On The Record: The Vivian Girls

Beatrice Rothbaum, Editor-in-Chief

Perhaps the most significant lo-fi act to emerge from the Brooklyn scene in the last few years, the Vivian Girls followed their 2008 self-titled debut with Everything Goes Wrong in 2009. The trio’s songs tend to consist of two or three chords apiece, the vocals are often off-key and the lyrics are repetitive and simplistic. While this may be a typical punk rock formula, the Vivian Girls take that rudimentary noise blueprint and twist it into a storm of passion and anguish. The band inspires fierce dedication and just-as-fierce disdain because that’s how rock music should be — edgy and exciting and evocative on a gut level.

For a seeming straightforward punk band, the Vivian Girls’ influence is visible in a growing number of current bands. The group laid the groundwork for its poppier peer, the Dum Dum Girls, to open for MGMT; for its direct offshoot, Frankie Rose and the Outs, to enjoy a hefty degree of early success; and for its bubblegum West Coast counterpart, Best Coast, to maintain some semblance of a punk edge.

The noise heroines are set to release their third album, Share The Joy on April 12 and the Reviewsnagged the chance to ask singer/guitarist Cassie Ramone a few questions in anticipation.

Share The Joy’s first single, “I Heard You Say,” sounds cleaner and more produced. Was there a conscious decision to go in that direction with the album, or did it just happen that way?

It was somewhat of a conscious decision, but a little bit of both. We wanted the record to have a weird ’70s pop/rock vibe, and that is sort of Jarvis’s [of Woods] aesthetic to begin with. We mostly just told Jarvis to do his thing; he is an incredibly talented producer and engineer and we knew he’d do right by us. I think that on all of our records the songs really do sound how they are meant to sound, and that carries over into this record.

In what ways does this album chart new territory for you?

We wanted the vocals to be louder in the mix on Share The Joy. I think I’m a pretty good lyricist, but I’ve always been scared of revealing that much of myself to people. My lyrics are very honest and personal and I think I almost wanted to subconsciously obscure them a little — hence the reverb and the vocals being buried in the mix. So having the vocals be clearer is a somewhat scary step for me but I think it’s important.

Share The Joy has songs that are over six minutes long. What influenced that creative change?

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and the Wipers’ Youth Of America. We sort of started to go in that direction on Everything Goes Wrong with “Out For The Sun,” and we wanted to push ourselves further.

The title Share The Joy comes from the name of a Burt Bacharach song from the Lost Horizon film soundtrack. Can you talk a little bit about what attracted you to the phrase or the original song?

I was reading this book about Burt Bacharach and Hal David, called What The World Needs Now. It’s a pretty basic biography but a great read nonetheless, and it has this section in the back where they list all of Bacharach’s recorded songs in alphabetical order and write a little blurb about each of them. I was perusing that section and noticed the song title “Share The Joy” and what they wrote about it — (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the book on hand): “Off the poorly-received Lost Horizon soundtrack, this song still has one of Burt Bacharach’s most haunting melodies.” I found that to be a really interesting juxtaposition; one would expect a song titled “Share The Joy” to sound… joyous. “Share The Joy” became one of my favorite songs after that.

What inspired the lyrics for this album?

The themes on this album are mainly alienation and reconciliation. Most of the songs towards the beginning of the album are about loneliness, feeling estranged, a dark past or an uncertain future. The songs towards the end of the album are kind of about realizing that none of it matters and feeling okay about it all. In this sense it’s the only Vivian Girls album with a happy ending. It might surprise people that there aren’t more songs about love on this album — the only love song is the last song, “Light In Your Eyes.” I’ve been enjoying writing songs that aren’t love songs, but disguising them as such.

How do you maintain your DIY approach to music and the business of touring and recording with all of the new resources available to you?

It’s really important for us to not forget our roots or where we came from. We never viewed DIY culture as a “stepping stone” to a bigger, better place; we believe that the most beautiful things come from community. So we still have a really hands-on approach when it comes to the aesthetics of the record (I do the art for all our releases) and the tours we book. We try to hit towns on tour that bands don’t usually go, we usually manage and drive ourselves on tour, do our own merch, etc. We want to make people who like our band feel like they have a personal experience with it.