“She explained to me that the Girl Pool was the typing bureau in the Laboratory’s basement. ‘The girls belong to anybody with access to a dictaphone.’ All year long, she said, the girls of the Girl Pool listened to the faceless voices of scientists on dictaphone records – records brought in by mail girls. Once a year the girls left their cloister of cement block to go a-caroling—to get their chocolate bars from Dr. Asa Breed. ‘They serve science, too,’ Dr. Breed testified, ‘even though they may not understand a word of it. God bless them, every one.'” —“The Girl Pool,” Chapter 17 of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle
“The Girl Pool” is the name of a chapter in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle; it’s a brief one, presenting a world in which women live limited and meaningless lives. It seems fitting that Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker chose to reclaim the name for their band, Girlpool. The duo’s lyrics are largely self-reflective, but as a result, also present pointed, resonant social commentaries.
Sexism and ageism on their own are two of the most oppressive forces in the music world. Because of that, teenage girls have to fight particularly hard to be taken seriously. Tividad and Tucker are more than fit to take on these challenges. Though 19 and 18-years-old, respectively, the pair are smarter and more eloquent than many of their critics.
Before forming Girlpool last year, Tividad and Tucker met through mutual friends and frequent visits to The Smell, an all-ages DIY space in Downtown Los Angeles. The girls were playing in separate bands that coincidentally debuted at the same gig. Tividad and Tucker began jamming together with the former on bass and the latter on guitar. The rest was history. Girlpool played their first show together in December 2013, though there was no drummer. (There still isn’t; please stop asking them why.) Over the next few months, they would play house shows, local festivals, and larger DIY spots like The Smell.
In February, Girlpool quietly released their debut self-titled seven-track EP, a minimal, yet powerful record. The overarching lyrical theme of which seems to be sex: sexual frustration, sexual desire, sexual vulnerability, sexual rejection, and sexual empowerment. But Girlpool express these familiar, complicated motifs in a straightforward and accessible way that belies the complicated nature of the topics themselves. In September, the duo signed to Wichita Recordings, who will re-release the EP November 18, and a new album in 2015.
“I don’t really care about the clothes I wear / I don’t really care to brush my hair / I go to school everyday just to be made a housewife one day,” sing Tucker and Tividad on “Slutmouth”. Because of lyrics like this, Tividad and Tucker are often viewed through a feminist lens. And although Tividad and Tucker identify as feminists, their politics are only one aspect of their selves.
“I wouldn’t describe our band as a feminist band,” says Tucker. “We’re just people who identify as feminists, but that has nothing to do with our band. It’s wrong to put one layer of our identity at the top, because what does it matter, that’s just one thing and it’s unfair for the rest of what we’re about. It’s been frustrating at times to be labeled by feminism or our gender because just like our gender is one part of our entire human entity, so is the feminist quality of our band.”
Tividad is just as passionate about the self-empowering potential of say, DIY culture, as she is about gender politics. “The second I started going to DIY things I wanted to be really active because it’s really inspiring and special,” she says. This includes volunteering at venues and festivals, as well as interning at the all-ages, non-profit venue pehrspace.
“Don’t ever go away from home / You’ll never know what it’s like in the unknown,” sing Girlpool on “Plants and Worms”. “But exploration opens up my mind / All the plants and the worms live outside”.
I can’t help but think of this lyric in mid October, when I call up the duo for the first time. In a few days, Tucker and Tividad will fly to the East Coast for their first big tour: a string of shows with L.A. pals Slutever, followed by a hectic CMJ week, several more Northeast shows, four dates opening for Jenny Lewis, and then a slew of European dates.
Tucker explains that “Plants” was written at a particularly frightening part of life, as she as about to graduate high school. “The choice came down to college or pursuing music,” she recalls. “Harmony and I were both thinking about school at the time, but school was really on my mind, I was fearful. I guess I have anxiety about doing things that make me uncomfortable and going away to new places… but then if you explore, you will grow”.
Tividad described their adventure as “unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.” She has never been away from home for more than ten days. “This is going to be extremely nuts for me because I’ve always been around my parents,” she adds. “We’re very accustomed to the environments we live in.”
“It’s weird because as annoying as it is when my age is pointed out in articles, it is still relevant,” Tucker adds. “I am 18 and it is freaky. A lot of my friends just started college and are having identity crises and are feeling weird and missing the comfort of home and how things used to be. I’m going through that too, but on tour and in foreign places every day. It’s really overwhelming.”
A lot of my friends just started college and are having identity crises and are feeling weird and missing the comfort of home and how things used to be. I’m going through that too, but on tour and in foreign places every day. It’s really overwhelming.
The past year has indeed taught Girlpool a lot. But perhaps more than anything, it’s taught them about friendship.
“Cleo and I came back from San Francisco yesterday and it was really intense,” Tividad tells me during our phone chat. “I think it highlighted a bunch of things about how intense our friendship is. Cleo and I talk about how we have the most honest relationship out of all our relationships with people.”
“Harmony and I have been in so many situations together and have recently been enduring such new experiences together,” Tucker continues. “It brings both of us a ton of new emotions… We’re both really expressive people and because we both only have each other there’s nothing really that’s held back between us. So what I’ve learned about friendship is…”
“To embrace all the qualities of a person and yourself and be honest,” Tividad interjects.
The rest of the conversation goes similarly, as the pair finishes each other’s sentences and confirms one another’s thoughts.
“Embrace everything about yourself that might not be in the other person,” says Tucker. “Accept your differences and learn how to work with them together rather than one person sacrificing their comfort.”
“There’s a middle ground for everything and you can both be happy even when you have different perspectives on things as long as you’re honest and communicating,” says Tividad.
It very much sounds like relationship advice.
“When you are close to and honest with someone it is natural to grow empathetic for that person,” concludes Tucker. “I think empathy can be a really strong quality in a human if it’s exercised. I hope in our music vulnerability and honesty bring empathy.”
Two weeks later, Girlpool and Slutever perform at Bard College (where I go to school). They have been on the East Coast for about a week, and are infatuated with the people, the music scenes, and the weather. Yesterday, they spent the afternoon at the Museum of Natural History before playing a stacked sold-out show at The Silent Barn with pals Radiator Hospital, Allison Crutchfield, and Libbie 2000. Their excitement bodes well for the rest of the tour.
Girlpool’s performance in my school’s old car garage is jaw-dropping good. They play a mix of songs from the EP and new ones from their upcoming 2015 record, switching instruments and sharing vocal responsibilities. Girlpool is able to command purely through their voices and minimal instrumentation; they are storytellers. They stand strongly in front of their microphones, occasionally moving close to play off the other, and sing in clear, direct voices that are an overwhelming mixture of vulnerable, powerful, and enlightened.
I think empathy can be a really strong quality in a human if it’s exercised. I hope in our music vulnerability and honesty bring empathy.
After the show, Girlpool, Slutever, and myself head over to a mutual friend’s house. We feast on Girlpool’s snack of choice, chocolate kisses dipped in peanut butter (they earlier revealed to me that most of their snacks of choice involve peanut butter), ice cream, and fizzy beer. Tividad fills her water bottle with chia seeds, which seems very California. The two dance to Jeremiah’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em”, showing off some practiced dance movies. The night ends with Tividad and I on the floor and Tucker curled up in an armchair. They begin to express some concerns about leaving Slutever, who are tour veterans, and embarking out on their own. Slutever’s Nicole Snyder and Rachel Gagliardi assure them that they will be fine as long as they prioritize their mental and physical health.
By November, I meet up with the band again in New York City. At this point, Girlpool have won over countless CMJ-goers, just the two of them playing their hearts out on stages across New York City. They are surviving tour, and any feelings of nervousness have disappeared.
Backstage at Terminal 5, they are about to play their first show with Jenny Lewis. Surrounded by a small group of West Coast family and new East Coast friends, the duo enter their dressing room and are greeted by a bouquet of flowers and an incredibly sweet note from their California friends. The whole evening feels strangely gigantic and surreal.
This feeling is heightened when Girlpool takes the stage and performs for 3000 people, by far their largest audience yet. From where I watch, Tividad and Tucker feel incredibly small and distant, but their words reach all the way up to Terminal 5’s second floor balcony with just as much forceful intimacy.
The whole night seems rife with irony as they belt out, “The littler that I am the less I have in my hand” to the capacity crowd. Though maybe a more appropriate summary would be a song performed later in the evening:
“And sometimes when you’re on, you’re really fucking on / And your friends they sing along, and they love you.” —Rilo Kiley, “A Better Son/Daughter”