When Harmony Tividad first tried recording her new song “Love333,” she was horrified.
“It was the worst demo I’ve ever made in my entire life,” says Tividad, adding a high-pitched chirping noise by way of illustration. “I’m not kidding, it sounded like chipmunk music through a trashcan.”
Avery Tucker, Tividad’s bandmate in Girlpool, and producer Yves Rothman were intrigued when they heard the demo, which she had written in Ableton and extensively tinkered with. But it wasn’t until Tividad started playing the song by herself on acoustic guitar that they realized that all it needed was to be an old-fashioned Girlpool duet, a la their 2015 debut “Chinatown.”
“Love333,” which features Tividad and Tucker trading verses and singing harmony during a chorus that goes “I was looking at something that looked just like love,” ended up becoming the closing track of Forgiveness, the stunning fourth album from the Los Angeles duo, due out this spring. But the traditional “Chinatown vibe” of the song is an aberration on the record — which is, instead, the most surprising, confrontational, and daring album of the band’s career.
After opening with a one-two shock-punch of the glitchy drum programming on “Nothing Gives Me Pleasure” (opening couplet: “Do you even want me if I even have to ask?/Break it to me gently with your fingers up my ass”) and the harsh industrial sounds of “Lie Love Lullaby,” Forgiveness settles into a carefully balanced collection of textured electronica and writerly folk-pop.
That balance — between what might crudely be defined as new Girlpool versus old Girlpool — was something Tucker says he and Tividad “talked about every day, probably about every song,” during the recording process.
“It was something we had to wrestle with,” he says. “It was like having a balanced scale and adding things on each side. We were measuring out the feel.”
Any band with a few albums under their belt starts to wrestle with past sounds and the expectations that come with early success, but for Girlpool, the stakes were higher. Their debut record, Before the World Was Big, was released when Tividad and Tucker were 20 and 19, respectively, leading to a wave of acclaim for the young duo as a folk-punk second-coming. In the seven long years since then, Tucker and Tividad have worked to expand their debut’s sound with varying degrees of success, all while undergoing profound personal change.
Both Tivdad and Tucker feel removed from the version of themselves that made Before the World Was Big, a disconnect that serves as a fundamental creative tension driving their work together. Just the other day, Tucker says, he was checking out Girlpool’s Apple Music page to see if the band’s new promo photos had been updated, and some of those older songs started playing. His reaction: These feel like nursery rhymes. On the new song “See Me Now,” he anxiously wonders if a lover has “looked at old pictures of my band.”
“It’s so difficult to accept that that is part of our discography,” says Tucker, who transitioned after the release of the band’s 2017 album, Powerplant. “People have asked me, ‘Do you ever think about deleting the old music?’ Because it threatens me that that could be the way that I am depicted. It’s such an intense practice: allowing to bear a reality that once was, to honor it and not resist it or feel shameful or my self, literally of our selves.”
“It can be so frustrating to look at the streaming [numbers] and see that Before The World Was Big is getting equal to or more than the new stuff,” Tucker continues. “There’s a part of me that’s like, ‘Oh my god, I feel trapped in my past.’ But we have to trust that there’s some lesson in letting that be. I think being visible is part of the power in Girlpool. Because, for me, there’s shame, a little bit, in that music. It feels embarrassing and it feels really feminine. But there’s also such deep love and sweetness and tenderness, because it was so innocent, and our hearts were so open to one another, and so vulnerable, and we were so young. It’s actually so cool that we were so down to open the fuck up.”
The group’s follow-up, Powerplant, was, unlike so many second records, the product of an effortless burst of creativity that electrified and gently updated the band’s first album. “That was just channeled right out of us,” says Tucker. “It was all cohesive and immediate and perfect to us at the time. We didn’t have tension with it. It wasn’t hard.”
The band anticipated a similarly breezy process for their more straightforwardly indie rock third LP, What Chaos Is Imaginary, but with a few years of perspective, they now realize that album could have benefited from more time and attention.
“Just like how in life it feels awkward to be transitional, that record cycle felt awkward,” says Tucker. “It was like, ‘Where’s the ground on the other side of this?’”
For Tucker and Tividad, finally finding solid ground meant collaborating with Rothman, an alt-pop producer who’s worked with Sunflower Bean and Yves Tumor, and simply taking more time to write, record, and conceptualize their next move.
“This was the first time we were really thinking about the [album as a] whole,” says Tividad. “In the past, it’s been kind of touch and go, and we haven’t really had the space to experiment with what we wanted the song to do.”
Despite some setbacks, like the time when Tucker’s dog accidentally knocked over a hard-drive in the studio, fully erasing the progress on three songs, the result is an album that feels like something Girlpool has been working towards their entire career. Forgiveness is dynamic in tone and scope, with songs ranging from the murky goth-pop of “Country Star” (Tucker: “that was basically a fantasy storyline I wrote about hooking up with a cowboy”), to the gorgeous and devastating ballad “Butterfly Bulletholes,” to the lead single “Faultlines,” which Tividad says she wrote in 30 minutes after waking up with a concerningly bad hangover.
“I felt this existential weight on my shoulders,” she says. “I felt like the way I was treating my body and mind was destroying me. I was reckoning with how the only thing that made me feel like life was worth living was ultimately degrading to my soul.”
Forgiveness is a corporeal album, rooted in desire and flesh and absolution and transgression. The word “sin” appears on four separate songs; at one point, the band even considered calling the album Sin Boy.
Instead, they landed on Forgiveness, which Tividad says better encapsulated “the vast emotional playground we were creating.”
The idea of forgiveness also resonated with Tucker. “So much about pain and anger comes from lack of controlling [or] changing it, and the only thing that alleviates that is to forgive it and let it go,” he says.
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“It’s the only way to escape, the opposite of resistance,” Tividad adds.
Tucker interjects with one final thought: “It’s the only way to move forward.”