UPDATE 10/08/17: After almost three years of messaround by the vinyl manufacturer, Olive Grove Records FINALLY has stock of the Masks EP on 12″ vinyl – and it still sounds as good as it did in 2014. The EP is only five quid and includes a digital download, and you can pick it up on Bandcamp.
About three years ago, two new friends who had bonded over a shared love of Almost Famous and the rest of Cameron Crowe’s filmography recorded a couple of GarageBand demos together. They popped them up on Facebook for free download under the name of It’s All Happening, where other girls with a similar love of the film and drawn in by the name could find them.
I came across those songs again a few months back as part of my neverending iTunes cleanup project, and I remember thinking it was a shame that Randolph’s Leap bassist Vicki Cole was likely too busy with that band’s much-deserved success to nurture the spark she so clearly had with songwriting partner and pal Alex Kenzel. This was because I am a bit of an idiot who struggles to stay up too late these days, and had missed the pair’s performance with new band Skinny Dipper at a TYCI night earlier in the year. This will become awkwardly obvious when we get to the relevant part of the interview, don’t worry.
This week, the nine-piece almost-a-girl band (drummer Iain Symes-Marshall, of Trapped in Kansas, is the token boy) released debut EP Masks on Olive Grove Records and it’s five tracks of hot chocolate and honey. I woke up on Monday morning to a tweet from Cameron Crowe urging me to check out a track from that EP, because sometimes the universe is a gloriously synchronous thing.
(And it wasn’t even this one.)
Who’s in the band?
VICKI COLE: Alex Kenzel (lead vocals / BV); Gillian Higgins (lead vocals / BV / keys); Catherine Calton (violin / BV); Ruth Campbell (violin / BV); Heather Thikey (violin); Vicki Cole (electric guitar); Monika Gromek (bass / BV); Alison Hendry (flugelhorn / tambourine / BV); Iain Symes-Marshall (drums)
You played your first show for TYCI at the end of last year, when there were only two (I think?) Skinny Dippers. Why did you decide to expand the line-up?
We played with eight of us at that show (Ali hadn’t joined yet at the time) 🙂
The band kind of started out as a project with just me and Alex writing and demoing songs, and has grown from there because we were tracking a lot of midi instruments and realised we wanted more members to get the fuller sound we have now.
Most of you have experience in various other bands, which in many cases are still going! Firstly, how do you find the time – and secondly, what is it about these songs that makes them Skinny Dipper?
I really don’t know how any of us find the time. We have a surgeon, an engineer, a web developer, a pharmacist, a graphic designer, a sound engineer, a doggy day care owner, an events administrator and a support worker in the band. We somehow fit practice and gigs and other bands in around trying to be actual humans. Heather is in Randolph’s Leap, Kill The Waves and Skinny Dipper and is also super human.
For me, this is the first time in a long time I’ve been the primary songwriter on something. Hopefully what makes these songs sound like ‘Skinny Dipper’ is well thought out, pretty arrangements, and slightly unusual lyrics that reflect personal themes and experiences.
Three words to describe your sound…
Dense. Nautical. Magenta.
What influences you – both musically and otherwise?
The band started out as this joke where me and Alex would quote everything (including the then band name ‘It’s All Happening’) from Cameron Crowe movies. “Son of a Mitch” is the only joke title that survived, from the much criticised but heart warming Elizabethtown. We also had a song called “When We Are Both Cats” and one called “I Am A Golden God”, which may be getting resurrected. Moving on from that strange beginning, I guess I would say now that our main influences are bands/artists like:
School of Seven Bells
Lyrically I’m also really influenced by the poetry of Liz Lochhead, Philip Larkin and (through Idlewild) Edwin Morgan.
What releases/shows do you have planned at the moment?
We release our debut EP Masks with Olive Grove Records on 8th September. We’ll be launching it at a show in Stereo, Glasgow on 12th September with special guests and label mates Call To Mind, and singer-songwriter Chrissy Barnacle (she’s incredible).
Also playing the Pleasance Theatre in Edinburgh on 11th October for an Olive Grove showcase with The Moth & The Mirror, Call To Mind, and Woodenbox.
And what are you listening to at the moment?
Loving Youth Culture Forever by PAWS; and Bdy_Prts, which is the new-ish project from Sparrow & The Workshop’s Jill O’Sullivan and Jenny Reeve (of every good band ever). Also can’t stop listening to the latest Sun Kil Moon record, the Dodos album Beware of the Maniacs, Tied To a Star by J Mascis, Wig Out At Jagbags by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, and The Voyager by Jenny Lewis (going to see her tonight, AAAAAHHH!@£$%^&*).
Skinny Dipper’s EP launch is at Stereo, Glasgow on Friday, 12th September with support from Call to Mind and Chrissy Barnacle: tickets are onsale now. You can buy Masks on 12″ vinyl and digital download from Olive Grove Records.