With their 2007 self-titled debut, Brooklyn’s Vivian Girls carved out their own brand of scuzzy, ’60s-style garage rock that garnered them equal parts praise and disdain from critics. Two albums, four years and a couple of drummers later, the trio is still bashing out their frantic punk tunes and making no apologies. After a barnburner of a show with friends and tour mates the Black Lips in New York City, Paste talked with front woman Cassie Ramone about their new record, Share The Joy, bad reviews, and why they don’t want to be called lo-fi.
Paste: Where are you guys right now?
Cassie Ramone: We are driving from New York City to Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Paste: I was at the show last night. You guys sounded awesome.
Ramone: Thank you so much!
Paste: Yeah, how did you guys get hooked up with the Black Lips?
Ramone: Well, we’ve been really big fans of the Black Lips from the time that we started the band. I remember Katy and I driving around after practice and listening to Let It Bloom, and we really loved the album. It was always our dream to tour with them. We first met them when we opened for them in London, and it was a really, really amazing show. We kept in touch with them ever since, and it just seemed like a no-brainer tour. It has really been the best.
Paste: You just released your third album with a new drummer. How did you guys get together with Fiona [Campbell]?
Ramone: It’s kind of funny. Fiona used to be in this band called The Coolies, based out of New Zealand. They toured the U.S. in 2005 and they played New Brunswick, New Jersey, which is where Katy went to school. Katy went to see them, and she loved them. That’s how Fiona’s essence came into our lives the first time. Then, Fiona moved to Brooklyn and we struck up a friendship with her. She started playing music again right around the time that we needed a new drummer, and it just seemed like a really obvious fit, and it has been working out wonderfully.
Paste: Cool, and I know that it has been played up differently in the press, but it is my understanding that it was an amicable split with your last drummer [Ali Koehler, who left to join Best Coast], is that right?
Ramone: Yes, it was 100 percent amicable. Ali is still a really good friend of ours.
Paste: Going back to the show last night, I immediately noticed in the first song how much better you guys sounded than when I first saw you when you formed back in 2007. Do you just attribute that to the amount of shows that you guys have played over the years?
Ramone: I think so. Malcolm Gladwell wrote in one of his books that to become a true virtuoso at something is to spend 10,000 hours doing it. So, we’ve played almost 500 shows at this point, and we tour non-stop. So obviously, I think that any band, if they tour non-stop, they are going to get significantly better.
Paste: Turning to the new record. There are some things that were immediately noticeable. Your vocals are clearer and more out front, and the overall sound is less lo-fi than the first two records. Was that a conscious decision to shed that label that has been pinned on you since the beginning of your career?
Ramone: Yeah, definitely. We have never considered ourselves a lo-fi band in the slightest. We recorded our first two albums in legitimate studios.
Paste: Right, but you were still lumped in to that genre.
Ramone: Yeah. I love the way our first two albums sound, but at the same time, I think it is distracting for a lot of people. We just wanted to make it clear that we are not a band hiding behind a sound. Our primary focus as a band is our live shows, and the quality of the songs, and we want to really put that out there.
Paste: Also there are a couple songs that break the six-minute mark [“The Other Girls” and “Light In Your Eyes”], which is a drastic change from the first couple of records. Was that another conscious decision, or something that came naturally?
Ramone: It totally came naturally. Those two songs in particular, we were practicing and just said, “We should have a really long guitar solo part,” but we had no idea that the songs were as long as they were. We thought that they would be four minutes long or something, and then we taped our practice and we realized how long they were. And we just decided to keep rolling with it.
Paste: And what is the writing process typically like for you guys?
Ramone: I write all the lyrics, and pretty much all the songs. There are a few songs that are written collaboratively. It’s not like a write every little part of the songs. There are songs that would sound completely different if Katy wasn’t in the band, and if Fiona wasn’t in the band. I think our band is the perfect combination of songwriter and band collaboration.
Paste: So with a new album out, I wanted to ask you if you guys read the reviews, and if you take criticism in the press personally?
Ramone: I used to read a lot of the Vivian Girls reviews, but stopped recently. It was driving me up a wall for a long time because I am a pretty sensitive person and I don’t take criticism very well. I’ve gotten better at that obviously because I’ve read some pretty terrible things about myself. I love the nice reviews though. Katy still reads a lot of the reviews because the bad ones don’t affect her as much. She is kind of my filter, and tells me what the good ones are, and that’s it. For me personally, I don’t find any point to reading the bad reviews anymore because its like the people who write the bad reviews for Vivian Girls, most of the time I think that they have no idea what they are talking about, and its just pointless for me to read it.
Paste: In regards to your side project with The Babies, and Katy’s with La Sera, how hard is it to juggle those things with Vivian Girls.
Ramone: It’s actually not that difficult. The thing that Katy and I keep in mind is that Vivian Girls is the number one priority. But, there are also months at a time when we are not doing Vivian Girls, and music is our lives, and music is also how we support ourselves. I think Katy and I get in a mindset that if we are not active musically, then we get kind of bored and depressed. It’s ultimately a lot better for us individually and as a band to keep busy, and with our side projects, we are able to stretch different musical muscles, and bring that back to the band. It’s a great thing.
Paste: With Vivian Girls, you guys are three albums in. Do you have specific goals in mind or is it just to continue to play music together?
Ramone: It is always hard to predict the future, but I believe that we will probably be a band for a very long time. Things are going really well for us right now. We are all getting along super good and we are really psyched about our new album. We are just going to try and focus on what to do on our fourth album, and then our fifth album, and just see what happens.
Paste: Did you have a good time on the Bruise Cruise?
Ramone: Oh yeah, it was amazing. I read a lot of articles about the Bruise Cruise, and the way it was portrayed in the media, they made it seem that it was just wild and crazy, and drunk the whole time. But, it was mostly really chill, at least from my perspective. We were just sitting by the pool and hanging out with our friends. It was mostly really mellow from my experience, which I liked.
Paste: Finally, what are your plans for the summer?
Ramone: We are going to be touring Europe this summer, and can’t wait!