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Vivian Girls: Queens of Garage Rock

It’s a waterlogged November afternoon when I meet up with Cassie Ramone, Kickball Katy, and Ali Koehler of Vivian Girls at Atlas Café in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We’re safe from the rain in this den of glowing laptops and frothy cappuccinos, but the vibe is clearly wrong for an interview. It’s far too quiet. Before we even sit down, everyone is already staring at us. “Want to just… do this in our car?” asks Katy.

Definitely.

Nestled among scattered jewel cases and pillows, it feels much more natural here in their tourmobile and occasional office, partly because Vivian Girls operate in a very DIY manner. Their self-titled 2007 album was restricted to just 500 self-released vinyl pressings before it found widespread love on the web and a reissue courtesy of L.A.-based garage-rock imprint In the Red. Now the group is creating their own label, Wild World, to peddle merch and limited-edition 7-inches. From recording to artwork to silkscreening to mail ordering, the Girls handle everything themselves. “Basically the only thing we don’t do ourselves is the [records’] mastering,” explains Cassie.

It’s a refreshingly old-fashioned way of doing business. “From day one we all worked really hard on Vivian Girls,” says Cassie, who credits the band’s widened exposure to its punk-rock work ethic. The other half of that equation, of course, is their excellent (and equally efficient) material, which consists of brief, melodic tracks that marry interplaying vocal harmonies (’60s acts like The Shangri-Las are a touchstone) with the crunch and skronk of Nuggets-era garage-isms. Despite these often-cited influences (shoegaze is another), Vivian Girls are loath to reduce their music to simple building blocks. “Everyone always says we sound like The Jesus and Mary Chain, and they’re cool, but they’re not an influence at all,” says Cassie.

“I actually don’t like shoegaze at all,” echoes Ali from the backseat.

While playing to packed houses on the success of their debut 22-minute Vivian Girls record, the girls’ “number one priority” is their upcoming sophomore release, which is co-produced by the historic husband-and-wife rocker duo of Steve McDonald and Anna Waronker (of Redd Kross and That Dog fame, respectively). “Our band kind of sounds like a mixture [of those two bands], so we’re really psyched about that,” Katy mentions. As for the record’s direction, the group lets on that the new album is a slight departure from their first. “I feel like it’s definitely more intricate and the songs are a little spookier,” says Ali. “They’re a lot darker than the first album,” Cassie reiterates.

The girls would love to chat more about the record, but time is short–they’ve got a bunch of t-shirts to silkscreen. We part ways, but not before Katy offers: “Do you need a ride anywhere?”

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