Searching for the truth in a world on fire: An interview with Goat Girl.

Words: Laura Pegler | Photo: Holly Whittaker

Whilst the fledgling days of 2021 saw a topsy-turvy pandemic take a turn for the worse, thankfully South London’s Goat Girl appeared from slumber to save the dismal day. Drenched in colour, vibrant in sound and psychedelic in imagery, the four-piece’s second album On All Fours proves a flourishing follow up to their self-titled debut. We caught up with guitarist Ellie ‘LED’ Rose Davies to discuss a shift in sound, their relationship with Speedy Wunderground’s Dan Carey and the future of grassroots music.

What’s immediately striking about the album – and where ‘one hit wonder’ bands often fall short – is that it neither sounds like nor is trying to sound like its predecessor. Shying away from the scuzzy riffs, snappy quips and hands-in-pockets melodies of grungier years, On All Fours finds itself quietly confident in experimentation.

Stretching out in synth-led moments of explorative musicianship (cue Sad Cowboy’s 2mins 20secs long outro) the introduction of new bassist Holly ‘Hole’ Mullineaux could well have played a part. Davies explains: “One of the things that Holly brought was all of her synths and drum machines, which I think had quite a big effect on the sound. We’ve just got our guitars and amps, but none of us I don’t think had synths until we met Holly. Then we thought, ‘oh my god, that’s so cool’ and started playing with her Korg Minilogue which was really good for writing with.”

– Ellie Rose Davies

You could also attribute this thoroughly good shake up to Speedy Wunderground’s infamous Dan Carey and his role as the album’s producer. “I think he’s got quite an infectious spirit” Davies expands, “he’s just genuinely excited and passionate about music and has all of these crazy ideas. He mostly lives in his studio, as far as I can tell, and he’s always inspired by these crazy modular synths and drum machines.” Combined with the fact that Davies and her fellow band mates decided to swap instruments during the songwriting process, and you’ve got one shedload of fresh-faced material.

Learning from their younger selves, it’s plain to see that the Londoners have taken this release as an opportunity to rebrand their aesthetic in line with a shift in sound from the studio. Whereas some major conglomerates may’ve suppressed a mild heart-attack and waved a contract in their face, as darlings of indie label Rough Trade Records, this artistic maturity has been actively encouraged. “Whilst it’s got a strong musical heritage, having artists like The Strokes and The Smiths – I’m a massive Strokes fan and Lottie’s (Lottie ‘Clottie Cream’ Pendlebury – vocalist, guitarist) a massive Smiths fan so that was quite a big allure for us – there’s only a handful of people who work there, probably that I could count on my fingers. We’re not emailing people that we don’t know, it’s all very personal. It feels like a small family in a way. Tom, who is our project manager, is super passionate and works far too many hours of the day to get things done.”

Armed with an inspired producer, supportive label and each other’s instruments, the album sinks its teeth into a hotbed of unearthed thoughts and feelings. One undeniable characteristic of the humble post-punk band is an ability to tap in to the social and political mood amongst their peers. With Goat Girl’s debut doing just that, Davies explains how this has unwittingly transferred into their second offering: “When you’re writing a song and writing lyrics, it has to be an organic thing for it to be genuine. You can’t really force subjects. I feel like they’re always relevant to what’s going on in your head or the conversations that you’re having or what you’re reading.” She divulges, “with songs like ‘The Crack’ or ‘Badibaba’ there’s definitely environmental themes running through them but, in a way, it’s commenting on the behaviour of myself as well as the rest of humankind. It’s like a critique on capitalism and what feeds it and I’m a part of that inescapably.”

Depending on your geographical standpoint the pithy retort “pest from the west,” of hypnotic album opener ‘Pest,’ could well be interpreted in a manner of different ways. Setting the record straight, Davies explains that they’re referring to the slimeballs in suits who are dangerously at the helm of western superpowers – not their former manager from West London. With global warming and global figureheads ticked off the list, On All Fours continues to charm with its intense level of vulnerability. Deceptively bright-eyed track Closing In deals with Pendlebury’s own experiences with depression, whilst the playfully wonky P.T.S.Tea tackles an event that resulted in drummer Rosy ‘Bones’ Jones’ getting burnt on a ferry – with the perpetrators refusing to apologise. Rosy takes lead vocals on the song, critiquing ‘male superiority’ and the toxic behaviour that comes with it.

Davies has her own pause for thought on the honest outburst Anxiety Feels. Sincere in delivery and relatable now more than ever, she expands: “It’s about the panic attacks that I was having on a daily basis. The feeling of being disconnected from my physical surroundings and people in general. I wasn’t really able to explain what they felt like to other people or the severity. With that song, I was kind of writing down the process of how my hands felt, because they couldn’t hold anything and my feet couldn’t hold me up. That’s how I felt, like I was not in control of my own body.”

Listen closely enough and you may find another overarching theme inadvertently underpinning the entirety of the record – religion. Most potent on the LP’s fitting final track A-Men, Davies shares: “I really love the end lyric which is “Bless God he tried.” I see it as kind of patronising, like he tried but he’s done a shit job. I guess that also refers to the “pest from the west,” it starts and ends on a similar note. God is a theme that runs through the album as well which we only really noticed afterwards. There’s Lottie’s lyric which is “there’s a guy in the clouds who shouts down at us,” and on The Crack it’s “they were singing worship songs,” meaning they weren’t listening to the earth, they were just praying and not really doing much about it when the world is ending. Which is weird, because that wasn’t a conscious thing.”

Whilst the band can now exhale a well-earned sigh of relief, what is still a cause for significant concern is the future of live music. Often forgotten by the wider population of music lovers, is that ‘everyone starts somewhere’ – namely, grassroots music venues. “The Brixton Windmill in particular, was definitely a big turning point for us and a place where we could go from playing shit open mic nights to playing in front of people who knew where we were coming from. Also tailoring who we played with and having a close relationship with Tim, the promoter, was quite a rare thing I felt for a venue in London. When you’re used to going to places like the Forum or KOKO and there’s this massive gap between you and the audience, you don’t feel that intimately involved with them in the same way that you do at a smaller grassroots venue. The small-scale music industry isn’t always valued, but I think what people don’t realise is that’s where musicians grow as artists. You don’t just go from being a bedroom artist to playing at the O2 Academy, you need this in between.” With VAT on tickets threatening to increase from 5% to 20% and venues still being issued ‘Code Red’ warnings by the Music Venue Trust, Davies opens up about the key role that these sacred buildings had to play in their early career.

With Covid-19 still in full swing and Brexit causing a significant financial imposition for UK artists hoping to tour Europe, it’s enough to make any muso hang their head in despair. Thankfully for Goat Girl fans, Davies seems hopeful that these are just bumps along the way. “We’ve got a UK tour booked in September which we feel is on the brink of realistic, so we’ll just see how it goes and hopefully do those shows. In terms of Europe, we are going to go at some point, whenever it’s safe to do so. We’ll manage the whole visa thing – it’ll be a ball ache, stupid bureaucracy isn’t it, but it’ll be alright.”

Named after American comedian Bill Hicks’ less than savoury ‘Goat Boy’ character, you might expect a different band to emerge entirely. Instead, On All Fours sees the four-piece as bravely open, confident freethinkers and earnest in their artistry. If you’re in search of a group who can help you make sense of quite frankly ‘a world on fire’ then Goat Girl have got you covered. Find the band on Spotify here.