Girls In Synthesis

It was the 2nd of October 2018 at 14:04 precisely that I received a message from Jack Harkins, singer and bassist in ‘Uhr’.  

The message read:

“Hi Gary, you busy on the 4th of November? We’re playing a gig with Girls in Synthesis with our new band (Ginnel) at The Ferret in Preston and I’m looking for a photographer, you were my first choice.”

Well of course I said yes given that I’m a gig photographer and always keen to photograph new underground bands to which Jack then replied:

“Many thanks (you’ll love Girls in Synthesis as well, they’re incredible live. They’re heading for great things)”.

And boy was he right, because on that recommendation alone I went along to see my first Girls In Synthesis gig in Preston’s iconic music venue, The Ferret, and I must say the band quite simply blew me away as those of you who have already seen them can testify.  

I’ve gone on to watch them a number of times since and that same excitement and expectation that you’ll see and hear something really special is the same at every gig they do, totally intense, non compromising, in your face, in the crowd in fact, non stop frenetic energy like no band I’ve ever seen since The Sex Pistols. 

Not only have I watched Girls In Synthesis raise the dial a notch with every gig or record release I’ve also been privileged to photograph some of those gigs as well and I often photograph with AJ Phink, editor here at The Punk Site, so when he asked me recently if I’d like to interview Girls In Synthesis I of course jumped at the chance given that the band are just about to release their fantastic debut album “Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future“.  The followup to the Louder Than War Records released “Pre / Post: A Collection 2016 – 2018” compilation.

When I first saw you live I was absolutely blown away by the sheer energy and aggression in your music and performance.  It reminded me of those early Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, PiL gigs back in the 70’s.  As a threesome to bring such a creative force takes some doing and it’s a powerful combination, did that energy come naturally straight away when you first met or has it been developed over time?  

I think it came naturally and that intensity has always been present, obviously the intensity has developed over time due to the confidence in playing our material growing. But we very much had a plan and parameters for what we wanted the band to be. And we had that from day one. Part of the power comes from being a three-piece, too. There’s nowhere to hide in a trio, you have to be firing on all cylinders or else it’s a sham.

How and where did you all meet?

We formed in London, but we’re from all over, really. Jim is from the Midlands, Nicole is American and I’m from the suburbs. I met Jim while playing in another group, and we found Nicole online via an ad. Jim and I had the idea for the group for around 4-5 months before we settled on the lineup, and since then we haven’t looked back. There’s no great story for the formation of the group, but we were so focussed on what we wanted the group to be, and maybe more so what we didn’t.

You are unsurprisingly compared to the punk/post punk bands of the late 70’s and early 80’s, bands like the Sex Pistols, Clash, PiL, Crass to name just a few.  I can certainly hear and see the similarities in your work.  Would you say that the anger and energy that we see and hear at your gigs and in your music and lyrics is due to a resurgence of similar political and social economic injustice today, in much the same way that it was when I witnessed it back in the 70’s/80’s.

Partly, yes. I mean, the world seems to be spinning wildly out of control at the moment, but for me growing up in the 1990’s, was it really any different? It just feels way more hyped up now, and some ideas that wouldn’t have washed in the 1970s/1980s are now fully accepted. Not sure why that is. But the anger also comes from our presentation and how we want to present and project our music. That is a reaction against the lack of energy and conviction in music over the last 10 or so years, or at least the music that we encountered.

Your debut album ‘Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future’, which I must say is absolutely fantastic, is certainly not shy of confronting tough subject matter that many listeners will resonate with.  Is there a message in your songs and music that you want your fans to take away or do you prefer them to make their own minds about the songs and interpret them by themselves?

No, we don’t deal in messages, really. And we certainly don’t offer to solve any issues for anyone. We’re not a rallying call, I think that’s really irresponsible. There’s a lot of sloganeering and patronisation out there at the moment, which is probably good for an immediate group surrounding a band. But things are rarely ever that simple. We look at the problems, and we sometimes pull them apart, but we’ve never really tried to solve them for others. We’ve not even worked it out ourselves, you know what I mean? Hopefully the lyrics and the music can be dealt with by people in the way that they see it. If people get something out of it, then great. We’d never be arrogant enough to surmise people’s situations in life.

You started Girls In Synthesis 4 years ago and have picked up a really strong underground following.  The energy and intensity within your performances works well in smaller venues.  Are you concerned that this might change as the bands success and ever growing support takes you into the bigger venues.

Well, we’ve actually experienced that already when playing larger shows. We played with Wolf Alice at Brixton Academy and that was a lesson to be learned. There is a part of our normal live shows that cannot translate in venues of that size, due to practical reasons (ie. We can’t play a show in the middle of the crowd in a 4000 capacity venue) but at the same time, all that means is that the intensity and energy is confined mainly to the stage. We also had the same thing at Rebellion, but people still loved it. So we can’t overthink it really.

I think we’re always going to want to play in venues of a more modest size, so if that means we do two nights at a 500 cap venue as opposed to 1 night at a 1000 cap, then so be it. To be fair, that’s skipping ahead anyway. Hopefully our instinct will serve us well on those decisions.

No, we don’t worry about this stuff at all. There’s really nothing to worry about. The three of us are old enough, and have been round the block enough, to know what works. We’re working with a label now (Harbinger Sound) and nothing has changed in the way we operate. As long as we have enough confidence and control over what we do, then we’ll always choose the right collaborators. I think in this day and age it’s easier to have a firmer hand on the rudder, anyway. Bands don’t rely on labels in the way that they once did.

Writing and recording songs I often think are at most two phases of the same process or perhaps just the same thing.  Do you have any kind of plan or strategy when it comes to writing and recording your songs?  

For my songs, I demo them at home so that they’re about 80% ready to go, then we work them up a little in the rehearsal room, and maybe play them live in advance if we have the time. Jim’s process is very similar, although we tend to collaborate more closely on his material. But in all honesty, it’s a fairly tried and tested formula for us. We don’t jam, and we don’t have a lot of free time to be able to work something over and over to get a result. The more fully formed an idea is from the off, the better the outcome usually. We work in batches, too, so we might collate a batch of 15-20 songs in 6-8 months, then there’ll be nothing for another 6 months.

Recording-wise, we record ourselves so that can be a slightly more stressful situation, as we’re all under the microscope, but it does give us more freedom as well as making it cheaper and quicker to make records.

“Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future” is one of the best records I’ve heard in years, in fact it is so good I think it will stand the test of time as Public Image’s “Metal Box” did.  You must be so pleased with the end result.  Where did the title for the album come from?

That’s very kind. We think it’s a great debut album, which is what we set our sights on for the record. We wanted it to be really concise and energetic, with a few surprises or experiments on it. I think we achieved that, and more.

The title comes from a line in ‘They’re Not Listening’, and it could be looked at in many ways. In the context of the song, it’s sort of saying that the future is the past, and that the same issues are repeated ad infinitum with regards to politics and the blaming of minorities. I think it stands alone as a title, though, and it’s really well represented with the cover photo. I guess it’s a blend of the future and the past, an echo is a repetition of something that’s already happened. So an echo from the future… well, I’ll leave that to you to decide.

The album has been released on the label that Sleaford Mods are signed to, ‘Harbinger,’ how did that come about?

Well, when we were about to release ‘Pre/Post’ compilation we were preparing to record the debut album. There were a few labels who were interested in working on it, so it was a good position to be in and we had a few meetings to sound people out. We could have gone with any of them, really, but we clicked with Steve (owner of HS) from the off. 

We’d always liked the way Steve operated, he seemed to be one of the last bastions of the independent, post-punk era of labels. He also likes to take risks and isn’t massively concerned with mass-popularity, but at the same time he wants to spread the word as far and wide as possible. And that approach suits us down to the ground.

My favourite track on the album is ‘Cause For Concern’ and I can see this being a real crowd pleaser live.  in fact I think you really should put that out as a single, the power in it is just stunning.  Have you any plans to release any more tracks from this album as singles?  And can you tell me what is this particular track about?

No, I don’t think there will be any more singles off the album. We’re a bit old school in the sense that we feel that an album should be a body of work and that pulling it apart in a long series of singles can be a bit disorientating. We’ve already released 4 singles off the album, and that’s well enough for us, I think. We’re already on to the next step, so hopefully people will be able to digest the album and pick out there own faves.

That song was written by Jim, so he’d be the best person to answer the question, but what I get from it is a presentation of high anxiety, mixing the personal and the political in some ways. I think the lyrics are a little more open to interpretation than some of the other songs.

All of the tracks on the album don’t mess about and get right to the heart of its subject matter.  Are there any tracks on the album that you thought nah, let’s drop that one in favour of something else or were each track nailed from the outset?

Not really, we had a plan going into the recording of the album, so we didn’t record any extra songs that were left out at the last minute, aside from one. And that was only really to balance the album a little.

Songs like Human Frailty we knew absolutely had to be on the album, there was no question there. The same with Tirades of Hate and Fear. Once we had those demoed, they were no brainers. We were very much focussed on what we wanted to achieve, and every song had to justify itself. And they did without any issues.

You’ve had to delay the album’s initial release due to COVID-19 and re-scheduled the tour dates to promote it.  Have you got any plans to promote it differently now or will you wait to go ahead once you can get out and gig it?

It’s so difficult to know what to do. The October shows are looking less likely as the weeks go by, but that’s out of our control unfortunately. It’s hard to know when playing shows will be viable again, hopefully sooner rather than later. Who knows, though, really?

I’m a little sceptical about the surge of online shows and stuff like that… we did a three part live stream of rarities really early during lockdown, so we’ve been there and done that. We might do a special one off thing, but will it come across? Are people watching it on their phones through their phone speaker? Or will they plug into a pair of speakers and watch it on their laptop? It would be a shame to make something like that as good as it can be, for it then to be consumed like a 5 minute tutorial on YouTube. I’m not sure if there is any real value in things like that.

One of the things I was really surprised to hear when listening to the album was the different musical influences that you all seem to have and which you can hear throughout.  There’s some amazing sounds on this record such as the use of Cornet and Violin on ’Set Up To Fail’.  Is this something we’ll hear more of in the GIS creative process and future projects?

I hope so, because those moments were completely instinct led and really turned elements of the record around. I can’t see why we shouldn’t continue with them if it works. I think it makes the music a little more interesting to listen to than generic guitar punk rock. A lot of the music that influences us isn’t guitar music, or at least not music that sounds anything like we do, so it’s always good to bring in other elements to widen the scope.

The video for your new single ‘They’re Not Listening’ captures the band and your intensity perfectly do you have any plans to do more with video/film to support your songs?

We’ll obviously continue to make videos for the singles, and maybe at some point we can do something different with it. We’re always working pretty solidly on the next step, so time rapidly runs out. But if there’s a good idea floating around, we’re more than happy to give it a try.

In the press release for ‘They’re Not Listening’ it suggests the song is targeting the current Government and the way in which it is creating fear and confusion for those in the population that struggle to work out what they are up to.  Is that a correct interpretation and do you see Girls In Synthesis taking up the mantle that challenges our politicians supported by it’s listeners in a similar way that Crass did?

As I mentioned, we’re not going to be offering any answers or pointing people in the direction of any. What we try to do is look at the issue and, through our own very brief analysis, offer up some thoughts. I think it’s far too risky to start trying to organise your audience. There are undoubtedly things that we think are wrong and will call out, but how you deal with it, or if, is entirely up to you.

You have given your fan base some brilliant free music through the REDUX FACTION [GIS Facebook Group] which as a fan and collector myself I really like, it’s a collective in many ways as it’s your fans who look after it.  Was that intentional bringing your fan base that close to the band and do you have any plans to get them participating in future projects?

Yes, very much so. We have always had an archive of material which we’ve just kept for reference. Then we were surprised to learn that a lot of fans had also been recording shows and keeping their own archives. Rather than anger us, that actually made us feel quite humble and we set a plan for people to share material with each other and create their own community.

Anyone who has any material is welcome to share via the RF group, it’s moderated by fans and they do a great job. We used a couple of live recordings as b-sides on one of our singles, so we would definitely not rule that out again, if the material was good.

Have you any plans to work with any other musicians or bands perhaps on a collaborative project? if so who would you want to work with and why?

We’re not really that sort of band… we don’t often reach out in that way, and we’re happy working with the collaborators that are within the wider part of the GIS umbrella. It helps us focus on what we’re doing by setting some parameters to work within. Having said that, never say never. If the right situation came along, it could be interesting. I just don’t know where that would fit at the moment.

When not working on music projects what do you all do away from music?

We all have full-time day jobs, which makes every minute working on the band count even more. It’s our main focus, and it probably becomes easier to manage your own time the older you get.

It would be fair to say that we all have our own interests outside the band, but if I told you how dedicated we are to making this music, you wouldn’t believe me…

I think it’s fair to say a Girls In Synthesis gig is not for the faint hearted.  You work in the audience which goes down well making each gig memorable.  Was that by accident or did you set out to get that close to your audiences?

It happened during an earlier set in London. And it was purely on instinct. There wasn’t a conversation that we were going to do it, we just performed from within the audience that night and it became our way of performing.

Deep down, there was a desire to connect with an audience that we couldn’t put our finger on, and by chance that seemed to be the way that we/our audience enjoyed it. I think it’s a pretty unique thing, and the audience reaction is the opposite than you would think. Rather than feel self conscious and nervous, people immediately feel part of the show. And they are, as much as we are.

Given the rave reviews that ’Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future’ is already getting prior to its release, what’s next for the band?

Hopefully to play some shows, we’re looking at getting to Europe in the new year. We’re also currently in the early stages of recording the follow up. We want to keep moving, and with the recent pandemic it’s free’d up a little time for us. One good thing to come out of it, I guess. The next step is going to be an important one. 

So there you have it, Girls In Synthesis are much more than just another Punk Post Punk band.  They bring with them a refreshing originality that I’ve not seen or heard in years.  

The energy and attack in their music and performances is incredible and just listening to their music is like a 45 minute workout down the Gym.  Their new album ‘Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future’ just might be the greatest album released since PIL’s Metal Box, it’s certainly up there alongside it for me.  In fact I’ll finish off by saying that for me, Girls In Synthesis are the most relevant band that I’ve seen in the last 44 years.

You can pre order “Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future” here

Girls In Synthesis‘ website can be found here

Photography by Gary Hough, his All The Cool Bands photography website can be found here