Soph Nathan and Lauren Wilson from Our Girl talk about their long-awaited debut album, ‘Stranger Today,’ touching upon things from how they named the album to their favourite Real Housewives.
Stranger Today, the title of Our Girl’s debut album released Friday, 8/17/2018 via Cannibal Hymns, can mean whatever you want it to mean. When discussing the album name, frontwoman Soph Nathan and drummer Lauren Wilson, especially emphasise how even though the phrase comes from a lyric in which it means something specific, the beauty of it is that it has several different meanings depending on what you’re going through in your own life.
This movement, of taking something they create, transplanting it into their listeners lives, and then giving it a new meaning, is very much at the heart of Our Girl. Accompanied by bassist Josh Tyler, the Brighton trio makes music that is unapologetically sentimental and personal, but the universality of it allows every single person who listens to their music to craft their own journey and story with it. It is their story, it is everyone’s story, and that is precisely why every single thing they touch is so special and has so much meaning.
Truth is, no one conveys feelings as naturally and beautifully in song as Our Girl do. They’ll make you blush and feel the exciting butterflies of when you see your crush on “I Really Like It”, and the pulsating bass line of “In My Head” is bound to leave you as frantic and anxious as you do when you think people are getting in your head. The silent confession of “Sub Rosa” brings the sadness and frustration from the end of a fight with a significant other right to the forefront of your mind.
Atwood Magazine talked to Soph Nathan and Lauren Wilson before the album’s release in order to really get to know Our Girl. They speak about the band’s roots, how feelings are conveyed in song, their decision to release a bedroom record made up of demos, the moment they realised they were going to be in a band together, and then take on an unusual, track-by-track questionnaire.
Listen: ‘Stranger Today’ – Our Girl
A CONVERSATION WITH OUR GIRL
Atwood Magazine: Hi Our Girl! How are you doing?
Lauren Wilson: Good, really good!
You’re just releasing your debut album now, but you’re not exactly a new band. And yet, there’s still something so exciting about your sound, and there’s always been something new to find in your music until now. Can you talk to me about how you think the band has changed from your first two singles in 2016 to today?
Soph Nathan: I feel like we’ve had a better chance to figure out how we sounded live. This is more who we are than before.
Lauren: How we hear when we’re writing or envisioning the full song, that’s changed. Obviously with the more that you write together, the more you push to different areas that you haven’t been before, you get to experiment more. When the three are together there are ideas that wouldn’t have come if it was just one of us.
Soph: I think that came fairly quickly, it takes time to build that up.
I feel like your songwriting comes as a way for you to communicate deep feelings that everyone has but normally find hard to put into words, is that how or why you started writing songs?
Soph: Through wanting to express the way I was feeling? Yes, certainly. If I think about it, I wasn’t even thinking about what I was doing, making songs, I was just expressing that. And it’s weird to think that I only started writing songs four years ago, I don’t know how I expressed that other stuff before (laughs). I hope it gets to help people, even if it’s not exactly what I’m feeling or people take it in other ways.
So much of your music touches upon friendships. Why did you choose to focus on this subject matter rather than the more typical things like love, etc?
Soph: It’s not a conscious decision, it’s just important to me. What makes me feel things are relationships with people, friendships with people… People have mentioned that I write a lot about friends. I naturally write about the things that are around me and affect me.
How did you pick the album title?
Soph: We had a few. We had a manic day before we decided.
Lauren: There were a few and they were all lyrics. Not obvious lyrics, we wanted it not to be Our Girl by Our Girl because we’ve done that already, we wanted it to have its own name. The lyric “stranger today” is the one we all settled on because it was the one we all agreed upon
Soph: Yes (laughs)
Lauren: There were quite a few, and it was quite difficult for us because we’d sat with the songs for so long. To finally put a stamp on it as what people would refer to it as, because we’d obviously just called it album.
Soph: It was such a weird thing to do.
Lauren: It was really weird when we did finally decide on it, and now I can’t imagine it being called anything else. Stranger today comes from “Level”, which is a really important song to us, it’s still as moving to me to play it as when we first started to play together. I really like that it’s a lyric from a song.
Soph: Yeah, it’s a really important song to us, and I like that it’s not a song title. It’s not obvious.
Lauren: Also it can be interpreted in lots of different ways. In the lyric it says “stranger today” as in a stranger, an unknown person. It could be interpreted as you feel stranger today, things are stranger today…
Soph: The whole album is about things changing, it suits that.
Lauren: Also the cover of the album is a bit otherworldly and weird, so it just ended up fitting really well even though it’s a bit scary and bizarre to name it in the beginning, I’m really glad that it is that.
Soph: Me too.
Naming things is really difficult.
Lauren: Yeah! You have to live with it then, forever, you can’t go back and go like “actually guys, I’ve got a better name”.
Soph: Tim, our manager described it like knowing someone your whole life and having never seen their faces. Having spoken to someone on the phone your whole life and then sitting and meeting them, seeing their face.
Lauren: Yeah, that’s so true. That’s so bloody poetic!
I wanted to ask you about the decision to release the bedroom record, which only contains demos, on vinyl. Why do you want to give people both of these experiences?
Soph: Hm… Good question.
Lauren: I really love it. I’ll tell you why, Nicole! Basically this is how Josh and I first hear a lot of the songs. Soph makes these amazing demos in her bedroom with her laptop, a mic, and her guitar, and then sends them over to us and that’s how we start working. That’s our first insight to the songs. Although I also really love that we create out of them, I feel like the demos are just so special and unique, even though I think the songs are so honest, that’s the most honest form of them. So people get to hear what I get to hear, because they are really different from the album, and they’re just too beautiful to be left.
Soph: Aw Loz, that’s really nice.
Lauren: But they are! I think there’s something really special about them. It shows that even though we did go into the studio and we put a load of stuff, vocal layers, this is the song.
Soph: I like listening to bands I like do that as well.
Lauren: It gives it another context.
So how did you decide which songs were going to be on the album?
Soph: We’ve had the songs for a couple years, so these are the ones that were just a given they were going to be on the record. And then there were a couple more that we figured out from old demos. But the bulk of them I think are the songs we just normally play and without discussing it knew they were going to be on the album.
Lauren: There wasn’t some big discussion or fight like “Oh but I want this one on there” “You can’t have it because I want this one”. For a lot of this stuff we tend to be on the same page which is really useful.
The song “Our Girl” was the first song you wrote as a band, right?
Soph: It was the first song we ever played together.
How did it feel to have that song be the thing that brought you together? How did it feel when you finally played it for the first time and you realised this was going to be the band?
Lauren: It was crazy.
Soph: Josh and I had been playing together a bit. Lauren and I had played the same shows but didn’t really know each other. Then Lauren came to our practice once…
Lauren: I’d learned to play that song. It was really weird because the first time we played we just sort of stopped and were like “This is great, this is cool!”
Soph: It was a moment like “Wow, this is our band”.
But you only released the song this year even though it was your first song. Was there a reason why you waited?
Lauren: I think at that point we just wanted to cover new ground. When I first joined, the first couple of shows were already booked and so we had a month for me to learn everything and to finish writing a set. When we had done that, we were just being really efficient and writing and I just felt really creatively on it. The creative juice was flowing, so we just wanted to keep moving forward. But I think we always felt like that was going to be the first single and the album opener as well. It was the start and, as I’ve said a couple of times, it is the reason why I’m in Our Girl, because they sent me the demo and I completely fell in love with it and “Oh my god I have to be in this band if they’ll allow me”.
Soph: If it’s allowed!
Lauren: If it’s allowed, I’d love to be part of this musical ensemble (laughs). We always knew it was going to play a really big part.
I wanted to talk to you about the videos for “In My Head” and “I Really Like It”. I love them both, but they’re so different. How did you come up with the concept for each of them?
Soph: The songs itself are really different. With “I Really Like It” it made sense to shoot it in our living room and keep it personal like that. “In My Head”, we really like stop motion, our heads could be opening up and all these things could be coming out of them! It’d be awesome if someone could create that, or if we could but we decided that we couldn’t (laughs).
Watch: “I Really Like It” – Our Girl
Lauren: We wanted to do something a bit different, that people weren’t really expecting from us. In the past we’ve been in all of our videos, and that’s really great and all. Unless you have shitloads of money, making music videos is really difficult. We have all of these ideas about stuff but it costs so much money to execute stuff that we’d be happy with, but we wanted to be creative, didn’t only want to do a performance videos. And stop motion, I loved the way it looks like it’s been made by a human, and the idea of taking the words of the song and our heads, in a really literal sense, opening up and you getting a snapshot of all this weird stuff going on.
Soph: It’s exploring another side of us and another side of the song.
Lauren: Without throwing pies on each other’s faces (laughs).
Soph: That was one of the ideas.
Lauren: One of the ideas was just to throw pies on Josh’s face.
Watch: “In My Head” – Our Girl
“In My Head” sounds like it’s just the most fun song to play live.
Soph: It is!
Lauren: I love it. Every time we got to it in the set I’m just like “Yeaaaah!!” I turn into the Hulk or something.
Soph: Me too, it’s so fun. It just feels great to play.
Lauren: Yeah, it’s so good to play.
Soph: Josh, his bass goes on for the whole time so by the end of the song his arm hurts and we’re like “yeah!!!!!”
Lauren: Josh is like “Right, now I need to have a break” and we’re like “No! Again!”. Also it feels really fucking cool to play. It makes me feel so cool
Soph: Shake your hair around. That’s what music is all about really.
“I Wish it was Sunday” and “Heat” slow down the pace of the album, and in some ways I feel like they work really well together as like sister songs. Were they written around the same time?
Soph: No, actually. “Heat” is one of the oldest ones, and “I Wish it was Sunday” is the newest one on the album. I like having those ebbs and flows in an album, having those dips. But they were written I guess like three years apart?
Now I’m going to ask you some silly questions based on every single song on the record. But they don’t have anything to do with music.
Soph: Okay, sounds fun!
“Our Girl”: If you had to choose a female character to represent the band, who would it be?
Soph: What came to mind is Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You just because she’s really cool.
Lauren: We’re not as cool as her, we would try to be as cool as her.
Soph: Not to say that we compare ourselves to her, but she’s cool.
Lauren: She’s too cool for us!
“Being Around”: What is something that you always need to have around?
Lauren: (laughs) Soph!
Soph: I’m constantly dehydrated.
Lauren: That sounds like a really crap answer but you do not understand the amount of water that Soph drinks constantly.
Soph: It’s quite stressful.
Lauren: When we were getting on a plane last week, they were calling our gate and we were like “We need to go” and she already had a full bottle of water for this two hour flight and she was like “I need to get another bottle of water” so she ran away to buy a bottle of water and Josh and I were like “Fuck that, we’re not going to miss this flight” then we went up and then Soph ran back.
Soph: I’ve got to say, planes really do make me dehydrated and it’s the worst place to be thirsty because they give you those mini shot glasses of water, I’m like “Can I have 10 please? Or can you just give me the whole bottle?”.
Lauren: For me, I don’t know. What do I always need around? This is also a really crap answer, but I always need a quiet place.
Soph: We’re really boring, by the way.
Lauren: We’re a super boring band! But I always need a minute, I’m quite calm and collected but only because I can just go out and take a minute.
Soph: Loz, 10 minutes of the day she sits in a quiet room and I just drink my room while Josh is just staring at us, like what?
Lauren: Also another boring answer, but we always need our phones because we’re talking to each other pretty much the whole time.
“In My Head”: If we could look inside your head, what would we see?
Lauren: I would say perfectly filed, many, many…
Soph: This is your brain, right?
Lauren: Yes, my brain. Definitely not Soph’s brain. Mine is full of filing cabinets but they’re all opening at the same time, differently, there’s a ghost pulling them out. They’re al organised, it’s all in there, but loads of things are going on all at once.
Soph: I think mine is the disorganised version of that. Everything is in the right bin it’s meant to be in, but everything’s falling over all the time, it’s a mess. But they do get there.
Lauren: They always get there.
Soph: Apart from sometimes.
“I Really Like It”: What’s something you can’t live without?
Soph: People. Wherever I am, as long as I have my old friends (laughs)
Lauren: You love your friends!
Soph: The person that the song’s about is one, too.
Lauren: My significant other.
Soph: We share one (laughs)
Lauren: And my family and friends.
“Josephine”: What’s the thing that keeps you up at night the most?
Soph: Well recently it’s been watching too many episodes of Mad Men. It’s not even that I’ll watch them into the night, I’ll watch them a bit into the night, but if I watch two or three episodes, my brain just can’t turn off.
Lauren: It gets quite intense. My one would be… Hm… More of a physical thing because I sleep really well, but at the moment my neighbours are re-doing their building, and the builders in there, I can’t understand the language they’re speaking but they shout everything. Late at night and really early in the morning. They’re just generally really noisy, that’s something that keeps me up currently.
“Two Life”: If you could live a double life, what would your second life be?
Lauren: My second life would be to have a doggie daycare in Portland, Oregon.
Soph: I’d be your dog.
Lauren: (laughs) Soph would be one of my mutts that I looked after.
Soph: I’d be a Golden Retriever that always stays as a puppy.
“Level”: What’s the hardest level you ever had to beat on a video game?
Soph: The old Mario one on Game Boy. You’d get to the fourth level or whatever and then you’d have to go because you’re a kid and you’d have to go to bed or have dinner or whatever, and then it wouldn’t save it! So whenever you would come back you’d have to start from the beginning and I remember being so frustrated, “I’ve already done it! I’ve already achieved it!”
Lauren: Yeah, that’s true. I didn’t really play many video games, but I used to have a dance mat, which I really loved. And I think, maybe I’m just deluded, but I think I was quite good at it but I’m pretty sure there were some trickier tracks on there which I wasn’t nimble enough for, couldn’t get that rhythm.
I had that too! Those dance mats songs are so specific, it’s such a specific sound. When I listen to some song today and it’s really weird and happy and agitated it always reminds me of the dance mat songs.
Lauren: True, that’s really true. I’d not thought about dance mats for years until this very moment (laughs) but that’s true!
They were a nice way to spend your Saturday afternoon.
Lauren: And at least you were moving around!
Soph: Yeah it was good.
Lauren: It was some sort of exercise even though it was in front of a screen. But my dance mat was quite funny because the legit dance mats were really expensive, and my parents couldn’t really justify spending that amount of money on it, so I had a knock off dance mat.
Lauren: Did you? They weren’t real songs as well, just MIDI versions of the songs. Once there was a spelling mistake, instead of perfect when you’d get a perfect score, it said prefect!
Soph: That’s so funny!
Lauren: Here’s a dance mat, knock off, get on with it. And every time I’d get a perfect on the screen, it came up prefect. Looking back on it it’s funny, but at the time I was a bit embarrassed of my lame dance mat, but I was getting good at it.
“Sub Rosa”: What’s your guilty pleasure?
Soph: Have you heard of Love Island?
Yes, I have.
Soph: That’s been my guilty pleasure for the last few weeks, but now it’s finished.
Lauren: What are you going to do with your life now?
Soph: There’s a lot of music that’s my guilty pleasure. You know, singing along to… I don’t want to slag off bands actually.
Lauren: My guilty pleasure is also watching, but not Love Island, I love shit tv. My favourite things are Real Housewives and Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
I love the Kardashians!
Lauren: I do as well. I know I shouldn’t, but I’m just really fascinated by them. People try to look at it as like a high-brow thing now, like “Oh, yeah, they’re working the system”, I’m like “Hm, no, they’re beautiful, they’ve got beautiful houses and they just do whatever the fuck they want” and I’m like “Yeah, great!”. I can just switch my brain off and watch them on the screen in front of my eyes. I love TV like that. That’s my guilty pleasure, much to my boyfriend’s dismay.
I feel like I should start watching either Real Housewives or Love Island or both, because so many people talk about it.
Lauren: Well you’ll need a lot of time for Real Housewives because there are fucking shitloads. There are so many. And actually Love Island’s done.
Soph: It’s also good when it’s happening live.
Lauren: You have to watch it when it’s live.
Soph: I wouldn’t want to watch an old one now. Go with Real Housewives.
Lauren: I would say to start off my favourite ones are Real Housewives of New Jersey and Atlanta.
Soph: Wow, you really know!
Lauren: Yes, I really do!
I feel like the New Jersey one must be really trashy.
Lauren: The New Jersey one is trashy. One of them goes to prison! Which is sad. And also, you know, unfortunately entertaining to a certain extent.
It’s like when Khloé Kardashian went to prison. That was fun to watch.
Lauren: That was fun to watch.
“I Wish it was Sunday”: describe your perfect Sunday.
Soph: Hm… Sunny. A lie-in, a slow morning.
Lauren: I’ve got loads of specifics. Actually I do have a bit of a lie-in, but I want an early night the night before so I’m well-rested and I can get up at like 8, 9 o’clock. And then it’s sunny. We go out for brunch, we go to the park for a walk.
Soph: I’d like to say end it with a roast.
Lauren: Yes, that would be nice. Or if it’s summer a barbecue.
Soph: A late afternoon barbecue.
Lauren: Yes. Yes, exactly. And then you can listen to some records, hang out with your mates. And then someone’s brought dessert. Banoffee pie. And then yeah, snuggle up in bed and have a lovely sleep.
“Heat”: If you had to rate your band members in level of spiciness, what would they be?
Soph: Spicy! You’re pretty spicy. (Lauren laughs) I’d give Lauren an 8 or 9.
Lauren: I would say you’re in the middle. I would say you’re a 5 or 6 I think. 6 or 7. 6.
Soph: Josh is a 4 or 5.
Lauren: I reckon 4.
Soph: But we made it clear that’s not a bad thing
Lauren: That’s not a bad thing. Because I love eating a chicken korma, and that’s not spicy and it’s still delicious.
Soph: Never thought about that before. We’ll see what Josh says when we ask him later.
“Boring”: what’s the most boring question you’ve ever been asked?
Soph: It’s not…
Lauren: We can’t really blame people for asking it, but like “How long have you been together”
Soph: I think something that’s boring is asking about women but not in a way that’s helpful to the world, just like putting it out there.
Lauren: Oh yes, true. “Oh you’re a woman, what’s that like? Being in a band and being a woman”. “Women in music”.
Soph: When you start a conversation about how things are changing it’s interesting. But other than that, it’s boring.
I feel like it does get tiring.
Lauren: Yeah. I still love that people want to ask us anything, that anyone gives a shit is great. But there’s obviously questions that people ask more because we’re new. But it is a bit tedious when people ask you about being a woman and it’s not coming from a natural place of interest. It’s like “What is it like being a woman in music?” and it won’t generate an interesting discussion, it’s just to get an answer. They realise that you’re a woman and they ask something like that because you’re not a man. But to have anyone ask us anything is great.
The point of equality is also that eventually it won’t be a big deal that you’re a woman at all.
Lauren: Yeah, I think it needs to be talked about but the way that it’s spoken about is the most important. Not for people to just tick boxes.
📸 © Hollie Fernando