Following their star turn at this year’s Wales Goes Pop festival, Poppy Hanking, Iris McConnell and Sophie Moss talked to Kevin McGrath about their forthcoming album, time travel and writing a Christmas Album.
How did you all get together as Girl Ray? Did the band spring up organically, through shared friendships, or did you each answer a musicians wanted advert and strike it lucky?
PH: We all met at secondary school. Iris and I were dying to be in a band and tried so many times to make it happen, but we could never find a drummer! Eventually, Iris started taking drum lessons in sixth form, and we asked Sophie to play bass for us.
SM: I was not a musician… but they wanted me. I don’t think they struck particularly lucky.
Is life in Girl Ray all plain sailing, or does the occasional storm whip up out of nowhere and threaten to shipwreck the band?
PH: It’s not always plain sailing, but we’ve never really got in huge fights or anything like that. Never any ‘I’m quitting the band!!’ moments.
Some critics, having trouble contextualising your self-styled “Estrogen Pop”, have compared you to C-86ish janglers as well as Laurel Canyon craftsmen. Where would you place yourselves on the pop spectrum?
PH: That kind of comparison makes me beyond happy… And those kind of songs definitely inspire us so it’s good to see that they’re rubbing off on our music. I listen to a load of ABBA though and I wish we were closer to that level of heavenly pop…
IM: Like 74% pop I’d say
The Guardian warned its readers not to expect rock ‘n roll antics when they go to see one of your gigs, so I was somewhat gobsmacked when you launched into a series of Shadows-style dance steps mid way through your set at Wales Goes Pop.
PH: We’ve been doing that dance for about a year yet – the aim was for it to spread like the Macarena but it just hasn’t happened. We’re not going to stop trying.
SM: I would beg them to expect more so we do more – in an ideal world the whole set would be synchronised dance.
If you could time travel to any point in the history of popular music, whether it be the birth of ‘Britpop’, the Greenwich Village Folk Scene or the ‘Jazz Age’, for example, which period would you set the Girl Ray Time machine co-ordinates for?
PH: Hmm good question. I’d probably set it for the 70s. Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything, ABBA’s Voulez Vous, ELO’s Out of the Blue – some of the best pop was around in the 70s. Also some amazing English folk like Anne Briggs and Nick Drake, plus the Laurel Canyon bunch.
IM: Flip. Got to be the 70s. This would mean I’d be able to simultaneously witness the concerts of Led Zeppelin and The Slits
SM: Maybe late 60s / early 70s for Alice Coltrane, Bobbi Humphreys and Dorothy Ashby’s hot moments. But then feel like I’d be totally misusing the time machine if I didn’t set it to the future!
Pitchfork described your voice as ‘peculiar’, ‘boyish’ and ‘tense’. Is that how you hear yourself?
PH: I mean I’d never thought of my voice as being like that, but I guess I can see it! I always hated the way I talked because it was so low and not very feminine, but I’ve grown to love it in a way.
How is your debut album coming together, is it still on course for a summer release?
PH: Everything is very close to being finished which is exciting because it’s been such a long process. At the moment it is still on course for a summer release, yes!
I’ve been encouraged by your acknowledgement that “when you’re miserable, you can only write miserable songs.”! Are you conscious, even as your heart is breaking, that all your pain is grist for the mill of your song-writing?
PH: Oh yeah I’ve become super conscious of it! Especially having to do stuff for press where you have to look at the album as a whole and try to summarise what’s at the core of it. It’s definitely a melancholy album. I’m far more productive as a songwriter when I’m in a low period. It’s a really bittersweet paradox.
Do you have any red lines when it comes to writing break-up songs? Are some things just too personal to share, or do you believe that artistic honesty should always triumph and damn the consequences?
PH: It’s strange, because as cringe as it seems, writing music has always been the way that I deal with heartbreak of any kind. When I was just writing for myself I could be as personal as I wanted to be. Now that we’re enjoying a bit more success as a band, I definitely have to watch myself when writing so that I’m not too direct or personal. Hurting people’s feelings isn’t cool!
Given the cultural impact of the Manchester scene on Joy Division and New Order’s oeuvre, I once asked Peter Hook what his music might have sounded like if he’d been born in Shrewsbury or Skegness, to which he succinctly replied “shit”. How would your music be different if, say, you had been born and raised in the Outer Hebrides? Feel free to use more than one word in reply.
PH: I’d like to think our music would be folkier and more considered as a result of beautiful scenery, our music would most likely be similar to be honest. Certain chord changes and melodies just do it for me – that probably wouldn’t change if I lived somewhere else! We’ve said before though that we’re lucky to live in London because there’s such a strong music scene here. I don’t know if we would have had the same exposure or opportunities to play live or develop as a band were we in the Outer Hebrides!
IM: We definitely wouldn’t exist
Are you really known as the Finchley Nico?
This is totally out of season, but as part of my in-depth research for the interview I’ve been watching your performance of Fairytale of New York with Bill Ryder-Jones. So, taking this train of thought to its logical destination, which would be your favourite Christmas song? And, can we ever expect to see a Girl Ray Christmas album?
PH: Haha. My favourite Christmas song is probably Fairytale of New York. Although I love Spector’s Christmas album. I’ve written a Christmas song that I’d love us to release this year! No album yet though…
SM: Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses. Has the best festive bass line created yet!
Have you played alongside any upcoming bands that we should keep a special eye out for? Maybe I could put a fiver on them, at enormous odds, to bag the Christmas number 1 this year.
PH: Hmm… Well I mean some of my favourite bands that are around right now are probs BC Camplight, The Big Moon, Meilyr Jones, Sacred Paws and Fake Laugh…
SM: We never played with BC Camplight and I guess he’s been around a while, but that man and his band are tighter than a clam’s arse in high tide and seriously underrated! Feel he could definitely write a tear jerking Christmas banger too if he wanted that.
Is being in an all-girl trio in today’s music business a feminist statement in and of itself? Are you interested in using that platform to speak out on issues that affect yourselves and other young women?
PH: I guess it is a statement. Not intentionally though. We don’t want to push any agenda or make a big deal out of it at all – because girls being in a band should just be like being boys in a band. Although we’ve definitely had experiences where people don’t treat you like that’s the case.
IM: I wouldn’t say us being in a band is at all a statement. We’re just making tunes; it doesn’t really get much more political than that. But I really hope most people don’t listen to our music with a different perspective than they would if we were male.
SM: We’d never want to use gender as a way to better our ‘career’ or whatever, but I guess it is kind of statement. Not that we meant it to be. It’s real nice to think that by being in a female band, other girls, women and baby mamas will feel they can too, but I don’t think that’s what we set out to achieve really. Would be kinda noble if it was…
Is Girl Ray a long-term project? Can you imagine yourselves fifteen years from now touring your six or seventh album, or would you like to take your lives in a different direction?
PH: I think we’ll do this for as long as feels right. I would love to do it for as long as possible – it’s the funnest thing ever. But once it isn’t fun anymore, we’ll know and I’m sure we’ll do what’s right!
IM: I intend to do this kind of thing for as long as I can, so as to not have to get a job. But I’m sure when the time comes we’ll be ready to enter the real world!