VIVIAN GIRLS: PEOPLE ARE BRUTAL
Vivian Girls weathered a year of touring and Internet comments and took the photo for their new album cover on the day they almost broke up three times. Cassie Ramone speaks now before tour with New York City’s Beets. This interview by Vanessa Gonzalez.
You’ve been home for the whole summer after touring pretty non-stop. What was it like readjusting to home life?
Cassie Ramone (guitar/vocals): For me it was really good because at that point, touring had gotten to be so stressful and it wasn’t fun anymore after two and a half months. I feel like after the two months point we had kind of hit a second wind, but then right before we got home it was like, ‘Oh my God, we are all so tired.’ We had just spent way too much time with each other in a row. So for me, the beginning of being back home was great. Seeing all my other friends was wonderful and getting some space. But now we’re getting ready to go back out for two months again.
What does it feel like when you’ve hit that wall of it not being fun anymore?
For me it kind of feels like you’re a psychologist. You’re doing character studies on three different people. I kind of felt like I was analyzing Katy and Allie and Mark’s personalities to death, and it wasn’t fun, you know? Because you spend so much time with them, and all you do is talk to them, and then it’s like, ‘Let me figure out what these people are REALLY about.’ Even though that’s not what you WANT to think about, that’s what I end up thinking about—which isn’t fun for me because they’re my friends. I don’t want to spend that much time thinking about their inner workings, you know?
So you didn’t have the typical post-tour depression?
Maybe there was a tiny little element of that. Overall, we were all really happy to be home.
I always felt the same way coming back from tour. Just being able to open the fridge and make myself food or…
EXACTLY! Yeah, definitely. That’s one thing that I missed a lot, actually—being able to cook for myself. That really affected me. I love to cook.
The last album you had drawn the cover, and this one looks like a photograph. What’s the story behind it?
I also designed the cover for this record. It’s a photo that I took on tour. I took it from the car while the car was driving down the highway. It’s on I-10 in west Texas, right outside of Van Horn. I really liked that photo because there’s a V on the mountain. The V stands for Van Horn, but in this case it stands for Vivian, and there are three shrubs in the photo—like the three of us. Three lonely shrubs in a deserted wilderness trying to face a mountain of obstacles. I think that landscape really caught my interest because a lot of that drive is really post-apocalyptic, and a lot of it is really beautiful too. So I was taking a lot of pictures on that specific drive, but I don’t usually take pictures out the car window.
Do you remember what your mental state about tour was at that time?
That was on our first full U.S. tour. Frankie was still in the band. That was the day that we almost broke up three times! Yeah, that was a day that we all got into fights. Me and Frankie got into a fight, Frankie and Katy got into a fight, and then me and Katy got into a fight. That actually a really, really rough day. I remember we did our first full interview that day. We did it in the Subway—the restaurant—and that caused a big fight. It was so brutally hot, and I had just gotten out of the hospital because I had bronchitis or something. I spent the entire morning in the hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, and then we got out and everybody was in a bad mood. It was so hot and we’re driving through the middle of the desert—scorching heat. That was actually a really brutal day.
Did that day inspire the title of the album, ‘Everything Goes Wrong?’
No, the title of the album was actually taken from a song lyric. We were mixing the album in Costa Mesa and when we were mixing the song ‘When I’m Gone,’ one of the lines is ‘When everything goes wrong / will you sit around and miss me when I’m gone?’ We were mixing that song, so we were listening to it over and over and over and Ali just said, ‘Hey, why don’t we name the album “Everything Goes Wrong”?’And then me and Katy thought that that was a really good idea because we thought that that fit the theme of the album really well. Because the album is pretty… pretty dark… pretty apocalyptic… definitely not a happy album by any means, so we thought it made a lot of sense.
So you had the title before you picked the picture?
No, the picture was taken in 2008 and the…
No, I know you HAD the picture, but before you decided on using it had you already come up with the album’s title?
That’s actually a really good question. Working on the album cover was a really slow process. I was looking through all my old photos, and I scanned a bunch of stuff and then I was thinking about what to do for it. So I think the album cover may have been partially completed at that point, but it didn’t look like it does on the finished product.
That’s such a wonderful cosmic accident—the title and the day that the photo was taken… everything came together so perfectly. It all makes sense.
Totally. And I didn’t even think about—until just right now—about how bad that day was and how that photo was taken on like, the worst day ever. That is pretty cosmic.
Can we talk about the Stereogum interview where they say that you hate normal people?
The Stereogum interview wasn’t even for Stereogum—it was for uncensoredinterview.com, which I had never heard of before doing it. It was the kind of a thing where Daniel, our publicist, was like, ‘Hey, you have this thing to do. Get to this apartment by noon.’ And I was kind of in a bad mood because I didn’t really want to be there. But then we actually ended up having a really good time there because the man and the woman doing the interview were really nice. And then when we saw them we ended up thinking a few of the clips were really funny so we posted two of them on our blog. And they were sitting on the blog for like, two months. Nobody said anything about it. And then somebody tipped Stereogum off, and was like, ‘Hey, this is probably going to offend people. Why don’t you put this on your website?’ So they posted that one interview on the website and people just freaked out!
The interview tag says: ‘They Hate You For Not Choosing To Be In A Punk Band.’
I think it was completely out of control. I feel like if you are a part of a subculture—which we are and all of our friends are, and I assumed that pretty much everybody who had even heard about our band at that point was a part of this kind of subculture—it’s completely normal to make fun of quote/unquote, normal people every so often. It’s not like you hate them. It’s not like you think it’s stupid that they’re not in a punk band. It’s like, you know, you lead different lifestyles. And they probably make fun of you. You can make fun of them. It’s not a big deal, you know? It’s true that I think the punk community is a great thing to be a part of, and I would personally feel lost without it. I guess that might not be true for other people, but it’s something that is kind of my lifeline, you know? And at that point I think I kind of assumed that—I think I assumed that everybody who had even heard of our band would feel the same way. But then I guess I was wrong.
How did reading comments like, ‘they’re dead to me now’ make you feel?
It actually made me cry—like, multiple times. And it still frustrates me to this day because people treat that interview like it’s our mission statement when it’s just this stupid interview that we did one time in the context of a million other stupid interviews that were obviously not that serious. We were being completely ridiculous in all of them. So people treat that interview like it’s our mission statement, and like, what we’re all about, when we’re actually about so many other things… like, SO much more than that stupid interview. But that’s all people seem to focus on. I think at some point we were making fun of people that go to TGI Friday’s or something like that and then that got turned into us hating every single person with a job, and that turned into us hating working class joes. But it’s like quote/unquote working class joes aren’t the kind of people that eat at TGI Friday’s. It’s so ridiculous what the reaction to that was like. We weren’t even being serious in half of it.
I don’t want to dwell on emotional stuff necessarily, so we can skip this, but do you mind talking about what it was specifically about this that made you cry?
Yeah, it’s just that—I think I’m a pretty nice person, and I know that Katy and Ali are really good people too, and for people to hate us for something that we don’t even like, that we aren’t even passionate about… I feel like it’s really unfair. Because I’m the kind of person that will give anybody a chance and I think it’s just people wanting to take out feelings of jealousy or resentment on us for no reason and that turning into hatred. I don’t know… it’s a really childish answer but people being mean to me always affects me, even to this day.
Is this type of thing something that you are encountering more as your popularity grows—the side of humanity that tries to tear down what’s on top?
Definitely. I haven’t encountered very much of that in real life. Luckily in real life people are generally nicer to me than they ever were, but whenever I get into the habit of reading bad things on the internet I’m like, ‘Shit! People are brutal.’ So I try to avoid reading the Internet whenever possible.
The beach seems to have a strong influence upon you. Where does that come from? You didn’t grow up by the beach, did you?
Not so close to it. I grew up maybe four hours from the beach in New Jersey. My family was never that much of a beach family. They’re more of like… woods people. They like to hike. But every summer until I was eight, we went to Cape Cod for a week and that’s one of my favorite childhood memories. I don’t know—I think the beach is a really magical place. Whenever I’m there it’s just overwhelmingly… serene, you know what I mean? It fills me with this feeling that I don’t really feel any other time. I just think it’s like a really magical thing to be at the beach. Always. I’m also a Pisces, and it’s a water sign, so I guess that might also have something to do with it because I totally believe in astrology.
How strongly do you follow astrology?
I don’t follow day to day astrology so strongly because I feel like whenever I read daily horoscopes they conflict with one another, but I totally believe in the zodiac. And whenever I find out what sign one of my friends is, I feel like, ‘Oh, that makes a lot of sense.’ So I read a lot about the different signs, and what it means to be that sign.
You had said that the new album has a lot of darker themes in it. Why do you think that’s occurring when it would appear that things are going so positively for you guys?
Because even though the band’s career in 2008 seemed to be doing so well, a lot of things did go really badly for me—and us—in 2008. Like, I had this entire string of failed relationships, one bad one after another. One of my best friends died, and that was really hard for me. and everybody in our group of friends. It was a real tragedy. He was only 25. What else happened? The album also deals with the way gaining more success in your band strains relationships because that definitely happened a little bit last year. So that’s pretty much it. That’s most of what the album revolves around. Bad relationships, strains on relationships… I think the second album is way more universal than the second album. The first one was pretty much all love songs. It pretty much read like a diary. I think the second album reads more like a journey.
How does the band’s success strain relationships?
Before we ever gained any recognition, we were just three punk girls living in Brooklyn and New Jersey, and then when the band started taking off we had all these existing relationships that we thought were set in stone. When the band took off, dynamics changed. With that, relationships changed. That’s not to say that that’s happened a lot. But the few times that it has happened, it’s really affected us.
Is it the lack of time you can invest in the relationship, like you’re just doing more band stuff? Or does success change the interpersonal psychology within the relationship?
It more changes the interpersonal psychology. But the songs that deal with that aren’t that specific. It’s more vague.
How’s it been for you being in an all-girl band? Do you ever get disparaging or condescending comments in regards to your gender?
OH yeah! ALWAYS! And it’s funny because when the band started I never thought that we would get that. Because when it started we were in this community that on the surface is kind of very equal-rights oriented. Pretty much everybody we know supports women in music and so on. And all our friends at first were super-supportive of us. So the fact that people would be discriminating against us because we’re women is something that never even occurred to us. But around the time the band started to take off a little bit, that’s around the time that we realized that the world wasn’t so perfect. There’s actually a song on the second album about that. It’s the second to last song—it’s called, ‘You’re My Guy.’ The song is made to seem like it’s a boyfriend/girlfriend song, but it’s not. The guy in the title that we’re referring to is the listener, the blog reader, the male so-called music fan that judges us just because we’re women. And subsequently makes us feel like shit. Because he either talks about our looks, or makes comments like, ‘If they were a band of unattractive guys, nobody would like them, or give them a second chance.’ So that’s basically who the guy is. We are talking to him in that song.
Is it tongue-in-cheek? What are you saying?
You’ll have to listen to the song to find out. I wrote that song not too long after the interview came out on Stereogum. That’s when I was most upset about this kind of stuff.
I noticed a lot of appearance-oriented comments.
It’s complete bullshit! Like, what do you care how we look like? Sometimes I feel like the way we look has actually hurt us rather than helped us because that’s what people tend to focus on first sometimes. When in reality it doesn’t matter.
Does it make you more image-focused or does it make you want to retreat from it even more?
I feel like we’ve all been dealing with it in different ways. But I think overall we all kind of don’t want to veer too far in either direction. We’re definitely not going to turn into supermodel looking girls because of blog comments because that’s ridiculous. We’re also not going to walk around with paper bags on our heads. We’re just going to be ourselves.
I’m thinking about artists like PJ Harvey and Liz Phair who didn’t start out sexualized but ended up going in that direction. It seems like there’s a glass ceiling for female artists and if they don’t adopt the sex-symbol appearance then they won’t break through it. Is that something that you ever think about having to confront?
I don’t think that that is something that’ll ever happen to us. I think that first of all we’re extremely surprised that we even got to the level that we’re at today, so I don’t feel the need to get to a higher level of popularity. And I definitely don’t want to do that through looks.
If Clairol wanted you guys to do a hair dye commercial, would you do it?
I bet I would do it. But just because I DO use Clairol hair dye.
VIVIAN GIRLS WITH THE BEETS AND THE BLACK AND WHITE YEARS ON FRI., SEPT. 11, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8PM / $10 / 18+. ATTHEECHO.COM. VIVIAN GIRLS’ EVERYTHING GOES WRONG IS OUT NOW ON IN THE RED. VISIT VIVIAN GIRLS AT VIVIANGIRLS.NET OR AT MYSPACE.COM/VIVANGIRLSNYC.