Back in early 2010, I interviewed lead Vivian Girl Cassie Ramone at the band’s Hoxton gig. It wasn’t an easy business trying to pin her down, but I managed to get this quick interview before she went on stage.
CASSIE Ramone must be the only person in Hoxton not chugging on a beer. Instead, huddled in a discreet corner of Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, the Vivian Girls singer is sipping on a cappuncino and enthusing about the band’s latest trip across the Atlantic. Its a sold out gig in the cradle of London hipsterdom, but Ramone is modest and surprisingly softly-spoken for a member of a spunky garage rock band.
Vivian Girls hit the indie big time in 2008 when their self-titled debut album was lauded by Pitchfork and Blender among others, feeding on the buzz building in their native Brooklyn. The album introduced us to a trio whose vocal harmonies recalled 1960s girl groups like The Shangri-Las, notably in “Such a Joke”, but with a raw, lo-fi edge and a style sense honed in New York thrift stores. “Where Do You Run To” and “Tell the World” quickly became a mainstay of iPod playlists among those in the know.
A few months later, the band shed drummer Frankie Rose, who joined Velvet Underground-alikes Crystal Stilts and in 2009 released Everything Goes Wrong to only slightly less enthusiastic reviews. Marred by love trouble, the new album was markedly darker than their debut, with songs like “Can’t Get Over You” suggesting that the teen crush of “Tell the World” had turned sour.
Fast forward to 2010, and Cassie, Katy and new drummer Ali are love-lorn no longer, but no less ready to bring their brand of NY girl punk to eager UK audiences.
You were in London last in May 2009. How does it feel to be back?
London’s our collective favourite city to play. We’ve got a lot of great friends here. We’re staying with Male Bonding, who are probably our best friends in all of Europe. Staying in their house is fun: we’ve been having girl talk with them. It’s great to be back here.
What’s the reaction been like from UK audiences?
It’s been amazing. I feel like we get a better reaction here than we do anywhere else we play, and this tour has been overwhelmingly positive. Every tour we’ve ever done has been a bunch of great shows, a bunch of mediocre shows and a bunch of really, really bad shows but on this tour all the shows have been good.
You’ve performed at the Trinity Centre Hall in Dalston. Does it feel more authentic to play small venues?
All the venues I go to regularly in Brooklyn are pretty small: a hundred to two hundred people. Its better when the room is small and full of people as opposed to big and half empty.
Do you aspire to more mainstream recognition?
[Playing at larger venues] would be cool if we could fill them. I don’t think we can, but none of us really care. We’re all happy with the level we’re at right now. We don’t particularly want to be this huge famous band. Life’s so good right now.
Last August, you played at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Seems like an odd venue. What’s the strangest gig you’ve ever done?
We’ve played at a lot of weird places. One time we did a show in the living room of my old apartment, which is the smallest living room ever. It could probably fit 20 people tops. There were about 50 people crammed in there and because of where the door was, people were walking between us. We played in an abandoned warehouse in Nagoya, Japan. They were about to tear it down and when you walked in, you had to wear a mask there was so much dust. We also played on a ship in New York City sailing around the East River. We all got really seasick though.
Earlier in your career, you supported Jay Reatard. How has his death affected you? Did you know him much?
[We knew him] a little bit. The first time I heard Blood Visions was only a few days after we played our first show so he’s been this presence in our band. We didn’t really talk to him very much: I’ve always been too shy to and I feel like the other girls probably were too. We sent myspace messages back and forth, and talked to him through Larry [Hardy] of In the Red. We wanted to record together eventually. The few times we did talk to him he seemed really nice and funny. People were like “Jay Reatard’s a dick”, but I feel he was really misunderstood. He was just extremely sensitive and didn’t have very much of a filter. He did what he felt all the time and I think that’s cool.
Everything Goes Wrong was a very pessimistic record because of things happening in your personal lives. Can we expect the next record to be more light-hearted?
It’s funny because I don’t really write love songs anymore and the first album was all about boys and relationships. I feel that in my song writing I’m moving towards writing about my philosophical views on the world. We’re in the middle of recording and writing our third album right now. The songs are going to be a little more poppy than on the second album, but they’re not going to be happy either. But then I’m a pessimistic person in a lot of ways.
You did a cover of The Chantels’ He’s Gone on the 7” single of My Love Will Follow Me. So much of Vivian Girls’ vocals recall 1960s girl bands. How much have bands from this era influenced you?
Definitely, that was a huge inspiration for us, probably one of our earliest with The Wipers. I love all the harmonies and melodies of those recordings.
Now I’m sure a lot of people define you as an all-female band and ask you the feminist question, but do you think there needs to be more riot grrl-style groups in indie music?
I don’t consider us riot grrl at all: I don’t think there should be more of any style of female groups. I know a lot of women who are very creative but are too scared to play music in front of other people and I wish that would change. There are a lot of great all-female rock bands around right now like Brilliant Colours and Grass Widow. Mika Mika were so good, but then they broke up.
Its always interesting knowing what bands themselves listen to…
Oh yeah, right now we’re into Tune Yards. It’s a one-woman band, really really weird music but also very catchy. We’ve been into Happy Birthday and Veronica Falls, who we’re touring with.
You’ve released two albums and toured internationally since forming in 2007 – that’s a lot in a relatively short space of time. Have you ever considered dabbling in any other creative area, or do you think you’ll always be involved with music?
Even if the band went on hiatus, I’d still be writing music. I don’t know if I’d release anything but I’ve always liked sitting at the edge of my bed playing acoustic guitar. We won’t be around forever and I’ll probably just focus on my artwork then.
Would you ever do a solo project?
I definitely want to do a solo project some day. It’s weird because I’m normally so shy about that kind of stuff. I played one solo show about a year ago and it was the most nerve-wracking thing in the world. The reason Vivian Girls works so well is because Katy was really good at promoting our band in the early days, but I feel I could never do that myself so well.
Would a solo project sound different to Vivian Girls?
It would probably be more folky stuff, a lot more acoustic guitar and maybe some piano. But weird too – not cheesy folk.