Goat Girl by Holly Whitaker and Flo White
Goat Girl's On All Fours is one of my favorite albums of the year so far. The London quartet's second album builds on the promise of their debut with thicker textures and hypnotic songwriting, with dance elements seamlessly incorporated into their already hard to pin down rock sound. (Like most interesting records these days, Dan Carey was behind the boards on this one, too.) I got to talk to lead singer and guitarist Lottie Pendlebury about her and the band's sociopolitical perspective and how they successfully added all these fascinating new wrinkles to their sound.
Tell me about the history of how Goat Girl came together.
It was me, [guitarist Ellie Rose Davies], and [former bassist Naima Redina-Bock] who met through school. We were going to similar events and parties and whatnot. We had mutual tastes, slowly realized that we were all making music on our own, and decided that we should use our time together in a creative way instead of just drinking and smoking weed. [Laughs]
What were some of your formative musical influences?
My dad is really into minimalist music, so I grew up listening to a lot of Philip Glass and Steve Reich—which really influenced the way I hear things and make music. I slowly started to discover other music by stealing my sister's CDs—Bloc Party, Bombay Bicycle Club, that era of indie music. I discovered post-punk after that, had a Joy Division phase for ages. My musical journey kept developing.
Tell me about The Windmill. I know you guys played a lot of gigs there in the beginning.
It's this crazy little space in Brixton. It's great. It's actually next to a really beautiful windmill. The first few times I went in there, I thought, "This place is really cool." It doesn't feel too strict, there's cheap pints. It felt really relaxed, and with all the bands playing there you could talk afterwards and share ideas and have really interesting conversations. People could come together and form a collective, which was really cool. The gigs I went to before I started going to The Windmill were very formal events where you'd pick up tickets ahead of time. With The Windmill, you just show up and you know you're going to have a good night.
What was the first concert you ever went to?
I think it was Warpaint. I went with my sister. It was a formal thing at Shepherd's Bush Empire, around the first album. It was really cool. I discovered The Windmill soon after that, along with The Queen's Head in Brixton—which, sadly, is no longer there. There's so many venues that don't exist anymore.
How is it in London right now?
Things have pretty much opened up again, which just means you can go into pubs now instead of sitting in the garden. You can have meals in restaurants and stuff. Which we were dying to do. [Laughs] Not really. But things do feel more relaxed, to be honest, because the majority of vulnerable people have been given vaccines, which means...well, I don't know what it means anymore, but hopefully it means they'll be safer than they were. How are things over there?
I mean...it's fine. I've been asking myself, "Has anyone learned anything from this?"
I guess people have learned is that the government is not there to help you one bit at any point in your life. But people are okay with that, weirdly, which is quite scary. Our government can shit on your food, and people will probably eat it.
Do you feel like people in the UK have come together despite it all?
It's hard to tell, because I'm involved in things that feel like people are coming together. I constantly have this feeling of hope and excitement, but then things like Brexit happen. It's weird. There's been certain things that happened in lockdown that have been amazing and inspiring—awareness of migrant justice.
We had this bill that was being introduced recently that would strip our rights to protest in any form, giving police a lot more power and protection—all the things they definitely don't need, while stripping rights from people who need voices. It's basically saying that if there's a situation where police see it developing as a "serious annoyance"—that's literally what it's framed as—then they can arrest you, which is fucking crazy. And we all know the [enforcement] is going to be racist and homophobic. So there's been all these protests opposing that.
It's also coming at a time in which gender has been in conversation, because there's been violent acts against women inflicted by police officers. It feels like everything is coming together in a more intersectional way. Everything's always been quite separated in our country, especially when you go and protest in London, but now it feels like everyone's figuring out that everything is part of the same [issue]. We're not free until everyone is free. That's been bringing a lot of hope, but also a lot of fear into peoples' lives as well, on top of COVID and everything else.
How do you feel like the UK musical community has responded to this newfound social awareness that's being exhibited?
There's been people where this is central to their work, so it's nothing new to them. It's kind of sad that people are just waking up. From our perspective, our band isn't doing enough. There's always more work you can do, especially as a white woman. You need to assess your privileges and be an ally in doing so without getting in the way of people's work and the struggles that have been part of their lives for so long. It's about being led by them, listening, and standing in solidarity—and in educating yourself on how to do that.
Musicians that we know in our circle are all aware of this and trying to do more, but everyone can do a lot more than we already are. Instagram Stories can go only so far. There needs to be actual action. These are the first steps in terms of showing your solidarity and care, if you actually claim to have those things.
What has given you hope over the last year?
Lots of things. There's been a really strong, organized group of people in my area who have formed mutual aid groups in response to the lack of care and resources for people stuck in their homes during lockdown. It felt like we were finally getting to know our neighbors in our boroughs. It's weird that lockdown, which makes you so separated from everything, almost brought people together because we realized that we need each other.
People have also had time to reflect about what's going on in the world, and to educate themselves about the systemic issues and where they come from. Maybe I'm just trapped in a bubble with people that are doing this, but with the George Floyd protests it felt like people around the world were finally waking up. Because of lockdown, people have been able to focus without being drawn into capitalism the way we always are, so they can see the way things actually are more clearly.
I was revisiting some of the press around your first album, which sometimes juxtaposed the band's rise against Brexit. It seems like the idea of a "post-Brexit" musical landscape in the UK is a regular narrative that's popped up over the last few years.
It was just happening at the same time. [Laughs] I guess you could read deeply into it, but that's pretty much it. We're anti-Brexit, but that's not really our main focus of attention. We're anti-establishment. It goes further than "Bollocks to Brexit!" Maybe we were known for our political messages and activism, but otherwise it's just an easy link to have for people who don't know anything about us. Bad journalism. [Laughs]
The problem with the world we live in today is that it requires everything to be individual issues, rather than what it all means in the grander scheme. Until we start envisioning what could potentially happen in a broader sense, we won't ever accomplish what we want to do. For example, training police in gender politics or arresting one policeman that's violently attacked and murdered a woman—it doesn't really solve anything. We need to start again, and that's about abolishing everything in order to continue.
Everything is built on complete and utter atrocities. The history of Britain is built on colonialism and the pillaging of the world. It's not effective to focus our activism on stuff that already exists. How are we going to re-imagine the world in a way that we can presently act? That's what has been cool with being involved with mutual aid groups. They're collectives that don't rely on the government, or calling the police for help, or contacting your local council for food support, or going through bureaucratic systems to get the help you deserve.
One of the things I love about the new album is how you and the band incorporate dance and electronic sounds into the mix. It's easy to force that stylistic turn—a lot of bands do—but it sounds really well-integrated here.
We were dying to do more dance-y, upbeat, electronic music. It had always been in the back of our minds. While playing the first album, we'd be like, "How can we make these songs fit within that context?" We were trying quite desperately to detach ourselves from "punk" rock music—which is never really what we were anyway, but once you see a setup of bass, guitar, and drums, one just assumes it's gonna be that. [Laughs] All the music we listen to does revolve more around experimental, electronic stuff, so it was quite needed.
We had a reshuffling of band members, and when Holly joined us on bass she basically brought a synth with her, which is how we made that shift more of a physical thing. [Laughs] We started writing songs from that [approach]. It created more ideas for us when it came to working together. At the beginning of writing for the second album, we were quite uninspired by all of our instruments. We just wanted to mess around and not have too much of a formula. Everyone rotated instruments, which meant we came up with some weird ideas.
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