BC Exclusive: Horse Girl Talks Versions of Modern Performance
AUSTIN, TX- I met with Horsegirl at their hotel during SXSW and had a chill talk about their upcoming record, growing up in Chicago’s music scene, sleeping habits, and cereal needs. Horsegirl are Penelope Lowenstein (guitar, vocals), Nora Cheng (guitar, vocals), and Gigi Reece (drums)… and after overcoming the discomfort of hearing my own voice I was able to transcribe the following conversation:
Angela: Great meeting y’all. Thank you for taking the time for it. How has it been for you to maintain the friendship and the band?
Gigi: Well..We have two group chats (laughter). One for the band and another one for our friend stuff.
Nora: We keep the working place separate.
Penelope: The thing is sometimes no one responds on the friends chat! Which is so sad! It’s been weird because the band is what we did for fun as friends before it became something more serious. In the last year or a little bit more so it’s been hard to make sure what to do when they come to visit Chicago from college and we’re not just practicing, but having friend time separately. It’s weird, the band is turning into a sort of a work thing in a different way.
Gigi: Sometimes it gets stressful, but we have so much fun playing together this is also the only thing we wanna do.
Angela: Your trajectory has been unusual and what could be perceived as fast-tracked; you’re incredibly young but have managed to get strong and positive reviews and high profile shows including your upcoming release party at Thalia Hall with some of your peers. Are you happy about the lineup?
Nora: We picked it! . They’re our friends.
Gigi: They’ve all been close to us since we started and it feels very important to be able to do it cuz we just used to play shows with our friends all the time but as we’ve been separate from each other and things have been different and we’re not able to just pick up and play a show like at our friend’s basement anymore. Right now it’s important to have this showcase with all of our friends, and having it at a well-known Chicago venue feels right.
Angela: What venues did you play most often before being signed? –You guys are still underage. Was that challenging at some point?
Penelope: It was mostly DIY. We played some record stores in Chicago and also sometimes real venues but we’d do matinees, but it was always youth organized. Like a kid would email about having a lineup and asking if we could do it in the middle of the day. But it was always youth lineups either at real venues or other spaces.
Angela: How was it growing up with the backdrop of Chicago’s music scene? What were you into musically before you started the band? Did it have any influence on what you’re doing now?
Nora: The main one that we talk about that completely brought us together is Sonic Youth. Maybe the fact that they were such a guitar band and it was just something we really admired and we just loved. Yo La Tengo and Stereolab were bands we bonded over when we were forming the band and that really informed everything moving forward.
(Penelope and Gigi nod).
Angela: How did recording at Electrical Audio with John Agnello compare to your previous recording experiences? How was the working relationship?
Penelope: It was amazing. It was our first time in a studio and actually working with any kind of a producer in that way and we feel really lucky. John Agnello was a very comforting figure to have in a creative space. And also being in a studio, We focused on playing while he was coaching us to get the best live performance we could deliver, so it was just nice. We didn’t even realize they could hear what we were saying in the studio. The first day I remember saying, “oh… I wish I could sit down” and then someone just ran in and brought me a chair. Oh, they’re listening!. It was nice not having to worry about the kind of things we did when we were recording in my basement. It was just making sure we could get a good drum sound. It was way less technical.
Gigi: Yeah, we were less worried about everything.
Nora: We were less worried about everything because it’s like you said. We only had to focus on playing and getting the best take you could.
Angela: Was it fun?
The Girls (in unison): It was so much fun!
Gigi: But it was also much more tiring than we ever imagined. Probably one of the most rigorous things we’ve ever done.
Nora: Really long days and odd hour meals. Like we’d eat lunch around four and then dinner really late in the night time. It was definitely the hardest we’ve ever worked at anything and the most we’ve ever cared about anything.
Penelope: It was a lot of pressure but in a good way
Gigi: …and it turned out exactly as we wanted it to.
Angela: What can you tell me about the artwork of the new record? How did you conceptualize it? I actually haven’t seen it and didn’t want to until I heard what it represented to you.
Penelope: We do all the visuals for the band ourselves. We come from a music community where everyone expects you to make your own tour poster, etc. It would be frowned upon by our friends if we didn’t make our own art.
Nora: And ourselves! We just have that expectation for ourselves, so we did it in the basement with a scanner.
Gigi: On the cover, when you see it there’s coins and a piece of paper and we liked this idea of it looking like a bunch of stuff from a pocket. We had a selection of album covers that we really admired so we just tried to put everything together and make it look homemade but also professional.
Angela: I really liked the video for “Billy” I’m a very food driven person, so a kitchen is where I celebrate my friends and people I love and I’m way older than you, but it felt like it could’ve been 10, 20 or 30 years ago and also now. Almost any period of time. Anyhow.. are you food people or not?
Gigi: I’d say so. Since Nora and I now live in NY now whenever we go to Chicago we always make a list of restaurants we wanna go to.
Penelope: That kitchen specifically is at our friend’s apartment and he hosts everybody every week to just bring records over and sometimes he cooks us soup. That kitchen is a very important space for our community so it felt very special to celebrate and everyone in the video is our friend. And a kitchen is just always a gathering space and the checkered floor in that kitchen we all adore.
Angela: What are some weird things you’ve brought on tour? This is your second tour, right?
Gigi: We like to have granola. Penelope likes granola the most. (laughter)
Penelope: These guys like to sleep late and I need to eat breakfast on my own because I wake up very early, so if you have granola you can have it without milk. Cereal with no milk.
Nora: Weird stuff?. We like to bring our books.
Gigi: I think we’re still in the process of developing what we like to have on tour. Last night we went to Target and bought a lot of snacks like popcorn and granola and I love diet coke so I always need to have some. We’re still in the phase where we need to develop what we know we’ll need. Last tour we had a lot of little games that Penelope’s mom gave us.
Penelope: We had road trip bingo and a goodie bag because she was very happy that her baby was going on tour. Little care packages.
Angela: How much of this is daunting or is it just fun?
Penelope: I think we’re at the stage where we’re still in disbelief that we get to do this. And we’re all best friends! And there’s no one I would rather be than with my bandmates, so getting to travel with them, stay in a hotel and eat together..we’re just so happy to be doing it.
Gigi: It’s also nice because since Nora and I left for college and we’ve been a bit away from each other. Playing means we get more time together and catching up which is perfect. Yesterday was by far our most stressful moment. It was our first time on an airplane together and that was very stressful. Picking up all our instruments.
Nora: The stressful parts at this point are still fun.
Penelope: We couldn’t get our guitars out of the airport and we were just laughing so hard while clogging a ramp trying to push a cart. It was very funny.
Gigi: We were just being ridiculous at the airport but maybe one day we’ll get it down or maybe one day it’ll be so annoying. Like having 5 guitars…
Angela: What would be a dream three or 4 band bill to play or to attend?
Nora: Could they not exist?
Penelope: could they be living or dead?
Angela: I think preferably living!
Nora: We’ve seen them so many times!
Gigi: But they’re so good every time.
Penelope: Ok fine.. Black Midi
Nora: What’s something that’s so weird and avant-garde…
Penelope: I wanna see Blonde Readhead so bad!.
Gigi: Blonde Redhead /Black Midi.
Nora: Phillip Glass. Those are the three!.
Gigi: What would be the order? I feel like Phillip Glass ending
Nora: Yes, you have to end epic.
Gigi: Black Midi needs to open
Angela: I like Black Midi now. I wasn’t sure about the first time I saw them, but then I shot their set at Pitchfork 2019 and actually liked it and sort of got it.
The Girls (in unison): We were there too! And yes, they’re incredibly young.
Gigi: That’s why it is exciting for us. They’re a bit older than us, but they came fresh out of high-school being awesome and we thought: maybe we can do that.
Angela: There’s always a possibility that young people like yourselves and even younger will discover your band and will want to start one of their own. What sort of advice would you have for them?
The Girls (in unison): Do it!
Gigi: Even if you’re not good at your instrument. If you’re bad at it, especially start a band and go for it.
Nora: Yeah, find people you feel have the same thing in them as you do even if they’re not playing an instrument or the right one yet.
Gigi: Or maybe if you have the same music taste. That’s important.
Nora: Or if you don’t it can be interesting.- I don’t know what would happen in that case because we’ve never experienced that.
Angela: Which pronouns are you most comfortable with if I need to use any while doing the transcription?
Gigi: I use they/them
Angela: Thanks again! Hope I can make it to the show.
Spoiler Alert… I made it to a show 😉
After a round of shows in March during SXSW the band was awarded The SXSW Grulke Prize for Best Developing U.S act. Versions of Modern Performance is out June 3rd via Matador. Horsegirl’s album release show will be at Thalia Hall, on June 5th with Lifeguard, Friko, and Post Office Winter. All ages.