In order to bring that sense of vibrancy and fun to the fore, the band decided to scale up the production values of the record, decamping to Atlanta for two weeks to work with superstar producer Ben H. Allen at Maze Studios.
“When we were working on the demos, the label head at Moshi Moshi set me up to write with Ben who was over from Atlanta in London,” says Hankin of how they came to work together. “We got on really well and wrote Tell Me and I just liked the way he worked and how precise he was in his vision. And he had a really good understanding of what we were going for. I just asked his manager on a whim – not really aware of how successful he was [laughs] – would he be up for working with us? He’s worked with Biggie Smalls and Christina Aguilera! But he liked the music, so we made it work. He has a great studio and after Covid the idea of going away and having a new space to record in was super attractive. It was like a long working holiday for us, it was great.”
As we talk through the band’s creative process, Hankin reveals that one of the driving forces behind her writing is a desire recapture the power with which music lands during adolescence.
“You just feel albums so powerfully when you’re a teenager,” she says, “which is something I really miss and try to achieve when writing.”
So what were the records that left a lasting impact on the pair during their teenage years?
“My brother was in a band when I was younger, so I saw him tour and that was definitely part of the reason I was interested in being in a band,” Hankin recalls. I got a lot of my music tastes from him, stuff like Pavement, Dandy Warhols, Pete and the Pirates were friends of my brother’s. But when I started discovering my own tastes Best Coast and Vampire Weekend were the biggest influences on me as a teenager. I also watched loads of KEXP sessions.”
“The big one for me was The Beatles, and that’s why me and Poppy really became friends,” says McConnell. “I just couldn’t listen to anything else for about three years of my life, and that was why I wanted to be in a band. Then I went through a big ‘80s phase – I really liked The Police when I was a teenager [Hankin laughs]. I had a really middle-aged man’s taste [both laugh]. When we were talking about being in a band, we went to see White Denim who I still really like. I think that night I was thinking, playing the drums looks quite easy, let’s do it. So lots of white indie males, basically!”
Talk of The Beatles brings us onto Peter Jackson’s already legendary 2021 documentary Get Back.
“It just made you feel like you knew them, and I already felt like I knew them anyway, but it made me feel like The Beatles and Girl Ray have a lot in common [laughs]. It really humanised them in the best way, and you just get on their side even more.”
“Being a musician, you tear your hair out so much over writing, being perfect, and to see the most successful band in the world having exactly the same conversations and the same issues and struggles in trying to get an album made, writing shit things and good things, it was so inspirational and amazing to see,” adds Hankin.
Returning to the subject of the music that shaped their formative years, are there any artists or records more recently that have come close striking the teenage chord within them?
“The latest Let’s Eat Gandma album (Two Ribbons),” says Hankin after a pause. “There are a good handful of songs on there that hit that teenage spot for me, where I can’t stop listening to it and I don’t want to talk to anyone else about it as it’s only made for me! And we know Let’s Eat Granma and I don’t even want to talk to them about it because it’s like, these are my songs now! It’s that feeling of ownership over a song, where it feels like it’s just for you.”
“I guess also, quite predictable, Haim, because we like to think of ourselves as the English Haim,” McConnell laughs. “That album really struck many chords.”
With a series of in-store gigs in the pipeline and a UK and European tour set for November, it’ll be a busy remainder of 2023 for Girl Ray. For the first time, they are releasing a record without any new music or ideas lined up for the album to follow. What shape it may take is anybody’s guess. And if they remain true to form, there’s little point in guessing.
PHOTOS: Chiara Gambuto and Eerie Rose (fountain image)