When you're golden -- Golden Grrrrls -- monikers carry weight
TOFU AND WHISKEY I was in the back of a tour van in a suburban parking lot once, on a warm summer night, with a dictionary splayed open on my lap. It was still hot enough outside that the back doors of the van were swung open out onto the asphalt, and some of the band members stood outside while the rest of us faced them on the back bench. We were all doing Bible drops into the dictionary, squeezing our eyes shut and trying to let our fingers pick random words to be shoved together into a shiny new band name. Whatever we came up with that night, they scrapped it.
Sometimes, the title matters. As much as we like to make-believe it's always, always about the music, first and foremost, in this deeply saturated world of sound, a band can stand out simply with a clever nom de plume. This is not to say a group of musicians can rest on a cool moniker alone — there must be solid skill, passion, bursts of ingenuity, that certain unspecified spark, and aesthetic connected with that gift. They need to know how to play their damn instruments.
This is the case of Golden Grrrls (goldengrrrls.tumblr.com), a.k.a, the Glasgow and London based indie-pop group with the world's greatest band name. That wordplay drew me in (and judging from the Twitter comments about it, it excited a lot of other people on social media as well). But it was the songs on their debut, self-titled full-length — which came out Feb. 25/26, 2013 on Slumberland Records (US) and Night School (UK) — that kept us listening. The band will make its first San Francisco appearance this Tues/26 at the Rickshaw Stop, opening for Veronica Falls.
I'm talking to Golden Grrrls guitarist Ruari MacLean between the album release and the Veronica Falls tour as he cooks dinner before heading out to a party on a Friday night. When I ask him about the connotations of including the three Rs à la riot grrrls, he says, surprisingly, "it never really occurred to me that people would think we were a riot grrrl band. I think over here in the UK, it just doesn't seem to flag up much of a reaction, positive or negative, but in the US it's been a different case." I'll say.
"Some people think it's the worst name of all time, some people think it's amazing. It was just a joke name for some music I recorded on my own over the course of a few weeks, when I was unemployed," says the guitarist, who now works at a school. "I didn't expect to play any shows, never mind have lots of people read about it on the Internet. I'd definitely have chosen something better if I'd thought things would pan out like this."
The trio, made up of MacLean, drummer Eilidh Rodgers, and guitarist Rachel Aggs — all in their mid-20s, all three of whom provide vocals — breaks out with pop hooks and harmonies, but there's a scrappy DIY charm, and an underlying punk energy. It began with seven-inches and splits, put out on UK labels like Night School; this full-length debut is the first Slumberland Records release.
And the band is neatly nestled in the Slumberland roster, with threads back to standout bands on the label such as Black Tambourine and Sea Lions (with whom the group toured and put out a split seven-inch), along with the shifting tempos of late '80s/early '90s acts like Throwing Muses, the dream pop early K Records roster, and fellow Glasgow natives, the Vaselines. In the past, Golden Grrrls have also been quoted as being influenced by classic American indie music (see above) as well as Australian and New Zealand underground music, like "a lot of Flying Nun/Kiwi pop stuff."
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