Interview: Vivian Girls


Vivian Girls illustration by Lorraine Rodríguez-Pagán

Vivian Girls, trio compuesto por Cassie Ramone, Kickball Katy y Ali Koehler, se estarán presentando en vivo esta semana en varios locales de Puerto Rico.  Sus discos, Vivian Girls (2008) y el reciente Everything Goes Wrong (2009), han cautivado al mundo del rock independiente en poco tiempo – generando gran entusiasmo por sus presentaciones y recibiendo excelentes críticas.  Le enviamos unas preguntas a la banda para que pudieran conocerla un poco mejor antes de su serie de conciertos. (OJO: La entrevista es en inglés – si prefieres leer en español, aquí tienes una traducción cortesía de Google Translate) Puerto Rico is usually ignored by English language rock bands out on tour (unless they are dinosaurs on their umpteenth reunion or, apparently, The Killers) so I hope you don’t change your minds about coming to play a string of shows before October 22.  What brings you to Puerto Rico?  Are you planning on doing some sightseeing and taking a little break from the road before heading back to finish off your current tour?

Ali Koehler (drums/vocals): A bunch of my friends bands have been down there like the Screaming Females and the Ergs and Lemuria and they’ve all had a blast so I knew Vivian Girls had to go down there at some point. We won’t have too much time to sightsee but we will get to a beach and drink piña coladas at some point.

PRI: You’ve been pretty outspoken in interviews about the importance of your local scene (Brooklyn) to the band.  What do you find most vital for its continuation and evolution?  How do you keep involved in it as the band continues to grow in popularity?  Any observations you’d be willing to share that could help to the development and growth of Puerto Rico’s ‘indie’ music scene?

Cassie Ramone (guitar/vocals): I think one of the most important elements of the New York scene is the city itself – it’s one of the least stagnant places I’ve been; it’s constantly changing. People are always moving to New York or moving away, venues come and go, bands break up and people start new bands all the time. I think this environment keeps the scene interesting. Although we don’t play many small shows in New York anymore, we always go to our friends’ shows if we’re in town, and in general I’d say we do the same kinda stuff in our spare time that we did before the band took off.

Ali: The only thing I can think of as far as advice for Puerto Rico’s scene is for more people to start bands and put on shows and look for cool spaces. Don’t be a spectator. I know there was a really cool place for shows called CHA that got shut down, but PR needs something else like it.

PRI: With the resurgence of the lo-fi movement, do you feel like you represent something bigger than your band and songs?  Is it hard to escape the pressure – if any – of being one of the better known bands within the movement?

Cassie: It’s definitely a strange feeling when people think we’re at the forefront of this lo-fi movement when we never really thought of ourselves as a lo-fi band. I think that in a few years this will become more and more apparent.

Ali: I don’t really think we’re at the forefront of a movement. We’re just a band that has alternative production preferences that a lot of our friends bands happen to share and people are paying attention to it for some reason.

PRI: What do you find most appealing about lo-fi sound-wise?  Does the way you choose to record your songs inform other aspects of the band, image-wise or otherwise?

Cassie: I think it’s important for bands to record how they feel would best represent the songs, and sometimes lo-fi recordings represent the songs better than polished studio recordings. Lo-fi recording is also good because it’s cheap and can be done by yourself, so it’s a good way to get your music out there. Again, I don’t consider us a lo-fi band – we recorded both of our albums in studios, and the 2 7″s we had that we recorded ourselves we did one out of financial necessity, and we did one for fun and then later decided to release it. Having loud guitars and reverbed vocals were both aesthetic decisions for us that led to us being percieved as lo-fi.

Ali: Personally I prefer to listen to home recordings of bands just because it sounds so much more personal and honest. You know that that’s the closest the band could get to sounding how they wanted to, and there’s something special about that.

PRI’: How’s the tour treating you thus far?  Is touring fun or a necessary evil?  Has the overall experience changed since releasing ‘Everything Goes Wrong’ a few weeks ago?

Cassie: Touring is really fun, but we’re also excited to be home in a few weeks!

Ali: Tour’s been great. We are really fortunate to be able to do this. The only difference I’ve noticed since the album came out is that more people are excited to hear the new songs and are requesting new songs more which feels really nice.

PRI: You guys recently played Coachella.  How was the experience of playing to those crowds as opposed to your hometown shows?  Do you adapt the band’s sound or show in any way to that type of environment?

Cassie: Playing festivals is both fun and nervewracking. We try to keep a similar vibe at our festival shows as at smaller shows.

Ali: I guess the biggest challenge about festivals is trying to to keep it feeling intimate despite the amount of people in attendance. We usually try to make it similar to our smaller shows though.

PRI: Had you been to the festival (as attendees?) before?  Did you get to meet/hang out with any of your musical heroes?

Cassie: No, but it was so exciting to be there! I’d always wanted to go. X’s trailer was right next to ours and I could see John Doe and Excene hanging out in front of the trailer all day. I wanted to tell them that I loved their band, but I got too shy or something. Our friend Mark, who was our tour manager at the time, met Perry Farrell.

Ali: I feel kinda weird about introducing myself to musical heroes, so I just admired from afar. It was pretty sweet though hanging out outside your trailer sandwiched between Bob Mould, X, and Ian Mackaye.

PRI: Are any of you gear-heads?  Cassie and Katy, if you don’t mind me going all Guitar World on you, what are your basic setups for recording and live shows?

Cassie: I play either a Fender Telecaster or a Squier through a Fender Pro Reverb amp. I have a Super Overdrive pedal that I use on many of the songs. Katy has a Johnson Beatle bass that she plays through an Ampeg, and she uses a Muff Overdrive pedal. We sing through Holy Grails.

PRI: Tell us a bit about your recording process.  You’ve recorded your albums in very short spans.  Is the minimal recording time due to the band going into the studio well-rehearsed and knowing what it wants to accomplish beforehand or is there time for experimentation?  What sort of craziness ensues when recording at such a breakneck pace?

Cassie: Yes, we practice a lot right before we go into the studio to ensure that we get most of the songs over with on the first take. We tend to get nervous and mess up more if we do too many takes. There is definitely time for experimentation, but the truth is we didn’t really want to experiment that much while recording our first album. With the second album we felt more at ease in the studio and were able to experiment more. It’s also funny, because to us our recording processes don’t feel breakneck. I think both of our albums were recorded in exactly the amount of time they should have been. Our third album will probably take longer to record.

PRI: Going back to the notion of the ‘scene’ – did you read the Psychedelic Horseshit interview in the Washington Post?  Any thoughts on it?

Cassie: I found it interesting to read, but I don’t agree with him. It actually hurt my feelings, because I always considered Matt Horseshit a buddy of mine and then he was talking shit on us in that interview. I also think his bias towards Times New Viking is hilarious – “It’s ok that they’re doing the lo-fi thing, because they’re my friends.”  To me, Wavves and Times New Viking are both great bands.

Ali: I think he needs a [expletive] hug.

PRI:  We know Cassie is working with Kevin Morby on Babies (any news on that front?). Ali & Katy, any plans on doing some side projects of your own?  What’s next for the Vivian Girls?

Cassie: We’re gonna start playing together again when Woods is done with their tour in mid-November. We’re planning on putting out a couple of 7″s, and playing locally and maybe touring over the summer.

Ali: I’m acutally subletting Kevin Morby’s room in November while Woods is on tour and I’m planning on recording some songs by myself while I’m there. Katy writes songs about dogs under the name “J’aime des Chiens” which means “I love dogs” in French. Katy might be subletting another room at rear house in November in which case we’re gonna record songs as “Roommates at Rear House.” We always have a million bad ideas that rarely come to fruition.

PRI: Year-end ‘best of’ lists are fast approaching.  I’ve always found them to be a great way of catching up on records you might have missed during the year.  What records have you enjoyed the most this year?

Cassie: Girls – Album is really good, so is Wavves – Wavvves and Woods’ Songs of Shame. I’ve been enjoying Best Coast, Real Estate, Male Bonding, but none of them have LPs out yet. We’re putting out an LP by Yellow Fever in December, and that will surely be #1 on my year-end best of list.

Ali: Cassie pretty much nailed it. Girls, Woods, Mika Miko, Yellow Fever, Wavves, Best Coast, Real Estate, Male Bonding. This is one big reiteration. Mika Miko – We Be Xuxa was incredible though. I’m so bummed they’re splitting up.

PRI: Ali and Cassie – thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.  We look forward to your upcoming shows!

The Vivian Girls perform live THIS THURSDAY, FRIDAY, AND SATURDAY in various venues in Puerto Rico.  Check the concert schedule online at brand-spanking new & ass-kicking calendar site, (voted Best Online Calendar Website 2009 by editors).

Don’t miss out – catch them live:

Thursday, October 22 – 8pm @ NuYorican Café, Viejo San Juan w/Campo-Formio, Un Final Fatal & Anti-sociales

Friday, October 23 – 8pm @ Bamboo Beach, Isabela w/Los Vigilantes & No Muertos

Saturday, October 24 – 5pm @ Café 103, Río Piedras (acoustic set)

Saturday, October 24 – 8pm @ Taller Cé, Río Piedras w/Juventud Crasa, Similar & Re-animadores

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Empresario, escritor, productor y diseñador radicado en San Juan, Puerto Rico. Fundador y Editor-en-jefe de Puerto Rico Indie. Si tuviese que vivir por el resto de su vida escuchando solamente cinco discos, en estos momentos seleccionaría: "Fabulosos Calavera" de Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, "Girlfriend" de Matthew Sweet, "Marquee Moon" de Television, "Lateralus" de Tool y "Staring At The Sea" de The Cure.