Making perfect sense as the act to open the first (non-secret) concert of Kazoo! Fest 2013, Army Girls is a two-piece garage pop duo that thrives on the do it yourself ethos that defines the annual Guelph concert series and the organization that birthed it. I sat down with guitarist Carmen Elle (DIANA, Donlands and Mortimer, Austra) and drummer Andy Smith (Doldrums) to talk about managing conflicting schedules, their near kitchen-related band name, getting Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook to produce their 2011 EP Close to the Bone, as well as what the future has in store for them.
Tom Beedham: Hi Carmen. Hi Andy. Welcome to Guelph. I understand this is your first show here.
Andy Smith: We’ve both been here many times, but our first show, yeah. Indeed.
TB: Your first show in Guelph as Army Girls, at least.
Carmen Elle: Yeah.
TB: For the people at home reading this, can you just explain what Army Girls is all about?
CE: Yeah! We are a two-piece rock-and-roll band consisting of guitar, drums, and vocals, and we write songs about fear and loneliness, um, pretty much exclusively.
AS: Yeah. All the simple things in life.
CE: All the simple things in life – yeah.
TB: I hear Army Girls was almost named after a kitchen appliance instead.
AS: Who said that?
TB: It was in an interview you guys did. You were talking about looking around the kitchen and just putting the word “The” before things.
AS: Fork? Spoon?
CE: Spoon? Fork?
AS: Knife? And then we were ladle.
CE: Ladle. Yeah, it’s true. The act of finding a band name was a lengthy process full of disappointing realizations about the limits of our imaginations.
AS: Yeah. Every time I stop to think about it, it’s always like… you know… whatever I come up with there would probably be something that is 10 times better, and then something that is 10 times better than that.
CE: I feel like everybody thinks that they’re more creative than maybe they actually are. Which isn’t to say that people aren’t creative; it just means that we don’t apply ourselves very often.
AS: Or it’s that fear and we’re self-doubting.
CE: Yeeeah. Especially for bands. “We can come up with a name.”
TB: So how did you end up with “Army Girls”?
CE: I saw someone on the street who was… she was a girl wearing an army jacket, she had a cool haircut, and I just went, “Oh, Army Girls.”
AS: And I said yes. Because—
CE: He said, “I don’t hate it.”
AS: Yeah. “I don’t hate it,” and, “Let’s use that and get it out of the way and continue.”
CE: Yeah. Like try coming up with a band name right now.
TB: Uh, I was going to say Army Ants, but that’s probably because Army Girls is right in front of me.
CE: And I thought The Macaroni and Cheese in my head.
AS: That could work, you know?
TB: More stuff in the kitchen!
AS: It’s all about the kitchen.
CE: It’s hard.
TB: Makes sense. So you’re here for Kazoo! Fest. How did that get set up?
AS: Email, basically.
CE: Well, we got asked to play Wavelength Music Festival in Toronto last February with PS I Love You, um that was a super-super awesome show.
AS: It was a great show, yeah.
TB: Ah. And Kazoo! was a co-presenter with Wavelength this year.
CE: Well, a few of the guys who I guess run Kazoo! were at that show, and they offered us a slot in the festival that year but we I believe were out of town for that. So they followed up this year and we were happy to do it.
TB: You’re both involved in other projects. Can you talk about them and what it’s like balancing being in different bands?
AS: Well currently I’m not too involved in anything else.
TB: Aren’t you still involved in Doldrums?
AS: No, no. I only played the first eight shows back in like 2010.
TB: Oh, my mistake! I wasn’t sure so I’d actually tried to find videos of recent Doldrums gigs, and the ones I did find didn’t really give a clear view of who was on the kit, but it looked like it could be you, so I just figured it was.
CE: But his stage setup – Airick [Woodhead, a.k.a. the mastermind behind Doldrums], who’s a friend of ours – it evolves I would say like every album, but he’s super prolific and his stage requirements change a lot and so he’s always getting cool other players.
CE: Like our friend Steve [Foster] who I’m also in a band with, is his drummer right now.
TB: Is that DIANA?
CE: Donlands and Mortimer.
TB: Another one?
CE: Another one, yeah. [Laughs]
AS: You can’t keep up with her.
CE: Yeah. I guess I’m in three bands, which is kind of time consuming and it’s kind of confusing. There’s like a Google Calendar that nobody checks. Donlands and Mortimer is a band that I’ve been in for six years and we like to joke that we’re a reverse super group. You know how sometimes famous musicians will get together and they’ll be like, let’s start a band? Like Foo Fighters or whatever. Wait. Queens of the Stone Age.
TB: Well, Foo Fighters, too sort of, but yeah moreso Queens of the Stone Age.
Well Donlands… we all started playing together before we could play our instruments too well, and now Johnny [Spence] the keyboard player is in Tegan and Sara’s band, Steve’s in Doldrums, I’ve got this other band DIANA that’s doing really well… So yeah, it’s challenging for sure—
AS: But it’s to be expected, really.
CE: Yeah, but it’s awesome.
TB: So I was going to say both of you were at this year’s SXSW, but I guess you [Andy] were not.
AS: I was not.
TB: But you [Carmen] were there with DIANA. How was that experience, showing your music off to people that might have never heard of you before?
CE: Oh, it was super super awesome. We were on tour for the entire month opening for Tegan and Sara. We toured down to South by with them, so the entire month was kind of this huge high for us. We were super, super, super grateful and by the time we got down to South by, um… I think we were really tight as well, which, you know, felt really, really good for a band like that. Yeah. I had an amazing time at South by. I like Texas.
TB: So [Carmen], as you were saying, DIANA really took off over the winter and you went on tour with Tegan and Sara. What was that like?
CE: Oh, um, it was kind of a bad first tour to go on, because it spoiled us, and now every other tour we go on will not be as good.
TB: Did you get an extensive rider?
CE: We got a rider. And that was amazing.
TB: Did you put anything crazy on it?
CE: Batteries. Nine-volt batteries. They’re so expensive.
AS: Super Nintendo?
CE: Um, no [laughs]. We put dark chocolate on there – like 85 per cent – the good stuff, one grapefruit…
TB: I’ve actually got a pretty cool story about DIANA. My girlfriend and I went to the Long Winter show you guys played back in November for our first date. So we actually had our first dance during your set.
AS: That’s fancy.
CE: To what song? Was it like a slow jammer?
TB: All I can remember is it wasn’t “Born Again.”
CE: Might’ve been the other one, “Perpetual Surrender.” Like with the saxophone solo?
TB: Yeah! That’s totally it.
AS: Saxophone did it.
CE: Well, you’re welcome.
TB: Thank you. She’s probably going to make fun of me. I’m embarrassing. Anyway, Speaking of Long Winter and tying this back in with Army Girls, the two of you wrote and recorded your EP, Close to the Bone in 2011 with Ben Cook of Fucked Up, who presented that series. What was that process like?
CE: I knew of Ben Cook through a friend of mine, Simone TB, who’s in a band called Tropics and another called The Highest Order, and she kept throwing these Young Governor seven-inches at me and being like, “Ben Cook sings like an angel,” so I listened to a bunch of his stuff on MySpace, and agreed with her and also additionally thought that the sonic quality of his recordings was pretty similar to what I though that Army Girls should sound like on recording. So I cold called him, and he said yes, and then four hours later we have this record.
AS: It was a very good chemistry I suppose where we just kind of banged it out super quickly and it sounded kind of how we wanted it to sound.
TB: Any plans to set up some shows with his other band, Yacht Club? That’d be a good fit.
CE: Yeah. [I’d] love to play a show with Yacht Club. Actually we keep trying to book shows with Yacht Club and either we’ll pitch one or they’ll pitch one, and almost always it doesn’t fit with our schedules. But yeah, hopefully sooner rather than later. And I mean Ben Cook’s name is faithfully in every single conversation we have about who to work with in the future. We’re pretty happy with that dude in our lives.
TB: Wrapping things up, what does the future have in store for Army Girls? Any studio time lined up? Tour plans?
AS: I suppose our EP is being reissued by Blocks [Recording Club] with updated artwork—
CE: And two new tunes on it.
AS: And two new tunes. And I guess that’s kind of to-be-determined – the release date – but it’ll be available probably within a month or two, and then I guess just working towards doing our first full length.
CE: We’re writing pretty hardcore right now. We’re taking our time with it so that it sounds nice and shiny.
(first published by The Ontarion on April 4, 2013)