Most second albums see artists doubling down on what made their first outing so successful, adding a few tweaks but not rocking the boat too much. Someone probably should’ve told Girl Ray.
The London trio’s 2017 debut album ‘Earl Grey’ was a jangly folk-indebted indie record filled with honeyed harmonies and soundscapes that sounded like they were built for a whimsical Zach Braff movie. But ‘Show Me More’, the first single from second album ‘Girl’ – which is out November 22 via Moshi Moshi – is the sound of the band tearing up their own rulebook and fully embracing their love of pop.
The rest of ‘Girl’ is equally daring, opening the trio up to a whole new world without sacrificing the honesty that defined their debut. It sounds like the least difficult second album ever made. We asked Poppy Hankin (vocals/guitar), Iris McConnell (drums) and Sophie Moss (bass) how they managed it.
Your new album is a stark departure from the first – were you committed from the get-go or was there a period of second guessing yourself?
Iris McConnell: “We kept pushing the sound further and further.”
Poppy Hankin: “The first day we started recording, we did ‘Just Down The Hall’, and it was such a big, clean, poppy sound. At the end of the day we all went home and realised that it was a really big change, and that this was really happening. We were going in a totally different direction. But after that initial wobbly moment, we got used to it and it started to feel really good.”
You’ve said that you all listen to pop music more than indie personally – did it take a while to realise that you could also be that as a band?
Iris: “We’re such anti-pop stars in the way we dress, act and look. Obviously there’s not a certain thing that you’re meant to be these days, but stereotypically we’re nothing like our idols.”
Poppy: “We went for the whole pop thing in the knowledge that we can’t escape being clumsy, and weird, and ourselves. So we knew it would still sound like us with a pop tinge – it meant we felt safe doing it.”
It feels like many indie fans of your generation grew up feeling above pop music, but have now come to love it – did you go on that same journey?
Poppy: “We grew up with Bombay Bicycle Club and when you had to be listening to Arctic Monkeys. But in the past few years pop music has become a lot more well-crafted and it’s becoming cooler and more accepted to like pop music. Even though it was always in the mainstream, there was definitely still a lot of snobbery towards it and hopefully it’s being removed.”
‘Girl’ is quite a loved-up album – did you change your lyrics to match where the music was going?
Poppy: “I think so. It was quite challenging to write, what with it being a totally new sound and totally new everything. Not much was really going on in my life – I was just waitressing. I had to totally remove myself from that and get into the mindset of a pop writer, and wonder what they would be writing about it. I didn’t want to limit myself lyrically, because you can write about anything you want.
Sophie Moss: “I feel like a lot of pop songs aren’t about much, either.”
Poppy: “Yeah, totally. It was interesting focusing more on the feel and sound of the words rather than the actual meaning. There doesn’t have to be much depth to it, as long as it sounds good and sticks in your head.”
Was it scarier writing with this different approach?
Sophie: “When you’re writing your first album, you don’t even know you’re writing an album, I don’t think.”
Poppy: “I think that’s why people get scared of writing the second album – they think people will actually listen to it. With the first one, it was just my Mum.”
The safe thing to do would be to make it like the first album…
Poppy: “Albums should definitely be different to each other. Even if I like a band and they put out two albums that are really similar, I get a bit bored.”
Putting out ‘Show Me More’ first seemed like a big statement.
Poppy: “It was one of the last ones to be finished, but the one that we got the best feedback on. I was thinking about the music that Mark Ronson has been writing recently, with really snappy guitars and neat synth sounds. I was also massively influenced by that last Calvin Harris album [‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1] for the album as a whole.”
How do you look back on your first album now?
Iris: “We’ve changed a lot in the space of time since it was written.”
Sophie: “It’s just not what I’d listen to anymore.”
Iris: “Not a personal preference!”
Poppy: “We’re still fond of those songs – it’s not like ‘What were we doing?!’ – but we’ve played a lot of those songs maybe 400 times or more, so we were definitely ready to shake it up a little bit.
Was making an album that you would want to listen to in your own time vital?
Iris: “We’ve listened to this album an insane amount!”
Sophie: “I listened to it last night.”
Poppy: “I listened to it on the way here! You need to check sometimes that it’s still a banger of an album. Can confirm: it’s still a banger.”