“Run with what feels good”: An Interview with Girlpool

Interview conducted by Maddie Farr ’18 and Stephanie Holstein ’18

When I try to think of a word that characterizes what Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker, of the duo Girlpool, were like in person, the one that keeps coming to mind is openness. From the moment we met, on the afternoon of their show at the Horn Gallery in February, Harmony and Cleo brought with them an energy and an ease that were contagious. This is the same energy and honesty that characterizes last year’s full-length debut, Before the World Was Big. I hope this generosity of spirit comes across in our interview, which was a joy to conduct and compile. Thank you so much to Harmony and Cleo for your time, and your openness!

Please enjoy!
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Maddie: Hello! Okay, we’re recording.

Stephanie: Totally on record now. So our first question is kind of a lead-in…

Maddie: We’re both really into astrology, and we we were wondering if you guys are into astrology, and what your signs are, and if you identify with them?

Cleo: Coo! I’m a Virgo…

Maddie: Omigod, that’s awesome.

Cleo: I don’t know much about it, I haven’t really delved into the concept of astrology much… Harmony’s really the astrology wizard of the two of us.

Steph: Oh, word!

Harmony: My family is very into astrology, my grandma read my chart when I was in fifth grade. I am a Libra — Cleo is a double Virgo!

Cleo: I am a double Virgo.

Maddie: My sister’s a double Virgo too, that’s an intense thing to have!

Harmony: It is intense! I’m a Libra, with a Sagittarius moon and a Gemini rising.

Maddie: Wow!

Harmony: Very creative. Wild, slightly wild sign combo…

Maddie: Yeah, you have the wild heart, but then the air sign…

Harmony: Yeah… Gemini, you know, on the fritz…. [laughs]

Steph: So I know this is your last day on tour — what have you guys been listening to, cause you’ve been driving around, right?

Cleo: Yeah.

Steph: What’s your jams?

Cleo: We’ve been listening to a lot of Duster. Well, we started off with a lot of Tears for Fears…

Steph: Yeah, “Songs From the Big Chair”!!!

Cleo: Yeah! We’ve been listening to a lot of “Beach Music,” Alex G’s newest record.

Harmony: Helvetia! The Porches record… Frankie…

Cleo: Frankie Cosmos.

Steph: Is that a Florist button?

Harmony: Yeah!

Cleo: Florist is the shit! We love Florist.

Harmony: We’ve been listening to Florist recently.

Steph: So good. Yeah, I think they’re coming like a week from now…

Maddie: Yeah! [everyone looks at Horn schedule on wall] It’s right there!

[everyone laughs]

Harmony: Very cool. Who else…? We were listening to Diane Cluck today, and The Rembrandts.

Cleo: Got into some Graham Nash.

Harmony: Elliott Smith, we listen to a lot of Elliott Smith.

Cleo: Our friend’s Christian record, it’s called “The True Christians”… It’s not a Christian record, but it’s called “The True Christians.” It’s a really cool album that he did.

Steph: Cool, we’ll have to check them out.

Maddie: What’s the band’s name?

Cleo: They’re called the True Christians.

Harmony: It’s not out yet, is it?

Cleo: It is, yeah. Isn’t it?

Harmony: I don’t think it’s out yet.

Cleo: Yeah!

Harmony: Really?

Cleo: Yeah! The videos and stuff… there’s videos out. I don’t think it’s on Spotify, but it’s on Bandcamp.

Harmony: Word.

Cleo: True Christians, really great.

Maddie: We’ll have to check it out, thank you!

Steph: I always feel like Spotify is kind of a weird site, cause sometimes I’ll look for like Alex G, and there’s multiple Alex G’s on there….

[Harmony is interested by an Asian beetle crawling near her]

Maddie: Omigod, we are infested with these… I’ll just be in my dorm room and they’ll be on my pillow, or they’ll like fall from the ceiling onto my laptop.

Harmony: It’s so cute! Isn’t this a ladybug?

Maddie: Yeah, they’re really funny looking. They’re asian beetles though, so they look like ladybugs but they maybe bite you?

Harmony: Oh! Do they really?

Maddie: I don’t know! I’ve never had them do that…

Harmony: Oh, I don’t want to touch that.

Maddie: Yeah no, you shouldn’t!

Steph: So we know you guys do solo projects, and we were wondering if you guys have a different creative process, you know, working alone, working together, what it’s like to perform, what your solo projects have coming up?

Cleo: Cool.

Steph: That’s a lot of questions! But if you could tell us anything about what it’s like, solo versus together.

Harmony: Well, I feel like Girlpool is pretty much always songs we write together. Very few are songs that the other wrote most of, and then the other comes into and helps the other rest of the doing of it. But solo, I guess it’s more just us, but I feel like… in my solo project Cleo is drumming, I mean she’s my favorite person to collaborate with… so I mean of course I want Cleo to be a part of everything, so it’s kind of hard, you know. I mean it’s just like songs that I write alone, but it’s… I don’t know, when I play with the band that I have now curated, I feel like Cleo… her contributions are extremely necessary, even if it’s my solo [project]. Cause I feel that [the way] my brain works, sometimes I’ll miss something and Cleo will catch the thing I miss in my brain. Yeah, it’s true!

Steph: [to Cleo] How do you feel about it?

Cleo: Yeah I mean, pretty much everything Harmony just said, completely. I feel very similar, samely. But yeah, I guess it is just like a different thing. Like a different part of feeling, of making.

Harmony: Also, we talk about Girlpool, and thought, as every thought has energy and weight and force, every thought, and that’s like what intention is. Like, Girlpool is our combined intention to create a meaning, so it’s like this separate entity, for either of us, but I feel like our solo music is more like internalized. Girlpool is more an external energy, and the solo projects are more like internal little lights.

Maddie: I love that.

Cleo: Yeah! It’s like we have our own clay, and then when it’s Girlpool we’re totally molding the clay together, and building something new, and then I feel like our solo projects are a claymation of our clay.

Steph: Yeah, you mentioned collaboration, and Maddie and I were talking earlier about how we feel like there’s this neat collaborative vibe in like the DIY music scene. We were wondering if you guys have any thoughts about that — especially because you guys have been in Philadelphia and L.A. — if you have anything to say about a possible comparison between the two cities, or if it’s all just kind of the same collaborative vibe.

Cleo: I think every collaborative experience has its own kind of zest, you know?

Steph: I love that word.

Cleo: I love zest. It’s really such an unbelievable feeling collaborating with another person, just ever. And even just being in a space when other people are collaborating with other people, even if you are not involved, but being exposed to that openness and experimental mentality, it’s really something that I think is like, totally transcending. It’s special wherever, I feel like.

Steph: Do you guys have a specific band you like playing with, or touring with?

Harmony: I feel like, we love touring with Alex G and we love touring with Frankie Cosmos.

Steph: I actually saw you guys this summer in Williamsburg! I was living in New York for an internship, and it was an amazing line-up, cause it was like Alex G, you guys, Frankie Cosmos, Hello Shark — who I’d never heard until that night. And then I listened to this recording of a Shea Stadium show a few weeks later with Lincoln from Hello Shark and Felix from Told Slant, and they were collabing together. So it feels like, once you listen to one band you’re like, this person’s also in this band, and they’re playing together. I feel like it’s a much more personal connection versus big scale artists who tour with somebody that you’re like, ‘huh, I would never think that this person would open for them.” Here it just feels like it makes sense in this scene. Everyone feels more like a community, which I think is really evident in your shows and performance.

Cleo: Thank you!

Maddie: Do you guys have a favorite song to perform live as Girlpool?

Cleo: It always changes, you know? Like sometimes a song that I haven’t like, felt to that intense degree in a really long time, for like a long time, will just all of a sudden be incredibly potent and dense and intense and rigorous for me to play, you know, out of the blue. I feel like it really is just whatever’s swimming up at the top of the surface.

Harmony: 100%. And then also new songs are always really exciting to play —

Cleo: Hell yeah.

Harmony: — because it’s like, an uncharted island, you know? And every time you play it, the first few months or whatever, you’re like, omigod it’s this too, omigod it’s this too! And I guess that feeling happens less when you’ve played the songs more times, cause you feel like, “I already”… it’s like you’re the grandma, like, [grandma voice] “I already know this song!”

Steph: It’s kind of like, Flock of Seagulls refuses to play “I Ran” anymore, cause they’re like, “That’s it! I’m done with that song!”

[laughter]

Maddie: Do you guys have some new music you’re playing tonight?

Harmony: Yeah.

Maddie: So exciting!!

[yays abound]

Steph: So I’ve seen you twice —  I saw you guys also in Oberlin in the fall — and I remember there was this part of the night where there was this chatter going around, and I remember you [Cleo] said like, “Hey, guys” — I think you were about to play “Cut Your Bangs” — “can you quiet it a little bit?” which I think was really cool. Do you guys have a specific kind of vibe you wanna promote for your shows, like a certain kind of feeling, to best communicate…?

Cleo: I feel like, sometimes when I feel like there’s potential in everybody feeling something that could be really beyond, or could evoke an escape, you know? Maybe one of us would feel obliged to say something to help get there, because you want it really bad or whatever. But at the same time, I don’t want to be authoritative of, like, vibe.

Steph: No totally! Like, “okay this is how we’re feeling tonight!”

Cleo: Yeah, I feel like there’s no route at all, there’s no rubric.

Harmony: I feel like one of the fun things about shows is like, we’re always there, but so much is like, everyone else. And it’s exciting and nerve-wracking to enter a new environment. There’s so many different people, and energies, and like, to just feel and exist—I don’t know, it’s the fluidity of it is what’s really powerful.

Cleo: I think that show that you’re talking about was exciting to me because it felt like there was so much energy, like people wanted to be a part of a thing, you know? So I thought it would be cool to experiment with that energy.

Maddie: So, I feel like the stuff that you wrote in your first album was a bit more explicitly feminist, and I’ve read in interviews before that you guys felt like maybe you were being labeled just as a feminist band and maybe that was something that you didn’t want, to be pigeonholed or labeled in that way. Is that something that you guys think about? Or with your music now, which I feel like is less explicitly feminist but still has that undertone, but I feel like you guys are exploring new themes… is that… all these comments, do you have a comment on them?

[laughter]

Harmony: Well I feel like, we write music about literally what we’re  —  Cleo and I have a lot of conversations, we spend a lot of time together, and we just talk about things, and then it’s like, “okay, this is now a song” and the song goes out and then it becomes heard and is being interpreted by many people and ears, and it can be… If we were a band that sang only Shrek songs, that would be equally as annoying to be like, “they’re the Shrek band.” Anything that’s like: “you are this, now be it” and any expectation or claim of like, “this is what this person or representatives are to me and this is what I expect them to be,” feels limiting and confining to the gray area of like, how much art you want to create. And when someone is impressing that you are this thing, it’s like, “no, I’m so many more things and you’re just staring at my earlobe.”

Cleo: So much uneasiness in being a human being in this world is from expectation, you know? And thinking that — like, embracing the expectation, you know what I mean?

Maddie: Yeah, definitely.

Cleo: It’s really shrinking, you know, so…cheers!

Steph: So you guys have mentioned the word fluidity, like in your thoughts and your songs, and your themes, like you don’t really want to subscribe to any specific thing. So I feel that really shows, again, in your performances. You guys are always having fun with it, and we both love your Instagram and all your funny videos and pictures. It seems like you guys are very comfortable, so I was wondering if you had any advice to people in general about self-love and self-care and being comfortable in your own skin?

Cleo: Cool, that’s a good question. I think allowance, just in being, and loving, just like loving differences in yourself that you think you have within and then in front of you.

Harmony: I think it’s important to remember that nothing you do is representative of all of you, ever. I feel like, a lot of the time I’ll be — or I feel like in the past, I’ve gotten better about this—but I used to be like, “oh, I did this thing, and now I am this kind of person, and this is who I am now because I just, like, tied my shoes together and fell over,” you know? Like, now I’m that kind of person! And it’s like, no, that’s something that just happened and time is moving forward and the only thing that exists really is the present because it’s the only thing that’s happening right now, so it’s pointless spending time dilly dallying in the past and being like, “but I was all of that!” because that’s not what’s happening, and that’s not who you are, so, it’s just all about forward, and allowing the forward to exist, you know? For me, at least.

Maddie: Yeah, I totally agree with that. That’s good advice to remind yourself of, because I feel like I forget that a lot…

Steph: Especially around this time which is so confusing! So I don’t know how much time you guys have on tour, but what have you guys been reading or watching lately?

Cleo: I just finished The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, it’s amazing, you guys should totally read it.

Maddie: I will immediately, I’ve heard amazing things about it!

Harmony: I’ve been reading Simulations by Jean Baudrillard which is a philosophy book from the eighties about everything, which is very interesting. But that’s a slow read, I’ve been reading it for like a month, or something. And then, we actually both read a graphic novel called Distance Mover yesterday by Patrick Kyle —

Cleo: So good!

Harmony: And it’s about like, time and existence and inner-size, kind of? The art is amazing, it’s so good.

Steph: That sounds amazing, we’ll have to check that out! Did you guys see Diary of a Teenage Girl?

Cleo & Harmony: No.

Harmony: I have a funny story about that, though! When I was in a Lassens, which is like a health foods store, eating a salad — and I had my blue hair at the time and I was drawing in my notebook — and this Uber driver — who I only found out he was an Uber driver after this conversation because I was eavesdropping on him — and he comes up to me and was like, “Have you seen Diary of a Teenage Girl?” and I’m like, “no” and he was like, “you remind me so much of the girl in it!” and I was like “oh, thank you.”

Cleo: Awesome, glad I’m a character.

Harmony: Yeah I was like “I’ll check it out!” and he was like “you gotta see it!” and I was like “okay.”

Steph: That’s so strange! The graphic novel is really good.

Maddie: Yeah, both of them are amazing, so I do highly recommend them. And I think, like, once you see it — like that’s a very creepy thing to go up and say that to someone randomly, but I definitely see that similarity now! I think you would be happy about that comparison.

Steph: She’s a really cool girl.

Harmony: Wow, blessed.

Maddie: She’s a cartoonist —

Harmony: Blessed be the day!

Maddie: So, like we talked about, we’re all like the same age, and I think it’s so amazing that you guys found this success so young in music, and you guys were making music and then it kind of took off in a way. I mean that’s my interpretation of it, I obviously don’t know what actually happened! [laughs] I was wondering if you had any advice for young people who want to make music, or where to start.

Cleo: Run with what feels good, always. Harmony and I just felt good doing this, and had no intention of anything other than feeling good.

Steph: That’s awesome, I love that.

Harmony: Also just talk to people and be open to talking to people about making stuff. I don’t know, sometimes it’s easy to just be like, “I’m an artist, and I’m just going to stay in my room and be an artist and never know what’s out there.” I feel like it’s sometimes hard to reach out to collaborate or to just even chat about what is interesting or exciting to you —

Cleo: Or even like, share your stuff.

Harmony: Yeah, or like show your stuff to people, it’s so hard! I feel like being open or excited is so beautiful. Like booking a show in your living room, and even though it might be kind of awkward, it’s totally fine! Just bring oatmeal cookies and everyone will be happy, just do whatever. It’s so nice, it’s so pleasant.

Steph: So you guys are playing some new material tonight! Is there anything you can say about what Girlpool has coming up in the future?

Cleo: We’re writing right now, doing stuff —

Maddie: Sweet, we’re excited!

Cleo: Thank you!

Steph: Our last question…this is kind of controversial because I brought up this movie to another artist who came here and they hated the movie—Almost Famous? I don’t know if you guys have seen it or how you feel about it—

Cleo: I have!

Steph: Okay, one of the characters asks the question at the very end: “What do you guys love most about music?” Which I feel is at the heart of everything. So what do you guys love most about it?

Harmony: What I love most about music is what I love most about everything, which is that nothing has to be any one way.

Cleo: Shit, that was really good. I think what I love most about music is… how it’s one of the many avenues to access.

Steph: Wow, that’s the perfect note to end this on! Thank you guys so much!

Harmony: Wait, can I edit something I said really quick? I just want to add to the astrology question. I don’t think anything should be relied on in any extreme way and it’s interesting with a grain of salt but definitely not a lifestyle choice. And it’s always important to be interested in those things in a rational, grounded way.

[laughter]

Maddie: Yes, thank you for clarifying!

Stephanie: Thank you!

🙂

This interview was conducted during Girlpool’s show at the Horn Gallery on February 20th, 2016 by Stephanie Holstein ’18 and Maddie Farr ’18.

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