Maybe Golden Grrrls guitarist Ruari MacLean wishes that his band’s name “wasn’t just a stupid joke,” but it’s clear that the young Glasgow trio’s catchy indie-pop doesn’t rely on any gimmicks to stand out. And actually, their name oddly suits Golden Grrrls’ shambling guitar-pop aesthetic well: Putting a twist that’s all their own on classic ‘80s/‘90s indie underground sounds, Golden Grrrls’ self-titled debut evokes both a warm sense of nostalgia as well as a DIY vitality that never grows old. On the eve of the album’s release, PopMatters checked in with MacLean to find out about how he sees the Golden Grrrls fitting into a noise-pop trends, past and present—not to mention more about their name. Golden Grrrls comes out on 12 March 2013 on Slumberland Records.
Photo courtesy of Slumberland Records
PopMatters: For starters, Golden Grrrls is a pretty ingenious name that begs some questions. First, what’s your favorite riot grrrl band? Second, an American audience would definitely like to know how—or if—some young Glaswegian are fans of the mid-‘80s sitcom your band name alludes to.
Ruari MacLean: Haha! I’m glad you like the name, a lot of people seem to really hate it. I kind of wish we’d chosen a better one, or one that it wasn’t just a stupid joke, anyway.
I guess it depends what you mean by “riot grrrl band”. If we’re talking about early ‘90s guitar bands, then I suppose it’d probably be Bikini Kill. I think Pussy Whipped is a really great record, although it’s not a genre I would claim to be an expert on. If we’re talking about bands in general that have a strong female presence, make amazing music, and speak eloquently on gender issues, I think Grass Widow are pretty great. I should add that I’m writing this as a white male twenty-something, so maybe [bandmates] Eilidh [Rodgers] or Rachel [Aggs] would be better placed to offer suggestions on this.
I used to watch the TV show [The Golden Girls] with my grandmother, she was into it. I don’t think it’s been on British TV for years though, so I’m not sure if a 15-year-old kid from Glasgow would even know what it was.
PopMatters: Musically speaking, your influences seem less Kill Rock Stars agit-punk and more K Records and Slumberland indie pop. How do you see yourselves fitting into a K Records/Sarah Records “international pop underground” tradition?
Ruari MacLean: Yeah, we’re all fans of those labels and it’s really exciting to be on Slumberland in the U.S. Beat Happening and Black Tambourine were bands that we talked about when we were starting out and trying to work out how to go about writing pop songs. And [Michael Azerrad’s] Our Band Could Be Your Life is a book that I’d say a lot of British music fans of our age have read and feel a strong connection to, despite living thousands of miles away from the scenes/cities that are referenced. We’ve really enjoyed playing with a lot of American bands that have toured the UK over the last few years, made some friends, and had fun hanging out. I guess quite often we have a lot of the same music tastes, interests, and cultural reference points. If something comparable to the international pop underground movement of 25 years ago does exist, I’d say we probably feel part of it, in some small way.
PopMatters: Speaking of Slumberland, how does it feel to have them release your debut? That seems like a perfect match for both sides.
Ruari MacLean: Yeah, it’s been really great, totally exciting! I guess when we recorded the record, long before we’d spoken with Mike [Schulman] at Slumberland, I had an idea of how I thought releasing it would go, that it would probably just be like a slightly more grand version of releasing a single. But I guess because of the respect for and trust that people put in the label, it feels like a lot more people have taken notice, which is cool if a little intimidating at times! Mike’s been really great to work with, super positive and supportive, and I’m really excited we’re getting to come over to the U.S. to play some shows. I’d also like to add that we have a totally amazing label in the UK as well, Night School. If Michael, who runs the label, hadn’t asked to put out a record, it would never have been made in the first place.
PopMatters: With the revival of Slumberland, there have been a lot of new up-and-coming bands revisiting the twee garage-pop sound in recent years. How do you take a tried-and-true formula and put your own new and individual twist on it?
Ruari MacLean: That’s quite a hard one to answer really. While we’ve talked about bands we like and admire, we’ve never really had a discussion about how we want to sound exactly. We just all play together in a way that feels natural and this is kind of how it sounds—I don’t think we could make music any differently. I guess we all have quite diverse tastes and that comes out in the songs we write and the way we play; the only real criteria we have is that we see ourselves as a pop band. I think it’s cool when people say it reminds them of a time or a sound or a band, but that we’ve done something different with those influences. I suppose it’s hard with so much pop music from the past 50 years or so to make guitar music that sounds totally unique. I long ago got over being at practice and somebody saying “that sounds a bit like…” and seeing that as a negative thing. I’m happy to embrace it.
PopMatters: As your name suggests, there’s a good-natured sense of humor to your music. And yet, there’s also something poignant to it. How do strike just that right bittersweet tone to your songs?
Ruari MacLean: I think it’s just a reflection of us as people really, possibly Eilidh and I more so, as we write the majority of the lyrics. When we’re just hanging out together, we generally seem to either be having quite serious discussions about things or just being really stupid and making jokes at each other’s expense. Again, there wasn’t ever a discussion about what our music should be like lyrically and I think we both like lyrics that are quite ambiguous in their meaning. People can read what they want into it though, I’m totally fine with that.
PopMatters: After releasing your debut, what else do you have planned this year?
Ruari MacLean: Tour as many new places as our jobs allow hopefully! We’re working on some touring plans at the moment, which will be really cool if they work out. We’ve recorded a new single that we should have for our U.S. dates, but I’ve got quite a lot of songs that we haven’t had a chance to work on, so for me it would be cool to take some time out to just practice for a week or so at some point. We don’t really do much of that unfortunately. Then maybe look at recording again before too long. This band is just an excuse to hang out and travel really. It looks like we’re going to do quite a lot of that this year, so I’m pretty happy.
// Notes from the Road
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