Horsegirl is the new American indie sensation

Two guitars, one drum kit. The Chicago trio Horsegirl brings nothing more for their first Dutch performance at the Grauzone festival in The Hague. Drummer Gigi Reece (19) is non-binary, singer-guitarists Penelope Lowenstein (18) and Nora Cheng (19) do not qualify as the average horse girls. “With us, horsegirl means something like: girl with super long dark hair,” says Lowenstein. “Just a good name for a band.”

It’s 9 a.m. Sunday morning in Chicago. They only do interviews (via zoom) on weekends, as Lowenstein is in high school and the other two are freshmen in college. A short foreign tour fits right in during the summer holidays. After that you have to study further. That they are an indie sensation and that their album Versions of Modern Performance filled with exciting rock music, everyone should decide for themselves. Penelope, Gigi and Nora want to rock, following in the footsteps of their own indie heroes.

The hundred-year-old Chicago blues tradition doesn’t bother them. Chicago house? Nice, but it doesn’t touch their own preferences. Gang Of Four, Sonic Youth, The Breeders, bands that existed before the three were born, are major sources of inspiration. Through “crazy rabbitholes on YouTube” they ended up with bands like The Chills from New Zealand and Minutemen from California, says Lowenstein. †History Lesson Pt. 2‘ by the latter, they covered on the B-side of their single ‘Billy’. One line of text: “Punk rock changed our lives.”

Imagine singing through Kim Deal’s microphone! At first I was intimidated by it, but later I saw it as a challenge

Penelope Lowenstein singer-guitarist

Even 1970s singer Nick Drake appeared on their radar. “I read about the different guitar tunings he used,” says Penelope. “We also tried to do that. Later I understood that Sonic Youth used similar guitar tunings and that their music sounded different as a result. That’s exactly how it works for us. Tune two strings a note lower than normal and you get a completely different sound spectrum. It lifts our music.”

The trio line-up gives freedom, says Lowenstein. “In a small occupancy you have to take into account fewer people. We went to different high schools and gathered in the basement of my house to plan for the future. In essence, we wanted to do everything ourselves: making songs, recording, designing covers, approaching venues to play. We’ve come back to that at some points, because people with more experience can help bring the music to a wider audience. Not that we considered success. For us it was primarily about the satisfaction of making something together. Basically we are still a do-it-yourself band.”

For the recording of Versions of Modern Performance Horsegirl was paired up with John Agnello, producer of many of their heroes. “In his studio, John used to say things like, ‘You can sing this song through the microphone Kim used,’” says Penelope with noticeable awe. “Imagine singing through Kim Deal’s microphone! At first I was intimidated by it, but later I saw it as a challenge.”

Before we got on stage, we thought for a moment that we had only been at that festival as spectators until then

Gigi Reece drummer

Cheng and Lowenstein’s vocals are an integral part of Horsegirl’s music, without being over the top. Lyrics are important but not crucial for the overall sound. ‘Anti-Glory’ with the encouragement “Dance, dance with me” and ‘Option 8’ with the slogan “Stand straight, don’t be late” came as a total package of rough guitars and rhythmic words. Three short instrumentals on the album can do without lyrics. One of them, ‘The Guitar is Dead 3’, consists entirely of echoing piano pinging. The title is a joke, says Nora Cheng, because the other songs are all about the interplay of their two electric guitars. “A big sound, that’s what we strive for.”

They don’t have much festival experience yet, says Gigi Reece. “We played at the Pitchfork festival here in Chicago. Before we got on stage, we thought for a moment that we had only been at that festival as spectators until then. It was fantastic to see the audience from the other side. In the US we are not yet allowed to drink alcohol due to our age. All the more reason to look forward to our European tour. Not that we’re going to drink it right away! Our music comes first, especially when we play for people who don’t know us yet.”

Versions of Modern Performance is out with Matador. Horsegirl plays Saturday June 18 at Grauzone, The Hague. Inl: grauzonefestival.nl

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