Locals: The Girls! make heartbreak sound exhilarating on Let’s Not Be Friends

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From the April 17, 2014 edition

Local power-pop collective The Girls! has a way of making heartbreak sound exhilarating on its long-gestating debut, Let’s Not Be Friends.

Throughout, frontwoman Jessica Wabbit wavers between clutching tight to the last vestiges of a relationship fallen to pieces (“The doctor came to me/And said little girl there’s nothing I can give you that will get him out of your dreams”) and finally cutting the cord that keeps the two tethered (“Honey, there’s the door/Take your feelings and go”). But no matter how bruised the singer’s admissions, the six-piece never pauses for reflection, laying down an infectious musical backdrop awash in dancing basslines, shimmering guitars and vocal choruses so soaring it’s easy to imagine teenage girls (and guys) singing them into their hairbrushes in bedrooms all across the city.

In an early March phone interview, Wabbit, 27, said the band’s music is in many ways a reflection of her own personality. Though outwardly optimistic (“I’m kind of up all of the time,” the singer said), she also admitted to being a bit of a brooder prone to dwelling on more depressive thoughts — characteristics that tend to spill over into her songwriting.

“It’s honestly just the way my brain works,” she said. “[With] the song ‘Keys to Your House,’ I was feeling sad and thinking about a breakup, but then I was driving to work and this catchy thing just popped into my head.”

Many of the songs on Let’s Not Be Friends, which was laid to tape at Relay Recording in January 2013, date back to the band’s 2011 formation, when Wabbit was still grieving the end of a romantic relationship.

“I was just kind of sitting on my porch and feeling sorry for myself and writing love songs,” said Wabbit, who is joined in the band by longtime friends Joey Blackheart (guitar), Raeghan Savage (percussion), Ryan Vile (keyboard), Big Nick (drums) and Bent (bass). “At the time, it was like I was singing directly to [my ex] and trying to get his attention, or at least trying to get across how sad I was to everybody else. I really had a chip on my shoulder about the whole thing.”

By the time the crew hit the recording studio, however, this chip had been all but obliterated, and the musicians threw themselves into the album’s creation with a relentlessness that, at times, bordered on reckless.

“We were recording [‘Laney’], and my high E string cut my finger open and we just kept on playing because nobody noticed I was gushing blood all over everything,” said Wabbit, who grew up in a musical family (her sisters are Lydia Loveless and Eleanor Sinacola of Dead Girlfriends) and wrote her first songs at the age of 13. “We just blasted through the song, and that was the take we ended up using. That’s pretty similar to the way everything was recorded, like, ‘We’re doing these songs! Yeah! Let’s do it!’”

It turns out keeping things light is rarely an issue within The Girls! The band’s concerts tend to evolve into boozy free-for-alls, and rehearsals are filled with all manner of sarcastic asides and weathered in-jokes. Whenever the group runs through “Get Out of My Dreams” in rehearsals, for example, someone will always chime in with an adlibbed line sung to the tune of Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car.”

“Inevitably someone will go, [sings] ‘Get out of my dreams, and into my butt’ or something childish and juvenile,” Wabbit said, her deadpan tone suggesting she’d heard the joke a few times too many. “It’s hilarious. It never gets old.”

This sense of playfulness, groan-inducing as it might be at times, has further helped the singer distance herself from the music’s pained roots — a realization she came to recently when she sat down alone and played her way through the album in its entirety.

“I was playing [the songs] to reconnect myself with what I was feeling at the time … because it’s been so long since I wrote them,” she said. “Obviously when you break up with somebody it always hurts a little, but I’m not really sad about that stuff anymore, except maybe vaguely. Now I just play them because they’re my songs and they’re good.”

Photo by Meghan Ralston