Girlpool sounds like two girls who've only ever listened to punk trying their hand at singer-songwriter-y folk. Onstage, Harmony Tividad, 19, plays bass and Cleo Tucker, 18, plays guitar—but sometimes they'll switch. Both of them sing, reading each other's faces for timing cues, relying on an inexplicable teenage telepathy to pull off each meandering melodic turn. Their two-part harmonies are beautiful but unrehearsed, like when you're singing along to the radio with a friend and, for a second, the stars align and you actually sound really good.
When I meet up with the pair at Tucker's brand new Philadelphia apartment—a barely furnished rowhouse that she shares with Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield—it almost feels like I'm talking to one human. "Harmony said something cool yesterday," explains Tucker, eating almonds. She's dressed in a comfy, oversized tee, her thick red hair chopped off at her chin to form a wavy bob. Tividad—a blonde with a few freckles and round, happy eyes—knows exactly what her friend is talking about. "When you're in a band, it's like you're on a train," she says. "Everything else—interviews, press, pigeonholes, whatever—that stuff goes by, and you see it, but it has nothing to do with you." Tucker nods: "Yeah, it has no effect on the temperature inside the train car."
Tucker and Tividad both grew up in Los Angeles, raised by artist parents who encouraged their creativity from a young age. As teens, they began turning up at the same all-ages rock shows, and started a short-lived project with a few friends; sensing that they shared a specific vision, they split off on their own, naming themselves after a chapter in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. By early 2014, they'd cobbled together a self-titled cassette featuring five biting and bare-boned punk songs that explore topics like shallow boys, unfair gender roles, and getting off. London-based label Wichita caught wind, and offered to re-release the EP on vinyl; Jenny Lewis asked them to open a few of her shows. Tucker and Tividad wound up performing for a sold-out crowd at Manhattan's Terminal 5 just six months after starting the band.
"I need to understand what it means for Harmony in order for me to be able to sing it, or else it's like looking through blurry shades." — Cleo Tucker
Sudden attention has a way of making people grow up fast, and though they're just barely out of high school, the members of Girlpool say that Before the World Was Big—their forthcoming debut album, also on Wichita—is all about "coping with not being a kid anymore." Created before, during, and after a recent cross-country move from L.A. to Philly, it's 24 minutes of misshapen tempos and arpeggiated schoolyard melodies. The lyrics revolve around adolescent disillusionment, as on the album closer, "I Like That You Can See It," when they cry out in unison: My mind is almost 19, and I still feel angry/ Is it pouring out my body—my nervous aching? Looking back, they say that the words they sing are discussed tirelessly during the writing process. "I need to understand what it means for Harmony in order for me to be able to sing it, or else it's like looking through blurry shades," Tucker says. "Sometimes, we'll discuss one line for two and a half hours."
After the interview, the girls head out to look at some used furniture that Tividad tracked down on Craigslist. Tucker drives a borrowed car; Tividad reads directions off her iPhone. "Harm, look!" Tucker shouts as we pull up to one stoplight, motioning at a big, historic-looking government building in downtown Philadelphia. It's foggy, but the orange light emanating from the window on the tallest tower is really pretty, like a soft-glowing planet hovering bizarrely close to earth. Tividad knows what Tucker means. "Maybe we should go into politics," she says, eyes wide, peering up through the windshield as cars speed by on either side. "You know, just so we can go inside there."