The newest members of the “difficult band to Google” club, Toronto’s Little Girls (Josh McIntyre) has been making indie waves, recently signing to Paper Bag Records. Always a fan of the one man band, especially one that falls within the murky waters of the post-punk revival, I’ve had their Tambourine EP on repeat and am constantly mesmerized by McIntyre’s fuzzy vocals and dense sound. All the more exciting is that the first full-length album, Concepts, is set for release today on Paper Bag Records.
The Toronto native, from the “admittedly dull” Beaches area, took a time out before his sound check at the Velvet Underground show last week to chat with Ca Va Cool about his music, his past, and the key to a mind-blowing live show.
Sabrina: It’s all been moving pretty fast for you, hasn’t it?
Josh McIntyre: Yes. I literally recorded the songs in January or February, and a mere four days later there were labels talking to me.
Sabrina: Was it because you posted your tracks on Gorilla vs. Bear?
Josh: Yeah, it was sort of a fluke-type thing. I used to read that blog, I still do. I randomly went to the comment section and posted the little MySpace URL, just as a joke really. After that, stuff just started happening.
Sabrina: So, where were you a year ago, in contrast?
Josh: A year ago? I was working at the H&M on Queen Street West. It was the worst.
Sabrina: To support the music habit, or life in general?
Josh: Life in general. I guess a bit of both. I was doing my other band called Pirate/Rock. I was playing the drums and singing a little bit. Little Girls is really just a side project, just my own little thing.
Sabrina: Well, it has turned into quite the project. A few sold out EPs and now Concepts is about to hit the shelves. What was the concept behind your debut album?
Josh: A lot of people have been asking about this, and it’s not exactly a concept record. It’s just a record of all of my songs, from the beginning to now. It’s a collection of, well, I’m not sure what the right word is for this…
Sabrina: Your repertoire?
Josh: Yes! That’s exactly what it is. My repertoire from January 2009 until now.
Sabrina: So where do all the songs come from thematically? Are they autobiographical or do you draw from other sources of inspiration?
Josh: It’s a mix of everything. It’s sort of biographical, but not always. The theme is basically youth, anytime between the ages of 4 and 15. I recorded it originally to sound like a bunch of kids playing instruments. That’s why there’s a lot of material on each take. Also, I can hear my own mistakes on the record. I like it because it gives the record a more playful feel. It’s sort of what I was going for, thrown together and spontaneous.
Sabrina: And you did this all by yourself, right?
Sabrina: How did that change when you tried to bring the sound from the controlled space of your home studio to a live experience?
Josh: It was definitely weird, because I recorded almost everything on the first take. I would pick up a guitar, play a riff and say, “Oh, I like that.” Then it was time to actually put a band together, because I was being offered all these shows and I thought, “Okay, I need to do something about this.” But then, teaching the band members was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I had forgotten certain guitar parts. I had to be listening, figuring out what I supposedly played just a month ago. I was recording with a completely different mindset: “I just have to play this once, I never have to recreate this again, it’s just a song, that’s it.” Now I have to teach four people how to recreate that.
Sabrina: Did you have to change your actual recording technique after you signed onto the label?
Josh: No, not at all. The final record is all still done in my home studio. The only difference is that it’s mastered by somebody, but the rest of it was under my control.
Sabrina: Where did you get all your musical background from? Is it all self-taught?
Josh: Most of it is. I took guitar lessons when I was about 12, for a year or two. Then with that I started to get into punk and learning my own chords, figured out playing by ear, and that brought me to bass. When I was starting in my old band Pirate/Rock, I just wanted to get back into music again, because at that point my other bands had broken up. And I had this old drum kit in my basement, which belonged to a friend. So I just picked it up and figured out how to play drums.
Sabrina: How did you go about the idea for the vocals? I think that they’re one of the most striking parts of the album.
Josh: I haven’t really told many people how I do it. The whole idea behind the vocals was to try not to make it sound like a guy just singing on top of a band. I wanted texture, layers of sound. So the vocals are more of a harmony than a normal track. The vocal melodies accompany the music as opposed to me spitting out lyrics.
It took us a while to figure out how to translate that live. Up until this show, really. Working with sound-guys can make it hard to get exactly the sound I’m looking for. I have a new pedal, and I’m filtering the vocals through a delay. It’s more the way I want it now, as opposed to having to rely on people to tweak it that way. I mean, some shows sounded really good, but then others not as much. People can be set in their ways. The sound-guys would crank the vocals up, and I prefer it more buried in the mix.
Sabrina: I was just thinking about your influences. I have read that you listen to a wide range of music; the post-punk and new wave that we can hear on the record, and a lot of hip hop. Do you find that your sound is influenced at all by hip hop?
Josh: Not so much the sound, but in the way it’s recorded. I used to make hip hop beats two, three years ago. That was all I did for a while. So when I was making the songs, it was a bit like making a hip hop record. I would start with a drum sample, then go for a bass line, then add samples, loops, and guitar lines, so it builds like a hip hop track would, but with my own post-punk take on it.
Sabrina: Why did you move in the post-punk direction instead of putting out a hip hop album?
Josh: Well, even when I was making hip-hop on my own, I was still playing in Pirate/Rock, which is I suppose more of a post-punk thing. That brought it all together. I mean, I have played in punk bands, metals bands, I’ve just done everything with whatever music I’m enjoying at the moment. I’ve found a steady little happy medium now where I’m taking a little piece of everything I want and putting it into one sound. It’s pretty cool.
Sabrina: A lot of people have been focusing on how dark the overall feeling of the record is. I agree but I think there’s some uplifting moments on there, like ‘Glowing’. How do you see it?
Josh: I put ‘Glowing’ last on the record because the song before it, ‘Last Call’, is the darkest song I’ve written. The Tambourine EP ended with that song. So I wanted it to not just be a bummer record. I didn’t want people to put down their headphones and say, “Aw man, now I’m just depressed.” It brings everything up before the finish.
Sabrina: What ends up making a good show for you, now that you’re more into the swing of things?
Josh: I don’t want to say the audience, but that does make a big difference. We’ve played a few shows where there are a lot of people there, but they’re all just kind of standing around watching. And that’s fine, but some of the most fun shows we’ve had haven’t even been at real venues. I mean, playing loft parties or houses. We played this one show for North by Northeast at our friend’s house on Augusta in Kensington Market, and it was just in a basement with exposed metal pipes on the ceiling. While we were playing, the crowd was getting so wild, people were holding onto the ceiling, and the roof was dipping in. I was thinking, my God, I might die at this concert. But shows like that are the most fun. We played one with Wavves in sort of a similar space, and that was another crazy experience.
Sabrina: How long have you been touring for at this point?
Josh: It’s been back and forth. We did the first tour, went to New York and Boston, Montreal and Ottawa, came back for a bit and went out again. We’re playing Chicago on Saturday.
Sabrina: Now that you mentioned New York, I think of Brooklyn. That’s where you first broke out, isn’t it?
Josh: Yeah, definitely! I don’t know how that happened, really. The first two labels that put out my records were based out of Brooklyn.
Sabrina: As a result, do you relate to that music scene better?
Josh: I guess I relate to it in the sense that a lot of bands in Brooklyn are doing along the same lines as what I’m doing, or the other way around. Musically, I do fit in better there. We played the Captured Tracks/Woodsist Festival; it was all bands on those labels like the Crystal Stilts. It was amazing. But I have a bit of both scenes going on now. Toronto is where I live, where I’ve grown up and everything. So I enjoy the scene, but the New York scene is pretty cool too.
Sabrina: And next up is a tour with You Say Party! We Say Die!?
Josh: In November, which should be cool.
Alison Preece: One last question: what was the first show that you played ever?
Josh: My first show ever? That would have been at a community centre at the Beaches when I was in grade 9. I was in a really shitty metal band called Ficus. It was hilarious.
Sabrina: Were you playing all original material?
Josh: Oh yeah, I could play around two chords on the guitar, I had just picked it up. Our drummer knew nothing. We were pretty much just making a bunch of noise and having fun.
Sabrina: On that note of noisy fun, we’re going to grab our earplugs. I have a feeling its going to be a loud show.
Josh: It’s going to be loud, I’m forewarning you.
Tags: Little Girls