With their career-defining third album, Girlpool rebrand themselves as genre non-conforming force to be reckoned with. Words by Matt Doria.
Say what you will of the streaming revolution, an indisputable upside has been the ability to binge on multifarious playlists that shift and swerve between divergent styles and genres at the flick of a hat. The second you feel a craving arise, you’re no more than a few clicks away from catching up on all the jams you already know and love, with the potential to come across a few cuts you wouldn’t have thought to suss otherwise, but might just fall head over heels for.
What Chaos Is Imaginary unfurls like one of those playlists; there are similarities between each track that makes them all distinctly Girlpool, but no two sound like they’re from the same record. Twists and turns are abundant across the 14 tracks, like the hazy keyboards that wash over “Minute In Your Mind”, the pulsing bass and clacking drum machines in “Chemical Freeze”, or the cascading violins in the title track. As vocalist and guitarist Cleo Tucker explains, LP3 saw the Californian indie-rockers break free from the perception that their album needed to fit into one lone thematic cage.
“We never really sat down and went, ‘Okay, all the guitars on this record should sound like this, with these exact tones,’” they say. “All of the songs on the album are so sonically different – there’s maybe four songs that really fit next to one another – and that’s because we had ideas for each specific track as opposed to the album as a whole. It didn’t matter if some of the songs were more synth-heavy and then others were more guitar-forward, or have no drums, or anything like that.”
Aiding in the record’s diversity was the fact that Tucker and bandmate Harmony Tividad worked on their songs in dissonant contexts. Where on previous LPs their songwriting would be intrinsically linked and synergetic, What Chaos Is Imaginary started with an eagerness to explore their own identities as individual songwriters, and tap into pockets of creativity that always striving for balance might’ve prohibited them from cracking open in the past.
“The way we started to write our music was changing because we were working on it in more of a solo setting,” Tucker says. “We were living in separate places and spending a lot of time just writing for ourselves. So when it came time to think about putting this album together, we decided to collaborate in a different way, where we would take each other’s songs and add our own ideas to them. We both got to know the songs so well, because a lot of them were really old and we took a lot of time to let them bloom into what they became to the other person. It was just very natural.
In an idyllic world, this is the part of the story where we’d say Tucker and Tividad immediately fell into perfect sync when they brought their ideas together. But alas, not every apple can be juicy and crisp, and the duo’s visions for the record clashed often. But by virtue of their inseparability and collective determination, that ended up as a blessing in disguise for the pair.
“We would share each other’s ideas and opinions,” Tucker says, “But we really encouraged each other, first and foremost, to do what made them feel comfortable with the way their song was forming when we were arranging and recording them. And yeah, there were moments where we didn’t exactly have the same vision; that was an interesting experience, because it allowed us to explore the concepts of the songs in different ways. We’d step back and go, ‘Okay, you want to play the song this way and I want to do it this way, so let’s try both and see what works.’ That was a really helpful way to develop the individuality of each song.”
With their creative dynamic split down the middle, Tucker and Tividad shared their roles as musicians in the studio. They’re showcased in equal measure as vocalists, guitarists and bassists. Their first two records saw Tucker play most of the guitar parts – however, it’s actually a common misconception that they were ever Girlpool’s only guitarist.
“Harmony started playing bass when we formed Girlpool,” Tucker explains, “Just because we were playing as a duo at the time (sidenote: they now perform live as a five-piece), and we both thought the idea of having one guitar and one bass was interesting. But that dynamic kind of just stopped after a while. All of the songs that Harmony wrote [for What Chaos Is Imaginary], she’d bring them to me on the guitar. And that was something we did on the last record as well, so I wouldn’t say this is a new dynamic for us at all. I feel like we know each other as guitar players, first and foremost; not as, like, ‘Cleo the guitar player and Harmony the bass player’ – which is funny, because Harmony plays the bass live in Girlpool more than she plays the guitar, but for me, I see her as a guitarist first and a bassist second.”
Though a veritable mountain of guitars were used to record Is Imaginary, most of the riffs were laid down on Tucker’s cosseted Fender Standard Stratocaster – a humble, yet impossibly charismatic workhorse that’s become a staple of the duo’s live sound.
“I feel like they’re such a great universal tool to get sounds from,” Tucker gushes. “I grew up listening to Tom Petty, and I always loved his tone in the lead guitar part in ‘Breakdown’, so when I learned that he played that on a Strat, I immediately wanted one. It’s just so bright, and it can cut through anything. But I also love how warm it can get; people have always said I should play a Telecaster because they’re bluesier and warmer – and y’know, I like that about the Telecaster – but there’s just something special about the Strat.”