Hear First: Groupie’s Ephemeral

Stream the new album, and read an introduction to it by the band.

Hear First is Talkhouse’s series of album premieres. Along with streams of upcoming albums — today’s is Groupie’s Ephemeral — we publish statements from artists and their peers about the mindsets and impressions that go into, or come out of reflection on, a record. Here, bassist Ashley Kossakowski writes about she and guitarist Johanna Healy conceived the new album, which you can also listen to right here.
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor

Johanna and I are always collaborative in our songwriting, but one writing session in particular felt almost serendipitous. We were sitting in our grimy practice space at Danbro Studios, near the Montrose L stop in Brooklyn. Johanna had just come up with a cool bassline and chords for a new song, so we began looking for lyrics. As we were searching through our notebooks, we found that we had both written lyrics about the same passage from Patti Smith’s M Train, a book that both of us had coincidentally finished recently.

We wrote about what we agreed was the most thought-provoking chapter, one called “Clock with No Hands.” It paints a picture of Patti and her late husband sitting at a table in an old-timey diner next to an old railroad clock with no hands. Patti muses about the passing of time, how it cannot be divided into sections like numbers on the face of a clock. She contemplates the ephemerality of thought — “Are our thoughts nothing but passing trains, no stops, devoid of dimension, whizzing by massive posters with repeating images? Catching a fragment from a window seat, yet another fragment from the next identical frame?”

In addition to inspiring what became the closing track to our album, this scene distills some of the themes in our debut LP, Ephemeral. The album is an introspection on the transience of life, memories, and heroes, capturing fleeting moments in time and the emotions that follow. The 10 tracks are anxiety-ridden meditations on a society that can bring pain just as easily as it can bring joy. They span our entire five-year existence as a band, from one of the first songs we ever wrote (“Poor You”) to ones we never even got to play live before the pandemic hit (“Half Wave”). This is our third release, and our debut full-length album. 

Thematically, Ephemeral is similar to our previous releases, but our approach has evolved. We have always focused on social justice and politics in our work, but where in the past we’ve chosen a more brash, direct critique, Ephemeral turns inward, taking a more granular approach to societal critique, mental health, and our sound as a whole. This album has really been a coming of age experience for us. Our band started from a Craigslist ad I posted in fall of 2015 after reading a lot about riot grrrl, inspired by how these badass musicians started with nothing but heart and something to say. The ad had the honest confession: Let’s get this out of the way first — i have no official music experience. But over the course of five years, loads of shows, countless band practices, and an awesome new lineup, we’ve matured. 

Ephemeral finds us more experimental, leaning into shoegaze, power-pop, and post-punk sounds (but never forgetting our punk roots). We’ve thought more about collections of experiences that make us who we are, from recalibrating to life after tour to struggling to reach family far away. We have a great new lineup that includes Eamon Lebow on lead guitar and Aaron Silberstein on drums, who have filled out our sound with textural leads, catchy riffs, and dynamic percussion. But our brash DIY punk beginnings are never far away. “Poor You” is a relic from this early era of Groupie that’s stuck with us over the years. The song was written after I was sexually harassed at my old job, and imagines an unfortunately far-fetched reality where abusers actually get the justice they deserve. We decided to re-record it for this album because this issue is omnipresent in our society and in the music scene, most recently seen by the Burger Records scandal. This song was included on a benefit compilation called Hands Off! in response to the Burger Records scandal, alongside some of our heroes and favorites, like Kathleen Hanna, Alice Bag, Courtney Barnett, Palehound, and L7.

The album name, Ephemeral, came from the chorus of the song “Thick as Glue.” After a recording session, Johanna and I were sitting in Hunter Davidsohn’s studio brainstorming names for the album. Hunter then started to mix our song aloud. As the song played, we both turned to each other and thought out loud, “Hmmmm… What about Ephemeral?” And it stuck. The song is a good representation of the album as a whole. It’s about the ephemerality of teenage idols and, as an adult, questioning what they truly meant to you. We reflect a bit on our band name in this song, a reclamation of the identity projected on female musicians assumed to be a man’s groupie or girlfriend — “Young woman, idolizing, heroic men, singin’ bout heroin.” In terms of tone, the darker verse contrasted with the shimmery chorus reflects that push and pull of bittersweet nostalgia and the freedom in growing older.

In “Human Again,” we reflect on the ephemeral experience of tour; I wrote it while deep in the throes of post-tour depression. The experience of tour feels so surreal, getting to travel and play music every day, and getting back just feels like a punch to the gut. Going back to your nine-to-five, plopping down at your desk, and being like, Damn I could be waking up on someone’s floor hungover in England right now. But that’s exactly what we’re looking to capture with this album, these really formative daily experiences and how they change us as people. 

In “Industry,” we pack nervous energy into an attempt to stave off depression with the purchase of flowers. Floral imagery became symbolic of the album throughout our process because they are the embodiment of ephemerality, their beauty peaking and fading all too soon. I got the idea for “Industry” while walking up and down the Flower District of Manhattan on 28th between 6th and 7th Ave. My old job was nearby, and I would often end up there on days when I was sad or fed up at work, drinking in the colors of all the flowers and thinking about capitalism positioning of itself as the band-aid solution to all our personal challenges. “Buyin’ up all my time, the industry knows me, still feelin’ empty.” The floral imagery made its way into all of our album art, designed by Johanna, for this reason — at once pronounced yet delicate, feminine, organic.

Single art in sequence. All art by Johanna Healy.

Though this album was recorded before the pandemic, some of the songs have taken on new meaning in the isolation of the last year. “Daleko” is a song that I co-wrote with my mom in Polish, written about the distance I feel from my parents’ home country of Poland and my relatives that live there. I wrote more about this song more in depth in another piece for Talkhouse, which you can read about here. The title means “far away,” and that distance is made all the more permanent with the pandemic. My mom can’t visit her 80 year old mother, who lives alone after the passing of my grandfather in the fall of 2019. Distance has permeated its way through everyone’s lives in the pandemic. Before COVID-19 hit, I never thought I would have to live without our weekly band practices, but now, I have only seen my bandmates once and have not played music with people at all. I know I’m not alone in this, but the loss of live music and seeing my friends and bandmates is deeply sad. 

The serendipitous collaboration I mentioned at the beginning of this piece became the last song on the album “No Hands.” Johanna and I take turns on the verses and come together on the chorus — “I can take my time for a little; got time to kill.” The last words on the album, “Following no hands, no hands of time,” are a nod to Patti and her late husband, roaming through life without regard for time, just living at the whim of their synchronized minds. We hope you can take your time with this album, and get lost with us. 

—Ashley Kossakowski

Ephemeral will be released on all streaming platforms on January 22, 2021. It is available for purchase on vinyl on Handstand Records, tape on Tapehead City, and digitally on Bandcamp

(Photo Credit: full band, John Clouse)

Like many good stories, Groupie’s story begins on Craigslist with an honest confession — Let’s get this out of the way first — i have no official music experience. The ad brought bassist Ashley Kossakowski and guitarist Johanna Healy together, who, inspired by the likes of ’70s punk, ’80s new wave/post-punk, and ’90s riot grrrl, came together to write explosive post-punk that nods to their influences. Over the course of five years, loads of shows, countless band practices, and an awesome new lineup, Groupie has evolved into a hard-working Brooklyn-based quartet, with Aaron Silberstein on drums and Eamon Lebow on guitar. After harnessing their sound over two EPs, Groupie introduces themselves to the world proper with the release of their debut album Ephemeral, out now.