Gal Pal and Sour Widows Are Blood Brothers

The DIY buds talk witnessing each other “level up,” and much more.

Susanna Thomson and Maia Sinaiko both play guitar, sing, and write in the Bay Area rock band Sour Widows; Emelia Austin, Nico Romero, and Shayna Hahn are the LA-based Gal Pal. Gal Pal’s first studio record, This and Other Gestures, — a self-release, with CDs and cassettes available via Youth Riot — just came out last week. So to celebrate, the five friends hopped on a Zoom call to catch up about it, and much more. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Maia Sinaiko: We got to listen to some of your record. We just inventoried all of our stuff for tour, so we were like, “Perfect, let’s listen to the new Gal Pal.” You guys killed it. Also, a 14 song record — that’s a huge accomplishment.

Emelia Austin: It’s a little crazy! [Laughs.] 

Maia: It’s sick as hell. 

Susanna Thomson: Super sick. 

Maia: I’m so in favor of a fucking long ass record. And it’s not even long — it’s just a lot of songs, which is really gratifying. You should present all that you have for your debut. So congratulations. It’s really good.

Emelia: Aw, thanks, Maia. 

Susanna: It’s also really cool to hear similarities and differences between how you guys play the songs live, and then seeing what choices you made texturally on the record. 

Maia: We’ve played together quite a few times in the past two years, so there were a few where I was thinking about the live performances I’ve seen you guys do. There was one track that I will be playing back several times.There’s like this kind of poppy tune—

Susanna: “Think About Your Crush.”

Maia: Yeah. There were some poppier songs on it that I was loving. Really cool direction. 

Emelia: Yeah, I feel like that’s kind of the biggest surprise on this record. A lot of the pop songs that are going to be on the record, some of them aren’t singles, so they’re kind of like secret songs that people are going to experience once the record comes out. And I think we’re still trying to figure out how to play that stuff live, obviously, because the production on this album is so much bigger than anything we’ve ever released. So we’re still trying to figure out how to make those two worlds meet. 

But yeah, “Think About Your Crush” is a good one. That’s Nico’s song that he wrote and perfected. And of course we all added to it, but that’s Nico’s little baby. 

Nico Romero: Yeah. It was one of those things that was so out of pocket of what Gal Pal usually is, so I don’t even think I presented it to y’all. Me and Emelia were living together at the time, and I was experimenting with wanting to put out solo pop music, so I was working on some beats, and trying to crunch them up and just playing chords over them. Then Emelia was like, “I like that. Let’s see what we can do.” Originally it was maybe even going to be a bit more grungy of a song, a bit more raw, less production. But then once we were in with Danny Nogueiras and David Durkovich, who helped produce our album, they were like, “Let’s just lean into this, it wants to be pop.” And I was all for it, because I think originally I wanted it to be about as much pop as it got to. So we added layers of more synth and more beats and tried to make it dancey and give it energy like that. I really love that one. I can’t wait to listen to it on Spotify, to be honest. 

Shayna Hahn: I’m pretty stoked on how that one came out. Emelia and Nico have much more pop sensibility than I do. I’m pretty particular when it comes to certain genres, and pop is one of them — I just, for whatever reason, connect with it less than a lot of other music. But that one, I definitely hopped on board with it, and it was really cool to see it come into fruition. And a few close friends who have listened through who usually don’t fuck with pop at all — like my partner in particular was like, “Dang, that’s actually been stuck in my head all week.” We got him!

Susanna: Yeah! I feel like the record is quintessential Gal Pal. There’s stuff that I always think about when I think about your band that’s very unique to you guys, like the kinds of drum beats that you guys do. It’s not something that I feel like I could replicate easily. But it’s all just you guys as individuals — like Emelia, your vocal lines and the way that you kind of intuitively songwrite, and Nico and Shay, the way each of you both drum — that’s Gal Pal. 

Seeing how it’s evolved the course of this record, like all the layering you guys have done and the sonic spaces you’ve created… Especially in the studio, you guys are really good at creating this kind of entropic chaos in your production. It has the kind of wink to industrial and ambient influences, but then it’s also so rock. It’s really cool to see how that’s bloomed over this record.

Nico: That means a lot coming from y’all. I mean, we met so long ago — y’all have heard us live probably since before our EP, probably just when we had Girlish. What year did we meet? 

Susanna: Probably 2017.

Maia: 2018. 

Susanna: Really? 

Maia: Because the first shows we ever played as a full band were in 2018. But you had known their music…

Susanna:  Yeah, it was maybe 2016 that I think I first heard you guys, because a good friend of mine in Mendocino worked with Shay at that health food store. 

Shayna: The Food Bin! 

Susanna: Yeah! My friend worked with Shay at the Food Bin, and she was like, “Listen to my friend’s band. They’re so good.” This was long before we ever started Sour Widows. And I was like, Oh, my god, they’re so cool. They have the coolest fucking band ever. So I’ve been a Gal Pal fan since before any of you even knew me!

Nico: [Laughs.] That’s wild. Shout out to the Food Bin, Santa Cruz.

Susanna: [Laughs.] Shout out to the Food Bin, connecting us all to the heart of music. 

Shayna: I know. It’s super special to be able to witness people evolving, and mutually being able to experience one another blossoming into, you know, whatever we are now, whatever we will be — it’s just sick as fuck. In the midst of the mess that the music world can be sometimes, I think that’s a very sweet thing.

Maia: I agree. We’re blood brothers. 

Emelia: Yeah. 

Maia: Especially too, to be such true DIY roots, it feels really good to see dear friends keep leveling up.

Emelia: Yeah, definitely. It’s almost like a reassurance, because I remember seeing you two play for the first time and having that moment of like, Holy shit, this project is really fucking good and more people should hear it. I feel like there’s a very instinctual feeling when you see a band like that for the first time that’s especially small where you’re just like, OK, this is not normal

Maia: [Laughs.] “This is not normal. Something is wrong.”

Emelia: “Something is very wrong with these people, in the best way possible. I’m super scared, I feel unwell. They’re doing something right.” [Laughs.] So it’s beautiful just seeing us grow in all those different ways. 

That’s also what’s been exciting about this album that we put together. I feel like putting this record together kind of gave us a chance to grow out the sound that we’ve always wanted to, and really experiment in a more expansive way, and honestly just go really crazy with production. We kind of went a little over the top, but in a way that felt really fun and gratifying. We feel very accomplished finishing it and also knowing that this is just one version of what kind of sounds we want to make. You know, we’ll always be expanding and changing things as we write more music, but it feels good to have those songs where they’re at. It’s also sweet to hear — because I feel like we have changed a lot, but it’s lovely to hear you both say that you still hear the OG Gal Pal sound in there. 

Susanna: Yeah, definitely do. I feel like it’s unmistakable Gal Pal. How did you guys decide where you were going to record it, who you were going to record it with?

Nico: The world decided that for us. 

Emelia: Yeah, it kind of it kind of fell into our laps in certain ways. So, we worked with three different producers — or I guess maybe four-ish because Cole [Brossus], our bass player, helped us a lot with production. But mostly we ended up getting free time at the Balboa Recording Studio, which is in Cypress Park, LA. We ended up working with Danny and David, and they were really stoked on the record and wanting to expand the sound of it more, so they gave us a lot of their time and we were able to work through a lot of the songs on their off times at the studio. 

Then outside of those two and the songs they worked on, we also reached out to Sami Perez, who is another Bay Area legend now in LA. We got to work at her studio at Wiggle World in Los Angeles, on “Mirror” and some of the singles. So it was kind of a bit of both, a little bit of fate taking the reins, but then also we were able to work with people we wanted to work with over time.

Nico: To be clear though, we did a lot of studio days at Balboa, and just the kind of stuff that we couldn’t have afforded out of pocket, and they were gracious enough to just keep inviting us to help us flesh out these songs and experiment with stuff with each other. It wasn’t like they were like, “OK, record what you have written and we’re done with that song.” They let us just mess around with shit and they wanted to hear where these songs could go. So it was massively, massively influenced by this chance — you know, entering a contest to win three days at a studio. Like, that was crazy enough that someone was going to have a contest like, “Yeah, here’s three free days!” And that we won, that was just like, “What?”

Maia: That’s so sick!

Nico: Yeah, it was insane. 

Shayna: Nico and I had no idea that Emelia had entered this contest. It was like some Instagram contest where you just comment on some post.

Emelia: It was a studio that my friends had worked at before. This band Okay Embrace in Los Angeles had done their whole record there and loved the studio. So we had a few mutual friends that were at the studio, and I got sent the post by a friend and I was just like, OK, why not? I kind of forgot about it and then we just got tagged one day, and it was like, Oh, shit, OK!

Shayna: We showed up for the three days in the studio and we had no idea what to expect. Then when we started working on it, the engineer Danny was just like, “Yo, I fuck with what you guys are doing and I really want to help you make this album.” So from there, on days where the studio wasn’t booked, we got really, really lucky and were able to just go in and really flesh out much more than we had anticipated. We got to do a lot of in-studio writing too, which we had never done before and got to layer — because with the way we’ve always played, only one of us can play guitar at a time because the other one has to play drums. But we got to really fill things out and write second guitar parts for things and kind of push ourselves beyond what we usually do.

Susanna: Are you going to get another guitarist?

Shayna: We’ve had a few different friends hop on for a second guitar with us throughout the past year. 

Maia: Sick. Yeah, I was going to ask because we know the challenge of trying to replicate what you get to do in the studio, trying to figure out how to get all those tones and stuff. We’ve been thinking about how eventually we really want a third guitarist in the band.

Emelia: [Laughs]

Maia: Susanna and I play so many intricate, harmonized guitar parts together that there can be meat underneath that’s missing live. Also because, we also just recorded an album, and there’s some prominent synth parts in certain songs so having someone to fill in those parts would be helpful.

Emelia: What’s an upcoming band thing you’re looking forward to this year? Obviously the record, that’s a big thing whenever you guys release that, but is there anything else you guys are excited about?

Maia: The Duster tour! We’re just doing some planning for that today, just figuring out how much merch we need to make, getting our hotels booked and whatnot. I feel like we learned a lot from the Florida tour of just like: we can make it feel really comfortable. Which is so important when you’re touring in… not strenuous circumstances, but we have a pretty intense schedule on this tour. Like, we don’t have a day off really until Austin, so it’s a full week-and-a-half of playing shows before we have a day off. 

Emelia: Oh, wow. 

Maia: But we’re really excited for that. That’s the next big thing on the horizon, and then after that we get to play Outside Lands, which is the sickest shit. Just being from the Bay Area, it’s like Coachella of the Bay Area. It’s definitely feeling like a very gratifying year for us so far, which I feel really grateful for. 

Shayna: Y’all deserve it. You do, and always have, worked so fucking hard and put so much of yourselves into everything you do with that project. I just feel so stoked from afar seeing the certain things come into fruition. Like that shit with Duster in particular, that being collectively your favorite band. 

Maia: [Laughs.] Yeah, it’s so insane.

Susanna: It’s truly our biggest dream.

Shayna: You deserve it all.

Susanna: Thank you. 

Maia: Likewise. I’m so happy that you guys are getting a team together and can’t wait to see what happens with the record. Are you all planning on sending it around? 

Nico: Like, as far as label stuff? 

Maia: Yeah.

Nico: No labels wanted us. [Laughs.] 

Maia: [Laughs.] What the hell?

Susanna: Rock & roll!

Nico: And you can put that on the record! [Laughs.] Yeah, we’d heard from somebody we were talking to that — maybe this is part of the reason — a lot of labels were backlogged with a lot of records that were being recorded during COVID, so signing kind of went downhill a little bit more than it was pre-COVID. Which I’d like to think that might be true. You know, it’s not necessarily because of our record being not good enough.

Susanna: It’s never about that. What was Japanese Breakfast’s breakout record? Was it Psychopomp? I think nobody would pick that record up, not even labels that she was friends with. Literally no one put it out, [so she] put it out independently, and look at her now! That record’s fucking incredible. 

Maia: So try to not to take it personally, because that shit is like, who knows, you know? 

Susanna: DIY recognize DIY, you know what I mean?

Nico: Exactly. Yeah, no, we’re still 100% proud of it. 

Shayna: Yeah. Like a year ago we finished mixing, and then at that point shopped it around a bit, and there were some labels that were like, “Yeah, we’d be down, but, like, in 2024.” 

Maia: You wanna put it out. That makes sense. 

Shayna: Yeah. And I’m at this point super comfy sending it on a self release. And personally I appreciate the autonomy of that, and being able to make certain decisions for ourselves that just feel good for us. If we could have some support with future albums at some point, sick, but we’re just going to keep on keeping on. 

Emelia: Yeah. And what’s been really cool is, I feel like everything we’ve done, we’ve been able to make what feel like really strong music videos without any label money. We pulled it together with our own crews and friends, and obviously Nico and I have a film background. So I feel really proud of what we’ve been able to pull together without any bigger label support. It’s very true to the DIY mentality. 

Nico: Yeah. And we figured if we can’t be touring — because touring is a whole other load and cost — we might as well put our efforts in what can do at home, which is investing and indulging in these visuals. 

Maia: Your videos are always really sick. We’ve been thinking about videos for whatever ends up being singles on our upcoming album, so… maybe we collab!

Nico: Dude, absolutely.

Emelia: That would be a dream. 

Nico: I have a question. Y’all tour a lot more than we do. We’re about to go on our third tour in the summertime, and it can kind of be an intense thing to be with people 24/7. I would love to know any tips you guys have on how to regulate yourself, how to give yourself routine, what you do for yourself. Do you take time apart? What does that look like for you guys?

Maia: That is such a good question. It’s something that we also have talked about a lot because it’s so true, it’s just strenuous. You’re in a car for hours every day, you’re tired a lot. I think for me, the lack of privacy on tour is particularly hard because I definitely need privacy to refresh myself and decompress, and that’s not really an option. So I think that’s a great thing to be thinking about. 

I feel like getting as much rest as you possibly can. We don’t really party on tour at all, and I think that that helps a lot. Not like we don’t have fun, but I feel like it could be really easy to just send it, especially if you’re playing a bunch of shows with friends. But we really try to get to bed at a reasonable hour whenever we can, eat as well as we can, drink a lot of water, and also just like check in with each other. In terms of the emotional stuff, it’s very easy to get grumpy on the road for me. I think just naming it can be helpful, like, “I’m feeling really grumpy right now,” or “I’m just kind of feeling low,” or whatever. Bringing headphones is helpful, just to tune out and remember that you can create space for yourself.

Susanna: But yeah, it’s never going to be easy. 

Maia: I think just knowing it’s OK to feel like it’s hard work, because it is fucking hard work… There’s mixed up perceptions around what it means to be a working musician, and there might be some expectation that you should be having a ton of fun on tour — and hopefully tour is an enjoyable experience. Like, you don’t want to be on a tour and be miserable the whole time. But also knowing you’re not going on vacation — you’re working, you know? So just finding, if you can, small ways to let yourself refresh is the biggest game changer. Like, go to Whole Foods. Maybe even steal a little bit… [Laughs.] 

Emelia: [Laughs.] I mean, DIY. We’ve all been there!

Maia: You do what you gotta do, is what I’ll say. But yeah, eat some vegetables, you’ll feel incredible. Smoothies — honestly, that’s the key. Like, we unlocked it. Drinking a smoothie in the morning feels fucking amazing. 

Susanna: Gotta get that vitamin soup. 

Maia: That shit’s expensive, but it really makes a big difference, I have to say. 

Nico: That’s helpful. For a second, I was like, Ooh, I wish I was writing this down, but it’s being recorded. [Laughs.] I’ll read it back.

Susanna: Just go easy on yourself and go easy on everyone around you, being as forgiving as possible, letting letting things go. Because everyone is going to be annoying sometimes, including yourself. 

Emelia: Well, good luck to you guys on your Duster tour — we’re rooting for you, and we’re so excited. I can’t wait to catch up more in person. 

Susanna: Yes, absolutely. We love you guys!

(Photo Credit: left, Ry Essi)

Emelia Austin, Nico Romero, and Shayna Hahn are the LA-based rock band Gal Pal. Their first studio record, This and Other Gestures, is out now. 

(Photo Credit: Ry Essi)