Harmony Tividad is having car trouble.
“It’s been making weird sounds when I’m on the freeway. It’s not great,” she says while looping her bandmate Cleo Tucker into a three-way call. There’s a pause, then Tucker announces herself — and that she’s just gotten a smoothie.
“I just had a smoothie, too!” Tividad responds.
“I know, I saw,” Tucker says. “Your mom texted me a photo.”
By its members’ own insistence, Girlpool is a friendship first, and a band second. In fact, the very existence of the latter depends on the preservation of the former. (Also, if you’re curious, Tividad ordered a kale, banana, and hemp smoothie, while Tucker settled on a banana, coconut milk, pineapple, spinach, kale, and date blend.)
The band is also a direct result of the pair’s camaraderie. Tividad and Tucker met at the legendary downtown Los Angeles DIY venue The Smell while attending high school. They already had a handful of mutual friends and, by their recollection, hit it off instantly. At 17 and 18, the pair started writing music together and playing shows around L.A. under the name Girlpool — all for the sheer fun of it.
What followed — international tours, thousands of fans, and appearances at Coachella and Fuck Yeah Fest — was not exactly part of the plan.
“We were still in school and just loved hanging out on the weekends and writing music and making demos and putting it on Bandcamp,” Tucker says. “It was just something we loved to do for fun.”
By the time Girlpool had created something of a reputation for itself in Los Angeles, the duo was already preparing to move forward with their lives outside of music. Tividad had begun attending college classes in the area, while Tucker was preparing for her freshman semester at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts. Then, Tucker had a change of heart.
“I decided I wanted to take a year off, just play shows in L.A., maybe go on a West Coast trip, and then go to school,” she says. “We really had no expectations for anything other than having a good time together.”
Instead, the duo relocated to Philadelphia, a city famous for its longstanding and thriving underground music scene. In 2015, they released their debut album, Before the World Was Big, which landed on a flurry of year-end best-of lists. Girlpool toured relentlessly on its back, then moved again, this time to New York City. Four months later, Tividad decided to return to Philadelphia.
“I just missed the environment of Philadelphia,” she recalls. “I was having a hard time in New York. It was just too much.”
Tucker remained in New York for the year, and she and Tividad crafted much of their sophomore album, Powerplant, by sending songs back and forth. They combed the previous year of travel and relationships for lyrical inspiration, then added a drummer to fill out their sound. Despite coming off as more adventurous and self-assured than Before the World Was Big, Powerplant stays true to the band’s trademark intimacy and vulnerability by way of complex harmonizing, stripped-down production, and diaristic lyricism.
The record’s emotional heft and ’90s alt-rock undertones — loud-quiet-loud, anyone? — conjure Cat Power, Mazzy Star, and The Moldy Peaches, and the pair’s poetic songwriting is taken to new, gut-wrenching heights. The gently strummed “123” meanders through evocative, Elliott Smith-esque imagery: “The moth doesn’t talk / But in the dress the holes you saw.” A few tracks later, “It Gets More Blue” ruminates on desire and drips with straight-to-the heart couplets, such as “The city has clouds, you make him the sun / You wanted that poison, you hand-picked the gun.”
The record is essentially the sum of a year’s worth of traveling, relationships, and changing outlooks. Like Before the World Was Big, it relies on softness and vulnerability for its power, often finding it in deeply personal poetics. But laying their emotions bare on the record took more than a little bravery. It depended on the members of Girlpool not thinking about the album being sent out into the world.
“There’s a disassociation of not being aware of how many people will hear it and what they will project onto it. You don’t have the reality of the world hearing it,” Tividad says. “No matter how many people are at the show or how many people express that they’ve listened to your songs, I don’t feel like you’ll ever understand the reality.”
Girlpool’s reality, however, is slightly more perceptible. They’ve returned to their native Southern California — Tividad to North Hollywood, Tucker to West L.A. — and plan to follow Girlpool wherever it leads.
“You know that Spongebob episode where everyone turns into gray blobs?” Tividad asks. “That’s how I feel about it. [Girlpool is] just this gray blob. Its intention is moment to moment.”