Interview: Cassie Ramone of Vivian Girls
I’m so excited today to bring you an interview with one of today’s smartest musicians in one of the most intelligent bands, Cassie Ramone of Vivian Girls. With their newest album, Share the Joy, released this year, it’s absolutely worth noting how brilliant of a move it was. Instead of finding themselves painted into a corner like many other lo-fi groups, they delivered this remarkable growth in a single album, which is why as great as their follow up to their debut was, Everything Goes Wrong can be seen as sort of a place holder Share the Joy. Suddenly, you realized that they had something to say, that there always were brilliant lyrics, ideas, and melodies there, you just couldn’t hear them.
Nor was it just an album-by-album transformation. It’s as if song by song, their sound grows and grows, and by the last few bars of the final song, “Light in Your Eyes,” it’s like you’re listening to a band who has aged and evolved years since the first song, “The Other Girls.”
After listening to Share the Joy, and giving their first two albums another listen, you realise that while the sound itself has changed, it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise, because key elements such as their take on the Wall of Sound were there from the beginning. Vivian Girls are clearly influenced by Phil Spector, but it moves past novelty or a throwback, because instead of recreating the Wall of Sound with heavy layer upon heavy layer of horns and strings, they get the same exact sound by using as little instruments as possible; doing less to create more.
Not to mention, they also happen to be one of the hardest working groups in music, because even with constant touring, they have managed to release a new album, an album by Ramone’s group the Babies with Kevin Morby, an album by La Sera from bassist Katy Goodman, drummer Fiona Campbell’s group Coasting just finished recording an album all in the course of one year, and on top of that, the Babies and La Sera are both already back in the studio, and Vivian Girls are ready to head out on tour again. I’m just lucky and very thankful that I got to ask her a couple questions. -Cody
Neotomic: A bit like the Kinks’, Kink Kontroversy, Share the Joy, Vivian Girls’ own third album starts off with a short fake out, a half minute blast of noise, reminiscent of your first two albums, before slipping into the new sound. Was this done as a nod towards your last two albums, or was it done with pure mischief in mind?
Cassie Ramone: Kind of both. It was definitely an intentional fake-out - like “Oh, you think this is what it’s going to be like? Well think again.”
N: Share the Joy also showed for the first time some amazing extended songs, some even reaching 6 minutes. Could these songs be seen as you consciously replicating what you were doing live, or a move away from your earlier more economic efforts?
CR: We got kinda bored with being so economic all of the time. Our early sound is something that we’ll never completely divorce ourselves from, but it’s limiting to stick to one sonic template when you have all these other ideas buzzing around in the air. It’s important to us to go in whatever direction our instincts take us, because otherwise the band would get stale and not fun to do anymore.
N: Was Share the Joy a purposeful push to put more of a focus on the vocals and melodies as well as showcasing more of the lyrics?
CR: Yeah. I’ve come to realize that I like my lyrics and wanted more people to be able to understand them. It was hard for me at first, because the lyrics have always been so personal and reveal a lot more than I like to reveal about myself to others. I also used to be more self-conscious about my voice, but now it’s like, well, everybody knows I can’t really sing. So I might as well own up to it.
N: While there has always been hints of Phil Spector throughout your first two
albums, and the influence has become more prevalent on Share the Joy, would you ever want to work with a lavish Brill Building orchestra?
CR: Working with an orchestra is one of my big dreams. I’d love to record
everything live in the studio, kind of like this video:
N: The wonderful track “Take it as it Comes” brings back the classic Brill Building conversation song, a lot like “Leader of the Pack” or “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” by the Shangri-Las. What was the song or group that served as the chief inspiration for “Take it as it Comes?”
Haha, thanks! It was no song or band in particular. I read this book a while ago called Girl Groups, Girl Culture, and within it was a section about “advice songs.” I can never force inspiration, so I sort of keep a vague catalog of ideas in the back of my mind. One day a few months later I was on the subway and the song just came to me. Lyrically it is inspired by “The Rules,” which is a kind of dated self-help book on how to get a man to marry you. Although I can see why parts of the book would offend many feminists, I think the underlying message (focus on your own life instead of begging for a man’s attention) is actually very powerful and holds a lot of truth.
N: In the past you’ve also listed Neil Young as an influence, and it seems fitting on a surface level, but is it strictly his work with Crazy Horse and the grungier aspects of his music, or is the band also influenced by his more acoustic work as well?
CR: I think Neil Young is a fantastic songwriter no matter what medium he works in. I wouldn’t say the band is necessarily influenced by his acoustic music, but it’s been such an influence on me that it’s definitely translated.
N: Besides Vivian Girls, you also an absolutely amazing artist, creating the album covers as well as wonderful pieces of pop art. Would you say there’s a connection between the art and music you create, like would you say your music sounds like your art looks, or something to that effect?
CR: To an extent. There’s definitely a strong connection there. I guess the big thing they have in common is they both draw from the unconscious mind and pop cliches at once. I would say that my music is more rooted in the unconscious and most of my art is more rooted in craft and is very self-aware compared to my music, but they ultimately come from the same place. I think art and music are very connected - when I think of Ariel Pink or Daniel Johnston or Kurt Cobain’s art it all makes total sense considering the music they make.
N: With the current state of mp3s and Ipods, do you think that the album cover
may become a lost art, when a really great cover could be as memorable as the music itself?
CR: I think it already is somewhat of a lost art. I notice a lot of bands using album covers that are just an image that will look good in a 100x100 pixel format. Or when I see an LP in the store sometimes the image will be all pixellated and look so weird. I think it’s kind of a shame - it feels so good to hold a record that a lot of thought obviously went into. But I don’t think it’s totally a lost cause. I believe that at least some people will care about album artwork for a very long time.
N: Your artwork has also appeared in galleries and art shows, but have you ever
thought of bringing something of a modern Exploding Plastic Inevitable back —a complete multimedia experience combining art and music?
CR: I’ve thought about it a lot! Maybe in the future once I have unlimited $$$.
N: Finally, Charlie Manson recently hit up Phil Spector at a California State Prison to see if Spector wanted to produce some of his songs for an album. Why or why wouldn’t you buy that record?
CR: I would absolutely buy that record. I really like Charles Manson’s music and obviously I love Phil Spector’s production. Plus I’d be so curious to hear how Spector would record someone in the modern age. I read his biography not too long ago and he had numerous problems trying to record several artists when he was past his prime. It was frustrating to read about how he worked with Celine Dion on these recordings that haven’t been released and probably never will be.
For more info check out:
02 Jul Shibuya WWW Tokyo, Japan
04 Jul Apollo Theatre Nagoya, Japan
05 Jul Metro Kyoto, Japan
06 Jul Coalition Brighton, United Kingdom
17 Jul Ruby Lounge Manchester, United Kingdon
18 Jul Captains Rest Glasgow, United Kingdon
19 Jul The Brudenell Social Club Leeds, United Kingdom
20 Jul Fleece N Firkin Bristol, United Kingdom
21 Jul XOYO London, United Kingdom
23 Jul Milhoes De Festa Festival Oporto, Portugal
24 Jul OCC2 Amsterdam, Netherlands
25 Jul Uebel & Gefaehrilich Hamburg, Germany
26 Jul Bakken Copenhagen, Denmark
28 Jul Emmaboda Festiva Emmaboda, Sweden
29 Jul Debaser Stockholm, Sweden
30 Jul John Dee Oslo, Norway
02 Aug Festaal Kreuzberg Berlin, Germany
03 Aug Groove Station Dresden, Germany
04 Aug Stuck Festival New Music Clubfestival Salzburg, Austria
05 Aug Exit 09 Club Prague, Czech Republic
06 Aug Basel at Hinterhof Basel, Switzerland