It was that famous joke: What’s the last thing the drummer said before he got kicked out of the band? ‘Hey, I wrote a song.’
So you’re forming a band, what do you need? A singer, well unless you’re going down the instrumental route you’ll need one of those, a drummer, well of course, well actually maybe not? Sure the origins of drum kits go back over 100 years, and for most of that time they’ve been the backbone of every successful rock act, but do you actually need one?
It’s almost odd than in a world where technology has pretty accurately replicated every sound going. that nearly every band is still reliant on something as unreliable as a drummer to keep in time! Sure there’s a primal thrill to bashing sticks into skins but do we really need as many bands with drummers as we get?
Some have, of course decided to shed the burden of lugging a drum kit around with you on tour and moved onto something else. Big Black made some of the most aggressive and abrasive music of the early 1980’s American-punk scene, and they shunned not just commercial rock-music but also drummers, instead appointing a little electronic fella called Rolland to keep time, and in doing so they created a whole new sound, taking the bands groove, normally such a human component and making it entirely inhuman. Like everything Big Black did it was designed to make them less accessible, less tuneful and considerably more difficult!
With the growth of electronic music it is perhaps unsurprising that an increasing number of cross over acts are stepping away from the traditional drummer led line-up and turning to something different. Le Tigre may have been the next step of punk-rock legend Kathleen Hanna, but taking their influence from post-punk and electronic music they decided to go for a drum machine, describing the change they speak of the machine as both liberating and self-sufficient. Chvrches may have gone down a similar route into processed beats but for entirely different reasons, one look at their practice room of choice and the prospect of big amps and a full drum kit became impossible. For reasons as simplistic as space saving Chvrches were naturally drawn towards synthesisers and drum machines as their weapon of choice.
Even some great rock acts have often taken a break from the drums, Neil Young’s excellent exploration of guitar effects, Le Noise being a fine example. Of course more often than not, drummers find a way to weasel their way back into music, there’s probably life in the old blighters yet, even if machines have already proved they can do the job just as well – watch out drummers they’re coming for you!
Girlpool are the teenage duo of guitarist Cleo Tucker and bassist Harmony Tividad, with both members sharing the singing and harmonising duties between them.
It will probably not come as a huge surprise that following today’s opening gambit, Girlpool do not have a drummer. However unlike many of the acts mentioned they don’t attempt to cover the role via drum machines; they simply just don’t have any percussion, and that’s fine with them. What they go for instead is a sort of anti-folk meets acoustic punk, all simplistic melodic guitar, rich bass notes and a huge variety of vocal harmonies, sometimes tight and in sync as if they’re almost double-tracked, but elsewhere they’re more complex and contrasting adding more variety than you’d imagine from such an stripped back musical pallet.
Girlpool met in Los Angeles but are now based out of Philadelphia. Philadelphia is America’s fifth biggest city with a population of over 1.5million, and is famous for cheesesteaks, which as far as we can tell are basically a toasted steak and cheese sandwich. The city has more statues than any other American city and is home to the first US hospital and zoo, two factors we cannot rule out being related. Musically it’s got a number of famous sons and daughters, including the likes of The War On Drugs, Joan Jett, Kurt Vile, Solomon Burke, Taylor Swift and of course DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince.
Girlpool formed back in 2013 having met at a Los Angeles DIY venue called The Smell. They would go on to record and self-release their self-titled EP in 2014, which was latterly picked up and re-released by Wichita Recordings. It was around this time they relocated to Philadelphia and began recording their debut full-length album with producer Kyle Gilbride from the band Swearin’. That album, Before The World Was Big, is out June 1st, again via Wichita Recordings.
Girlpool deal in stunningly honest lo-fi explorations of the process of growing up, made all the more poignant by the fact the duo are only just beginning the process. They explore the universal lyrical themes of love, ageing and finding your place in the world. The excellent and sparse opening track Ideal World begins the album in typical fashion “I thought I found myself today, no-one has noticed that things are okay” they sing in delightfully harmony. On the excellent Chinatown they question initially, “if I told you I loved you would take it the wrong way?” but then have the sense of self-worth to realise that the bigger question for anyone growing up is, “if I loved myself would I take it the wrong way?”
On Emily their voices diverge recalling the contrasting vocals perfected by Cocorosie, Pretty is a downbeat ballad that looks at the troubled life of shy lovers, “I could only start at my feet when you said you felt close to me”, whilst Crowded Strangers sees them branch out into a heavier-punkier sound, all distorted guitars, pained vocals and thrilling pulsating bass.
The excellent title track, Before The World Was Big, is a nostalgic stand out, the band looking back and noting, “I just miss how it felt standing next to you wearing matching dresses before the world was big” the vocals take on a syncopated sing-song style, that brings to mind Kimya Dawson, it ends with them repeating the line over and over as round, becoming a thrilling mess of blurred vocals. The closing track, I Like That You Can See It, is a heartbreaking recollection of a relationship, be it ending or beginning, they sing, “is it pouring out my body, my nervous aching, I love that you can see it” there’s some so raw and honest about the way it’s delivered you can tell the pain is real and recent.
Hang on a minute they’re how old?! There’s a number of moments when you want to stop all this seriousness and remind them that as much as they think it’s a big deal that “my mind is almost nineteen and I still feel angry” or recalling “incense burning like our age” that as much as the world might feel big now, it’s got a lot of growing still to do and so have they, all of which just serves to make whatever Girlpool decide to do next even more exciting.
Before The World Was Big is out June 1st on Wichita Recordings. Girlpool tour the UK throughout June.