Photos: Jenn Five
North Londoners Girl Ray stole hearts with their poised debut album Earl Grey last year. Now that the dust has settled, they’ll be returning to Bristol this month for a show at Thekla. I caught up with the bleary-eyed trio while they were busy showcasing their wares over in Austin, Texas for SXSW.
The usual unconvincing rings of an international phone call struggle on before bassist Sophie Moss picks up and sleepily says hello. “Iris and Poppy are here too,” she says, putting me on loudspeaker with vocalist Poppy Hankin and drummer Iris McConnell. After I promise to let them get on for a morning coffee shortly, we duly begin our chat.
“We’re quite homesick for Tesco, British people and the general negativity.”
Despite the glamour of touring stateside, it’s clear that they’re looking forward to coming back home. “I think it should be fun, it’s just getting to a point now where we’re quite homesick for Tesco, British people and the general negativity,” says Sophie. They’re also excited to hit places they’re already acquainted with. “There’s a familiarity that comes with the venues,” says Poppy, “We’re looking forward to being the cool kids on the block again. It’ll be nice to not feel so different.” The scale of venues the band are hitting on this tour feels like something of a testament to how well the record was received. Sophie says, “It’s exciting but it’s scary as well. I just hope it sells really. It’s nice when it’s off the back of your own thing and people are supportive.”
The band should have a renewed confidence after playing SXSW. “I think it would be a lot scarier to do the big UK tour if we hadn’t done all these international shows,” says Iris. Even in the brief few minutes our chat has been taking place, there seems to be an overarching modesty behind Girl Ray. Sophie picks up this loose end: “I don’t know how to explain it but you don’t really give as many shits about how many people show up and stuff. It’s almost like the only way is up for us.”
“We had around fourteen days to do as many songs… It was a case of staying up until 4am most nights, in the zone.”
Now that the album has had time to settle in, they’ve found themselves tweaking and evolving the material in the live environment. Poppy says, “It’s nice to get to know the songs inside-out so you can shake it up a little bit and offer something slightly different to the record.” Sophie continues, “It feels like people know it now and it’s settled and found its place, but we still want to keep it sounding fresh and new.” For those who haven’t caught Girl Ray live yet, you can expect things to be slightly different from on-track. “We tend to play our songs a bit rockier live, it sounds a lot noisier in comparison to the record,” says Iris.
There’s a hint that some new material might be aired on the upcoming tour as well. Sophie says, “There’re a couple of new tunes we’ve been working on at home. We’ll probably continue working on them when we get some down time. I think it’s important to bring something a little new to the tour this time.” It doesn’t sound like there will be a dramatic change in direction, though. Sophie continues, “There hasn’t been a new style arising or anything, we’re just happy taking it as it goes.” Polly says time on the road might have rubbed off on them, however: “Touring around with Porches and other bands, it’s almost like a rock school, you go there and you learn new things around compositions and you think about things. I feel quite inspired and willing to do some more writing.”
“You don’t really give as many shits about how many people show up and stuff. It’s almost like the only way is up.”
The band don’t remember the recording process for Earl Grey with as much fondness, however. “We didn’t have a lot of time in the studio,” says Sophie, “I think we had around fourteen days to do as many songs. It wasn’t stressful but it was intense and we definitely had a very specific job to do.” Poppy continues, “It was a fun experience recording, it would have been nice to take our time with it, though.” The resulting album, by contrast, doesn’t suggest there were any time constraints at all. Iris says, “We did get it done, but it was a case of staying up until 4am most nights, in the zone. We were buzzing on coffee the whole time. It happened though; it got done and it sounds good.”
And they’re not wrong. Looking back on the last year, it’s staggering to think of how much the band have achieved. Poppy says, “It’s been a pretty incredible experience. I think we always hoped for it in a weirdly optimistic way. It hasn’t been really overwhelming in itself, but actually arriving here was, because we’ve been thinking about it for so long. We’re taking it one step at a time.”
Girl Ray play Thekla on 10th April, presented by 1% of One. Earl Grey is out now on Moshi Moshi.