Q&A: Girls’ Member ‘JR’ and ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’
By Adam Valeiras on September 26, 2011
When Girls' debut album came out in 2009 - Album - the band felt like they had already been around for years. The collection of short surf-rock, emotionally garnered love songs was an instant classic, and I think most people would agree with that statement, going off the rave reviews it received upon release. Now, in 2011, the San-Fran band has released their second full-length, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, which, in many ways, had the same effect, especially with the mixture of familiar sounding Album-esque tracks and the new, longer ballad types which evoke many of the same feelings as a song off Dark Side Of the Moon might. As an album, Father is also much more advanced production wise, which is why it was such an honor getting to talk to the band's guitarist/main producer, Chet 'JR' White, and hear his side of the story. Check it out below, along with a new song and video from the band.
Girls - Honey Bunny by artsandcraftsmx
One of the first things I noticed when listening to Father, Son, Holy Ghost is how much longer and more complex instrumentally each song is, as compared to Album. What caused this, not entirely, but still pretty drastic change in style?
JR: I don't know. It wasn't pre-meditated. We don't ever go into a record and plan out the sound of it. I mean, we do a little bit, but not like having a discussion about creating "this style record," or something like that. I think about it production wise, but a lot of the time I don't even share that with Christopher. I just think, in order for someone to say they feel that way about the record, you only need a couple long, instrumental songs - songs like "Forgiveness" and "Just a Song." They are pretty far reaching. They're longer songs with kind of a different thing going on, but I don't know. I don't know how to answer that, to be honest with you. It wasn't necessarily a conscious decision. We went into the studio with a list of like 25 songs and widdled it down to 16 and then, realistically, in the amount of time we had, we only finished 13, or maybe 14 or 15, but what's on the record are 12 out of 15 of the best songs, the songs that fit together the best and created the album that made the most sense. So having more instrumental or longer songs wasn't necessarily a conscious decision or anything, it's just how it ended up. On each song we don't necessarily think about them in context of how they will fit with everything else, you know? What we do is think about tempo because when you're doing an album you don't want all the songs to be the same tempo. You mix it up to make it interesting. But as we record, the songs develop in the studio. There's always a hope to save room for the unknown factor in each song, like things not working, or something completely different happening.
The new record is the first that wasn't solely produced by you. How did Doug Boehm's help in the studio affect the recording process?
The reason I hired Doug was because of a couple things. One was just his attitude. Chris and I can be a little bit negative and Doug was very positive and very connected, like when you talk to him he would always make eye-contact, which is just a weird little side-note as to why I ended up choosing him. Chris lets me do what I think is right with recording; he really leaves it in my hands. In the end, the reason I... we both chose Doug was he had worked on big records that people would spend six to nine months on. He had worked on those kind of records for years and I wanted a big sounding record made. Our band is arguably not going to sound like a big radio band, you know? It's not us. So even hiring someone like him, I knew all I could do was make sure all the sounds were clear and just to the point. So that's why he was chosen. At the end, he asked for a production credit. He was hired as an engineer, but we gave it to him because he was a big part of keeping the sessions organized and keeping us on task. When you're a member of a band there's a lot of political things going on with the personalities involved that are hard to broach because it could put the record in an uncomfortable place. If we got in an argument or something, Doug was able to be the third person that came in from the outside and took the grunt of people's anger if we didn't like something. He was just a big part of the record and since making it, he's become one of our really close friends, actually. Our band is sort of like that. When we work with someone we fall in love with them a little bit. He's great. A great human being and he makes great sounding records.
So you think the album would have turned out a lot different had he not been as involved?
There's not really a way to tell. It's sort of unanswerable. His side of production wasn't about performances or instrumentation or arrangement at all. It was really about keeping people on task. If we are spending too much time on something, being the one that's realistic, saying, "this has to be done by today." We purposefully tried to give ourselves plenty of time and I think there were moments when we thought we would always have time to finish this. But as we worked and worked, me or Chris would just get pulled into another tangent. We'd test microphone after microphone, looking for the perfect one. So yeah, Doug worked on a shitload of records and some of the sounds were from his experience as well, but I don't think the songs would have been affected that much, to be honest. That wasn't really his involvement.
I saw your tour kick-off show in Atlanta last week. It was a great show. Were you nervous at all, playing the new songs for the first time in front of a live audience?
It's hard to remember the exact nights when I was nervous. When we were touring last time, I definitely felt like I could never be nervous playing a show again, but I have had times on a tour when I get a stomach flutter and stuff. But our backing-band behind us, like Garin, the drummer, and his brother, the guitar player, are just really solid. Especially with the drummer, he just does not make mistakes. So I get more nervous thinking about looking back at them and having them realize I've made a mistake, or something like that, you know?
The other opening band was pretty crazy - Nobody. What's your relation to them?
He's just a friend, basically, from the Bay Area. He seemed like a really good mix to the show. Having three bands can get tedious so they seemed like the perfect band to open.
So they'll be with you the whole tour?
They're there till Minneapolis or something. Then Sonny & the Sunsets continue through the West with us for a week or so.
The new album artwork - can you talk about that at all?
Well, I could, but I don't really have as much insight into it as Chris. There's places where we both contribute and it's 50-50, and there's places where I have to let Chris sort of do his thing. I'm always influencing what his art is, so that's one of the times where I let him be himself. Maybe not with something like t-shirts, but definitely with album art - that's his thing.
Catch GIRLS on tour. See the dates below.
Purchase GIRLS' latest release Here.
LIVE TOUR DATES:
9/27 Toronto, ONT - Mod Club Theatre
9/29 Chicago, IL - Lincoln Hall
9/30 Madison, WI - Majestic Theatre
10/01 Minneapolis, MN - First Ave Nightclub
10/04 Vancouver, BC - Biltmore Cabaret
10/05 Seattle, WA - Neptune Theatre
10/06 Portland, OR - Wonder Ballroom
10/08 San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall
10/09 San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall