London Sleaze Punks Goat Girl Look Life’s Absurdities in the Eye

London Sleaze Punks Goat Girl Look Life’s Absurdities in the Eye

Brixton’s Goat Girl takes its name in tribute to Bill Hicks—a play on the late comedian’s lecherous alter ego, the questionable, satiric id that is “Goat Boy” (“Goat Boy loves young girls…16 years old…ooh”). Two years after Goat Girl formed, the name has proven a fitting moniker for the lo-fi quartet, whose droll, searing self-titled debut straddles the line between provocative crassness and mocking crassness.

“Touch my body, touch my soul / Touch that deep and disused hole,” singer-guitarist Lottie (“Clottie Cream”) vamps on “Country Sleaze,” a nod to another comedic and musical hero, Ben Wallers of Scottish art-punks Country Teasers. “Well I’m disgusting, I’m a shame to this so-called human race / And I am a country sleaze, Wallers find me, you country tease.” The track, like much of Goat Girl (out now via Rough Trade), is both a finger in the eye and a wink, leaving it to the audience to negotiate the paradox in between.

At a moment when everything is political, the band’s off-the-cuff, often satirical social commentary—taking on everything from sexual harassment to gentrification to nationalism and government corruption—arrives as a welcome palette cleanser to the heaviness and upheaval of modern life. Goat Girl weaponizes wit, whether with more overt, sneering lyrical invectives (“I honestly do think that someone spiked their drinks / How can an entire country be so fucking thick?”), or the subtle wile of their videos (see: the gender-flipped Beatlemania of “The Man,” the spoon-fed adults of “Scum”). It’s music that offers joy and catharsis—not through romanticizing or escapism, but through the power it reclaims by looking the absurdity of modern life in the eye.

“I don’t think it’s essential to be political. You can also have fun with it,” Lottie says by phone, ahead of the band’s debut US tour with Parquet Courts this summer. “Our songs aren’t always necessarily in-your-face political messages, but they still have the politics of how we wrote them together, and how humans interact politically together. I also think that what we’re saying isn’t that outrageous. It’s just striking up this conversation that should be had.”

That conversation is rooted in the South London creative community in which Goat Girl cut its teeth, a historically diverse, working class enclave now grappling with the baggage of wealth gaps and gentrification. The four self-taught musicians—Lottie, guitarist Ellie (“LED”), bassist Naima (“Naima Jelly”), and drummer Rosie (“Rosy Bones”)—convened around the same artistic hub that’s spawned similarly fearless young bands like Shame, Yak, Warmduscher, and Sorry. On the cusp of their 20s, they came for the cheap pints and free shows, and stayed for the inclusive ideals and DIY ethos. Goat Girl found a home in particular at Brixton venue The Windmill, where the band played its first gig at a showcase night put on by pals Shame.

“There’s so many different sounds in that place. It’s not just one particular thing,” Lottie explains. “It’s like a collective, a community of people that are all quite like-minded, but create really different things and inspire each other. Everyone has like a chance to do something, and it’s not necessarily just about music. It can be putting on art exhibitions, or radio shows, or promoting gigs. It’s about an attainable, nonjudgmental environment.”

Honing their ramshackle sound to growing crowds, Goat Girl soon landed a deal with Rough Trade—which they inked, in appropriately Pynchonian fashion, the same day as the Brexit vote—before they had even released a single song.

The full-length that arrived two years later paints a surrealist bigger picture of what it’s like to be young, marginalized, and alive in modern London, though its themes resonate beyond its locale. With 19 songs clocking in at 40 minutes, Goat Girl dishes out a sound as freewheeling as the community from which it emerged: There’s the dirty twang of “Country Sleaze;” the garage ennui of “Little Liar;” the pulp-noir pop of “Cracker Drool;” and the gothic rumble of “Throw Me a Bone.” More often, though, you can’t quite put your finger on it.

They’re not a “girl band.” They’re not a “political band.” They’re not starting something, or doing anything, really. They’re just being—four twentysomethings along for the ride, content to do their thing and say what’s on their minds. It’s not anything new, but the result is all their own.

Noisey: So much music curation and influence happens online now. How did being in a physical space and in a physical scene help shape your sound and what you do?
Lottie: Growing up, with music, it felt like a lack of connection to what you watching, almost. You pay for a 20 pound ticket to see a band. It wasn’t really cost-friendly. And watching everyone, it felt unattainable, sort of ambitious, to become a musician. Because you can’t really talk to them afterwards. What really changed for us was when we started going to the Windmill and seeing all the musicians, and being able to talk to them afterwards, and have these conversations, which are really important—politically, socially, everyone had the same sort of agendas, and so it was really interesting to get involved. It was a different kind of energy. It felt like there was a lack of care, almost, this self awareness. It was a real sense of freedom we got from being there at those gigs, like at Trashmouth Records night.

What do you think it is about about that area and that community that’s helped foster that, especially when oftentimes it everything feels like it’s getting more disconnected?
Yeah, that’s what’s so notable about it, this physical experience that you have, and it’s not just existing on virtual reality. Which is the shame about how music exists nowadays. It’s quite easy to put whatever you want out, and it will not necessarily be very good. Or it could be good, but I think it’s kind of nice to actually have people experience your music and feedback and then help each other out in the flesh.

It was interesting because with a lot of the bands, it seemed as though they had to pitch up their instrument or self-tour and create all these different sounds themselves. In that sense, it felt very DIY, and I think that’s shaped me to think in a different way about how I play the guitar, and how we make music together. It became a lot more lo-fi, and had that sort of slacker-y sound to it. Which is not just the sounds of the bands that we’d been listening to, but the energy of the people as well. As I said, the sense of freedom and the looseness. It felt a lot more attainable at the time.

The word “political” gets thrown around a lot in descriptions of your music, just because it doesn’t tiptoe around what you want to be saying. I don’t know how you feel about that, but do you think that’s something that been absent from music?
Collectively, I think it’s always gonna exist in underground music scenes, because the aim of the music is not to appeal to the masses. That kind of music exists in the charts. It’s just being a responsible human to factor that into your music. It’s definitely important because it is about being socially aware. I think it’s almost impossible to avoid that when you live in a place like London, or if you live in a city that’s ever-changing and gentrifying. You don’t really have a sense of control. And so with music, it’s the ultimate control. You can shape it whichever way you want. And so there’s always going to be a kind of political underlying message.

Why do you think there seems to be more of a cultural appetite for it now?
I think in a place like the UK, it’s very right wing in middle England and places like that. And then you have these liberal bubbles in the cities. I think people hear their stuff in our songs and have this ability to relate to it, because maybe you feel alone with your thoughts or politics, because there’s such an outweighing number of people opposing a left wing agenda. So they connect with the meaning behind it.

How are you guys taking the leap from this kind of small venue, DIY environment to getting buzz at SXSW, touring with Parquet Courts, lots of press hype and all that? How does that success jive with your ethos?
I think it’s more just about us staying integral to what we believe in. We’re not really so much a careerist band. We don’t have like, an ultimate ambition of playing a massive show at Wembley Stadium or something. We’ve always taken things as they come, and we’re getting more and more used to playing bigger shows. We’ve just started headlining in the UK now. It’s about just experiencing the new things, allowing them to happen, rather than just going against them.

It’s really exciting that we’re touring with Parquet Courts as well because we did a short tour with them like a year ago. It’s quite cool to just go back with them and hear their new album, because they’re quite similar in sound. It’s got that sort of scratchy, dissonant guitar sound to it, which is something that we’ve learned from watching them as well.

The album is both long and short. Because albums aren’t necessarily a must these days, what were the challenges and choices when you decided to put this thing together?
We really wanted it to have this floating soundtrack, and not just be made up of like, singles, alone within an album. It needs to be something that you listen to the whole way through from start to finish. It’s like this weird story that’s evolving with the different emotions that the sound goes through. It has connectivity to it, that was something that we really wanted to try and achieve. It was a matter of thinking about how we were going to order the songs, or how the chords would go into other songs, or how we’d link them with interludes, so that when someone’s listening, they can sit down and actually have the time and patience to be able to listen to a whole album, rather than pick and choose from those songs. I think it makes more sense as a whole.

Where do you think other people can find creative communities like what you have in South London if they’re not necessarily physically available to them?
I think when there’s like a kind of lack of care for a government, or a feeling of opposition, I feel like there’s always underground art scenes existing. Whether that be in the independent music venues, or even in people’s houses. It’s a matter of talking to people and having conversations and not being caught up in this virtual reality nowadays. I think it’s always sort of in places that are kind of cheap to live, as well, because the creatives are living there. It’s a shame though, because I guess that is the first step towards gentrification. Because then companies can see this thriving community and they’re trying to commodify it. Which is sort of why I’m worried about calling things that are happening in South London “the scene,” or whatever, because then it becomes a commodifiable product. I hope that it won’t be ruined.

What it is right now, it’s really great and I can’t imagine that ending. But I think even when it ends, it’s pushed into a new context. It’d be probably morphed into like, house gig territory, if or when the music venues get shut down. Socially, there’s always going to be a need to create and to combine. I don’t think it’s that hard to get involved.

How do you preserve what you want to be accomplishing and where you come from without inviting in the content makers to come and vulture it? Do you think that’s gonna become capitalized on more?
I think it’s always gonna stay with us. If you enjoy playing music or being in a band, it’s more about writing songs, the creation of it as a whole, rather than thinking about where it could go, how you’re going to score it, or blah blah blah. I think that comes with time or with notice, and it’s kind of lucky that with the Windmill, a lot of bands are getting noticed there. It’s just always important to stay integral to your music and your perspectives on things.

Of course there’s gonna be people that see this as an opportunity to jump on and utilize on its way. But I feel like this ray of light has always existed—the Beat Generation, William Burroughs, or comedians like Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks. It’s always humor that exists in it as well, it’s not necessarily just about being really political. It’s about making light of a ridiculous situation. As long as these ridiculous situations exist, then people are still going to be retaliating, and that message is still going to be very strong. There’s always injustices within societies, so I think that won’t really be lost, and hopefully it won’t be capitalized upon. But of course, that’s kind of inevitable as well, if people jump on the bandwagon of it.

How do you grow your sound to fill these bigger spaces and new audiences you’re reaching now?
I’m hoping that people are able to allow the music to exist in whatever sound it naturally evolves to. I felt that we’ll probably be changing the instrumentation a bit and making it less so about the scratchy guitar-ness and maybe more kind of like a sort of electronic side of things. But still having that lo-fi sense to it, obviously. Because we play pretty nicely, but we’re not virtuosic instrumentalists. We’re learning as we go and being self-taught and creating our own styles and ways of playing.

And I think that’s what won’t really be lost. It’s about not taking everything too seriously as well. But I hope that it can kind of go down more of this electronic road, our music sits quite well with that as well. We have some songs that are quite poppy, in a way I can imagine them being more polished and having keyboards or drum machines, and just experimenting more. That’s what we’ve had to do with the album as well, just sort of experimentation an experimentational side to it, and it sort of adjusted the sound. I think it feels like a bit more of a potpourri.

What does it take to connect with a crowd—to push them from observing and tapping their feet to actually participating in your show?
It’s about making everyone feel like they’re existing in an equal space and it’s not just like we’re on this high stage, and we’re any better. Because we’re not. I think it should be this environment that you create that has a sense of equality and allowing the audience to kind of like be part of the experience that you’re creating in the first place. They’re as important as we are.

Catch Goat Girl on tour:

June 1st Lawrence, KS @ The Granada*
June 2nd St. Louis, MO @ Ready Room*
June 3rd Nashville, TN @ Basement East*
June 5th Asheville, NC @ Orange Peel*
June 6th Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle*
June 7th Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club*
June 8th Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer*
July 21st Thirsk, UK @ Deer Shed Festival
August 16-19th Brecon Beacons @ Green Man Festival
Sept. 6-9th Portmeirion, UK @ Festival No. 6
* supporting Parquet Courts

Andrea Domaick is a country sleaze. Follow her on Twitter.