Interview: Cheap Girls Singer/Bassist Ian Graham on Writing New Music and Keeping Touring All in the Family
There's something about guitar-based, pop-oriented rock music that has allowed it to stand the test of time. Big Star, Cheap Trick, the Replacements, the Lemonheads, Gin Blossoms, Superchunk... the list goes on and on. None of these acts felt obligated to rely on over-the-top instrumentation or bells and whistles. All, however, remained true to crafting infectious melodies coupled with sharp guitars and big hooks. Lansing, Michigan's Cheap Girls has taken a cue from all the above and managed to churn out its own blend of punchy pop, supplemented with '90s guitar buzz and witty-as-hell lyrics. A to Z recently caught up with singer/bassist Ian Graham while he was at home in Lansing, biding time between U.S. tours.
Michael Dauphin:"I understand you guys are working on a new album. How has that been coming along? Do you have anything lined up as far as a producer or record label?
Ian Graham: We're taking our time and writing right now. We just recently we figured out who's producing it. We have some label options. We haven't really decided anything though. It's always a weird feeling to agree on something before the record's done. We like the idea of actually presenting the album to somebody.
We were talking to [a label] and it became a little weird. When they would try to make suggestions, it really just made me unproductive. I don't know, it's just not really my speed. I'd rather write the songs and if they like them, great. But there have been situations where they have said, "Well, try this." And it's like "Well, maybe go fuck yourself."
You're about to hit the road with Two Cow Garage and Laura Stevenson & the Cans. Considering you guys tend to spend more time touring with punk bands, do you find it refreshing when you're part of an eclectic lineup like this?
You know, the punk thing isn't necessarily a conscious effort. It's just where our personal roots and friends are well acquainted. But it is exciting to have a change of pace with any type of band we tour with. Anything's welcome. We did a tour with Laura back in the fall, and I've known her since I was about eighteen. And Two Cow, we have played a few shows with them, and we've always gotten along really well.
Cheap Girls, "Ft. Lauderdale"
Your brother Ben plays drums and started the band with you. Did your parents encourage you pursue music, or was it something you guys did on your own?
Our parents were definitely involved, and we both get along with them really well. They always had great records lying around. So we share their tastes to an extent. But we always had music around and they never told us not to do it. We've been playing together since a very early age. I think they got my brother, who's a couple years older than me, a drum set for his fifth birthday. And a couple years after that, they got me a guitar. Some of my earliest memories are playing music with Ben. That's just what we did.
As far as touring with him, it's pretty natural, and it's not usually a fight. We get to swap off calls to the parents to let them know we're alright. And we look out for each other, obviously. I like it.
In terms of writing, what are some of your biggest influences outside of music?
I read a lot. I've always had a definite interest in writing and reading. I have a lot of "stages." At first I was like, "I want to be a writer!" But then I didn't ever write anything. Then I was like, "I want to be a songwriter!" So here I am. I really like writing, and expressing things, and putting words together and shit like that. But as far as the context itself, it's usually based on experience, or maybe a reminder to not do certain things.
There's a sense of humor in that sticks out in your lyrics. Do you find it tricky to write funny songs without them coming off as jokes?
Uhm... [pause] I don't know if there's a conscious effort necessarily. I think it's mostly because I'm kind of a smartass, and it's inevitable that it sneaks in [to my writing]. There are some more personal songs that tend to lean that way more. But, yeah, thank you for that.
Cheap Girls are at Off Broadway on Sunday, March 13, with Two Cow Garage, Laura Stevenson & The Cans and Men Working in Trees. 7:30 p.m. 21-plus: $8. Under 21: $11