Goat Girl Walk Us Through the Grungy Utopia of Their New LP “Below the Waste”

The London art-punk trio’s third full-length is out now via Rough Trade.
Track by Track

Goat Girl Walk Us Through the Grungy Utopia of Their New LP Below the Waste

The London art-punk trio’s third full-length is out now via Rough Trade.

Words: Mike LeSuer

Photo: Holly Whitaker

June 07, 2024

OK, maybe the “utopia” referenced in this article’s title may need some context. The three members of London’s Goat Girl have been through the wringer in the time since they released their breakout punk-blues debut in 2018—both in a collective sense, regarding lineup changes, as well as in a personal sense, as established by the band members’ individual struggles with addiction referenced in passing through their new record Below the Waste. The Edenic world they sing about on the LP, then, has only become conceivable to them after passing through this rocky period, allowing them to envision a similar positive development on a societal level.

Meanwhile, the instrumentation found across Below the Waste’s sprawling 16 tracks emphasizes the “waste” part of the album title. While fairly upbeat, the innovative sounds ranging from twisted noise-rock to surrealist avant-folk conjure images of Lottie Pendlebury, Rosy Jones, and Holly Mullineaux making the most of some post-nuclear landscape, as if the toughening-up they underwent before global decimation hit prepped them for this new world. Aided by producer John “Spud” Murphy, the droning neo-folk flair he brought to recent LPs from Lankum and caroline feels ever-present, to say nothing of the utter unpredictability found on other projects he recently worked on, such as the gonzo prog of black midi. All of which lays the groundwork for Pendlebury’s slacker-rock lead vocals, often recalling the deadpan delivery of Miranda Winters.

With the record landing today via Rough Trade, Pendlebury (and, on one song, as noted, Mullineaux) took us track by track through the new LP, noting how each composition came together both instrumentally and lyrically. Find a stream of the project along with their commentary below.

1. “reprise”
This little vignette came about on a rainy day when I was playing through the chords from the chorus of “wasting” really slowly. I started singing “time” over and over, referencing from “wasting” yet taking this new lullaby canonical form. Taking this as an idea to Hellfire [Studios], we fleshed it out with some organ, and Spud found a crackly sample of a sound he’d noticed inside a tube station and had recorded on his phone.

2. “ride around” 
Like so many songs on this record, “ride around” was born out of a newfound obsession I’d [Lottie] been having with my guitar over lockdown. I found a way of working with my instrument where I’d approach it quite visually, experimenting with different hand shapes and allowing myself to be led by intuition rather than familiarity. I came to a chord that really resonated and ended up being the opening phrase to the song, which had quite a dissonant minor feel to it that repeatedly resolves itself.

3. “words fell out”
This song came out of being stuck in a bit of a creative rut. I don’t know how to play piano, which is always where I like to start with a project that I have no preconceptions about, naturally gravitating towards my Casio keyboard that, in its limitations, free’s me up. I figured out the main riff that at first sat disjointedly amongst a Casio drumbeat, that began to make sense once I laid down some bass. The song talks of a time that felt really hard to find words for, in watching Rosy struggle with addiction and the helplessness we felt as friends in our attempts to nurture them.

4. “play it down” 
This song was probably the one that went through the most iterations of itself on the album. An idea for a bass riff was what initially started it all. Trying it out with the band was what really allowed this idea to develop into a song, but not without its difficulties. After a few attempts of figuring out what direction we wanted to take it in, through stages of prog-rock, psychedelic solos to a sombre ballad, we landed back at what we originally liked about it which was the lo-fi electronic fuzziness. It started to become clear, lyrically, that I was depicting an internal suppression that in turn affected my relationships to nature, love, sexuality, and death.

5. “tcnc”
Initially written during lockdown, this song transformed from a bonkers instrumental I made while really drunk to a tale of recovery and strength. I’d just learnt how to use FL Studio, and my thing at that time was making tracks that went all over the place and nurtured the chaotic energy that I was feeling inside. The lyrics are reflecting upon a dark time in my life, when my struggles with alcoholism and addiction came to a head. “tcnc” means “Take care, not crack”—which is something my mum said to me (she loves to make abbreviations) at the end of an intervention after one of my binges.

6. “where’s ur <3”
During lockdown one of our favourite music venues, Sister Midnight, was under threat of closure, and so in an attempt to try and save it, a few friends came together to make a compilation tape of local artists to sell and raise money. “where’s ur <3” was a bare-bones track at that time with not much other than some drones and an electronic drumbeat. As a band, this was one of the early songs that we decided to work on together. Holly took the original pitch-shifted guitar riff and translated it onto the bass, while Rosy added weight and accentuation to their hits which embeds the track in heavy noise rock.

7. “prelude”
It was important for us to create moments that let the album breathe, and so early on we decided that we wanted short links between tracks that reference songs before and after. With “prelude,” I [Lottie] re-recorded the acoustic guitar from “tonight” through a 4-track tape machine. The idea was for this moment to feel kind of uncanny, and so Lottie decided to tape-bend the guitar to give it a wavering tuning, almost like a vinyl that’s been warped.

8. “tonight”
With this song it became more about how the instruments were played than what they were playing. Taking that as the important element, I had fun trying out different ways of sounding the guitar, settling on quite an erratic plucking of the chords that speed up and slow down. When writing the lyrics, I had a specific place in mind: a favorite pub of mine that always has a log fire going, and the idea of friends huddled around it telling each other stories covertly. This group is planning something disruptive that sees the song ending with them watching their city “going up in smoke.” Like the final scene of Fight Club, there’s a beautiful bittersweetness and romanticism to watching it all unfold.

9. “motorway”
“motorway” was born out of a desire to write a song where the focal point was the voice after listening to lots of music where the vocal line commanded all the attention through unexpected turns and developing melodies. Instrumentally, we naturally gravitated to a more electronic sound, which suited the pop-esque style of the track. As a band we have a shared love for pop music of the 2000s and would reference tracks like Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” or “Day ’n’ Nite” to try and reflect in the song. We really leaned into the epic-ness of this track and its pop sensibilities through Holly’s melodic sub bass synth that constantly weaves between the vocals, Rosy’s drum beats that in their space create heaviness, and the Juno-60 that chimes away throughout the chorus.

10. “s.m.o.g”
Spud’s Moment of Glory. 

11. “take it away” 
This is a song that almost wrote itself. I [Holly] was playing piano and this sad but uplifting melody seemed to tumble out. The lyrics followed almost instantly—just the one line, repeated over and over again. It really encapsulated the love and desperation I was feeling at the time in wanting to ease the pain that I could see Rosy going through in the face of addiction and feeling a little helpless at the same time. 

12. “pretty faces”
Written about an old neighbor who used to live across the street from me growing up. Her and her husband would routinely drive around the neighborhood in their little campervan that was stuffed full of trinkets and accumulated bits. As kids we’d make up stories about what went on in the house, letting our imaginations take hold. This song is a revisit to those tales, dark and light, and the world-building you naturally delve into when you’re young that as a creative adult I’m constantly trying to revert back to. 

13. “perhaps”
“perhaps” was written over a long period of time stretching from 2020 up until before recording final vocal takes. I’d been reading a lot of Octavia E. Butler, which had a profound effect on me—in particular her novel Parable of the Sower. Butler’s writing massively guided the concept of this song, which talks about imagining a world where formalities and inherently oppressive designs are banished.

14. “jump sludge”
This started as an attempt to experiment with weird rhythms. I [Lottie] wanted each part to individually have a disorientating pattern that doesn’t really make sense until everything plays together as one. The point is to feel dizzy, something that I wanted to emphasize and develop on throughout the song with choir stabs and arpeggiated melodies. I really love how all the parts to this piece feel disparate, yet make total sense together—especially the main motif that constantly rises and falls on prepared piano and banjo that in its chaos sounds like something from a Yellow Magic Orchestra record.

15. “sleep talk”
“sleep talk”—f.k.a. “mellotron improv”—was a chunk taken out of an hour-long improvised session. I was messing around with sounds and came across a doubled accordion that I took down a few octaves, which gave it a really growly bass tone, which we ended up using in the final edit. The song talks about having been with someone for a long time and celebrates the joy within that while recognizing its complications. There are contradictions in this loving relationship, with the positivity of comfort alongside the potential for mundanity in routine as we subconsciously exist “sleep-talking down the phone.”

16. “wasting”
I [Lottie] started writing this song with a simple rising bass line that I had going through a whammy octave pedal. At the time, I was listening to lots of music that utilized space as a tool for heaviness. Arranging and mixing this song was a really important process in allowing all the parts to shine. In this period of writing, I’d often write down dreams as soon as I woke up, and an image that became a common theme was of a house that was slowly disappearing into a sinkhole. I wanted to express the aliveness that exists both in nature and the house here, and how they both sort of feed off one another in order to survive.