The warmth and intimacy between Avery Tucker and Harmony Tividad practically radiates through the computer screen as they Zoom in from Austin, Texas. It's morning, and the pair are still lounging together in bed (they have a busy week ahead at SXSW), speaking in hushed tones in their relaxed Californian drawl. They've been making music together as Girlpool since they were teenagers, playing all-ages DIY venues around LA and skipping school, and it almost feels intrusive talking to them while they're in their own little bubble.
When asked what they would pick as a defining characteristic of each other's songwriting, their glowing responses are pure and genuine rather than forced. "Harmony is super poetic and amazing with words," muses Avery. "Avery is amazing and deeply gifted," Harmony responds. "Everything he writes is very visceral and felt from a very guttural place, like a primal emotion. It's deep in the stomach." "Deep in the stomach?!" asks Avery, giggling. "Like full-bodied," clarifies Harmony.
When making their new record, the pair had a very clear vision of elevating the soundscapes they had previously explored and for everything to feel more focused across the board, both sonically and visually. To achieve this, they had to let someone into the Girlpool world in a way that they'd never done before; they had to allow someone else inside their almost telepathic bond. That someone was producer Yves Rothman, who you may also know as experimental musician Yves Tumor, and the resulting record, 'Forgiveness', is Girlpool's most ambitious and striking offering to date.
"Yves was the right person to have on the journey of figuring out how we wanted each song to live. While he honoured what we intuitively felt and saw, and came into the original space of the song, he also helped us to collectively explore what felt best and what served the song best without compromising the initial intention for the song," explains Avery.
"What was specifically special about him, was that he had the ability to take it in any direction: there was no end to how many times we could imagine each track, to feel them somewhere else. That was the most sacred thing about this process - the openness and the lack of the pressure to compromise."
Despite their closeness, Avery and Harmony have found that what works best for them is writing their songs completely separately. As the years have progressed, they've found it cathartic, allowing them to process emotions before workshopping the songs together. Rather than cause a sense of disconnect, it's perhaps strengthened their dynamic.
It's another of the reasons Girlpool formed such a strong connection with Yves, seeing how dedicated he was in protecting what Avery refers to as "the purest moment" of their songs. "When Harmony and I wrote our songs alone in our own space, that's the most special part of the song, because that's how it was born."
This relationship also helped to challenge the perceived notions of what a Girlpool album should be. 'Forgiveness' sounds a world away from the scrappy lo-fi of their debut 'Before the World Was Big' - so much so that you could listen to the albums side by side and believe they were two different bands. However, when listening to Girlpool's records in chronological order, you can trace the threads of the evolution of their sound, particularly on previous album 'What Chaos Is Imaginary', which dabbled in spacious dream pop with a hint of dark electronica.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly, but 'Forgiveness' sounds like Girlpool have arrived at the band they were meant to be. It's incredibly nuanced, taking the hints of electronica from 'What Chaos' and expanding them into textured, slick vignettes of dark glamour or surreal after-the-after-party vibes, while still remaining beautifully poetic.
It also has what can only be described as a very LA feel to it: an atmosphere of smouldering Hollywood desire. It makes sense, given that the pair are from LA, but it's a feeling that was reinforced after they moved to Philadelphia and then New York before returning.
"LA has influenced us both on many levels throughout our life," says Harmony. "Our move back inevitably affected how we made music. When we write songs, we drive around LA listening to them, so the Hollywood landscape we're ingesting when we're writing the songs impacts how we imagine them being produced."
'Forgiveness' shines most in its delicate exploration of complex human experiences, with one of the overarching themes being accepting past versions of yourself and past behaviours and reconciling those with the present while learning to heal and grow. It's a concept that's incredibly significant to Avery, having transitioned in 2018, and one that's represented in the album title, 'Forgiveness.'
"Harmony and I felt that it encapsulated everything in a beautiful way," Avery reflects. "I feel that making this album was a very therapeutic experience; being able to express those feelings created a lot of new space in me to grow. I find the process of writing songs and putting them out there to be the ultimate way to forgive others for the pain they've caused and forgive myself for the shame and pain and difficulty within myself.
"Songwriting is the method that I use to move closer to accepting the truth, to having faith and trusting that the hardships I'm going through are pushing me in a direction that is only teaching me more about myself, that I'm where I'm supposed to be on this journey. I suppose you could sum that up by calling it 'forgiving', because it's allowing it to be whatever it is."
Harmony also found the experience of writing 'Forgiveness' to be a process of healing. "A lot of the songs are about things I've put myself through via other people, and accepting and forgiving myself for being willing to suffer, and for not loving myself or holding space for my own needs. There's a lot of sacrifice in my songs."
She goes on to describe 'Faultline', the woozy, ethereal first single from the album, as her "essence song". "I'm discussing a lot of things I've done for a long time and patterns I've held and the fear that I won't ever escape them. I think offering myself the space to vocalise those things is extremely healing."
The deep affection between the two becomes apparent once again as Avery explains the intensity of feeling brought about when listening to each other's songs. "It's pretty complex because we both have different relationships to each song. For me, all my songs are intense, and all Harmony's songs are intense for her. Then her songs are intense for me in other ways, because I love her and I love those songs, so I have my relationship to her songs, then I have my relationship to those songs as someone who loves her."
With a busy touring schedule ahead and a whole new slick sound, Avery and Harmony's journey forward together looks set to continue, though they are trying to accept that there's no need to hide those past versions of themselves.
"We still play some of our old material, and it's nice to honour that period," explains Avery. "It definitely feels a little funny sometimes. We'd rather play the stuff that is emotionally relevant, but in a way, the old stuff is emotionally relevant. We have an appreciation and gratitude for those past versions of ourselves because they built who we are today."
Taken from the May issue of Upset. Girlpool's album 'Forgiveness' is out 29th April.
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