Vivian Girls
Building Realms of the Unreal
by Kevin J. Elliott

In a little more than a year the Brooklyn-based, but New Jersey–raised, Vivian Girls have unknowingly assembled a blog-nurtured indie mythology, basically drowning out the deafening hype surrounding them by banging out an entrancing din of their own. Their self-titled debut was here and gone in a matter of days, forcing some to spend obscene amounts of money for the record in auction and leaving others biting their nails in anticipation of the forthcoming autumnal bliss when In the Red reissues it. Truly though, the songs (and that’s really what matters) are worth waiting for. It’s a sound with which to become smitten, the tuneful equivalent to the ups and downs of late-summer flings, and much like their namesake, music made with piebald innocence both beautiful and grotesque.

It’s likely you’ve heard “Wild Eyes” by now, the fabled single that started it all, and the endless list of femme-fronted bands of which the song is indicative is a just comparison: plenty of shimmering Spector-esque production, the clamor and clang of Britain’s pre-shoegaze camp and a blur of Slumberland dream-pop racket. Digging deeper into the album and witnessing their live show, though, reveals a stark difference in execution. There is no drowsy disconnect, instead they pummel the coyness with scrappy punk rhythms and wonky outsider harmonies. Their admitted love of the Wipers and Dead Moon becomes a wicked twist when re-listening over “Never See Me Again” and “I Believe in Nothing,” as each is soaked in gloomy grunge nihilism and rushed with an urgency rooted in hardcore. Better yet are “Insane,” a teeny-bop downer that kind of shines a light on all the basement dank, and “Tell the World,” their Nuggets-worthy death driver. Despite their siren voices reverbed to the realms of the unreal, it’s all pretty gnarly.

Speaking with the girls before a show in Columbus with Crystal Stilts, Psychedelic Horseshit and Times New Viking, it’s was quickly apparent that any pre-conceived notions that this was a boutique set-up were dashed. Their road-tested ramshackle presence, humbling intentions and intriguing secrets about the future place them beyond any semblance to ephemeral ear candy—though it’s certainly become that too.

How did the Vivian Girls begin?

Cassie Ramone: We were all in bands before, mostly basement bands from New Jersey. The way the Vivian Girls started was me and our first drummer, Frankie, would eat brunch together with a group of our friends and she asked to start a band with me and I said, “Okay.” We started practicing and played our first show two months later. This was around May of 2007. That’s basically the way it started. We began with the intention of being a fast punk band.

And Katy and Ally, what bands were you in before this?

Katy Kickball: We were both in a ton of other New Brunswick–based basement bands.

Ally Koehler: None that are worth mentioning here. And I’m currently in another New Brunswick, New Jersey basement band not worth mentioning here either.

There are other groups named “Vivian Girls” out there, and yet you decided to keep the name. Are you big Henry Darger fans?

KK: Not really, we just thought it was a cool name.

Do you feel that his imagery shaped the songs on the album at all?

KK: The thing is the drawings of the Vivian Girls clothed are very feminine and girly, kind of like our music sounds. I might be getting too far into it, but it sort of matches. And the Vivian Girls are also hermaphrodites, which is kind of dudely, also kind of like our music. But we’re not hermaphrodites.

CR: No disrespect to hermaphrodites in any way, but no, we are not hermaphrodites.

KK: It’s a weird dichotomy of masculine and feminine.

As an all-female trio in a more or less male-dominated scene, have you run into any negative reaction to what you do?

KK: Because we’re females? No.

CR: Well, on message boards and stuff, most notably Brooklyn Vegan and Terminal Boredom, people love to make fun of us because we’re girls.

AK: Yeah, it’s totally shit like “I’d fuck that one,” and “That one’s ugly and that one’s cute.”

CR: People on message boards love to say that our band only gets attention because we’re girls. But in real life, when it comes to playing with bands that have guys in them, we’ve received positively no sexism. Actually, I’m pretty sure people on message boards don’t exist. They’re real jerks with nothing better to do than comment on blogs. In real life everything’s great for us.

Everything you read about the band tends to reference the same handful of bands as your inspiration, but other than those, were there less obvious records or artists you wanted to emulate?

CR: It’s actually really funny because we get compared a lot to the Shop Assistants, Jesus and Mary Chain and the Aislers Set, but we weren’t trying to sound like those bands at all. Our biggest influences are the Wipers and stuff like Dead Moon. We were more influenced by punk and garage and not the C86 sound.

Essentially the songs here are love songs, but there’s plenty of doom and dread kind of billowing around them. Lyrics like “I believe in nothing,” where does that gloomy edge come from?

CR: It comes from being freaked out by relationships. And it comes from going out with guys, but feeling pessimistic about it.

Pretty bizarre how fast word spread and your record sold out. Do you have any reservations about people spending $90 on Ebay for it?

KK: I think it’s foolish because our record is being repressed in a month. We didn’t know that we would be written about so much when we first pressed only 500. We thought that was about all we would sell. We didn’t do it as some pretentious, indie move, the way some make it seem. We honestly weren’t sure if there were 500 people who would actually want this.

Not that the music and the collectability of it isn’t worth bidding over, but it seems a bit out of control, and it’s happening with your tourmates, Crystal Stilts, Jay Reatard and the bands your playing with tonight. Do you have any theories on why this phenomenon is occurring?

KK: Something else worth mentioning is that our CDR demo just went for $63 on Ebay. We will give you one. Just Myspace us and we will gladly send you one.

AK: Cassie said she used to have some, but she threw them away.

KK: It’s seriously garbage. I don’t mean the music, but it’s a fucking CDR with our name written on it. If you want it, we’ll give you one. It’s such a joke, because it’s not worth $63.

What’s planned after you re-release the album with In the Red? Have you started recording a follow-up yet? Do you have big plans now that you’re getting plenty of attention?

KK: Well, that’s a secret. It’s in the works; we have songs written.

CR: We’re going to start soon on the second record, as soon as we have time.

Now that the Olympics are taking place, could you tell me what Olympic sport each of you would win a gold medal in?

KK: Reverb.

CR: The luge because you have to be lazy. All you have to do is lay down.

KK: Kind of like the log flume?

AK: Does it have to be a real sport?

No, Katy said “reverb.”

AK: Okay then, eating candy. I just chewed a two-foot stick of bubblegum in its entirety.