Girlpool Talks New Album 'Powerplant', Comic Books & Creative Freedom
As a band that blossomed from friendship, Girlpool’s sound has always been about unison. With their sophomore album, Powerplant, dropping Friday (May 12), they’ve settled back into L.A., the place where Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad met and formed Girlpool. As Billboard calls them from New York, we catch Cleo as she's making lunch -- a tuna salad over arugula.
Clicks and pops come through our side of the phone. After a few uncomfortable moments of silence, I ask if they can hear me. “You’re totally fine, everything’s perfect,” Tucker affirms. Immediately it feels as if I’m talking with two old friends -- a feeling you get from listening to their music, too. You’re invited to share a moment of their life, and take or leave whatever emotions hit you.
“[Performing our songs] always felt special internally," Tucker says. "It feels powerful. We never had the expectation that people would feel that specialness though. Definitely never thought about what that energy would feel like to transcend into the crowd.”
Their single “123” delighted fans with the incorporation of percussion, an evolution from their debut LP Before the World Was Big, which was Tucker and Tividad showing what could be done with just a guitar, bass, and vocals. "The sound that we wanted was the sound that felt good when we made the song. It just felt right. If it felt forced or weird, we wouldn’t do it. We’re excited about it,” says Tucker.
They’re not the only ones excited about the sound. After acclaim for “123," Before the World Was Big, and their friendship with Willow Smith, it seems Girlpool has the indie-rock spotlight. As people who pride themselves on showing their heart at all times, it doesn’t stop their writing process however. “It’s such a separate part of our production process. It doesn’t really come up. For both of us, the way we feel is personally topical for us in that moment. It will be the most fulfilling to write about. We really don’t entertain the idea of the spotlight while we’re writing,” says Tucker.
“For me, I was influenced a lot of comic books while writing,” said Harmony. “A lot of Patrick Kyle's. Cleo got me this book that was really influential when I was writing, The Daniel Clowes Reader. It has a bunch of excerpts about his comics with essays. That was a big one for me.”
This fits well with the tone of the album. There are moments of angst about the struggles of managing relationships, and pointing out the overlooked structures of life. Lyrically, the album features harsh wit and memorable details about life as they see it. The opening lyrics to their second single “It Gets More Blue” -- “the city has clouds, you make him the sun / You wanted that poison, handpicked the gun" -- shows raw emotion that hits as hard as the drums.
The drums on Powerplant help Girlpool explore new ways to structure their music. The album is able to build and release tension in a way Girlpool couldn't before. While there are moments when cymbals clash, it's followed up with Cleo and Harmony back in their hushed formation. It’s the contrast between kinetic energy, raw isolation, jangling guitars and airy harmonies that lets Powerplant come to life.
Distance was a challenge for writing this album -- Cleo was living in New York at the time, while Harmony was in Philadelphia. “Being apart, it was sending a lot of voice memos back and forth, then fleshing it out together,” says Tividad. From there the two would take trips to one another in order to flesh out the rest of the songs. “Everything was finished except for a few before we went out to L.A.”
For this venture they signed with ANTI- records. Musicians sometimes have a difficult time transitioning from self-releasing to label releases, as there's a fear of losing control of the project. “An important thing is to make sure you’re steering yourself constantly. [Harmony and I] constantly check in to make sure we have creative freedom. We need to feel comfortable and in control at the same time. It’s been that way because we have always made a conscious decision to have that.”