If You're Mad as Hell Right Now, You Need U.S. Girls
Meg Remy talks about her new album 'In A Poem Unlimited,' #MeToo, and only being an authority on her own experiences.
Photos By Colin Medley
One of the peculiar things about being a woman is that whenever the public discourse shines a light on an issue affecting or about women, you’re expected to make a comment on it. It’s as if the social order is benevolent enough to take the feelings and thoughts of women into consideration for once. This is especially true of our musicians: a platform just as public and large as the conversation means you, too, can and should participate, regardless of what that participation may actually mean and no matter what results from it.
This conversation is how my interview begins with Meg Remy of U.S. Girls in a cafe in Toronto’s Bloor West Village. It's a cozy, familiar feeling spot in the city’s west end; late afternoon sunbeams decorate the forest green walls and burgundy chairs. The U.S. born, Toronto-based Remy sips a latte, and me, a peppermint tea, and we talk about women. Or rather, we talk about women in a way that is equal parts frustration and refuge. Remy’s sixth album, the remarkably vibrant and lush In a Poem Unlimited, comes out via 4AD and Royal Mountain Records in a couple weeks. The first single is a funky disco tune called “Mad As Hell”... so she’s been asked about women, and anything about women currently, quite a bit. “It just so happens that right now a lot of the things I’ve been talking about for the past ten years of doing this project are all coming to a head in the mainstream consciousness,” she says.
She asks me, plainly, about VICE. We discuss the general reckoning occurring against powerful men across most industries. We talk about #MeToo, and I say it could, in our market system, quickly become a monetized and opportunistic hashtag, not at all what Tarana Burke intended. (Perhaps like feminism and how the word went so mainstream a few years ago that feminist-centric slogans appear on T-shirts for sale.) “The real interesting thing could be if #MeToo and feminism, and these kind of topics, could evolve another level where they start critiquing all the systems in place and how this relates to people of colour, workers, [issues] across the board. Let’s just talk about how the whole thing is fucked up,” she says. And while Remy is fine to ride for causes she’s been championing for years personally, it’s entirely another thing when her politics, especially in today’s discourse, are more prominently entangled with her art.
Remy’s experimental pop music has always had a depth that mainstream pop tries to achieve but sometimes falls flat doing. (“My tastes lining up with something that was commercial at that time. It’s hard to imagine that the things I like right now would ever be commercial,” she says.) Her last record, the critically acclaimed Half Free, was so searing in its portrayal of the female experience—of the Everywoman, as it were—that an expectation is there now for her to contribute going forward. “[I’m an] authority, though, on my experiences, and even then I’m not because so much of it is veiled to us, we don’t want to look at it or see it because it’s too painful or whatever. It’s hard because journalists are always like, ‘you’re writing about women’ and it’s like, I’m writing about women from my limited experience as one woman on the planet.”
In A Poem Unlimited builds on and maintains a portrait of a more intimate self but it is a much fuller, ornate record. Remy sings about personally affecting, relatable experiences, like on “Pearly Gates,” a jazzy glam song that got its inspiration from an anecdote she’d heard about a man promising to pull out during sex. (“Peter bragged he was good at pulling out/ He always knew the right time to take a bow,” she sings.) On “L-Over,” reminiscent of a yesteryear pop break-up tune, with a swooping airy intro and horns, Remy sings, slyly, almost a smirk to cover the pain, “Can you imagine trying to get some satisfaction out of a stone?” Her music sounds plucked from 60s pop, a time so emboldened by innocence and nostalgia, but she subverts it in a sense; using the form to dress-up, not hide, her often more honest lyrics. While recording “Velvet For Sale,” Remy physically positioned herself in a contorted position for us to vocally hear what the character was going through; that breathy, quiet tone singing, “You’ve been sleeping with one eye open because he always could come back, ya know? And you’ve been walking these streets unguarded waiting for any man to explode.”
Remy’s goal on this record was to push herself out of her comfort zone. “It was more… about being in a studio and working with a band and challenging myself more that way—which was, you know, I’ve not much experienced the studio setting,” she says. “I’m not a technical kind of musician. I don’t really work in that way. Going into a studio with a lot of players who have the experience and know what they are doing was very intimidating.”
“I could never in a million years try to claim that I did all of this. I couldn’t,” she stresses. Remy worked with 20 people on this album. Her husband, Maximilian Turnball (also known as Slim Twig), contributed on the album. (She says even her mother-in-law contributed by bringing food to the sessions.) Steve Chahley, her engineer and mixer, has production credits on a number of the songs. Kieran Adams from DIANA plays drums. Basia Bulat does vocals. Simone Schmidt of Fiver, whose devastating song “Rage of Plastics” Remy covers on the album, came in to help with the arrangement. Louis Percival, of Onakabazien, has writing and production credits too. Remy emphasizes her responsibility of being the owner of her own stories as a woman but it took a community to make this record and one she was happy to lean on and give credit to. “Not being so isolated made me more brave and take more risks because I know so many people know with different skill sets,” she says. “If I have an idea, I can make it a reality, whereas before, when I was playing alone, I had ideas and I was trying to make them a reality.”
Remy is the face of her work; there is no way to swerve around that categorization publicly. And that can lead to conversations about the album’s subject matter, the bigger picture, and often those who helped her along the way may get left behind. And yet, as a woman, one of the greatest things you can have is your support from everyone around you, and sometimes that’s forgotten. We don’t always have to go it alone.
Sarah MacDonald is a GOAT based in Toronto but currently in the US. Follow her on Twitter.