KEXP at CMJ, Day 1: Vivian Girls

review and interview by Sheryl Witlen
photos by Doron Gild

It is quite a feat to turn out an all-girl innovative, deviant, serious punk/rock/indie-rock band and have it become successful. Some are too sugary sweet and cute and fade into the pop charts, others whine and moan and make you want to jump off of the nearest high rise, and then there are those who hop around and shake and shimmy while their lyrics and their words are just a capitalistic gimmick to get them in front of an audience. It is with sharpness, sincerity, conviction and class that those little girls who grew up adoring the majestic art template that is molded in shape and sound by an instrument one day become singers, musicians and icons. On occasion, even the most revered vixens within the ranks of Debbie Harry, Shirley Manson, or Sinead O’Connor make off-the-cuff remarks about how they consider themselves music lovers first and artists second. In a recent interview with Nylon magazine, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon stated, “I don’t even think of myself as a musician… I came from Punk Rock, and just kind of pick up an instrument and start playing.”

It is this theme of creativity and strength that one senses when listening to Vivian Girls. Cassie Ramone (on guitar and vocals), Kickball Katy (bass, drums, and vocals) and Frankie Rose (drums, bass and vocals) breathe and create in Brooklyn and have been a competitive unit since 2007. Belting, beating, strumming and smashing all of those female bands out of the picture with moody songs such as “Tell The World” and “Such A Joke,” they soon found themselves opening for Japanther, King Khan and the Shrines, Crystal Stlits and caUSE co-MOTION! For record labels, fashion designers, magazine editors and fickle bloggers clamouring for the next biggest thing, Vivian Girls are a prized discovery and a satisfying indulgence. While they may recall The Ravonettes and The Long Blondes, these three ladies stand out mostly because of their simplicity: three women who rock hard and fast.

Vivian Girls are now well on their path with opening spots for Yo La Tengo and The Feelies and a new single, “Wild Eyes,” that has become an overnight hit earning them placement on college radio playlists across the country and glowing reviews on both the web and in print. Signed to In The Red Records (Rough Trade in the UK), they released their self-titled album on LP and CD format just recently and changed their band line up as Frankie Rose chose a different path and has been replaced by drummer Ali Koehler. The girls will be hitting international stages in December for a short tour throughout Britain. They are sure to quicken the blood of even the stodgiest of English men and leave Brooklyn and us State-siders eagerly awaiting their return.

After their set on KEXP, the girls sat down with me to talk:

Sheryl: I wanted to ask you about your name and the artist Henry Darger, who created a whole series of Vivian Girls drawings and a world for them. I was curious if you were fans?

Katie: No, our old drummer was a big fan and when she suggested it. We were alright with it.

Sheryl: Did you see any of his work?

Katie: No, we didn’t see the documentary either. We aren’t super fans, we just thought it was cool.

Sheryl: When your first 500 pressed albums sold, what did you do to celebrate? Were you all together?

Cassie: We were in the car.

Katie: We were on the West Coast, somewhere in the Northwest. We probably celebrated by high fiving.

Cassie: Yeah, when we get excited we high five.

Sheryl: That’s it? That’s the extent?!

Cassie: Yeah, that’s it. We usually high five like this… (does the high-five and shouts:) Yes yes!

Katie: We got really good news the other day and then went to Whole Foods and enjoyed the buffet. It is kinda expensive, but totally worth it.

Cassie: It was awesome.

Sheryl: Are you all originally from New York?

Katie: No, we are all from New Jersey.

Katie: Cassie and I went to high school together and Ali’s from Tom’s River, New Jersey.

Sheryl: So how did you all meet?

Katie: Ali and I went to Rutgers together.

Sheryl: Katie and Cassie, did you two go to a lot of shows together in high school?

Cassie: Oh totally… we saw the local high school ska band, the high school new metal band, the indie
band.

Katie: We would come to New York City and go to the Knitting Factory and see The Gossip.

Cassie: Or Jessie Bessie. We went to the Knitting Factory a lot.

Sheryl: You have been playing a lot with local Brooklyn bands and have been taking advantage of coming up at the same time as some really vibrant talent. Did you play any loft parties this summer with them or the yard?

Katie: We played the yard, we played someone’s roof.

Cassie: We played my apartment, it held like 30 people max. It was really awesome. It was a fun summer.

Sheryl: You are touring throughout November and heading to Europe soon?

Katie: Longer than that. We are touring for forever. We are doing the west coast for two weeks in November. In December, we will be in the UK, just the UK and going up to Glasgow and all England. Then in January we aren’t touring.

Cassie: We are going to record our second album.

Katie: Then hopefully tour again in March/April and head back out to Europe again. It is all like two weeks on, two weeks off. Hopefully this spring it will be a big chunk of touring and a big chunk of vacation.

Sheryl: Are you enjoying the experience?

Cassie: I like it. I love traveling, so I am into it.

Katie: Well, Cassie and Ali are my best friends, so I get to hang out all day. It’s sweet.

Ali: We get paid to hang out.

Cassie: We get paid to go play shows that we would go see.

Sheryl: Is there anyone you wish you could play with… while I am talking to you and you are still young and innocent?

Katie: Um, yeah!

Cassie: Sonic Youth.

Ali: Well, we did already play with Sonic Youth, what else is there?

Sheryl: At McCarren Pool, right?

Cassie: Yeah.

Katie: The Pixies.

Cassie: I’d like to play with The Breeders one day.

Katie: I’d like to play with Nirvana, in my own magical dream world.

Ali: We could always play with Dave Graw solo.


View more photos / slideshow.

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