Cassie Ramone points to a date on her hand-drawn calendar. "This is going to be my last solo show for a very long time," she says. We’re drinking iced coffee on a random stoop in industrial Bushwick, talking about which rockstars were born on our birthdays. She invites me to come see OCDPP, her new three-piece punk band with Dee Dee Penny from Dum Dum Girls and OJ San Felipe of Xray Eyeballs. I see the little box on her calendar that says OCDPP, Alphaville, 9 PM and ask her why a band with such indie rock cache was playing the opening slot at a tiny restaurant in Brooklyn. After all, isn't there a storied hierarchy of success in rock and roll that begins with total obscurity and peaks at the top of the bill? You don’t usually look back, because why would you? "It’s not particularly serious," she explains. "We’re not doing it to get popular or anything like that. We just want to have fun and play punk shows and fuck around.”
It's been eight years since Cassie Ramone's first lap in the indie rock pool as the front-woman and guitarist for the popular lo-fi girl-group Vivian Girls. The New Jersey native with the nasaly croon and tongue-in-cheek surname (she was born Cassie Gryzmkowski) quickly became a fixture of the punk D.I.Y. scene in the early aughts, first as an avid show-goer and then as a rocker in her own right. People fell hard for Vivian Girls and the way they had reapprorpriated the Phil Spector girl-group as a tattooed, noise-rock trio from New York City.
In a recent Pitchfork retrospective on Vivian Girls, Kip Bernam of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart as is quoted as saying, "No band was polarizing in the same way… No one took more shit than Cassie. Not Best Coast. Not Lana del Rey." Not only were Vivian Girls exploited for the gimmicky aspects of three young women singing in harmony, but were then harangued by those same critics for sounding off-key. Instead of being taken as the serious punk band they absolutely were, Vivian Girls were caught in the futile back-in-forth of being "too girly for punk" yet "or too punk for girls." But regardless of critical reception, their unprecedented blend of Black Flag and the Carpenters had inadvertently paved the way for female-fronted bands to come like Best Coast and Dum Dum Girls. If you recall, in the not so distant past of 2008 and 2009, the conversation regarding women in music was nowhere near the call-to-arms it is today.
Three full-length album, numerous international tours, and two drummers later, Vivian Girls officically called it quits in the fall of 2014. "We were mostly inactive for three years and before that, we would only play a couple of shows a year," Cassie remembers, flicking the ash off a cigarette. "Then we decided to break up. That sucked. That was sad for me. We’re still all best friends. We might even collaborate again someday."
But even before the break up, Cassie had moved on to other musical projects, including an underground folk-rock band with Woods guitarist Kevin Morby called The Babies. In between Vivian Girls and The Babies, Cassie developed her deadpan poetry into a psycadelic solo album of homegrown recordings released last September called The Time Has Come. Ramone has spent the last two years playing solo shows everywhere from New Jersey living rooms to Tokyo with Colleen Green this past winter. But something wasn't right: "I haven't actively played with a band in a year and a half, so it felt like there was a huge chunk missing from my life. I'd wanted to start doing my solo music with other people playing with me but nothing had really been working out."
I ask what she thinks her fans and the music world in general expect next from her. Indie rock fame is a weird bag, especially once your first band breaks up. A solo project is the next natural step, but Cassie already did that. So now what? Well, if you're Cassie Ramone, you start a scrappy Bushwick punk band and start from the ground up because why the fuck not?
Noisey: You've started a punk band with Dee Dee Penny from Dum Dum Girls and OJ San Felipe from Xray Eyeballs. How did this come about?
Cassie Ramone: Well, basically, I think the band started because Dee Dee tweeted that she wanted to play drums again. Oj (from Golden Triangle/X Ray Eyeballs) saw that and hit her up, like, hey, want to jam? And OJ and I had also decided to jam so it all came together. He’s just a Brooklyn guy who’s been around for a million years. He’s the kind of guy everyone knows a little bit. We did a tour together in November 2013. We toured Europe solo for a month and that was really fun. It was me, him, and our tour manager and we were each playing our own songs. So we knew already that we could travel together and have fun just hitting the road.
What does OCDPP stand for?
It’s a really stupid inside joke inside joke with OJ. When we were on that solo tour in Europe together, we were talking about stuff and discovered that we both have OCD and we’re both Pisces! And we’re both pantheists, where you believe in every religion at once. So we would talk whiskey shot and say OCDPP as our little OCD ritual of taking the shot.
Woah. I have OCD and am a Pisces, so this is really hitting home for me right now.
Amazing! You should become a Pantheist and you can totally be in our band! Pantheism is the best religion because everything is cool. Then we discovered after jamming with Dee Dee that it’s also our initials. So, that’s kind of cool.
How would you describe OCDPP?
I think it’s mostly like L.A. PUNK like Germs. Not so much X because they were really technically good and we’re not trying to be technically good. We’re trying to do more fun, fast, and short songs. Germs for sure. The Urinals. Red Kross. Stuff like that. We cover the Germs and Red Kross in our set right now. Really short song punk bands are our main influences. Misfits. Shit like that.
What was your relationship like with Dee Dee Penny from Dum Dum Girls before starting a band together?
We were never really good friends but would hang out and have fun. She would invite me to house parties at her home and stuff like that. But we both respected each other’s work as musicians.
When I first heard you guys had started a band together, I assumed it would be a Vivian Girls/Dum Dum Girls meeting-of-the-minds situation. But that's about as far from the truth as it gets.
I don’t see our collaboration as the melting of whatever you would categorize that of Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls “genre” may be. I feel like that would be corny and I don’t want to do things that are corny. I feel like if it was just like “Cassie and Dee: Watch us blow up and get huge" -- that’s so not my vibe. That’s my anti-vibe. I don’t want to do anything even close to that. If it happens to blow up and get huge, I’m down. But I don’t even want to go into anything with that in mind, ever. I hate rules. I fucking hate all rules. To do something that seems contrived is just not in my nature at all. I feel like music right now is getting interesting because we are entering this period where everyone is just collaborating in unique and different ways. I feel like right now, people aren’t scared to collaborate and skew the perspective. I’m also playing bass in this band called Melt. It’s the first time I’ve ever played in a band where I don’t write any of the songs. I never thought I would do that really unless it was for being in the backing band for somebody that was huge. But it’s fun and interesting to start something else from the ground up where I’m just playing the bass.
It's interesting to see larger-scale musicians such as you and Dee Dee stepping out of the front-person roles to explore other roles in new bands. Dee Dee playing drums in OCDPP. You playing the bass in Melt. I know Ariel Pink and Mac Demarco both also play different instruments in other people's bands.
I think it’s cool to do different things with music right now. I couldn’t really have seen this happening say three years ago. I feel like everybody was trying to start their solo projects. Like for example, Cole from DIIV was in Beach Fossils and then he started DIIV. And a lot of people were trying to go in that direction. Not be in anybody else’s backing band and have their own band. That was kind of the vibe a few years back. Now it’s kind of shifted into the opposite direction, where people are more into collaborating again in cool and interesting ways. I never thought I would be playing bass in a band. It’s been really fun. I really like playing bass. It’s forcing me to force differently about playing an instrument. I’ve played bass on recordings and at one-off shows before but not at like, actually.
You said you won't be playing any more solo shows for a while, but will you still record your solo material?
I’m starting to work on my next solo album pretty soon. I need to figure out a drum situation because I want it to be really loud and heavy. It’s not going to be folky at all. I think I’m going to record it in the back room of Alphaville. Hopefully we get the wheels in motion in that soon. I’m not going to play very many solo shows in New York for a while. I’ve been doing it for two years now, playing mostly solo shows in New York and I’m sick of it. I’ll do it if it’s the right show, or if the perfect show comes along.
Who would be on the bill for the perfect Cassie Ramone show?
Like with Greg Sage or something. I don’t think he’s played in over a decade but I’m pretty sure he’s still alive. Maybe Greg Sage and a Dead Moon acoustic show. I’d open. Respect. I couldn’t have them open for me. But whatever. YOLO.
Bryn Lovitt is a contributing editor at Noisey and says that Cassie's music in Vivian Girls was what first inspired her to start her own band. She has "Wild Eyes" on 7" because duh. Follow her on Twitter @brynlov.