NEWS: Horsegirl share video for new single 'Dirtbag Transformation (Still Dirty)'

IN CONVERSATION: Horsegirl – “It’s kind of dissonant. It’s also like really catchy and poppy, though. So it’s like a weird sort of mix of those things.”

Horsegirl, the Chicago trio of 17–19-year-olds Penelope Lowenstein, Nora Cheng, and Gigi Reece caught our ears two years ago with their awesome 7”, Ballroom Dance Scene b/w Sea Life Sandwich Boy selling out within 24 hours, it showed a literate, layered brand of noise pop that was exciting and intriguing, they followed it with a brilliant single ‘Billy’ at the tail end of 2021. Signing to the legendary Matador Records label they released their awesome debut album Versions of Modern Performance last week. I caught up with the trio before the album’s release and their debut North American and European tours, they were really sweet, passionate and fun company their kinetic bond that forges each note of their music really came through.

Cheng, Lowenstein and Reece learned to play—and met—through the significant network of Chicago youth arts programs, and they have their own mini-rock underground.  “Initially we all actually met each other at DIY shows in Chicago.” Gigi explains “Nora had met Penelope and me separately through the music program we were doing at the time. But then we all got introduced to each other one fateful night and from that point forward we just went to a bunch of shows together and became really close and suddenly decided would start a band.”

Having self-released their debut 7″ ‘Ballroom Dance Scene’ in 2020, with the help of Sonic Cathedral in the UK, The lead track is infused with an intense literate quality that vividly puts you in the eye of the tumult of the city. The intense use of counter-point vocals and the track’s sparse instrumentation bring to mind acts like The Raincoats and, more recently, Porridge Radio. ‘Ballroom Dance Scene’ builds and builds before arriving at its peak when a sense of catharsis or perhaps resolution overhangs in the track’s final moments.

Signing to Matador was something of a surreal moment for the band.  “We recorded eight demos of songs on the record and then we were sending those around I guess we talked to a bunch of different people,” Nora tells me. “We always had this dream of Matador that was the one that had the most prominent of our influences.”

Penelope adds:  “It’s still something we get freaked out when we think about, we were really big fans we never had the aspiration we would work with them!”

They are exultant about the Chicago arts community they emerged from with its art shows, concerts and zines.  “It’s sweet to watch now going to shows in Chicago,  I’ll go to a show and there’ll be zines there and you’ll see before the show, everyone’s leafing through the same zine and the crowd and reading about kids writing about their friend’s band… It really makes me so happy because I’m like, we’re all just consuming each other’s stuff. It definitely is like a real community.” Penelope enthuses.

Chicago is baked into the heart of Versions of Modern Performance. Across the album, recorded at Chicago’s Electrical Audio with John Agnello (Kurt Vile, The Breeders, Dinosaur Jr.) These refreshing songs are the sound of a band finding their place in the world its scuffed up, ragged glory is infused with their impressionistic lyrics and nascent harmonies and underpinned by quick-fire drums. There are elements of the ‘80s and ‘90s independent music the band love, but Horsegirl processes their fandom to craft a sound that whilst it takes from the past sounds and imbues it with their personalities to create something of their own like all special bands, hook-laden, at times experimental, kinetic, playful and with layers of feeling infused with their life-affirming spirit.  “I think since all of our experience had been like, DIY recording and basements, we had never had a studio experience where we were really about the performance, and we didn’t have to worry about getting the cymbal sounding right. And like, it was just nice to have that taken care of it was kind of surreal for us.” Penelope explains working with Agnello.

It was definitely nice to kind of have another opinion that we felt like we trusted because normally, it would kind of just be us three that understood what we really wanted. But we were kind of able to bring him in and he wasn’t really helpful voice because he also has been doing it forever and has made so many awesome records.” She continues.

“A lot of them are songs that were old, but then we kind of came back to them.”
Gigi expands “They changed a lot from when we first recorded them. During COVID there was a  week when we were only seeing each other. So then we all went we went to Penelope’s basement every single day. And we were ‘we’re gonna write an album.’ And we wrote a bunch of songs. And a lot of them weren’t super good, but some of them were the ones that still made it to the album or we reworked it, and then decided to finish it from that point forward.”

Horsegirl’s sound is cocooned in a very particular fuzz pedal laden sound of its own, you could draw comparisons with Husker Du or Sonic Youth but it turns out this specific sound was just how it came out and how they envisaged it from the outset.  “I mean, none of us are super into gear, I know, the kind of sound that we’re going for. I know, we’re able to get it with whatever gear we have. But most of our shows were super DIY when we started so no one had the time for us to be super meticulous with our tone and stuff like that. But yeah, it was nice in the studio to be able to, like totally geek out about that kind of thing. Especially since John had worked with the Breeders and understood that kind of  sound world a lot.” Penelope elucidates   “We didn’t have a specific idea because we didn’t know that much about production. But then we had an idea of what we wanted the final product to be just based on these other songs.”

“I mean, I feel like we did because we made those playlists. There was like a five-song playlist for each song, we gave to John,” adds Gigi

“Yeah, It’s like, there’s a lot of influences that kind of go into every song. It’s not just one with Anti-Glory. I think you were working on a cover for Gang of Four when we wrote that song.” Penelope replies.

Aware of the danger of overproducing their debut album – a real threat when “DIY bands” enter a studio – the temptation is to add more and shine up the sound too much losing much of what made the early releases full of so much character, Horsegirl avoided this trap deliberately.  “In David Byrne’s book, he talks about [how] people write for the space that they think they’re going to—you write it to be played somewhere specific. “ the band say “I think we were thinking of our trio arrangement and being in a lot of basements, not knowing we would have all of these resources to record at Electrical Audio. And so when we went to make the record, it was very important to us to not be too polished.” 

“This is why we really wanted to be careful, there are so many bands where  I love their early stuff and then a couple of records later  it just becomes this indie-pop record, which is great but it’s like not really what we were looking to do.” Penelope explains “I thought ‘did they ever want to make something DIY sounding?’ Or was it just that’s all they had access to? And they were able to put a bunch of synths and auto-tune on it – that’s what they did. We wanted to be very clear, even if we were able to do everything we didn’t want to because the sound we were going for was rougher.”

In step with a string of incredibly well-received singles, ‘Dirtbag Transformation (Still Dirty)’ is a scuffed up, guitar-driven piece of garage-pop that sea saws between discordance and fragments of melody. The track’s lyrics brim with alliteration and slanted rhymes, and as the instrumentation rises, the song rides out with a chorus of “oohs.” For the song’s video, Horsegirl and friends, many of whom will play the Horsegirl record release party, were given the reins to Lowenstein’s elementary school where they filmed all day. As a band that does everything as a unit, from songwriting to trading vocal duties and swapping instruments to sound and visual art design, this new video captures the essence of this trio’s special bond.

“That one was like a really weird one to record because it’s kind of dissonant. It’s also like really catchy and poppy, though. So it’s like a weird sort of mix of those things.” Penelope remembers  “But if something about it is slightly off, or something slightly out of tune, etc. it sounds really kind of messed up. So we had to experiment with that when we were recording it. We also did think that it seemed a bit different and out of place and then we ultimately decided it did make sense on the record. But it does, I guess, kind of feel like, kind of a package like compact within itself. It’s got all the different parts to like the outro.”

“People always react differently to that one, wasn’t it? One of your family members was all, ‘Dirtbag Transformation’ is like the most pop song; it’s the pop song on the record. It’s funny because every time someone’s heard the song played live, there’s a minute where the producer on the microphone or the guy doing the session is like ‘something’s out of tune.’ I’m that way. I know the chords are really weird.”

With a ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ inspired video, ‘The World of Pots and Pans’ is an enigmatic cut laced with waves of fuzzy guitars and bittersweet vocal runs littered with references to their musical inspirations.  “‘World of Pots and Pans’ is the first love song Horsegirl has ever written—or the closest thing to it. We wrote it in Penelope’s basement while preparing to leave for our first-ever tour. The lyrics, inspired by the misinterpretation of a Television Personalities lyric, imagine a (possibly unrequited) romance unfolding through references to Tall Dwarfs, Belle & Sebastian, and The Pastels.” They say. 

“Nora and I are just playing around with everything we can think of.  But yeah, ‘The World of Pots World of Pots and Pans’ was the most deliberate that the two of us have been like writing lyrics.” Penelope reveals “Nora had thought of this idea that we wanted to try and we sat down and very much picked every word very carefully. And yeah, it was sort of a new thing for us to try out.”

“That’s not usually how we write lyrics,” Nora adds

‘Billy‘ is another standout on the record, first released as a single last year it’s riven with three-part harmonies led by Cheng and Lowenstein, that sketches out the life of ‘Billy‘ a fictional character, written during the lockdown you can feel the frustration seeping out of every pore, caustic overdriven guitars and switching tempo changes of drummer Reece, surfing from a melodic spoken narrative, into a fantastic cacophony of noise pop that consumes you whole. With tinges of Throwing Muses and Sonic Youth, but ultimately just Horsegirl this is another step for this enormously exciting emerging outfit.

“We build off each other that was the process of writing that song.” Nora explains “It was similar to writing ‘Ballroom Dance Scene’ because Penelope had this more melodic fewer words sort of line that you came in with? And then I kind of just started doing something over it.

“Then you did your rap counterpoint,” Penelope replies with a smile.

“Yes. My rap counterpoint to counterpoint to your beautiful feminine vocals?” Nora adds. “The lyrics on there, they were kind of vivid sometimes… I don’t know, disgusting in a way. But yeah, they’re kind of meant to more so make you feel then, like get a certain point across to you.”

Horsegirl are such music fans I wonder what they’ve been enjoying lately? “I just watched the Brian Wilson biopic ‘Love And Mercy’ that stars, John Cusack I love him. “ Penelope tells me “So I’ve been down deep in ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile’, so I’ve been listening to those like crazy the last few days and then also this like, this, kind of like, Guided by Voices sounding record by this guy. P.”

“That’s, that’s why I’ve been listening to it as well!” Gigi agrees “The particular song ‘Tendency Right Foot Forward’, I actually cannot stop listening to that song. And then I also have been listening to all the Television Personalities, I was just listening to ‘Stop and Smell the Roses’ That’s a good one.”

“I’ve been listening to the Jonathan Richmond record, Jonathan. I’ve been liking that lately.” Nora adds “Also, Gong Gong Gong it’s super minimal. It’s just a bass and a guitar – it’s just these two guys. It’s called ‘Phantom Rhythm’, I like it; I think because they make it sound like there’s percussion in it, but there isn’t.”

” I feel like that might be influential on the new Horsegirl stuff. I get a feeling brewing for no drums and something more minimal. So we have been listening to a lot of Gong Gong Gong.” Penelope reveals “The internet has given us the ability to listen to some really weird stuff that we wouldn’t necessarily buy a whole record of really experimental. It was cool because we took advantage of finding very crazy stuff that was very important.”

Gigi explains they haven’t had much of a chance to work on new material lately, but when they do get together they start writing naturally.   “I think that like for us, we really have to be together to write and like, we have not been together consistently since like, September, but we had like a month we were together in December and we basically just naturally began to fall back into that process. So I think that like the second all three of us are together again consistently. There’s no way we’re not going to be writing new stuff. But it just hasn’t been able to happen.”

They’re about to head off on their biggest run of dates yet, their first North American headline tour, their first trip to Europe, they seem genuinely excited  “It feels awesome to be able to have this big tour to look forward to after everything that happened and for us and any traction that we got that was while we were in lockdown so could not play shows at all. So it’s just nice to be getting to this point. It will be crazy I’ve never even been to the UK and Europe, it will be crazy to be in a totally new place and people listening to our music!” Gigi enthuses.

Horsegirl will tour across Europe and much of the United States, playing most cities for the first time ever.

Horsegirl Tour Dates


10th: Stadt ohne Meer – Giessen, Germany
12th: Maifield Derby – Mannheim, Germany
16th: Trix Bar – Antwerp, Belgium
17th: Pop Up Du Label – Paris, France
21st: YES (Basement) – Manchester
23rd: The Dome – London
26th: Rough Trade – Bristol
28th: Bumann & Sohn – Cologne, Germany
29th – Monarch – Berlin, Germany


1st: Roskilde Festival 2022 – Denmark
2nd: Molotow Upstairs – Hamburg, Germany
15th: Wise Hall – Vancouver, (BC) Canada *
16th: Neumos – Seattle, USA*
17th: Polaris Hall – Portland, USA *
19th: Rickshaw Stop – San Francisco, USA *
21st: Zebulon – Los Angeles, USA *
22nd: The Echo – Los Angeles USA *
23rd: Constellation Room – Santa Ana, USA *
26th: Fine Line – Minneapolis, USA *
27th: High Noon Saloon – Madison, USA  *
30th – 31st: Mo Pop Festival – Detroit, USA
31st: Lollapalooza Music Festival – Chicago, USA


2nd: Rumba Cafe – Columbus, USA *
3rd: Grog Shop – Cleveland, USA  *
5th: Velvet Underground – Toronto, Canada *
6th: Petit Campus – Montreal, Canada *
10th: Bowery Ballroom – New York, USA *

* with Dummy

Versions of Modern performance is out now:

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.