Music

Girlpool Keeps Its Sound 'Intentionally Warm and Soft'

Devon Maloney
Los Angeles Times (TNS)

It’s a sound that matches the sunny, unflinching outlook of their fledgling band.

Sitting with her bandmate Cleo Tucker on the back patio of a coffee shop in Los Angeles, Girlpool’s Harmony Tividad remembers the jarring contrast when the acoustic pop duo arrived in Philadelphia after uprooting their lives in their native L.A.

“It was 9 degrees,” recalls Tividad, 19, sipping a soy chai latte. What would make them make such a change — and in January, no less?

“Let’s see,” says Tucker, 18, momentarily lost in thought. “It was just sort of like a natural, ‘I grew up here, I want to see the world’ feeling.”

If that sounds precious, you’ve probably never heard a Girlpool song. Named for a particularly existential chapter in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” the duo’s first full-length album, “Before the World Was Big,” released this week on Wichita Recordings, is a vociferously vulnerable effort that reflects on childhood (“I just miss how it felt standing next to you / Wearing matching dresses before the world was big”) while reckoning with the uncertainty of the future (“I was taught what to believe / Now I’m only certain that no one is free”).

Matching spare acoustic guitar and bass with sharp, unrelenting harmonies, the record features the uniquely charming sound Girlpool has crafted over the last two years: equal parts radical and sentimental, loud and quiet — or, in their words, “intentionally warm and soft.” It’s a sound that matches the sunny, unflinching outlook of their fledgling band. And their live performances, whether in a theater or at a house, often feel as intimate as a sleepover.

“We’re both very deliberate people,” says Tividad. “We had discussed pretty thoroughly, also, what we wanted to (sound) like ... and were both really interested in making music that we felt was so exposed that there was no (denying what we meant).”

The beginnings of Girlpool, on the other hand, was far more arbitrary. Tucker, who grew up in an “art-fanatic household” in “Westwood-ish,” and Tividad (the daughter of Los Angeles jazz musician Vince Tividad) met by chance one night in 2013 at one of L.A.’s most storied DIY venues — the Smell.

There the two discovered a like-minded creative community, whose ethos, they say, gave Girlpool — and their relationship — its defining character: “To create freely and be open and kind.”

“We discuss each thought, feeling (and) line so thoroughly,” says Tividad. “There’s a certain understanding and empathy that we have for each other. An ability to empathize with a feeling that’s so different than how I would handle something or how Cleo would handle something.”

“I think (our) friendship is really what allows the music to hold that weight of truth.”

Last fall, they released a self-titled EP whose seven songs run the thematic gamut from the personal to the political. Their debut attracted the attention of former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis, who invited the teenagers to open for her on several East Coast dates in support of her most recent solo LP.

Pair those tour dates with some of their own, as well as the wayward feelings that inspired most of the songs on “Big,” and you’ve got a recipe for change.

“We felt like doing something that was gonna shake things up for us,” says Tucker. “And we felt comfortable in Philly, we knew bands there. It just felt right.”

Instead of slapping a few tracks onto the back of the EP and calling it an album, the pair instead crafted “Big” as its own complete package. Eight of the songs were written in Los Angeles and two once they landed in Philadelphia, where the album was recorded in the home studio of Kyle Gilbride (of Girlpool’s labelmates Swearin’) upon their arrival. The duo didn’t even find their own housing until the album was finished three weeks later.

The result is a concise record that bristles with the crackling, wistful energy of change and approaching adulthood. As for whether they’ll ever return to their hometown, that’s a bit harder to predict as the duo finds more and more places where they belong.

“I kinda feel like I’m a part of everything, a little of everything,” says Tividad. “Even in other cities I don’t live in, ‘I’m a little of this too.’ “

“As we keep traveling and exploring,” says Tucker, “we’ve sort of begun to realize that locations all have just infinite definitions.”

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