I interviewed Golden Grrrls before their show with Brilliant Colors in Olympia; they had just flown from London to Seattle to start their first U.S. tour. We ordered pizza and sat on the floor of Bikini Kill Records HQ to get to know one other. I quickly discovered they’re record nerds who prefer nothing more than to geek out about music: Drummer/vocalist Eilidh Rodgers works in a record store owned by Stephen Pastel where my band, Spider and the Webs, hung out for a day when we played Glasgow. We bonded and immediately started arguing about the Beatles.
Guitarists/vocalists Rachel Aggs and Ruari MacLean picked George as their favorite Beatle, which Rodgers thought was a total cop-out. (Aggs was about to write Harrison a fan letter when he died, so she wrote it and then ceremoniously burnt it in memoriam. At this, MacLean changed his mind and chose Paul.) Rodgers confessed that when she was younger she always picked John, but went with Ringo in the end, possibly for comic relief. In a way, their choices make total sense: Golden Grrrls are interested in pop music and experimenting with forms — like Paul — and in musicianship and aesthetics, like both Paul and George. They have a sense of humor (Ringo), and while they want to be taken seriously, they don’t wanna seem “too serious” (John).
After the interview, we headed to the show. Watching them made me remember hearing the Pastels for the first time, and illustrated an unlikely continuum from ’80s underground to today’s DIY, an international network that connects Olympia to Glasgow.
On the origins of Golden Grrrls:
Rodgers: I started playing the drums in high school. I used to just sit in the front room and play the drums. I used to play along to that film with Tom Hanks, That Thing You Do! It’s pretty silly. I think I really just loved the song. It all started with Tom Hanks didn’t it?
MacLean: The first band I ever played in was my dad’s cover band. Kind of like pub rock — classic jukebox hits. I was 15 or 16 and got to go into a bar and not be thrown out and got paid at the end of the night. My history teacher was the singer.
Aggs: My family plays music too. My mom just started playing double bass and my dad plays banjo and guitar. We play old timey bluegrass music. I play fiddle and mandolin.
On their troublesome name:
MacLean: My grandmother was from West Virginia and I used to watch Golden Girls with her. When I finished University I had to have surgery on my knee so I couldn’t work for like a month or two and I thought, “Now’s a good time to record some songs.” I didn’t think there would be any shows involved. It was just me messing around, like playing the drums and everything. I just thought that’s a silly name because, like, I’m a young guy, I’m not an old woman, there’s one of me, there’s four of them and then somebody had a side project called Golden Girls so I had to change the spelling and now it’s just a big load of trouble.
Rodgers: It’s fine. Who cares, fuckin’ hell!?
MacLean: Then we actually started playing. As stupid as it sounds, when we started playing live, I hadn’t made the connection between there being women in the band and the name at all.
Rodgers: I think it’d be a really bad name if we were all girls. I wouldn’t be in that band.
Aggs: I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s funny and if people do associate it with riot grrrl that’s not bad. It’s not like that’s a terrible thing to be associated with.
MacLean: I think it’s more that it’s related to a cheesy TV show.
On music and community:
Aggs: I make zines and stuff, I do drawings. In school I studied fine art and I made sound art but I actually just wanted to play music so I felt like I was wasting my time.
Rodgers: I think it’s easier to start playing music than it is to establish yourself as an artist.
Aggs: Music is so instantaneous. If you have an idea and you wanna do something with someone it’s so easy to make a demo and put it out there. It’s easy to communicate in that sense, because you know where the community is gonna be. You can just go play with your friends’ bands. If you make some art, it’s like, “Oh what am I gonna do with this? Where am I gonna exhibit it? Who’s gonna care?”
MacLean: With music there’s a really immediate response.
Rodgers: I think we used to joke that the minute Rachel met someone she liked, she’d say, “Let’s start a band.”
Aggs: Yeah, I need to stop. I’m already in too many bands.
On the ’80s indie-pop aesthetic:
MacLean: It’s easy for people to go “Glasgow, mixed gender…they sound like The Pastels or The Vaselines,” but I don’t have a problem with that.
Aggs: Before I joined the band I really liked Golden Grrrls, but I knew very little about indie pop except for New Zealand stuff. I’d actually never listened to the Pastels before and not really the Vaselines much. So I’ve listened to loads of new music since joining. But I like the band, because it’s really tuneful, fun music and I actually had no reference, which is really nice for me. It’s been fun coming up with guitar parts. What were we listening to? The Byrds and stuff like that.
MacLean: We like a lot of ’60s music, and I’m sure those bands did as well, but I can’t play guitar like [The Byrds'] Roger McGuinn. So maybe if you try and fumble along a little bit, it comes out sounding a little bit like us.
Aggs: When I used to go watch Golden Grrrls, it was really noisy and loud and fun live. I was going to see hardcore punk bands and stuff as well, and it was a similar thing. Me and my friend put them on in his bedroom, in a really small bedroom, and people were moshing and stuff.
Rodgers: There weren’t enough mic stands, so there was a mic attached to a mop or a broom or something.
Aggs: Golden Grrrl’s has a soft side but it has a crazy side too.
On the current DIY scene:
MacLean: The UK scene is looking pretty healthy just now with some cool new spaces and promoters doing shows, like Riots Not Diets in Brighton, Neen Records in Newcastle and the Audacious Art Experiment space in Sheffield. And promoters like Upset the Rhythm in London and Comfortable on a Tightrope in Manchester are amazing.
Rodgers: Before Rachel joined Golden Grrrls she was on tour in Glasgow with her band Trash Kit and Grass Widow, and we played in Glasgow together, and it was really great.
Aggs: Silverfox are one of my favorite bands in the UK at the moment.
MacLean: I think people like us like a broad range of stuff from different years. We toured with Edible Arrangements from Brighton.
Aggs: They’re amazing. They’ve got organ and guitar. They play spooky horror-movie music.
MacLean: We played with another band called Sex Hands, from Manchester. They sound completely different than us and completely different than Edible Arrangements. All the bands are totally different but there’s a love of melody and using that as a basis for making something.
Rodgers: I think it’s more interesting when you play with people who are into different things and you can meet in the middle somewhere.
Aggs: I had to learn to play guitar properly to join Golden Grrrls. Scales!
Rodgers: If you actually know how to play, you’d just play the same as the next guy. But if you’re kind of struggling —
MacLean: I’m constantly struggling.
Rodgers: — It sounds nice.