An Interview with Girlpool

words Linnea Enstrom, portrait Mafalda Silva

5th October 2015

The experience of girlhood is avidly documented, fictionalised and capitalised on, yet it rarely shakes you in the way that LA duo Girlpool manages to.

Their debut album Before The World Was Big, released in June this year, questions identity, sexuality and coming of age with poetic lyrical depth and uncompromising imagery, like on the fourth track Chinatown: “Come down and visit with me / I’m lying dead on my knees / Do you feel restless when you realise you’re alive?”

Emotional honesty, intensified by their raw vocals, sung in unison, and simple two-chord melodies, is always at the core of their songs. It’s hard to imagine their music without it. Just like Girlpool breathes the artistry - and friendship - of two seemingly inseparable people, Cleo Tucker (guitar) and Harmony Tividad (bass).

Watching the band live at London’s Scala recently, the last gig of their UK tour, felt like standing beneath a wire walker you know won’t fall. Without banging drums or keys, the music becomes vulnerable, sincere, and forms a bond with the crowd. Which is why humanity felt pretty doomed to fail when, during their closing song Cherry Picking, someone shouts “You have nice tits” at the stage. The next day, Harmony tweets about the incident, calling it “isolating and awful”. The feminist poignancy of one of their earlier tracks, Slutmouth, is terribly sad, but seems all the more crucial for it: “I go to work everyday / Just to be slutshamed one day”.

I speak to Girlpool ahead of their performance at Scala. Cleo is ill and coughing and I’m told I have to keep it short. In a red coloured booth looking down at the stage, we quickly delve into the development of their creative bond, minimalism and why vulnerability is so important.

What have you been up to since your album was released?

Cleo: We’ve just been touring a bunch. Hanging out and playing shows. Since the record came out we did a tour with Frankie Cosmos and now, as we’re here, we’re going to do some stuff with Stephen Steinbrink.

What did you find in each other creatively, from the beginning, that felt right?

Harmony: We had similar intentions in terms of what we wanted to make and that was really powerful and cool to experience, so we pursued it. It was just a feeling. 

Cleo: We wanted the lyrics to be really important. We had a clear, minimalist vision of how we wanted to be as straightforward and pure with it as possible. Initially we thought about getting a drummer, but we just didn’t know who would be on the same wavelength, so we stuck with just the two of us and it has been very special.

In one of your previous interviews you talk about vulnerability as something powerful. Why are you drawn to it?

Cleo: I think vulnerability can facilitate closeness between people. It’s a pure way to be. We started the project with the intention of being as honest and forward with each other as possible. We wanted it to be as close as possible to what we felt - really concentrated music. Vulnerability is something that comes out of being honest and confronting yourself.

Have you been able to be honest with each other the whole way through?

Harmony: Yeah, I think we bring it out of each other. There just isn’t any other way to be. We are generally very straightforward and emotionally aware of ourselves and people around us, so to not bring those feelings out of each other would be impossible.

Cleo: When we first started Girlpool we grew much closer because we were spending more time together, writing and making music. When you start to get to know a person you get to know the things you have in common and the things you don’t align with. We both made conscious decisions and efforts to identify our differences and embrace them and understand them, which I feel is something I’ve rarely done before. That made us really comfortable and strengthened our writing process. We were able to accept the differences that might have scared us initially.

How would you describe your writing process?

Harmony: We’re constantly communicating about how we’re doing in our lives. Usually we start with a lyric or a melodic idea. If we talk about something, we’re like “how can we articulate this musically?” It can go in any direction within that, starting with chords or whatever. It’s about the most most natural way of getting there and feeling comfortable.

Have you had an interest in writing before or has that developed with the band?

Cleo: We’re both written on our own, but we’ve never collaborated with anybody else in this way, writing words together. It’s just an entirely different exercise. It’s about sharing an idea with another person and then exploring it with them, becoming sensitive to… it’s hard to articulate… like you become more malleable to be able to… I don’t know, how do you explain it?

Harmony: It’s like if you have a hat of ideas and words and they’re all really soft and delicate. You pick them out and see what’s yours and what isn’t yours and you have to be extra careful with those that aren’t yours.

Do you take on the other person’s emotions and experiences?

Cleo: We never try to wear each other’s feelings, but we try to…

Harmony: … find ourselves in the feeling.

Cleo: We try to understand it.

Harmony: It’s about finding words that capture two different ideas.

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

Cleo: We have written some new stuff. We’re always talking and drawing and thinking

What do you draw?

Cleo: Harmony makes cool comics. I like to doodle and draw weird things. I’m really into blank contours right now.

Does the different mediums of art you use inform each other?

Harmony: It all informs itself. It’s like a giant painting, everything that you make is part of you. It all goes back and forth. It can’t be articulated or understood entirely. Art is like empathy. It goes deep, like brainwaves, water shaking. We just want to be able to create freely and not feel confined by anything.