Best friends Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad formed earnest rock outfit Girlpool in 2013, while they were still teens growing up in Los Angeles. Their first album, Before The World Was Big, debuted in 2015. At the time, Kyle Gilbride—the engineer responsible for capturing the recorded sounds of fellow DIY outfits Waxahatchee and Upset—told The FADER, “Their dynamic is very interesting. It's not like any other band that I've recorded. They communicate really well and they compromise a lot, it's cool, they're very mature. Their musical sensibilities are so different but they have this common script.”
2017 saw Girlpool refine technical proficiencies by way of the matured, contemplative Powerplant. It was met with plenty of critical acclaim—though Tucker and Tividad don’t pay as much attention to press as they do turnout at various tour stops. “I just know that people come to the shows,” Tucker says, which is enough to make them satisfied. Since then, the duo known for emotive pop has brewed up a forthcoming third album.
Recently, I shared a long-distance beverage over the phone with both artists—or, at least I was sipping a Terrapin Recreation Ale during our call. We chatted about their new album, Tucker’s changing vocal range due to testosterone hormone therapy, breast milk and why neither of them are especially huge beer fans—though they have nothing against brews or people who like them, they swear.
Tucker: I don't remember saying that. … But that's an interesting question. Do you mean like, in relationships or [the band’s] relationship? Or just in general?
It could be in regards to any of those.
Tividad: I feel like that song is really about the mimicry of feeling big, where there is emptiness in someone else. Not that the person is empty, but that the relationship could fill a potential void in your life. Filling the space in order to have something to find love in.
Powerplant was such a great second release and even got Best New Music at Pitchfork. How has that affected your working process for developing material for your third? Tell me about the pressure that has added—if any.
Tucker: We're just excited to put out new music, and I mean I guess it did well—I think it did well. I really don't have a good way of gauging how the album did, because I don't see anything about it. I just know that people come to the shows.
Tividad: I don't know how the last record did. There were people at the shows, which was nice. I feel like [with] this next record, everything feels not really correlated even though it inevitably is 'cause we're experiencing life linearly. But the sounds we were listening to at that point were probably Elliott Smith a lot, and Cranberries and Cocteau Twins. Now I feel like we're both kind of like creative ramblers who are nomadically meandering the musical palette and just kind of making things by coincidence.
Tell me about your third album.
Tucker: A lot of songs are really old. Some of them were written honestly before Powerplant even came about. They were kind of leftovers a little bit and reopened and worked on again after that record came out, and some of them were written during that tour cycle while we were on tour, but it's kind of a varied sounding album. There's a lot of songs with programmed drum machine on it and there's rockabilly shit; there's a couple songs that sound like they could have been from Powerplant. There's kind of a wide range—methodically it's kind of all over the place—but we're both really excited about it.
I think the hardest part, I guess, is feeling like my own voice is foreign to me.”
Cleo, I read that you came out as non-binary and trans and started hormonal treatments. How has that affected your vocal style or the way that you write lyrics or make music in general?
Tucker: It's definitely taking a lot of time to get comfortable with my new vocal range. But Harmony and I have reworked some of our older songs that we play live so that I can reach the notes. It's definitely something that I'm still figuring out candidly at shows. I think it's going to take maybe another year to settle or get more used to it.
What have been some of the more difficult challenges with exploring this new vocal range? I imagine it's challenging, but also a pretty powerful feeling.
Tucker: It's cool to look back and hear the demos of the songs we just recorded and then listen to my vocals in the new mixes. It's cathartic and just cool to have these documentations in my life. I think the hardest part, I guess, is feeling like my own voice is foreign to me. And that's been frustrating, because I'll have the desire to sing and play and there's something in the way that I don't know how to fix or really work with. My voice never really felt like an instrument that I didn't know how to use, because I didn't ever learn how to sing, but I always knew the way I liked to sing. So I would sing the way I liked and it was easy, but now it's causing me to push myself and figure out how to sing in a new way that I find beautiful.
Have you been working with vocal coaches?
Tucker: Yeah, I went to two vocal lessons with a friend of my boss. I think I went twice… it was cool, but I stopped going after going out of town. There's so much science behind singing and delving into actually learning how to do it correctly. It's a whole awkward thing, and then doing it while you're going through your puberty process is like another weird thing. I kind of got lazy and stopped but it definitely was interesting.
Definitely, and excuse my ignorance, but have you finished the puberty aspect of it? Is your voice pretty settled?
Tucker: It depends what you consider the puberty aspect, because taking hormones mimics the experience one goes through when they're going through puberty, practically. And vocal shit—I mean, my body is still getting affected by the hormones—it doesn't just stop. You can stop [taking hormones] if you want to, but if you're taking them, the effects don't stop once you reach a certain moment. The vocal change is different for everybody, but if you're taking testosterone, I think typically it's a couple of years of getting settled or something. I think I've definitely passed the mark where it's the most intense change, and now I think it's getting slow.
Your manager says that y'all in general are not big beer-drinkers. Tell me a little bit about your relationship with beer.
Tucker: Harmony used to drink beer when we were teenagers, but then it just kind of didn't settle quite well, right, Harmony?
Tividad: Yeah, it makes me have gas, frankly.
Tucker: If I'm outside doing a thing [where] I'm sweating and it’s sunny out, I'm gonna have a cold beer—and it fucking feels amazing. I'll have a beer for enjoyment, but not to get fucked up.
Tividad: I feel the same way as Cleo.
Tell me about what kind of beers you like to have during these situations of casual drinking?
Tividad: I just don't have that strong a preferences honestly. I had a Modelo recently.
Tucker: You know, we would take whatever. I honestly [prefer] a nice vodka soda with lemon and mint.
You have a couple of festivals coming up, including OctFest. How do you navigate the drinking-heavy culture of that?
Tucker: Harmony and I are not like freaked out by beer at all. Totally fine if people are drinking it. But we usually just… honestly, we don't really get fucked up a lot. I mean, we never play drunk, ever. I think we've played drunk once, maybe three times. We're not heavy drinkers.
What's on your rider normally for these festivals and your regular tours?
Tucker: Avocado, seaweed salad. Honestly, thinking about it gives me anxiety. Crackers, you know—just bullshit.
More and more bands are putting out their own specially released beers. What kind of beverage would Girlpool release?
Tucker: Um, milk?
Like, cow milk?
Tucker: If I still had breasts, I feel like we would do a breast milk line. Like my breast milk and Harmony's breast milk. But I don't have breasts anymore.
What would you name it?
Tucker: Cleo's Breast Milk. Also, how cool would it be if I started a breast milk restaurant where you could get food and, the more expensive your meal was, it was because celebrities’ breast milk was being used? So, like, the most expensive food item or beverage would be Kim Kardashian's breast milk latte. Or Kim Kardashian's breast milk lasagna.
I’ve heard that breast milk is supposed to taste pretty good, like almond milk.
Tucker: We should meet up and try it at OctFest.
Check out Girlpool live in New York City at OctFest.