After Two Years of Wandering, Girlpool Are Back Home and Still Keeping It DIY
Girlpool's Harmony Tividad (left) and Cleo Tucker
In the hour I spend with Girlpool’s Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker, we relocate multiple times. The three of us first convene outside of a Los Feliz juice bar, where we hog the nearest slice of shady sidewalk. Next, we rove up the street to a famous diner that I’ve never been to. Sifting through the contents of her fanny pack, Tividad warns that it’s overrated, despite her satisfaction with their "hippie sandwich." Finally, we stop for coffee.
The onset of one’s early 20s can coincide with an impulse to wander, feeling around for the presumably stable space that grownups live in. Now 21 and 20, Tividad and Tucker have a habit of roaming around. In 2015, they switched coasts, moving east from their native L.A. That period featured some flip-flopping between Philadelphia and New York City for a few months at a time.
Not that the two have had much time to nest. Since releasing their debut full-length, Before the World Was Big, they’ve toured relentlessly, both as headliners and openers for big names like Wilco.
If Before the World Was Big is about the first place the duo ever called home, their second album, Powerplant — out last week on Anti- Records — documents the first time they tried to find a home somewhere else. On the record, growth reveals itself in different forms, including the evolution of their lineup. Girlpool now includes a drummer and an additional guitarist, whereas it started off as solely Tividad and Tucker, alternating on guitar and bass.
Their aforementioned change of scenery flies by on Powerplant. Reference to the colors of trash bins lining suburban curbs on their debut album has been replaced by mention of “bodegas on the street” — a sight characteristic to NYC. As always, the songs poignantly convey sentiments native to their age with a wisdom beyond their years.
As of 2017, Tividad and Tucker are L.A. residents again. This is where each of their families live, where they got their start, and where the view of their trajectory is most clear.
“I feel like I can take better care of myself here,” Tucker says. “It’s familiar to me. I know what feels good.”
They know the underrated diners as well as the overrated ones. They know their way around. After all, the music scene that the two grew up on required a commute. Their DIY universe was contained in places like the Smell and Echo Park’s late Pehrspace, whose adolescent attendees flocked from all over town: South Pasadena, San Fernando Valley, the Westside.
While those spaces functioned as sites for convening, so did the internet. Before meeting in real life, Tividad and Tucker were virtual friends via a Facebook group that Tividad started called Creative Safehouse. It functioned as an online community for young, aspiring creatives to share their songs, poetry or art and subsequently connect with likeminded members.
“One day I posted a status that was like, ‘I just feel really alienated and I want to make all this stuff and I feel like no one is making stuff or I don’t know how to meet people or talk to people about wanting to make stuff,’” Tividad says.
Tucker, who uses they/their pronouns, sent her a message in response, stating that they felt the exact same way — and loved the Facebook group. From the get-go, the pair shared frustrations and aspirations, which fused more when they met in-person at the Smell shortly thereafter. They grew closer over the months following that introduction, briefly forming a band called Dearest with three others. But it never became a serious endeavor.
One school night, Tucker called Tividad on the phone to propose that they do their own thing. Their first two shows as Girlpool took place over the course of a weekend — one at a house in Mid-City and another at Pehrspace, a locale they would come to perform at perhaps more than any other.
“At Pehrspace, I wanted to get there early because I didn’t know how we were going to navigate having a loud bass, loud guitar and then vocals,” Tucker says. “We had never practiced those songs with microphones. We only played them in our bedrooms or living rooms.”
Tividad (left) and Tucker play an intimate set on the floor of the Smell.
By 2014, Girlpool was hard at work on the DIY circuit. Tividad recalls a day in which they played three shows, successively trekking from Mid-City’s the Mint to Pehrspace to a gig in Pomona. As a second-semester high school senior, Tucker says the band was “starting to totally take over.” To play an afternoon set at the L.A. Art Book Fair, Tucker had to cut the latter half of Spanish class.
But their labor paid off soon after with an offer to play the Echo: a “real” venue, with blacklight ID checks and a crisp PA. It was an opening slot for Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas, a soulful rock group from Detroit, and Girlpool’s first gig outside of the DIY sphere.
“We were like, ‘Oh, we’re going to be able to hear our voices really well!” Tividad says, laughing.
As their hype crossed L.A. County lines over the next couple of years, the duo would regularly trade off between performing at small, volunteer-run spaces one night and large-scale venues the next. Less than four months after the initial Echo appearance and fresh off of a DIY tour with fellow hometown heroes Slutever, they opened a sold-out show for Jenny Lewis at NYC’s Terminal 5.
Even now they keep that dichotomy alive, sprinkling the occasional house show into their tours when they can. They say that a venue’s size doesn’t correlate to their degree of nervousness. It’s more about context. Playing in front of friends or loved ones whom they haven’t seen in awhile — that’s where things get nerve-racking. Even after they scored their own residency at the Echo in December 2014 and went on to play Coachella and FYF, that feeling still creeps up every now and then.
“Sometimes when my parents are there, it’s sweet, though I’m a little self-aware in a weird way,” Tucker says. “But I played my dad demos today in the car. He loves hearing stuff and I love to share with him. It’s like a different part of me that he sees.”
Returning to their L.A. element before the release of Powerplant may have been a centering experience, but it also meant that Tividad and Tucker had some new choices to make, such where to kick off their upcoming tour.
Tividad’s preference was the Echoplex, where they played their first-ever live set with drummer Miles Wintner last August. Her reasoning — more practical than sentimental — reveals the wisdom of a kid born and bred in L.A.
“There’s a lot of parking around there, honestly,” she says. “These are the things I think about.”
But Girlpool ended up opting for Teragram Ballroom, with a capacity of 600 and less than two years under its belt. In December, they played a benefit show for the Smell’s relocation fund there.
Tividad and Tucker just want the Smell to have the capacity to continue offering a sense of community and inspiration, much like a real-life version of Tividad’s Creative Safehouse. And while Powerplant demonstrates their departure from a lifetime of familiarity, it also hints at a return. The video for the album’s title track takes place at Eagle Rock’s All Star Lanes, a local treasure that hosts all-ages shows inside of its Chinese restaurant.
Outgrowing the spaces that helped found their friendship isn’t an option. Instead, Girlpool are doing their part to sustain L.A. DIY so artists like them have somewhere to go once they graduate from their living rooms.
Girlpool performs at the Teragram Ballroom on Tuesday, May 23 with Snail Mail. Tickets and more info.
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