Friday, May 01, 2009

History Lesson #1: Vivian Girls

i like the Vivian Girls.

they are fun. they are cute. they sing weird harmonies and play hard. one of the best shows i went to last year was Vivian Girls at People Projects (RIP). we waited for like 6 hours in the sweatiest/humidity-drippiest basement for them to go on, and i spilled someone's big-gulp all over the place (sorry, Sam), but it was way worth it.

and since i'm an obsessive-compulsive maniac, i can't stop making these little "history chains" in my head for every "hot band" that i come across. so here we have a synopsis: the groups for which the Vivian Girls (and by extension, Dum Dum Girls, etc.) would not exist. . .

to break this down, here's a fairly simple formula:
(early girl groups + 90s twee & indie pop + early riot grrrl) x shoegaze style + lo-fi

60s "girl groups" were the main impetus for pretty much every band i'm going to mention here. this is both a fact and a no-brainer, so i won't delve to deeply except to say that the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las were at the forefront (harmonies!), in addition to groups like the Crystals, the Marvelettes, and hell, even some of Skeeter Davis' pop crossover songs.

now we move into 60s girl garage bands. if you want to dig deeper, definitely check out any one of the eleven (i shit you not) Girls in the Garage compilations, all of which are out-of-print and very hard to find. worlds tiniest nutshell alert: a lot of these bands took the "girl group sound" into Nuggets garage territory (and played their own instruments!). some of these girl garage bands have become fairly infamous in a cult-band sorta way: The What Four and the Daughters of Eve (an assembled band out of Chicago, btw!), for example, trailblazed beyond the overly-saccharine yet still retained the 'cuteness' of the girl group era. the Luv'd Ones were straight-up proto-punk, fuzzed-out and pure garage rock, proving to be a key extension from girl group to girl rock.

80s time: another Vivian Girls influence and a big inspiration for the impending indie pop explosion was the Marine Girls (Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl's first band). Marine Girls were super minimal, post-postpunk and pre-twee, and generally very awesome. the scottish band Shop Assistants were another major bridge between minimal postpunk and twee, and probably one of my favorite bands ever. here we get even more connections to the shambly pop of the late 80s/90s: one member of the Shop Assistants ended up playing with The Pastels, and Stephen Pastel produced some of Shop Assistants' earliest tracks. aaaand, if the Pastels never existed, neither would Talulah Gosh, who formed over a shared love over the Pastels. seriously, Talulah Gosh are soooo proto-Vivian Girls (and also THE band of the twee pop movement). just listen to them for like one freakin' minute and the Vivian Girls influence is the most obvious thing ever, re: sweet harmonies, jangly guitars, and overall cuteness. After Talulah Gosh disbanded, Amelia and Matthew Fletcher started Heavenly, who took delicate sunny indie-pop into the 90s.

Tiger Trap (pictured above) was the American extension of Talulah/Heavenly. again, harmonies + sugary melodies + jangly twee. Tiger Trap also connected the early 90s indie-pop scene with what would eventually be called Riot Grrrl, thanks to their early split release with Bratmobile. the "riot grrrl" tag has become a pretty major turn-off to (uhh mostly male, ahem) music geeks everywhere, which is unfortunate because soooo many bands under the riot grrrl umbrella are exceptional lo-fi pop/punk masters (see the latest Z-Gun for more on this). bands like Pussycat Trash and Skinned Teen are both perfectly underrated and overlooked lo-fi girl bands. Comet Gain, another one of my most loved bands, formed in the UK in the early 90s and were equally inspired by Riot Grrrl bands, twee- and indie-pop, and 60s girl groups. back to Tiger Trap; Rose Melberg (singer/guitarist) eventually continued her career with The Softies, who were a much...softer version of Tiger Trap.

the end? i'm not even gonna go into the shoegaze stuff because that's just too easy and i honestly don't think the Vivian Girls are thaaat shoegazey (or "shitgazey", for that matter). there's definitely some shoegaze style going on in their songs but not enough for me to expound on the merits of Jesus & Mary Chain. yawn.

if you've made it all the way through, here is a gift:
Click here to download a mix of most every band mentioned above, "The Roots of Vivian Girls."


  1. This is so fucking good. I'd also like to add Black Tambourine and Galaxie 500. The latter is probably a stretch or only a viable connection in my own head but whatever. OK. Now please do this for every band ever.

  2. oh god I FORGOT Black Tambourine, which was on my original plan!! wha' happen??!

  3. Also, I just got a live Vivian Girls LP in the mail yesterday. Nice timing, M!

  4. I agree with your comment on the shoegaze influence. I think that is getting tossed around too loosely these days. Just because something is repetitive and has distortion or noisy guitar qualities doesn't nec. mean it has any relation to shoegaze. Plus, I'm pretty sure the ladies of Vivian Girls don't use many effects pedals. Haha.

  5. yeah, they don't! they have also said that they are not even fans of the shoegazey stuff! there is definite shoegaze style but i don't think it's as strong in their music as the girly twee pop stuff.

  6. I seriously want to barf everytime 'shoegaze' is referenced incorrectly, like in relation to Vivian Girls. I honestly don't see that connection at all, unless in 2009 any sort of distorted recording is referred to as 'shoegaze' (which is true to an extent, so fuck writers everywhere).

    Vivian Girls are much more in the twee/girl pop vein, and you've pretty much nailed it.

    Moving on, good job. I love The Pastels/Talulah/Shop Assistants very much, so fuck yeah.


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