More tenacious than ever, Vivian Girls re-emerge after five years with their fourth studio album, Memory, released today on Polyvinyl.
For a brief but beautiful time, Vivian Girls were pioneers of mid-00s noise-pop. Across three LPs—their self-titled debut (2008), Everything Goes Wrong (2009) and Share The Joy (2011)—singer/guitarist Cassie Ramone, bassist Katy Goodman, and drummer Ali Koehler crafted a rambunctious, textural landscape that blended sighing harmonies, peppy percussion, and reverb-coated guitar. They were vital, distinctive, and ahead of the curve, but at the height of their career, the group also proved to be one of the most divisive in the genre.
Subjected to aggressive and ignorant commentary from anonymous trolls, as well as reviews from male journalists claiming they were incompetent instrumentalists, Vivian Girls were targeted with a nauseating and incomprehensible force. After playing their final shows and disbanding in 2014, the members worked on solo projects, started families, and left the echo of roaring, unnecessary criticism firmly in their past.
Five years later, Vivian Girls are back with Memory, released today on Polyvinyl Recording Co. The band’s fourth studio album produces a heady reflection that shuns the pleasant sentimentality of nostalgia for a darkened, realistic narrative. It creates a haunting aspect that, in our current sociological climate, feels urgent and inevitable. “I guess for risk of getting too personal, I was pretty depressed for the past few years,” says Ramone, who moved from New York to Los Angeles specifically for the band’s reunion. “Vivian Girls was my life, and then it ended—I didn’t really feel like I had a purpose. [Memory] is mostly about living in the past, not acknowledging reality, and living at a time that is not in the present.”
While the band reveals that the writing process for Memory was very similar to their other records, there was one essential difference: they created it in secret. Goodman describes the approach as “insulated from outside opinions and voices,” something the band were conscious to execute after years of external slander. “Not sharing any part of it with anyone was a pretty unique way to make a record now,” says Goodman. “We felt like Kylie Jenner’s baby or something! It felt cool to be making something without everybody knowing about it and chiming in.”
Tucked away in the studio with engineer and producer Rob Barbato (Kevin Morby, The Fall), Vivian Girls stuck to their true, unapologetic sonic landscape. Washy guitars still adorn the backbone of the band’s output, but as Ramone reveals, she was able to be more exploratory in her instrumental approach. Using a Balltip guitar slide, Ramone and Barbato spent 14 hours playing around with a variety of guitars to produce weird, experimental sounds that make up the crux of the new LP. “It was important for us to capture the same energy that we had—especially on the second record—because that was a very good moment for us,” says Ramone. “We wanted to create that same feeling, and I feel like we were successful.”
The sessions took place during mid-September and Halloween week, when the golden hue of Los Angeles continues its unfaltering reign. While the city is the band’s new home base, desert imagery is something that has always played a role in Vivian Girls. “Moving to a new city after living in New York for 14 years definitely inspired me, just because I was learning how to live in a different way in so many facets of my life,” says Ramone. “That really sparked a creative urge in me.” From Memory’s album art that depicts an early evening palm tree scene to the video for “Something To Do” in which each member runs to the top of a sunset-soaked hill in Elysian Park, the LA environment clearly agrees with the band’s latest direction. Much like the video’s optimistic finale, which sees them embrace on the hill overlooking the cityscape, Memory feels like Vivian Girls will finally get to tell their story, their way.
Reflecting on their career, Ramone describes Vivian Girls as motivated, tenacious, and creative people. Making music in this way is something that has solidified itself as one of the most important aspects of each band member’s life. “It has always been that way with us, and I just thought that’s how all bands were,” says Koehler. “And then in the time that’s passed since, I’ve learned that that’s a very rare thing, to get all members on the same page. It’s special, for sure.”
Vivian Girls are tentatively hopeful about re-entering the industry; Ramone now has a personal ban on reading anything about the band online. “I try to make music about the painful stuff in my life, and I always hope that people come away from it feeling therapeutic,” she says.
“I like music that’s melodic but also painful emotionally, so that’s why I’ve always liked Vivian Girls,” Goodman adds. “I feel like Memory satisfies that need. I was just recently listening to these songs and thought, ‘All of these make me feel heavy.’ It’s like when you push on a bruise—you know it’s going to hurt, but in the end it’s satisfying.”