Girls On Grass (from left to right): Nancy Polstein, Dave Mandl, Barbara Endes, Sean Eden
Interviewed by Harry Kaplan
TwangriLa: First I want to say that I love the album, it is fantastic.
Barbara: Thank you so much! We really appreciate that!
TwangriLa: My pleasure. So I was reading your bio and I think the story of how you all met and formed the band is pretty interesting. Can you go into a little more detail?
Barbara: Sure, The first one I met was Sean (Eden, of Luna), actually. I met him a little while after I moved to New York in 2004/2005. I saw an ad on Craigslist for a bass player for this band called Elk City. Do you know them?
TwangriLa: No, I don’t.
Barbara: They are a cool pop band based in Jersey, and Sean was playing with them at the time – actually, he still does play with them. I ended up joining that band and recorded with them… I also went on a couple of tours with them. I left maybe four or five years later to form a classic country band, called The Weal And Woe. While I was playing in that band, Nancy (Polstein), our current drummer, saw us play. Her boyfriend became a fan of ours and I would see him at shows. Then a friend of mine took me to see a show Nancy was playing with The Gowanus All-Stars, Spike Priggen’s band, at Rock Shop one night. I was totally blown away. And around that time I had been writing some songs that didn’t quite fit that classic country band format.
So, a few months later, I got the nuts up to ask her if she wanted to play with me and start a new project. Eventually, she said yes – she was really busy at the time. I sent her a demo of the song “Dave, We Love You.” She liked it and then it kind of formed from there. At some point I asked Sean if he’d come in and play lead guitar with us. And much to my delight and surprise, he said yes! And Nancy’s friend Paula introduced us to Dave (Mandl), the bass player. So that’s how we found Dave, who is great bass player, and a DJ at WFMU. It was one of those networking things. I am reading the new book John Doe and Tom Desavia put out about punk rock in LA in the 70s, and I was just reading the part where he explained how he met Billy Zoom and Exene (Cervenka). That’s a great book so far.
TwangriLa: I will have to check that book out. That was one of the great eras of rock n roll.
Barbara: Which I pretty much missed because I was too young. Fortunately, I picked up on it later.
TwangriLa: I think the other great period was between ‘88 and ‘92. I think it was as good as ‘77 in my opinion. And I was of age for that one and hopefully you were too.
Barbara: Yes. What were you listening to then?
TwangriLa: The Feelies, Sonic Youth, Pixies, Fishbone, Fugazi among others.
Barbara: Did you see the Feelies the other night?
TwangriLa: No I didn’t. I am not in New York. I am in Baltimore.
Barbara: Right, of course, you are in Maryland.
TwangriLa: I did see the Feelies a year and a half ago when they were here in Baltimore, and it was amazing. They played for about three hours and they did about seven encores. It was just outstanding.
Barbara: I heard they did a few the other night. I wasn’t able to go to that show.
TwangriLa: They are still amazing and they haven’t lost any steps at all. So you guys all got together. How long did it take before you knew you had something special?
Barbara: Well (laughter). I felt excited about working with Nancy right away. But I have to admit, I wasn’t that confident going into this thing because… I’d been writing songs with that previous bad, the classic country band… and the guys in that band were really supportive of my attempts at writing, and encouraged me… But it was such a niche thing, I felt like I was working in certain styles, and that was fun…..But I was playing bass in that band, so I wasn’t really putting myself out there the way I am in this band (Girls on Grass). As a guitar player. Trying to play lead guitar, sing, and write songs was a real challenge for me in the beginning. I don’t think Nancy really picked up on that. She was like, let’s go! She just assumed that I was just going to start blasting away and throwing stuff at the wall. I think that helped me do it. And she is such a seasoned player, she has played with tons of amazing artists. She is a great sounding board.
So I felt pretty psyched about it from the beginning. But I don’t think it was until we were in the studio, recording, that I felt like things were really going well. And that the guys who had joined us were really getting into it. I wrote a few of the songs after we’d started recording. I felt like we were really gelling as a band when we had the confidence to say,”OK, we are going to record this song next week that we just learned.” And Jay Sherman-Godfrey, who recorded and produced the record, did an amazing job. He was super encouraging, and I thought if Jay is digging what we are doing, I think we are on the right track.
TwangriLa: I love the mix and recording. I thought it was really perfect. It was perfect for the kind of music you play and letting some of that aggression come through. Instead of teen angst, I call it adult angst.
Barbara: Yeah, I saw that in your review. I liked your review, it made me laugh. Adult angst. I guess I have a lot of that (chuckles). Maybe we all do, but I just like to express it more than some people.
TwangriLa: I think it works really well on the album. Those songs definitely have a good amount of aggression to them, but it is not over the top. But still a fair amount of attitude and I like that. So what’s the meaning of the name “Girls on Grass”?
Barbara: I thought you might ask me that (laughter), based on your review! All I can say is it came about based on some kind of childhood imagery and experiences I’ve had. They all seemed to have some relevance to each other. There is a play on words there…but there is a literal aspect to the name also. I could tell you about specific things, but maybe it’s more fun if you just conjure up some imagery in your own mind about what that might be. I’ll bet it’s not too far from the reality.
TwangriLa: Very well put. So getting back to the songs, they seem to be autobiographical like “Father Says Why” and “Pissin’ Down A Road”. I guess that has to do with making music a full-time career?
Barbara: (long pause) I wish (laughter)!
TwangriLa: Or wanting to make music a full-time career?
Barbara: Yeah. I wanted my parents to buy me an electric guitar, and my dad literally said, “Are you ever going to make money doing this?” There was not necessarily an acknowledgement that there is an inherent worth to playing music. I wouldn’t say that my family discouraged me from playing at all. My dad was a great guy. It just wasn’t his frame of reference. It isn’t something I’ve dwelled on. I just recalled that moment, and built a song around it. When I am writing songs, I often come up with fragments and I don’t necessarily have an outline.
TwangriLa: Whatever works is the right way. I am sure everyone has their own unique way of doing it. You start with a theme and you work around that theme. Or a phrase maybe. I guess for every artist it is different. I have talked to a lot of musicians and they say sometimes the music comes first, sometimes the words. Or they will get an idea, maybe a riff, and work a song around that riff.
Barbara: That’s similar for me, I would say.
TwangriLa: So did you do all the writing for the album or did the other members contribute?
Barbara: I wrote the basic song structure and lyrics. Everything else was hashed out in rehearsal. Nancy and I were doing a lot of this stuff as a duo for a really long time before Dave and Sean joined.
TwangriLa: You start the process and you take it to the rest of the band. Then they all put their signature on it as well.
I love the guitar work on the album, I think it is just fantastic.
Barbara: Thank you! It is a dream for me to be playing guitar along with Sean. He is such a gracious person and so humble with no attitude. I wasn’t sure he would have time to do the project, but he is super generous. And so talented. Our styles are so different that I think we complement each other very well.
TwangriLa: The guitar fills are just great. I think all of the instruments work in harmony. No one instrument or player is dominant. It blends extremely well into one product.
Barbara: Sean has a really cool style of playing he developed. He creates these amazing textures, and he does cool leads. He voices things in totally different ways than I would ever conceive of. I am a flat picker so I come at things from a different perspective. Jay is a phenomenal guitar player himself, and he was really good at helping to arrange the guitar parts. I know this record is very guitar- oriented, but I hope the rhythm section stands out as well.
TwangriLa: So do you have enough material for another album or are you not that far yet?
Barbara: I think we’re close. We have eight or nine songs that are good candidates. Compared to where we were at when we started recording this one, I would say we are in about the same place. I would love to record again soon. You should record when you are still excited about the songs. I’ve been in a lot of bands where you are playing songs for a couple of years and before you record them, you get tired of playing them.
TwangriLa: I know studio time can be quite expensive.
Barbara: I think we recorded it pretty efficiently. We did it in a proper studio, but not a really intense one. It was a really fun process. Like I said, Jay is great. This was the first time I’ve recorded a full-length record of my own material, so it was a good learning experience, for sure.
TwangriLa: Any plans to take the show on the road?
Barbara: Well, touring is expensive. I have a day job and other people in the band have day jobs. I would love to tour. We have started playing outside New York City a bit, we just played in Rhode Island at a little festival called the Swamp Stomp.
TwangriLa: Yes, I saw that. It looked like you were playing in someone’s back porch.
Barbara: It was! It was someone’s back yard. A huge yard that backs up to this swamp. We didn’t get to see it because on the road leading to it, these signs pop up that say if you are not wearing blaze orange, turn back. I guess they hunt in there. Anyway, the property itself was beautiful. It was a really good scene. Just four bands played – Laura Cantrell played a great set, so did The Water Liars… then the Yawpers played and they were excellent.
TwangriLa: The Water Liars are great. I saw them a couple of years ago when they opened for the Drive By Truckers.
Barbara: This was our first festival gig as a band, and we had a blast. We are playing with Jesse Malin in October at the Woodlands, which is a great venue in Maplewood, New Jersey. We are trying to get up to Boston and down to Philly, DC…
TwangriLa: I know you will get there soon enough. You have strong material and I know you will be popular in the Baltimore/DC area. So I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I wish you and the band continued success!
You can buy the Girls on Grass self-titled album and learn about upcoming shows here.