Goat Girl are hard to keep up with. Words tumble out of them. Ideas percolate. They speak in an un-cynical torrent of idealism that is infectious to be around. And that is where we are going to be, for the next two nights, amid the thrill of chatter and chaos with these punk upstarts in Newcastle and Edinburgh. For anyone who has heard their self-titled debut album, which opens with an uncompromising attack on the state of British politics (“Build a bonfire, put the Tories on the top. Put the DUP in the middle and we’ll burn the fucking lot”) it’s unsurprising that their conversation will steer rapidly to the state of the nation: Corbyn, London’s housing crisis, the “fucked up” strangulation of state education. They rail on subjects, from rape culture to female sexuality, New-Age spirituality and growing your own vegetables, with a fluidity that it’s hard to keep up with. It is also quite probable that they are the only band writing about London’s air quality crisis: “Find an antidote for this accumulating smoke,” they sing in solemn harmony on Viper Fish. If everyone became self-sufficient, even in part, says guitarist Ellie Rose Davies. “It would really fuck the system up in a really beautiful way.”
Q meets Goat Girl in Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley, where the momentous Byker Viaduct meets the Ouseburn Viaduct. Everything here stands as a relic of the Industrial Revolution: the paint factory is now a farm, the old mill is now The Cluny, where the South London four-piece will play tonight. It’s ironic we should meet here, in glorious sunshine, the grass soft and mossy, daffodils open and strident. Goat Girl’s self-titled debut album
is a document of the London they grew up in: the injustice, the inequality, the creeps and freaks and perverts. It is an album of fury and disgust, shame and sexual desire. The dark places of the mind, the chaos of the city. They formed when they were just 17 and signed to Rough Trade a mere three months later – the day after Britain voted to leave the EU. “It was probably too soon,” says Davies, reflectively. “People treated us like children.” They have spent the last three years honing their craft and their songs, most of which singer/guitarist Lottie Pendlebury started writing when she was just 15. Producer Dan Carey was brought on board, helping them turn their spiralling ideas into a defiant 19 songs – none of which is over three minutes – plus interludes, “like a book with different chapters and scenes,” says Pendlebury. Post-punk riffs take about turns through folk and grunge, which simmer under threepart harmonies. Creep On The Train is a story about a man Pendlebury saw trying to film her in a carriage, which ends with a violent revenge fantasy made all the more alarming as a sultry violin plays as the scenario unfolds. “A lot of our songs have that tone to it,” says Pendlebury. “They sound quite jolly but you’re actually singing about wanting to smash someone’s head in.” Davies nods: “It’s like smiling at someone with an axe in your hand, ready to blow.” “It was about the frustration I felt at not doing anything,” Pendlebury continues. “I just sat there and tried to cover my body up. Afterwards, I thought, ‘Why am I receiving this and why am I fucking not standing up for myself ?’ And I always have that feeling, like I’m really pathetic, but these occasions shouldn’t even exist, I shouldn’t have to train myself to deal with it. Men need to be taught how to be fucking human. We shouldn’t feel that we should respond to rape culture, because rape culture should be non-existent.” That experience, she says, “left me feeling so sad within myself, which I found so unjust. I wanted to kill him for making me feel like that. And that’s the thing with music, it gives you the safety to say whatever you want, it gives you control. When we all sing it together onstage, it’s ritualistic, it’s empowering.”
The morning after their Newcastle gig, the rain is torrential as we pack into the back of their tour van. They are a rag-tag bunch: Pendlebury wearing wideleg Levi’s with the label still on (“They’re a present for my sister! Don’t tell her!”), Davies in a baby blue furry jacket that belonged to her grandma. Drummer Rosy Jones carries a canvas shopping bag that’s exploding with screwed-up clothes – she doesn’t, she admits, have any idea how to pack. As the bus steers through the rain, they recall how they met with all the vim of a morning after the night before – it is a detailed web of friends and nights spent at Brixton’s Windmill venue. Davies and bassist Naima Iliana had known each other at school in New Cross, Iliana met Pendlebury at a house party when they were 15 while taking care of a friend who was “so fucked she’d passed out. We were forced to talk to each other on this bed, and we bonded.” The three of them started making music together, performing at an open-mic night in Hampstead called Pentameters. “My mum used to drive us there. It was run by this guy whose one claim to fame was that he used to play harmonica in Hawkwind,” says Iliana. “They were all like rich, old rock stars from like the ’ 60s. He was always banging on about knowing William Burroughs,” says Davies. They were obsessed with the 2005 rock doc Dig!, chronicling the bitter rivalry between Brian Jonestown Massacre and The
“A lot of our songs sound quite jolly, b ut y ou’re a ctually singing a bout w anting to smash someone’s h ead i n.” Lottie Pendlebury
Dandy Warhols. “I guess that film inspired so many bands to start,” says Pendlebury. They don’t come off amazingly well as people in that film… “I know but they’re just past the point of even caring what people think of them. That’s what I love about it. They were still just so excited about music – everywhere they went they had a guitar and were writing. It didn’t feel clean or clinical like most music did to me at the time – it was so loose.” Having listened to Brian Jonestown Massacre as well as Pavement and Silver Jews, they realised they needed a drummer to “amplify the sound,” says Pendlebury. And so in came Jones. “I joined when I was 18. I met Naima at a Fat Whites gig. She was with a guy I knew.” Romantically? “Well, we got off a few times,” laughs Iliana. Spend any amount of time with Goat Girl and it’s clear there is a yin and a yang to the group. Iliana and Davies live together in East London and are self-proclaimed “homebirds” who like to “chill the fuck out”. Pendlebury and Jones are the hedonists. They live together with two Goldsmiths students in Deptford in what they describe as a “tip”. “What’s that programme? How Clean Is
Your House? We thought about applying for that so someone could just come round and get rid of the filth!” says Jones, eating a roast chicken dinner with gusto at 11.30am at a motorway service station. “I used to be vegan,” she laughs, holding up the carcass. Pendlebury had thrown a party the night before they left for this stint of gigs. “I brought the whole of the Windmill back, like 40 people. Our housemate’s really annoyed with us…” It’s a precarious balance of personalities, but it works for them. When Q had arrived at their Airbnb earlier that morning, Iliana answered, electric toothbrush in her mouth, while howls of laughter came from the bedrooms behind her. Duvets were bundled on the floor, items of clothing strewn around like a high school sleepover. They christened themselves with stage names: “I guess it started as a joke to distance ourselves from our real personalities,” says Pendlebury. “We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously.” Her stage name, Clottie Cream, was a nickname given to her by “this rude boy I went out with for like two weeks. I met him at a squat rave.” Rosy Bones, just “likes bones, parts of the body, stuff like that”. Naima, whose “hippy” mum named her after the John Coltrane song, has Naima Jelly: “It makes no fucking sense.” “And mine is LED,” says Davies. “I thought it sounded funny, like a rapper’s name. I’d never introduce myself as a person like that because I’d feel like a wanker. But that’s it – taking the piss out of those people who think they’ll get so famous that they can’t have their real names, it’s ridiculous.” There is a distinct lack of pretentiousness or vanity in Goat Girl. They hate social media and now only have it “because our label made us”. In the early days, they wanted “everything to just be by word of mouth”. As part of South London’s DIY scene that counts Shame, Sorry and Fat White Family among its kin, this was possible at the beginning, when they played in and around local venues. As they got bigger, they came around to reaching wider audiences. But as the first generation to use Facebook from a young age, Iliana worries about its effects. “I wonder what the impact will be in like 30 years’ time, on mental health and memory and what’s the word… the thing where you can’t pay attention for long enough?” ADD? “Ha – see?!” she laughs. “Our attention span has been lowered to such a degree. We take in so much, but it’s all massively superficial.” Only Davies has a smartphone, the rest have old Nokia bricks. Their management
and label often seem to have trouble tracking them down, something that makes Jones cackle with delight. If there is one thing Goat Girl do not like, it’s being told what to do – in fact there are two songs on the album with that theme, I Don’t Care, parts one and two. They talk about demos and protests they’ve been on: Iliana bunked off high school to go to the student fee protests and ended up getting kettled for hours. “Corbyn is the representative that we’ve been looking for for how many years now?” says Pendlebury. “You can complain but he’s a million times better than most of the people in his position.”
We arrive at an Airbnb in Edinburgh at the top of a cobbled street next to Sneaky Pete’s, tonight’s gig venue. They stampede in and check out the rooms – which are definitely nicer than last night’s. There are even some fake roses on the table in a plastic jug. “Woah!” they all shout, running up and down the stairs. Their confidence and selfassuredness is powerful. “We just try and be ourselves,” says Jones. Sat at this tiny table, in her nylon tracksuit bottoms, shaved head, pinstripe suit jacket done up with a bit of string and a T-shirt with a giant strawberry on it – you can tell she really means it. Do they care about what they wear onstage? “What, do some bands get changed before they get onstage?” Well, yes. “Ha! No, I just put on what I’m going to wear for the day.” “We’re not shy about anything to do with our bodies,” says Jones. “We’re all sexually open people, we’re always talking about it.” Conversation steers to sex, and their song The Man, in which Pendlebury sings, “Bite my lips and taste my hips.” “It’s me imagining how I want a guy to experience me. It’s inspiring as a woman to be able to say those things,” she says. “I wanted to structure the song like an orgasm, how the melody becomes higher and higher until you’re screaming at the top of your lungs.”
he Edinburgh show is sweaty and cathartic – onstage they are relaxed, even nonchalant. “I hate bands who have that detachment, and are so unrelatable. I never want it to be a separate thing of us onstage and the audience,” says Pendlebury. “I feel confident in the way we perform, but as soon as a song ends I don’t know what to do. I’m just lost in playing the music. I’m scared that comes across as arrogant. But I want the music to exist as its own form. I want it to not need my personality.” After the gig, a crowd of people peel off into the streets, some still holding glasses of vodka and orange from the venue (this is the second drinking vessel Q has seen Jones nick from an establishment in one day). Are these all your friends? “Well, we know one of them from a band we played with once, the rest are kind of stragglers…” Jones says – as if she can’t quite admit that they are being followed by fans. The mist is thick now, and the streetlights make giant moons on the damp pavement. We climb the gothic stairs to a bar owned by a friend of a friend and they smoke and drink and chatter. You get the feeling that nothing can constrain the four of them. Ask them their ambitions for the future and they say, “just to be able to make whatever music we want”. In fact, the only thing that does seem to be constraining them is the city itself. They’re off to America soon – they’ve only been once before. You suspect it would suit them: the freedom, the open space, the wildness. They’re thinking about moving to Texas maybe, if all their friends came with them. And they all want to have a go at “living off the land, being self-sufficient.” For one brief moment, they pause. Silence. Ellie looks up, into the damp grey night, the open road stretched out right in front of her.
“What’s that programme? How Clean Is Your House? We thought about applying for that so someone could just come round and get rid of the filth!” Rosy Jones
(Clockwise, from left) Naima Iliana during soundcheck in Newcastle; Pendlebury mimes the band’s name; Pendlebury and Iliana get rolling backstage in Edinburgh.
Ah, the glamour of the road: the band in transit in a Transit.
Animal magic: (above) Goat Girl take it to the bridge, Newcastle; (right) Rosy Jones and friend go sightseeing in Edinburgh.
The kids are alright: Goat Girl (from left) Rosy Jones, Ellie Rose Davies, Lottie Pendlebury and Naima Iliana, Edinburgh, 10 April, 2018.
Hit the North: (left) onstage at The Cluny, Newcastle, 9 April, 2018; ( above) Davies shows some pluck at Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh.