Cheap Girls Are Anything but ‘Lousy’
Lansing, Mich., outfit Cheap Girls have been active for the past nine years. They've captured pretty much everyone's hearts with their sincere, poppy, extremely hooky rock. Last month, they dropped a new B-side collection on Asian Man, God's Ex-Wife, and today they're premiering a new song, "Lousy," in advance of a quick run of dates this fall. The song is indicative of how far Cheap Girls have come as songwriters, executing music that instantly agrees with your brain waves. Midway through, Weezer-esque distorted guitars lead to some pristine rock riffs. It's a rad song, with hopefully more on the way soon.
Of the song, singer Ian Graham says:
'Lousy' was a song that came very naturally after a year of nothing happening for me. I'd sit down to write — nothing. So, when this one came, it all happened at once and I couldn't have felt better. Lyrically, well, sometimes it takes someone close joining in to help you realize the fun you've been having isn't all that positive for either of you.
Check out "Lousy" below via Asian Man Records, and catch them on tour. Read our interview with Graham about God's Ex-Wife and more.
So, being from Lansing, how did the kids there get into music? Was there anything that “unified” the scene? Or was it a lot of kids in punk bands who were bored?
It was a little bit of both. Honestly, it goes in waves, which I think is like anything, but it’s felt a little harder here because there isn’t anything to pick up the slack; there aren’t any subscenes to keep it afloat when people aren’t all that involved. When we started, yeah, there was a core, but honestly, it’s a small enough city where the same three dozen people would party at a house show and take it to a local dive bar. That was just as much as if there were a lot of people who saw an event online or in the paper and wanted to check out a show. It’s a little bit too small of a city for that to be consistent. When there were bigger shows, a lot of the time it felt like the stars aligned, rather than, “We’re really building something here!” So, that’s a difficult one. There’s a lot of people who are active with their band and who have played music forever, but it seems like — I don’t want to say ambition is low, but we don’t really run into anyone from Lansing on tour.
When you were younger, would you try to get to Detroit a lot?
When I grew up, that’s where we went for all the shows — any touring band, punk band or large-sized band. Green Day or something, we’d go to Detroit for that. Playing, though, we’d treat each of the Michigan cities more or less [like] most cities we hit on a regular tour. We spent the first six to eight months in the band playing Lansing as much as we could, but pretty quickly it turned to Kalamazoo or Detroit ... just as much as, say, Chicago or Cleveland or Brooklyn. If it’s playing shows around an album or new songs, [Detroit is] pretty equal with other cities anywhere in the U.S.
I read this article the other day, calling attention to bands like you, Hard Girls, etc., for using the word “Girls” in your name. Has this topic come up recently? Is it something you’ve given any thought to?
Yeah, absolutely, but I don’t want to sound like … It’s not a name I necessarily stand behind, because as any kind of statement, like, “Fuck that, it’s a great name — deal with it.” And I don’t want to sound like I was bailing on it, but it was so second nature to get a band name in the first place. Well, not second nature, but the idea of this band name is sooo stupid. It’s a movie reference; it wasn’t a statement or anything. So, it was just … it’s not that I’m searching for the word — it’s just that there’s so many of them. So, to me, it’s pointless, but, I mean, I’m not personally offended — but I’m also not speaking from the position of someone who would be personally offended. I’m a white suburban male. It’s a difficult one, and it’s something I don’t shy away from talking about, because I think if people are bothered by it, that sucks, but it’s also — I don’t necessarily have some great reason why we’re sticking to our guns by leaving the band name as-is. It’s something we’re aware of, but have not brought about, because it came from such an unintended kind of place, and now that it’s been the band name for so many years ... when I see the band name, I don’t think about what it could mean to someone. Which, to a lot of people, is unfortunate and maybe ignorant; I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with it, but I’m just not focused.
I have talked to a couple friends in bands about it, and they generally say not to, and not in any “Well, fuck them!” kind of way, because there’s no guns to stick to. It just is what it is. It’s a stupid fucking name that just happens to be our band name. It is difficult to take yourselves seriously when that is your band name. It’s so difficult, because it’s not an area that applies to me. Sure, I can be a feminist, but I’m not sure I can really be in the position to have a firm stance because it doesn’t trigger anything within me. I think that’s more frustrating to people than the band name itself, which is we’re not bothered by it.
It’s always been a weird criticism because, when I think of your band, it seems like the spaces you play and scene you’re involved in are a pretty welcoming, for the most part.
Sure, but that’s a slippery slope because it leads to the question, “Why keep it?” You know? So, there’s an argument. This is the situation — every option, including changing the name, just leads to more questions. It’s difficult when it doesn’t start with any kind of intention. When it’s so thoughtless to begin with, it’s so difficult to defend on anything. So, I don't want to say that the people that are upset are misguided by any means, but I just don’t have an answer for it right now. Thought about calling [the band] “Cheap,” but that’s … I don’t fuckin’ know. We’ll see. It’s a strange position to be in, and it would be easier if I thought we were in a position to “ruffle feathers” or whatever, like now we don’t feel that way. But I think because it started for us, like at least for us, the last thing [we want] as a band that writes pop-rock songs is to offend people. That wasn’t really the idea.
Are band names ... I don’t want to say afterthoughts, but I was reading that the B-side collection was named God’s Ex-Wife, which was …
Yeah, that’s a dumb one, too. [Laughs]
Are there certain songs or album names that have more meaning than others?
Hmmm ... let’s think about this. No. Like, the band name. I mean, it’s basically a few words in that moment that feel great. I think that’s the best way to go about naming an album: for a few words to remind you of a certain thing at that point in your life back then, or whatever. And, y’know, it isn’t something where it’s like, “All right, I gotta put my name at the top of my page and go from there.” It’s nothing like that. I think early on in the band, a lot of it was shit I said when I was drunk and young, and that friends thought was funny. And so, it was kinda, “Let’s just go with that!” And it’s usually [that] the name of the album means something to us in the band and a half dozen of our friends. And that’s as far as it goes.
It’s a fun contrast for you guys, because I think your lyrics never pull any punches, yet they're always pretty nuanced. There’s value in words that are sentimental, but also just, like, funny or cool.
Sometimes writing the lyrics does take something out of me. And not having some balance there — whether it's some celebratory thing via comedy for myself, or something like that — it feels like it has to be balanced; otherwise it's going to be a pretty dark place. So, there's usually some humor within it — at least for us — to make it a little more neutral.
I can't imagine how some goth band does it, just 100 percent of the time always serious, always dark. Seems exhausting.
Well, I think if you set out to have an image or something like that, it can be fun to distance yourself like that. But, y'know, we don't really necessarily [need] this focus to be a certain way. I [wouldn't] say it's a shtick, because we don't want to put down any kind of thing, but there's not really a focus on image with us. So, it tends to be more personal, which is the reason I think it has to have that balance.
Going to the B-side collection, how many unreleased CG songs do you think are out there?
As far as actual songs that have never been heard, I don't know. I think on that B-side collection, there's only eight or nine core songs that have never been on a formal album. There really aren't that many songs that aren't available to the public; it's just the amount of ways and times we recorded them. Anything that's scrapped, if it makes it from me writing it to the band, it's going to make it. Usually, when we put a song through everything, where it sticks around and we're recording it, it's probably fair game for it to be heard. But there's hundreds of MP3s; whether they're demos that Adam [Aymor, guitarist] and I did or alternate versions of things, there's a lot. I got really into home-recording a couple years ago, and that kind of started there being an onslaught of versions of songs and this and that. So, yeah, quite a few.
I think I saw a fan bootleg a couple years ago that has some of the tracks off the collection. It's always interesting to me — like, I'm sure you have a ton of songs that never end up CG tracks.
If something works for the band, it's always something that's going to work for us. If there's a song we like playing as a band, and if one of us likes it enough to keep it going, then it's absolutely fair game; but there's been several songs in a matter of minutes that [we know] it's just not going to work. And sometimes they come back around, like that version of "Sunnyside" we did that's on the collection — it wasn't until we started recording the second record, and at that point it was in need of the song. Sometimes we find a way, or it clicks later. There's songs that might not have worked for the last record that will probably come back up. It's never this conscious break between writing albums. It's always been like, "Well, here's when we write the record; we'll get back to the songs in three weeks." And this is the only time I've taken a conscious break from writing songs.
Is it weird?
Yeah. It's scary and it's weird, but I think it's for the best. I don't want to say it's conscious, but there was a point after writing so many records where I'd kind of wanted to get away from the fact that everything rolls to songs from the next album and start with a clean slate for the next thing. Because I haven't been writing songs my whole life; I started with this band. And so, it's all about keeping yourself entertained, like putting yourself in situations that might be worrisome, which is where I think the good stuff comes from, unfortunately. But who knows? When I say that there's also plenty of songs to make a record this moment, we probably could. But we're fortunate enough where we have the choice.
Back at art school, I think one common lesson I always heard was to never underestimate the impact that changing a routine can have on your creative output, because time will affect your approach every time.
Yeah. I think the hardest part of being a writer or artist is not stopping — or stopping and picking back up. It's a trick. So many people want to be in a band or be a writer or artist, and there's a point where they get sidetracked. And that's kind of the test — to come back from that. So, yeah, it's a difficult thing. I think it's good to have that test, but ... it's not like you're taking a test you want to take. But it's good to not do the exact same thing over and over.
With the collection, what was it like coming back to some of the older stuff you haven't heard in a bit?
I really like a lot of songs quite a bit. It feels lucky, to have these songs that haven't been heard [by] the same amount of audience a regular record would, as kind of this fun thing, like, "Oh, we got these, too — this'll be fun." But the most difficult part is feeling fresh. It's difficult to not critique things, like, "Well, I'm a better singer," or, "We used to be faster — does that mean we were better?" So, there's always that struggle. As far as the writing, it's really interesting. There's several, and I can look back and be really proud. If we reissue another record, you never have to put any of the full-lengths under this microscope of, like, forcing myself to reread all the lyrics. I thought it would be kind of nostalgic; it's downright fun. It kind of ignites something where it reminds you how much fun something is, having a body of work and to have this thing overflowing with ideas with people you did. So, it's been an inspiration to write certain things with the band I might have been lacking the past year or so.
Were there any moments that caught you off guard going back to these songs?
Yeah, there'd be times when I'd think of a song that'd get stuck in my head, and I'd put it on and it would be like, "Ah jeez, sounds like a different song." That's the kind of thing that catches me off guard. I'll hear a song [so much] more live than recorded that it will sound like a different band at times. Not anything that's like an intentional sense of growth, but just like, "I remember having to record that in 45 minutes."
What do you think was the biggest difference between when you were starting out tand what you're writing now?
For better or worse, I think I write, maybe not lyrically, but [overall] with more intention these days. Because, to a degree, I know what I'm doing or what equals what, in the sense of how something will initially [sound]. Some of the songs on there are the earliest stuff we ever recorded; I'm not sure we even played a show at that point. When a band stops, the biggest question is if you'll ever have another one, and I remember then being very excited to actually be doing this new thing. That's the thing — back then, I don't know if it was innocent, but you kind of learn what you're doing. It's the exact same thing, and it makes it more fulfilling. I think that's true for anyone who writes songs — at the beginning it's like, "I can’t believe we pulled that off."
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CHEAP GIRLS on TOUR
Oct. 26 — Columbus, OH @ Rumba Cafe
Oct. 27 — Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
Oct. 28 — Gainesville, FL @ Civic Media Center (The Fest)
Oct. 29 — Gainesville, FL @ The Fest
Oct. 30 — Cincinnati, OH @ Northside Yacht Club
Dec. 16 — Lansing, MI @ The Loft