of those bands! Our second album is almost entirely written."
I'm thinking particularly of Scottish band Shop Assistants, who for about four glorious years in the mid-'80s inhabited the exact middle point between early Jesus and Mary Chain and early Ramones, and made videos like they wished they were in Blondie. They asked me to manage them (I declined) and barely survived past their one album. Vivian Girls remind me so much in places of that album, it's a physical ache. That's why I love 'em so much. That's why I'm looking forward to their second so much.
6. Do you have nicknames for each other?
K: "I call Cassie 'Paper Master' because she always has a pen and paper with her. We end up needing way more pens and paper than you would think."
C: "Katy's 'Band Scientist', 'cause she figures shit out and 'cause she majored in physics."
I have nothing to add here.
7. How fast do you write stuff?
K: "Cassie can write a good guitar song really fast, and Ali and I can fill out those songs really quickly. When we all write a song together, it takes a lot more time."
The bonus song on Vivian Girls gets the Ramones in a way no one since Shop Assistants got the Ramones, full stop. Let's move on.
8. Favorite songs right now—and why?
K: "Woods—'Night Creature,' because it is exceptionally beautiful."
C: "Genesis—'That's All.' I'm a sucker for catchy soft rock. I've also been really into Ringo Starr—'You're Sixteen, You're Beautiful, and You're Mine,' 'cause it is way too creepy to be so catchy."
Ugh. Genesis. Ugh. And there was me thinking Vivian Girls are the anti–Vampire Weekend... ugh.
9. You know some of us English folk vaguely resent Americans taking over our music...
C: "Well, let's take this from another angle. Where did punk begin? New York City with the Ramones. I would say Vivian Girls are a punk band above anything else, so there you go."
Um, I'd have to say here—speaking as a Ramones biographer (and as the man who once formed a "new wave a cappella" group simply so I could perform Ramones songs onstage) but also as a relocated Australian (Brisbane)—that Cassie is way off the mark. Punk began in Brisbane, 1974, with the Saints. Ramones were an art-loft project.
10. Anything you like about the Pacific Northwest?
K: "I like going there and getting in the gloomy mindset that the Wipers were in!"
C: "I don't like the rain, but I do like driving by the Space Needle listening to Nirvana."