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Girl Ray

English Breakfast

Sep 13, 2017 Issue #61 - Grizzly Bear Photography by James Loved (for Under the Radar) Bookmark and Share

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At the heart of North London trio Girl Ray is a massive love for puns. From their debut album title Earl Grey to the band name itself, Girl Ray, Poppy Hankin, Iris McConnell, and Sophie Moss are amused by a good play on words. “It’s actually Poppy’s brother that came up with [our band name] and it’s meant to be a pun on the artist Man Ray,” McConnell explains. More than a pun, it’s an inside joke between Girl Raythey don’t even care that it’s only funny to them. McConnell and Moss speak at ease laughing at the interchangeability of made up phrase “chalt and Steve” and “salt and cheese.” It’s a testament to their closeness, as they playfully create a world only a grade school inner circle would understand. Their quiet, sweetly-sung harmonies are hushed like secrets between friends. For listeners, it makes listening to Girl Ray a nostalgic journey back through childhood.

Hankin, McConnell, and Moss formed a friendshipand later the bandat Finchley’s Fortismere Schoola place that also bred talents like Jess Glynne, Rod Stewart, and Ray Davies of the Kinks. Before they took their A-Levels, the trio released their first single in 2016, “I’ll Make This Fun.” While they haven’t gone full-on pop like Glynne or the power-rock route like Davies, Girl Ray channel ‘70s singer/songwriters like Carole King and psych-pop à la Todd Rundgren, filtered through the indie pop found on the famous 1986 British compilation C86, with modern references including Cate Le Bon and Veronica Falls (Girl Ray will just tell you it’s “shambolic indie pop”).

Wordplay once again came to the forefront of Girl Ray on Earl Grey. “We named it Earl Grey because we just thought it would sound funny if people said ‘Girl Ray Earl Grey,’ which we were just being cheeky, really,” explains Hankin. “When we first started the band at 17, Sophie and I went on a school trip with our friend Eddie for geography, and I just remember he would always just reverse the letters in words. So, he reversed the letters and then did that with our band name Girl Ray.” The result was the band’s idea for their debut album title, and two years later they stayed true to that. While the trio aren’t necessarily tea aficionados like the title might make you believe, Moss later realized that Earl Grey subconsciously held personal significance. “I may have mentioned to my mother that it was like an homage to her, because she really likes Earl Grey tea,” she notes.

Although music came naturally to the girls, it wasn’t necessarily genetic; but, they do credit some of their parents for some of their skills. Moss found inspiration in her parents’ hardworking nature, while Hankin found her passion for writing from her English professor mother, and McConnell’s textile designer mother and decorator/artist father fueled her passion for the arts.

Girl Ray’s folk-tinged pop melodies that have seeped into their songwriting weren’t an accident though. “I grew up mainly only listening to what my mom was listening to, which was George Michael, ABBA, and pop hits,” says Hankin. “We’d just sing along very loud in the car.” McConnell and Moss grew up listening to Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Daft Punk, which didn’t necessarily correlate with the music Girl Ray began making.

On Earl Grey, the band finds themselves in psych-pop territory. And while they kept that free-flowing notion, their debut isn’t just a collection of songsit’s a cohesive body of work.

When Hankin was told the band was going to be recording their album in a few months, she was bursting with creativity. So much so that she ended up putting a 13-minute song in the middle of the album, “Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove).” “I just kind of got a bit ahead of myself and ended up knitting rows of different song ideas I had together, and it just sort of turned into this like 13-minute thing,” says Hankin. “And I was listening to a lot of Pink Floyd as well, so that last section where it sort of builds upI just went a bit crazy, really.”

With three-layered, experimental pop harmonies, Girl Ray are challenging to classify. But while critics are often quick to group all-female bands together, Girl Ray finds it stifling. “Sometimes we get compared to like random girl groups that don’t sound like us at all,” Moss comments. “That’s just a little insulting.” Chances are with the release of Earl Grey, the band won’t need to pay any mind to those comparisonstheir sound will have proven to be something of note all on its own.

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Summer 2017 Issue (July/August/September 2017), which is out now.This is its debut online.]

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