Indie-pop crusader explains the power of provocation between bowlfuls of curry.
“Being controversial in an informed way is a super-effective thing to do.”
Fresh off the M6, Meg Remy – aka U.S. Girls – slips into one of the orange vinyl booths that pepper Manchester’s Bundobust and tries to remember which number European tour she’s currently embarked upon. “It’s like my 13th or something,” she eventually decides. “I toured in the DIY way for years in galleries and squats, so this is my first big-time tour. Playing to almost 800 people in London, I’ve never done that before.” After years spent operating under the radar, the step up has been occasioned by Remy’s dazzling sixth album, In A Poem Unlimited. A collection of rich and provocative pop, it necessitates her shelving the one-woman show she’s used to and taking a seven-piece band on tour instead – a set-up, she’s discovered, that comes with limited culinary opportunities. “When it was just me touring the promoter was like, ‘We’re going to take you for a really nice meal’, because you’re one person so they can afford to do that,” she explains. “This trip’s all very minimal. We’re eating the rider a lot of the time – we try and save the bananas so everyone can have one in the morning.” It’s a situation that makes our seemingly endless lunch of Indian street food – bowls and bowls of okra fries, buttercup yellow tarka dhal and paneer curry – even more of a welcome treat. It won’t be long before Remy is back in the comfort of her Toronto home. Despite her moniker (inspired by the nickname an ex-boyfriend gave to her breasts), Remy left the US for Canada eight years ago. It was a move precipitated by a relationship, but she’d been keen to emigrate for a while. “The standard of living is decaying at a faster rate than most places,” she says. “There was an internal bell going off to get the hell out of there.” Long outraged by injustice, as a teenage Crass fan Remy founded a rock band that aimed to “combat coolness” and the hierarchy of high school life. She began U.S. Girls a few years later, initially as an abstract noise project. Nowadays, the creepily obscured vocals have been replaced by crystal-clear lyrics that – unsurprisingly – tend to skewer the excesses and evils of her homeland. Less predictably, it’s not Trump but Obama and his drone strikes that form the subject of her ire on In A Poem Unlimited. On M.A.H., a bundle of Blondie-scented disco, she critiques the latter through the prism of a love affair gone sour. “I thought writing about Obama instead of Trump was more effective. We don’t need to talk about Trump any more, we know he’s a piece of shit,” she explains. “I think being controversial in an informed way is a super-effective thing to do.” There are plenty more galling examples of that on what Remy dubs her “devil’s advocate album”, including a bitterly comic take on sexual harassment in the form of Pearly Gates, about a woman ascending to heaven who is told she must have sex with St Peter in order to gain entry. The subject matter has led critics to mention the album in the same breath as the #MeToo movement, and while Remy’s supportive of the campaign, she has mixed feelings about hashtag activism. “With Hollywood and Time’s Up, you see these women at their fancy award show and it’s, ‘Time’s up for the men, you gotta stop treating women like shit!’ Well, these women that are saying this are fucking filthy rich. What about it’s time to quit stockpiling wealth? You can’t attack one system of oppression and not look at the rest.” Remy, for her part, does not have any plans to accrue masses of cash. Her success with U.S. Girls has been incremental rather than instant – and she’s more than happy to have escaped the trappings of stardom. “I’m dealing with it on such a minimal level,” she says of the rock’n’roll lifestyle. “But even what I have now – if I had been 21 years old, I’d be dead of an overdose for sure.” Being 33 instead, she sips her cup of chai before sliding off to her Manchester show – older and wiser, but as hell-bent on speaking truth to power as ever.
Currying favour: Meg Remy, aka U.S. Girls, Bundobust, Manchester, 18 May, 2018.