Is it a horse? Is it a girl? No, it’s Chicago teen troupe Horsegirl! Can’t fly, great at music. Probably a more useful superpower, anyway.
Words: Sam Taylor. Photos: Todd Fisher.
Chicago teens Horsegirl – Penelope Lowenstein, Nora Cheng, and Gigi Reece – are putting their own spin on harmony-laden lo-fi with new single ‘Billy’. Their first for Matador Records, it’s the kind of instantly loveable racket that you can easily end up having on repeat all afternoon. With an album already in the bag, it’s not daft to say they’re likely to end up as one of the highlights of 2022.
Hi guys, what are you up to today? Are you all good?
Hello! We’re good! Nora and Gigi are in New York in their first year of college. Penelope is in Chicago finishing up her senior year of high school. Gigi and Nora just saw LCD Soundsystem yesterday, and Penelope has a driving lesson this afternoon. Long-distance band things can be difficult, but we got to see each other in person a couple weekends ago. We drove around, ate Indian food, and watched the Woodstock 99 documentary.
How did you lot meet and decide to form the band, then?
Penelope and Nora met in a music program and realised they had some overlapping tastes. We started playing together, and when Gigi joined shortly thereafter, things started picking up more. We wrote a number of songs and slowly began to play at open mics and DIY shows in Chicago.
Can you remember the first song you wrote together?
The first song we wrote was ‘Sea Life Sandwich Boy’. We think its pretty good! Since it was our first time writing a song, and it took forever! Since then, our process has become much faster since we understand each other’s creative intentions and how to express our own, and we can usually finish a new song in a few days.
How has your sound developed since then?
Our more recent sound has departed in some ways from the dreaminess of ‘Ballroom Dance Scene’ or the scatteredness of ‘Forecast’. It’s to the point. The more time we spend playing together, the more unified our vision becomes. We started Horsegirl as eager Sonic Youth fans, and have slowly found our own voice.
Do you all have similar tastes in music?
Yes! Being in a band together has in many ways been a collective exploration of music. Our tastes develop together over time, and we often go through various music phases together (like krautrock, Flying Nun Records, shoegaze) – these phases also influence our songwriting. Back when we consistently did our Spotify playlist Horsegirl Radio Hour, we would inadvertently put each other onto new things through whatever songs we chose to add to the playlist.
You’re all very young, how does that work with gigs? Have you played live much?
Back when we were all in high school living in Chicago, all of our gigs were all-ages, youth organised, DIY shows. We loved playing these shows – they were how we met many of our close friends, and made us feel very connected to the scene of young bands in Chicago. In recent months, we have been playing more professional shows, and over the summer, went on a small tour of the American midwest. We are excited to tour more soon!
Have you all finished school and stuff now? What do you do outside of the band?
Gigi and Nora are currently in their first year of college in New York, and Penelope is finishing off her senior year of high school. Beyond school, the three of us spend our weekends frequenting shows and cutting each other’s hair.
You’ve got an EP out, right? Tell us about it?
We put out an EP called ‘Ballroom Dance Scene etc. (Best of Horsegirl)’ on Bandcamp a year ago. The EP is really just three separate singles packaged together on Bandcamp – we uploaded it before Horsegirl had gotten any recognition and named it ‘…Best of Horsegirl’ as a joke since we had only released three songs. We were completely surprised and delighted when the EP began to gain traction. All three songs were home-recorded in various basements, and it still feels very special that they were heard by ears outside of Chicago.
And what are you working on now?
We recorded our debut album over the summer! We can’t wait to share it!
Where do you look for songwriting inspiration?
Our peers in Chicago are a big source of inspiration for us. In our opinion, some of the most exciting new music is coming from young Chicago bands. Being in an environment where exciting music is being made all around us is very creatively stimulating. Additionally, we draw a lot of songwriting inspiration from older underground music scenes. We’ll often all watch a documentary or read a book and become eager to take our writing in a new direction.
Taken from the February 2022 edition of Dork, out now.