- What Chaos Is Imaginary, Girlpool’s third full-length album, was released in February.
7 p.m. May 9
89th Street - OKC
8911 N. Western Ave.
W magazine called them “the saviors of rock music.” Fader and Grantland said they were its future. Girlpool’s Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad were not really paying much attention.
“Those kinds of headlines are just kind of funny to us,” Tucker said, “but have nothing to do with and are so separate from the process we developed. That has nothing to do with our evolution. I feel like as human beings, it’s just kind of like watching scenery on this train we’re both on. We’re focusing on the train and it’s like some of the things you might see out the window, you know?”
Girlpool plays May 9 at 89th Street — OKC, 8911 N. Western Ave. Debuting as a drummerless power duo in 2013, the teenagers released a self-titled EP three months after meeting at Los Angeles all-ages venue The Smell, and the Shaggs-reminiscent rule-breaking of lead single “Jane” and “can’t handle your shit anymore” attitude of “Blah Blah Blah” almost immediately captured critical acclaim. Tucker and Tividad’s uncanny harmonies and united-front feminism (“Cause I don’t wanna get fucked / By a fucked society,” both protest in unison on “Slutmouth” “Cause everywhere I look / Someone’s blaming me”) sounded even more formidable with a slightly expanded sonic palette on 2015 full-length debut Before the World Was Big, a 24-minute, 10-song album Pitchfork said “brims with a mysterious power, a charged and palpable sense of hope and awe.”
The world expanded further with 2017’s follow-up Powerplant, which featured drums and came closer to a half-hour runtime, but according to AllMusic.com, “retained a wonderfully snotty, punk-informed approach.” Released in February, What Chaos Is Imaginary is bigger still, with drum machines, synthesizers and even, for the stunning title track, a string section, but Tividad said some of the songs on Girlpool’s latest album predate the duo’s earliest recorded output.
“All the songs on this record are songs that we worked on separately that we hadn’t really explored recording together,” Tividad said. “These were songs that we felt like needed a fresh look because we hadn’t really given them the chance to fully understand them emotionally in ourselves. … I feel like ongoing with anything is just a constant reevaluation of meaning.”
“Where You Sink,” “Pretty,” “Stale Device,” “Lucky Joke” and “Josephs Dad” all originally appeared on Tividad’s 2018 solo album Oove Is Rare as lo-fi acoustic songs that sound a lot like they might have been demos for Girlpool’s first two releases. Elegantly fleshed out and sequenced among Tucker’s songs on What Chaos Is Imaginary (the two only occasionally sing together on the new album) Tividad’s songs do take on a different context as part of a larger statement, or possibly statements, crafted individually in separate cities.
The hormones Tucker began taking as a trans man have changed the tone of his voice, but he said the initial challenges the change presented have since opened new creative opportunities.
“Singing in a whole different register is different,” Tucker said. “It’s a different sound. It’s a different feeling. There’s a different history attached to that sound of a voice that transcends it just coming from my body, but, historically, where that timbre has come from in other people’s bodies. There are all different kinds of new parts to this voice that I think are really interesting to explore right now.”
- Gina Canavan / provided
- Girlpool (from left Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad) plays May 9 at 89th Street - OKC.
Singing older songs in his new voice might also give them a new context for listeners, Tucker said, but he only knows how the songs feel from his perspective.
“I don’t really know,” Tucker said. “It’s hard for me to separate just who I am and how I’m being received because I’ve been going through the process and seeing every moment, and I don’t really feel the contrast every moment that maybe somebody would feel if they hadn’t seen me in a long time. I don’t know. It’s just me behind it. I don’t even think that it sounds like a man’s voice. I mean, maybe, but to me, it’s just like Cleo’s voice, a little bit lower.”
“Slutmouth” from Girlpool’s self-titled EP, opens with the line “Sometimes I want to be a boy / Never really wanted girl toys.” Tucker sings nothing so direct on What Chaos Is Imaginary. Album opener “Lucy’s,” for example, begins with “An unfamiliar stage where you’d rather stay / A meditation plan when you sway and sink / I want a fine downtown for the caroler who sounds / Like quiet when the sun goes down,” while “Hire” ponders “Will I make the matinee/ With my newest life and be that bright time? / Advertise what makes you crazy / So I can second-guess my focus” — poetic stream-of-conscious from which myriad meanings could be extracted. But, as ever, music critic’s musings have no effect on Girlpool’s creative evolution.
“We don’t even really have to try to not incorporate that,” Tucker said when asked if he thought about the 1,000 thinkpieces Girlpool’s latest album might inspire. “That is not part of the process of writing. Writing the songs is just purely about writing the songs.”
In fact, Tucker said, the idea that someone else will eventually even listen to the music Girlpool makes is barely a consideration in the studio.
“How it is received is really just an afterthought that we’re both really, really grateful to even have,” Tucker said, “because it’s not even really what this album’s about at all. It’s so cool that that part of it exists because it provides more time for us to focus on writing music, because it can be our job, but it’s so separate from the intimate, actual process.”
By writing songs separately, Tucker and Tividad have had the opportunity to develop their own styles and work at their own individual pace. While Tividad told Vanity Fair her method is more “diarrhetic” and “purging oriented,” Tucker denied that he is more deliberate about his writing.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m more methodical because I think that that means that my process is, like, more mature or some shit,” Tucker said. “I would say that Harmony can just write a lot, and I think that I’m slower. I don’t know. I think it’s complicated. I think it’s kind of hard to describe.”
Tividad, meanwhile, said she is never afraid of overwhelming Tucker with her output. Even when working with greater individuality, Girlpool somehow retains its uniquely magical two-person territory, even if Tucker and Tividad do not know exactly how their tricks work.
“It just doesn’t operate like that, I feel like,” Tividad said. “Everything just lands in its right place, timewise. I don’t really know how to explain it.”
Tickets are $12-$14, and Australian singer/songwriter Hatchie and OKC dream pop band Pigments are scheduled to open. Visit 89thstreetokc.com.