Raleigh rock club regulars might already be acquainted with the garage-punk foursome Barren Girls, even if they don't know it yet. And with a Merge Records stamp on the band's debut 7-inch, Hell Hymns, due April 2, it's likely a lot more people will meet the Barren Girls soon.
The band formerly known as Lazy Janes impressed Merge Records co-owner Mac McCaughan so much at last year's Hopscotch Music Festival that he decided to release the band's debut. Judging by the recorded result, it's not hard to imagine why: The EP delivers four raw, driving songs that match the melody of early Misfits hits with the forcefulness of The Murder City Devils.
The roster of singer/guitarist Carla Wolff, bassist Fran Araya, drummer Ashley Van Eijk and keyboardist Jenny Williams hasn't let its recent geographic division (Wolff and Araya live in Richmond, Va., while Van Eijk and Williams remain in Raleigh) spoil the band's momentum.
We caught up with Wolff to talk about the Barren Girls' future plans, including a headlining gig at Kings on Feb. 9.
INDY WEEK: I understand the Merge signing came about after Mac McCaughan saw the band, when you were still the Lazy Janes, playing at Hopscotch. How did it come together after that?
CARLA WOLFF: I guess he had looked us up online. That's how we found out there was another Lazy Janes [a folk duo from Round Rock, Texas]. He was having a hard time finding us. He got in touch with Ashley Christensen, since I ran Fox Liquor Bar. Through her, he got in touch with me via email.
Were you looking for a label, or was it completely out of the blue?
It was completely out of the blue. We'd been a band for a little over a year, but we did it for fun. We wanted to put a demo out, but we were just going to do cassette tapes ourselves. Then he got in touch, and it all fell into place after that.
So how did the recording for the Hell Hymns EP come together?
We had actually recorded it before Mac ever got in touch with us. That was our attempt at putting out a demo. We recorded with William Evans from Whatever Brains on a four-track in our space. When Mac contacted me about doing an EP, he asked if we had any recordings, so I sent him those. He just really liked the raw energy of 'em, so he wanted to put it out as-is.
What was the lineup on the EP?
It was me singing and playing guitar. Ashley, who's now drumming, was actually on bass at the time. Jenny [was] on keyboards, which is the same. And then Emily Acuna was playing drums for us.
There was another Lazy Janes. Did that inspire the new name?
We didn't want to change our name. We'd been Lazy Janes from the start and we liked it, but we knew we had to come up with a new name before they would put the 7-inch out for us. So we were trying to find something creepy and suited for us. Barren Girls kind of stuck.
Lazy Janes was named after an anonymous corpse left rotting for weeks on a couch in the Philadelphia squat where she overdosed on heroin. Was there any such fortuitous inspiration with this name?
We just totally picked it out of the blue, unfortunately. I loved the story for Lazy Janes, but this one does not have as cool of a backstory. I'll try and make one up.
Since putting the EP together, have you been working on any new material, or making plans for after the record comes out?
Definitely. We have enough material other than the four songs off the EP that we're almost ready to do a full-length. Hopefully, after we do this tour, we can go to work on recording a full-length.
Are there any thoughts as to whether that would be another Merge release or where you would record?
We haven't even talked about that. It's just a 7-inch deal. I'm sure if it goes well, they would be more than happy to back us, but we kind of just left it at the 7-inch for now.
How does it feel for your band, coming from a more punk and garage background, to be putting out a record with Merge, this indie rock monolith?
It's really awesome, and we're all super shocked that they even gave a shit about us. But it's really cool because it's a label with a lot of connections. They've hooked us up on booking a tour, and they've just taken us under their wing. They're taking us to South by Southwest. It makes everything way easier. I'm so used to doing everything DIY, it's really cool to have a team of people doing everything for you.
Has it been more difficult having the band split between Richmond and Raleigh? Has that even been a factor?
It has been more difficult because we only play once a week now, as opposed to when I was in Raleigh we were playing three times a week, pretty much. But it works for our writing process because, for the most part, I'll write the songs and then bring them to the girls. So I spend a lot of time playing alone and figuring stuff out now, as opposed to being drunk at the space and half-assing it.
You mentioned a tour and going to South by Southwest; are you building the tour around that?
We have a tour already booked from April 18 to May 5. We're going out for almost three weeks. But since we're playing South by Southwest, we're booking a weeklong tour on the way there and back.
How has that adjustment been? You mentioned this being a band you kind of just started for fun and now you've got all this activity ahead of you.
The idea of not having to work and being able to tour—that's the dream. It's really cool to have a band actually come to fruition and be able to do what you always talked about wanting to do, have it be tangible instead of just something you bullshit about. I've played in bands since I was 15, and I've always, always wanted to be able to just play music for a living. The fact that it's getting closer is really awesome.