“Grandmas Can’t Find Us”: An Interview with Women

Greg Merrell interviews brothers Pat and Matt Flegel of lo-fi indie rock outfit Women. The band discusses their songwriting process, working with Chad VanGaalen, and the weirdest music they’ve ever heard.

I talked with guitarist Pat Flegel and bassist Matt Flegel of Women before their show at Seattle venue Chop Suey. The band is from Calgary, and was touring with Chad VanGaalen, who had also produced their recent self-titled record.

Women performing at Chop Suey; courtesy of Steve Louie

Women performing at Chop Suey; courtesy of Steve Louie.

The Bygone Bureau: Where did you get your band name from?

Matt: We need to start coming up with a better story.

Pat: We wanted to be filed as close to wipers and wire. (laughs)

Matt: Yeah, exactly…

Or come up with the most un-google-able name.

Matt: That’s what people are saying.

Pat: The more I hear about that, the more I feel like… “Yeah, don’t find us.”

Matt: We don’t want you to find us. (laughs)

Pat: I don’t know, people always say that. Don’t you know how to use the internet? Don’t you know where a band’s from or what record label they’re on?

Matt: Grandmas can’t find us on the Internet.

Pat: I had a few tracks called elderly woman…

Matt: I just said, “Hey lets call the band Women.”

Pat: We were talking about how miserable of a process it was to come up with a band name. I just said, “Okay, done. I don’t want to think about it.”

Matt: We needed a name because we were playing our first show in November of 2007, and weren’t really a band yet. This was before we even had songs or had done any recording, and we just needed a name. I said “Women,” and we just went with it.

Pat: But I’m starting to enjoy that it’s really generic. It’s a ridiculous band name.

What was the process from inception of group to touring around all the time?

Matt: I don’t even know what happened. It seemed like yesterday.

Pat: Basically what happened, was a year and half ago I was playing in this band. No, I was eating shit. I quit that band, we recorded two songs and everyone was excited. But, I was like… wait a minute, I fucking hate this.

Chris was playing bass in this band too, and sometimes we would play guitars afterwards. So I quit that band, broke up with my girlfriend of two years, quit my job, and started Women. Within five months, we had four demos recorded from my apartment. Ian [Russell], the owner of Flemish Eye, came in, and we gave him a CD. Then we started recording with Chad [VanGaalen].

Matt: Then I guess a few songs leaked on the internet and Jagjaguwar heard us, and we started hitting it off with them. They came to see us in Calgary. I say it’s luck. The press has been great.

Pat: Yeah, they like forcing people to listen to it.

Matt: It’s been less than a year to go from Pat’s apartment to headlining shows in London.

Matthew Flegel of Women; courtesy of Steve Louie

Matthew Flegel of Women; courtesy of Steve Louie.

A lot of your songs have elements of syncopation where guitars seem to have melodies that layer over top of each other. Would you say your songwriting revolves around that?

Pat: There are different types of songs. In some of them, the guitar parts is what we’d rather have songs revolve around.

Matt: The poppier stuff definitely revolves around the vocal melody. These days we’re more of a band now, and it’s going to be revolving around the music first.

Do you guys write lyrics together?

Pat: Yeah. There’s not a single song on the whole album that was written by one person.

On the first song, “Cameras,” there’s some synth, and other songs there are over layers of production. Who creates this?

Pat: On that first song, the whole thing is live. We recorded “Group Transport Hall” on a ghettoblaster. There are just two 57’s hooked up to a tape deck.

Matt: I’m playing drums for some reason. I was as hungover as I’ve ever been. I think I might have passed out to Thelma and Louise.

The last two songs totally sound different.

Matt: Those were recorded in a totally different space. Those were recorded late at night in a crawl space.

Pat: Those are actually band favorites.

Matt: The dark ones…

Do you think that’s where your music is going to go now?

Pat: We really like drone. The songs Chad VanGaalen produced, he really did produce. Most of the songs we did together, we wanted to sound like drone. Originally, we recorded “Black Rice” to just sound like that. He would push our songs in certain directions. Everything was just buried in the recordings. It’s really a privilege and honor to be recording with him.

Matt: It’s a good mix for us because he really pushes it to the middle ground.

Pat: At the end of “Upstairs,” Chris [Reimer] said, “I know where we’re going to go with this song.” And we all did a round of theremin, a round of cello, and I think there’s fucking saxophone in there!

Matt: Yeah, Chad hid sax in there.

Pat: We just wanted it to be really sonic. We really wanted to be able to just recreate things live. We didn’t really do what we set out to do with this record.

Matt: We didn’t know what we were doing. We were drunk in a basement for a few months. That was it.

Pat: We just really wanted to sound like our favorite bands and recordings. We wanted it to sound like Jane from Occupied Europe, one of our favorite Swell Maps albums. It’s recording art. They don’t fucking care about anything. “Lets bring in, like, fourteen tracks of swelling.”

How long have you known Chad VanGaalen?

Matt: I ended up playing bass on a couple of his songs and doing a bunch of touring with him. Then I told him about Women, and he wanted to be recording engineer for a band.

How has touring with him been?

Matt: It’s great because he has constantly been taking the piss out of the situation. We ended up doing this private show in Portland. Some guy noticed we had a day off and contacted us. We got there an hour before we were supposed to play, which was when we were told we were going to play. We started playing and everyone just left. Except for the one guy. So, we ended up just noise jamming.

Pat: One of the songs we’re playing tonight is really noisy.

Matt: A newer one.

Pat: Yeah. It’s weird sometimes we write softer ones like stuff off of Chelsea Girl [by Nico] and then other days we write darker ones.

Matt: The most evil shit.

Are you planning on playing any new songs on your tour?

Pat: We are playing four new songs.

Matt: Five.

Pat: Five…

We started headlining shows with less than a half hour of material. We like playing through around a half hour. We hate it when bands play for two hours. We’re playing five new songs on this tour.

Matt: They might start turning into completely different songs after recording.

What was touring around with Dungen like?

Matt: They’re kind of rock stars.

Pat: They smoke cigars.

Matt: “Where’s the babes?”

Pat: They weren’t assholes.

Matt: They just enjoyed themselves. They’re amazing to watch live. They are such crazy talented musicians. They raised the bar for us.

Pat: That was a huge turning point for us. We never have motivation to practice. We can half ass it. Actually, we always think we kind of suck. We’ll just get really drunk and play Wire covers. We don’t figure out entire songs. “Okay let’s do that again; okay let’s do it.” And then we’ll just noise session. We had just gotten done touring around in Canada, and were embarrassed playing with Dungen after that. They really blew our minds.

Matt: They were really fun.

What are some of the best concerts you’ve been to?

Matt: We got a day off in Belgium. Deerhoof’s German booking agent is the same as ours, and we got to see Deerhoof. I don’t know why their last album didn’t get that great of a reception.

Pat: Silk Flowers.

Matt: Playing with Abe Vigoda was really cool.

Pat: The thing they have with guitars is really weird. When you’re at a ghetto venue, they’re just a wall of guitars. Our bandmates Mike [Wallace] and Chris [Reimer] used to play with Azeda Booth.

Matt: They sound better as a three piece now though. They’re really weird.

Do you guys play other instruments?

Matt: I dabble.

Pat: You’re not a bad drummer.

Matt: I can drum. I started by playing guitar, then bass. I’ve recently picked up drums. I played accordion with Chad a bit. I actually did a world tour with Nina Nastasia as her accordion player. She use to be on Touch and Go Records. I was her accordionist, which was funny and not cool.

You have definitely blown up since the release of your record.

Pat: Fuck! Really?

Women is currently on tour. Their self-titled debut album is out now on Jagjaguwar in the U.S. and Flemish Eye in Canada.

Greg Merrell enjoys music equivalent to post-modern art, believes the spoon is a superior eating utensil to the fork, and believes the analog synthesizer is the song of god. He currently plays in the bands $2,000 Puma and Mellowtron and the Harp.