VIVIAN GIRLS RIDE WORD-OF-MOUTH BUZZ TO WIDER NATIONAL ACCLAIM
IN THE INSULAR WORLD of rock writers, music bloggers and record-store clerks, The Vivian Girls are what you might call overnight stars.
“We always made jokes about what would happen if we got famous, just being funny about it,” says the group’s Cassie Ramone. “We never actually took ourselves that seriously. We just wanted to make music that we liked and that people could dance to.”
While they may not quite be “famous” in the larger sense just yet, the Brooklyn fuzz-pop trio — featuring rock-monikered guitarist/vocalist Ramone, bassist/vocalist Kickball Katy and drummer/vocalist Ali Koehler — is, for better or worse, the season’s most buzzed about new band.
The Vivian Girls’ self-titled debut — which sold out its limited initial pressing earlier this year — will be reissued by Los Angeles-based garage rock label In the Red on Oct. 7. In the meantime, the group will appear at Memphis’ Hi-Tone Cafe tonight, playing a much-anticipated set as part of the annual Gonerfest concert extravaganza. (Full schedule on next page.)
For an outfit that only began playing in May 2007, things have moved awfully fast. Launched as a “punk, house party band” the Vivian Girls have recently been sharing stages with alt-rock icons like Sonic Youth and been tapped to play a handful of prestige festivals.
Still, they haven’t strayed too far from their roots. Calling from a stretch of highway in Ohio, Ramone reports that they played for a group of enthusiastic fans at a college house party the night before. “One of my favorite things about where we are right now is that we can play both huge shows and really small shows,” she says.
The group began touring within weeks of forming. “It was pretty ridiculous; we were really bad then,” admits Ramone, noting that the band’s musical and career development came quickly but steadily. “There was never really one time when it got crazy all of a sudden. The pace sped up gradually over the course of the last year and a half, and we got better in that time too.”
While the band grew exponentially as a unit, so did its audience, attracted by the music — an inspired merger of melodic ’60s girl-group pop and ghostly ’80s lo-fi rock, marshalling the best elements of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound (albeit a scale model) as well as Britain’s C86 indie movement.
“When we got together, we had very loose aspirations of how we wanted to sound. From the beginning, we all really liked girl groups and the Wipers, we all really liked Dead Moon — that was common ground,” says Ramone. “Then we added reverb to our vocals and started adding more harmonies to the songs. It was kind of a natural progression to get to where we are now.”
After cutting a four-song demo and a couple of singles, the band recorded its full-length album in January, which was picked up for release by the small Mauled by Tigers label. Within days of its release in July, the album had sold out and was soon fetching exorbitant prices on eBay.
“I honestly have no idea how that happened,” says Ramone. “It’s kind of perplexing. At first we were going to print 300 copies, and then we thought maybe we should do 500. We were just hoping people were gonna buy that many.
“It almost makes no sense. I guess it just has to be from playing shows and word of mouth.” (It was enough for Larry Hardy, the owner of In the Red, to quickly sign the band and reissue the record).
The group’s follow-up 7-inch release “I Can’t Stay” has been a similar success, selling out pressings in both the U.S. and the U.K. The demand has forced the group to continue writing new songs at a fast pace in anticipation of recording a second album — something made easier by the fact that music has essentially become a full-time job for all three band members. “Me and Katy don’t have jobs anymore,” says Ramone, “and Ali works at an ice-skating rink that lets her take off time whenever she needs to tour.”
In January, the Vivian Girls will head to L.A. to begin recording their second album. Steve MacDonald, of Redd Kross fame, is slated to produce the project .
In the meantime, the band is in the midst of a long tour that will carry them across the U.S. and into Europe through the end of the year.
With the buzz unlikely to abate, and so much hype preceding them wherever they go, does the band ever feel any pressure to live up to expectations. “I don’t think so,” says Ramone. “We always want to put on a good show, but we also don’t want it to seem forced. It’s not like we’re going to put on crazy outfits or anything. We just kind of do what we do, and people seem to like it so far.”
— Bob Mehr: 529-2517
The Vivian Girls, (from left) Cassie Ramone, Ali Koehler and Kickball Katy.