For the past seven years, crunch-pop trio Cheap Girls has been one of the hardest working bands in the Midwest. Brothers Ian and Ben Graham and guitarist Adam Aymor have gone from self-releasing their work to sharing the stage with the likes of Against Me!, Bouncing Souls and essentially anyone who shares their love of blown-out power-pop. With five albums under their belt and Famous Graves on the way (May 13 via Xtra Mile), these guys have stayed true to their aspiration of having a band they could keep busy with. Fortunately, singer/bassist Ian Graham had enough time to chat with me about winter, playing music with his older brother, and Cheap Girls’ new album.
How’s the weather out there in Michigan? Apparently yesterday was the tenth rainiest day New York City has ever had.
Really? Well we had a little bit, it’s supposed to be thunderstorms and rain, but it’s just kind of gray. Kinda gloomy.
I’ve always wondered, what are Midwestern winters like? Because I’m from New Jersey so we have winter and snow, but how is it out there?
Well this year was easily the worst, for a while I thought maybe it was just the worst since I was a driver. But adding it all up it was easily the snowiest, iciest, coldest winter we’ve had in my entire life. It’s terrible. It was actually about the perfect time to make a record because of all those factors. It was a very, very long brutal winter…. I’ve ventured out to Chicago a lot in the last few months. My girlfriend just moved there, and so I was helping her find a place, and even at the beginning of March when she was just moving, it was just terrible weather. Like laughably bad.
Ha, that’s a good way to put it. So who, and what were you guys before Cheap Girls? Did you guys have another band, were you just working day jobs…what’s the story?
We were always in bands, my brother and I have been in bands since I was 11 and he was 13. We played, you know, the standard stuff for being in bands. We were just in punk bands, playing hall shows and stuff like that. And that’s actually how we met Adam, who was a couple years younger than us and was in the same boat where it was just playing in shitty punk bands. And we all definitely had day jobs, Adam and I were in college too and not enjoying that. So the band just kind of came out of that. All of a sudden none of us were in the bands that we had been in, and a couple years before that it was kind of like, “Well I don’t really like what I’m going to college for, I don’t think I’m going to do anything with it,” so might as well spend a lot of time doing this.
Did you guys end up finishing school, or did you drop out to pursue the band?
Well, we definitely didn’t finish. Yeah, we dropped out I guess in a way to pursue the band, but just more like the band was taking up more time and we were just enjoying it a lot more than any of the other stuff. But I think my brother, our drummer, has a general Associates Degree. He has the most college background of the members, but that’s the extent of it (laughs).
I know you and your brother have been playing together for a while. A lot of bands with brothers can end badly, but it seems like you guys have a great relationship and have the secret figured out. So what is your relationship like, and how has it been affected by the band?
We’re just brothers and we bicker and know every single thing about each other. I think there’s a certain awareness to the idea that we both know what will piss each other off. And I think it’s just a certain knowledge of knowing that if we take that route it’s not going be any fun for anyone. So we just don’t really fight. We just have a certain awareness. It’s not going to work if we bicker, so we just give each other proper space, and we have very different lifestyles outside of the band. He’s married and just had his first kid. He’s always been a very hard working, job-oriented person where I kind of don’t have any of that.
I think we try to keep it just to the point of knowing that we really like being in a band together, we’ve always wanted to be in a band that could stay busy and release records and things like that—and just being thankful enough to have that situation going on. And we also just don’t go out on tour for three months at a time, which really helps. There are tours, then we take a couple of weeks off, regroup and go get ready to do another tour. Taking breaks is key.
What’s been the best and worst part of touring with someone that knows everything about you?
Again, it goes back to just knowing what the other person needs, or doesn’t want to deal with, helping each other out. The best would be that we just find a way to make sure the other is happy and is getting what they need. And the worst part is as simple as: “Did you call mom?” Because we are the only two kids, it’s about trying to balance making our parents know we’re okay. (laughs) I can’t think of any other overpowering negatives. Another very good positive is I think it keeps you on you toes, to maybe not have too many drinks every night (laughs). You don’t want to bum the sibling out that you’re drunk all the time.
So, the new album. Did you go into it knowing that you were going to produce it yourself?
We knew it before we went in. I think part of it was curiosity more than anything. We had talked to producers, and there are a couple people we would have really liked to work with. But it seems like every time something would be on the right track it would be like, “Well we’d have to do it in this city at this time, and that’s not going to be the easiest thing in the world for us to do right now.” So it kind of came to the idea of, why don’t we just produce this one ourselves? You know, dissect things a little more rather than in the past where on our first couple records nobody really gets a “producer” title on those ones. We wrote the songs, went in, played them and then it was done.
This one, well the last one too, was more to dissect where you see how things can build or expand or flow. You kind of look a little more big picture about what the project is or what the songs are. And I think we wanted to be like, “Well we went with another person last time, why don’t we just try and exercise a back and forth here where somebody does one then we do one, and it was a lot of fun…And once we get to the studio, especially Adam, he’s always had a strong handle on that…he’s just kind of a wizard with guitar gear and sounds and things like that. It’s easily his number one priority overall. A lot of the sounds, that was something we wanted to be responsible for. And there wasn’t a lot of fear with that really, it was just a different approach.
Do you feel like the stakes are a little bit higher this time around? Any internal or external pressure you feel with the release of this album?
Yes and no. Nothing like, crippling, you know. Rather than pressure oriented, it’s typically more goal oriented, where of course you want your next record to build upon what you’ve done in the past. And a lot of it is simple as what cool bands do you want to play with once you put the record out, you’ve got to go back out on the road for eight or nine months, etc. It’s not like we bank on the first week sales changing our lives immediately. For us, we have these 10 or 12 new songs and we’re about to go back and do a lot more touring. It feels like the next chapter, I guess is one way to put it. Ideally you’re playing them for more people and more focused people that are directly interested. It goes back to day one even, where I guess it’s the excitement of seeing something grow. It doesn’t need to be this immediate thing where all of a sudden everything’s all set. Excitement is to just have new record and have new songs, and be able to play these at shows and expand what you are able to do on stage.
Have you noticed an increase of people who, as you said, are more focused, people who are showing up just to see you guys?
Fortunately yeah, it’s been cool. Especially being overseas, that was the first thing to be a mind-blowing kind of thing. I know the internet exists and it’s easy for people to hear about bands, but regardless of that it’s very cool to have people show up that you’ve never met before.
There’s a line in “Thought Senseless” that says, “Don’t spend your time trying to impress the enemy.” Who do you identify as the enemy, or is that just a general idea?
A friend of mine was asking me the exact same thing. (laughs). It kind of threw me. I don’t think I have a ton of enemies. I think it can be a generalized idea, just overall shit-talkers in life. I guess it’s more a line about us trying to please someone or something that simply isn’t there for a good reason in the first place. I think it can be as simple as that.
What is your advice for people who feel like the world has knocked them over?
Jeez, I don’t know. I guess just keep going about it, keep pushing, but acknowledge that maybe that might be the case sometimes. All you can really do is keep moving. Most of those bad things are pretty temporary anyway, I think. Just do something you want to do!