Over the last year, Meghan Remy has gone through a surprising transformation. “Gem,” the latest album she recorded under the name U.S. Girls, moves away from the earlier, lo-fi and noisy bedroom recordings that dominated her first few albums toward an assured and warped pop sound – imagine Phil Spector’s bombast filtered through the stomp of T. Rex and the sonic experimentation of Brian Eno. Her voice, once buried in feedback, emerges through the haze to reveal a newly confident singer and songwriter interested in exploring a wide range of topics including love, longing, and the politics of the sex industry. ARTINFO caught up with Remy on the phone Thursday as she made her way toward Atlanta with collaborator and husband Slim Twig (Max Turnbull) for a show that night. We spoke about playing solo versus with a full band, being a visual artist, and David Bowie.
You played with a full band on your European tour, but you’re back to playing solo on this tour. Do you prefer one to the other?
I don’t know. It would be nice to somehow combine the two. But I enjoy playing alone. Playing with a band kind of rekindled my love for playing alone [laughs]. I don’t know, I think it maybe gave me some confidence or something.
After this tour, you plan on starting to record songs for a new record. Where do you plan to move sonically after “Gem?”
I think I definitely won’t make a record that’s as pop as “Gem” was, but take what I learned on “Gem” and apply that and kind of try to mesh the old with the new – the old way of doing things with the new way of doing things, meet somewhere in the middle. I definitely won’t get rid of the clarity in the vocals, at least. That’s something that I think is here to stay.
What about working with different collaborators as opposed to doing it all on your own?
I think it will be a mix of both. I always do a little bit of the work on my own but I’ll work with Slim Twig again. He’ll most likely be producing the record and then the same people who played on “Gem” will play on the record if I need them. They’re just around, you know?
What is the collaboration like between you and Slim Twig?
It depends on the song. If it’s a cover he’s usually there from the beginning because he actually knows how to play instruments whereas I just know how to fuck around on instruments. So if it’s a cover, Max is there from the beginning recording all the parts for the song and bringing the guys in and telling them what to do. A lot of the times I would just record the vocals separately, alone, over what was recorded. Other times I would bring him – “Slim Baby” was a demo with a drum machine and vocals, and he helped build that into the song it became on the record. But the instrumental things on “Gem” I recorded alone.
How has your environment changed the songs? I know you live in Toronto now [after living and recording Chicago] – has that had an effect on your songwriting and recording process?
Yeah, definitely. It’s different because I used to always record at home, and I don’t really do that anymore – we just record in our rehearsal space. I think it’s made me budget my time a little more wisely. The hours that I do go in I try to get something done and, you know, not fuck around too much, whereas when I had unlimited time at home I would just be experimenting a lot, which has value. I have boxes and boxes of tapes with me just noodling, you know?
Do you ever go back to those tapes and pull out ideas?
Yeah, I do. I did that on the “KRAAK” record. There’s definitely good sounds on those tapes that can be the start of songs, or melodies, things like that.
You mentioned cover songs earlier. What’s the process of choosing a song to cover? Are they songs that speak to you at that moment?
Any song I like I want to cover [laughs]. I don’t have anything I want to cover at the moment, though – maybe a David Bowie song or something.
Berlin-period Bowie or Spiders from Mars?
Someone told me once, and it’s always stuck in my mind, to cover that song “Move On.” That’s a good song. I’m just getting into David Bowie fully. I always thought he was fine and I had a couple of his records, but Max really loves David Bowie so I’m learning a lot more about him. He’s way better than I ever imagined. Except for the new song.
You don’t like the new song?
I’m not sure [laughs]. I’ll have to hear the whole record.
The visual aspect to all your work is really strong – from the album covers to the music videos. When do visual ideas enter the mix for you?
I think about things visually all the time in my life, not just in regards to my music. I’ve kind of always thought in photographs or possible music videos or, you know, composition or something. That’s the way my brain works. The ideas for the videos always come after the song, though.
A lot of the videos so far you’ve made on your own.
Yeah, I really like it. It’s really stuck with me and I want to experiment more with that. I need to learn how to edit myself – I have help editing now – but yeah, I have plans to shoot something on film, which I’ve never done. I want to try to do that and just continue to make lots of videos for all the records. It makes the record more interactive and come to life instead of just being, you know, plastic.
What are you shooting on film? Another video for the album?
I don’t know what it would be yet – I have to get the money to do it. It’s really expensive. It’ll be Super-8mm. Max did a video for his record “Sof’ Sike,” which I helped out with and I really liked how it works and how it came out – it looks so good. But it costs hundreds and hundreds of dollars. I think I would just save up the money and just shoot something, I don’t know what it would be – a music video or just a little trial. We’ll see how it goes.
You’re a visual artist as well. Do you see your art and music as part of the same project?
I feel like, more and more, I’m getting into visual things. I would say I definitely spend way more time working on collages than my music. I think the music is secondary; music just happens to be the thing people pay attention to. I would like that to change, but yeah, I don’t really know anything about the art world or how to get involved with that except for just making things at home and putting them on my blog and giving them away.
U.S. Girls will play at Death by Audio in Brooklyn on February 16.