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West Indian Girl

Oct 02, 2007 West Indian Girl Bookmark and Share

In 2004, West Indian Girl was two fellows: bassist Fran Ten and vocalist/guitarist Robert James, who worked out of a studio in downtown Los Angeles. In 2007, West Indian Girl is a six-person collective with the inclusion of vocalist Mariqueen Maandig, drummer Mark Lewis, and keyboardists Nathan Van Hala and Amy White. They still work out of the same studio, hence the title of their second long-player, 4th and Wall, the successor to 2004’s self-titled debut. Since the release of West Indian Girl, the group has done countless shows, learned more than they expected about songwriting, and embraced working with more ideas, inputs, and arguments. Ten takes a break from his day job to drink tea and enlighten listeners on why a group that doesn’t get to the beach that often has so many songs that reference it.

Under the Radar: As a songwriter, what do you see as the big differences between working as a duo and as a group?

Fran Ten: The first record was all studio. This record, the songs are able to gestate more through having a live band. A lot of the songs start out on the road and playing live shows. This is more band-oriented. We rounded everything out to figure out our sound. A hundred-something shows and we can finally say, this is the band, now we’re a live act. Back then we were just a studio project.

UTR: Is it harder to settle on ideas for how the songs should sound because of the number of people involved?

Ten: It’s harder in that everyone’s got an opinion. You’ve got to know when to pick your battles. [Maandig] and [White] were really passionate about using this one keyboard hook line in this song that [James] and I were always on the fence about. But then you’re like ‘Whoa, these people are ready to fight over this they feel so strongly about it,’ so you’re like, ‘Okay, let’s go with that.’ That’s nice because you’re always questioning yourself. Sometimes my perception is so skewed I can’t make sense of it. If you go in the studio with a preconceived notion about how something should sound, you’re setting yourself up for not a good time with arguments. You have to go in there thinking it’s going to get changed around a million times. The whole thing about it is that you’re going to end up with something that you never thought you were going to end up with. And that’s the creative process. You have to be open and understanding that your very, very precious baby is going to get changed and it’s not going to be what you think it’s going to be. That’s what’s great about it because there’s originality and you can’t predict that. That’s the good thing about writing with a bunch of people. It’s going to be creative. How can it not be? It’s like taking a picture over to someone and saying paint this, paint this, paint this, there’s no way you’re going to know what you thought it was going to be.

UTR: What do you see as the big differences between your first record and this one?

Ten: There’s so much influence from being in a band rather than just two people living in a studio. We’ve had that whole experience of playing and touring, writing songs and having everyone’s input to varying degrees. The songs aren’t just, ‘Okay, here’s a song and we’re going to play it.’ They all go through the process of being rehearsed, taken out, brought back in because they didn’t work on this show, on and on and on over again, until finally it comes around. Even at the last minute in the studio, we’re changing a couple of things, but they’re more well-rounded.

UTR: Is there a certain progression you are noticing from West Indian Girl to 4th and Wall?

Ten: There’s only one song, “Back To You,” that could have been on the last record. It would have fit naturally. There are some darker themes that are starting to emerge. After a while, maybe you just write too many songs about beach and water. You’ve got to balance it out. Plus where we are downtown, maybe that is also weighing on us in a way. It’s definitely the farthest thing from the beach you can imagine. Some of those themes—like the last song “Rise From The Dead”—is definitely a departure for us. At first I always wanted to be hey, happy, beachy. Life isn’t like that. We do want to go in different directions, but we’re not forcing it. If it happens, it’s going to happen naturally. You’ve got to have an open mind.

UTR: How often do you actually get to the beach? How come there are so many ocean references in the songs?

Ten: Not enough. Maybe we know the beach is so close. They’re just subtle references. It wasn’t planned. It just sort of happened. More of it has to do with the titles rather than what it’s actually about. It’s more in bigger picture titles, like chapter titles. I don’t think we consciously set out to do it, it’s just kind of ended up happening.



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