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The Vivian Girls’ have had a busy couple years, and not necessarily only as the Vivian Girls. The two founding members, Cassie Ramone and “Kickball” Katy Goodman, have been busy not only with dealing with the waves of overwhelming infatuation and nasty backlash from their meteoric blog-fueled rise in the indie-lo-fi-rock world, but also with replacing drummer Ali Koehler after she left to join Best Coast, tending to their own side projects (The Babies and La Sera, respectively), preparing their third and most polished album to date only to have it leak weeks before its release date, and guesting on tracks by the likes of Male Bonding.
More recently, Ramone and Goodman appeared in the Black Lips’ “Go Out and Get It” video, which was filled during the three-day Bruise Cruise Festival this February, during which both bands, including other garage-rock groups such as the Strange Boys, Thee Oh Sees, and the Turbo Fruits, rocked a Bahamas-bound Carnival Cruise ship. After coming back from sea, both bands decided to tour the country together this spring. They’ll both hit the Southgate House on April 20th.
While they got ready to hit the road, Cassie Ramone agreed to talk to Each Note Secure about the flurry of activity leading up to this springtime road trip, and how, after somehow surviving the blog hype rollercoaster, Vivian Girls are doing better than ever.
[Each Note Secure] We all enjoyed seeing you and Katy Goodman in the Black Lips’ “Go Out and Get It” video. How did that come about? Was it as fun as it looked? Did it lead at all to your tour with the Black Lips?
[Cassie Ramone] We were kind of hanging around when they were filming the video and I think everyone mutually decided it would be funny if we made a cameo. It was a very spur of the moment decision; the tour had already been booked for a while at that point. And yes, it was as much fun as it looked!
[ENS] How has the band adjusted with new drummer Fionna Campbell?
[CR] It’s been amazing having Fiona in the band. She was a natural fit as soon as we started practicing with her. She fits into my and Katy’s dynamic really well; she is a very positive and inspirational person.
[ENS] I was recently able hear and see the video for “I Heard You Say.” I notice that the production sounds a little more polished and defined, with your voices really taking center stage. Is the rest of your new album,Share the Joy like this? What led to this change?
[CR] It was definitely an intentional decision to make Share The Joy a little more produced-sounding. We felt as though the new songs wouldn’t work as well with our earlier style of production. In the end, it’s all about choosing a method of recording that fits with the songs. I believe that our first two albums sound exactly as they should have, and the same goes for this one. For all I know our next album might be loud and blown-out sounding again, if we think it fits with the songs.
[ENS] When your new album, Share the Joy leaked online, you made the digital download free with album preorders. How do you feel about the complications presented by the web when releasing albums? The Vivian Girls got a lot of its early attention as a band through online media outlets, but is it a double-edged sword?
[CR] Well, I feel like when we began the band, album leaking was already a reality… so it never phased us that much. At this point it’s pretty much inevitable that a band’s album will leak, which is something as a band you have to acknowledge and figure out your own way of working with. Music is definitely strange in the internet age. It’s easier for bands to get exposure, which is positive if you want to be able to make a living off music. But it’s also easier for people to tear down bands once they get a little bit of attention. I believe that the concept of “hype” is very closely tied to the internet and once people get word that a band is hyped it’s harder to approach their music in an honest and visceral way, which is how I wish everyone could approach my music.
[ENS] A few years and a handful of albums seems to be the usual time for the standard accusations of “selling out” and other elements of backlash to occur for a band like Vivian Girls. Is this what you’re referring to? Does the push to keep the band going as a source of income ever cause you any issues with ethos?
[CR] I don’t think “selling out” is as strong of a concept as it used to be, because as a band you can get huge without having to do very much thanks to the internet. If people like your mp3s, that’s all you need: you can become very popular without a manager, record label or years of touring. For Vivian Girls, I believe that the worst is over: we’ve already suffered through a terrible hype and backlash cycle with our first album and I’m pretty sure that anyone who knows of us has already made up their minds whether they like us or not. We’ve been living off the band since our first album came out, which has been amazing. Thankfully we live pretty moderate lives and are able to sustain ourselves mostly through touring. We’re not opposed to licensing, but it depends heavily on the product.
[ENS] Do you consider Vivian Girls a “punk” band? Does that relate at all to how you release recorded material and operate during tours?
[CR] Absolutely. When we began we were very DIY. We booked tours, silkscreened t-shirts, burned and glued together CD-Rs, toured in Katy’s Honda Civic, etc. Even now that we’ve gotten a little bigger we still operate in a pretty DIY manner. We drive and manage ourselves on tour for the most part, do our own merch, and have ultimate control over our artwork and recordings. It’s hard, because a lot of the bands we get associated with never came from a punk/DIY background. But I hope people realize that this part of our history always was and still is really important to us.
[ENS] People always seem to make a big deal about the gender of the Vivian Girls, which has always seemed unfair to me, because I never see interviews with Wavves or Surfer Blood, for example, focusing on the fact that all the members are male. However, the Vivian Girls are now on their third drummer, and the makeup of the group remains consistently all-female. Whether it was your intention from the beginning or not, has the Vivian Girls’ career so far represented any kind of gender politics for you as the members?
[CR] We used to say that gender shouldn’t matter, and that we wanted to be regarded as just a band, not an “all-female” band. But the more that I’ve thought about it, it’s practically impossible to separate one’s work from their gender. I test myself sometimes — “Would this affect me differently if the gender was reversed?” — and unfortunately, the answer is usually yes. When we started out we weren’t on a gender politics bias at all, but at this point in time we own up to and embrace the fact that we are all women. The fact that all our members have been female is more of a coincidence than anything else, but I do think it happened for a reason. It’s aesthetically powerful to see all women on a stage, and it means something that we’ve gotten to where we are without a man’s face or name to stand behind.
[ENS] How does the Vivian Girls members’ solo projects (La Sera, The Babies, etc.) affect your operation as a band, if at all?
[CR] It’s also good for us to be productive. We used to work on Vivian Girls almost every day. Nowadays there isn’t as much work to be done for Vivian Girls most of the time. Also, the other bands help us flex different musical muscles and come back to the band with new ideas.
[ENS] It looks like you have a pretty extensive tour lined up this spring. Are there any dates on it that particularly excite you?
[CR] We’re really excited to tour Spain. We’ve only ever played Barcelona and Madrid before, but the crowds at those shows were so great. I’m sure the whole tour will be excellent. I always love full US tours. We’re hitting a few cities that we’ve never played before, such as Kansas City (home of Burt Bacharach!), St. Louis, and Pawtucket, RI. And of course we are really excited to come to Newport, Kentucky!
-interview by John Crowell @terriblesounds
Vivian Girls are opening for Black Lips at the Southgate House April 20th.
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