Top image: Photography by Sam Rock, fashion by Nicholas Centofanti. Interview and shoot from HEROINE 6, out now
Carly Russ and Joseph Matick are living out a kind of cinematic romance. Both having grown up in the Chicagoland area, they fell in love, quit their jobs and ran away to Europe, working as models while living in Paris, then London. It was in Europe that they started Girlyboi, a musical act informed by pastoral landscapes, troubadours, and 1960s and 70s folk – a beautifully restored idea for the digital age.
Today, we’re premiering the duo’s new video, for their track Whatever. It’s from their second EP, Good Looks, written in New York where they currently live together. Below, read our interview with the pair from the new issue of HEROINE, and watch the video. Warning: fireworks ahead.
Kinza Shenn: How did you guys meet?
Carly Russ: Joe and I met through a friend, though I’ve never been a fan of the whole setting-up-friends thing. When we met, there was an awkwardness, given the whole forced dynamic and feeling of expectation. But we ended up really liking each other. We hung out every single day.
Joseph Matick: We hang out a lot. There’s a lot of human interaction going on, non-stop.
Carly: We began dating, and it got serious around a year in. At that point we talked about doing music together. I was hesitant, given that I had certain perceptions of what ‘doing music’ was like.
Joseph: Carly was raised as a show-choir girl, whereas I was more: get a guitar, find a bunch of people to do it with you, and literally knock down the door of a venue and say you’re playing there.
Carly: We tried going into the studio and it quickly felt really natural to me. My whole perception of doing music was changed through that.
Joseph: And Carly really knows how to fucking sing. Carly can harmonise with herself like, seven times. It’s incredible.
“I put [Leonard Cohen’s] Suzanne on for Carly, and we listened to it, and we started bawling – seriously bawling, like little babies, all snotty.”
Kinza: You’ve previously described what you do as making pretty music.
Joseph: The idea of prettiness is subjective, but there are some songs that are undeniably aesthetic. Songs that make everyone feel a certain way and it’s through a quality that you can’t articulate, only feel. To me, that’s worth exploring. When we first started, we said, we’ll just make pretty songs and that will be our genre. But I think what we were really trying to express is an aspiration toward the classics, for lack of a better word. From Neil Young to The Cranberries, there are these songs that make you want to fucking cry. And you don’t know exactly why either.
Kinza: Yeah, there’s something universal about them that resonates on a very fundamental level.
Joseph: Totally. At the time we were in Paris, and before we’d recorded anything, I dove into the music of all these guys that I knew were great singers, but never listened to them because I already knew they’re great. Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Harry Nilsson. But if you live with that logic then you’re denying yourself all this great music. I put on Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. It’s a classic but I’d never listened to it, which really is so foolish! Neither of us had. I put Suzanne on for Carly, and we listened to it, and we started bawling – seriously bawling, like little babies, all snotty. That the song is about following a girl and travelling with her, and it has the line about, “touching her perfect body with your mind”, well, it made total sense to me. From that point on, we just started unpacking the shit that our parents listened to.
Carly: It became about doing something that we know is true to our most authentic selves, which is, in a way, our younger selves. It is also about an intention to flesh out all of our insecurities through music.
Joseph: And it’s about a timeless quality. There’s a quote from [Archbishop] Fulton Sheen where he said, “To think clearly, you must remember that to marry the spirit of an age is to become a widow in the next one.” When someone’s making music that’s timeless, it’s something that sounds like the earth. Essentially, I want it to all sound like a campfire. Like a barn burning down or a deep trip in the woods at night, or something like that [laughs].
Kinza: I love that! Could you tell me more about the idea of authenticity and fleshing out insecurities?
Carly: A lot of the music is based on real situations.
Joseph: Even if you try and write in an allegorical way, it’s going to be obvious that it’s coming from yourself or your experiences or the people that surround you. Our song Actual Woman was us talking in reference to specific situations, that’s why lyrics like ‘pervert’ or ‘pill bottles’ made it into the song. My favourite lyrical influences all find really pretty ways to say disgusting things. Then there are moments when London and Paris seeped into the first record. And moments where New York seeped into our latest record, I think.
“The basis of the project is more of like the union of man and woman as one than anything else. If anything, it’s like a praise to the divine femininity of the world.”
Kinza: How was your London gig?
Carly: We did a really stripped-down show. Neither of us dressed up.
Joseph: Yeah, I was like, burning poetry on stage [laughs].
Carly: For me, it was the first show I had ever done of that nature or intensity. Where there were random people who I don’t know watching me on stage, it was scary for me. But I’m more comfortable when I’m at my rawest form, which you would think would feel vulnerable but it works the other way. I was in a T-shirt and jeans, I had a hat on, I didn’t have any make-up on, and my hair hadn’t been brushed for three days.
Joseph: You looked so beautiful in the pictures though.
Kinza: Outside of music, what other artistic references do you draw into Girlyboi?
Joseph: I really like people that dive into philosophical or esoteric ideas that have no point or no end and become cyclical, because eventually you have to accept that your humanity is finite and the whole ‘why’ of the thing you’ll never figure out. You have to accept not knowing, and let things be. And I really, really love Jim James. On record.
Kinza: I’m interested that, although Girlyboi has somewhat of a vintage sensibility, you also play around with internet-age graphics. Even down to the spelling of Girlyboi, it kind of reminds me of a MySpace username. Is this a deliberate contrast?
Joseph: Yeah, you got it. It’s like a red herring. The name Girlyboi looks and sounds like *NSYNC or Spice Girls or 1D or 98°.
Carly: To me, it’s just kind of funny. Ultimately, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, in terms of our image.
Kinza: What’s the story behind naming the band, anyway?
Carly: This sounds like something out of a movie, but we really had a moment where we said the name aloud at the same time.
Kinza: No way!
Carly: That’s how I remember it. We were sitting at the recording studio trying to decide on it, saying to each other, “Something with the word girl… girl y boy?” I think our initial intent with the name wasn’t to have any specific significance. But as we considered the name after it had been decided, we realised it has so much emphasis behind it. Further meanings kept developing at later points in time. For instance, that it might suggest something about male and female roles, and how they’re not so traditional anymore. Joe’s a really girly guy and I dress like a dude. Back in the day, you needed to perform your gender more precisely, but now, no, if you feel more confident dressing a different way, you can do that.
Joseph: On a slight tangent, I also want to say, I think one of the most punk rock – quote unquote – things you can do is be in a relationship and sing about it. It’s easy to create some illusion of yourself and make music that does fuck all. That’s great, I love that shit, it’s like candy, but to put your life on display and also be a monogamous couple and sing about it, I think that’s pretty punk rock. It’s so weird that in a culture where everything is accepted, there’s a counter- reaction against traditional, pastoral ideas of man and woman. I think it’s kind of funny to sing about going to live on a farm and have kids.
Kinza: Do you see your music as being gendered?
Joseph: I think so. The basis of the project is more of like the union of man and woman as one than anything else. If anything, it’s like a praise to the divine femininity of the world.
Carly: Women are awesome!
Follow Girlyboi here.