by Nik Soelter
Religious Girls are a band of contradictions. On the one hand, their albums are serious - composed over long stretches of time, with meticulous attention to detail and densely layered arrangements, while on the other, the bands online persona is often shrouded in irony and self-deprecating humor.
Their art is angular, fractal, and modern, but other times, intentionally recalls early aughts vaporwave, like a digitally rendered Monster Energy can that reads, “Religious Girls: Pure Energy”. The music is emotional, but not so vulnerable that they would actually commit to lyrics (in our interview, vocalist Christopher Danko says “each song contains the lyrics "ooooh" "ahhh" "oh" "yo", "yoo" "mmmbop" and maybe a "meow"). The band is a continuous experiment in how to make dark, serious music without losing your sense of humor.
Their most recent album, 2017’s Pure Energy, is the groups first in more than four years. Recorded mostly in Brooklyn during 2014, the trio, who have since paired down to the duo of Danko and Nicholas Cowman, spent the next several years making adjustments in Oakland. Across 6 songs and 40 minutes, the band haven’t missed a beat. They invent their own universe across it’s sprawling tracks, with almost drumline esque percussion juxtaposed against ambient tones.
Today we’re premiering their video for “Power Pt. 2,” a euphoric onslaught of polyrhythms and emotive synths that recalls the inventive indie of the early aughts. Impressive drum fills backdrop hypnotic melodies, and over time the group find calm in the center of this chaos, only to tear it all down moments later, concluding the track with a stop-start, free-jazz freakout.
The video was shot in the now shuttered San Francisco Armory, a massive, maze-like structure where until last fall, Kink.com was headquartered. Directed by Danko, the video is a perfect example of the band pitting a serious live performance, complete with 3D rendered fractals and overlapping shots, against playful images of the group standing astride both a dirtbike and a full on jet ski that they hauled down into the Armory’s depths.
Check it out below, and read this writers interview with the band where we discuss the video, Pure Energy’s recording process, future collaborations, and what it takes to sustain a long term project like Religious Girls.
Religious Girls is going on almost a decade of being a band, what's it like sustaining a creative project for so long and how do you navigate shifting lineups?
A part of being able to long-term maintain this project is the understanding that it's "long term"; we take time to do our own things, and this often allows us the rare ability to reflect, analyze, and approach coming back with new perspectives and ideas. Because we don't attempt to stick to an "era"/popular music trend/fads (lol jk 2006-themed music only), it allows the band to experiment around with genres/compositional elements and feels fresh/good when we start working again. Another part of that is that because each album is created as one 'piece', we only play our newest album/material, and sort of shed away our older work.
How long have you guys been working on this record and what did that whole process look like?
All in all, the process took a little bit over 4 years. That may seem like an insane amount of time (bc it is) but this band is a long term project, we all work and have separate lives/jobs/etc, albums/compositions are tedious to make, and it takes us a long time to tighten up and perfect. We tend to play through the writing process as well, a track/album will kind of morph through playing it live, until it reaches its final form.
All the records we've written before, we have done ourselves/diy with little budget, but we decided to try and set our standards/goals/bar a little higher for Pure Energy. We couldn't have done that without the help from our Fun friends, fans, and supporters as well as Daniel Schlett at Strange Weather Brooklyn, and Justin Divver and Andrew Oswald at Secret Bathroom.
Daniel was our sound guy at the Ad Hoc showcase at the 2012 SXSW. We played at Noon-o-clock to no one, but Daniel recognized our beauty/talent/etc and asked us to come record in BK. We later toured out to the east coast, tracked drums and most of our garbage in their amazing studio, did as much as we could in the short time we were there, and finished mixing slowly, for almost a year, back in Oakland with Justin Divver.
Is there any Religious Girls song with lyrics? What's the role of album titles and song names for you?
Yeah, each song contains the lyrics "ooooh" "ahhh" "oh" "yo", "yoo" "mmmbop" and maybe a "meow".
Because we choose to not explicitly write lyrics, Titles to anything are important, because they alter the interpretation of the muzak.
The artwork/titles are the only visual elements that allow us to explore our personal interpretations of our sound: we spend so much time writing the songs, that the themes/titles/elements of tracks/albums become pretty important/intimate, but also vague/general/up-for-interpretation.
The bands aesthetic seems to be a delicate balance of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and serious, dark, digital visuals. How do you see the bands presentation and what kind of thought goes into that?
We as artists/musicians/humans are incredibly self-analytical/reflective, because that's the modus operandi of the band/our lives. A part of constantly self-reviewing/critiquing is disregarding the serious elements or making fun of it/ourselves. Our writing process is a version of this: write/propose something informed by life/pop-culture, then destroy/distort/pervert it. There is no meaning w/o reflection, lol.
Pure Energy, and it's dark, noisy, space-art has pretty serious intention/musical/thematic elements/meaning/art, plus tons of emotion, and being aware of how some of those things can be cheesy/trop-ey/purposeful/funny is important to us, and a part of our own analysis/critique that makes it all more meaningful, I think. Maybe.
How did this music video come about? What was shooting at the armory like?
So Christopher has been involved in some film-making and commercial video production stuff, and he had some of the resources available, so that we could create a SICK/nice/professional-looking video using elements from our album/art, combining 'pop' aesthetics with our dark and noisy themes from the record. We wanted to violently jam together interesting/dissociated/aggressive aesthetic elements (combining extreme/hard/sports/popular cultures, for example) into a 'showy'/pop/plastic video, and make something new/different/experimental and v special.
The whole thing came about, the least interesting way: conceptualization, hard work, planning, dedication. The video was obviously only made possible by the amazing hands of our small crew. Shoutouts to everyone in the credits, seriously, awesome humans. (Travis, James, Rebecca, Chris S, Jordan, Connor, Pauline, Brandon, and more, we love u)
Shooting at the Armory was awesome, that place is our beautiful dark twisted fantasy. There are tons of spooky/interesting/funny rooms for shooting 'special' films; a gritty/spooky/beautiful place full of HISTORY and SWEAT, lol. Seeing 55-gallon barrels of lube was pretty cool, though the wackiest/weirdest thing is that the Mission Creek actually flows through it's basement! Fun fact!
What's this album look like in the Religious Girls catalog?
It's a mix of 'just another record' and just another MASTERPIECE, lol. We love this record, we've put a lot of love, HISTORY and SWEAT into every record. Pure Energy is def the LP we dreamed of making; Each album really does represent a life chapter: things we were into, informed by, involved with, struggled with, liked, disliked, etc.
What's next for RG? Any plans to tour? I know Chris just finished school and Nick, you're busy with your business. Are you trying out new members? Working on new material?
Some really cool, exciting, ideas in the mix, looking for some classical musicians, consolidating ideas/themes for the next album, and working on all our other infinite projects/hustles/etc.
As Luis moves on to focus on other projects (1988, Edgar Sonidos, Pregnant, etc), we willll be looking for some new peeps to rock with and already have some fun/talented frens in mind!
Final bumps: Check out Nick's Screenprinting business @SHREDFOREVER, and Chris's new industrial gabber/hardcore project 'Cel Genesis'!