There's something immensely charming about the raw pop-punk of the 2-year-old band the Vivian Girls.
These three young women from Brooklyn pack a delicious remedial punch—primal bass and drums combine with a reverb-heavy '50s-style guitar attack while their girl-group-inspired vocal harmonies are woven alluringly through short, sharp songs.
Some critics have compared the Vivian Girls to the Shop Assistants, the Vaselines and even the Jesus and Mary Chain. At the risk of confining the group to further comparisons, these Girls sound more like the missing link connecting the Ronettes, the Slits and Sleater-Kinney.
The band's songs may be brief—their 10-track debut album, Vivian Girls, clocks in at just 22 minutes—but they usually begin at breakneck speed, in a rush of breathless, youthful enthusiasm. So a listener (or at least this listener) experiences the delightful feeling of eavesdropping on a conversation already in progress. This works well, considering the songs are pretty evenly split between positive reflections on being in love and tales of weathering heartache.
On tour to promote that debut disc, the Vivian Girls will visit Tucson to perform on April 14 at Plush.
Although the band has been playing together for two years, it has been called by some an "overnight sensation," a label that bassist Kickball Katy refuted in a recent interview.
"Well, compared with other bands, we have experienced some success pretty quickly, relatively," Katy said on the phone from her parents' house in New Jersey. She spoke just before sitting down to a family dinner a couple of nights before the Vivian Girls were scheduled to leave for the current tour.
"But it has also been nonstop work for two years since we have started. At the same time, we have achieved a lot of cool stuff since forming, especially when we have gotten to play with some of our heroes, such as Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo and people like that."
The Vivian Girls have been pigeonholed as part of the New York City "loft-pop brigade." Not that they consider themselves official members of such a movement.
"That's something that someone came up with to describe the scene, I guess. I think maybe we played a loft once. But we have definitely played a lot of shows for just our friends, or for other bands, or for our friends in other bands."
The Girls' activity has picked up sufficiently so that none of them currently keep a day job. They range between the ages of 22 and 24, and have all known each other for several years.
"Cassie and I met at a Weezer show—when the 'Green Album' came out. And me and Ali went to college together," Katy said.
Katy and drummer Ali Koehler still live in Jersey with their respective parents, while guitarist and lead singer Cassie Ramone lives in Brooklyn.
"We rehearse in Brooklyn. I feel like wherever you rehearse, that's where your band is from," Katy said.
The Vivian Girls came upon their sound "more or less accidentally," Katy said.
"It has developed more organically. We didn't start out as a high-concept band at all. We're still just a punk band at heart. We all grew up listening to girl groups and to the Ramones."
Which might partially explain the brevity of most of their songs.
Katy elaborated: "I think that people like simpler songs. We have been so lucky to get such an incredible response, and a lot of people seem to enjoy songs that get to the point in a short time and aren't too complicated or demanding."
Although the Vivian Girls each compose their own instrumental parts, and Ramone writes the lyrics, they come together to meticulously create their three-part vocal harmonies, Katy said.
"We definitely work very hard on that. We're all not very natural as singers. We're still learning, and although some of what we do sounds good, we have a long way to go."
Already, the Vivian Girls have completed their second album. Katy said it's expected to be released in September. Although the band hasn't consciously tried to change its approach, the new recording marks a progression, Katy said.
"It's like our first album, but more vocally oriented. Maybe it's a little darker and more direct. And it's longer; the songs are longer. I don't know if it was a plan, but some of the songs on this album are as long as 4 1/2 minutes."
The Vivian Girls are spending part of their current 2 1/2-month tour playing with Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, a Los Angeles ensemble that plays eccentric folk-pop. In Tucson, the groups will perform along with local act Monster Pussy.
Haunted Graffiti, a project with a membership that is perpetually in flux, is led by the 30-year-old impresario Pink (born Ariel Marcus Rosenberg), whose music communicates a love of 1970s and '80s FM-radio pop through a unique, quirky filter. It makes sense that the increasingly influential avant-garde act Animal Collective would take Pink under its wing, releasing some of his earlier recordings on its Paw Tracks Records imprint.
Katy described Pink's show as "crazy and amazing. I hear they are wearing costumes this time around, but I can't say for sure. They always create the most wonderful atmosphere for their shows. We can't wait to play with them."