Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Boyish Are Queering Quarantine on Their New EP

Brooklyn indie-rock duo Boyish find pandemic comfort in the past and their new sound. They discuss keeping in touch with their queerness in a socially isolating time.

We're all gonna die, but here's my contribution
28 May 2021

While LGBTQ+-inclusive spaces were closing this year, Boyish (India Shore – vocalist and Claire Altendahl – guitar) were creating their own with new music. Whether it be taking inspiration from Miyazaki’s androgynous eponym on “Howls” (a childhood/current favorite of Shore’s) or capturing 1D-fandom admiration on “Superstar”, the Brooklyn-based indie-rock duo found comfort in the past during the pandemic. “In so many ways, [I] felt like I was 14 again where I didn’t have any freedom,” Altendahl pined.

Their latest project—the EP We’re all gonna die, but here’s my contribution—wraps each of these memories for a more mellowed-out sound compared to 2018’s Carnations or 2020’s Garden Spider. That is not to say, however, that We’re all gonna die….is any less emotionally charged. “We were much more bombastic back then,” Altendahl recalled of their past discography. “This one was more like….(“I’m sad,” India whispers) rock you emotionally,” they laugh.

Boyish spoke to PopMatters about creating music cross-country, writing songs to visuals, and keeping in touch with their queerness in a socially isolating time. This transcript was edited for length and clarity.

Just to start off, how did the process of making the EP start?

Claire Altendahl: It started right at the start of quarantine, so…I was in New York, up until March 13. And then I was like, “See ya! I’m not gonna be here when the world blows up.” (laughs) So I went back to Minnesota. The whole start of the EP was like a cross-country voice memo dump, and (internet lags out) it was just a bunch of ideas being sent back and forth to Minnesota. And we just sat down, we wrote through it, wrote a bunch of stuff, and then…

India Shore: Recorded it in Claire’s childhood bedroom, and that was it! And we didn’t finish it up until October coming back to New York, so we kind of recorded it in a bunch of different places.

How did you guys get into Miyazaki and why Howl’s Moving Castle specifically?

IS: I was so obsessed with that movie as a kid. I went through a phase where I’d watch it every day. I just loved it so much; I had the biggest crush on Howl. I also thought the score was so beautiful. And every one of those movies that he’s made is just so beautiful to watch. It’s such a visually beautiful thing to watch, and the stories are really magical. It just inspires a lot to watch them, but Howl’s Moving Castle is a present-day childhood favorite.

CA: And I had never seen a Miyazaki film until college. And I went to my friend’s apartment, and they’re like, “We’re watching Howl’s Moving Castle.” Like what’s that? And then the whole time, I was like…It was crazy, and just the whole storyline, the characters, the creativity in all of his films blows me away. I just watched Spirited Away for the first time, and you could not expect a single thing that happens in that film. And same with Howl’s, too, you don’t see it coming, and I think (Miyazaki) goes about it in such a creative and cool way. But Howl’s, for sure, I think we wanted the texture of it. At least for me, when we started writing the song, I really want to capture the graininess of it, (the) vintage feel to it, but also whimsical. It’s just so special, and I just wanted that vibe to the whole song.

I was gonna say, Howl, to me at least, is the canonical androgynous hottie.

IS: Yeah. I was…confused. I was like, “Wow, who is this?!”.

Do you think that quarantine was largely responsible for the new sound or were there any other sort of stimuli that inspired the new sound?

IS: I think, one, quarantine just gave us a lot of time, as it gave everyone. I think that played a huge part. Also, just as a band, it’s taken us a long time to figure out what we want to sound like. I think a big pattern of ours is to hear a new project from someone and be like, “Whoa, that’s such a cool new sound; let’s try it out like that!” (“I want that one!” Claire chimes in). Yeah, and picking and choosing from all these different inspirations ending up with more of like a mosh pot versus like….I feel like what we did with this was sit down and be like, “We want to create one world that all these songs exist in.” And try to find a sound that feels right for us and actually be like, “Oh, this is really how I want to sound.”

CA: Yeah, honestly, for me, we had a friend in spill tab, the band actually, who turned us on to this plugin called SketchCasette. I think this is what did me in, and it’s like a cassette tape emulator, and it has this saturation and distortion and this glitchiness that sounds like a cassette that’s gone rogue. I was like, “That’s it, that is the sound.” It’s not everything, and I think that was a huge change for me, honestly (“The plug-in,” India laughs.). That one plugin changed my entire game.

Besides Miyazaki, what were some of the other sources of inspiration that you guys had during quarantine?

CA: Euphoria (“Euphoria, yeah,” India agrees) was my big one. “Superstar” was funny because that one was about India’s love for hairstyles. It was about the fandom there.

IS: It’s not just Harry Styles; it’s just One Direction. I feel like I went through a very regressive phase during quarantine where I was going back to all the things I loved when I was like 13 or 14. So I went back into One Direction, and I went back into Twilight.

CA: But when we’re writing “Superstar” because India knew that feeling of being in a fandom, of worshipping someone that you don’t know. And I have never really been in a fandom, so for me, “Superstar” is about that relationship between Rue & Jules in Euphoria, and the way that Rue looks at Jules. And that’s kind of what I had envisioned when we were writing that ‘cause I was like, “You really like Harry Styles? That’s the lyrics? You’re in a boy band! You’re British!”

I see the Euphoria influence in some of the music videos that you have for this era. How and when do visuals usually come into play when you guys are writing songs?

IS: I feel like we write to a lot of visuals. I know it’s different than making music videos. When we finish a song, or in the process of the song, we’re like, “Let’s put it to a scene from a movie or a show that we’re watching that we love,” and see how it holds up.

CA: Or a lot of times, it’s like, “You know that part in Normal People when, like (India laughs over Claire describing the scene)”— we’re like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that!” (“When Connel doesn’t take her to the dance,” India pines). Yeah, so when you watch it, and you’re like, “Oh, shit, I feel like I know exactly that emotion now.” Because sometimes emotions, when you talk about them, sound so stupid, and you don’t get them. But then you see it acted out, and you’re like, “Yeah, I get that.”

IS: And then with music videos…..we usually put them off. I don’t actually like making music videos. But this time around, I feel like we had a lot of fun with it. We just did it here in Bushwick with my roommate and really good friend Eli, like us, just running around our apartment for three separate music videos, so that was a lot of fun, too.

Is there a specific scene or color or film that you two associate with the EP as a whole?

CA: If it’s a color, I would say sort of like a purplish (“Yeah,” India agrees); that’s what always comes to my head with it. And maybe that’s because of Euphoria, and I can still see that, but that’s the whole vibe. And I think there’s such an energy last summer that still, when I listened back to these songs, I can immediately place where I was in this unsettled world, figuring out where I fit in. And everything was so uncertain, and so that carries with it, too.

I think it’s interesting, India; you also mentioned this idea of regression because, to me, when I was listening to “Superstar”, I was like, “Okay, that’s about a parasocial relationship,” right? But I feel there can be parallels between parasocial relationships and that feeling of unrequited queer love like, vis-a-vis Rue and Jules. Do you guys feel the pandemic has almost felt like being back in the closet in a way?

CA: Yeah, I totally get that, especially because I was in the Midwest, and in so many ways felt like I was like 14 again where I didn’t have any freedom. I remember watching a ton of queer shows, and last fall, I went through a bookstore, and I talked to this lady. And I was like, “I need every queer book you have.” Because I have no one around me that’s like that, so I went through, and I was very specific. I was like, “If it’s not lesbian sci-fi…”. Like those are my standards, like, I want…. (“Gideon the Ninth!” India laughs.) Gideon the Ninth is my favorite fucking book ever, but she had them. She knew all of them. It was so funny. That was my community because I’m like, “There’s no one around me.” Maybe there’s online, but that’s not the same, like, I want to feel something. So I read through so many books this fall.

How else have you guys kept in touch with your identity and maintained that part of yourself. Claire, you said you’ve been reading a lot of lesbian sci-fi novels. What else have you guys been doing?

CA: It’s been nice since I’ve moved to New York, too, because I feel like I’ve finally been able to meet up with friends, a little more especially like roommates and everything too and just being around other queer people. But, before then…

IS: I feel like it was a lot of media, like just watching shows was like biggest thing. And then I tried to read Gideon the Knife, but I couldn’t get through it. I was a little confused um… (“It’s confusing, but it’s amazing,” Claire defends). Yeah, honestly, I really love TV shows. I think TV is such an exciting medium right now like there’s just so much good TV. I feel like that was a major part for me — watch things and feel something for a bit when nothing else was happening in my life. I was like, “Oh, this is good.”

Where do you see the band going from here, now that the world is opening back up? What are you guys looking forward to and where do you want your music to go next?

CA: We’re trying to tour. We just want to see all the cities.

IS: We want to play shows. That’s the only thing I want at this point in my life, just to play some shows…(“Play with a live drummer again…,” Claire daydreams) like a band, that’ll be really nice. So hopefully, that’s what this year has in store, just lots of live music. And we’ve been writing more music, too, and who knows? We’re just going to see from there what happens. I don’t know what’s going to happen!