It’s both scary and comforting to know that other people are all we have. To that end, Soph Nathan, lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter of British rock trio Our Girl, makes sure to hold her loved ones close.
The Brighton-formed and London-based Our Girl released their debut album, Stranger Today, last August and played their first American shows a few months before at Austin’s SXSW. Not only does their album teem with a benevolent, symbiotic connection to others, but it also backs up Nathan’s cred as one of Britain’s unsung guitar heroes. Nathan also plays guitar in the Mercury Prize-nominated band The Big Moon, currently hard at work on their second full-length. In between recording, I met up with Nathan at the Paste HQ to chat about Our Girl’s standout debut LP.
Completed by drummer Lauren Wilson and bassist Josh Tyler, Our Girl are a quiet storm. Nathan’s gentle vocals and tender lyrics are blanketed in sheets of cacophonous guitar distortion—the perfect musical dichotomy. Similarly, Nathan is humble, attentive and soft-spoken in person and doesn’t carry herself with the knowledge that her meticulous guitar shredding surpasses most indie-rock lead guitarists—which it does.
The album opens with the wispy guitar warbles of “Our Girl” and closes with the sinister, driving fuzz of “Boring,” and there’s plenty of noble six-string treks in between.
“We got lost in guitar world,” Nathan says. “Maybe it went too far, but it’s on the record.” The band holed up in Eve Studios in Stockport, U.K. to record with producer Bill Ryder-Jones (formerly of The Coral and now a solo artist), sleeping at the studio in single beds for the week and experimenting with him to cultivate their album’s sometimes dense, other times understated guitar frenzy.
“[Bill] was playing [the riff in “Our Girl”] and we were singing at each other,” Nathan recalls. “It was mainly a lot of textural stuff. I think it gave the album a lot of droney sounds. After we went to bed at four in the morning, [Bill] just went on for ages and there would be these weird sounds when we’d come down and be like, ‘Oh my god. This is so cool. What the hell did you do?’ And [Bill’s] like, ‘Oh, it’s nothing.’”
With Nathan and Ryder-Jones joining forces, Stranger Today is a masterclass in ardent, warped guitars. “Being Around” vibrates with a melodic rapture, “Josephine” gusts with an eerie squall and “Two Life” blares with an effusive vroom. Nathan has an ear for invigorating guitar lines, and she looks to some of today’s most distinct players for inspiration.
“St. Vincent for sure,” Nathan says. “I love how she gets those sounds. It’s kind of unconventional. Anna Calvi’s just a shredder. I mean they both are but I can’t really compare them. They’re both very different to each other as well. My mom loved Hendrix, so growing up, I was always listening to loads of that. [My mom] probably instilled some sort of guitar love in me.”
You’ll nestle inside Our Girl’s poignant and taut riffs, and your heart will rest easy in their consoling lyrics. On “Being Around,” Nathan sings, “It makes a difference to my life / You being around” and on “Josephine,” she sings, “My stomach’s tied to my friends / It’s a special loving that never ends.” The album embodies a well-meaning interdependence between friends and lovers—it’s a constant, almost motherly compassion for others and an emotional self-checklist. Nathan captures both the most blissful and excruciating parts of platonic and romantic relationships, resulting in gut-level ruminations that traverse the mess of her own mind as often as they do the headspace of those she cares about most. Nathan’s lyrical altruism may not completely restore your faith in humankind, but it’s enough to convince you to reach out to that friend you’ve been meaning to call.
Nathan wrote a great deal of these songs a few years ago when she was 22, an age when things start to feel heavier and you increasingly look to others to lessen that burden and bond over that emotional weight. There’s a noticeable sensitivity to Nathan’s songwriting, but she says her emotional coping skills have improved since penning these tracks.
“I got better at dealing with things,” Nathan says. “Maybe just getting a bit older. Maybe being more settled and happy. I feel like it’s tiring worrying all the time. Maybe I tired myself out. I feel like you need to be in a quite intense place to make good stuff. And then I get worried that I’m not going to be able to do that if I’m not in a really intense place. That period of my life definitely made all those songs. It doesn’t mean I can’t do it again another way hopefully. That’s what I’m trying to tell myself so I don’t freak out.”
There’s a huge amount of vulnerability in admitting how much we rely on others, and Nathan feels a little strange knowing listeners will try to find literal meanings out of her deeply personal songs.
“It’s a very weird thing isn’t it,” Nathan says. “Since doing interviews and talking to people about it, you start to think about it more. It’s also strange for people in my life that some of the songs are about. I have that with other people I know who write music and you try to figure out who [songs are] about or what [they] mean or ‘Are they okay or what?’ But I guess I like the idea that people can take their own things from it. Music really makes a big difference to me and people’s lyrics do. And you might try to guess what it’s about but you never fully know. That means a lot to me.”
Taken from a lyric in “Level,” the album title Stranger Today denotes two different concepts—that a stranger can eventually turn into something more and the present day may be more bewildering than the previous one, but there’s always tomorrow. If you’re willing to let it, this album will become a dear friend, and your day might even become less emotionally confusing.
Stranger Today is out now via Cannibal Hymns. Catch Our Girl live at Pickathon in Happy Valley, Ore. on August 2-4. Check out their full list of live dates here