Venus Grrrls have a new single – Goth Girl – out today and it marks a progression of the band’s sound that deserves attention, not that you weren’t paying attention in the first place.
Self proclaimed Riot Grrrl devotees, Leeds’ five piece Venus Grrrls have been kicking up a stink on their own terms for a few years, now.
Having released a smattering of singles, as well as the brilliant Wicked Things EP in April 2020, they are a band on a mission. And one that would take a global pandemic to pause it. We use the word ‘pause’ wisely. We can’t see them being stopped any time soon.
Forced into silence for most of 2020, they’re now back with explosive new single Goth Girl, released today. And with the promise of more to follow in 2021, the band is back and with attitude.
Naturally, we were up for a chat and were chuffed when GK (guitar / vocals), Jess (guitar), Grace (synth) and Gabby (drums) all signed into Zoom at the appointed hour.
P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?
Grace: I have no idea where I’m at! It’s really dark in here, although, I’m currently in Hartlepool.
Gabby: I’m the drummer and I’m in Leeds.
Jess: I’m the lead guitarist and I’m in St Albans at the moment.
GK: I’m the singer and I’m also in Leeds at the moment.
P3dro: Tells us about the band. How long have you been together? How did you form?
GK: We started vaguely dilly dallying in the back end of 2017, but we didn’t start gigging until 2018. And we started releasing music in 2019, so that’s when we were properly, properly going.
We met while we were all at Uni, at Leeds College of Music, which is now Leeds Conservatoire. Some of us vaguely knew of each other. Grace and I lived together. Jess and I had been to college back in Hertfordshire, but she was a year above me. Then we ended up at the same Uni. Gabby and Hannah knew each other, but I didn’t know them that well.
So, we were all vaguely connected, although more or less strangers.
I wanted to put together an all girl band, so I just put out a call on social media and this was the line up that got back to me!
We did a rehearsal and it sucked. I think we approached it wrong because we tried to write an original song while barely knowing each other. So after another couple of rehearsals I said, let’s just try a cover to see if we could jam together.
We picked ‘Rebel Girl’ by Bikini Kill and it was history from there, really. That was the tune that solidified our places in the band and musically. It was a great start for us and from which to base our sound. We have moved away from that sound, now, but it’s still very much in our attitude.
P3dro: A lot of your PR talks about Bikini Kill as being an influence. What do you think you draw from them?
Grace: I think, originally, it was a base for Venus. It was really funky and kind of Riot Grrrl. And that still influences our music and some of the topics we discuss and what we stand for as a band. That movement has inspired us all, individually and as a group, just because of what it means to be a woman or a non-binary person in this industry. Certainly, for me, that’s what I take away from Bikini Kill.
Seeing people like Kathleen Hanna still making music today and being politically active online is inspiring.
GK: Yeah, I agree with all of that. The existence of Riot Grrrl and the topics covered, the attitudes, they still fuel us today 100%. Being an all girl band was the starting point for me. For sure.
P3dro: How do you describe the message of Venus Grrrls? What’s your ethos?
Jess: I think we’re just aiming for inclusivity overall. Not just gender imbalance, but accessibility as well. We’re fighting against things like regionalism and ableism. I think inclusivity is a really good word that sums it all up.
P3dro: Do you cite any other bands as being influences?
GK: Garbage is a pretty good one for us. Especially because they use a lot of synth and guitar, which is very much what we do.
Grace: I guess, as well, we’re all from very different musical backgrounds and influences. For me it’s very electronic and experimental – I produce my own music which is very synthy and dream-poppy. But the other girls all have their own influences.
GK: I think that’s why it didn’t work at first when we started to play together, because we were all just coming from very different tastes and playing different styles, so it was just a mess.
I think it’s important to share that, because there’s a pressure that when you start a band it has to be great straight away. But it doesn’t.
Grace: I also feel when a lot of bands put call outs, they’re giving a reference, so they’ll say: “If you like Arctic Monkeys, or Miles Kane” then let me know and we can start a band. Whereas, I think it’s good not even to put those specifics, then you’re more likely to be able to create your own genre and you own sound. It inspires it a bit more.
Jess: I guess if you’re all into the exact same music, then you’re just going to write more music that just sounds like that, rather than coming up with something a little bit different.
I feel like we set out to create one sound, but then we ended up creating something very different. And that’s a good thing, really.
P3dro: Yeah, you’re not the first band to have said that kind of thing. A lot of bands work quite well when different members bring different sounds to the mix.
GK: Yeah. That’s what I really like about being in a band with these girls, because everyone’s always listening to something new or different. It’s always exciting. Hannah might come in, or Gabby, or Jess and say have you heard this? Or, we could do something like that. It’s really interesting to have that kind of “newness”.
P3dro: So, the exciting news in your land is the release of Goth Girl, coming out [today].
GK: Yeah, it is. It came about from our last tour in November 2019. We broke down in the middle of the M1, the clutch died, and it was freezing. We were stood outside, waiting to be towed back to Leeds. I maybe already had some sort of bug, or something, but that pushed me right over the edge and I ended up getting really ill with really bad laryngitis.
So, we had to cancel the Liverpool show and I was feeling pretty miffed. But I’d completely lost my voice and I was in no fit state to play. But I thought I could try and do something productive. I may not have my voice, but I still have my guitar, so I started playing around with some chords. And then ‘Goth Girl’ came about and the lyrics just happened. When I was better, I recorded some vocals and sent it to the girls.
Eventually we took it into the rehearsal room and it developed massively from there.
Then we went to record it, later than we’d wanted because of the pandemic, refined it a bit and now it’s what we have today. We’re really proud of it.
We worked really, really hard on it. We wanted to ‘up’ our production of it. We’d always been quite lo-fi with our sound, but we wanted something a bit more refined and with a bit more pop about it. The girls have turned it into something magical.
P3dro: Is this a new direction for Venus Grrrls?
GK: Yeah. But, also No. It still sounds like us, although it’s an updated sound, for sure. We’ll stick with the same producer for our next lot of music.
P3dro: What is on the cards for 2021?
Grace: It’s for ever changing and shifting at the moment. We did have some shows [lined up] but they’re getting re-scheduled. Potentially, festivals, but we don’t know if that will be a thing.
As for music, we’ll go back in the studio when it’s safe to do so. We do have a bunch of songs that need recording and releasing. There will be more music this year.
P3dro: How do the logistics work? You’re described a s a Leeds band, but you’re now all over the place.
Grace: We’re universal.
Jess: Yeah, I guess when we formed, then all of us were in Leeds for most of the life of the band. It’s only really recently we’ve ended up so sparsely spread out, as a result of the pandemic. I moved down south in June. But Leeds will always be the home of the band. That won’t change and everything we do will be centred around Leeds.
Grace: Yeah, it is to do with the pandemic. I’m back at home.
GK: There’s not a lot job-wise and it’s been difficult to keep afloat. But weirdly, although we’ve only seen each other for a handful of times over the past year, we feel like our friendships have strengthened in a number of ways. Our understanding of each other has improved.
Although we’ve managed to put a song out this year, we’ve really been left with the bones of the band and all being really good mates. That’s been re-affirming and our friendships have got stronger. It will be really nice to come away from the pandemic with that. There is that silver lining.
Grace: And we all practise witchcraft with each other!
P3dro: You have to expand on that!
GK: When we’ve been together, we’ve done each other’s tarot readings and things like that. It’s bonded us together. We’re really open emotionally.
Grace: Once again, it’s about the history of women and minorities in society at whom people have pointed a finger. With music pretty much on hold, I’ve been reading a lot about philosophy, religion, spirituality. I’ve been sharing that with the rest of Venus and we’ve all been learning from one another. It’s the idea of sisterhood and bringing that into the band. It will only make us stronger.
GK: I can’t imagine being in a band where you only have a working relationship. We’re able to be more understanding and compassionate with each other.
P3dro: Do you identify with any particular scene in Leeds? Is there anyone else doing similar to what you’re doing?
Grace: There are a few bands, like Lunar Sounds – we did our first headline show and they supported. They’re very Riot Grrrl, very raw. There’s also FIKA. I think there’s a big DIY scene in Leeds, just because of The Conservatoire and people who live there, just making music.
There are loads of different genres. There’s a big jazz scene. And dream popyy stuff, and soul.
Jess: And as an extension of that, there’s a big World Music scene as well that a lot of my friends are involved with. It’s really diverse. I think a lot of people don’t know that. It’s a small northern city, but with a lot of people around [making music].
GK: It’s nice to be part of a scene that’s so diverse.
P3dro: Recommend a band or an album you think we should be listening to right now.
GK: There’s a Leeds band called Blue Kubricks. They’re really good alt-rock. I’m liking them at the moment.
Grace: I have one from the 80s / 90s. She’s called Sheila Chandra. I’m learning about her now. She has burning mouth syndrome which means she can no longer sing or perform.
Gabby: Mine would be ‘Melancholia Hymns’ by Arcane Roots. They’ve broken up now and I was heartbroken about that. It’s the first album I’ve heard where I’ve loved every single song. There’s not a bad track on it.
Jess: I’m going to say Team Picture. I’ve got into their latest album quite recently, and they’re local to us.