Raleigh, North Carolina's rough-and-tumble, all-lady and all-out punk band Barren Girls are releasing their debut EP Hell Hymns today. We spoke to lead singer and guitarist Carla Wolff about inking a deal with Merge Records, cemeteries and the stupidity of mosh pits.
What was the reaction like when you realized the founder of Merge Records, Mac McCaughan, took notice of you guys at the Hopscotch Festival and wanted to sign you?
It was shocking. We definitely didn't expect it, especially after growing up listening to Superchunk. We were all really drunk at the [Hopscotch Festival] show and we barely remember playing so we thought, "I guess it couldn't have been that bad considering Mac liked it."
What's the punk scene like in Raleigh? Are you close-knit with bands from Chapel Hill and Durham?
The punk scene in Raleigh is super cloak and dagger. It's really weird and separate from Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill is where all the the skinhead and Oi music would be, and Raleigh is definitely more of a hardcore city. It's really weird how the scenes don't co-mingle, and how if there's a big show, everyone is there but it's really strange because we don't go to each other's shows.
Growing up in the North Carolina scene, what local bands did you look up to?
Definitely Double Negative, because they started when I was 17 and I spent every weekend at their shows. Corrosion of Conformity is from Raleigh -- that was a big influence to everyone who grew up here. Our band doesn't make hardcore music by any means but bands like Cherry Valence and Birds of Avalon were big influences because we knew people in them and they were the ones making stuff happen in the scene.
Did you set out with a goal to form an all-girl punk band, or was that just the way it happened?
It's really funny because I've always [found] the all-girl niche thing kind of cheesy, even though I've always respected women in music. It was more that me and my two best friends, [drummer Ash Van Eijk and keyboardist Jenny Williams] who both happened to be girls, began talking about how we wanted to start a band. They were both rather inexperienced, so I told them I'd help them out, and then another one of our close friends wanted to join as well [bassist Fran Araya], and as soon as we practiced with the line-up, we realized how awesome it was.
You guys associate yourself with a lot of dark imagery. What do you find interesting about those goth-like details?
I've always been fascinated with that gritty stuff and the bands that we are influenced by, like 45 Grave, embraced that as well. I think cemeteries are one of the coolest places to hang out [in] -- I've always thought they were beautiful. Bad things are more fun.
Were the recordings for your debut EP on Merge, Hell Hymns, the cream of the crop of the songs you had, or were those the songs you knew you wanted to put down on record?
Yeah, the songs on Hell Hymns were recorded originally for a demo and we had other songs we liked more, but we felt those four songs best represented where we were at the very beginning. They were the four songs we were playing the longest, and the band was starting to evolve a little bit, so we thought "Let's get this recorded."
In what way was it evolving?
Just taking the creepy aspects and finding our niche with that. Not necessarily sounding like goth music, but we took goth elements and wanted to run with that. As for the hardcore stuff, we didn't want to completely shirk the punk songs and we wanted to get an EP out that still had that rawness to it.
Do your hometown shows get pretty rowdy?
Yeah especially recently because there are a lot of young kids at the shows, and they are very spirited. It's honestly gotten too violent for my taste. People at those shows, like the straight edge kids, are literally throwing punches in the pit...I don't really appreciate it. It's like, "My mom comes to these shows, dammit!" People should be able to enjoy the music as well as stand close to the stage without getting decked.
Our music is punk for sure but it's not angry music you have to mosh to. We played a show in Raleigh last weekend and kids got kicked out for moshing. And it's like, "Well, okay I enjoy your enthusiasm, but chill out."
With the EP coming out today, what do your next few months look like?
We've been writing new music, trying to get enough songs together. We are taking a whole month to do a bunch of shows all along the east coast.
Hell Hymns comes out today via Merge