Show Me More: Girl Ray's Buoyant Journey Into Pop Wonder
Girl Ray are the exact mirror of their music. In conversation the London trio – Poppy Hankin, Iris McConnell, Sophie Moss – are all gleeful laughter and in-jokes, this kind of rib-nudging, gentle humour that could only be perfected on those huge, month-long tours, cramped down together in the back of the van.
The band’s debut album was an indie pop delight, with its wiry, infectious sound gaining comparisons to The Raincoats, say, or even elements of Talulah Gosh or Vivian Girls. When the touring finally came to close, though, the trio checked out their Spotify wrap up – and it was dominated by Ariana, Britney, and Mariah.
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New album ‘Girl’ is the inevitable end result of this. Bursting with energy, it’s a relentlessly smile-inducing collection of pop bangers delivered with the kind of self-effacing charm Girl Ray have long since made their own.
“We just had to get into it!” explains Poppy. “It was like: well, this is the music that we want to listen to. And we realised that it would be a lot more fun to play. Not that we didn’t have fun playing the old songs, but it would be a more exciting live experience if we were playing songs that was more similar to what we were listening to.”
“More dance-able,” adds Iris. “More fun for the audience, for sure!”
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All of which isn’t to say that ‘Girl’ is some glossy, hyper-commercial pop juggernaut – there’s still a wonderfully amateur, ramshackle approach to their songwriting. “We are never going to be pop stars, so somewhere in the middle would be nice,” Sophie admits. “If we aim for Ariana and get half way... then it could be interesting.”
Exhausted from perpetual touring, Girl Ray took a step back when the campaign around their debut album settled down. Returning to their day jobs – a collection of waitressing and bar affairs, with one able to work in the back room of Rough Trade East – they allowed themselves room to relax a little.
“We’d played one off shows, so it wasn’t completely at a standstill, but it didn’t feel like the centre of our lives,” says Sophie. “Especially when we’d been so busy after the first album.”
Iris starts to laugh, then shrugs: “We’d forgotten we were in a band, a little bit.”
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Gradually, though, new ideas started to coalesce. Poppy takes the brunt of the songwriting, collecting demos and fresh melodies before presenting them to her band mates. “I just wrote in my room for most of it,” she says. “In between waitressing shifts, going a bit insane, trying to figure out what the new album is going to sound like… but in the end, it all came together and – somehow – worked.”
“I’ll write something, and then I’ll just ask these guys: is this shit, or…? Is this alright? And they’ll put their own bass and drum parts in.”
At one point Poppy and Sophie packed their bags and flew out of the country, travelling to Thailand. Unable to fully unwind, Poppy packed her Mac and a tiny Midi keyboard, jamming alone in her room as her band mate relaxed on glorious tropical beaches.
Sophie recalls: “There was one moment where we had splashed out on this really nice place in Thailand, and I was sunbathing outside, and I could just hear Poppy freestyle rapping into a microphone! I was just like: what is going on…?”
The singer grimaces, then starts to smile: “I was just trying to see if rap would work for us!”
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It actually does: Girl Ray work with rapper PSwuave on the final album, and her bars add a different energy to their songwriting. It’s just one moment on a record framed by risk-taking, pieced together in Margate alongside producer Ash Workman.
“Ash was pretty much the fourth member of the band for this album,” states Iris.
“For sure.” Poppy adds: “It’s cool. He’s such a chilled out presence, and isn’t pushy in the slightest, but he does colour the sound we have so much. That’s why he’s the perfect producer, I think. He’s not pushy. But his ideas really work.”
“The speakers he has are insane,” the singer continues. “It doesn’t sound like much, but when you get these speakers in a room that are acoustically treated to sound incredible, and if he played Drake or Rihanna or something it’s like… oh my God! It hits you in a whole different way. So that’s always fun.”
Sessions stretched across six weeks, with Girl Ray turned into semi-permanent Margate residents. “It was nice, we got to know it quite a bit,” Sophie says. “It was really good weather when we were there too. It was just before Spring. It was quite pleasant.”
Poppy beams at her band mate: “Margate: thumbs up!”
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But her self-effacing humour masks the tenderness of her lyrics – indeed, there’s some strikingly poignant elements on ‘Girl’. “You have to be a bit careful,” she murmurs. “I don’t want to name names, or give too much away.”
Each Christmas the singer launches a project where she will write a song in demand – a little like those Brill Building, Carole King works, except with social media communication and more songs about puppies. “As soon as somebody gives you a brief or something to go off, then suddenly I can write really well. But if I have to write for Girl Ray then it’s like… no. I have nothing! Restrictions are good in that way.”
Boundlessly energetic yet thriving on restriction, Girl Ray are this curious entity. Recently unveiling ‘Girl’ in front of a live audience, the band went straight from the rehearsal room to supporting Metronomy at some imposing venues.
“It’s funny,” Poppy says. “We played (London venue) the Social the other night as a surprise, one off, show after having done these really big venues… the sound is totally different.”
“It’s very satisfying hearing our songs live, though, as it was quite a long process from getting them recorded, when we hadn’t really thought about how they sound much, to actually playing them”.
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They’re bolstered by a new member, as well, stamping out their five-strong live attack. “Lys! She’s playing synths,” confirms Iris. “She’s a classically trained musician, she’s incredible, but her energy! She’s bouncing all the time.”
Poppy is full of enthusiasm: “She rocks out SO HARD!” Iris collapses into laughter: “Even the songs we can’t be bothered to play, she’s just bouncing up and down, and it gives us so much good vibes.”
Re-energised and rejuvenated, Girl Ray are prepping a new tour playlist for their next batch of dates. Part Britney and part Ariana, it’s resolutely Girl Ray, and it’s wholly irresistible.
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'Girl Ray' is out now.
Photography: Sam Huddleston
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