THERE’S BAD. AND THEN THERE’S BAD GIRLFRIEND.
“This record is really our baby, I think. It’s like Bad Girlfriend had a baby. It was a labor of love.”
photographed by PETE VOELKER
interviewed by HILLARY SPROUL
wardrobe REFORMATION & VEDA
When I initially met Brianna Lance of Bad Girlfriend, I was shopping downtown and stopped into a little boutique. The shop was teeny-tiny haven with a slew of revamped vintage pieces and a small production studio in the back. I wanted this amazing skirt, but it was just a little big around the waist. Luckily, Brianna — a tall, willowy babe and super cool chick — was there to help me adjust and pin my new find so that it fit oh-so-perfect.
A year later, my admiration for this little boutique took new forms. I started working there and was re-encountered with Brianna, the head designer. The shop is Reformation. Yes, the mega-store we all know and love today. Following the little LES locale, Reformation went on to open locations in Soho and L.A. The pieces gradually deviated from their seemingly homespun roots, curating with a larger production model. Well, it was a good idea because the cool girls went crazy. Brianna’s designs were bought up by everyone in town, finding their way atop magazine covers and into the closets of the enviable.
The clothes are awesome, so the insta-success totally made sense, although (having been a former employee) I must admit that besides Brianna’s skills as a designer, there was something else I really appreciated: her playlists. She made all the playlists for the store, and I was eternally gratefully for the rare experience of a bearable working life soundtrack. Wire, Essential Logic, ESG, OMD… Damn.
A little bit farther down the road, I realized that a friend of mine, Aaron Pfenning — a musician best known for his work in the band Chairlift (and more recently, for his band, Rewards) — was producing the debut record for Brianna’s band, Bad Girlfriend.
Bad Girlfriend is comprised of four probably-really-good girlfriends who play unsurprisingly good music and create the perfect package of pretty, nice and wildly talented. Christian Owens, Lyla Vander, Savannah King and Brianna Lance have been making music together a few years now, have finally found their speed and are getting ready to release their next project (untitled). The record — produced by Pfenning with additional contributions from Benjamin Curtis of School of Seven Bells — is buzzing with the general consensus it’s worth any hype. The music is fuckin’ good. And we all know bad girls are the best kind of girls. (Sorry, who can resist a sort-of pun?)
I sat down with the badass ladies over mimosas (fighting a terrible hangover and the interference of an unruly East Village frat-boy who took issue with the concept of an interview) to discuss… Well, music and fashion stuff. Obviously. — HILLARY SPROUL
SHK: OKAY, SO HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME BAD GIRLFRIEND?
BRIANNA LANCE: Oh, it’s somebody. It’s actually named after one of our friends whose name will not be spoken. But he had a really shitty girlfriend and we were trying to think of names… Christian and I were specifically talking about it one night and I was like, “She’s so sweet!” and Christian was like, “Yeah, but she’s such a bad girlfriend.”
HOW DID YOU GUYS START?
BL: Well, we met a long time ago playing in a different band. Christian played bass and I was, like, the tambourine girl. We met back then, and we fell in love. Basically when I learned guitar, Christian was like, “Let’s start playing together.” And so we started playing guitar.
CHRISTIAN OWENS: Yeah, Brianna was basically like, “I’m going to learn to play guitar.” And she was like, “Let’s jam.” She would come over and I had this, like, busted up rigged Pro Tools set up. So I was like, “Let’s write songs.” We just started jamming and writing songs together and then we ran into this random weirdo who was like, “Hey, I have a record release party — in like a couple months or something — do you and one of your bands want to play?” And I thought, maybe Brianna and me actually could do something with the songs.
WELL, ONCE YOU BOOK THE GIG…
CO: We basically booked a show in order to make it happen.
BL: And we’d also been playing with our friend Paula who had never played drums before. Basically she was like “yeah, let’s do the show” and it was the three of us… And she [Paula] got Savannah to start playing with us.
SO THAT’S HOW SAVANNAH WAS THROWN IN?
SAVANNAH KING: Yeah, it was last minute. I didn’t play anything at the time.
BL: Well, she got peer pressured.
SK: I’d heard about these girls randomly. We were sort of dancing around each other for a long time, but she came over and was like, “I really need a bass player.” And I was like, “I don’t know, man. Do I know somebody?” But she pressured me into it, so…
DID YOU HAVE A BASS?
SK: Well, the first show happened. I came to the practice and Christian handed me a Microkorg with all the notes taped on it. And was like, “Here, just play on the bass keyboard!”
BL: So we did that for a while. But that was kind of a different band, with a different name, and we did it with our old drummer… Then, when we found Lyla, we changed the name and it became Bad Girlfriend.
AND HOW DID YOU FIND LYLA?
BL: Oh, she got poached.
CO: We poached her.
[TO LYLA] WHAT’S YOUR BACKGROUND?
BL: She’s been drumming for forever.
WHEN DID YOU START PLAYING DRUMS?
LV: Probably when I was like, 12.
CO: I was in a Riotgirrrl band in high school.
OH REALLY? WHAT DID YOU DO IN THAT BAND?
CO: Bass. I’ve always been a bass player. I played bass a lot in other people’s bands and on tour and stuff, and I played bass in the Riotgrrrl band… And then in college, I actually played guitar in a band but, like, one-note stuff.
BL: When I met Christian, she was kind of the bass player for like every band in New York. She was one of those people who played for everybody.
AND NOW HERE YOU ARE… BIG CITY. SMALL TOWN. AND YOU’VE KNOWN AARON [PFENNING] FOR A LONG TIME?
SK: Aaron did a remix of one of our songs called “Feelings,” Which started the process of working together. It was a really positive, good time. And we all love Aaron.
YOU ALSO RECORD WITH BENJAMIN [CURTIS]. WHAT A DREAM TEAM.
BL: He produced a lot, and engineered a lot of it.
AS A GROUP, ARE YOU INFLUENCED BY SIMILAR MUSIC?
BL: We all listen to everything, I feel like.
HS: Yeah, everyone does.
LV: That’s why it’s hard. Most people will be like, “How would you describe your music?” But it’s kind of hard honestly. It’s almost deceptive because there are so many crazy things going on. I think a lot of that comes from the very influences of the things that we listen to.
WHAT YOU’RE DOING NOW, IT COMES ACROSS A BIT DARKER THAN WHAT YOU’VE RELEASED THUS FAR.
CO: We’ve had… You know, the EPs and the songs that we did before this record, but this record really has taken on that kind of sound.
WAS SOME OF THAT AARON’S INFLUENCE?
LV: To be honest, nobody really plays the role of a producer. It can mean different things for everybody. But Aaron has never tried to push us in any direction. No one has. I think the really cool thing is that all the people we’ve worked with have really been there for us… Really helping us kind of facilitate and do our thing and make it happen. In a really positive, reinforcing way.
A NATURAL PROGESSION…
BL: It’s like, certain people, like with guitar tones and things… Aaron and Ben come from a really different school of music than us. It’s a lot dancier. So they just gave us some different pedals, kind of opening it up to a different tone than we play, which is really awesome.
I REALLY ENJOYED LISTENING THIS ALBUM. SO MUCH.
SK: This record is really our baby, I think. It’s like Bad Girlfriend had a baby. It was a labor of love. We worked hard for a long time, shaping the songs. It was a collaborative effort. I think it really helped us all go in new directions. We wouldn’t normally do things like that, and then it kinda’ made this cool sound... So it’s a really good representation.
WHO WRITES THE LYRICS? IS THERE A SOLE LYRICIST? OR IS THAT A MARRIAGE TOO?
CO: It’s a marriage. And that is where it contributes to our sound. The songs are really organic. We’re not trying to do anything particular. This is the way that it’s sounding like right now, the four of us doing it. It did used to sound more garage-y back then, but we’ve just evolved. It’s a natural thing.