With “Memory,” Vivian Girls Have Nothing to Prove
Despite massive cultural shifts in the eight years since their last album, Memory suggests the garage rock trio doesn’t need to change a bit.
In 2011, Vivian Girls were written off by the only indie music outlet that mattered. Of their third and thought-to-be final album Share the Joy (the band officially broke up in January 2014), Pitchfork wrote that it was “more admirable for its willingness to stretch than its execution.” They called singer and guitarist Cassie Ramone’s riffs “flat and stiff as dry spaghetti,” and declared that “there are an increasing number of bands beating Vivian Girls at their own game.” Prior to that dissertation, Pitchfork had awarded Vivian Girls’ self-titled debut album Best New Music and ranked it sixteenth on their 50 Best Albums of 2008 list.
Now, after a five-year break, Vivian Girls are back with one of this year’s most consistent rock records. From the opening bars on “Most of All,” the first track on new album Memory, it’s clear the band had nothing to prove at all. Memory picks up where the trio left off in 2011, drenching sweet, bubblegum melodies in distortion and reverb. This time, though, the band is tighter than ever. The lo-fi quality of their early records has been replaced by a slick studio polish. Bassist Katy Goodman says they wanted Memory to sound like “three people playing the songs as hard and fast as they could together, like a tight power trio.”
Music critics are paid for their opinions, so it’s hardly surprising that even after the press sidelined the band, fans still yearned for a Vivian Girls reunion. Goodman says that knowing there was an appetite for their music certainly helped with their decision to reunite. “We’ve heard Vivian Girls fans over the past few years saying ‘reunite, reunite,’” she says. “Maybe that had something to do with us being like, ‘You know what, maybe we should.’”
It was Goodman who initiated the reunion by calling Ramone in November 2017 and suggesting they get the band back together. “I remember calling Cassie from my patio and being like, ‘Hey, do you wanna do this band again?’ She was like, ‘Sure!’ It was pretty simple,” recalls Goodman, who as well as being on a press call, was also on parental duty. “The thing is, life is too short to not do the things you want to do, especially when they’re fun,” she says.
Ramone was still living on the East Coast when she received Goodman’s call, but she soon packed up her things and headed West. “That’s really the only reason I moved here,” she says, noting that she’d visited Los Angeles before but had never spent more than a month or two there. In April 2018 they started jamming with Ali Koehler, who played drums on Vivian Girls’ second record Everything Goes Wrong. “I am the most nostalgic for the Everything Goes Wrong period of the Vivian Girls,” Goodman says, underscoring their decision to revive that particular period of the band. They kept their recording sessions a secret for over a year, before finally announcing in July that they’d recorded a new album together.
“We’ve heard Vivian Girls fans over the past few years saying ‘reunite, reunite.’ Maybe that had something to do with us being like, ‘You know what, maybe we should.’”
— Katy Goodman
“If we had told people that we’d even thought of reuniting, there would have been a lot of pressure on us, and I think that would have negatively affected our music,” says Ramone. She even lied to her friends on Halloween because she didn’t want them to know that she was in the studio with producer Rob Barbato. “All my friends were inviting me to parties and I was like, ‘Sorry, I can’t.’ I was cackling like a witch, being like, ‘I’m working on my record, haha!’”
It was just her and Barbato alone in the studio that night, and Ramone remembers it being one of her favorite sessions. “We just bought a six pack and we got weird together,” she says. “We made the lights dim and it was super fun.”
“Some of the cooler, weirder moments on the album are probably from that night,” adds Koehler, saying that the session produced the sprawling guitar solo on “Sludge,” the album’s third and final single.
Memory arrives exactly ten years after Everything Goes Wrong, which is the only other Vivian Girls album that Goodman and Ramone recorded with Koehler on drums (Frankie Rose of Crystal Stilts and Beverly played drums on their self-titled debut; Fiona Campbell of The Coolies and Coasting played drums on Share the Joy). “I feel like a huge influence on our new record was capturing that same energy, with the same lineup,” says Goodman, who agrees that nostalgia played an important role in shaping Memory. “2009 was a crazy, amazing year in all of our lives, and I feel like I’m always nostalgic for it. This is kind of like getting to go back to that place and relive it a little bit.”
“We recorded Everything Goes Wrong and then we were on the road for the rest of that year,” says Ramone. “We had so many amazing, insane experiences. It felt like the world was opening up for us.”
“All three of us were just out of school, so we were doing a lot of that stuff for the first time, together,” adds Koehler. “It was a very informative time in our lives and it’s not often that you get to have an experience like that and share it with other people.”
In many ways, listening to Memory feels like looking in the mirror. Ramone is an expert at turning around and piecing together moments from the past that have a certain universality to them. The best example is the song “Something to Do,” where Ramone recalls being lovesick over someone who wasn’t fully there for her. “I’m looking for something to do / but the world offers me nothing without you,” she cries out during the opening verse. “You lied to me and told me that you care / You captured me with your intense stare / But nothing I could do could make you there.”
Ramone’s lyrics often end up inside a noisy cocoon, yet they’ve always been one of Vivian Girls’ strongest assets. On Memory, they’re a reminder of why we fell in love with the band in the first place. FL