Girlpool’s two members have a talent for transforming any stage they occupy into their own private world. At quiet moments in their performances, when bassist Harmony Tividad and guitarist Cleo Tucker lock eyes or smile at each other, they might as well be the only people in the room. Not even the crowds of thousands they’ve faced at festivals this summer can stop the duo from crafting moments of real intimacy.
Though Girlpool formed when its members were high schoolers in L.A., Tividad now lives in Philly and Tucker in New York. Touring gives the best friends precious time together, and they’ve embraced the challenge of performing their “introspective punk” for huge audiences. “It’s really powerful to be able to share on such a large scale,” says Tividad. “It’s exciting to examine all the different contexts in which you can share feeling and vulnerability and closeness.”
At the heart of their appeal are lyrics so visual, you can almost hear the camera shutter click between lines. “I’m still thinking about swimming in Seattle/And when I got out I wasn’t even cold/My toe was sunk in the squishy ground below,” they sing on “Dear Nora.” The duo’s way of speaking suggests they came to the style organically. Tucker begins our phone conversation by reporting that she’s “eating fro-yo on the carpet, crisscross-applesauce.” It’s a self-portrait on a pleasant summer afternoon, committed to Polaroid film for posterity rather than lost in a grid of blurry iPhone shots.
Girlpool’s minimalist sound serves images like this well; simple strumming and simultaneous singing gently underline their words. So far, they’ve applied the aesthetic to two very different releases: a self-titled 2014 EP that interrogates sexual politics and last year’s debut album, Before the World Was Big, which chronicles the emotional experience of growing up. “My brain’s like a rolling snowball, I’m like a fire truck/Trying not to think of all the ways my mind has changed,” Tividad and Tucker sing in urgent unison on the title track.
Now they’ve composed a second full-length, which they’ll finish recording in the fall. It heralds yet another evolution in Girlpool’s preoccupations. “A lot of what we’re writing about is perspective, and different ways to see the same things,” says Tividad. They’re trying to make sense of the “multi-sided” characters who populate their world, she explains, and “the way these figures evolve based on the context in which you’re approaching them,” just as “if you were to [start a familiar] drive from a different place, the route would be different.”
Tucker says the book she’s been reading, Chris Kraus’s feminist cult classic I Love Dick, tackles a similar theme: what we project onto other people. But Girlpool are quick to insist that the art they consume has no greater impact on their music than does any other part of their lives. For them, as for Nora Ephron, everything is copy. “Harmony and I always talk about how everything around us is contributing to everything we make,” Tucker says, and writing songs “just feels like being alive.”