The 405 meets U.S. Girls
U.S. Girls consists, confusingly, of the one-woman supergroup that is Meghan Remy. All muted glamour and belligerent half-melodies, Remy's lo-fi project produces powerfully resistant music, pushing against interpretation, against pigeonholing, and against, well, enjoyment, in some cases. Because it's not easy to like U.S. Girls, with all the half-enunciated vocals, angrily ranting melodies and unravelling guitars - but it sure is satisfying.
That being said, her fourth album, Gem, is actually the most easy to step into of any Remy has put out before. Full of tired, swaying rhythms and lyrics that blister through the noise more clearly than ever before, this is a record that throws a hook out to the sea-struck listener, ensnaring them in its maddening layers. Out now on FatCat Records, the albums was made in close collaboration with Remy's husband Max Turnbull (aka Slim Twig), and is set to mark a defiant, colourful streak through the blissfully faded shades that have defined her career so far.
When you run a search for Remy's songs on YouTube, you get the inevitable suggestions of various other female groups that are nothing like U.S. Girls. Woman's voice plus guitar does not equal one, generic sound - for some reason that's a formula we just haven't learnt yet, but at least if you give U.S. Girls the privilege of a listen, it will be pretty obvious that there's nothing formulaic here. Exhilaratingly frustrating and swampishly eerie, the music veers around dangerously with your expectations and your tastes in tow. Megan Remy is an experimental and exploratory artist, and just can't be reduced.
The 405 caught up with her to discuss the influences behind her surprisingly accessible, upbeat new record, her striking visual art and the themes that coarse beneath the skin of both.
I love the new record, and 'Jack' in particular. Do you think it's fair to describe Gem as more accessible than your earlier work?
Sure, I think thats fair to say. Though my earlier work was created using a very simplistic formula with minimal elements which, in my mind, makes it more accessible and easy to understand. Gem is more complex than anything I have ever done yet its aural presence is very approachable and feels universal.
What would you say your main motivation and inspiration were in the making of this album?
My main inspiration was my husband, Slim Twig, and all the music we have been uncovering together since the day we fell in love. My main motivation was to make a record that didn't sound anything like my previous LPs. I think we succeeded on this front.
How did the writing and recording process differ from your other work?
This was the first record where I was truly not alone. There were many people playing on the record, bouncing ideas around, adding bass lines, or keyboard ditties, or whatever. It was a group effort. I would have a demo or an idea for a song, bring it to Max and he would make an arrangement, get the guys to record it or record it himself then, I would lay vocals down and that was that. Instrument wise, I play minimally on the record. My main job was getting those vocals right which I had never put the full effort into before. I always buried my vocals in the swamp and let them be as I ran away scared. This time I focused on the sound of my voice, delivery of words and the melody and clarity of the message.
If you had to pick out one song on the album that you had a particularly close relationship with, or that had the most profound impact on you, which would it be?
'North on 45'. The music was written by Max and was a leftover from his album A Hound At The Hem. He never put lyrics over it and I decided to give it a try and it really worked out for the best. It's a song that shows off both of our strengths and combined it becomes unstoppable.
When did you first hear 'Jack', and what about it appealed to you?
I first heard 'Jack' in 2004 on the Danava demo, a limited run CDR with a highlighter coloured cover. It was the last song on the 4 song disc and it just packed so much punch. The production was very chunky and the vocals so whiney. I just fell instantly for it.
What was it about the song that made you think it was cohesive with the U.S. Girls project as a whole?
I am just crazy about the song so I wanted to cover it. Each song I have chosen to cover has been due to my love for the original. Not because I thought it would fit my voice or my vibe. Just for love and for fun.
The video for 'Jack' is so striking, glitzy and tragic and lovely all at once. How much input do you have into the direction/concepts of your videos?
All of the videos I have made have been collaborations with other artists. I think its important to bring in help when video time comes. The song is made and thats the hard part. Now comes the time to try and represent it visually to your audience, and it's valuable to have other peoples opinions and ideas, because they hear the song differently than you do because they didn't write it. I usually have an initial idea, I bring it to who I am going to be working with and the sky is the limit from there.
I've enjoyed a lot of your videos in the past, including 'If These Walls Could Talk'. Do you like to use videos to further the feminist/gender-based commentary in your music?
Of course I do. Video is such a direct, simple form of communication. It's even easier than just coming out and saying what you mean. Words can be tricky, so to make images that express what I want to say while also leaving room for the viewer's interpretation is always my goal.
What does feminism mean to you?
I don't know what feminism means to me. Unfortunately, the word itself brings up some negative connotations in my mind. I guess, for me, it just means equality with respect and recognition that women are definitely different from men. Not better, not worse, just incomparable in certain areas.
Is there something alluring about being able to inhabit different characters and facades in your videos?
Yes, of course. It is always enjoyable to become someone else and leave yourself behind. I am myself every day of the week. In the moments of making a video or taking a photo booth strip, I get to set aside my own character and feel a little freshness. It rejuvenates my ordinary self.
You released 50 copies of a print alongside your latest single; how important do you consider your visual art to be to your overall artistic output?
Somedays it is what I consider most important to my overall output. Somedays I dream about becoming a famous visual artist whereas I never think about fame with music. I think I have read too much about Andy Warhol and it has poisoned me.
Making physical objects with my hands feels familiar and limitless and I rarely have a problem producing a piece. Music is often draining, fleeting and hard for me to nail down. I can also disconnect my emotions from a visual piece where it's virtually impossible for me to do so with a song.
Do you often make visual art inspired by, or in conjunction with, your music? How does it happen – is there a synaesthetic quality to music for you?
The only visual art I make that is directly inspired by my music is album/poster art. But my ideas on aesthetics of course cover both music and visual art. Yet I see them as playing very different roles in my life and my future.
What are you most proud of about the new album?
That I was able to step back and trust others to help me fulfil my intentions.
What would you most like to achieve in the next five years?
To become a mother and to have a real world gallery showing of my visual work.
Gem is out now on FatCat Records.
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The album's set for release on 25th September via 4AD. For now, watch the unnerving video for 'Woman's Work', soundtracked of course by the swirling intensity of the song. [read more]
It reveals "the inner monologue of a war widow who can find no justification for her husband's death." [read more]
This week she kicks off her mini Euro tour with a headline show in London. We're giving away two tickets to see U.S. Girls at the Courtyard Theatre this Thursday 14th May. [read more]