The Girls Are Back in Town – AdHoc

The Girls Are Back in Town

Vivian Girls return to form on their first record in eight years. 

Things have changed for Vivian Girls since we last heard from them. The group that once called Brooklyn home is now based in Los Angeles—singer and guitarist Cassie Ramone picked up and moved a year-and-a-half ago to reunite with bassist Katy Goodman and drummer Ali Koehler. Goodman and Koehler are both mothers now. 

But their signature fuzzy guitar riffs and droning harmonies haven’t gone anywhere. In fact, they’re on full display on their new album, Memory. The record is out today, and it’s less of a nostalgia trip and more of a reckoning with the time that’s passed for songwriter Ramone. The newly reunited band recently spoke with AdHoc over the phone about the new record, a conversation that involved both reflecting on the past and looking toward the future—with just a few interruptions from babbling babies in the background. Vivian Girls will return to Brooklyn on their fall tour with a stop at Warsaw on October 17.

Memory is coming out eight years after the last Vivian Girls album, and it’s been even longer since Ali was in the mix. Can you tell me how you felt coming together to record these songs after all that time?

Cassie: It felt really awesome and natural. 

What was the writing process like?

Cassie: Pretty similar to how we’ve always done it. I would write some songs on an acoustic guitar, and then I’d show them to Katy and we’d come up with bass parts and she’d help me structure some of the songs. And then we’d play them as a full band and flesh the songs out. 

There’s a gloominess to the sound of the album—can you talk about what’s driving that darkness?

Cassie: Life is dark and gloomy, ya know? That’s it.

“Sick” seems to deal pretty head-on with mental illness. Is this something you feel is easier to talk about in 2019, when people are more open to that discussion?

Cassie: I would say no. I’m a very private person and I really only like talking about [these things] through my music—unless you’re like my best friend, or something like that. So yeah, I’ve always just written shit about whatever is haunting me.

I see that you made note of the astrological positions of the sun and moon during your recording sessions in the press material accompanying the record. Can you explain what those positions mean, and how you think they affected the final product?

Cassie: I kinda threw that in there for fun. I’m a big astrology person—I mean, we all kind of are. I think recording during a waxing moon and a full moon is very cool. When the moon is waxing, it signifies growth and opportunities opening up, and when the moon is full, it signifies, like, witchcraft power stuff.  

I just watched the music video for “Sludge,” which was directed by Alex Ross Perry. How did this collaboration with him come about?

Cassie: He has been a really big fan. I know him from way back in the day in New York. We hadn’t kept in touch at all for years, but then he reached out because he wanted to buy art from me. And then he was like, ‘By the way, I love your band. I’d love to do a video with you guys.’ So then we had a meeting with him and we brainstormed. We all got along, and we decided to do it.

Ali: Alex is really talented, and it was really fun working with him. It’s my favorite video.

Katy: I love both of the videos we’ve released so far. The one [for “Memory”] that’s coming out next is fun as well. All three videos tie together in a certain way; it makes sense to me. I’m very excited.

Alex said he named a character in his movie Her Smell, which focuses on female rock bands, after Cassie. How does that make you feel?

Katy: He did say that the character was named for Cassie, our Cassie.

Cassie: I feel great about it. I love it when shit like that happens. I wish everyone would name their characters Cassie.

Katy: Cassie’s character is the one played by Cara Delevigne.

Did you see yourselves at all while watching the movie?

Katy: It’s a movie about a band dynamic with three women. Band dynamics are cool and interesting and no two bands are going to have the exact same dynamic between the people, because you know they’re all different people. But of course you can draw parallels, because it’s three girls in a loud rock band.

Watching the “Sludge” video, there’s definitely a sense of suburban boredom coming through, with you guys hanging out in a 7-Eleven parking lot and drinking slurpees. Is that how life was for you growing up in New Jersey?

Ali: While we were filming I was like, I literally used to do this.

Cassie: Katy and I went to high school together and we had many nights sneaking out late at night and driving around in the suburbs doing nothing.

The landscape of the San Fernando Valley figures into the video pretty heavily. Now that you’re all in Los Angeles, do you feel the change of scenery has had any bearing on your music?

Cassie: I think it’s kind of a hard question to answer, because Katy and Ali have been living here for a while, and I just moved here. I would definitely say it hasn’t; we’ve always done things in our own way. Living somewhere else, we’re just doing things the way we’ve always done it.

Are there things you miss about the East Coast?

Cassie: Of course. I miss all my New York friends and there being a lot of food late at night. The thing I miss most is being able to get a full meal for $5 at 5 a.m. if I wanted to. But living here is great, too.

Ali: I miss weather and water and Italian ice. 

Katy: Living out here means you can’t go outside very much in the summer, because it’s way too hot, and living in New York, I couldn’t go out all winter because it was too cold, so I think the grass is always greener, for me. When I’m sitting inside with the air conditioner running out here, I’m like, “Oh, it’s probably so nice in New Jersey right now.” And if I’m in New Jersey or New York during the winter, I’m like, “I wish I was in LA right now.”

The press material accompanying the record said Memory is not about nostalgia; but the past definitely feels present on the album and in the [“Sludge”] video—with the VHS tapes, for instance. Can you talk a bit about how the songs on Memory deal with the past as a theme?

Cassie: I don’t think too much when I start writing a song. I kind of just like fool around with a guitar and sing whatever comes to me and make sense of it as a product further down the line. I don’t know why there are so many songs about the past; it just happened that way. 

Generally speaking, it’s been five years since I’ve released an album of my own music, and I haven’t really written much in the last few years, until we started doing the band again. Not for any real reason—I just wasn’t that inspired. I guess I just had years and years of experiences that I wanted to talk about, and a lot of those experiences happened like long ago—like three years ago or something like that. I took pretty long breaks from songwriting. I’d write songs once in a while, but not in a high volume at all.

[Regarding] the VHS tapes: we all just really like old things. 

Speaking of the past, Vivian Girls came up as a band in the New Brunswick basement scene in New Jersey that formed around Rutgers. Can you talk about that scene’s significance in relation to your band?

Ali: I saw Vivian Girls before I was in the band, at a basement show in New Brunswick.

Cassie: I think our second show was at a basement in New Brunswick.

Katy: It was—basement shows in New Brunswick were a very important part of my life when I was going to Rutgers. Crucial really. My whole life path changed because of basement shows, because I never would have had the confidence to play music at all had I not been in a bunch of small, weird bands in New Brunswick with Ali. When Cassie was like, ‘Be in this band I’m doing,’ I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that had I not been playing these shows. The whole course of my life changed because of those shows, not to overstate it or anything.

Ali: I agree. I went to college and studied German language and literature, and the only thing I got out of that was Vivian Girls. 

Cassie: Even though I went to Pratt instead of Rutgers, I would travel to New Brunswick to go to basement shows all the time. They were crucial to all of us, I think.

You have been pretty vocal about facing misogyny from critics and online commenters back in the day. I think it’s fair to say the climate for female musicians has shifted a little since then, but you do fear any of that resurfacing with the release of this record?

Katy: Coming back to music with Vivian Girls in 2019, I feel like people on the Internet take a lot more responsibility for the things they’re saying. There’s a lot less crazy nonsense. It still exists—don’t get me wrong. But people who are like, “Hey, it’s the Internet, I can say whatever I want”—there’s a lot less of those people.

Cassie: Yeah, it’s more directed at like, vaccines.

Ali: I’m too old now to be worried about Internet trolls.

Katy: I think back in the day, we definitely gave them more importance than they deserved. Now, it doesn’t affect us in the same way. We’re also older now.

You’ll be touring behind Memory this fall. Katy and Ali, how do you feel about going on tour as moms with young kids?

Katy: Logistically, it’s a lot harder to figure out now that there are kids involved. We’re gonna do it—we’re just not going to be able to go on tour for three months straight the way that we used to. My parents are going to fly out to LA and help out with [my son] Walter while I’m away. It requires a lot more help, a lot more people involved, a lot more planning. It used to be like, “Hey, let’s throw three T-shirts in a messenger bag and jump in the car.” 

Ali: We are currently working on logistics.

Katy: Logistics is a huge part of our lives right now with preparing for the tour we’re gonna do this fall.

After your tour, what’s next for Vivian Girls?

Cassie: I think we’re gonna take a few months off for the holidays and hopefully play some more shows next year and start working on album five.