GRLwood make “scream pop”. It’s a genre the Kentucky duo are coining and combines dreamy pop with enraged shrieks, with songs that are both satirical and just plain pissed-off with, well, everything.
Comprised of Rae Forester, 26 and Karen Ledford, 24, they’ve been playing together for nearly two years. A second album, ‘I Sold My Soul To The Devil When I was 12’, out in July, encapsulates that spirit perfectly.
The duo was initially Forester’s solo project in response to an unhealthy 4-year relationship she was in after leaving her hometown of Louisville to go abroad. Forester left Louisville because she felt like many of her peers were getting caught up in doing and selling drugs, or getting pregnant.
“I stopped going to college and didn’t want to be a victim to what everyone else was going through. A lot of people, all they have is drugs. That looked like what my future was going to be and I didn’t want that, so I made a very big decision to make sure that didn’t happen.”
Forester ended up going overseas and traveling through 22 countries in six years. To survive, would busk by herself on the street for money for food and a place to stay. But after six years and the end of an abusive relationship, music brought her back home.
“I found the best little villages that I would love to spend my life in, but I wasn’t satisfied with my life,” Forester says. “When I first returned I did an album with someone else but what I wanted out of music needed a lot more dedication and needed a lot more focus. I knew people in Louisville who played music and sent it to some of them but nobody ever got back to me. Or they would say they are busy. I said ‘fuck it, I’m not waiting for someone to make my music project, I’m going to do it now.'”
Forester did exactly that, billing her act as GRLwood and played her guitar while using a suitcase as a drum as she alternated between singing angelically and screaming. GRLwood may have started as a way for Forester to respond to an unhealthy relationship, but it also confronts heteronormativity and conventions of gender expression alongside abrasive musicality.
Karen Ledford, who grew up about an hour from Louisville, saw Forester perform two years ago. She initially thought GRLwood might be a homage to the Riot GRRL bands of the 1990s, it’s not [Forester wasn’t familiar with that genre until Ledford introduced it to her later]. Regardless, after the show, Ledford asked Forester if she’d like to jam. She did, and they have been together since.
Forester says the key to finding Ledford was getting the ball rolling on her own and for her part, Ledford says the two work together really well. “A lot of our music is based on jamming together and reading each other and we do that really well when we improv together,” Ledford says.
Ledford plays the drums barefoot —something she says started when she was young and being babysat by her older brother, who was in a band. “I remember his drummer was very good and he was barefoot so I thought that was normal. So, when I started playing drums I did it barefoot and I can’t wear shoes, they feel too heavy and weigh me down,” she said.
To describe GRLwood just as an angry act do them a great disservice. Some songs crescent to levels on par with Tool or Hole, but start out dreamy and innocent sounding. Sarcastic banger ‘Vaccines Made Me Gay’ in which she mockingly blames Vaccines and Football reasons for being gay like; or ‘Bisexual’, in which she sings from a male point of view, asking if she has a boyfriend. Other songs, like ‘I’m Yer Dad’ begin with a hypothetical dialogue in live performances which give a feeling of performance art, something that Forester says “came from the top of my dome” rather than any background with visual arts.
Not surprisingly, as GRLwood continues to get noticed, more and more people who initially ignored Forester’s early offers to team up are coming out of the woodwork, but that ship has sailed. “I think it would change completely what we’re doing,” Ledford says. “I like what we have going on right now. Rae and I work together real well.”
GRLwood’s new album will be released at the end of July, and the band says it’s better than the highly acclaimed debut, of course. “The new album is poppier and screamier. The extreme ends of where our genre is, we hit those ends even more on the new album,” Forester says.
Ledford concurred, and echoed what many seem to be saying. “I’m more excited for the new album than I was for the first one. I think we got something going on.”