September 26, 2012

Turning Gold: The Clicky Clicky Interview With Golden Gurls' Andrew Mabry

Golden Gurls, live at Ottobar, Baltimore, MD, August 2012, photo by Patrick McCann

[Photo Credit: Patrick McCann] Earlier this year Baltimore-based indie upstarts Golden Gurls seemed to drop out of the sky like a house onto a witch, sporting an inexplicably well-conceived and awesome debut long-player [review]. But shoot the breeze with fronter and guitarist Andrew Mabry for hours as we've done in recent weeks, and it is apparent that the excellent Typo Magic is the product of decades of music-making, music fandom and immersion in ancillary underground culture. Mr. Mabry has put in the hours: if Indie Rock was a Fortune 500 company, CEO Ira Kaplan would have given him a gold watch for his service years ago. From his early days in Michigan to his current turf in Baltimore, from clerking record stores and pursuing skateboarding to stints in bands including post-rockers Moscow Telephone and Left Channels, Mabry has done the band thing, the music thing, the life thing. His is a musical world view shaped by the greats, Unwound, Polvo, Seam, and on and on and on. And it's all led up to Golden Gurls and where the band is now, Van treads on Typo Magic but fingers stretched out in the direction of a planned sophomore set whose recording will begin later this year. The trio will be in Boston Friday anchoring a stellar bill at Radio in Somerville during the recurring Tiger Mountain dance party. We put a bunch of questions to Mabry recently to learn where his band was coming from and where it will go. We strongly encourage you to get out to see Golden Gurls this Friday, on an epic bill with Connecticut rockers Suicide Dolls and local heroes Soccer Mom and Infinity Girl.
Clicky Clicky: One thing I never really got to the bottom of when reviewing the record: where does the title come from? Is it just a reference to the misspelling in Gurls?

Andrew Mabry: Typo Magic is a reference to any typo that is just so magical you leave it in the text. I have done it so many times at work (I type like crap) and on my cellphone that I pushed for that to be the title, and, yes, I felt like it was only fitting considering how we're spelling the name of our band.

CC: So, kind of like painter Bob Ross' "happy accidents" then. Do you embrace chance in either composing or recording your music -- I'm sure I'm misusing the term here, but kind of like John Cage's "chance operations?" Or is your approach to songwriting fairly formalized?

AM: Well, actually we write our songs to be more open-ended, some of them are more set in stone like "Tidal," and others like "End Of The War" war are sort of ever-evolving in structure. We wrote "Double Negatives" in the studio, that song was just a riff I was playing around with that happened really fast and we liked it enough to put it on the record.

CC: Here's one I always like asking songwriters, because back when I was writing songs I felt like you could never tell whether what you liked would translate. So, the question: do you know when you've written a great hook?

AM: A great hook is totally subjective, [but] I know for sure when I have written something that I would have listened to over and over again at some point in my life. In a general sense, those are the songs I try my hardest to finish and use on our recordings. "Kid Tested," for example, I love that end riff, it really reminds me of so many other things yet none of them at all.

CC: I feel like between "The Wire," that show about cake, and acts like Dan Deacon and Lower Dens, Baltimore has been enjoying an unprecedented cultural relevance in the last five years. Is there any way to account for that, or is it just all serendipity?

AM: Well, this is a hard question to answer. I know a lot of people who play in other bands in Baltimore, this city has a lot of music in it. Lower Dens are just sort of on their own out there. Well, I suppose you can toss Wye Oak in with them. Both of those bands are super talented, but they are totally on their own in terms of sound and what they go after in songwriting. As for "The Wire," I don't know how accurately it portrays this city, as I was never that into it, [although] a good friend of mine's father was in the show. Ace Of Cakes? Or Cake? If there is a cake show that's news to me!

CC: Have you lived in or around Baltimore all of your life? Do you have any recollection of that scene comp Baltimore: The City That Breeds that came out in 1993? There are some great jams on there.

AM: I actually grew up in Detroit, where there were a lot bands influencing me all the time. I know some of those bands on the compilation, though. One of the guys from Next Step Up lives a block over from me. I see the guitarist from Candy Machine around my neighborhood from time to time. Liquor Bike, now that's a band I haven't thought of in years.

CC: What were some of the kind of street-level Detroit acts that inspired you to do what you do? You know, bands that maybe never broke out, but still made you feel like, hey, I can do this music thing.

AM: The bands growing up that really made me feel like anything was possible would be Versus (Teenbeat, Caroline, etc.) [and] His Name is Alive. I used to see [His Name Is Alive's] Warn [Defever] a lot, and talk to him whenever about just about anything musical, and he was totally kind. It's doubtful he would have any recollection of me, but still, what a nice guy. I think back on him in that era and how he was doing recordings with people from the Pale Saints, Ida, Retsin and so on, literally four miles from where I grew up. Another one that comes to mind is Fred Thomas from Saturday Looks Good To Me, seriously one of the nicest guys ever. Watching him take that project from just a solo sort of acoustic thing recorded on a 4-track to where it went was pretty amazing. I was also really into Eric's Trip, I am not sure that I can call them local to me since they were from Moncton, but I definitely saw them often and they left a huge mark on my idea of being in a band. Others I won't go into too much detail on [were] Windy And Carl, Mahogany, Majesty Crush, so on and so forth.

CC: Without going into all the details of how it all came together, I think it is pretty awesome that so many Boston bands were trying to get you on their show for the night you were in town, to the extent that two shows were combined to make it all happen. Is it possible Golden Gurls are more popular in Boston than in Baltimore?

AM: To be honest, I am not sure about that. Is it possible? Certainly. Our entire last year has been this uphill fight with personnel changes, finishing the record, playing shows, trying to have fun with it all.

CC: How much touring have you been able to do behind Typo Magic? Is the trip to Boston part of a set of dates, or is it a one-off? I know your personal life is about to get pretty busy for a while, but are you considering mounting a larger tour to support the record, or are you already looking forward to making the next one?

AM: We haven't played many shows since the record came out. For a while, in 2011, we played all the time, but it dropped off as we got more and more involved with finishing our record. It was a seriously labor-intensive project that took a lot out of us. When we finally put the record out in May we didn't have a bassist and that put a damper on things, not to mention our drummer lives about 2 hours away from where we practice, which is also always difficult to work around. We have an awesome bass player now, though, and we're really happy with everything he has brought to the band. We are playing a few more shows in October and trying to do a few dates in the midwest in the fall. [But] the Boston show is a one off, we have been wanting to play Boston for the better part of a year, but never could pull a show together. This show is exactly what we wanted. Infinity Girl and Soccer Mom are both so awesome. The next record is already scheduled to be recorded in November. I am not sure when it will be finished, but I know we will start it then. We're taking a more personal approach with the follow-up and doing a lot of it at home, but we're using the same engineer we used previously because he's literally the greatest guy we know of to work with. On top of that, he knows exactly what we want out of our recordings.

CC: I know you have a lot of material leftover from writing Typo Magic, because you've told me. Are you the kind of songwriter that will keep that stuff around and use it, or do you mothball stuff that gets stale in favor of newer, fresher stuff you're writing. Are any of the tracks on Typo Magic particularly old?

AM: Typo Magic has songs that span about a two-year period of writing on it. Some of the songs are older, for instance I believe "Kid Tested" is one of the first songs we ever wrote which would make it over 2 years old. Some of the other ones came later like "Tidal," "Excited" and "Providence." I don't like to let songs go unless they really don't fit our sound, that happens from time to time but in general I keep them and continue working on them.

CC: Typo Magic is one of my favorite records of the year, I'm psyched to see you guys play up here. Thanks for taking time out to talk with the blog, Andrew.

AM: Thanks for asking me to do this interview. And thanks for the kind words about our record, it really makes us happy to have it out there and that anyone even listens to it.

Golden Gurls perform at Tiger Mountain Friday night at Radio in Somerville with Suicide Dolls, Soccer Mom and Infinity Girl. Check out a live video of Golden Gurls' "End Of The War," captured in August at Ottobar in Baltimore. Typo Magic is available as a limited-edition CD or name-your-own-price download from Bandcamp right here.

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