U.S. Girls is the musical project of Meghan Remy. Originally out of Chicago, Remy moved to Toronto to be with her husband and musical cohort Slim Twig, who produced her latest album, GEM. Remy, noted for her lo-fi aesthetics, had never worked with a producer before, preferring to make her sound collages completely on her own steam. Unlike her fellow bedroom noisics, though, she draws mostly from early Top 40 songs, and her singing voice has an old-timey, jazzy quality, as though she were dialing in from an am radio station. Remy is an art-school grad who also does visual pieces, which she sometimes uploads to her blog. I called Meghan at her home in Vancouver for my first ever interview.
Ad Hoc: Are there any questions you absolutely hate being asked or any subjects you don’t want brought up?
Meghan Remy: I hate being asked what the band name means. In every interview, they ask that. And I don’t really think it matters. But no, I’m game for anything else.
Ad Hoc: I was reading one interview where you talked about wanting to make a new genre of college-educated girl groups…
MR: Yeah, not just strictly college educated, just educated.
Ad Hoc: I was curious what you studied in college?
MR: I studied art, paper arts and graphic design.
Ad Hoc: Did you like it?
MR: I really loved college and feel fortunate that I was able to go, and I feel like I became a more well-rounded person from it. I think I’m better off than just going straight from high school into the real world. But college isn’t for everyone, you know?
Ad Hoc: Do you see a connection between your art and your music?
MR: Oh yeah, to me they’re the same thing. Just part of me wanting to live a creative life and to always be making something. I think that my music sounds like how my collages look, and that my collages look like how my music sounds. They go hand in hand, and they’re both just me.
Ad Hoc: I noticed that on the last record, Girls On Kraak, you wrote a significant number songs from the perspective of different females. On this record I’ve noticed more songs written from the perspective of men, like “Jack” and “Rosemary.”
MR: Well, “Jack” I didn’t write, but it is from the perspective of a man, and I thought it was interesting for a woman to sing it. Just the juxtaposition of that. And “Rosemary” is kind of from either perspective in my mind. It’s of a man singing to his wife, or his woman, and it's also of a mother singing to a child. So the perspective flips a lot. It’s an abstract emotional song, emotionally abstract. But it wasn’t a conscious thing, really. And the “Jack” song-- I wanted to do it because I just really love that song. It was a bonus that the perspective was flipped and created some interesting static, if you will.
Ad Hoc: In the second song, “Work From Home,” I got the impression that you were singing partly about violence towards women, maybe sexual violence…
MR: Well, it's interesting that you picked up on that. I mean, when we’re thinking in our minds about prostitution, that always seems to apply. That song was meant to sort of lighten the air about prostitution-- not make a joke of it, but speak of it light, fluffy, funny terms. To just say, “It’s a job.” It’s the oldest profession in the world, and it’s something that anyone-- male or female-- could fall back on if they needed to. Most of us have the tools that are needed for the job [laughs]. I wasn’t thinking about any sort of violence when I was writing that song, but it makes sense that you would pick that up. We connect the negative with that topic in our minds..
Ad Hoc: And “Jack" has that chorus-- "You dress the way you do"-- which seems kind of topical in light of the recent SlutWalk protests, which contested the idea of blaming rape upon victims based on their dress.
MR: Definitely. I didn’t write the song, so I don’t know what the intention was of the person who wrote it. It’s about Jack The Ripper, a dream he had about Jack The Ripper, so I’m not sure how that line plays into his narrative, but it definitely makes me think about that age old thing of, “Well, she was asking for it; she went out of the house looking like that, and if you go out of the house looking like that, you’re asking for it. What did you expect to happen? Of course you’re going to get attacked and raped. Of course you’re going to be murdered." How, so many times it’s been the women’s fault.
Ad Hoc: Over the years, you've gained a reputation for being a loner and liking to work by yourself. What was working with Slim Twig like?
MR: Well, the thing about Slim Twig is that he’s also my husband, so he knows me pretty well. He really allows me to still be a loner, working in my head. So he was definitely very patient with me and understanding that it’s a big step for me to bring other people into the fold and trust them with my songs. And it’s definitely different having other people around-- people to bounce ideas off, people to be able to do something like play a piano line that you can’t do. It ups the level of the music-- at least in my case. I’m not a trained musician, so when I’m recording alone, I can only do so much, whereas when I’m bringing in other people with different talents from me, the possibilities are really pretty endless.
Ad Hoc: You direct most if not all of your videos, correct?
MR: I’ve directed two of them, and then the rest were all collaborations with other video artists. So if I wasn’t the full director, I still had a big part to play. Visuals really matter to me. They’re really powerful and hold a lot of weight. I feel I need to have a say in every video just so that I feel the song is represented correctly.
Ad Hoc: I was watching your latest video, for “North on 45,” and I was wondering if there was any significance in the main character dropping and picking her robe?
MR: For me, it was symbolic of shedding the skin, moving on. Lightening the load. Getting rid of things that are continually pressing on you. And the picking up and getting the robe on is symbolic of covering up, of staying where you are. Of being told what to do, keeping yourself in the mud, coming upon something and doing it-- not because you want to, but because it’s what you’re used to. It’s kind of abstract, kind of a hard thing to express.
Ad Hoc: She’s running away, the car is coming after her, but there are certain shots where you see her face and she doesn’t look scared. She looks really empowered.
MR: Definitely-- the juxtaposition of the running away and then running towards. Running from something and then, the flip side, almost chasing the car. She’s the one who’s moving forward while the car is moving backwards, at a kind of disadvantage. But there’s also another meaning there: the violence. She’s running away from it, and then on the other side, she’s running towards it, which again is something that we all do a lot in our lives: running towards things we know are bad for us, for whatever reason.
Ad Hoc: I've heard that you're a fan of Cindy Sherman, and in your songs, it’s almost like you put on personas-- like she does in her photography. Are there any other visual artists who you feel inspire you specifically?
MR: A big one is Andy Warhol. I feel like he played a lot with characters, with archetypes, and presenting these things that we’re often bombarded with and then presenting them from a different perspective. Showing people visually, but then letting them speak for themselves. I think that’s really interesting-- not just to mention the aesthetic, which I find really appealing. But I mean, Cindy Sherman is definitely a big one for me. Recently, I just got into this photographer too, Rineke Djikstra, who has show up in the Guggenheim. Something about her work reminds me of Cindy Sherman, but she’s using real people, and shooting them and leaving the narrative completely up to the viewer. And that’s interesting, because the viewer is making up these narratives-- these pretend ideas and stories-- for these people that actually do exist.
Ad Hoc: As for your musical influences, you’ve said you like old school, Top 40 radio. Do you like current pop songs as well?
MR: I mean, I’m just a child of pop-- from old until now. I don’t follow pop radio as much as I did in 2000 and before, but I still will have a song that’s new from the radio that I love every month, that I just pick up on from flipping around stations. But the radio has definitely been my biggest influence-- my biggest kind of view into music. It gives me a certain kind of alertness and absorption rate that helps me when I’m working on collages or cleaning the house or driving or anything; it just seems to open another part of my brain. And on top of that, I’m glad of the stuff I got into from the radio, like The Ronettes, and how I got into Phil Spector and how he recorded everything and who he worked with, and it just grows and grows and grows. So I’ve still learned a lot from the radio, and it got me into things that they don’t play on the radio. If not the radio, it’s just friends telling me about things, playing me records and me liking them. It’s a pretty broad thing: I like free jazz all the way up to Britney Spears.
Ad Hoc: Do you have any thoughts on how radio is kind of becoming obsolete in our current music culture?
MR: I think it’s sad, because it’s free. I mean, you need the console, but it’s much easier to get a radio than a computer. People may say, “Well, you can post music for free on the Internet,” but you have to have a computer, or access to one, while any person on the street, living under a bridge, can have a radio. Hear music, hear news, hear interviews, stories, whatever. And it’s sad that that’s going to go away. I don’t think it’s going to disappear in our lifetime, but it’s definitely becoming less important.
Ad Hoc: Have you found that moving to Toronto has had an impact on your music? How heavily does your environment influence you in that regard?
MR: I think moving to Toronto and starting a new life and getting married and being happy in life has maybe changed the things I write about. I’m feeling like I’m in a safe place in my life that has allowed me to maybe dig a little deeper into my mind and my feelings to talk about things I didn’t want to talk about before. But now I have some support and some safety, so I feel ok to enter into the dark corners.
GEM is out now on Fat Cat Records.